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#119 November 26, 1997
M O V I E S
Alien Resurrection (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| DVD Set!
| Movie Book!
1992's Alien3 marked not only the death (by suicide) of its popular
protagonist, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), but, in many ways, the Alien
franchise itself--box office receipts were anemic, thanks to poor audience
word of mouth; and the critics who rallied around the first two
installments, 1979's Alien and 1986's Aliens, savaged David Fincher's slog
of a sendoff (myself included). Hence, Weaver, director Jean-Pierre
Jeunet, and the others behind Alien Resurrection faced a two-fold
challenge--not only somehow resurrect Ripley, but also rescue this
once-profitable series from the scrap heap. Despite the odds, they have
succeeded, even if the entertaining new installment does not measure up to
the excellent first two.
Writer Joss Whedon devises a quick, easy, and painless answer to the dead
Ripley problem--clone her, which is what shady military scientists do using
some blood left behind on Fiorina 161, the prison planet of the third film.
That done, the real challenge presents itself--what do with her. Alien
introduced Ripley as smart and resourceful; Aliens simultaneously toughened
her up and made her more vulnerable, exploring her maternal side; Alien3
saw her undergoing the seven stages of death. What could be next? Whedon
comes up with a clever spin: since the original Ripley died while
impregnated with an Alien queen, the blood used for the clone is also
"infected" with Alien DNA. So the new Ripley is, indeed, new--a
human/Alien hybrid blessed with heightened instincts and strength, a
psychic bond with the deadly species, and a more predatory attitude.
Unfortunately, that is where Alien Resurrection's clever streak in writing
stops. The Alien series is known for having stronger stories than most
creature features. But the story in Resurrection is more of an
afterthought. The movie begins with a plot involving some military types
attempting to train Aliens to do their bidding, but once the creatures
break free, it is once again Ripley and a ragtag crew (this time a bunch of
interstellar smugglers, including tough waif Call, played by a game Winona
Ryder) trying to exterminate them. And the Alien Ripley scenario is
ultimately not exploited to its full potential; I would have liked deeper
exploration into the quandary of becoming one of the species she has spent
her entire life trying to destroy.
While the settling into tried-and-true formula is a little disconcerting,
the formula is tried-and-true for a reason, and Jeunet tackles the
proceedings with giddy abandon. The Alien, after all these years, is still
terrifying, and a new breed that is introduced is no less so. The violence
is appropriately grisly and extreme, and the action set pieces are
suspenseful and exciting, most notably an extended underwater sequence.
The film is absolutely mesmerizing visually, thanks to the solid work done
by production designer Nigel Phelps and cinematographer Darius Khondji. As
technically adept as Jeunet's direction is, perhaps his (and, for that
matter, Whedon's) greatest contribution is the infusion of humor into this
notably downbeat and serious series. A sense of humor may seem to go
against everything this horror show stands for, but the self-awareness of
the excess just adds to the fun.
No, Alien Resurrection is not the great film that Ridley Scott's Alien or
the even greater film that James Cameron's Aliens was. But after the
dauntingly slow gloom and doom of Fincher's Alien3, Jeunet's Resurrection
is a welcome return to its roots as a wild, reckless thrill ride. That is
what made the Alien series so popular in the first place, and that is what
will keep the series popular in any future installments.
Anastasia (G) BUY THE:Poster!
| Movie Book!
Months before its release, Fox's epic animated musical Anastasia had been
touted as the first legitimate challenge to Disney's animation empire,
which looked more vulnerable than ever after the disappointing box office
(and, as it turns out, merchandising) performance of the fun-but-phoned-in
Hercules. Now that the film has arrived in theatres, does the Mouse indeed
have reason to worry? During its exquisite first twenty or so minutes, I
found myself agreeing with the buzz, but the film soon collapses under the
weight of convention, becoming a merely pleasant entertainment.
A harrowing prologue set in 1916 swiftly gives us the necessary backstory:
during a revolution the entire Russian royal family is killed save for the
czar's youngest daughter, Anastasia (spoken by Kirsten Dunst, sung by Lacey
Chabert), who is lost after escaping from the palace; and her grandmother,
Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury), who left Russia for Paris just
before the unrest. Then the film flashes forward in time, jumping into its
buoyant opening number, "A Rumor in St. Petersburg," which introduces the
main action: the presumed-dead princess is rumored to be alive, and with
their eye on a possible financial reward from the Empress, con men Dimitri
(spoken by John Cusack, sung by Jonathan Dokuchitz) and Vladimir (Kelsey
Grammer) seek out a young woman who can be a believable Anastasia stand-in.
While a big opening production number is part of the Disney formula,
directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman approach it in a fresh way. In Disney
films, the characters do little more than sing and slightly sway to the
music; here, the style is more live-action Broadway and MGM, with
background characters forming a full-on dance chorus, spontaneously
breaking into heavily choreographed moves.
Dimitri and Vlad ultimately find their perfect impostor in orphan Anya
(spoken by Meg Ryan, sung by Liz Callaway), and that's no accident--she
truly is Anastasia, but with barely any recollection of her royal past.
Freshly released from an unpleasant orphanage, Anya articulates her dream
of having a family in the stirring "Journey to the Past." This number is
equivalent to the Disney "I Want" song in function, but once again the
stage-influenced execution sets it apart, with Anya literally prancing her
way through the snow-covered forest and even capping her song by
dramatically raising her arms into the air (you almost expect the movie to
pause for audience applause).
Right before Anya meets up with the scheming duo comes a truly stunning,
magical moment--as it turns out, the film's way-too-premature peak. She
steps foot in the ballroom of the abandoned palace, crooning the hauntingly
beautiful "Once Upon a December," a lullaby her grandmother used to sing
with her when she was young. After a single verse, the ghosts of the past
waltz in through the windows, enveloping her, creating a lavish ball out of
By this song's end, the glitter and glamour disappears, and so does much
of the luster of the film. The songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens
(the latter of whom holds a special place in my and many others' hearts for
her enduring work on ABC's Schoolhouse Rock!) become increasingly
forgettable, and even worse, the story loses some steam. The strict
adherence to the established Disney formula becomes a hindrance. There is
really no dramatic need to include an out-and-out villain in the piece,
but, true to convention, there is one: evil monk Rasputin (spoken by
Christopher Lloyd, sung by Jim Cummings), whose supernatural curse on the
royal family caused its near-destruction. While the dying Rasputin's plot
does lead to some standout sequences (in particular a suspenseful and
spectacular sea storm scene), and the running gag of his body parts
constantly fall off is amusing, I never felt as if he and his sidekick,
wisecracking albino bat Bartok (Hank Azaria), played a necessary role in
this story; they seemed to be shoehorned in for formula's sake. More
interesting and involving than the good-versus-evil plot is the romantic
sparring between Anya and Dimitri; this may sound odd, but Ryan and Cusack
generate a lot of chemistry with their voices. But the resolution to their
romance is far from satisfying. Instead of being moved by the ending, I
was merely pleased.
One thing, however, does remain consistently impressive throughout
Anastasia, and that is the visuals. The animation is a little ragged and
not nearly as fluid as Disney work, but the artwork is outstanding. From
its beautiful handdrawn images to the three-dimensional computer-generated
work, all shot in the 2.35:1 CinemaScope aspect ratio (the first animated
feature to be shot so since 1959's Sleeping Beauty), Anastasia truly looks
and feels like an epic even when the goings-on are less so.
In the end, the heavily hyped Anastasia does not announce Fox's animation
division as a challenger to Disney's throne. What it does announce,
however, is Fox as a potential challenger. Anastasia may not be great,
but it is good, and if the film is a jumping-off point for the fledgling
animation house, the Mouse should be prepared for a war.
Four Days in September (R) BUY THE:Poster!
On the surface, Bruno Barreto's bilingual drama Four Days in September
tells the fact-based tale of a group of young Brazilian idealists who
strike out against their country's military regime by kidnapping the
American Ambassador (Alan Arkin) in September 1969, demanding the release
of fifteen political prisoners in exchange for his release. The main
concern of the film is not whether or not their demands are met (though a
great deal of tension is created from that scenario). Barreto and
screenwriter Leopoldo Serran (working loosely from the book O que é isso,
companhiero? by Fernando Gaberia) are more concerned with the effect this
act of terrorism has on the neophyte terrorists, and they paint an
effective picture of the resulting crises of conscience, in particular that
of Fernando (Pedro Cardoso), a brainy type who forms a bond with the
ambassador. Four Days is not without its problems; a romantic subplot
between Fernando and a fellow conspirator (Fernanda Torres) is contrived,
and the actresses cannot extract a single tear between them. But as it
stands, it is an intriguing, understated film that quietly brings up loud
questions of honor, duty, ideals, and courage.
V I D E O
Snow White: A Tale of Terror (R) BUY THE:Poster!
"The fairy tale is over." That tagline perfectly describes this strange,
creepy, and fascinating retelling of the Grimm Brothers' famous tale,
unjustly blocked of a theatrical release last year (thanks a lot, Disney).
Sigourney Weaver is absolutely phenomenal as Claudia, the wicked stepmother
to our heroine, here named Lilliana (the enchanting Monica Keena, best
known as Bill Pullman and Peter Gallagher's younger sister in While You
Were Sleeping). Claudia resents Lilliana from the get-go because of her
striking resemblance to her legendarily beautiful mother, who died during
childbirth. Claudia becomes even more resentful--murderously so--when she
loses the baby she was to have with her husband Frederick (Sam Neill),
Yes, there is a prince (David Conrad), a poison apple, a talking mirror,
and seven outcasts who help Snow White in the forest. But director Michael
Cohn and scripters Thomas E. Szollosi and Deborah Serra put some
interesting spins on the material: for a start, the prince isn't so
charming, and only one of Lilliana's seven friends is a dwarf. These
alterations, plus the frenzied atmosphere of darkness may be a little
off-putting for some, but it only helps to invigorate the well-worn tale
with new energy, albeit violent and sexually charged. The result is an
involving, enthralling piece of work that respects the tale's tradition
while breaking fresh new ground. (PolyGram Video)
What better way to spend Thanksgiving by serving up a couple of turkeys...
cinematic ones, that is. While you can't go wrong with the established bad
movie greats--e.g. Showgirls, any Ed Wood film--here are a few lesser-known
titles that are certain to satisfy anyone's craving for after-dinner camp.
Some of these titles may be hard to find (and are not worth the trouble),
but if you can see them, a feast of fun awaits... (star ratings are irrelevant and therefore not included)
Blood Beach (R) BUY THE:Poster!
The horror genre has had its fair share of ludicrous killers (Chucky the
doll, anyone?) but perhaps none more ridiculous than this 1980
schlockfest's, which is... a California beach. OK, maybe it really is a
giant wormlike thing (with the low-rent effects and bad lighting, it's hard
to really be sure) lurking under the sand, but this bit of info is revealed
late in the game. Until that revelation, we are treated to some howlingly
funny scenes where very bad unknown-and-never-heard-from-again actors are
sucked into the sand, whole or by part. How funny? Let's just say that my
favorite scene is where a rapist has his you-know-what eaten by the
Breakaway (R) BUY THE:Poster!
A mob courier (Teri Thompson) wants out and attempts to make off with
$300,000 in cash. Doesn't sound too different from most straight-to-tape
shoot-'em-ups, and most of this 1996 action thriller isn't: explosions,
guns, fights, nudity, sex, a leggy lead. But what makes this film shine
above the rest are two words, which are accompanied by an "introducing"
label during the opening cast roll: Tonya Harding. Yep, the former
knee-banging Gillooly makes her, uh, "performance" (can't exactly
call it acting) debut (and, let's hope, finale) in the supporting role of
Gina, a tough-as-nails waitress. In a scene that must be seen to believed,
Gina proves her mettle (and Harding lets out some of her pent-up Kerrigan
anger) by pummeling a mob type with some not-so-nifty "martial arts" moves
that make Elizabeth Berkley look like Bruce Lee. Just thinking about the
sight of the chunky, unagile, slow-moving Harding attempting to kick up her
legs has me laughing already. (Prestige Home Video)
The Forbidden Dance (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
An amazon princess (former Miss USA Laura Herring, who has since changed
her last name to Harring--wonder why?) attempts to save her rain forest
home from greedy land developers by... entering a lambada contest in Los
Angeles. Is it any wonder why I love this incredibly pretentious and
deluded bad acting, bad dancing, bad writing, bad directing, bad everything
fest from 1990? (Columbia TriStar Home Video)
Teen Witch (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
| Musical CD!
Many movies claim to have it all, but very few can actually back it up.
This gem from 1989 is one of those few. At face value, it's a
fantasy/comedy about a dowdy teen (Robyn Lively) who uses witchcraft to
become the most popular girl in school and win the heart of her hunky crush
(Dan Gauthier). What the basic plot synopsis--and all other sources--fail
to prepare you for is its choreographed production numbers and wonderfully
cheesy bubblegum pop tunes written expressly for the film by Larry Weir
(why hasn't Disney been calling him?). So the viewer gets a fantasy,
comedy, romance, and musical all for the price of one, with such
only-in-a-great-bad-movie treats as a "funky" white rapper (Noah Blake)
busting into rhyme every now and then ("I'm hot/And you're not/If you want
to be with me/I'll give it one shot") and a chorus of cheerleaders jumping
around the locker room singing a song titled, yes, "I Like Boys." (Media
Vibrations (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
Small-town would-be rocker T.J. (James Marshall) loses his hands in a car
accident cooked up by some thugs (don't ask). Distraught that he has
stumps where his hands used to be, and that their limp prosthetic
replacements (don't ask) are of no use, he makes off to New York, where he
meets up with a new-agey dance club worker named Anamika (Christina
Applegate). With her love and a pair of robotic hands fashioned by some of
Anamika's friends (don't ask), techno-playing T.J. becomes a rave club
superstar as a robot (don't ask) named Cyberstorm. No, this plotline is no
joke. The only joke is the one on writer-director Michael Paseornek, who
obviously was going for some serious drama with this 1995 effort--and
instead came up with one of the most unintentionally hilarious films ever
made. I mean, how can you not laugh when T.J. stops a stove fire in a
diner by laying his latex hands on top of it, or at T.J. and Anamika's love
scene, which tries to be tender and romantic in spite of a most untender
and unromantic distraction--T.J.'s bulky metal hands? (Dimension Home Video)
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| Book on Tape!
| Book on CD!
After spending three years on the bestseller list, John Berendt's
Midnight and the Garden of Good and Evil has been brought to the screen by
Clint Eastwood in a film that is not likely to stay too long at the top of
the box office charts--provided it even gets there at all. While Midnight
is, in the end, an intriguing and handsome production, watching this very
long, leisurely paced film is like reading a book--not necessarily a bad
thing, but not exactly what one is in the mood for when watching a film.
At its core, the fact-based Midnight is a courtroom drama, documenting the 1982 trial of Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey), a wealthy Savannah antiques
dealer charged with the murder of Billy Hanson (Jude Law), one of the help
at Jim's estate and his sometime lover. Writing a book on this sensational
case--and investigating the truth behind the fateful night--is John Kelso
(John Cusack, playing a fictional stand-in for Berendt), a New York writer
originally sent down to Savannah to write a Town and Country magazine
article on Jim's swanky annual Christmas party.
The plot, however, appears to be of little concern to Eastwood and
screenwriter John Lee Hancock, who, in trying to capture the feel of
Berendt's book, are more interested in the colorful array of characters
John encounters through his research and investigation. Among those he
gets involved with are Jim's smooth talking attorney, Sonny Seiler (Jack
Thompson); Joe Odom (Paul Hipp), an ex-lawyer who dreams of opening a piano
bar; Mandy Nichols (Alison Eastwood, Clint's daughter), a free-spirited
flower shop worker in whom John develops a romantic interest; Minerva (Irma
P. Hall), a voodoo priestess who aids Jim's case; and, most notably, The
Lady Chablis (played by him/herself), a flamboyant transvestite who lived
with one of Billy's lovers. Yet while these are all interesting people who
together make up a varied cross section of the Savannah population, most
have little more than a tangential connection to the main proceedings,
serving to further bloat the running time, which, as it stands, clocks in
at over two and a half hours. The presence of a large, novelesque canvas
of characters is commendable, but Hancock cannot quite make it work
because, interesting as they are, they are not given much to do that is of
equal interest; the background players' main duty is to react to Jim's
crime and subsequent trial. An exception to this would be Minerva, but
even this voodoo angle, which comes to play a major role, is not
incorporated into the story in the smoothest of manners, popping up out of
nowhere midway (to lend the film its title) only to resurface at center
stage in the final act.
Eastwood-directed films are known for their slow pace, and Midnight is no
exception. Any slowly-paced film runs the risk of losing its audience's
attention, but Midnight does not, thanks to an engrossing plot hook and the
polished work by cinematographer Jack N. Green, production designer Henry
Bumstead, and the acting ensemble, which is strong across the board.
Spacey, not surprisingly, does a finely modulated job, managing to make Jim
sympathetic without diluting any of his unsavory nature; he just may have
nailed his second Oscar nod for the year (the first would be for his superb
supporting work in L.A. Confidential). But as good as he and Cusack are,
the movie is stolen from right under them and all else involved in the
picture by The Lady Chablis. True, he/she is playing him/herself, but
he/she does it with such brash, go-for-broke insouciance that everything
take a backseat to him/her whenever he/she is onscreen. A Supporting Actor
nod should be in his/her future, but given the notoriously conservative
tastes of the notoriously conservative Academy, that can be safely ruled out.
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil did keep me engaged all through
its lengthy running time but perhaps not in the way it should have. As a
film, Midnight is a good read, paced slowly to accommodate thorough
exploration and digestion of the little details that are interesting if not
particularly important. However, a bit more tightening and focus would
have made the thoughtful and literate Midnight a better watch.
The Jackal (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Bruce Willis! Richard Gere! The Jackal is loose! Just about everything
about Michael Caton-Jones's reworking of the 1973 thriller The Day of the
Jackal seems exclamation-ready... everything, that is, except for the
entirety of the film itself. Willis is effectively cast against type as
the title character, an expert assassin/master of disguise who is hired by
a Russian mobster to assassinate someone within the federal government. To
aid in the effort to catch the Jackal, the FBI releases imprisoned IRA
sharpshooter Declan Mulqueen (Gere), one of the few people alive who has
seen the mystery man's face.
The simple chase set-up is promising, but the follow-through is curiously
lethargic and suspenseless. In the place of genuine thrills and tension,
we are treated to the sight of Willis modeling an array of bad hairpieces,
Gere's painfully forced Irish brogue, and a number of talky scenes where a
bunch of government types sit around a table and discuss the Jackal's
actions. The action, when it does come, is somewhat diverting,
particularly a scene where the Jackal tests a high-tech cannon, but
perfunctorily staged. Generally speaking, the acting is fairly decent
(Gere's accent excepted), with a couple of standout performances by Sidney
Poitier (as an FBI agent) and Diane Venora (as a tough Russian intelligence
officer with a bad burn scar). Nothing in The Jackal struck me as
particularly bad; it is just that, for as high-profile and big-budget a
production as it is, the film could not be less interesting.
One Night Stand (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| Screenplay! One Night Stand began life as another Joe Eszterhas sex romp, but after
Leaving Las Vegas's Mike Figgis came on board to direct and extensively
rewrite the script, Eszterhas amicably relinquished all writing credit.
Figgis's resulting film is perhaps more serious-minded than Eszterhas
originally intended, but after a promising start, this look at adultery
loses its way--and, in the end, anything resembling a point.
The film begins rather oddly, with Max Carlyle (Wesley Snipes, who won the
Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for his fine performance) emerging
from a New York hotel and introducing himself directly to the camera. He
is a successful Los Angeles commercial director, with a large house, a
beautiful wife named Mimi (Ming-Na Wen), and two young children. Max's
family does not accompany him on this trip, which he makes partly for
business but mostly to reconnect with his former best friend, gay,
AIDS-stricken performance artist Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.).
Unexpected chaos and confusion (involving a hotel clerk played by Figgis
himself, hiding his moptop under a bad Elvis-like wig) prompt Max to stay
in New York for an extra night, and by chance he meets Karen (Nastassja
Kinski), a mysterious blonde who is also married. The traumatic
circumstances that lead to the titular adulterous encounter are mechanical,
but, under the director's capable hand, they are quite believable, and when
the two do fall into bed, it is depicted in a non-exploitative (and very
non-Eszterhas) fashion: brief glimpses, sensuously scored by Figgis
himself, punctuated by fadeouts (the latter a visual flourish Figgis comes
to overuse as the film progresses).
The next day Max returns home to L.A. feeling removed from his life, and
this is where the film starts running into some trouble. While the reasons
behind his feelings of detachment are completely understandable, those
behind the strain between Max and Mimi are not. Certainly the one night
would cause some marital turbulence, but it is implied that their marriage
already had some underlying problems, a point which is poorly established
(the only detectable problem is Mimi's aggressiveness in the bedroom).
More strain comes a year later, when Max, this time with Mimi in tow,
returns to the Big Apple to visit the now-bedridden Charlie, and
reencounters Karen, who, as it turns out, is married to Charlie's brother
Vernon (Kyle MacLachlan).
With his discreet handling of the one night, Figgis successfully
establishes that the Max and Karen's initial encounter is not about a cheap
thrill. But it is also meant to show a passionate spiritual connection
being made between Max and Karen, which I could not grasp; instead I simply
saw two people clinging to each other in a moment of weakness--no more, no
less. So when the reunited Max and Karen try hard to not give in to their
feelings, one wonders exactly what those feelings are. Lust? No; their
night together is shown as more than a cheap thrill. Love? That seems to
be the intent, but one never gets a clear idea of it, especially since we
get no real insight into what Karen feels the whole time, and Kinski adds
no dimension to her flatly written role. In fact, the only characters that
are not written with any depth are Max and Charlie (marvelously played by
Downey), who, not surprisingly, serves as the voice of reason.
Figgis told Entertainment Weekly that he does not think that any of the
original Eszterhas script remains in the film, but one would never guess
based on the pair of twists that cap the film. Lacking in any concrete
buildup, subtle or overt, these developments seem to come straight out of
Eszerhas's manipulative bag of tricks. As problematic as I found One Night
Stand to be for much of its running time, at the very least it appeared to
be setting up a point. But by the time the conclusion rolls around, you
wonder if Figgis ever really had one.
Eve's Bayou (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| Soundtrack (1)!
| Soundtrack (2)!
Actress Kasi Lemmons (best known as Jodie Foster's roommate in The Silence of the Lambs) makes an auspicious writing-directing debut with this lyrical tale of the Batistes, a Louisiana Creole family in the 1960s. Told through
the eyes of 10-year-old Eve (Jurnee Smollett), the middle child of three to
town doctor Louis (Samuel L. Jackson) and Roz (Lynn Whitfield), the story
centers on the toll Louis's womanizing ways takes on the family, in
particular Roz, Eve, and Eve's confused older sister Cisely (Meagan Good).
But there is more to Eve's Bayou than the involving family melodrama; the film's true strength is reflected in the film's poetic opening line:
"Memory is a selection of images, some elusive, others printed indelibly on
the brain." More than anything, Eve's is about just that--the nature of
memory, and how it rarely matches the truth of life. Lemmons brings this
theme to life through the conflicting memories of characters; "the sight,"
a clairvoyance that serves as both a blessing and curse to Louis's sister
thrice-widowed sister Mozelle (Debbi Morgan); and inventive and entralling
visual ways, such as a striking scene where a mirror serves as a literal
reflection of the past.
The performances are not altogether perfect--Diahann Carroll is
self-indulgently hammy as voodoo priestess Lazora, and Smollett's largely
solid performance is not without its rough patches--but there is still a
lot of superb work on display here. Jackson is commandingly charismatic,
and Good outshines Smollett with her astonishing and powerful work as the
troubled Cisely. As impressive as they are, though, the true knockout
performance comes from Morgan, whom I have long admired from her ongoing
work in daytime drama (she won an Emmy for All My Children, and she is currently on Port Charles, both shows on ABC). It is a pleasure to see
this truly gifted actress prove to a wider audience that not all soap
actors are no-talent hacks (though, admittedly, there are plenty of
those). If she does not get a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination next
spring, Academy voters are not doing their job.
The Full Monty (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| Sheet Music!
After much hesitation, this week I finally caved in to the popular buzz
that has steadily built and saw this year's little indie that could... and
I was quite entertained. Peter Cattaneo's simple, modest comedy about a
group of unemployed steel workers (led by Robert Carlyle, Trainspotting's
psychotic Begbie) who form a most unlikely striptease troupe to earn cash
is a delightful entertainment, one that leaves the audience smiling and
giggling, all the while painting a convincing and touching portrait of the
downtrodden in England.
However, as much fun as I did have, I was still kind of let down. While
the group's charmingly amateurish routines are funny, the film as a whole
is not the gutbuster all the hype, box office grosses, and word-of-mouth
led me to believe. The guys may go the full monty (that is, all the way)
in their stage act, but the film does not in the way of laughs.
Happy Together BUY THE:Poster!
| DVD Set!
It is easy to see why idiosyncratic Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai's
(whose stateside claim to familiarity--you can't exactly call it fame--is
the fresh and funny Chungking Express) latest film won him the Best Director award at the Cannes Film Festival. Moody, gorgeously photographed (by Christopher Doyle), and flat-out superb on a technical level, it bears the indelible watermark of a true auteur.
Too bad Wong's story is not as engaging his storytelling. Happy Together could not be a more ironic title for this look at the tortured relationship between two gay Hong Kong men (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Leslie Cheung) in Buenos Aires. Despite fine turns by top HK stars Leung and Cheung, I found myself not caring very much, if at all, about these two characters and
their destructive relationship. When they are together, they are miserable
and constantly bicker; when they are apart, they mope around, wallowing in
their lonely sadness (U2's "With or Without You" would have provided a more
appropriate title than the Turtles' titular tune). Yet while the film
makes no solid emotional connection through anyone or anything, Wong
manages to create a rich atmosphere of romantic longing that hangs over the
entire film--a testament his impressive command of the filmic art.
The Man Who Knew Too Little (PG) BUY THE:Poster!
For his birthday, Des Moines Blockbuster Video clerk Wallace Ritchie (Bill
Murray) travels to England to visit his uptight banker brother James (Peter
Gallagher), who, as a present--and also to get him out of the house during
an important business dinner--gets the wacky Wally tickets to the Theatre
of Life, an experimental dramatic experience where the audience consists of
one, and that one is an active participant in the scripted action. But
after a mixup, Wally unwittingly becomes entangled with a femme fatale
(nicely played by the freshly Kilmer-less Joanne Whalley) and a very real
terrorist scheme--all of which he believes to be mere plot points in the
script of a secret agent scenario.
In addition to being a spy spoof, The Man Who Knew Too Little plays
somewhat like a comic twist on David Fincher's The Game. The basic setup
is just about the same (man receives interactive "game" as birthday present
from brother), but instead of creating an eerie atmosphere of paranoia
through the uncertainty as to whether or not the protagonist's experiences
are genuine, director Jon Amiel and scripters Robert Farrar and Howard
Franklin mine laughs with the dramatic irony that our hero believes reality
to be false. Admittedly, it is a fairly thin gag, but Farrar (who also
wrote the novel Watch That Man, upon which the film is based), Franklin, and Amiel come up with clever ways to keep the wacky Wally oblivious. Much of the film's success, though, can be attributed to Murray, whose timing and goofball charm are as effective as ever.