Down to You (PG-13)
When Miramax's publicity department announced that their youth romance Down to You would not be screened in advance for critics because they were running behind in getting prints finished, it was easy to peg that excuse as a bunch of hooey. After all, this is January, the traditional dumping ground for cinematic refuse. While I don't think the film is quite at that low level, it does suffer from a big problem--one that is, interestingly enough, suggested by Miramax's no-screening reason: in terms of content, the film feels unfinished itself.
First-time writer-director Kris Isacsson does have his basic components in place. The heart of the film is the love story--told in heavy flashback--between two New York college students, aspiring chef Al (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and artist Imogen (Julia Stiles). Their love is first love--meaning passionate, impetuous, and in many ways immature. For the most part, what is not immature is Isacsson's honest portrayal of such a type of relationship. This being a standard-issue Hollywood romance, it's not a spoiler to say that Al and Imogen are destined to end up together. Adding authenticity to such a convention is the unforced rapport between Prinze and Stiles. Yet as easily as their chemistry convinces that these two do belong together, one does get the sense that these two characters aren't quite ready to make the commitment to match their natural compatibility. They're human, but they're also quite young, and thus prone to do things that make little sense, least of all to themselves--and Al and Imogen hold true to that fact.
While Al and especially Imogen come off as real people, their supporting cast is sketchy at best. Selma Blair is wasted in a throwaway role as a porn star attracted to Al; Rosario Dawson is similarly squandered as Imogen's flaky friend Lana. At one point, Al gets on the outs with his actor/also-porn-dabbling friend Monk (Zak Orth), but one never gets a clear idea of who Monk is and how close he is with Al that it's impossible to care. The background players that remotely make any impressions are those used for cheap comic relief: Al's workout-happy roomie Eddie (Shawn Hatosy) and Al's TV chef father (Henry Winkler).
But even those two fail to serve their real purpose: they really aren't all that funny. Then again, neither are all of the stabs at comedy in Down to You. This being a PG-13 film, the numerous porn and sex gags are not only dumbed-down but played-down, thus rendering them pointless. In fact, all the attempts for laughs feel pointless, for they serve to distract from the real matter at hand--the Al/Imogen romance. Down to You feels unfinished largely because Isacsson never decided what he really wanted to make: a straight romance, or a romantic comedy. As such, we have a love story whose charm is often undercut by silly would-be comedy such as one character's attempted suicide by shampoo ingestion.
Like its title, Down to You ultimately comes down to one person, and that is Stiles. As she demonstrated in 10 Things I Hate About You, not only is she an actress blessed with beauty and real presence, she also is quite talented; she is able to suggest a depth to Imogen not necessarily written in Isacsson's script. She is also able to bring out a charm in her co-star that I had never before seen in his other films. I look forward to seeing her in a real movie, for underachieving fluff such as Down to You fail to serve this promising new star any justice.
Eye of the Beholder (R) Rear Window (PG)
Beauty may be in the Eye of the Beholder, but a dud is a dud, regardless of the perspective. And this long-delayed thriller (it bears a telling 1998 copyright) is unmistakably such a failure, rendered even more disappointing by the level of talent aboard and the amount of promise evident in its earliest stages.
A wan Ewan McGregor portrays the nameless "Eye," a British intelligence agent who becomes dangerously attracted to an alluring young woman named Joanna Eris (Ashley Judd, looking great and dong nothing more) who also happens to be a vicious serial killer of men. Make that "obsessed," for soon the Eye leaves behind genuine surveillance missions in favor of watching the fetching femme fatale 24-7, shadowing her every move. He does not so much want to have Joanna as he wants to "keep" her--he not only watches her, he looks after her, in a sense protecting her as a perverse type of guardian angel.
Writer-director Stephan Elliott, working from the basis of Marc Behm's novel of the same name, has a hypnotic visual style that serves the dark atmosphere of obsession well, particularly in the opening stages. The tricks, such slow motion and complex dissolves, have a sensual quality that give the film an enticing erotic kick. One scene where the Eye caresses a wall that separates him and a bathing Joanna has a subdued but no less electric sexuality.
What ultimately fails Elliott is his writing. After establishing the voyeuristic premise, the film gradually unravels and makes less and less sense. Much of this has to do with Elliott's need to make Joanna more than a chic murderess; he wants to make her a wounded soul with deep-seated psychological reasons for her psychosis. Not a bad idea, but when the reasons are so murky as to make very little sense, it makes for a source of needless confusion. Elliott is a little more successful on the Eye's end; suffering from the loss of his wife and especially his daughter, he has a recurring hallucination of his daughter (played by twins Ann-Marie and Kaitlin Brown), but this conceit is dropped without explanation somewhere along the line.
The supporting characters get even worse treatment. Geneviève Bujold plays Joanna's former mentor, who figures into the muddled explanation of Joanna's behavior, meaning her character doesn't make that much sense, either. Patrick Bergin is dull as a wealthy blind vintner to whom Joanna attaches herself; I'm not so sure if we're meant to think that she truly falls for him or not, for there is little in the way of writing or chemistry to shed any added light. A dirty and bleached-blond Jason Priestley wanders in from a different movie as a violent drifter; and the no-frills role of Hilary, the Eye's sole contact to the outside world, is done in by an awkward performance by k.d. lang.
But nothing in Eye of the Beholder is so awkward as the film becomes as the Eye follows Joanna all across the country, collecting snow globes in each city and watching, watching, and watching. Although very little, if any, tension and suspense is built, all the waiting and watching makes one anticipate some type of a payoff, but there isn't one; there isn't really an ending, per se, so much as a stoppage. Perhaps Elliott was trying to make a point about the futility of voyeurism, and if that's the case, it backfires, for it brings to light how much of a waste watching Eye of the Beholder is.
For some real voyeuristic thrills, one cannot do better than Universal's sparkling remaster of Alfred Hitchcock's timeless (that is, aside from the dated, soundstagey production design) 1954 classic Rear Window. The sharp Technicolor hues really place the audience behind the eyes of wheelchair-bound L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies (James Stewart), whose interest in watching his neighbors becomes dangerous when he suspects one of murder. The enhanced colors also make Grace Kelly, who plays Jeff's jet-setting girlfriend, even more stunning. But even if the print were as muddy as it had been before the painstaking restoration, this would still be a first-rate thriller, suspenseful, creepy, and wittily written (by John Michael Hayes), featuring fine performances by the entire cast. That the film looks as spectacular as it does (though, I must say, not quite as spectacular as the 1996 restoration of Hitchcock's Vertigo, which, in addition to a visual refurbish, was given a crystalline DTS soundtrack) is just an added treat.
Isn't She Great (R)
"Great" is unlikely the word to come to the mind of audiences in regards to author Jacqueline Susann after seeing her depiction in the loose comic biography Isn't She Great. More likely are the words "boorish," "brash," "annoying," and "untalented," which effectively sums up where writer Paul Rudnick and director Andrew Bergman have gone wrong.
"Untalented" is the key word out of those four. Isn't She Great is less a biography than an episodic chronicle of the struggling film and stage actress' (Bette Midler) obsessive pursuit of stardom, which finally comes in 1966 when she pens the notoriously salacious drug-addicted-and-sex-mad-starlets-in-Hollywood epic Valley of the Dolls. I suppose Susann's tale of success is supposed to be a tribute to the unwavering belief in one's dreams, and in reality it may very well be. Yet as presented in Isn't She Great, it's the story of someone with no discernible talent achieving a wholly undeserved success on sheer schmooze power. And while her catty one-liners (predictably delivered with gusto by Midler, who can do this character in her sleep) are good for a chuckle here and there, all the attitude doesn't necessarily make her more likable.
What is designed to add some layer of likability is Susann's domestic life, but it's botched in the execution. She and her husband and manager, Irving Mansfield (Nathan Lane) have an autistic son, but she has hardly any scenes to establish a convincing love for the child (Mansfield has more screen time with him). Most of all, it's the romance between Susann and Mansfield that's supposed to be the emotional hook. However, while I believed that he loved her (Lane's gentle performance help), I always got the sense that she didn't love him so much as the help he did her career. This could not be more clear in a climactic scene where Susann and Mansfield, having reached a crisis point, reconcile when she asks him to be her agent. The scene is played for laughs, but it hammers home the point that it's his career aid and not his love that holds precedence for her.
Isn't She Great is never less than interesting. If anything, the one-liners from Midler and Stockard Channing (a bundle of meow as Susann's actress friend Florence Maybelle) amuse, as does David Hyde Pierce's warmed-over Niles Crane act as Susann's uptight editor Michael Hastings; and the gaudy costume and production design serve as sweet eye candy. But bare minimum amusement cannot pass muster for a film that dares to ask the question Isn't She Great. Perhaps the real Jacqueline Susann was, but one would be hard-pressed to pay the film incarnation the same compliment.
The Big Tease (R)
Watching the opening moments of The Big Tease, my heart immediately sank. Here was another comedy using the much-exhausted mock documentary format (last used, to ill effect, in Drop Dead Gorgeous) only to frequently break its rules--as in, how the heck did they get all these angles with one camera? Furthermore, director Kevin Allen was not executing the premise--Scottish hairdresser Crawford Mackenzie (Craig Ferguson, who also co-wrote) comes to Los Angeles for the premier hairdressing competition, "the Platinum Scissors"--beyond the obvious: broad, cutesy, and obvious fish-out-of-water gags.
Then a strange thing happened from the 25-minute mark: I began to be charmed by this film. The key to the big turn is that Allen, Ferguson, and his writing collaborator Sacha Gervasi stop trying so hard to be outrageously funny and trust the absurdity of the story to speak for itself--resulting in some golden comic moments, such as one where Crawford wins over a snooty publicist to the stars (Frances Fisher) by identifying her entire hair care regimen with a simple glance. The Big Tease is far from original--it fits squarely in the Full Monty tradition of feel-good comedy from the British Isles--but it gets the predictable job done.
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The Extreme Adventures of Super Dave (PG)
MGM originally targeted this feature-length adventure of TV's accident-prone daredevil Super Dave Osborne (Bob Einstein, who also co-wrote) for the big screen in 1998, but it is only now seeing the light of day, and on video at that. The Lion would have been wise to keep this one swept under the rug, which proves that all of the comic talent in Einstein's family went to his brother, Albert Brooks. This painfully unfunny bore is an embarrassment for all involved; the actual "plot," such as it is, is irrelevant since the script is an endless string of redundant gags where Super Dave gets people's names wrong and, above all, injured in the most painful ways imaginable. As much torture as Super Dave goes through in this film's interminable 90 minutes, it's nothing compared to the pain suffered by those unfortunate to watch this piece of cinematic waste. (MGM Home Entertainment)
From Dusk till Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter (R)
Despite the numeral in the title of this second direct-to-video installment of the unlikely franchise begun by the 1996 Robert Rodriguez-Quentin Tarantino action-horror hybrid, the film is a prequel. Set in the Old West, Dusk 3 follows an outlaw (Marco Leonardi) who, after escaping from his own hanging, takes along the titular character, Esmeralda (Ara Celi, known to soap fans from her work on All My Children), on his ride to freedom. Along the way, the two--and the authorities pursuing them, led by the hangman himself (Temuera Morrison)--make a stopover at a bar that, as in the other two films, happens to be a hangout for the undead. It also happens that Esmeralda's arrival may be more a matter of destiny than coincidence.
The expected bloodbath ensues, and director P.J. Pesce stylishly and briskly stages the numerous shootings and feeding frenzies. Alvaro Rodriguez's script has few surprises--the big twist, which ties into a key character in the original Dusk, won't shock anyone, in particular anyone familiar with that film--but it packs plenty of what one would expect from a Dusk film: action and excitement.
The DVD includes an thankfully unused coda as clichéd and obvious as it is gruesome. (Dimension Home Video, DVD also available)
Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs: Wakko's Wish
While Warner Bros. had always been less than artistically successful with their big-screen animated endeavors--that is, until last summer's triumphant The Iron Giant--the studio had always been a standard-bearer when it comes to television animation, in particular in conjunction with Steven Spielberg. Much like how WB and Spielberg's savvy and entertaining early late-'80s-early-'90s Tiny Toon Adventures begat the savvy and entertaining 1991 direct-to-video feature How I Spent My Vacation, their mid-to-late '90s sensation, Animaniacs, has spawned a straight-to-tape feature that more than preserves what made the source series such a success. In Wakko's Wish, the Warner Brothers and the Warner Sister, Yakko (voiced by Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell) and Dot (Tress Macneille) are residents of Acme Falls, which is ruled by an evil, tax-mad king (Paxton Whitehead); penniless, Wakko wishes on a star for the money to fund a needed operation for the ailing Dot. However, the rest of the town learns of the wishing star, and everyone races to reach it first.
The story, of course, is incidental; what matters are the jokes along the way, and Wakko's Wish delivers the series' usual blend of smart, satiric in-jokes for the adults and broader slapstick for the young ones. What will appeal to both demographics is Animaniacs' trademark musical numbers; the kids will love the catchy tunes while the grown-ups will appreciate the witty lyrics and complex musical allusions (one song actually adapts a classic melody by Franz Liszt). Few films bearing the "family" label truly hold appeal to all ages, but this is one glorious example where the classification rings true. (Warner Home Video)
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Saving Private Ryan (R) Movie: ;
: Natural Born Killers Movie: ;
The first major work by Steven Spielberg to be released on DVD, DreamWorks' Saving Private Ryan disc proves that it does not take a raft of supplemental materials to make a worthy disc. In fact, the only extras are the 1998 film's two theatrical trailers, production notes, a made-for-HBO featurette on the production (distinguished by glimpses at some war films Spielberg made as a youth), and a "message" from Spielberg that is little more than an ad soliciting contributions to the National D-Day Museum. What makes the disc a must-buy is the spectactular presentation of the film itself; the sound and picture is remarkably close to the actual theatrical experience (of course, exactly how close is dependent on your home theatre system). Tied together by a slick--but not overly so--animated menu design, Ryan is a keeper.
Those who want superior film presentation with extensive supplements will be more than satisfied by Trimark's Natural Born Killers package. The disc is essentially a digital repackaging of their excellent 1996 deluxe VHS presentation of Oliver Stone's original unrated cut of his controversial 1994 satire on media and violence. The same selection of deleted scenes and Stone's introductions to them are taken directly from the tape version, as is the behind-the-scenes documentary on the film. Added for the disc is a moderately interesting running commentary by Stone, much of whose insights are repeated in the other supplemental materials; and some inventive menus that echo the film's feverish and frenzied look. As for the film itself, love it or hate it for its content, one must concede that it is nothing short of a technical marvel, and the pristine audio and visual transfer does not in any way diminish Stone's achievement on that level. Like it or not, NBK has its place in cinema history, and this disc will help keep that place secure for years to come. (Ryan: DreamWorks Home Entertainment; NBK: Trimark Home Video)
My Dog Skip (PG)
"Boy and his dog" movies always seem to fly over my head. Perhaps it's because I've never been much of a pet person, or more likely it's because in pandering to everyone from the tykes to the old folks, the cutesiness is often cloying and the sentimentality is almost always syrupy. My Dog Skip, based on Willie Morris' beloved World War II-era-set 1995 memoir, is guilty of committing both those crimes. However, while this family film often follows the traditional mechanics of its genre, the emotions it elicits feel far from manufactured.
That isn't necessarily the case in the early stages of My Dog Skip, which traces young Willie's (Frankie Muniz) relationship with the titular canine, whom he receives as a 9th birthday gift from his mother (Diane Lane). With the departure of his next-door neighbor and idol, celebrated former high school athlete Dink Jenkins (Luke Wilson), for military duty, Skip (whose full name is "Skipper") quickly becomes Willie's new best friend. Unsurprisingly, the development of their relationship comes complete with all the usual precious scenes of Skip trying to drink out of a toilet and charming the pants off the locals in Yazoo, Mississippi.
Skip the film takes a longer while to charm its audience, and while that sounds like a knock, it's actually a compliment. Despite some moments of melodrama (such as Dink's slow-mo departure, bombastically scored by William Ross), director Jay Russell works at a low key, subtly planting the emotional seeds that come to full blossom by the film's conclusion, which packs a profoundly poignant punch. The film's effectiveness is every bit as much his collaborators' doing as it is his own. Although some of the situations he's placed in are cloying, Muniz never falls into the trap himself; he's remarkably assured and--crucially--real for child actor. Ably supporting him are Lane, Wilson, and, as his war veteran father, Kevin Bacon. And while a number of the film's failings fall squarely on her work, scripter Gail Gilchriest must also be commended, in particular for some lovely passages of voiceover narration, nicely read by Harry Connick, Jr.
My Dog Skip is a nice film, and its unabashed sentimentality is certain to lead some viewers to call it too nice. But that's what makes it an ideal family entertainment: harmless to the kids, while offering something deep and valuable for the adults. My Dog Skip is a touching film with its heart in the right place in a day and age when so many movies don't have one at all.
Next Friday (R)
Released in 1995, the low-budget comedy Friday was obviously meant to be a big showcase for its co-writer/star/executive producer, Ice Cube. However, it was Cube's co-star, a then-unknown stand-up comedian by the name of Chris Tucker, who was ultimately credited for the film's modest but solid box office returns and even greater popularity in video stores (where it is still a rental and sales hit). With such a profitable investment-to-return ratio, a follow-up is inevitable, so now we get to see what happens Next Friday. But with Tucker having long graduated into bigger-budget starring roles, one wishes that Cube and New Line Cinema had left well enough alone.
Although it prominently featured the now-famous hyper comic stylings of Tucker, the original Friday was distinguished by its decidedly laid back tone and execution. Sort of a lighthearted tonic against the traditionally dour and violent cinematic portrayals of South Central Los Angeles, the film followed one especially eventful 24 hours in the lives of a close knit South Central neighborhood, and director F. Gary Gray (who himself has moved on to higher-profile and -budget projects) and writers Cube and DJ Pooh perfectly captured the often-lumbering rhythms of everyday life: moments of eventful activity padded by stretches of inactivity that is interesting in its own way. The film presented the 'hood as a typical community, populated by people all with their own little quirks, some more eccentric than others. As such, Friday was, if not exactly groundbreaking cinema, a likable film--not to mention at times one that was quite funny, thanks to Tucker and his memorable pothead character, the aptly named Smokey.
For Next Friday, Cube (now writing solo) and director Steve Carr decide to compensate for Tucker's absence (for the record, Smokey is mentioned as being in drug rehab) by creating some manic energy of their own in the script department. Next Friday's more quickly paced story transplants Cube's rather blah Craig Jones from the 'hood to the home of his uncle Elroy (Don "DC" Curry) and wisecracking cousin Day-Day (Mike Epps), who--after winning the lottery--live in a fairly upscale neighborhood in the suburban haven of Rancho Cucamonga. Craig is sent there by his dog catcher father (John Witherspoon, the only other major returnee) to stay out of trouble--which, of course, is not far behind: it turns out the stereotypically boorish Latino drug dealers across the street have a beef with Day-Day; and Deebo (Tommy "Tiny" Lister, Jr.), the bully whom Craig had beaten at the end of the previous film, has escaped from prison and is out for revenge.
Plot details such as these, however, take a back seat to individual gags. Where the first film was fairly grounded in reality, Next Friday is all about outrageousness. Craig's father spends most of the movie wearing a uniform stained with dog excrement. Uncle Elroy indulges in wild sex with his girlfriend Suga (Kym E. Whitley), who, in turn, would like to "keep it in the family" and get down and dirty with Craig. Across the street, the drug dealers get down and dirty themselves with a few "bitches" (which shows how well women are portrayed in this installment). Craig gets into a knock-down, drag-out fight with the flamboyant owner of the record store where Day-Day works. And, since it wouldn't be a Friday without it, there's a lot of marijuana, which is given an even more prominent role. These bits may sound funny here in print, but in execution--and when added to a number of other jokes attempting the same shocking effect--it's all a bit too much.
That could not be said of the original, whose easy-going way took its time to endear itself to the audience. Next Friday is always in your face, and in laying on all the outrageousness, Cube sacrifices a key element to Friday's appeal: a surprising amount of heart. Not only does Next Friday not have any, it also lacks any soul.
All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre) (R) The Emperor and the Assassin (R)
Eccentric Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar's heartfelt tribute to the spirit of women has been winning raves since bowing at Cannes last May, and it has virtually swept all of the year-end critics' awards for best foreign language feature. I, however, fail to see the big deal. Let it first be said that I did like this film; the story of how divorced mother Manuela (Cecilia Roth) rebuilds her life following the untimely death of her teenage son does hit a number of the right emotional buttons, due in large part to Roth's extraordinary performance. It's the sideshow surrounding her emotional journey that's a bit more problematic. Manuela gets her life together through the help of a number of friends, such as a pregnant nun (Penelope Cruz), a stage actress (Marisa Paredes), and, most flamboyantly, a transvestite (Antonia San Juan). While the latter character effectively prevents the film from being too much of a grave downer, this clichéd comic relief drag queen also makes the film too slight, not to mention distracts from what is worthwhile in the film. Luckily, what is worthwhile--namely Roth's perfect performance--is enough to make Todo Sobre Mi Madre worth the time investment.
A better foreign language film, in my opinion, is Chen Kaige's sweeping Chinese historical epic The Emperor and the Assassin, which details the King of Qin's (Li Xuejian) attempts to unify all of China into an empire in third-century B.C. Key to his plans is a scheme where he sends his longtime lover (Gong Li, as luminous and convincing as ever) to hire an assassin (Zhang Fengyi) from a rival kingdom to make an attempt on his life. But as is always the case with the pursuit of power, one's desire and drive increases in inverse proportion to one's sanity and soul, and the price the king pays may not justify the prize. At nearly three hours long, the film's pacing is on the glacial side, but one is nonetheless kept involved in the film, thanks to the gorgeous photography and production design, not to mention the engrossing story and characters. Some of the performances, namely that of Li Xuejuan, tend to fall into the broad melodramatics, but it's hard to argue against such an approach when such palpable, haunting emotion is created.
A Map of the World (R)
Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of an Iowa farm wife/school nurse accused of child abuse is indeed worthy of all the accolades it has received, most notably a Golden Globe nomination. The role of Alice Goodwin is an exceedingly difficult one; her portrayer must have enough of a dark side to make the accusations plausible while at the same time remain likable enough to make the audience care. Weaver's achievement is not only pulling off the balance but making a real person.
Unfortunately, Scott Elliott's film as a whole is far less convincing. A Map of the World is the second in the new subgenre of drama I call "the Oprah film": a woman faces adversity of a domestic nature in a story usually coming from a novel on Oprah's book club list. That should tell you how gooey with sentiment the film is, not to mention the outcome of the entire affair. Nonetheless, Weaver and the rest of the stellar cast--which also includes Julianne Moore, David Strathairn, Arliss Howard, and Chloë Sevigny--do their best, even while saddled with some very "movie" dialogue (e.g., a sobbing Moore laments, "It's amazing how much a person can cry!").
Now, the movie so bad, not even Alan Smithee wanted his name on it. OK, perhaps that's really not the case--"Thomas Lee" was the agreed-upon pseudonym by director Walter Hill and MGM--but this long-delayed, much-tinkered-with sci-fi film is the year's first unqualified disaster. Sometime in the future, the crew of a space paramedic vessel answers a distress signal, picks up a mysterious stranger (Peter Facinelli), and, as the poster says, "all hell breaks loose" over an even more mysterious alien artifact the stranger brings along with him.
Perhaps the original script lived up to the promise of the intriguing premise because the film, as released, certainly doesn't. In the midst of the many re-edits the film underwent on the long road from shooting to screen, all sense of coherence was lost. For most of the running time, it's hard to understand or care about what's going on, and some of the ideas thought up in the 11th hour--such as the addition of a second zero-gravity sex scene, with James Spader and Angela Bassett's heads digitally attached to the bodies of the principals in the film's other weightless shag, Facinelli and Robin Tunney--just add to the confusion. As lost as the audience gets, no one in the auditorium can come close to the bewilderment exhibited by the cast. Spader is somnambulently morose; Bassett's earnest intensity seems ridiculously out of place for a piece of cheese such as this; the bland Facinelli exhibits no air of menace whatsoever; Lou Diamond Phillips, Wilson Cruz, and Robert Forster (who receives third billing for a five-minute part) simply go through the motions; and a clueless Tunney makes you wonder if she could possibly be the same person who gave such a bravura turn in 1998's Niagara Niagara. I would call Supernova this year's Virus, but that film was at least laughable. Supernova just lies on the screen dead, boring as all hell.
The Third Miracle (R)
Agnieszka Holland's drama, in which a priest (Ed Harris) investigates into the life of an American woman considered for possible sainthood, thoughtfully examines ideas of temptation, religious faith, and, most of all, the possibility of miracles. As well-mounted and -acted (the cast also includes Armin Mueller-Stahl and Anne Heche) the film is curiously flat. Harris' character, like many other cinematic men of the cloth, has doubts about his faith, and without a sense of urgency to match the importance of the issues it tackles, The Third Miracle faces an uphill battle to make believers of its audience.
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The Mating Habits of the Earthbound Human (R)
A young man (Mackenzie Astin) and a young woman's (Carmen Electra) courtship is traced in this comedy, which is in the format of--I kid you not--a nature documentary produced by an alien race. Some of the unseen narrator's (David Hyde Pierce) overly technical comments and misinterpretations of actions are amusing (in describing an act of fellatio, he comments that the female tastes a man's "seed" to see if it's appropriate to spawn her young), but this is one concept that wears thin within five minutes. And when put to the big test--that is, strip away the narration--the story holds little to no interest whatsoever. (Columbia TriStar Home Video)
Twin Falls Idaho (R)
A number of Independent Spirit Award nominations went to this remarkably accomplished debut for identical twin filmmakers Michael (who directed and co-wrote) and Mark (who co-wrote and stars) Polish. The two play, respectively, Francis and Blake Falls, conjoined twins whose stable but drab life of emotional and physical dependence is upended when a young prostitute named Penny (Michele Hicks) takes a liking to the two, but primarily the stronger (of spirit and body) Blake. The film is undeniably strange (Penny is more than intrigued with the perverse erotic possibilities, and some early moments of humor more than slightly remind of David Lynch) but what makes it so haunting is the sensitivity to its lead characters and their unusual plight--and how much the audience grow to care about them as people. (Columbia TriStar Home Video; DVD also available)