Con Air (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Don Simpson may be dead, but former producing partner Jerry
Bruckheimer keeps the old Simpson/Bruckheimer spirit alive with Con Air, a
loud, superslick, ultramacho, and all-around entertaining blast of action
A buffed-up Nicolas Cage stars as Cameron Poe, a decorated Army
Ranger who lands in prison after killing a thug in a drunken brawl. Years
pass, and the paroled Poe is one flight away from a new life with his wife
(Monica Potter) and the young daughter (Landry Allbright) he has yet to
meet. However, the flight he boards is one reserved for the transport of a
number of the nation's most dangerous felons. Under the leadership of Cyrus
"The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), the convicts hijack the plane, and
it's up to Cameron, with the ground support of U.S. Marshal Larkin (John
Cusack), to save the day.
Con Air marks the first production of the Simpson-less Jerry
Bruckheimer Productions, but most, if not all, of the hallmarks of
Simpson/Bruckheimer productions are here. Helming the feature is a director
hired to make things look good (commercial director Simon West, best known
for the spot where a boy is sucked into a Pepsi bottle); there are
explosions and gunplay galore; the musical score (by Mark Mancina and Trevor
Rabin) is loud and pounding; and, most of all, nary a trace of estrogen in
evidence. There is a female guard aboard the flight (played by Rachel
Ticotin), but the character is of little consequence; the same can be said
of Potter's role as Cameron's wife, which is even smaller than Vanessa
Marcil's analogous bit role in the final S/B production, The Rock.
This formula can grow tiresome without some refreshing tweaks, and
that is where the actors, with the help of screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (who
also wrote--of all things--Beautiful Girls), come in. Cage continues to
carve out a niche in the action market without sacrificing his penchant for
quirky roles. He is more of a traditional kick-ass action hero here than he
was in The Rock, but his Cameron Poe is still an oddball--trailer park white
trash with a hint of Elvis (complete with matching accent and politeness
streak). Also not sacrificing any eccentricity is Malkovich, whose Cyrus
the Virus is the type of effete, cerebral, and decadent character he's been
playing for years in less commercial projects (most recently The Portrait of
a Lady). Steve Buscemi plays one of the most bizarre characters of the
bunch, notorious mass murderer Garland Greene. As written by Rosenberg and
played by Buscemi, "The Mangler" is a deliciously ironic character, the con
with the most notorious rap sheet and reputation--who is also, as it turns
out, perhaps the most innocuous of the bunch. One con who is not fleshed
out as well as he could have been is Ving Rhames's Diamond Dog, a black
militant. Cusack's stressed-out Larkin is the straightest character in the
piece, but he brings his own sense of vitality to the role. I'm all for
interesting, unique characters, but one I could have done without is Sally
Can't Dance, a flamboyantly gay, cross-dressing con played to the camp hilt
by Renoly. Though his presence does set up one of the funnier throwaway
gags in the film, the character is a somewhat of a drag, a superfluous
flourish in a film already filled to the brim with eccentrics.
Bruckheimer films get the job done as far as action and pyrotechnics
(for which the audience sees the film in the first place), but they tend to
come up short is in the area of emotion. Any attempt at anything
approaching serious drama, especially in a film as loud and frenetic as
this, cannot help but seem like an afterthought. Even worse, these moments
are played so earnestly that they come off as a joke, which is exactly what
happens here with Cameron's tender moments with his wife and child. A
number of people in the audience could not help but laugh because West lays
on the sap about as thick as he does the explosives in the overpowering
As action icons Stallone and Schwarzenegger creep into middle age,
the time is right for the emergence of some new, fresh blood to headline
action/adventure films. With The Rock and now with the thrill ride of Con
Air, Nicolas Cage proves that he can not only look and play the part but
also add on a layer of refreshing character dimensions and quirks to the
traditional kick-ass hero. In doing so, he is truly breathing new life and
then some into the action genre.
Bliss (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Joseph (Craig Sheffer) and Maria (Sheryl Lee) appear to be the
perfect young married couple, but there's one pesky problem--Maria fakes her
orgasms. Enter Balthazar (Terence Stamp), a physician specializing in the
healing powers of sex--or, as he's referred to in one scene, "Dr. Fuck"--who
trains Maria and, ultimately, Joseph in the art of achieving spiritual and
The international media audience with whom I saw Lance Young's
long-delayed film (it had been held up for a year due to ratings trouble)
could not take the film nearly as seriously as he would have like it to
be--and how could they, especially when a lot of the dialogue inches into
Joe Eszterhas territory (my favorite exchange--Joseph: "I can't come!"
Maria: "Too bad, MOTHERFUCKER!") and the stabs at comic relief play as pure
camp? It got to the point where the audience started to mock the more
"serious" passages. When Balthazar tells Joseph, "You have to make love
with love and adoration," someone in the back of the audience started
clapping, and everyone laughed; a similar reaction came when Maria is
finally able to climax.
Bliss finally falls apart beyond repair in the third act, when,
without warning, the film takes a gravely serious turn, becoming in effect
what can best be described as a lost, alternate reality chapter of Twin
Peaks, Lee's former television series--What if Laura Palmer had lived and
gotten married? As seen in the Peaks feature, Fire Walk with Me, Lee does
some good emoting, but Sheffer is too much of a lightweight to completely
convince in his big emotional scene with Lee. Stamp, on the other hand, is
the only one involved in the film with some handle on how ridiculous much of
it is, dispensing his character's carnal wisdom with tongue firmly in cheek.
Buddy (PG) BUY THE:Poster!
Jim Henson Pictures' first feature film tells the true story of
eccentric 1920s socialite Gertrude Lintz (Rene Russo), an animal lover with
a large menagerie of creatures roaming in and around her large New York
estate. With so many animals living perfectly healthy lives with her, her
doctor husband (Robbie Coltrane), her assistant (Alan Cumming), and her maid
(Irma P. Hall), Gertrude sees no harm in adopting a baby gorilla. But as
"Buddy" grows older and larger, it becomes apparent that she has bitten off
a lot more than she can chew.
Children will likely eat up this warm and, with the exception of a
couple of intense scenes (which did make some of the kids in the audience
cry), cuddly film, especially the comic antics of Gertrude's chimpanzees.
Adults, however, will have a bit more trouble buying into it. While the
effects crew at Jim Henson's Creature shop give Buddy a remarkably
expressive face, the gorilla effects as a become increasingly less
convincing as Buddy grows in age and size, evolving from an adorable
animatronic infant to a what is obviously guy in a gorilla suit.
Writer-director Caroline Thompson also falls short with the film's
bittersweet conclusion, which does not pack the big emotional punch it
needs. The popular Russo, carrying a film on her own for the first time in
her career, provides a welcome dose of starpower, but there is only so much
acting she can do opposite a guy in a gorilla suit.
Night Falls on Manhattan (R) BUY THE:Poster!
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One of the biggest mysteries in film today revolves around actor
Andy Garcia--just why isn't this guy a big star yet? Despite delivering
solid performance after solid performance in a number of high-profile
Hollywood projects, he has yet to make a big commercial breakthrough. The
mystery continues with director Sidney Lumet's latest, an engrossing
thriller in which Garcia plays Sean Casey, an idealistic young assistant DA
who is assigned to prosecute the case of a drug dealer who killed a number
of police officers and seriously wounded Sean's cop father (Ian Holm). That
sounds like enough of a plot to fill out two hours, but what makes Night
Falls interesting is that the real story begins after this trial, when
Sean's career makes a meteoric rise, and he faces the real enemies--within
the New York Police Department. Garcia again turns in a solid, emotionally
complex performance, and he keeps the audience involved when the plot takes
some credibility-straining turns (namely Sean's overnight rise to power).
He is well-supported by Holm, Richard Dreyfuss (as a hotshot defense
attorney), and especially Ron Leibman, hilarious as the New York DA; when he
disappears from the action halfway through the film, so does a lot of
energy. But as sturdy a vehicle this is for Garcia's talents, Night Falls's
tepid box office receipts show that he will once again have to wait for
another chance to win the superstardom he deserves.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
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On paper, Steven Spielberg's The Lost World: Jurassic Park has the
makings of a vast improvement over the entertaining but wildly overrated
original film: the most remotely interesting human in the original cast,
Jeff Goldblum, is the only major returnee; the blah Laura Dern and Sam Neill
are supplanted by the vastly more interesting Julianne Moore and Vince
Vaughn; a wider menagerie of dinosaurs is featured; there are enhanced
dinosaur effects; and all of the necessary exposition is already covered in
the first film. Yet despite all of the basic improvements going into the
production, the perfectly entertaining finished product still somehow
manages to fall short of the original film.
This time around, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) very reluctantly joins
girlfriend and paleontologist Sarah Harding (Moore), environmentalist
videographer Nick Van Owen (Vaughn) on an expedition to Site B, a second
dinosaur-populated island, where the creatures were bred for the ill-fated
Jurassic Park. Add a child stowaway for the trip--in this case, Malcolm's
daughter (Vanessa Lee Chester)--and you have your perfunctory framework for
prehistoric mayhem, thrills, and chills.
The promise appears to be fulfilled in the first major dinosaur
suspense sequence, involving two very angry T-rexes and our heroes trapped
in a double trailer dangling off of a cliff. This scene, which features a
tense moment with Sarah on top of a slowly cracking horizontal window pane
and some choice dino feeding action, comes quite early in the film, and it
sets the stage up for greater thrills. But they don't come. The problem?
Miscalculations and missed opportunities. Other than this early scene and a
T-rex attack on a camp (complete with the return of the image of quivering
water), the major set pieces don't quite go for the kill. Especially
dismaying is the showcase raptor sequence. With the raptors chasing our
heroes in, on, and around an abandoned, run-down building, it is an
effective, suspenseful scene... until the end comes. Jurassic Park had its
share of corny moments (the bonding-with-kids-while-feeding-the-brontosaurus
scene comes to mind), but it never crossed the line to outright camp and
cheese, which is what Spielberg and scripter David Koepp let The Lost World
do in its resolution of the raptor scene. I won't give it away, but it left
me and the audience with which I saw the film completely aghast at its
idiotic awfulness. Certainly, a film about dinosaurs in the present day
requires a suspension of disbelief, but to even the most openminded viewer,
the end of the raptor scene will ring completely false. The film's third
act centers on an unexpected twist involving the T-rex, but the
possibilities this surprise idea brings aren't satisfactorily realized. The
T-rex is roars a lot, breaks stuff--but, shockingly enough, he doesn't
really help himself to the veritable buffet of people running from him.
What's the fun of a T-rex who's not hungry?
On a similar note, the promise of the casting does not pay off,
mostly due to Koepp's lazy screenplay. Once again, Goldblum is the only
remotely interesting human, getting all of the best lines. Moore does not
fall into the same trap that befell the original's overwrought Dern, who
attacked her role as if she wanted an Oscar nomination. However, once the
deadlier dinosaurs arrive, her brilliant scientist is reduced to being a
token screamer, and there's precious little left for the talented Moore to
work with. Vaughn is a very lively actor (see Swingers), but you would not
get that impression from his "role" here, which is a mere one-dimensional
placeholder. Pete Postlethwaite's character, a determined hunter after a
T-rex, is potentially interesting, but he goes nowhere. Chester, despite
having a key part in the horrendous raptor resolution, is a big step up from
the first film's kids, Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards (who both,
unfortunately, resurface in a cameo, albeit mercifully brief), but anyone
would have been an improvement over that annoying duo.
After all my griping, my giving The Lost World: Jurassic Park a
passing grade may seem a bit hypocritical, but up to this point I have been
focusing on what the film isn't rather than what it is: an enjoyable
adventure that never bores, even with a two-hour, fourteen-minute running
time. It delivers exactly what one would expect from a dinosaur movie--a
wide array of very convincing animatronic and computer-generated prehistoric
reptiles (even more impressive than in the original) destroying things and
people in more than a few reasonably thrilling set pieces. And as such, it
fits the bill of summer popcorn entertainment.
Brassed Off (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Delightful, moving tale of a small British town faced with the
closure of its coal mine and, in turn, the demise of its beloved brass band.
Writer-director Mark Herman makes his political statement without ever
getting too bogged down in details, making his arguments within an
accessible, entertaining package that is at once formulaic (Will the brass
band win the national finals? What do you think?) and cliché-busting (grave
illness does not necessarily spell death). Pete Postlethwaite, mightily
convincing as the band's proud conductor, leads a strong cast that also
includes Ewan McGregor and Tara Fitzgerald, effective and charming as the
young lovers in the band.
Trial and Error (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
Director Jonathan Lynn's latest shares a number of qualities with
his previous comedic foray in law, My Cousin Vinny: both are set in small
towns; both focus on lawyers of questionable skill; both employ
fish-out-of-water scenarios. But the similarities end there, for without a
sharp script, an old pro like Joe Pesci, or an ace-in-the-hole like Marisa
Tomei, this flat-footed farce, which substitutes labored, broad slapstick
for genuine wit, never comes to life. In a more subdued variation of his
Emmy-winning role of Cosmo Kramer, Seinfeld's Michael Richards plays an L.A.
actor who, through some rather contrived circumstances, must swap identities
with a hotshot lawyer friend (Jeff Daniels) for a fraud trial in Paradise
Bluff, Nevada. Something is surely amiss when the trial antics are the
least interesting aspect of a courtroom comedy; far more interesting is the
uptight Daniels's romance with a free-spirited waitress, played with great
heart and warmth by rising star Charlize Theron (2 days in the Valley, That Thing You Do!). That subplot has charm; the rest of the film does not.
Addicted to Love (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Stalking does not sound like a viable basis for a romantic comedy,
but actor-turned-director Griffin Dunne and screenwriter Robert Gordon have
somehow made it work in this entertaining film. Meg Ryan and Matthew
Broderick play Maggie and Sam, respectively, two jilted lovers who scheme to
break up their now-linked exes, Anton (Tcheky Karyo) and Linda (Kelly
Preston). It goes without saying that Maggie and Sam gradually discover
they have more in common than a desire to get even, and the sunny, romantic
angle of the story, as charming as it is, is by-the-numbers. But Addicted
manages to pack in a lot more bite than most contemporary Hollywood romantic
comedies; this is, after all, a revenge story, and the deliciously dark
humor of the revenge plot serves as a soothing, stinging tonic to the more
formulaic sap. Broderick holds his own as the lovelorn Sam, but the film is
mostly a showcase for the fired-up Ryan, obviously relishing the opportunity
to throw aside her trademark perk. She hilariously plays Maggie's
bitterness and nastiness to the hilt, helping the film maintain its
mean-sprited edge as the story takes the inevitable turn to the sweet.
Irma Vep BUY THE:Poster!
In this amusing satire on French cinema and the insanity that is
filmmaking, Hong Kong action diva Maggie Cheung stars as herself, cast as
the title character by a washed-up, pretentious French director (Jean-Pierre
Léaud) in a remake of the classic silent serial Les Vampires. The problem
is, though, no one involved in the production has the slightest idea what
they are doing, least of all the director. Writer-director Olivier
Assayas's venom mainly targets the pretensions and pomposity of French film,
but the film world in general gets raked over the coals, taking some witty
digs at the Batman films and Hong Kong cinema. Léaud is well-cast as the
director; his thick French accent makes his English dialogue virtually
unintelligible, which works well for the part: how does he expect to make a
good film if no one understands what he's saying? Nathalie Richard also has
some memorable moments as the stressed-out lesbian costume designer who
develops a crush on Maggie--and who can blame her? Cheung looks quite
fetching in the latex bondage costume she dons for most of the movie, but
there is more to her work here than her appearance. Playing herself as good
sport who never quite knows or understands what is expected of her, she
convincingly captures the overwhelming sense of confusion. Assayas ends the
film on a brilliant note, providing a glimpse at some of the "finished"
footage of that doomed film-within-a-film. Amazingly, what we see is even
much worse than anything anyone could have ever imagined.