" Oh Corny, do you really think I’m good enough? "
— Ricki Lake, Hairspray

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Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

Lara punches a shark, rides a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, and dives off a skyscraper —Matt Anderson (review...)

Jolie fits nicely into Lara Croft's boots

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“Vampirism is everywhere,” according to Nick (Aaron Beall). “It is at the bottom of a bottle or a needle in the arm. It is five hundred channels of insipid cultural drivel... It is the insidious Faustian bargains we make every day, the little compromises that eat at our soul.” This is the insight from a thoughtful new vampire movie called Habit, a movie with one of the highest quality-to-price ratios around.

Nick is the best friend of Sam (played very well by director Fessenden). Sam meets a great girl, Anna (Meredith Snaider), at a Halloween party. Drunk as usual, he leaves with her, the perfect escape from his ex, with whom he has just broken up. He realizes he grabbed the wrong coat and dashes back to the party to change. When he gets back out, Anna is gone.

Anna haunts his thoughts for a couple of days while he finishes moving his girlfriend out. He never got Anna’s phone number so all he can do is think about her in-between drinks.

She shows up again a couple of nights later and they hit it off. After a wild night of semi-exhibitionist pleasures, Sam wakes up in a strange part of town with a bloody lip. At least he’s got her phone number, and they seem to have a thing going.

Sam feels good, but a little weak. His relationship with Anna seems to be recharging his life. He still drinks, but he’s more conscious of it. One senses that with a few lucky breaks, Sam could get himself out of his current rut and make it work with Anna. Her strength is just what he needs. The sex is interesting, if a bit strange. Anna is something of an exhibitionist and she likes to bite Sam, but he enjoys her vigor.

Their relationship continues for several weeks, while Sam keeps feeling sicker and weaker. Eventually Sam decides he needs some time away from Anna and with his old friends. He recalls another friend from earlier in the movie who mentioned something about feeling sick in spite of all the sex he was getting, and that friend disappeared. And the strange bloodsucking behavior during sex... it’s almost as though Anna were a... well, of course not literally, there is no such thing, but if there were....

Several things make this film a surprisingly good sleeper.

The cinematography was surprisingly good, considering the film’s low budget. Frank DeMarco shot the film on 16mm stock using natural, preexisting, and other inexpensive light sources. Habit was nominated for the Spirit Award for best cinematography in 1998.

For the most part, the acting was also surprisingly good. Fessenden in particular was great as the man struggling against the drain on his energies. His intense icy blue eyes, missing front tooth, and greasy stringy hair add a lot to the credibility of his performance. Snaider had the next-biggest role, and though not as strong a performer as Fessenden, she held her own. Only a few performances, and in thankfully minor roles, had the sour taste of amateur actors.

The thing that makes this film really good is Fessenden’s script. The dialogue is natural and well written, but the best thing about it is the insightful story. In this story, modern vampires aren’t gothic wraiths who feed on human blood. They are the embodiment of the mental stresses of alcoholism, loneliness, and city life. Or rather, they are both. This fresh perspective is a welcome change from more traditional treatments of the vampire story, and is the thing that makes this movie deserve to be seen in wider release.

This film was reportedly made for a mere $190,000 by unpaid actors and filmmakers over a period of three months in New York. Other films have been made as cheaply but few have been made as well for that price.