Below are some reviews I wrote for either my high school newspaper, the Long Beach Polytechnic High Life or the fanzine Phanzine Star, circa 1992. Some were printed, but most never saw the light of day... until now.
Aladdin (G) - November 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
Three years ago, Walt Disney Pictures introduced moviegoers to a mermaid who lived "under the sea." In 1991, a Beauty and a Beast touched the hearts of millions in "the most beautiful love story ever told." This year, Disney offers Aladdin, "an adventure beyond your imagination" that is destined to become yet another Disney animated classic.
Aladdin (speaking voice of Scott Weinger, singing voice of Brad Kane) is a "street rat," a thief who dreams of winning the love of the beautiful Princess Jasmine (spoken by Linda Larkin, sung by Lea Salonga) and living in the royal palace. The evil Jafar (Jonathan Freeman), a royal adviser, sends Aladdin to the Cave of Wonders to retrieve for him a magic lamp. But instead of landing in the clutches of Jafar, the lamp ends up with Aladdin, and he becomes the master of the lamp's Genie (Robin Williams). Aladdin uses one of three wishes to become "Prince Ali" in an attempt to woo Jasmine. Meanwhile, Jafar tries to steal the lamp and reveal "Prince Ali"'s true identity.
Aladdin is an incredibly enjoyable film, full of wonder, excitement, laughter, and romance. But musically, it suffers in comparison to The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Although three of Aladdin's six songs are by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman, Oscar-winning team of Mermaid and Beauty, their work here doesn't measure up. As catch as Genie's big show-stopping number, "Friend Like Me," is, it isn't as memorable as the manic rhythmic madness of Mermaid's "Under the Sea" or the Broadway-style melody of Beauty's "Be Our Guest." Menken and Tim Rice, lyricist of Evita, contributed three songs after Ashman died during production; Rice's lyrics are fine, but they don't have the witty edge or depth of Ashman's. Aladdin's introductory number, "0ne Jump Ahead," doesn't dig deep into the personality of the main character, unlike Mermaid's "Part of Your World" or Beauty's "Belle." The main ballad, "A Whole New World," is beautiful and poetic but doesn't have the universal lyric's of Beauty's title tune. Whereas the words of "Beauty and the Beast" can relate to all romances, "A Whole New World" alienates those who haven't experienced the joy of riding a magic carpet.
What makes Aladdin overcome its musical flaws and brings it to the level of Mermaid and just a small step below Beauty are superior vocal performances. Genie is the perfect role for Williams, who delivers a deliciously out-of-control performance. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements wisely give Williams free rein to slip into character after character. Williams lets all his natural comedic energy out, and the results are hilarious, unforgettable, and Oscar-worthy. Gilbert Gottfried also gives a funny performance as Iago, Jafar's parrot; his whiny voice, which is annoying when he performs in person, is perfect for a cranky parrot.
Aladdin boasts dazzling animation in the classic Disney tradition. The super-speed computer animation for a magic carpet ride in the Cave of Wonders makes you feel as if you were there, fleeing from a menacing wave of lava. The movements of the mute magic carpet express more personality than most living, breathing, speaking, flesh and blood actors. The animators manage to seamlessly blend the different personalities of Genie at the lightning quick pace Williams fires off one-liners. The facial expressions and body movements of Aladdin, Jasmine, and Jafar accurately mirror those of real people, making the story that much more convincing.
"Come on down/Stop on by/Hop a carpet and fly" to Aladdin, one of the best films of 1992. Let it share its "whole new world with you."
Alien3 (R) - May 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
| DVD Set!
In 1979, the original Alien burst onto movie screens, introducing the slogan, "In space, no one can hear you scream." Thirteen years later that slogan is once again being used, this time for the film's second sequel, Alien3. However, a more appropriate slogan for the film is "In space, no one can hear you snore," for Alien3 is a dull, pointless pseudo-thriller that does live up to the legacy of its two powerful predecessors.
Alien3 opens where the second film, Aliens left off, with the popular heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the three other survivors, Newt, the space orphan; Hicks, the Marine; and Bishop, the android--drifting through space in their spaceship while in hypersleep. Naturally, it turns out that an alien facehugger was aboard the ship, and, through some vaguely explained circumstances, causes the spacecraft to crash onto Fury 161, a mineral ore refinery/prison planet. Newt and Hicks are killed in the disaster, and Bishop is damaged beyond repair, leaving Ripley alone on the dirty, lice-infested planet inhabited by 25 reformed rapists, murderers, and child molesters. Ripley soon finds out that her ordeal is far from over when a new alien is born on Fury 161, a planet with no weapons of any kind.
Alien3 will be a disappointment to fans of the previous two films. Alien3 screenwriters David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson make their first mistake when they dispose of the well-liked, well-established characters of Hicks and Newt. Although their deaths provide Sigourney Weaver with a showcase for her solid dramatic skills, following the loss of Hicks and Newt, the only character the audience cares about is Ripley. All of the prisoners are one-note and underdeveloped, including Clemens (Charles Dance), the prison doctor who has a brief, passionless affair with Ripley; and Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), the religious leader of the prisoners, two interesting yet underwritten characters who never reach their full potential. The script doesn't create an emotional attachment between the audience and the new characters, making the killings less shocking and frightening.
The advertisements promise "3 times the suspense. 3 times the danger. 3 times the terror." The only thing Alien3 has triple of is the word "fuck." The word is used at least once in mostly every scene in lines such as, "We must do something or we're fucked," "She brought the fucking thing here with her," or, simply, "Fuck!" for no apparent reason other than to keep the audience awake. Alien3 has little of the slam-bang action of Aliens, nor does it have the tense, edge-of-your-seat thrills of Alien. The audience expects thrills and chills but is instead force-fed long dry spells of go-nowhere dialogue explaining events rather than showing them, causing the film to go on with no true forward momentum.
Fortunately, director David Fincher's artistic vision and Sigourney Weaver's performance save Alien3 from being a complete disaster. Making his big screen debut, Fincher, a music video veteran, is a master at creating stunning visuals, such as Hicks and Newt's funeral shwon simultaneously with the birth of the new alien. Fincher is at his best during the film's final twenty minutes, which includes a dizzying chase sequence shot from the alien's point of view, and the climax, which provides a striking image that must be seen on the big screen to be fully appreciated. Weaver is at her most convincing at the beginning of the film, when Ripley deals with the loss of Hicks and Newt and during the emotional final act. However, Fincher's vision and Weaver's performance are hampered by the script; Fincher's work would be more compelling if the script was as ambitious as his artistic approach, and the talented Weaver is embarrassingly reduced to pointless cursing matches.
Alien3 proves that there was no need to continue Ripley's story beyond Aliens. Unlike a good sequel, Alien3 doesn't take the original concept to a higher level, inject fresh ideas, or, at the very least, uphold the integrity of the series. Alien3 is a slickly produced package that's all shiny gloss, no substance.
Basic Instinct (R) - March 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
A man and a woman lie in bed, writhing in passion. As the two reach an exhilarating climax, the woman wields an ice pick. Soon, the woman thrusts the ice pick into her unsuspecting lover, plunging it in and out of his neck and chest 31 times, sending drops of blood everywhere. This shocking scene of blood-splattered sex is the crime that stimulates Basic Instinct, the most controversial film of the year. Director Paul Verhoeven's sexually explicit and graphically violent psychological thriller is shocking and effective but doesn't quite live up to all the hype.
Michael Douglas plays Nick Curran, a San Francisco detective with a troubled past: he is a recovering alcoholic, smoker, and cocaine addict and earned the nickname "Shooter" for accidentally killing bystanders. Nick and his partner Gus Morgan (George Dzundza) are assigned to investigate the ice pick murder of a retired rock star. The prime suspect is Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone), a bisexual novelist whose latest book is about an identical crime. The sexy, uninhibited Catherine decides to use Nick as the model for a character in her new novel, in the process getting Nick to resume his old habits. Soon the sexual tension created by Catherine's manipulative mind games erupts, and the two have a torrid affair, much to the dismay of Nick's ex-lover, police psychologist Beth Garner (Jeanne Tripplehorn).
Basic Instinct is, for the most part, a compelling whodunit anchored by strong lead performances. Douglas plays Nick with the same fire and intensity that characterized his brilliant work in Fatal Attraction. He explodes off the screen with anger and lust, nicely depicting Nick's violent and unhealthy attraction to Catherine. Stone portrays Catherine with all the sinister sexiness she displayed in Verhoeven's Total Recall. Stone has a ball playing the carefree Catherine, evidenced in Instinct's most entertaining scene: During an interrogation, the pantyless Catherine flashers her crotch and makes sexually suggestive comments, leaving Nick and the other men panting and sweating in desire.
However, Instinct is not without its flaws, one being the overly explicit sex, a minute of which was cut to receive an R rating. The four lengthy sex scenes do further the plot, but the explicit nature is questionable. The explicitness is apparently designed to titillate, but the sex is more showy than anything else; Stone and Douglas appear to enjoy themselves, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you will.
Joe Eszterhas's script has its implausible moments. The most blatant example is when Nick is hit twice by a car, runs to his car, and skillfully proceeds to chase the car. Also, Catherine is the only suspect for the film's first 90 minutes; only in the final half hour are other characters are brought into suspicion, resulting in a sometimes-confusing clutter. Fortunately, though, the script manages to overcome its flaws by pushing all the right buttons with the audience.
Basic Instinct is engrossing, but underachieving. It could have been better, had Verhoeven and Eszterhas not been so easily sidetracked by "hot" sex.
Batman Returns (PG-13) - June 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
| DVD Set!
He's back. On buses, billboards, T-shirts, hats, toys, and commercials for McDonalds, Diet Coke, even Choice Hotels. With all the hype surrounding Batman Returns, the sequel to the 1989 blockbuster Batman has become more than a mere movie; it's an event. But is the Bat-blitz justified? To an extent, yes. Although it lacks a strong story, Batman Returns is a fast, funny, exciting assault on the senses that outshines the overrated original.
The threadbare plot of Batman Returns pits Bruce Wayne/Batman (once again Michael Keaton) against three new adversaries. The hideously deformed Penguin (Danny DeVito) launches a campaign for the mayorship of Gotham City with the aid of business tycoon Max Schreck (Christopher Walken), a scheming wheeler-dealer who plans to build an energy-stealing power plant. When his mousy secretary Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) learns about his diabolical plan, Schreck pushes her out of a high-rise window, leaving her for dead. However, Selina is revived by a group of cats and transforms herself into Catwoman, a sultry whip-wielding dominatrix wh is both irritated and aroused by the Caped Crusader.
Batman Returns's main weakness is Daniel Waters's screenplay. The film's primary plotline lacks any true depth; Schrecks's motives behind the power plant are never fleshed out. Then again, nothing about the character of Max Schreck is fleshed out; the character remains a relative enigma throughout the entire film. Bruce Wayne/Batman receives similar treatment. Not unlike the first film, the role of Batman is severely underwritten and underdeveloped in comparison to his colorful villains. However, other elements of the film more than make up for the shortcomings of the script.
The best performance comes from Pfeiffer, whose "purr-fect" portrayal of Catwoman will make her an even bigger star. Pfeiffer displays a lot of range; her early scenes as the weak Selina Kyle are funny and even touching, convincingly capturing Selina's frustration and emotional repression. At the same time, Pfeiffer manages to make Catwoman a believable tigress, showing impressive skills with a bullwhip and using athletic martial arts maneuvers in her slinky, skintight black rubber cat suit. With her seductive walk and sultry phone sex voice, Pfeiffer has perfected the good-girl-gone-bad act.
The other two stars of Batman Returns give completely opposite but equally effective performances. DeVito's portrayal of the Penguin is deliriously over-the-top, but the demonic insanity he brings to the role ads a sense of unpredictability to what could easily have become a one-note performance. On the other hand, Keaton gives a subdued performance as the Dark Knight, but he brings a little more life to the role this time than he did in Batman.
The most striking element in Batman Returns is the look of the movie. Director Tim Burton and production designer Bo Welch's Gotham City is a bleak world where urban decay has spread like a plague, with mammoth buildings litterally sinking into the ground as their fašades rust. The architecture is particularly impressive in the town square, where a cathedral is ornamented with towering statues, contrasting with the blank walls of neighboring skyscrapers. The dark, ominous set design provides the perfect backdrop for the Dark Knight's adventures.
Batman Returns is a better film than its predecessor, serving up more action and thrills. Burton keeps thing moving at a swift pace, never losing the viewer's interest. However, more action means more violence, and some may find a number of scenes objectionable, like when the Penguin bite's a man's nose. Returns is also rife with sexual double entendres; for example, when the Penguin finds Catwoman lounging on his bed, he exclaims, "Just the pussy I was looking for!" But regardless of its potentially offensive content and story problems, Batman Returns is highly enjoyable escapist entertainment that will undoubtedly have a long, prosperous run in movie houses.
The Bodyguard (R) - November 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
"Never let her out of your sight. Never let your guard down. Never fall in love," reads a list of rules on the ads for The Bodyguard. Perhaps the filmmakers should have followed the rule "Never let an inexperienced pop star take up acting," for Whitney Houston's simply bad debut performance and lack of chemistry with Kevin Costner ruins the romantic aspect of an otherwise enjoyable romantic thriller.
Houston plays Rachel Marron, a pop star who is plagued by death threats from an obsessed fan. To ensure her safety, her managers (Gary Kemp and Bill Cobbs) hire Frank Farmer (Costner), a former Secret Service agent, to be Rachel's bodyguard. The sassy Rachel doesn't think that she needs a bodyguard, and she and Frank don't hit it off initially. But after he rescues her from a mob scene and they spend more time together, they fall in love. After spending a night together, Frank realizes that he can't be more than Rachel's bodyguard while her stalker closes in.
Lawrence Kasdan's script, which he wrote 20 years ago for Steve McQueen, has spots of funny dialogue, like one exchange between Frank and an older woman (Woman: "I've been watching you all night from across the room." Frank: "Well, then, why don't you go back there and keep watching?"). But the script is also somewhat predictable. Although many of the plot developments can be predicted about ten to twenty minutes before they occur, director Mick Jackson manages to keep the audience involved with a visually arresting and tense style.
The thriller aspect of The Bodyguard works, but the romance does not. Houston's performance is every bit as awful as many critics have made it out to be. She only gives her all during the musical numbers; at other times, she appears completely clueless, totally at a loss as to how to make any line reading or action convincing. She doesn't seem interested in the material nor comfortable, especially during her scenes with Costner, who gives a decent performance. But he also appears uncomfortable with her; despite his best efforts, their romantic scenes feel forced and not at all believable.
The makers of The Bodyguard fail to follow the rule "Never make a romantic thriller without a convincing love story," but its thriller aspect works well enough to make it worth a look.
Boomerang (R) - July 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
After two consecutive box-office failures--the alleged comedy Harlem Nights and a lackluster sequel that definitely was not Another 48 HRS.--Eddie Murphy wanted to do a project that would reinvent his persona, a film that would introduce Murphy as a romantic leading man. That film, Boomerang, has recently hit theatres, and although it doesn't quite work as a romantic comedy, it is definitely funny enough to recapture Murphy's previous box office success.
Murphy plays Marcus Graham, a suave ladies' man who loves 'em and leaves 'em. However, Marcus gets his comeuppance when he gets involved with his new boss, Jacqueline Broyer (Robin Givens). Marcus wants to have a steady relationship with Jacqueline, but she'd rather let sexual bygones be bygones. Marcus soon finds himself caught between his unshakable attraction to Jacqueline and his growing feelings for his beautiful and charming assistant, Angela Lewis (Halle Berry).
If anything, Boomerang delivers laughs, and lots of them. The funniest--and trashiest--moments come from Grace Jones, who plays a sexually confident model vying for Marcus's affections. Murphy shows that he hasn't lost his touch during his two-year hiatus, utilizing his exceptional comic timing and delivery. The restof the cast lend great support, namely David Alan Grier (of In Living Color fame) and Martin Lawrence as Marcus's best buddies, Eartha Kitt as an amorous older woman, and the appealing Berry, whose talents were underused in The Last Boy Scout. The only performer who isn't particularly funny is Givens, who plays such a perfect bitch that her lack of comic material is forgiven.
While the comedy in Boomerang works, the romance does not. The screenplay by Barry W. Blaustein and David Sheffield (who were also credited wih Murphy's Coming to America) never develops Marcus as a character capable of feeling genuine love, thus making his deep feelings for Angela and Jacqueline and the film's ending unconvincing. But at least Marcus comes off as a relatively nice guy; Jacqueline is not a likable character--a heartless bitch with no sympathetic feelings of any kind. Angea is the only character of the three with true heart, making the Jacqueline-Marcus-Angela triangle free from any emotional involvement with the audience.
Boomerang may not accomplish all that it sets out to do, but it's ample serving of hilarious moments rate it a success.
Death Becomes Her (PG-13) - July 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
Hollywood's obsession with youth is given a bizarre comic spin in Robert Zemeckis's Death Becomes Her, a black comedy that is conspicuously short of laughs but loaded with entertainment value.
Death traces the rivalry between two former schoolmates, actress Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) and writer Helen Sharp (Goldie Hawn). The film begins in 1978, when Madeline steals away Helen's fiancÚ, nerdy plastic surgeon Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis), an incident that sends Helen to a mental hospital seven years later. Flash to 1992, when Madeline and Ernest's marriage is on the rocks, and a svelte, sexy Helen is out for revenge. Determined not to be outshined by her lifelong rival, Madeline visits a scantily-clad sorceress (Isabella Rosselini), who gives her a magical potion that would not only grant her eternal youth, but eternal life as well. However, eternal life proves to be more than Madeline bargained for--after breaking her neck, immortality proves to bring a few body maintenance problems.
Death Becomes Her is not the non-stop laugh riot it appears to be; for each five minutes worth of laughs ther seems to be a ten- to fifteen-minute lull. But whenever the laughs come, they come big, and the movie never bores, thanks to three stellar performances: Streep, mostly known for her dramatic work, proves to be an adept comedienne; Willis, famous for macho action roles, makes a surprisingly convincing geek; and Hawn continues to prove whe's one of the finest comic actresses in film today. Another standout aspect of the film are the dazzling visual effects, which embellish the film's dark humor with hilarious results, especially in the film's outrageous finale. Director Zemeckis puts it all together in an agreeable package jam-packed with entertainment value.
Death Becomes Her often concentrates so hard on being dark that it periodically forgets to be funny, but its stunningly inventive madness makes it an enjoyably offbeat romp.
A Few Good Men (R) - December 1992 BUY THE:Poster!
It is the dead of night. Two Marines wake up another and proceed to brutally bind and gag him. Fade to daytime, and the pomp and grandeur of a line of Marines marching and tossing and twirling their rifles with clocklike precision. These contrasting images of the Marine Corps open A Few Good Men, director Rob Reiner's riveting and thoroughly enjoyable courtroom drama.
Tom Cruise plays Lt. Daniel Kaffee, a Navy lawyer assigned to defend Marines Dawson and Downey (Wolfgang Bodison and James Marshall), who are accused of murdering a fellow officer stationed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. While Dawson and Downey admit to tying the Marine up and stuffing a rag down his throat, they claim that they had no intent to kill, merely carrying out a "code red," an unauthorized disciplinary action given to soldires who haven't been performing well. The cocky Kaffee, who has a history of plea bargaining, is forced to bring his first case to trial when Dawson and Downey refuse to plea guilty and therefore be "dishonored." With the aid of co-counsels Lt. Cmdr. JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) and Lt. Sam Weinberg (Kevin Pollak), Kaffee, believing that Dawson and Downey are not at fault, attempts to uncover the truth behind the "code red." Standing in Kaffee's way are Capt. Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon), the proscecuting attorney; Lt. Kendrick (Kiefer Sutherland), a devout follower of Marine practice; and Col. Nathan Jessep (Jack Nicholson), Guantanamo Bay's much-respected commander, who is forced onto the witness stand by Kaffee.
A Few Good Men is carried by strong performances all across the board. Tom Cruise delivers his best performance, attacking his role with a fire and intensity that makes him more than a match for the always-brilliant Nicholson, who, in about thirty minutes of screen time, turns in one of the year's finest performances. Moore, the only woman in the film, gives her most accomplished work to date, a performance that should win her an Oscar nomination. Bacon, Pollak, and Marshall are also solid, as is Sutherland, whose work here is a far cry from his colorless performance in Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me. A pleasant surprise is the impressive debut performance of Bodison, who previously worked as Reiner's production assistant on Misery.
Aaron Sorkin's screenplay, based on his long-running play, has only about two surprises, but it is definitely a crowd-pleaser, especially the climax, where Kaffee and Jessep send sparks flying around the courtroom. Like he did in Misery, Reiner manages to keep the script's predictability from becoming a distraction; the expert execution of the story overshadows the lack of surprise.
With more than A Few Good Men behind it, the film deserves to collect numerous Academy Award nominations and millions of dollars at the box office.