Psycho Killer

Considering both Jewish and Buddhist tradition, The Jew in the Lotus presents a fascinating comparison/contrast. On a superficial level, as Rodger says, "Monks like silence, Jews like to yak." But a deeper, more tragic level connects them. The Dalai Lama turned to the Jews to learn "the secret of spiritual survival in exile." Unfortunately, the documentary offers only cursory information about the Dalai Lama's exile in 1959 and China's continuing persecution of Buddhists, the destruction of thousands of ancient monasteries, and "slow-motion genocide." Brief archival footage teases us to want more substantive background and fewer of Rodger's candid moments proving repeatedly that "nervous is my religion." Similarly, shots on the streets capture too briefly the painful poverty or children pushing for photographs. The self-conscious camerawork (canted or rotating shots) proves distracting rather than instructive.

The title is a pun on the sacred Tibetan national mantra, which translates as "the jewel in the lotus" -- it's a joke the Dalai Lama enjoys. Ultimately, his serenity leads Rodger to achieve "the deeper and deepening human contact" he -- and we -- seek, but I recommend Kamenetz's book of the same title for a more satisfying experience.

Included on the program is the short, 35-minute "Bubbeh Lee and Me," produced, edited and directed by Andy Abrahams Wilson. Shot on video in the huge retirement community of Century Village, this homage to 87-year-old Lee Abrahams reveals her feistiness, her love for gay grandson Andy, and the sorrows of her life. Her parents came to the U.S. when she was 10 months old, but her family caused her great pain. A womanizing father and a mother who showed her no affection made Lee, in turn, incapable of expressing love to her own children. Her deep regret over this and her sadness as a widow of 25 years lead Wilson to conclude his tribute by endorsing "the importance of claiming fuller who we are and expressing our love."

Heartfelt and touching as it is, "Bubbeh Lee" meanders through grocery shopping, talking on the telephone, driving to buy a vacuum cleaner and several meals -- details that reveal character, to be sure, but minutiae nonetheless. More a home movie than a dramatic work, "Bubbeh Lee and Me" does allow us to enjoy vicariously this spirited woman and model the kind of slice-of-life episodes we'd all like to have and cherish with our own dear relatives.

Plays at 7 p.m. March 5-7 at Webster University.
-- Diane Carson

Directed by Joel Schumacher

Private eye Tom Welles (Nicolas Cage) is called to the home of an ancient millionaire (Myra Carter) -- just as in The Big Sleep -- and asked to investigate the making of an apparent snuff film discovered in her late husband's effects. The relatively innocent Welles ends up on an odyssey through the sleaziest corners of Hollywood -- just as in Paul Schrader's Hardcore-- with the help of a wisecracking guide (Joaquin Phoenix) -- a combination of two characters from Hardcore. Virtually every element in the script by Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) and every nuance of Joel Schumacher's direction is lifted from older, better movies, of which Hardcore is the most obvious. Hardcore itself owed a tremendous debt to The Searchers, but at least Schrader gave a new spin to the story by changing the setting. To compare Hardcore to 8MM is to see all the worst results of Hollywood slickness: the former may have been technically cruder and not as fast-moving, but the latter is all faux depth, faux moral concerns, faux characters. And even in terms of purely utilitarian, deliver-the-thrills filmmaking, 8MM is only so-so: Doesn't Schumacher realize that having the action whip back and forth between the East and West coasts dissipates the narrative drive? (It's not an accident that Hitchcock didn't make North by Northwest Then Southeast Then Northwest Then Southeast Again.) And how many scenes do we have to sit through in which Cage and the bad guys struggle over what must be the slipperiest gun ever manufactured? By the end, the overwrought dialogue provokes unintended laughs, and even Cage -- aided by memorable work from Phoenix, Peter Stormare and James Gandolfini -- can't save it.

Now playing.
-- Andy Klein

Directed by Risa Bramon Garcia

Under the opening titles of 200 Cigarettes, we hear Bow Wow Wow's near-peerless bubble-gum anthem "I Want Candy." The movie that follows seems designed to satisfy that craving -- it's sweet, tart, brightly colored, insubstantial and utterly lacking in nutritional value. It's also fun to consume, and harmless enough as long as it isn't your whole diet.

200 Cigarettes is set in New York's East Village, during the last hours of 1981. As wall-to-wall late-'70s/early-'80s fluff crowds the soundtrack, we follow about 20 young people through bars and cabs and coffee shops as they flirt, squabble, bellyache about their rotten love lives, and smoke.

The linking device is that all of them are invited to a party at the apartment of single Monica (Martha Plimpton), but they're all taking their time showing up, lingering in the bars, drinking and trying to find love. In the case of two high-school-age Long Island Lolitas (Gaby Hoffman and Christina Ricci), they're trying simply to find the place; they've come to town on the sly, and they end up in a punk bar, courted by two leather-clad roadies (Guillermo Diaz and Casey Affleck) who may also be drug couriers.

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