'Roxanne' Under The Stars On 32nd St.

Local Screenings

July 31, 2009|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,michael.sragow@baltsun.com

With its bracing green-mountain locations, there's no great romantic farce better suited to the open air than 1987's Roxanne, which unspools at 8:30 tonight at the Abell Open Space (300 block of E. 32nd St. in Charles Village).

With Daryl Hannah in the title role, this inspired update of Cyrano de Bergerac, written by its star, Steve Martin, and directed by Fred Schepisi, leaves the same kind of amorous afterglow that Splash did. And it has a breezy literacy all its own. The filmmakers stick closely to the story of a gallant man with a harlequin's nose. They show him using his passionate love poetry to help another man, who's handsome yet clumsy, win the heart of Roxanne, the woman of both their dreams. Yet despite the familiarity of the tale, the movie is marvelously fresh and sweet.

Sporting a schnoz that his pet bird uses as a perch, Martin doesn't stint on the poignance; he doesn't overdo it, either. His character, C.D. Bales, isn't a soldier-poet like Edmond Rostand's Cyrano, but an acrobatic and brainy fire chief in the sheltered, idyllic town of Nelson, Wash. (really, British Columbia). C.D., like Cyrano, is at war with incompetence, simply in a more genial and modest way. This movie even bathes its bad guys in sunshine. They include a mayor (played by Fred Willard) who thinks Nelson can become another Aspen if it sponsors events like an Oktoberfest in July, and a volunteer fireman and lounge lizard (John Kapelos) who runs a store called All Things Dead.

Screenwriter Martin turns Roxanne from an impressionable young aristocrat to a strong-minded astronomer who's in the process of discovering her own comet. And he transforms Cyrano's comrade-in-arms Christian, who looks as dashing as Roxanne feels a brilliant lover should, into the amiable, word-shy fireman Chris (Rick Rossovich). In this movie, Rossovich, not Martin, plays the Jerk, but Chris is lighthearted and likable. As Roxanne, Hannah's otherworldly luminosity elicits wholehearted love poetry, which Martin extemporizes with a tricky, scat-like delivery - sing-song yet still startling. Martin's whole body has a dancing duelist's line: when he slices one of his opponents with a tennis racket, his poised legs and outstretched arms seem to proclaim, "Voila!"

The clear sky above the town of Nelson tops the movie like a crown. Watching this film, you feel that if you can see beyond your nose, you can plant your name in the stars.

"Bigger than Life" at the Charles:: The Charles Theatre revival series enters the bifurcated world of director Nicholas Ray with Bigger than Life, a bizarre medical melodrama that is all jittery nerves and loose ends.

James Mason (who also produced) stars as a principled public-school teacher who becomes addicted to cortisone and develops psychotic delusions of grandeur. The opening depicts the constrictions of a teacher's lot (he moonlights as a taxi dispatcher to make ends meet) and the claustrophobia of 1950s family life (he doesn't tell his wife about his second job because she might consider it beneath him). So I find its disconcerting that the rest of the movie coerces the audience into rooting for Mason to re-enter the same existential cage. Cortisone turns him into a quasi-fascist megalomaniac; home and family redeem him. But The New Yorker's Richard Brody sees the film "as one of the greatest views of the hidden fractures of family life and the demons that, for some, remain happily below the surface. ... The muted palette of Ray's images is slashed by eruptions of luridly bright colors, the strangest of which is the cool purple glow of the little bottle of cortisone pills."

The film plays at noon Saturday, 7 p.m. Monday. and 9 p.m. Thursday.

"Hi, Mom!" at El Rancho Grande: : Based on the 100 percent correct feeling that "there are generally too few places to see older movies in a public place in Baltimore," John Lingan, the managing editor of the Web site Splice Today, launches a new monthly film series at 8:30 tonight at the Hampden caf? El Rancho Grande (3608 Falls Road).

If Lingan and his fellow programmer, photographer Dan Stack, keep selecting films as cannily as they did for opening night, they may be in for a long, wild ride. Brian De Palma's Hi, Mom!, their debut attraction, remains a milestone of satirical yet artful guerrilla moviemaking. It stars Robert De Niro in crackling improv form. He plays a failed director of what could be called "found porn" who moves on to become a bit player in black revolutionary theater and then a bomb-planting radical.

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