Alternative films offer lost loves, freaky families, Japanimation

by Joey Guerra

Daily Cougar Staff

Nobody Loves Me

*** stars

Illuminated by a natural and appealing performance from German actress Maria Schrader, Nobody Loves Me is an often touching, never preachy movie about learning to appreciate what you have and loving yourself.

Schrader portrays Fanny Fink, an unhappy woman with a nice apartment and secure job who feels she requires the presence of a man to make her life complete. Enter Orfeo (Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss), a gay, black neighbor who moonlights at a local club as a drag queen and makes quite an impression covered in body paint one evening in the elevator.

After presenting himself as a psychic and palm reader, Orfeo shines a light in Fanny's life, making her appreciate herself as a whole person, with or without physical love. In return, Fanny becomes Orfeo's constant companion during an undisclosed illness, until he says he will be taken away to another planet.

Touches of the supernatural only add to the film's appeal, which is directed by the comforting, casual hand of Dorrie. Even in this otherworldly aspect, nothing rings false; the movie just continues to charm and touch.

Schrader and Sanoussi-Bliss are joyous to watch, filling their scenes with poignant moments and surprising resonance. In the end, Fanny may or may not find true love, but Orfeo has helped her love someone even more important -- herself. Given Schrader's excellent performance, you may fall in love with her, too.

Cold Comfort Farm

**** stars

While American audiences are being swept up by $100 million tornadoes and impossible missions, British director John Schlesinger quietly enters the summer movie race with Cold Comfort Farm, a film with more heart and sincerity than a dozen Tom Cruise flicks.

Kate Beckinsale (Much Ado About Nothing) is Flora Poste, a prim young lady who finds herself suddenly orphaned. After receiving numerous invitations to stay with an assortment of odd relatives, Flora accepts the seemingly biggest challenge at Cold Comfort Farm.

What follows is one of the most enjoyable films in recent memory, thanks largely to Malcolm Bradbury's funny and witty script and an outstanding ensemble cast, all from Stella Gibbon's 1932 novel.

Flora sets out to change Cold Comfort Farm into a livable, happy place, much to the chagrin of its inhabitants, especially matriarch Ada Doom (the delightfully dour Sheila Burrell), who forces everyone to live in misery because she "saw something nasty in the woodshed" and can't get over it.

Schlesinger has assembled a first-rate group, most notably Eileen Atkins as the gloomy Judith Starkadder; Maria Miles as the spritely Elfine; and Freddie Jones as Adam, who grows from gruff to gracious thanks to Flora. Also on hand is Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous' Patsy) as Flora's friend, Mrs. Smiling, who turns in a wonderfully droll performance as a wary adviser.

Holding it all together is Beckinsale, who delivers just the right mix of snobbery and good-heartedness. Her performance here is a true star turn, and she rises gloriously to the occasion.

Filled with memorable lines, lovable characters and a contagious giddiness, Cold Comfort Farm is an early entry for the year's best. While it's still early, I wouldn't be surprised to see Oscar greeting this treasure at next year's awards ceremony.

Ghost in the Shell

*** stars

After virtually (no pun intended) wasting the cyber-thriller concept on junk like Virtuosity and Johnny Mnemonic, high-tech drama comes to the big screen in perfect form: Japanimation.

Ghost in the Shell is an entertaining and intriguing creation from Mamoru Oshii, who took the idea from a series of comic books by Masamune Shirow. The film is rife with action, espionage and, of course, a bit of nudity.

In a refreshing spin, Major Motoko Kusanagi is the film's strong-willed female lead. She is a semi-cybernetic human agent who is on the trail of the Puppet Master, a being that invades bodies for its own (illegal) purposes. The "Major" runs into trouble when she begins to question her own existence and receives a tempting offer from the Puppet Master.

Strongly drawn characters are Ghost's strong points, as well as the presence of an able female who doesn't take anyone's crap. While the plot may confuse the average moviegoer, stunning visuals and action scenes more than make up for a few minutes of pondering what's going on.

Ghost in the Shell is a smartly scripted, intelligently drawn movie. There is some graphic violence, but the nudity is kept down to a minimum, only necessary when the Major wants to become invisible. Ghost in the Shell isn't Disney, and in some ways, that's a big relief.

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