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Review: Keane

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Certain dramatic situations are so inherently fraught with tension that it’s just plain uncool to toy with the audience’s nerves for an extended period of time — in such a harrowing context, coyness becomes tantamount to sadism. Keane, the latest film by maestro of mental dysfunction Lodge Kerrigan (Clean, Shaven), kicks off as a memorably twitchy character study, keeping an uncomfortably tight focus on the title character (Damian Lewis) as he roams the mocking, anonymous corridors of New York’s Port Authority bus terminal, accosting passersby with questions about the whereabouts of his young daughter. Disturbingly intense, prone to manic mutter-monologues, in possession of only the most rudimentary of social graces, Keane isn’t someone we’re inclined to trust. Which is fine, until the movie introduces him to an angelic-looking little girl with all the studied gentleness of a gloved hand placing a white mouse inside the cage of a hungry boa constrictor.
    Ironically, this sort of bald emotional manipulation would rankle less were Kerrigan and his actors less gifted. Lewis, in particular, does a Herculean job of making Keane seem demonstrably human in spite of his obvious (if unstated) schizophrenia, treating the character’s lunacy like a recurring physical malady — an attack to be recognized, controlled, warded off. And after half an hour of Keane’s volatile one-man show, complete with self-heckling, it’s something of a relief when the guy calms down enough to befriend a harried single mother (Amy Ryan) who’s just taken up digs in his transient hotel. That her seven-year-old (Abigail Breslin) is roughly the same age as Keane’s (quite possibly imaginary) lost child makes for some creepy-poignant interactions, and Kerrigan’s deft, glancing touch — highly empathetic, yet bereft of sentimentality — suggests that he might be doing something bold and unconventional with the notion of the surrogate family. But then Mom suddenly needs to go out of town for a couple of days, and decides to entrust her little girl to our “hero,” whereupon the movie quickly descends into a queasy, exploitative will-he-or-won’t-he exercise, in which we’re at once encouraged to assume the worst and implicitly chastised for our lack of compassion. As with a snake feeding, you may prefer not to watch. — Mike D’Angelo

Date DVD #49: Paris Is Burning
For some, the most nerve-wracking part of the date happens before it even starts: when you’re getting dressed. Usually, it’s a debate between two outfits that look almost exactly the same and the one passed over is the one worn on the second date anyway. Often, your delay is abetted by an equally clueless or unhelpful friend, who has no more fashion sense than you, nor more daring. To help you get on with your date and out the door, I offer Paris Is Burning. After watching this, your furious internal monologue over whether to wear the ripped Ramones T-shirt or the ripped Sex Pistols T-shirt may seem just as inconsequential as it really is.
    Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary takes an affectionate (if slightly touristy) look at Harlem drag balls during the ’80s, when “vogueing” was something other than a joke, and practically a way of life for a chosen few. Onstage, the fashion faceoffs between divas like Willi Ninja, Paris Dupree, and Pepper Labeija are, yes, fierce. But the real drama takes place offstage, in the tiny apartments-cum-couture houses where the contestants hand-make costumes that look just like those in the pages of the fashion mags — only bigger, louder, and, of course, more fabulous. (The documentary has been endlessly overanalyzed in academic circles, but that’s beside the point here.) Cobbling together couture on a thrift store budget, these divas need — and deserve — that extra time before a date. Your sorry ass debating which jeans to wear? (Jeans?!) Not so much. — Logan Hill

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