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Thank you, Kevin Bacon, thank you, Ramones

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If I pick up a thank-you note to send to Kevin Bacon, would you guys sign it? It really is the least we can do, seeing as he might be the most underappreciated actor around (now that Johnny Depp has caught Oscar's eye, anyway). His gut-wrenching turn as a prisoner in Murder in the First is one of the great unsung performances, and he was the only good thing about Mystic River (yeah, that's what I said). And he seems to be equally comfortable channeling mustache-twirling villainy in films like Wild Things and Sleepers.

Director Nicole Kassell made the right choice in enlisting the services of Bacon for her debut feature, The Woodsman (playing at the Little Theatre). It's a tricky proposition to make a sex offender the least bit sympathetic, but Bacon deftly elicits both our disgust and our compassion through his portrayal of Walter, an ex-con attempting to re-enter society while he tries to keep his demons at bay.

Walter has just returned to Philadelphia after a 12-year prison stint for child molestation. The only apartment he can find is across from a school (what parole officer green-lighted that I'll never understand, but it certainly fuels the plot). He lands a job at a lumberyard with a supportive boss (the underused David Alan Grier) and a nosy co-worker (Eve).

The lone family member who will speak to Walter is his smug brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt). Then Walter gets involved with the no-nonsense Vickie (Kyra Sedgwick, who really bugs me), despite his best efforts to avoid human contact.

And then Walter's compulsions resurface. What should be an innocuous trip to the mall turns into an exercise in suspense that leaves you squirming. But we're not the only ones watching Walter --- a laidback yet intense cop (scene-stealer Mos Def) stops by every so often to let Walter know he's keeping an eye on him and contributes to the fairytale analogy that gives the film its title.

Seeing a movie about a pedophile is probably not your idea of a fun night out. Kassell (who co-wrote the script with Steven Fechter and based it on his play) doesn't exploit the premise or the actors, looking as objectively as possible at a man whose impulses are more horrifying than most but who is living day to day and struggling to recover.

There's a make-or-break scene towards the end where the usually withdrawn Walter meets an actual Little Red Riding Hood (the extraordinary Hannah Pilkes), and his transformation is palpable. For the first time in the film he seems like a real person, smiling and interacting, until it becomes clear to Walter that he's not the only damaged soul traveling through the woods that day.

--- Dayna Papaleo

In their 20-year history, The Ramones haphazardly achieved underground notoriety, gave birth to punk and countless punks, exploded, imploded --- all in spite of themselves. It's amazing they lasted as long as they did.

Michael Gramaglia and Jim Fields' new documentary, Ramones: End Of The Century (opens Friday, February 4, at the Little Theatre), sheds light on the dysfunction, turmoil, and mayhem that constantly threatened to derail the band. The Ramones' limited talent, interpersonal conflicts, and drug abuse are fairly well known. However, beneath the band's apparent ineptness laid a cunning determination.

No, there was no pretense. The Ramones were who they were and were what they were: reluctant, unaware rock 'n' roll icons. But through the film's candid interviews, the band's shrewd resolve rears its head. They knew what worked for them.

Though the film bounces from band member to band member to friends to family to bands to business associates, the narrative has a constant voice: a mixture of disbelief, exasperation, and faith. Between interviews, early live footage explodes loud and large on the screen, simulating the effect the band had when they arrived on the scene in bleak New York City in 1974.

There are classic early scenes of the band arguing on stage, playing songs in two different keys, and concert scenes that illustrate its simultaneous importance (a sold-out soccer stadium in Rio De Janeiro) and staggering obsolescence (a small club in Rhode Island).

Dee Dee Ramone comes off as a troublemaking six-year-old; Johnny Ramone seems fascist in his vision for the band and in his disgust for its vices; and Joey Ramone's quiet genius shines through his dorky simplicity.

Those close to the band offer anecdotes and an outsider's perspective on dynamics the band, in its own interviews, frequently contradict or refuse to see. Folks like PUNK Magazine founder Legs McNeil, producer Seymour Stein, Ramones artistic director Arturo Vega, and countless musicians speak with reverence and appreciation, realizing their lives would be quite different --- for better or for worse --- were it not for these four glue-sniffing degenerates from Forest Hills, Queens.

Clips of Ramones-era NYC bands like Television, The Talking Heads, Blondie, and Detroit's Stooges further illustrate the volatile importance of this era. It was a period in American music history that, though desperate and brief, seemed chronologically more significant than its meager years --- a whole century, if you will, crammed into a few short, explosive years.

End Of The Century may be more for the Ramones fan. It delves into band details and trivia. Still it is an interesting look at a band that almost didn't happen but gained immortality. End of the Century respectfully and accurately documents The Ramones' ascent to rock 'n' roll history, while at the same time mourning the band's passing. It plays like a loud, happy, sad, frenetic, punk-rock obituary.

--- Frank De Blase

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