What Happened to Kate Winslet … 24 Hours on Ecstasy

What Happened to Kate Winslet

We all know what happened to Leonardo DiCaprio. There’s a camera crew in position every time he goes to the bathroom. But what about his Titanic co-star? Not to worry. Kate Winslet is back, doing serious work in a strange, intoxicating film called Hideous Kinky , as far from the fame and lights of Hollywood hysteria as a plane ticket and an independent budget can carry her. It’s as though she’s reminding the world that the big bucks and the monster grosses of Titanic were an accident, and the real work for a dedicated artist of 23 lies elsewhere. And she has the talent to prove it.

In Hideous Kinky (a title as offbeat as the movie itself), she plays Julia, a disillusioned single mother who flees London in 1972, leaving a dreary life and a failed marriage behind, for Morocco with her two daughters. She is trying to find inner peace, freedom from control, and whatever adventures the wind blows her way. Julia is a rebellious hippie looking for her inner child, while her real children need the things other kids take for granted, like food, shelter, security and a father. While waiting for the child-support checks that never arrive, Julia makes crude dolls to sell in the medina and houses the girls in a hotel for prostitutes, finding this “annihilation of the ego” nourishing, while the life of an impoverished flower child takes its toll on her two daughters.

Six year-old Lucy (Carrie Mullan) adjusts to whatever comes along, but 8-year-old Bea (Bella Riza) longs for a more normal life with real friends, school uniforms and mashed potatoes. Dressing the children in Bedouin rags, Julia sinks more and more into the Arab culture. She even takes a lover when she meets Bilal, a full-time vagabond and part-time hustler, acrobat and quarry worker played by Saïd Taghmaoui, a French-born actor of Moroccan descent with a dark, oily streetwise charm. Running free in the color and chaos of Marrakech without money, discipline or a roof over their heads, this motley little band learns that hedonism has a price. The title refers to a word game the girls play to describe their life style with Mummy.

Based on a true story by Esther Freud about the time she lived in North Africa with her own disenfranchised mother, Hideous Kinky embraces the philosophies of hippiedom and the quest for Nirvana while telling the story of Julia’s family’s adventures. The unfolding of head-on collisions between two distinctly different cultures unravels like pages from a diary, and Scottish director Gillies ( Regeneration ) MacKinnon paints a vast and heady canvas of Morocco’s bewildering but fascinating sights and sounds. He does not feel constrained by typical movie brevity. His scenes go on and on, sometimes unrelated to the larger structure, like a bore who dominates a dinner table conversation by holding court too long. Yet you go away with a vibrant feeling of Marrakech-the heat, the smells, the bazaars, the overcrowding, the snake charmers, the primitive music and poetry-a world as rustic and foreign as the surface of the moon. The visuals often cover for emotional subtexts that get sidetracked. Julia is an unconventional woman searching for spirituality, but in her selfish disregard for the children’s welfare she’s not very likable. After being poisoned by a surrogate father who can only provide tins of spoiled sardines, the look on the girls’ faces when they spy their first bowl of cornflakes makes you wonder when Julia will come to her senses.

Kate Winslet miraculously manages to bring some dimension to this carefree but exasperating woman, gullible and childlike yet passionate and needy-a reckless foreigner in a bizarre country she never fully conquers, a spirited mother for whom traditional responsibilities are easily disregarded. With a Rubenesque body that doesn’t appear to have ever visited the inside of a Reebok Gym and a refreshing absence of makeup, she’s a welcome antidote to the anorexic zombies that populate the screen today, and Hideous Kinky is a brave vehicle that showcases her unusual talents winningly.

24 Hours on Ecstasy

While Hideous Kinky is neither hideous nor kinky, both adjectives apply to Go , a wild, violent, sexy and thoroughly entertaining movie directed and photographed by Doug Liman, who demonstrated his affinity for edgy, dark, quirky material with Swingers and isn’t the least bit reluctant to stick to his style. From structure to plot to smartass dialogue, Go owes so much to Quentin Tarantino it could be called Pulp Fiction 2 , but it has a unique and salty flavor very much its own.

Basically, it tells three separate but parallel stories that occur during 24 hours in the lives of a group of post-Gen-Xers in Hollywood and Las Vegas, incorporating every frayed element of nauseating youth-market movies in which everybody gets stoned, waves loaded guns around, talks incessantly about orgasms and vomits a lot. Yet this one is as different as it is annoyingly familiar. Fresh, constantly surprising and entertaining when you least expect fun, Go may be the best youth market movie so far.

An engaging clean-cut cast acting decadent won me over sooner than I planned. Sarah Polley, an Uma Thurman clone from Canada, gets things off to a frenzied start as a tough cookie named Ronna, an 18-year-old supermarket cashier on the verge of being evicted from her apartment who plans a one-time drug deal to pay the rent, selling 20 hits of ecstasy to Zack and Adam, two gay soap opera stars, played hilariously with straight faces by Jay Mohr and the irresistibly charming Scott Wolf. To score the drugs, Ronna has to leave her best friend Claire with the dealer for collateral. When the drug deal backfires, Ronna flushes the real drugs down the john and flees for her life, substituting aspirin for the ecstasy and selling to kids at a rave who think they’re drug-savvy. On her way to pay off the drug dealer and rescue Claire, Ronna gets hit by a speeding yellow convertible, thrown into a sewage ditch and left for dead.

The scene shifts to Simon (Desmond Askew), a brainless British expatriate who works with Ronna at the supermarket, on his way to Vegas with three pals who steal a car, shoot a bouncer in a sex club and get pursued in a hairy car chase that would frighten the silk socks off James Bond. The third story returns us to the fate of the two TV glamour boys, who have gone undercover in a drug sting to work off their arrest for possession, only to find themselves the reluctant guests of the bisexual vice cop (William Fichtner) and his oversexed Barbie-doll wife (Jane Krakowski) at a creepy Christmas dinner where they are the dessert.

The three-story structure seems labored and everything is as hard to follow as a map of downtown Tel Aviv. Then the dots start to connect: The handsome actors are the ones who drove the yellow killer convertible, Ronna isn’t dead after all, the thugs tracing the four clowns back to Los Angeles from Vegas for revenge work out a compromise. The stories unlock their mysteries and collate into an ironic fusion of intertwining destinies, and you end up laughing, scratching your head with a dumb expression like you’ve been caught with spinach in your teeth, and marveling at the inventiveness of John August’s roller coaster script.

Take characters as scummy as the ones in every other bad movie and go with them into uncharted territory, and you have the exuberantly fearless Mr. Liman’s formula for impudent (and amazingly sly) filmmaking success. From the lusty vice cop with a passion for pecs and erotic cologne to the virginal, naïve Claire (who is only stoned on ginseng and Dexatrim) every character provides a jovial kinkiness that becomes amusingly delicious. The superb ensemble acting and the giddy direction that stops short of farcical horror (it’s Tarantino with lollipops) prove it’s not the basics that matter, but what you do with them. Go does take you places you don’t want to go, but you’re kind of happy when you get there.

It’s Not Shakespeare

Imelda Staunton, the cheerful actress who played Gwyneth Paltrow’s fussy nurse in Shakespeare in Love , has brought her cabaret act over from London and plopped it down at the Firebird Cafe (through April 17). Eschewing a thing called truth in advertising, it was originally billed as “Imelda Staunton and Her Jazz Band,” but there’s no jazz in sight. Flat-chested in a sad, red strapless dress, she bravely warbles a weird collection of some of the worst songs ever perpetrated, and the four loud, twangy musicians who accompany her (including a pianist who spilled an entire glass of orange juice all over the grand piano) have absolutely nothing to do with jazz. It’s watered-down pop-blues with a little country western thrown in for total confusion, performed in a wafer-thin delivery.

With a sweet face, an easy grace and not much voice, Ms. Staunton tackles Patsy Cline, the Beatles and “Danny Boy” but not until Noël Coward’s wistfully felt “If Love Were All” does she show the capacity to touch. Mostly, she wails lyrics like “I want a brief encounter in a stolen car/A hand on my buttocks in a Spanish bar” and “I’d rather be found in a flophouse bed than under the ground with dirt on my head.” There is one funny bit where she impersonates Dame Kiri Te Kanawa trying to sing Tom Jones, but a dismal “Frankie and Johnny” sung to a twanging metal guitar while the drummer pounds out a rum-tum-tum Civil War dirge will send you searching nervously for the exit door.