Boone Treasures Clooney’s Songbook

When the great, irreplaceable Rosemary Clooney died, she left her lifetime collection of musical arrangements-a 60-year career of archival-status treasures, from soup to nuts-to Debby Boone. Not to the ASCAP, the Smithsonian or the Salvation Army, but to Pat Boone’s little girl. This is not as odd as it seems. The only thing Rosie loved more than her songs was her family. And Debby Boone was her daughter-in-law.

Now it’s payback time. The pretty singer with the warm voice who has been married to Rosie’s son Gabriel for 25 years is saluting and celebrating her mentor and mother-in-law with a brand-new cabaret act called Reflections of Rosemary, now through May 21 at Feinstein’s at the Regency. The title says it all. It’s all a big family affair in the nicest way possible. Get out your calculator and figure this out. Rosie had five children by the same marriage to José Ferrer. Five kids, 10 grandchildren, an army of musicians, singers, band leaders, friends and a nephew named George Clooney, and they all hung out day and night at Rosie’s house on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills next-door to Ira Gershwin. Debby Boone fell in love with Gabriel, the middle son, when they were both teenagers, and married him when she was 22. They have four kids of their own. (This gang believes in longevity.) Feinstein’s was Rosie’s New York home. She opened the room. Now it seems fitting that her daughter-in-law is taking over the joint with some of Rosie’s own loyal, longtime musicians, including her friend-arranger-pianist John Oddo. The pieces are falling into place. I’m dizzy from the math.

So the stage is set, the piano is tuned, and the audience has brought what you need at Feinstein’s-plenty of checkbooks, cash and credit cards. Now how about the music? It is my happy duty to report that from somewhere above, next to that second star on the right, Rosemary Clooney is beaming approval and smiling proudly. This is Debby Boone’s New York cabaret debut, but she’s no novice, and all of her stage roles, concerts, music tours and CD’s are paying off nicely. She doesn’t sound like Rosie, but it’s obvious that she’s listened studiously to the family record collection, mastering the same timing, intonation and that laid-back, center-of-the-chart, straight-from-the-heart intimacy her mother-in-law perfected. Because the emphasis is on Rosie’s vast repertoire, almost anything goes and all of the finest composers are represented. Not known as a jazz stylist, she nevertheless achieves an easy swing rhythm on “Time After Time” that enthralls, and with her six-piece band jamming wildly on “From This Moment On,” she fractures the joint. If you snag a veteran rhythm section like Joe Cocuzzo on drums and Jay Leonhart on bass, there are no detours ahead on standards by André Previn, Cy Coleman, Jule Styne, Sammy Cahn, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hart, and Cole Porter. I love the imaginative way she weds “It Never Entered My Mind” with “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” until they sound like separate choruses of the same composition. This girl has taste.

She’s full of surprises, too. Inserting a country-and-western ballad like Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” into the proceedings approaches blasphemy-until you realize that Debby’s maternal grandfather was popular Grand Ole Opry star Red Foley and Rosie’s own Kentucky bluegrass roots led to one of her biggest-selling record hits of all time, “Half as Much,” which was also written by the same Hank Williams. Changing pace and style as fast as the flick of a manicured fingernail, she reduced the crowd to awe with “I Wish It So,” one of the last compositions ever written by Marc Blitzstein, from the fabulous score of the Broadway musical Juno. This is an aria, not a pop tune, and it’s a stretch, unlike anything she’s done before. Another curious choice, you think, but wait: That show was directed by José Ferrer, Rosie fell in love with that song and recorded it on one of her best collections at a time when she was in the middle of an ill-fated affair with the album’s arranger, Nelson Riddle. Who else would tell you these things?

From the State Fair classic “It Might as Well Be Spring” (Pat Boone starred in the movie remake) to a loving medley of ballads written for Bing Crosby (Rosie’s best friend, and his son Harry Crosby was in the audience to prove it), the versatility of the material fits like the clef notes in a big-band chart. And Debby Boone sings it all with a voice that makes up for a lack of power with a sunny warmth that is smooth, honest and true. This engagement is a welcome relief from the noise all over town. Two questions remain: Where has she been? And what took her so long to get here?

Araki’s Oz

Gregg Araki has been labeled the “Bad Boy of the Queer New Wave” for sexually explicit but gravely amateurish underground favorites like The Doom Generation and The Living End. But even though his latest, Mysterious Skin, is quirky and offbeat, there is no back-street home-movie self-indulgence about this cult sensation. Based on the acclaimed novel by the gifted writer Scott Heim, it tells parallel stories about two boys on the cusp of adulthood in rural Kansas who both experience a life-altering mystery they cannot explain. The only thing they have in common is that their parents have forced them both into Little League baseball, a sport for which neither boy is ideally suited, mentally or physically.

In the summer of 1981, Brian (George Webster) is a shy little 8-year-old introvert with thick glasses, red hair and freckles who passes out cold one night for five inexplicable hours that have disappeared from his life without a trace. He thinks he might have been abducted by a U.F.O. Meanwhile, a more worldly and fast-maturing 8-year-old named Neil (Chase Ellison) has a completely different experience that turns him into a sexually precocious teenager rented hourly by elderly truckers and traveling salesmen in a highway motel. As they embark on different journeys, the virginal Brian, terrified of sex, dedicates his life to seeking out oddballs who believe they’ve also been abducted by aliens; he also suffers from nosebleeds and has a grim experience with a dismembered cow. Jaded, promiscuous Neil, on the other hand, goes to New York with his best friend Wendy (Michelle Trachtenberg) to master the tricks of male prostitution and explore the dark side of the lonely, sad and dangerous life of a street hustler. The trajectory of this bizarre but fascinating film is how they come to terms with the mysterious incident that has shaken their lives and which, to their surprise, links them in desperate pain. The two stories finally merge 10 years later, when 18-year-old Neil (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)-spent, humiliated and almost dead-returns to Kansas and meets the tortured Brian (Brady Corbet) on Christmas Eve in 1991. When it’s finally revealed, the shared experience that has impacted their lives and linked them together is pretty shocking. Both of them, it turns out, were sexually molested by their Little League coach, a handsome, friendly and trustworthy surrogate dad and symbol of all-American masculinity, who lured them to his home with chips and Marshmallow Fluff, turning Neil into a willing student, eager to learn the ropes of perversion, while seducing the unconscious Brian without his knowledge. Once they understand what happened to them, their accidental reunion results in an emotional release so devastating that the viewer is rattled to the core.

Mr. Araki doesn’t shy away from graphic sexuality-Neil’s brutal rape at the hands of a sadistic john is one of the most terrifying scenes in any movie this year-and much of the film is borderline raunchy. But he remains rooted in his characters’ inner struggles and invests a lot of energy in the script’s emotional crux: how two sexually debilitated young men begin the process of healing each other. He also guides his cast into fearless character investigations that make even the cruelest scenes coherent and three-dimensional. The boys are excellent, but the same painstaking care has been taken with Elizabeth Shue as Neil’s slatternly mother and with Hal Hartley alumnus Bill Sage, cast against type as the twisted coach. The movie isn’t about him; it’s about what he did to the boys that ruined their lives-but by eschewing the easy portrayal of a pedophile as a monster, and making a sick predator seem almost normal (therefore doubly terrifying), he raises the caution level for this particular kind of criminal to new heights of awareness.

Mysterious Skin is sexy and provocative, but there’s a subtle and unsettling political edge to this film: Its Dust Bowl setting (Kansas, after all, is what Dorothy escaped from on her way to Oz) and the details of its characters’ dull lives speak to an authentic, broadly middle-class American experience. What we do to our children by leaving them to solve their own problems, and the effect that bad timing and indifference can have on their disturbing choices and conflicted lives, is enough to shake your confidence in the safety of the American social environment to its very foundations. This is like Almodóvar, with a tarnished American flag in his hand: controversial, illuminating, deeply affecting and highly recommended.

Ferrell’s Footie

Most of the time, it’s just one damned flop after another, and Will Ferrell seems to be starring in all of them. Mr. Ferrell’s movies are like boxes of cereal fiber: Everything in them constitutes the same tasteless, predictable and boring ingredients. He seems to have picked up where Ben Stiller left off, and Chevy Chase before him: another in the overexposed army of graduates from Saturday Night Live who’ve worn out their welcome. Let’s face it, some comics are just not meant to be stars. John Candy’s limited appeal worked as long as he played second banana to Tom Hanks, but when Hollywood started manufacturing formulaic comedies to fit his girth, they tanked. Now we’ve got Will Ferrell, who even put everybody to sleep when he was directed by Woody Allen. His little SNL skits mimicking George Bush had a tonic effect, but they cannot carry an entire movie. I’ve suffered through at least a dozen Will Ferrell movies, and I couldn’t tell you the difference, one from another, even at gunpoint.

In addition to his latest forgettable fluffball, Kicking and Screaming, Mr. Ferrell has four more movies coming out this year, and is currently shooting (would you believe it?) six more at the same time. The only person who must be thrilled by all of this apocalyptic career overkill is Mr. Ferrell’s agent.

Another sour trend currently metastasizing in the brains of Hollywood hacks is the mistaken idea that mixing a contemporary mediocrity in generational opposition to an established icon will create automatic box-office boffo. The result is that the reputation of yesterday’s legend usually gets demystified, the temporary fans of today’s no-talent curio stay away in droves, and everybody loses. In Kicking and Screaming, the elements are Mr. Ferrell and Robert Duvall, who are teamed in the same way that J. Lo and Jane Fonda face off in Monster-in-Law. As dumb ideas go, it’s nothing more than a third-rate ripoff of The Bad News Bears-no better than Monster-in-Law, but light years ahead of Dustin Hoffman meeting Mark Wahlberg in the moronic I € Huckabees.

Mr. Ferrell plays Phil Weston, a couch-potato vitamin salesman who has spent his life enduring the gung-ho antics of his athletically overbearing father (Mr. Duvall), a sports-equipment retailer and weekend soccer coach. In his formative years, Phil was humiliated by sitting out every game on the bench while his dad favored other team players. When Phil finds his own shy young son in the same abusive situation with his grandfather, his inner child rebels and, for reasons that make so little sense they needn’t concern you any longer than it takes to refill your popcorn box, he becomes the coach for a team of rejects he soon whips into championship frenzy. Instead of hitting the ground running, this lame little film just lies there like limp lard.

The weak and predictable script is matched by the direction of Jesse Dylan ( American Wedding), which displays almost no comic style whatsoever. The gimmicky casting of football’s Mike Ditka as himself in a major role instead of a cameo falls flat. He just can’t act. But then, neither can Will Ferrell. Despite one funny bit where his caffeine addiction turns him into Knute Rockne on steroids, Mr. Ferrell is a washout going through the paces for money. Mr. Duvall is wasted, but like Ms. Fonda in Monster-in-Law, he survives with his dignity intact, in a cynical, flamboyant role reminiscent of The Great Santini. My advice to Will Ferrell is to take the money and run before he heads for the showers. Kicking and Screaming is a zero, but the title describes how the audience is likely to react, perfectly.