Metaphysical Therapy

Frank rescues Mary from a faux Caribbean underworld presided over by a diabolical smoothie (Cliff Curtis), but Bringing Out the Dead is more dependent for drama on the hero's ambulance rapport with his showboat partners-crazy John Goodman, crazier Ving Rhames, and craziest Tom Sizemore. The Rhames character is the most entertaining sidekick-an ebullient con man with an outrageous tent-revivalist style. Performances, however, are secondary. Much of Bringing Out the Dead is the equivalent of digging an ambulance siren while grooving on the flashing light. The mood is less angst-ridden than hypercaffeinated, as Scorsese keeps cranking the velocity-bloodbath in the reggae inferno, exploding skyline pietà, climactic white light of redemption.

"Every day is Judgment Day," the novel's narrator maintains. Scorsese's sin-drenched fallen world is again yoked to Schrader's agonized spiritual quest, though this time there's a bit of Buddhism in the bouillabaisse-karma, telepathy, the transmigration of souls (including the sense of Scorsese doing Spike Lee doing Scorsese). Weirdly, the movie sets its racially coded action in the early '90s. Is this a concession to the Giuliani juggernaut? Get thee behind me, Dinkins. Hail Rudy full of grace.

At play in the house of fiction: Keener and Cusack in Being John Malkovich
photo courtesy of USA Films
At play in the house of fiction: Keener and Cusack in Being John Malkovich


Being John Malkovich
Directed by Spike Jonze
Written by Charlie Kaufman
A USA Films release
Opens October 29

Bringing Out the Dead
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader
from the novel by Joe Connelly
A Paramount/Touchstone release

Princess Mononoke
Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki
A Miramax Films release
Opens October 29

**The highest-grossing movie (save Titanic) in Japanese history, Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke is a complex, superbly rendered, and wildly eccentric anime-even by Miyazaki's own standards. This epic folk pageant, set in an exquisitely detailed 15th-century world of lava-lamp deities and teeming marketplaces, posits an apocalyptic pantheism in which endangered species turn demonic. The theme recalls Miyazaki's ecological sci-fi Nausicaä (1984), albeit with greater graphic violence. The characters include a possessed boar who writhes like an animated plate of spaghetti, a princess who runs with the wolves, a tribe of red-eyed apes, and a forest full of toadstool sprites-not to mention an iron foundry staffed by lepers and ex-prostitutes. The mystical Shinto premise is an agreeable jumble-not understanding adds to the pleasure. Indeed, U.S. distributor Miramax scarcely familiarizes the material even with the dubbed-in voices of Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, and (being Princess Mononoke) Claire Danes.

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