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Video Picks from the 1990's

Ever walk into the video store and find nothing good to rent in the new release section? Here are some gems from the 1990's that you may never have heard of. Some of the titles may be obscure - Blockbuster may not carry them.

Bottle Rocket From the director and writers of "Rushmore": Three inept but likeable young criminals (Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Bob Maplethrope) decide to go on a crime spree but don't get very far. It's a movie that seems not to go anywhere, but maybe that's part of the point. The film feels light and fresh - and funny. A film I didn't fall in love with the first time but have felt compelled to re-watch many times.
Bullets Over Broadway Woody Allen's most commercial film of the 1990's, perhaps because he does not appear in it. In the 1920's, a struggling playwright (John Cusack) has to cast the local mob boss's girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) in the lead of his new play. When he has trouble with the story, he consults her tough, unedcuated bodyguard (Chazz Palminteri) who turns out to have a literary gift. Very funny and light.
Eat Drink, Man Woman (Mandarin with English Subtitles) Early comedy from Ang Lee ("Sense and Sensibility") about an aging gourmet cook and his family. Film of lots of good (looking) food - you will be hungry afterward!
Free Enterprise Nice low-budget film about two sci-fi/movie nuts working in Hollywood who meet their idol, William Shatner, who turns out to be kind of an idiot. Besides "Bill", who makes fun of himself quite nicely, there is lots of clever dialogue in what is part buddy film, part love story. A must-see if you know anything about Star Trek, "Logan's Run", or Criterion laserdiscs.
French Twist (French with English Subtitles) A wacky French romance/comedy involving odd love triangles. A little like a sitcom with nudity, but it's French, so it doesn't seem that way.
Jeffrey An AIDS comedy? Yes - a funny one, based on a play. A gay man (Steven Weber) worries about love and sex in the age of AIDS. A number of name actors such as Sigourney Weaver and Olympia Dukakis appear, but Patrick Stewart as a "flaming homosexual" steals the show. Hilarious - not to be missed unless homosexuality makes you uneasy.
Lone Star An old, unsolved murder case in a Texas border town is slowly pieced together, years after the fact, by the town's current sheriff (Chris Cooper). John Sayles weaves a terrific tale of small-town politics and racial strife. It's a terrific story with great performances.
Schizopolis Oh, man. This is a wild trip of a film, loosely a sendup of Scientology, but really much more than that. The title means "split city" in Greek, and the film follows a character (Steven Soderbergh, who wrote/directed) struggling with a sort of split identity. Soderbergh (who broke in with "Sex, Lies, and Videotape") wanted to get back to his indie roots, and this is his low-budget answer sandwiched between big-budget features ("Out of Sight", "The Underneath").

The best way I have found to describe the dry, surreal comedy of this film is a mixture of Albert Brooks and Monty Python. Soderbergh, who isn't bad as an actor, says he saved up all the silly stuff he ever wanted to do in films for this one, and some of the gags are pretty clever, such as repeated footage with different dialogue. Some jokes are subtle and may not even make sense upon first viewing. Other jokes I found myself laughing at the day after the film more than during the film. How often does that happen?

Some people will not get this film and will simply shake their heads, but others will love it. A minor classic.

Walking and Talking In New York City, two best friends, Ameila (Catherine Keener) and Laura (Anne Heche) struggle in their personal lives; Ameila struggles with romance and is a little jealous of Laura, who is getting married.

This is a "relationship" comedy told from the woman's point of view. In a rare reversal of most male-oriented films, the two women are the richly-developed main characters, while the men are delegated to cardboard supporting roles. The writing here is terrific, though, and often hilarious.