The Movie Report
Volume 41

#163 - 165
October 22, 1998 - November 6, 1998

all movies are graded out of four stars (****)

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#165 November 6, 1998 by Michael Dequina


I Still Know What You Did Last Summer poster I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (R) *
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It is now official--Screamwriter Kevin Williamson is a genius--that is, when it comes to writing horror movies. Everyone else who attempts to write in the genre these days are hacks, as shown by the recent Urban Legend and now I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, the unscary and thoroughly boring Williamson-less sequel to the Williamson-penned sleeper of last fall, I Know What You Did Last Summer.

A sequel to I Know...--no more nor less than an effective formula genre piece--was just about doomed from its inception. To start, in addition to the absence of Williamson (Trey Callaway wrote this installment), there's the absence of who was by far I Know...'s most interesting and magnetic star, Sarah Michelle Gellar, whose character was among the film's body count. Then there's the title: I Still Know What You Did Last Summer? In the new film, two years have passed since the pivotal hit-and-run accident that kicked off the original. I Still Know What You Did Two Summers Ago or simply I Still Know would have been a better fit. Also, any continuation of the story would completely negate one of I Know...'s most unexpected pleasures, a shock ending where snooze-inducing heroine Julie James (the vapid Jennifer Love Hewitt) got her just desserts, being put out of her--and the audience's--misery by the hook-handed killer fisherman.

A line of dialogue early in I Still Know... explains away that jolting conclusion as that all-too-familiar of cinematic copouts, a dream. Julie is still alive and kicking, attending college as she was at the end of the last film. But she's still haunted by the thought that Ben Willis (Muse Watson), the vengeful hook-handed fisherman she and her friends hit with their car and left for dead in I Know..., is still out to get her. She's right. As Julie and some new friends head for a vacation in the Bahamas, so does Ben, leaving the usual trail of bloody bodies in his wake. But fortunately for Julie, not too far behind is her true love, Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr., also returning), who knows that Ben is back.

It's a standard slasher sequel set-up, and that's the problem. Part of what made I Know... work was the mystery of the killer's identity and the lingering suspicion that one of the four friends was behind the killings. With the killer now clearly known to be Ben, I Still Know... plays like a cheesy '80s era chiller, à la any given Friday the 13th sequel. That formula extends to the new supporting players, each summed up by one characteristic: Julie's spunky roommate Karla (Brandy, acting as if she were still in a Moesha episode), her horny boyfriend Tyrell (the talented Mekhi Phifer, braving an insulting role), and Julie's nondescript suitor, Will (nondescript Matthew Settle). As thin as those characters are, they are prime steak compared to the background characters in the Bahamas, in particular a snooty hotel desk clerk (Jeffrey Combs), a tough cookie bartender (Jennifer Esposito), and, most annoyingly, a perpetually stoned white rastafarian pool guy. Needless to say, I didn't care if any of these characters lived or died.

Characters, or course, are not the point of a film like I Still Know...; it's the scares, and in that department, Callaway and director Danny Cannon fail miserably. The first hour's purported scares are mostly telegraphed fakeouts, some of which violate logic. In one scene, as Julie washes her hair in the bathroom sink, the fisherman can be seen leaving the room in the background, punctuated by an ominous cue on the soundtrack. Suddenly, Julie lifts her head and starts to look around. How could she suspect anything unless she heard the music? When the film supposedly kicks in to high gear toward the end, the unsuspenseful chases and unimpressive gore are not worth the wait; there's nothing as scary as the beauty pageant murder or the store/alley chase-and-evasion sequence in the original--there's just nothing scary, period.

Callaway is a poor substitute for Williamson, who gave the original some flashes of wit and, for the most part, managed to sidestep the irksome thriller clichés. Clichés are in full force this time around, never so clearly in a scene where a scared Julie slowly walks in a darkened apartment; if she's so scared, why doesn't she turn on a light? Plot is as irrelevant as character in this film, but the number of holes in Callaway and Gaghan's story are ridiculous. For example, an injured Ray escapes from a hospital back in the States and calls Julie's hotel in the Bahamas from a pay phone. How did he know what hotel she was staying at? More ruinous, though, are some key plot developments which attempt to shed some light on Ben's past. I won't give anything away, but one twist makes absolutely no sense within the context of the first film, and the new backstory cheapens the original, in a sense letting the four irresponsible friends off the hook.

I Still Know... leaves the door open for more sequels (I Will Always Know What You Did Last Summer? I Still Know What You Did the Last Three Summers?), but, if there's any luck, after this dreadful installment the franchise will heed the words of its heroine: "JUST FUCKING DIE!"

Velvet Goldmine poster Velvet Goldmine (R) ** 1/2
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After the disco debacle that was 54, early signs seemed to indicate that Miramax was about to commit another cinematic crime against a 1970s music movement, glam rock, with Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine. The air of anticipation surrounding it became something decidedly mixed once the film premiered at Cannes, leaving audiences either hot or cold and garnering the prize for "Best Artistic Contribution"--which sounded like a (pardon my brusqueness) bullshit consolation award if I ever heard one. But after seeing the film, the Cannes award doesn't seem so bogus after all; Velvet Goldmine is a true feast for the senses, a strange but ceaselessly fascinating barrage of music and imagery. The problem is, that's all it is--words, pictures, and sound, with nothing in the center to hold it all together.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, glam rock was a Brit-centered '70s music movement, which, ironically enough, had just about nothing to do with music itself. Unlike disco, there is no distinct sound to glam rock; the term was more a description of an attitude and a mode of dress: flashy costumes, high platform heels, glitter makeup, and a general look of androgyny--with the ambiguous sexuality to match; in short, sort of a "flamboyant bisexual chic."

Unlike 54, which didn't seem to have a clue as to what disco was, Velvet Goldmine nails the glam rock milieu. Haynes revels in all its gaudy, garish glory, and not just by showcasing a lot of elaborately campy, vampy musical performances by his central character, fictional glam rock pioneer Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who does his own singing). The air of bold excess extends to the equally glittery visual style created by Haynes, cinematographer Maryse Alberti, and editor James Lyons, which employs quick edits, dreamlike imagery, and an appropriate air of surrealism--after all, it was a time of almost surreal sexual freedom, openness, and self-indulgence. (One scene has Haynes reverting to his old Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story tricks, staging one scene entirely with dolls.)

Haynes has an obvious affection for the era, and perhaps it is that passion for the glamour that distracted him from coming up with a compelling story. Velvet Goldmine traces the rise and fall of Brian, whose life and mysterious disappearance is investigated in 1984 by reporter Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale), who has tried to live down his days as a glam rock groupie. Ironically, though, the more Arthur and, in turn, the audience learns more about Slade, the more it becomes clear that, underneath all the makeup and sequins, he's not a very interesting personality--that is, if he even has one. He sings and dresses up, but it is never clearly defined who he exactly is. Taking much more vivid shape are the people in his life, such as American glam rocker Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor, also providing his own vocals), with whom Brian has a sordid sexual relationship; Brian's greedy manager Jerry Devine (Eddie Izzard); and especially Brian's bitter American, Brit-wannabe wife Mandy (Toni Collette, in the film's best performance). Another writing misstep is the clunky, forced way Haynes directly ties Arthur's past to Brian's; it would have been less contrived if Arthur were simply a fan on the fringes.

Haynes does achieve what he sets out to do with Velvet Goldmine, which, according to the press notes, is to make "a valentine to the sounds and images that erupted in and around London in the early 1970s." But he should have also thought to make something more than an affectionate valentine--in other words, a fully realized and developed film.

In Brief

Belly poster Belly (R) **
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The feature debut of hot hip-hop music video director Hype Williams serves up what one would expect from that fact: music stars in the cast (rappers DMX, Nas, and Method Man; singers Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins of TLC, and Taral Hicks) and, most of all, highly stylized, video-ready visuals. Williams pulls out all the stops, employing everything from freeze frames and frenetic editing to having different scenes and shots ghosted over others. Williams's tricks are given an added sheen by the rich colors of Malik Sayeed's stunning cinematography.

But all of Williams's glitz, delicious eye candy as it is, eventually overshadows his own script. It's a by-the-numbers story about the fall and possible redemption of two longtime friends and drug dealers, Tommy (DMX, showing formidable big screen presence and charisma) and Sincere (Nas), one a badass (Tommy), one more mellow (the aptly named Sincere) and looking for a stable life for his wife Tionne (Watkins) and their child. As straightforward as that sounds, all the visual style unnecessarily drains the coherence from the story, which bounces from one image and place to another with only a voiceover serving as the thin thread tying together the pieces. Williams is a name to watch; Belly leaves no doubt as to his remarkable talent as a visual stylist, and he coaxes convincing work from his mostly novice cast. But until his storytelling ability catches up, he'll remain just that--a name to watch.

The Waterboy poster The Waterboy (PG-13) **
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The premise is as absurd as one would expect from an Adam Sandler vehicle: Bobby Boucher (Sandler), a softspoken 31-year-old college football waterboy, becomes a gridiron star himself as a lean, mean tackling machine. However, what makes this film more tolerable than most of Sandler's previous work is that his character isn't such a prick. Bobby is nice, if more than a little naive, guy who, above all else, loves his domineering mother (Kathy Bates, who should do more comedy), with whom he still lives in a backwoods cabin.

That said, The Waterboy is the definition of an "average" film--a hit-and-miss affair that in neither bad nor especially good. For every chuckle-worthy gag (Bobby's mother's taste for, to put it lightly, exotic cuisine), there's another that never gets off the ground (a perpetually drunk cheerleading squad). The familiar sports movie formula (a big, climactic game) gets a workout here, but it does have some charm in this context. And, of course, there's Sandler's mugging, which can be either amusing or flat-out annoying. In short, The Waterboy exactly what the trailers and TV commercials advertise. Based on those, you should know whether or not this film's your cup of tea (or, rather, H2O).

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#164 October 29, 1998 by Michael Dequina


Living Out Loud poster Living Out Loud (R) ***
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All signs seem to indicate that New Line is at a loss as to how to market Living Out Loud: the poster is simply three candid headshots of the stars (Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, and Queen Latifah) unimaginatively arranged on a black background, and the dull trailer left every audience I've seen it with making audible groans. It's a shame, for hot Hollywood scribe Richard LaGravenese's directorial debut is a nice surprise, a refreshingly adult romantic comedy-drama.

When I say "adult," I don't mean as in raunchy but as in mature--in attitude and characters. The central pair are two lonely, divorced people north of 40. Judith (Hunter) has lost all direction and meaning in life after her successful surgeon husband (Martin Donovan) left her for a thirtysomething (Tamlyn Tomita); she drinks heavily, spending most of her days in her apartment and her nights listening to her favorite crooner Liz Bailey (Latifah, who does her own singing) perform at a jazz club. Pat (DeVito)'s marriage, already troubled by his gambling, was dealt a fatal blow when his daughter succumbed to cancer.

There's a lyric in a key song in the musical Rent that goes, "What was it about that night?/Connection in an isolating age." Such a connection in such a night is the pivotal event in Living Out Loud, but it's not between the pair one would expect. One night at the club, Judith receives a passionate kiss from a mysterious stranger (Elias Koteas), which shakes her out of her malaise. Her renewed sense of romantic hope leads her to engage in idle conversation with her posh building's doorman, Pat, and gradually their talk grows deeper--eventually resulting in the profoundly touching connection between Judith and Pat.

There is not much plot in Living Out Loud, but LaGravenese's main concern here are, rather, the characters and their relationships, and he succeeds in creating genuine, recognizably human characters that are sympathetic to the audience. This is not to say that they are incredibly wholesome; they are generally good but flawed individuals, especially in the case of Judith, who is often angry and more than a little self-centered. These characters connect with the viewer because the viewer can see a little of themselves in everyone: bitter Judith, broken Pat, and the (mostly) sensible Liz.

The most well-rounded character is, of course, Judith, and the film's title is what she must learn to do: live "out loud" and not in her head. LaGravenese delves into Ally McBeal territory by depicting Judith's imaginings on screen, and the results, for the most part, are effective, generating some of the film's best laughs. (Especially memorable is one where she jumps from her bedroom window to her death, which is then immediately reported on the news.) But LaGravenese sometimes doesn't know when to quit. A delightful dance floor epiphany, with Judith and other dancers suddenly breaking into synchronized, choreographed moves, is marred by its heavyhanded, unsubtly symbolic conclusion where she literally embraces her younger self.

LaGravenese makes up for his occasional missteps (the origins of Judith and Liz's friendship are unconvincing) with his musical choices. George Fenton composed the silky score, which effectively extends the mellow jazz/R&B sounds beyond the walls of the nightclub. The smooth, soothing soundtrack could not be a better fit for the laid-back, low-key, unforced appeal of Living Out Loud.

The Siege poster The Siege (R) ** 1/2
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Denzel Washington and director Edward Zwick have had an amazing track record together, working on two of the most powerful war films in recent cinematic history: 1989's aptly named Civil War epic Glory, and 1996's underappreciated Gulf War mystery Courage Under Fire. For The Siege, their third collaboration, Washington and Zwick work with a fictional war-like situation, and the mediocre result is dismayingly unworthy of their combined talents.

The Siege would appear to take an original spin on a basic political thriller. After the efforts of an FBI team led by special agent Anthony Hubbard (Washington), aided by shady CIA operative Elise Kraft (Annette Bening), fail to end a rash of terrorist bombings in New York City, the White House takes drastic action--deploying a squadron of Army troops to enforce martial law in the Big Apple.

This should be the point at which The Siege takes off, but it instead takes a turn for the worse. What had been a rather thoughtful thriller with some effective suspense sequences (notably a scene with a bomb-rigged bus, which is prominently featured in the tell-all trailer) becomes formulaic and, at times, insufferably didactic and sappy. After some investigation, the bombing culprit(s) is determined to be Arab, so the troops round up the entire Arab-American population and hole them up in a stadium. This not only leads to some scenes of races uniting to protest the injustice, but one of the detained is the son of Hubbard's partner Frank Haddad (Tony Shalhoub), setting the stage for tiresome "concerned father" moping and a teary father-son reunion (oops, did I spoil something for anyone there?).

At the center of The Siege's problematic final act is Bruce Willis and his character General William Devereaux, who leads the Army in New York. Writers Zwick, Lawrence Wright, and Menno Meyjes never figure out what do to with the character. Devereaux is shown in the White House earlier in the film expressing his reluctance to be involved in the enforcement of martial law, yet by film's end he's become a gung-ho, power-mad zealot, getting in touch with the Judge Dredd within and angrily declaring, "I AM THE LAW!" An understandably confused Willis, wearing a ridiculously godawful wig (his hair stylist, Bunny Parker, should be shot), plays Devereaux as only he can--as if he wandered in from the set of his latest action opus. Apparently that bug is contagious, because the overwrought standoff climax (complete with, yes, a preachy speech) the writers cook up is straight out of a standard-issue Hollywood actioner.

On the other hand, Bening and especially Washington deliver reliably strong, passionate performances. However, as stunning on the whole as Roger Deakins's cinematography is, his camera is inexplicably unforgiving on these two powerful screen presences. Washington looks more than a little chunky, and the usually luminous Bening looks shockingly haggard. That mix of the largely good with some glaring bad spots pretty much sums up the rest of The Siege.

In Brief

Orgazmo poster Orgazmo (NC-17) * 1/2
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I am not a huge fan of South Park. So I was surprised to find myself laughing during the early moments of this big screen comedy written, directed, and starring the popular adult animated series's co-creator (with Matt Stone, who also has a small role here), Trey Parker. He plays Joe Young, an innocent door-to-door Mormon preacher who unwittingly finds himself an adult film superstar after naively agreeing to play the title role in a pornographic superhero flick called Orgazmo.

But as amusing as the setup and a few jokes (an old lady's F-word-ridden tirade about Mormons, a title card reading "Hollywood" appearing on a shot of the Hollywood sign) are, recurring gags that initially garner a giggle wear thin fast. An ebonics-spouting Asian sushi bar owner named G-Fresh (Masao San) is funny the first time we see him, the joke grows old with each subsequent appearance. The same can be said for the knowingly cheesy chopsocky action scenes and Orgazmo sidekick Choda-Boy's (Dian Bachar) vast array of dildo-derived gadgets. (The pervasive presence of sex toys undoubtedly factored in the MPAA's decision to brand this crude but quite tame film with an overly restrictive NC-17 rating.) Before long, the entirety of the film follows suit, straining to fill the rest of its slim 90-minute running time with a dull subplot in which Joe must fight off some heavies harassing G-Fresh.

What is consistently funny, however, are the songs on soundtrack. The Parker-penned opening theme, "Now You're a Man," is a hilarious parody of "macho" hard rock ("What makes a man?/Is it the woman in his hands/Just 'cause she has big titties?"). Even better is the closing tune, a bossa nova groove that is quite seductive... until it gets to the hilariously absurd title lyric, which is repeated ad nauseum in the chorus: "Sorry about your penis."

Waking Ned Devine poster Little Voice poster Waking Ned Devine (PG) ***
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Little Voice (R) ***
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Fox Searchlight is pushing the modest Irish comedy Waking Ned Devine as this year's The Full Monty, and it more than reminds of that sleeper hit: (1) it's a shameless, effective crowdpleaser, and (2) it's likely to be as wildly overrated as that inexplicable Best Picture nominee. Writer-director Kirk Jones's charming film can be best described as Grumpy Old Men with a dash of It Could Happen to You, with two crafty codgers (Ian Bannen and David Kelly) leading the population of their tiny village (a mere 52) in an attempt to claim a lottery jackpot won by a recently deceased resident. The film is as cute and enjoyable as it sounds, and every bit as slight. Beyond the basic premise, there's a touch of romance involving a young pig farmer (James Nesbitt) and his stench-sensitive love (Susan Lynch), a blackly comic zinger of a final joke, and, unfortunately, not much in the way of memorable characters.

A bit meatier is another crowdpleaser from the same part of the globe, the sweet British comedy Little Voice. The title character (Jane Horrocks), nicknamed "L.V.", is a soft-spoken young woman who spends her days and nights listening to her late, beloved father's old record collection, much to the chagrin of her boozy floozy mother Mari (Brenda Blethyn). Through listening to the likes of Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey, the meek L.V. has developed quite a big singing voice of her own, catching the ear of one of Mari's greasy lovers, Ray Say (Michael Caine). A wildly unsuccessful talent agent, Ray sees L.V. as his long-awaited ticket to the big time.

Writer-director Mark Herman's script, based on Jim Cartwright's play The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, goes through predictable, pedestrian paces, with Mari and Ray attempting to exploit L.V.'s gift without paying attention to her needs as a person. (The only person who pays much attention to her is kind, pigeon-raising telephone worker Billy, played by Ewan McGregor.) But what makes the film consistently engaging is its lead trio of characters. Caine and especially Blethyn are a hoot, exuding the right mix of sleaze, sexuality, selfishness, and even sympathy; the power of Ray's climactic breakdown comes as a bit of a shock. But the star of the film is indeed Horrocks, recreating her acclaimed stage role. She is quite simply remarkable, equally convincing speaking in a mousy murmur and belting "Big Spender" with the full-throttle lungs of a true diva. Horrocks, amazingly enough, not only did her own singing, she did it all live on the set, with no pre-recorded help. Quiet or loud, hers is the voice that clearly rings throughout.

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#163 October 22, 1998 by Michael Dequina


Bride of Chucky poster John Carpenter's Vampires poster Bride of Chucky (R) * 1/2
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John Carpenter's Vampires (R) * 1/2
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In 1988, killer doll Chucky made his splash in Child's Play; in 1978, director John Carpenter burst onto the horror scene with Halloween. Ten and twenty years later, respectively, neither Chucky's novelty nor Carpenter's horror skill have aged very well, as evidenced by the schlocky Bride of Chucky and John Carpenter's Vampires.

Unlike eating a box of chocolates, walking into the movie Bride of Chucky, you're pretty sure what you're gonna get. For the fourth film in the Child's Play horror franchise, you pay your admission to see Chucky, the diminutive, redheaded "Good Guy" doll possessed by the spirit of a dead serial killer, slice and dice his way through a long line of human victims--no more, no less, all done somewhat tongue-in-cheek but largely done in the name of a good scare.

How surprising it is, then, to watch Bride, which plays less like another sequel than a Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker sendup of the series. Perhaps writer Don Mancini (the creator of the series) saw self-parody as the only way to keep Chucky alive in the irony-drenched post-Scream horror climate, making free use of self-deprecating dialogue such as "Chucky? He's so '80s!" The plot itself is a joke, with Tiffany (Jennifer Tilly), a former flame of the incarnate Chucky, becoming Chucky the doll's (voiced by Brad Dourif) partner in serial murder after her newly-liberated spirit inhabits a female doll.

All of the added humor, though, does not make Bride of Chucky a good film--just a campy one. For all their irony, post-Scream thrillers, in the end, are horror films, going after the big scare. Bride, however, makes no attempt to be scary; the scariest thing about it is the fact that it was directed by the gifted Ronny Yu, who in his native Hong Kong directed the brilliant 1993 action fantasy The Bride with White Hair. As gruesome as some of Chucky and Tiffany's murders are (for instance, one man's face becomes a pincushion for nails), they are too over-the-top to truly shock. In fact, the film's big problem is just that, being too over-the-top too much of the time, from the acting (the dreadful Tilly in particular) to story developments (yes, a doll-doll sex scene is funny, but still...). Even a film called Bride of Chucky could use some restraint and be all the better for it. By the time the film came to its predictable "twist" ending (hint: what logically follows "bride of..."?), you may feel like groaning. The audience with whom I saw the film did (and quite loudly, I might add).

That's all Bride of Chucky leaves you with--a groan: a groan that this tired series may not yet be over; a groan that you blew hard-earned cash to see it; but most of all, a groan that you've just lost 80-some-odd minutes of your life that can never be recovered.

More polished technically, but no less groan-worthy, is Vampires. Carpenter obviously has a lot of fun at the helm of this one, staging the brutally (and, some would argue, excessively) bloody scenes of carnage with gleeful abandon: blood, bodies, and body parts fly across the screen in every direction. A great deal of credit goes to the make-up work by the KNB EFX Group (Robert Kurtzman, Gregory Nicotero, and Howard Berger), which is convincing and, yes, more than a little repulsive.

So what's the problem? Just about everything else, but mostly Don Jakoby's odious script, which is based on John Steakley's novel Vampire$. There's no real plot, just vampire slayer Jack Crow (James Woods) hunting out master vampire Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), who is after a sacred cross that will make him and his fellow bloodsuckers, as Crow's priest sidekick (Tim Guinee) says, "a force unstoppable--unless we stop him!" That line, which would make the late Ed Wood proud, should tell you all you need to know about the overall quality of the dialogue.

But the laughable dialogue and lack of plot isn't as problematic as the uninteresting and unlikable characters. For someone who was raised by the Catholic church after his parents died when he was young, Jack is awfully disrespectful, tossing around priests, threatening them with mortal violence, and frequently flinging F-words at them. Woods's insufferably smug performance makes the character even more unsavory. In addition to being anti-Catholic, the film is also terribly misogynist, with female lead, a Valek-bitten prostitute named Katrina (Sheryl Lee, reduced to screaming and trembling), constantly getting slapped around and humiliated by Jack's boorish partner Tony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin, who, quite simply, sucks--bad pun intended). Even more insulting? Tony eventually falls for Katrina, and--yep--her with him.

Like Bride of Chucky, I'm certain a number of Vampires's laughs are intentional; Carpenter has always displayed an arch sense of humor, and that comes through in certain scenes, including the ridiculous resolution scene. But I'm not so sure so much of it was meant to be laughed at; two women sitting behind me at the screening understandably laughed non-stop. The most disheartening thing about Vampires, however, is not its campiness, but its lack of scares; it's hard to believe the same man who made the elegantly creepy (and largely bloodless) classic Halloween directed this piece of schlock.

In Brief

The Cruise poster Unmade Beds poster The Cruise (PG-13) ***
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Unmade Beds ** 1/2
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After the first five minutes of The Cruise, I wanted to shoot the documentary's subject, wildly eccentric New York tour bus guide Timothy "Speed" Levitch. Ceaselessly babbling in a nasal voice just a tad more listenable than Fran Drescher's, he got on my nerves instantaneously. But as Bennett Miller's beautifully photographed black-and-white film progressed, I became fascinated by him. Though ostensibly about his love affair with every last aspect of the city, The Cruise gradually reveals itself to be a most unique character study, where the subject reveals himself not through the personal information he imparts (there are vague allusions to a bad relationship with his parents and failed attempts at a writing career), but all else he talks about--and talk he does, in florid verbiage that reveals less about objects than his poetic nature.

A little more straightforward on the surface is the dark and depressing Unmade Beds, which follows four New Yorkers on their never-ending (and never-successful) quests for true love and happiness. Our subjects: Aimee Copp, a goodhearted 28-year-old with a weight problem (she weighs 225 pounds) who longs to be married before the big 3-0; Mikey Russo, a 54-year-old struggling screenwriter who is proud of his womanizing past; 40-year-old, 5'4" Michael DeStephano, a bitter but likable guy who more than reminds of Seinfeld's George Costanza; and, most memorably, Brenda Monte, a brash, buxom 40-something divorcee who is less interested in love than a man with deep enough pockets to support her and her 16-year-old daughter.

But, as I said, Unmade Beds is only straightforward on the surface. While these are real people followed over a period of nine months, as the opening disclaimer says, it is not stated that the happenings onscreen are fictionalized. Writer-director Nicholas Barker based his script on extensive interviews with his cast, using their real-life happenings as a jumping-off point for those in his script. While these people's true personalities and pain are clearly revealed throughout, sometimes discomfitingly so (Aimee's pain is most acutely felt), it is that unique veneer of fiction that makes the film fall short. Instead of enhancing the real truths that Barker is after, the fiction, appropriately enough, diminishes any truth he finds; this is especially the case with a late "plot twist" involving Brenda's fortunes. While Unmade Beds is engrossing, engaging viewing, I cannot shake the feeling that it would have been moreso had I seen the whole truth.

Soldier poster Soldier (R) *
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Literally blink, and you'll miss Soldier's lone flash of wit: a fleeting glimpse of a computer screen listing futuristic supersoldier Todd's (Kurt Russell) numerous war commendations, among them the "Plissken Patch"--referring, of course, to Russell's character in John Carpenter's Escape from... movies. The rest of this sci-fi actioner is brainless junk though writer David Webb Peoples and director Paul Anderson serve up an interesting basic premise. In the future, a select few males are chosen at birth to be trained their whole life as soldiers, nothing more; veteran soldier Todd is among the best, if not the best. But when a new genetically engineered brand of soldier is developed, Todd and his ilk are rendered obsolete.

From here, the story takes a most uninspired turn. Presumed dead, Todd is dumped onto a trash dump planet, where he meets up with a peaceful community of people who look and act like extras from The Postman. For reasons that are never clear, the new soldiers attack this trash planet, and the film becomes an outer space Rambo, boldly declaring, "I'm gonna kill 'em all, sir!" Thus ensues much machine gun action and laughable "emotional" content where Todd finds the humanity within his tough exterior. It plays even worse than it sounds.

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