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Songs of Myself

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A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries
Directed by James Ivory
Written by Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, from the novel by Kaylie Jones
An October Films release
Opens September 18

Permanent Midnight
Written and directed by David Veloz, from the book by Jerry Stahl
An Artisan Entertainment release
Opens September 18

So why did Ben Stiller, a deft comic actor who also directed one of the most audacious studio pictures of the '90s (The Cable Guy), get involved? He isn't the first comedian to want to prove that he can play serious, angsty characters. Stiller shambles around looking like shit, losing his balance, slurring his speech, gnawing at the insides of his lips. He works very hard, and that's the problem. He's much too conscientious an actor to convince us that he's out of control. He simply can't blot out his superego and let it rip the way an actor like Cage can. The closest he comes here is in a scene with Peter Greene (playing a sleazy, two-bit dealer) where they go up in an L.A. high-rise and try to crash through a plate-glass window--banging up against it and falling to the floor over and over again. It's the only remotely convincing scene in the movie, partly because Greene is one of the scariest actors around. You've got to admire Stiller for testing himself against a real madman--and be somehow happy for him that he can't measure up.

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