The Last of the Mohicans (R) - September 1992
The violent battles, dense forests, savage Indians, and towering waterfalls of 18th-century Colonial America are brought to life in The Last of the Mohicans, director Michael Mann's powerful period epic set during the French and Indian War.
Mohicans is set in 1757, when the French and the British are fighting for control over North America. Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe) and her younger sister Alice (Jodhi May), daughters of a British colonel (Maurice Roëves), are being escorted to Fort William Henry to rejoin their father when an Indian tribe attacks them. The Indians kill most of Cora and Alice's soldier escorts, but they are saved by the Colonial-born, Mohican-raised Englishman Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), who, with his Mohican family, leads Cora and Alice to the fort. Love soon blooms between Hawkeye and Cora, but their love is threatened by the French's continued assaults on the unstable fort, Colonel Munro's distrust of Hawkeye, and the bloodthirsty Huron tribe led by the vengeful warrior Magua (Wes Studi).
The Last of the Mohicans boasts superior direction by Mann, former executive producer of Miami Vice. Mann pays great attention to historical detail, shown in the accurate costuming, sets, and weaponry. Mann, with the assistance of cinematographer Dante Spinotti, create stunningly vivid images. The forest has never looked more beautiful, its luch green leaves bursting from the screen in vibrant color. Also breathtakeing are the massive waterfalls, the site of the film's most visually striking scene: when Hawkeye must leave Cora, the two embrace with a glistening wall of water pouring behind them.
The solid direction brings out strong performances all around. Oscar winner Day-Lewis brings vitality and depth to his occasionally flat role, as does Stowe. Studi creates a deliciously sinister villain in Magua, making what could have been a one-note pillar of anger into a convincing, multi-dimensional character.
What keeps Mohicans from slicing into perfection is the screenplay by Mann and Christopher Crowe. As mentioned before, Hawkeye and Cora's personalities aren't fully fleshed out, so neither are their reasons for falling in love; the relationship feels somewhat forced. Also, it is sometimes hard to keep track of the warring factions during the first hour; it wouldn't be quite as confusing if Mann and Crowe hadn't swamped the audience with so much information at once.
The Last of the Mohicans is an exciting, visually stunning, and satisfying epic adventure that is well worth the full price of admission.
Lethal Weapon 3 (R) - May 1992
An exploding building. Construction sites set ablaze. High speed chases on the highway. A barrage of blazing bullets. And, of course, a parade of dead bodies. This "carnival of carnage" is not coverage of the L.A. riots, it is the high-octane cinematic adrenaline rush known as Lethal Weapon 3. Although not as well-rounded as the first two installments, this high-energy, non-stop action rollercoaster is equally as entertaining and even funnier than Lethals 1 and 2.
Mel Gibson and Danny Glover return for the third go-round as L.A. homicide detectives Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh, this time going after Jack Travis (Stuart Wilson), a corrupt ex-cop who is selling confiscated firearms to street gangs. Aiding Riggs and Murtaugh's case is Internal Affairs officer Lorna Cole (Rene Russo). A tough, kick-ass karate expert, Lorna proves to be the ideal romantic match for the wild Riggs. In one of Lethal 3's most entertaining scenes, Lorna and Riggs compare their numerous battle scars as foreplay. Trying to get in on the action is Leo Getz (Joe Pesci), a constant source of irritation for Riggs and Murtaugh.
Lethal Weapon 3 fulfills all the expectations of the audience, serving up a lethal dose of action, thrills, and comedy. Most of the credit goes to the four players who serve as the core of the film. Gibson and Glover's trademark chemistry is in top form; their interplay is as funny and convincing as it was in the first two films. Pesci picks up where he left off in Lethal 2, stealing every scene he's in with this unmistakable comedic presence. Just as impressive is Russo, who proves to be a worthy addition to the talented Lethal ensemble. She is able to hold her own in the exciting action sequences and in calmer scenes with Gibson and Glover.
With most of its attention focused on development of the four main characters, something is bound to be missing from the script of Lethal 3: a strong villain and thoroughly developed plot. The audience never gets to see Travis's evil deeds. Because of this, the audience doesn't get a clearly defined idea of whom Riggs and Murtaugh are up against, nor do we see how threatening he is to the terrible twosome. Travis doesn't appear to be a match for Riggs and Murtaugh. Also, we don't see the actual action of selling firearms to the gangs, leaving a major plot point to the imagination of the audience.
Still, screenwriters Jeffrey Boam and Robert Mark Kamen fit in enough action and comedy to steer attention away from the plot flaws. Especially noteworthy actionwise are the opening building explosion and two edge-of-your-seat high-speed car chases. There also isn't a shortage of funny lines, from Leo's trademark "OK, OK, OK, OK" and "They fuck you at the hospital!" to the most memorable one, told to Riggs by an armored car driver who is madly in love with Murtaugh: "You tell that man that he's the jam in my jelly roll!"
The third Weapon may not be as lethal as the first two, but it's exciting enough to make a killing at the box office.
Malcolm X (PG-13) - November 1992
It was the most aggressively marketed film of 1992, even more heavily hyped than Batman Returns. Its logo became one of the most recognizable symbols in the country, stamped on hats, T-shirts, key chains, pins, magazines, billboards, and posters. With all the hype, one would expect Spike Lee's Malcolm X to not merely be a mere movie but a cinematic event. It is. X is a powerful epic biography strengthened by Lee's striking direction and Denzel Washington's commanding performance as the titular character.
Malcolm X traces the life and evolution of the famed black leader, beginning in World War II Boston, where teenage, zoot-suited Malcolm Little and sidekick Shorty (Lee) frequent jazz clubs and make efforts to "be white": straightening their hair and bedding white women. As the film progresses, Malcolm relocates to New York and links with gangster West Indian Archie (Delroy Lindo), who introduces Malcolm to a life of drugs and crime. Charged with burglary, Malcolm is sent to prison, where fellow inmate Baines (Albert Hall) teaches him about the Islamic faith and the teachings of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad (Al Freeman, Jr.). When released from prison, Malcolm is a changed man, an electrifying speaker preaching black separation from the "blue-eyed devils," calling for a "psychological, cultural, and philosophical return to Africa." Years later, following a pilgrimage to Mecca and a falling out with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, he renounces social segregation, but his word is ultimately silenced by an assassin's bullets.
What makes Malcolm X such a triumph are brilliant performances from the entire cast. Washington gives a dynamic performance as Malcolm, skillfully depicting his constantly growing and changing personality. As we see Malcolm evolve from hustler and burglar to explosive speaker preaching racial segregation to one preaching racial harmony, Washington never makes Malcolm seem like separate characters, building on his existing personality instead of creating new ones each time. The identities of Malcolm, as portrayed by Washington, are parts of a whole person, stages in one man's evolution. Hall, Lindo, Freeman, Lee, and Angela Bassett, as Malcolm's wife Betty, all turn in top-notch work, playing their roles with a passion that makes their work that more powerful and convincing.
Lee wisely tones down his usual visual pyrotechnics, keeping his flashy camera work to a minimum, using those techniques only when they are needed to enhance the story, like the use of a stunning 360-degree spin to capture Malcolm's anxiety shortly before his assassination. Lee's direction is augmented by the stunning cinematography of Ernest Dickerson, especially during the beautifully photographed scenes in Mecca.
Praised by critics and audiences alike, the three-hour, twenty-minute X deserves to win not only a number of Academy Award nominations, but a number of actual statues. A moving, engrossing, and all-around satisfying film, Malcolm X is a truly extraordinary cinematic achievement.
Mo' Money (R) - July 1992
Since it is a vehicle for the vast comic talents of Damon Wayans, one would expect Mo' Money to be (pardon the expression) "mo' funny." Surprisingly, this isn't the case. Written by Wayans himself, Mo' Money suffers an identity crisis: what starts off well as a promising romantic comedy ends up as a half-hearted action thriller.
Wayans stars as Johnny Stewart, a con man who decides to get a legitimate job at a credit card company to impress the woman of his dreams, Amber (Stacey Dash), an executive at the same company. But Johnny find the urge to swindle too irresistible and concocts a credit card scam, sharing his new wealth with his brother Seymour (Marlon Wayans, Damon's brother) and Amber, who is suspicious as to how he got the money.
That's a simple yet interesting premise with many comic possibilities, and for half of its running time, Mo' Money is an adequate showcase for Damon Wayans's talent. But in an apparent attempt to recapture the success of his previous film, the action vehicle The Last Boy Scout, halfway through Mo' Money Wayans transforms the movie into a formula action film, the plot having Johnny stumble upon the corrupt dealings of a co-worker (John Diehl). Unlike The Last Boy Scout, which softened its violence with a splash of humor, the final half of Mo' Money is totally devoid of laughs, not meshing at all with the witty first half.
There's not denying Damon Wayans's talent and charm, but he deserves better than the multiple personalities of Mo' Money.
Scent of a Woman (R) - December 1992
Frank Slade is embarking on his ideal Thanksgiving weekend: a first-class flight to New York; a room at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel; dining at expensive restaurants; a personal limousine; a beautiful woman; a bullet in the head. Frank's weekend is the centerpiece of Scent of a Woman, an overlong but involving drama from director Martin Brest.
Chris O'Donnell plays Charlie Simms, a prep school student hired to take care of Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Al Pacino), an embittered blind war veteran, while Frank's family is away for Thanksgiving. Instead of staying home, the irritable, outspoken, whiskey-guzzling Frank takes Charlie to New York City, where he intends to spend an extravagant weekend before "blowing his brains out." As the weekend progresses, Charlie grows to care about Frank, discovering the sensitive man behind the gruff exterior. The more time he spends with Frank, the more Charlie dreads the fatal conclusion of the weekend.
Scent of a Woman is both a funny and moving film. Pacino gives a fabulous performance, portraying Frank's blindness, wit, and gung-ho attitude with incredible skill and precision. Pacino's convincing work here is a testament to this incredible talent and versatility; just this past October he was equally believable in James Foley's Glengarry Glen Ross playing a radically different character--a hotshot real estate salesman. This year, Pacino could very well win the Oscar that has long eluded him. He receives effective support from O'Donnell, who gives a likable, albeit slightly stiff, performance as Charlie.
Bo Goldman's screenplay is witty but far from perfect, its only flaw being an uninspired subplot involving a pending disciplinary action against Charlie. But this one flaw is responsible for stretching Scent's running time to a ridiculously unnecessary two hours and thirty-plus minutes. The script also loses its edge near the end, when the film loses its sharp-tongued humor and becomes maudlin and overly melodramatic. But Goldman's screenplay never becomes a complete disaster, thanks to the vastly interesting and original character of Frank. The character is so flawed that he is never boring; you can't keep your eyes off of him because he's so much like a real person.
A funny, impassioned, and all-around enjoyable film, Woman bears the sweet Scent of success.
Single White Female (R) - August 1992
"How do you lock the terror out when you've already invited it in?" That's the question asked by Single White Female, the latest in the series of "(fill in the blank)-from-hell" thrillers. What makes SWF a cut above the rest is a fascinating psychological complexity that makes the film fresh, exciting, and realistic.
After throwing out her philandering boyfriend Sam (Steven Weber), stylish software designer Allison Jones (Bridget Fonda) advertises for a new roommate. After interviewing a number of applicants, Allison finally decides on Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a frumpy bookstore worker, and the two quickly become best friends. But when Allison reconciles with Sam, the two toy with the idea of throwing out her new roommate, and Hedy desperately tries to preserve her connection with Allison, eventually trying to steal her life.
Single White Female is the best of this year's crop of "-from-hell" thrillers because it is truly a psychological thriller. Allison is co-dependent, always needing someone around. Hedy has the same problem, but her situation is more serious--having suffered the loss of her twin, Hedy feels as if she has lost part of her identity, in effect become half a woman. She has to bond with another woman, and, in the process, become like her in an attempt to become whole again. Of course, it can never go according to plan, and the resulting frustration sets her off.
The film is carried by the solid talent behind it, especially the multi-dimensional performances by the leads. Fonda puts up a façade of weakness while at the same time projecting her inner strength. She convincingly depicts Allison's emotional neediness, making the audience care about her character from frame one. Leigh is riveting, making Hedy more than a garden-variety psychopath. If anything, Leigh portrays her as a human being, a flawed person desperately trying to regain something she can never retrieve. As Hedy gradually descends into psychosis, Leigh not only makes you hate her, but also feel sympathy for her, a feat few actresses can pull off. Barbet Schroeder directs the tale with style and precision; you can feel the tension build with each scene, eventually exploding in the routine but effective finale.
Well-crafted, intelligent, and chilling, Single White Female truly is the thriller of the year.
Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me (R) - August 1992
At the heart of Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me, David Lynch's prequel to the once-popular television series, there is something for both Peakies and non-Peakies. For Peaks fans, Fire Walk with Me is an engrossing and entertaining supplement to the TV series. For newcomers, Fire is an intriguing study of an incest victim's self-destructive final days. But what nearly ruins the film on both levels is director Lynch's trademark obsession with the bizarre--too many things do not add up; strange events in an otherwise fine film will leave fans annoyed and non-fans hopelessly lost.
Fire Walk with Me details the last seven days of 17-year-old high schooler Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whose corpse was discovered in the opening episode of Twin Peaks. Since the age of 12, Laura has been sexually molested by an unknown man named BOB (Frank Silva), a dirty, long-haired ruffian. The image of BOB is a hallucination conjured up by Laura's subconscious in order to protect herself from the fact that her abuser is her father Leland (Ray Wise). To numb her pain, Laura enters the seedy world of drugs, alcohol, and wild sex, not letting her only true friends--Donna Hayward (Moira Kelly, taking over for the series' Lara Flynn Boyle) and James Hurley (James Marshall)--in on the pain that burns within.
If only Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me bagan and ended with the Laura Palmer story. Instead, Lynch throws in a number of bizarre, incomprehensible events and subplots involving disappearing FBI agents, a ring, a boy wearing a long-nosed mask, angels, and metaphysical contact with FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). The strange occurrences seem designed to embellish the main story, but all they do is confuse.
Also, some critical plot points in Fire are left unexplained; these points, which only serious fans will have knowledge of, would clarify the story for newcomers had they been explained. The most important unexplained point is the fact that Leland's violent behavior is caused by a double personality--one being the real Leland, a loving father; the other being BOB, an evil spirit. Leland tortures his daughter against his will. Without prior knowledge, Leland seems like a generic psychopath, not a compassionate man tormented by his uncontrollable violent actions. Another undefined point is the role of the One-Armed Man (Al Strobel). Peaks followers will know that the One-Armed Man was BOB's former partner-in-crime, now bent on ending BOB's rampage. To non-followers he is a throwaway character that serves no apparent purpose.
Despite the weak spots, Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me is worth seeing for the main story. What makes Lynch and Robert Engels's occasionally underwritten script work are the two leads. Lee gives a poignant performance, painting a convincing portrait of Laura Palmer. Lee injects realistic emotion into her role, vividly fleshing out Laura's inner turmoil and desperation, making her downward slide all the more believable. Wise succeeds in giving Leland Palmer more depth than the script provides; he simultaneously exudes psychosis, perversion, and guilt. And although his overly bizarre artistic vision nearly kills the film, Lynch is a master at creating compelling visuals; his direction keeps the viewers' eyes on the screen during the excess baggage.
Is Twin Peaks--Fire Walk with Me worth the price of admission? It depends on who you are. For Peakies, it is a must. For those unfamiliar with the series, you may be lost during a good deal of the film, but enough of it is intriguing enough to follow--and like.
Unlawful Entry (R) - June 1992
When your home is burglarized, calling the police could be your biggest mistake. That is the idea behind Unlawful Entry, a predictable but effective psychological thriller.
Unlawful Entry opens when the luxurious home of Michael and Karen Carr (Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe) is burglarized. Naturally, they contact the police and meet Officer Pete Davis (Ray Liotta), a who volunteers to help the Carrs with security. Michael and Karen first think of Pete as a nice guy, but Michael soon finds out otherwise when Pete locates and brutally beats the Carrs' burglar. Michael tries to keep the psychotic Pete out of his and his wife's life, but Pete has ideas of his own--he becomes infatuated with Karen, determined to dispose of Michael and become the man in Karen's life.
Unlawful Entry is a smoothly crafted thriller that does not disappoint. The idea of a psycho cop hits close to home and has an eerie timeliness, in light of recent events in Los Angeles. The film keeps you at the edge of your seat; director Jonathan Kaplan does a credible job building the tension, never stooping to cheap false thrills--except in the finale, which predictably utilizes perhaps the oldest horror movie cliché, but it is a logical and undeniably entertaining conclusion.
Another reason for Unlawful's effectiveness is the solid work from the cast. Liotta is a believable psychopath; his performance vividly shows the reasons for his psychosis. Russell and Stowe are also in top form, bringing many dimensions to their otherwise underwritten characters.
In a summer full of big-budget action extravaganzas, Unlawful Entry is a refreshing change of pace. This suspenseful adult thriller should have no trouble finding an audience in the crowded summer field.