Film Reviews

Film listings are updated on Fridays.
[Recommended] [New Releases] [First Runs] [Still Playing] [Previews]

Compiled by Marjorie Baumgarten (M.B.); with reviews by Louis Black (L.B.), Hollis Chacona (H.C.), Steve Davis (S.D.), Robert Faires (R.F.), Alison Macor (A.M.), Joey O'Bryan (J.O.), Marc Savlov (M.S.).
RATINGS
5 stars As perfect as a movie can be
4 stars Slightly flawed, but excellent nonetheless
3 stars Has its good points, and its bad points
2 stars Mediocre, but with one or two bright spots
1 stars Poor, without any saving graces
0 stars La Bomba



Recommended

12 MONKEYS

D: Terry Gilliam; with Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, Frank Gorshin, Jon Seda. (R, 130 min.)
Terry Gilliam may be the most gifted cinematic surrealist since Luis Bu–uel and, while his newest film fits more squarely into the category of science fiction than that of fantasy, his quirky, disquieting, and thoroughly unique vision is on full display once again. Virtually no one else could have made this film as well as he has (indeed, the thought of 12 Monkeys falling into the hands of someone like Steven Spielberg is nearly as disturbing as the movie's premise). Willis is James Cole, a seemingly deranged man who may or may not be an emissary from the future sent back in time to stop a deadly plague - possibly created by the mythical "Army of the 12 Monkeys" - that will eradicate 5 billion people in 1996. Confined in a mental hospital that makes Bedlam look positively cheery by comparison, Cole is watched over by psychiatrist Kathryn Railly (Stowe), who feels oddly drawn to this drooling, battered husk of a man. While there, Cole meets the raving, wild-eyed Jeffrey Goines (Pitt), who helps him escape before Cole seemingly vanishes into thin air. Cole's search for the mysterious 12 Monkeys takes him in and out of various stages of madness? reality? some bizarre netherworld? Gilliam keeps the audience guessing, and in doing so creates a startlingly effective rumination on the nature of sanity and madness cloaked in the shroud of a sci-fi thriller. All three leads - Willis, Stowe, and Pitt - give painstakingly nuanced, wonderfully layered performances. Pitt effectively shelves the sexy bad boy image that's made him a star and instead delivers a crazed, all-stops-out performance as the deranged Goines. Willis gives his best characterization to date, alternately heroic and pathetic, his doors of perception in dire need of a good greasing; Stowe is equally excellent as the rational mind fighting off the dark impossibilities hurled before her. Gilliam's direction is, as always, a wonder to behold, cramming the screen with outlandish images simultaneously nightmarish and cartoon-like. It's Hieronymous Bosch by way of Ren and Stimpy, a bogglingly eerie world where nothing is ever quite as it seems. Recurrent flashbacks throughout the film telegraph the ending a bit too much in advance, but that's a minor quibble when held up against the mirror of Gilliam's wild, wild ride. It often seems as though Gilliam is the least prolific of fantastic directors working today (with the possible exception of Alejandro Jodorowsky), but once again, it was worth the wait. (1/5/96)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate



New Review

BALTO

D: Simon Wells; with the voices of Kevin Bacon, Bridget Fonda, Phil Collins, Bob Hoskins. (G, 74 min.)
Not reviewed at press time. This new animated feature from Amblin Entertainment (Casper, An American Tail) is based on a true story about a heroic Alaskan husky in 1925 who journeys through a terrible blizzard to deliver medicine urgently needed in Nome in order to halt a dire diptheria epidemic. Balto, the dog, must battle his own self-doubt in addition to the weather. (12/22/95)

(M.B.)

Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Roundrock, Westgate


COUNTRY LIFE

D: Michael Blakemore; with Blakemore, Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, Kerry Fox, John Hargreaves. (PG-13, 105 min.)
Country Life, the latest film from director and screenwriter Michael Blakemore (Privates on Parade), proves the old adage that the importance of a work lies in the telling and not necessarily in the tale itself. The concept for Country Life was "suggested by" Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, a work last brought to the screen in Vanya on 42nd Street. Briefly, the story involves a family whose measured existence is thrown into turmoil with the visit of an esteemed father and his new, younger wife. Blakemore updates his version by placing the family in post-World War I Australia bush country, and the returning father comes to them from London where he reputedly holds court as an esteemed literary critic. Alexander (Blakemore) arrives from London at his deceased first wife's family home with his second wife Deborah (Scacchi). Deborah's luminous beauty and refined tastes stir the passions of local doctor Peter "Max" Askey (Neill) and Alexander's brother-in-law Jack (Hargreaves). The turmoil caused by her father and his new wife's visit prove troubling for daughter Sally (Fox), who wants to like Deborah but resents her obvious attraction for Dr. Askey, Sally's own unrequited love. Chekhov's play intertwines the complexities of familial relationships with the trials of romantic love, and Blakemore allows these relationships to come to the fore. The bush country of Australia provides an effective and often humorous contrast to Alexander's nouveau manners and faux literary talents. Such contradictions play out wonderfully on-screen in scenes like the one in which Jack shoots a bird in an explosion of brilliantly colored feathers, a bird which only moments before had preened with serene elegance atop a tree branch. While some of the supporting roles seem overplayed, Fox's (An Angel at My Table) Sally is a standout of emotional depth and strength. Similarly effective is Hargreaves as Uncle Jack, a man who allows his repressed rage and frustration to bubble over after realizing Alexander's pretensions and arrogance. Blakemore wisely changes little of Chekhov's play but manages to imbue an earthier humor in the story by locating it in Australia. This humor adds depth and eliminates any awkward staginess that sometimes accompanies screen adaptations of Chekhov's work. "We all have to keep going," concludes Sally as she comforts a disenchanted Jack. And films will continue to rework established tales. But when done with the care and subtle innovation of Blakemore's direction and ensemble of actors, the result adds an interesting layer to the classic story. (1/5/96)

3.0 stars (A.M.)

Dobie


FOUR ROOMS

D: Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino; with Tim Roth, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Beals, Paul Calderon, Sammi Davis, Valeria Golino, Madonna, Ione Skye, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei, Alicia Witt, Tarantino. (R, 115 min.)
What must have seemed like a positively brilliant idea at the time - a quartet of short films by four of American cinema's most promising young directors - fails to live up to its premise and, instead, results in a wildly uneven, temperamental, and ultimately disappointing mish-mash of cameos, in-jokes, and stories that fail to engage. It's New Year's Eve, and perennial Tarantino favorite Roth is the new bellhop at the Hotel Mon Signor, a dilapidated Hollywood hangout that's the site of Four Rooms' four stories. Anders' "The Missing Ingredient" casts Madonna, Golino, Skye, Davis, and Fun's Witt (who incidentally has the best line in the film) as a coven of witches intent on resurrecting the goddess Diana. Ted the bellhop's night begins here, with a bang, and Roth never seems to get over it. His performance throughout is one of the most impressive collections of facial tics and spastic gropings since Jerry Lewis' mid-Fifties peak; Lewis, however, had the good sense to calm down every once in a while, or at least play off the inimitable straightman Dean Martin. Roth has no such off button: He's on a roll from frame one, and the overkill becomes tedious long before the film ends. Anders' segment seems over before it begins and leads to Rockwell's piece on a couple's (Beals and Calderon) violent psychosexual head games that also goes nowhere (though Beals shines, even with a gag in her mouth). It's Rodriguez's segment, "The Misbehavers," that works on all levels, with newcomers Lana McKissack and Danny Verduzco as the rambunctious offspring of suave-to-spare gangster Banderas. Conscripted into babysitting the devilish pair, Roth's frayed-around-the-edges bellhop has more than he can handle. The segment reminds one of the rapid-fire slapstick of early Rodriguez shorts like the award-winning Bedhead and Austin Stories: Filled with the director's brilliant, trademark rapid edits and a story that actually goes somewhere, it steals the show from Tarantino's capper, "The Man From Hollywood," which is essentially a retelling of an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents show, itself based on Roald Dahl's short story "Man From the South." A mixed bag at best, Four Rooms ends up perhaps a bit more schizophrenic in tone than its collective directors envisioned. Even some nifty cameos from the likes of Marisa Tomei and Bruce Willis can't save this muddled mess. It may be a hard lesson for Tarantino and the others to learn, but sometimes too much of a good thing is just that. (1/5/96)

2.0 stars (M.S.)

Highland, Village


LIVE NUDE GIRLS

D: Julianna Lavin; with Dana Delany, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Stevenson, Laila Robins, Lora Zane, Olivia d'Abo, Glenn Quinn, Tim Choate. (R, 93 min.)
"Live Nude Girls" is the kind of phrase you expect to hear coming from the mouth of a burly doorman on Bourbon Street, not from people hawking an interesting little film about women sharing their sexual fantasies and long-standing friendships with each other. Aside from the basic truth-in-advertising issue, this title runs the risk of attracting all the wrong customers. Anyone expecting something along the lines of a Russ Meyer opus had best swap their fantasies for something more along the lines of a Henry Jaglom gabfest. And much like a Jaglom freewheeler, moments of great insight and truth are mixed with granules of clichˇs and disheveled storytelling. Writer-director Julianna Lavin's debut feature takes place during the course of one evening. Five old girlfriends gather for a bachelorette slumber party at the home of Georgina (Zane), whose live-in lesbian lover Chris (d'Abo) also joins in. Questions about commitment are causing strained relations between the host couple. Also strained are the relations between sniping sisters Jill (Delany) and Rachel (Robins), a pair of opposites who have been picking at each other for years. Marcy (Stevenson), an accountant, is in the throes of having her orderly life torn asunder by a casual but jealous lover. And guest of honor Jamie (Cattrall), a B-movie actress, is getting married for the third time, although she decides to call the wedding off as the party begins. As the night progresses, the women swap secrets and fantasies with an intensity that vacillates between honesty and contrivance. At times, the movie seems off-the-cuff and unrehearsed and the camerawork echoes this tendency. Sometimes this uncovers an unexpected flash of genuine candor, other times the effect seems muffled and lost. As for the sexual fantasies... let's just say there's more than needs enactment in one evening (and between Live Nude Girls and the recent Exit to Eden, Dana Delany would be well-advised to give it a rest). This ensemble of actresses is, for the most part, fun to watch, with Cattrall really shining as the confused center of attention. Despite these sustained sparks of interest, the intrinsic storytelling technique too frequently bungles the objects of its attention. (1/5/96)

2.5 stars (M.B.)

Dobie


SUDDEN DEATH

D: Peter Hyams; with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Powers Booth, Raymond J. Barry, Whittni Wright, Ross Malinger, Dorian Harewood. (R, 110 min.)
To complain that Sudden Death - the latest action picture from Belgian kickboxing hunk Jean-Claude Van Damme - is severely lacking any sort of rudimentary wit or intelligence is perhaps a redundant criticism. After all, folks don't go to these films expecting Chekhov and neither do I. All we, as an audience, require of these films is an hour and a half of solid, thrilling escapism. Having accepted this, then let's assume that issues of originality are also beside the point. Sure, Sudden Death may be painfully derivative of the Die Hard series but, hell, what action movie isn't nowadays? Even when grading on this particularly generous curve, however, Sudden Death still ranks as a failure. Director Peter Hyams, whose last film, Timecop, was a far more entertaining collaboration with Van Damme, at least makes Sudden Death look and feel like a big-budget Hollywood action spectacle, but his efforts are undone by an impossibly illogical, sadistic screenplay and a lazy performance from his lead "actor." Writer Gene Quintano, a veteran of the insipid Police Academy series, has written a script so ridiculous that he has made "suspension of disbelief" quite impossible, thereby distancing the audience from the already thin narrative (which in this case concerns an ex-fireman fighting to save his children from a gang of brutal terrorists who have taken over a hockey rink where he, as well as the U.S. vice president, are in attendance). As far as the so-called "Muscles From Brussels" goes, Van Damme's thesping is of the usual quality (which is, of course, not that great - but decidedly better than his unbearable turn in his last film, the pathetic Street Fighter), but it's his over-reliance on obvious stunt doubles, even in the hand-to-hand combat sequences, that's truly infuriating. That said, there are a few good stunts on display here, and Powers Boothe has a great deal of fun with his role as the chief heavy, but Sudden Death lacks momentum, internal logic, and, most desperately, common sense. (1/5/96)

.5 stars (J.O.)

Highland, Movies 12, Northcross, Westgate


WAITING TO EXHALE

D: Forest Whitaker; with Whitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Lela Rochon, Gregory Hines, Dennis Haysbert, Mykelti Williamson, Michael Beach, Leon. (R, 123 min.)
Adapted from Terry McMillan's best-selling novel, Waiting to Exhale tells the story of four black female friends, all of whom are frustrated in love - a simple story but so original. The "pundits" were all surprised when pop diva and Bodyguard box-office sensation Whitney Houston chose to join in this low-budget ensemble project. But whether due to Houston's popularity or the movie's more general appeal, Waiting to Exhale has turned into one of the box-office successes of this holiday season. The "pundits," of course, never predicted that there might be a hungry audience across America for a movie that features independent, African-American women professionals living comfortable, if unfulfilled, lives in Phoenix, Arizona. It would never cross the pundits' minds that the movie might fail because it, itself, was unfulfilled and uninteresting. Actor Forest Whitaker's debut as a feature film director is a tame and disjointed affair - a two-hour-long series of action-less events. The story of these four women and the various men in their lives lacks momentum and dramatic drive. Also unclear is the connection between all these women and the roots of their dissatisfaction. Novelist McMillan was assisted in the scriptwriting chores by veteran Ronald Bass (Rainman, The Joy Luck Club, Dangerous Minds) but somewhere along the way, the characters at the heart of the story got lost. Very little about the movie - as a movie - stands out: not the acting, not the camerawork, not the plot structure, not the dialogue. What stands out is its subject matter - self-reliant black women leading ordinary lives. Let's hope that the movie's success kick-starts a trend: some new movies whose technical originality is equal to their subjects. (1/5/96)

2.0 stars (M.B.)

Arbor, Lincoln, Movies 12, Riverside, Village, Westgate



Still Playing

THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT

D: Rob Reiner; with Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, Anna Deavere Smith, Samantha Mathis. (PG-13, 114 min.)
Although it's very easy to approach this film with complete cynicism, it is difficult to avoid the appealing love story between Douglas as United States President Andrew Shepherd and Bening as environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade. With its crackling sexual tension, the relationship between widower President Shepherd and Wade (and in turn the chemistry between Douglas and Bening) admirably does justice to the legacy of Hollywood screen couples from the 1930s and 1940s a la Hepburn and Tracy. Bening's performance evokes even a bit of comedienne-par-excellence Mary Tyler Moore as she quivers and frets over her initial gaffes with the president. Lest this characterization sound retro-feminist, Bening develops Wade as an equally compelling professional in Washington able to play hardball with the big jerks on Capitol Hill. On the other hand, I worried that Douglas' recent testosterone-laden acting would interfere with my suspension of disbelief. However, Shepherd as the president comes complete with his own minor gaffes, such as having no clue about the names of the various staff who work for and under him. These and other more "humanizing" elements manage to keep Douglas from slipping into Superman mode or playing the white male victim. As for the film's story, The American President has the mystique factor working in its favor. Assuming that the sets are letter-perfect in terms of their reproduction of the White House and its environs, pretending to watch the President of the United States have a dinner date has its enjoyable voyeuristic moments. While the film does have its share of problems, such as Anna Deavere Smith's bizarrely awkward performance as press secretary Robin McCall and a somewhat laborious final act, The American President's rather pointed Capra-esque qualities do their ideological best to create an engaging love story, a kind of Singles for the over-40 set. (11/17/95)

3.0 stars (A.M.)

Great Hills, Highland, Lake Creek, Lakehills, Northcross, Riverside


CUTTHROAT ISLAND

D: Renny Harlin; with Geena Davis, Matthew Modine, Frank Langella, Maury Chaykin, Patrick Malahide, Stan Shaw. (PG-13, 123 min.)
Cutthroat Island is the kind of high seas swill that gives piracy a bad name. Directed by Nordic action maven Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2), this extravagantly budgeted pirate movie clearly seeks to recreate the swashbuckling ˇlan of the old Errol Flynn pictures from decades past. But despite hoisted sails, Cutthroat Island barely skirts the harbor. For all its high-dollar set construction and location work, Cutthroat Island looks no more dazzling or eye-popping than a made-for-TV action adventure... or Waterworld, to name one other dollar-soaked production of the past year. Even by his own standards of action filmmaking, Harlin hardly lives up to his past accomplishments. The adventure aspect of the movie is wan and perfunctory, set in the service of a skeleton story about double-crossing pirate bands besting each other in a race to find a buried treasure. Adding insult to injury, Cutthroat Island layers a coy romance on top of its weak underbelly and, in the process, creates some kind of briny hybrid that might be better suited to the imagination of someone like Barbara Cartland than Renny Harlin. The movie's fatal error is the casting of Geena Davis as the pirate leader Morgan. I believe there are few of us who could honestly deny the attraction of seeing Davis swathed in a classic pirate suit, looking cute as a button. And though she wears a variety of costumes - and often strips to her undergarments - none of them have the hoped-for sartorial splendor. Most troubling, however, is Davis' impossible credibility as the leader of this lawless gang of thieves. Everything that makes Davis engaging as an actress - her gangly demeanor, awkward social grace, and wholesome na•vetˇ - are charms that are patently inappropriate to a pirate marauder. Stretch that further, for not only are we to accept her as just one of the guys, but as the head honcho, the baddest of the bad. Yet, when she waves her arm and shouts, "C'mon, men!" it's hard to believe that anyone would actually follow her into battle. Thus, with all this pirate action adding up to very little, it's not surprising that the underlying plot is the budding romance between Morgan and her newly purchased slave played by Modine). On deck the swordplay may be less than exciting, but down below the dynamics are all thrust and parry. Modine manages to find the zestful sparks in his character, while everyone else around him is treading water. Cutthroat Island is so off course, it would need a compass in order to sink. (12/22/95)

0 stars (M.B.)

Great Hills, Highland, Movies 12, Roundrock, Westgate


DRACULA: DEAD AND LOVING IT

D: Mel Brooks; with Leslie Nielsen, Peter MacNicol, Steven Weber Amy Yasbeck, Lysette Anthony, Harvey Korman, Mel Brooks. (PG-13, 90 min.)
Watching the colorfully titled but ultimately banal would-be comedy Dracula: Dead and Loving It, one is immediately struck with a burning, painful, but obvious question: "What the hell happened to Mel Brooks?" It's hard to believe that Brooks, once the incredibly talented director behind such comic masterworks as The Producers and Blazing Saddles, has lost it this badly, having left behind the wicked style and invention of his earlier work for a series of uninspired ZAZ (meaning, of course, the team of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker - the talented trio behind the original Airplane!) imitations. This latest effort - a blatant and sadly unsuccessful attempt to recapture the flavor of his superior Young Frankenstein - purports to offer a merciless parody of Bram Stoker's classic novel, while also taking time to lash out at its many film adaptations (with the chief target being Francis Ford Coppola's overwrought 1992 version, and rightly so). While such a project clearly holds much delicious comic potential, the material is bungled by Brooks, both as a writer and director. Despite this, Dracula: Dead and Loving It never quite reaches the depressing lows of the truly miserable Robin Hood: Men in Tights, thanks mainly to lovely, affectionate art direction and the efforts of the likable cast, who - against all odds - manage to deliver a few decent laughs. Peter MacNicol, as the endlessly bug-eating Renfield, is especially wonderful (if the entire movie had been up to his level of performance, Brooks really might have had something). Unfortunately, the rest of the cast, including reliable performers like Leslie Nielsen and Harvey Korman, are undone by Brooks' direction and twisted over-reliance on enema jokes and lame dance sequences (in which the actors' doubles are so plainly obvious that you keep waiting for it to be the punch line to some larger joke, a la Spaceballs). For sure, Brooks has made some brilliant, classic films, and no one, not even the most venomous critic, can ever take that away from him. But he seems to have lost his energy, and more important, his keen sense of comic timing when it comes to directing. If this film is any indication of where his career is headed, he'd probably be better off not tarnishing that reputation any further. (12/22/95)

1.0 stars (J.O.)

Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock


FATHER OF THE BRIDE PART II

D: Charles Shyer; with Steve Martin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short, Kimberly Williams, George Newbern, Kieran Culkin. (PG, 106 min.)
George Banks' life is swell. He's survived the defection and subsequent, lavish marriage of his daughter to an irritatingly successful and singularly unobjectionable man, lives in a white, picket-fence dream house, truly loves his beautiful wife, and drives a really, really cool car. In other words, George's only Ford is in his flivver. Until, that is, two bombs drop on his utopia. First, his daughter, Annie, whom his mind's eye still views as a pigtailed tomboy, announces that she is pregnant. So George, in a desperate effort to combat the feeling of instant antiquity that impending grandparenthood incurs, gets a "bitchin'" new hairdo and seduces his wife in the kitchen on a rainy afternoon, thereby creating (literally) the second explosion to rock his cozy world. Awash in filtered, golden light, Father of the Bride Part II has an air of nostalgia about it - the type that makes the Cold War era seem innocent and carefree and that allows women who have gone through labor and delivery to do it again. At least Nina Banks seems to be ready to do the whole thing over again. George is not so sure. Where Nina sees a mother and daughter skipping dreamily down the street together, George sees a truculent two-year old tossing his double dip cone on the sidewalk. Still, the notion is more embarrassing and inconvenient than it is traumatic. And watching the Banks family cope with it can be fun. The entire cast from Father of the Bride returns for the sequel and they bring with it the familiarity and fondness and downright silliness of a real family. Steve Martin combines his peculiar physical comedy with a pathos that is so genuine and touching that you cannot help but regret that the actor is not a father in real life - it seems such a waste of great dad material. Martin Short is equally endearing as Franck, the haute but not haughty caterer/decorator, and in some ways, his character is a reflection of the movie as a whole. Too tasteful, too opulent, too rosy a picture to be believed; we still can't help but be charmed by it. Just as the wonderful soundtrack suggests, this affectionate film is like a simple walk down the sunny side of the street - in a very affluent neighborhood. (12/8/95)

2.5 stars (H.C.)

Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Westgate


GOLDENEYE

D: Martin Campbell; with Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Izabella Scorupco, Famke Janssen, Joe Don Baker, Robbie Coltrane, Desmond Llewelyn. (PG-13, 129 min.)
After a six-year hiatus - and the end of the Cold War - 007 is back in action. Timothy Dalton has been replaced by Remington Steele's Brosnan, and to terrific effect: Brosnan's wittier, sexier, and an altogether more traditional Bond than Dalton, who always seemed to be trying too hard to fill the sizable Sean Connery/Roger Moore shoes. In almost every aspect, GoldenEye makes a conscious effort to hearken back to the days of the "classic" Bond of You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. The stunts, the visuals, and miniatures, and even the female villains are all in the mold of the best Bonds of years past. This time out, 007 takes on a mysterious renegade Russian pair, headed by the traitorous General Ouromov (Gottfried John) and one of the most outrageous villainesses in memory, Famke Johnson's Xenia Onatopp ("On the top?" Bond queries). Johnson almost steals the show with her delicious portrayal of a deadly, black-clad siren who brings new meaning to the term "sex and violence." Ouromov and Onatopp are out to steal GoldenEye, a reportedly nonexistent satellite warfare system designed by the Soviets and then abandoned at the end of the Cold War. The mastermind behind their plan is Janus, a mysterious (is there any other kind?) madman with direct links to Bond's past. Everything else is exactly what you'd expect from the most successful franchise in film history. Certainly, there are plot holes as large as the craters in Moonraker, but they do absolutely nothing to slow down director Campbell's turbo-powered staging: from an epic tank chase through narrow Russian alleyways to some stunning and remarkable aerial camerawork (much of the credit must go to longtime Bond miniature designer Derek Meddings), this is escapist entertainment at its finest. Check your political correctness at the door and have a blast - this is the best Bond since The Spy Who Loved Me. (And yes, the Q's gadgetry is top notch.) (11/17/95)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Westgate


GRUMPIER OLD MEN

D: Howard Deutch; with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ann-Margret, Sophia Loren, Burgess Meredith, Kevin Pollak, Daryl Hannah. (PG-13, 101 min.)
If the title wasn't already taken, Grumpier Old Men could have been titled Dumb and Dumber (but at least it isn't being advertised like Tom and Huck - "the original bad boys"). But for the generation difference, the humor appeals to the same dopey instincts as Dumb and Dumber, only geared for the retirement set. Both movies are also driven by two excellent comic actors working in tandem. The pleasure in this sequel to Grumpy Old Men derives from watching Lemmon and Matthau spar their way through another movie together. Plot and character development are mere trifles here, making it clear that the only reason for these movies is to create another excuse to once more pair this professional odd couple. Lemmon and Matthau play bickering next-door neighbors whose lovingly cantankerous relationship (and probably also fishing) forms the backbone of their lives. Of course, in the first part (back when they were still only grumpy old men) the two competed with each other for the affections of Ann-Margret. Lemmon won that round, but in part two it's time for Matthau to get lucky. Fortune strikes when Sophia Loren moves to town and opens up a restaurant where the guys' favorite bait shop used to be. After trying all sorts of childish pranks to thwart the restaurant's success, Matthau and Loren light some sparks. Subplots involve their children, Pollak and Hannah, who are also in the midst of gnarly wedding plans. Downright stealing the show, however, is Burgess Meredith, whose risquˇ verve, wit, and timing are the stuff of an octogenarian's wet dream. (Be sure not to bolt the theatre before the end credits roll, because preceding them are several minutes of funny film outtakes, many of which highlight Meredith ad-libbing like there's no tomorrow.) Grumpier Old Men is funny but not hilarious, full of material that pleases but never astonishes. It's just too bad they had to stick a plot on an entertaining comedy sketch. (12/22/95)

2.5 stars (M.B.)

Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lakehills, Lincoln, Movies 12


HEAT

D: Michael Mann; with Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Val Kilmer, Diane Venora, Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Jon Voight, Tom Sizemore, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Tom Noonan, Henry Rollins, Tone-Loc. (R, 174 min.)
Having scored a solid critical and box-office success with his superb 1993 re-make of The Last of the Mohicans, director Michael Mann returns to the mean streets of his underrated Thief and Manhunter with his latest effort, Heat. A sprawling, two-hour-and-45-minute crime epic propelled by intense performances from a to-die-for cast, Heat is a rarity - a long movie that doesn't seem long, as well as an action movie that's surprisingly character-driven. Granted, with its plot of an obsessed detective tracking a professional thief, Mann's film may not sound that much different from the usual cops-and-robbers fare, but attention to detail and character are what sets it apart from the rest of the pack. As advance publicity has been quick to point out, Heat marks the first time that Al Pacino and Robert De Niro have worked together onscreen (that phrasing neatly excludes The Godfather II), although fans may be disappointed to hear that the dynamic duo share a total of two scenes together. Even though the undeniable novelty of seeing these two acting giants simply sitting across the table from one another probably is enough to warrant their teaming, the two stars refuse to allow their pairing to degenerate into stunt casting. As the wild-eyed, smart-assed cop with no room for anything in his life except his job, Pacino is a delight to watch, while De Niro's brilliantly controlled turn is nothing short of a marvel (he has a couple of incredible moments here that practically define screen acting). Val Kilmer more or less redeems himself following his bland stint in Batman Forever, but he is nevertheless upstaged by co-stars Ashley Judd and Diane Venora, who, as Pacino's wife, delivers some of Mann's most biting dialogue. The rest of the cast is rounded out by a parade of swell character actors ranging from the currently in-demand Tom Sizemore (Strange Days) to the criminally underused Wes Studi (Geronimo: An American Legend). Potential viewers should watch out for a surprising number of unexpected cameos by various musicians and B-movie personalities. Aside from the bravura performances and tight direction, Heat also features some of the most electrifying action sequences of the year, with two set-pieces in particular - a frantic shoot-out on the streets of downtown L.A. and the cat-and-mouse finale near the LAX airstrips - pushing tension levels well into the red. These moments, as well as many others, are well served by Mann's expert use of sound and music (he was, after all, the fellow responsible for Miami Vice, and who could ever forget his use of Iron Butterfly in Manhunter). Also, frequent Mann collaborator Dante Spinotti's dynamic cinematography perfectly captures the mood of the piece from the film's very first shot. The few faults to be found in Heat most likely stem from the whittling down of its running time to a more "manageable" length, resulting in a few disappointingly underdeveloped subplots. Ultimately, though, these are minor complaints: Heat is involving and exciting... a terrific thriller. (12/15/95)

4.0 stars (J.O.)

Arbor, Highland, Lakehills, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock


JUMANJI

D: Joe Johnston; with Robin Williams, Jonathan Hyde, Bonnie Hunt, Kirsten Dunst, Bebe Neuwirth, Bradley Pierce, David Alan Grier, Adam Hann-Byrd. (PG, 104 min.)
Jumanji is the visual equivalent of a wild ride in a very surreal jungle theme park. Recently returned from a Disney World vacation, I kept expecting the seats in the theatre to start shaking in concert with the action onscreen. Based on the book of the same title by renowned children's author Chris Van Allsburg, the movie follows the adventures of four players of the board game, Jumanji, a magical, slightly malevolent test of grit and tenacity. The very first roll of the dice unleashes the game's power to conjure up animals, people, and forces of nature to challenge the players. And, like all good, scary rides, once you embark, you're on for the duration - no getting off mid-spin. The trick is to outlast the apparitions, for when the first player reaches home and shouts out, "Jumanji!", the game is over and the world is immediately restored to its original order. In the meantime, the players and audience alike best hold on to their pith helmets.... Buried in the dead of night a century earlier by two boys who survived the game, Jumanji is unearthed in 1969 by troubled young Alan Parrish (Hann-Byrd). When he coerces his reluctant friend Sarah to play, they begin a game that will span 26 years, embrace two modern-day players, and give them all a few rough-and-tumble lessons about friendship and courage and cooperation. The cast is fine - Williams' manic man/child persona is perfect for the part of the adult Alan, and Hyde delivers in a deliciously clever dual role, but it is Hunt (Beethoven) and Dunst (Interview With the Vampire) who particularly shine. Their soft, sure strength transcends the tumult and anchors the illusory expedition. Juxtaposing computer animation, animatronics, and magnificent set design to create breathtaking special effects, Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) skillfully combines those pyrotechnics with a sweet, silly, but nonetheless sincere cautionary tale. With a running time of 104 minutes, the excitement should outlast the wait in line, making this the perfect amusement for kids this holiday season. But don't just park your kids there, you'll have fun going along for the ride. (12/15/95)

2.5 stars (H.C.)

Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate


KIDS

D: Larry Clark; with Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny. (NR, 90 min.)
For once, the hype is right on the money. Kids is an emotional sucker punch, a raw, dirty, disturbing piece of cinˇma vˇritˇ filmmaking that simultaneously hooks and repulses you from its opening scenes of the teenaged Lothario Telly adrift in his favorite pastime: deflowering young girls. After the shockingly on-target coitus during which the practiced youth assuages his young lover's fears with hollow promises of respect and ongoing warmth (his by-rote words carry all the weight of a thrice-used condom, but the virgin in question is oblivious in the heat of the moment), Telly - the self-proclaimed "virgin surgeon" - cruises off to hook up with pal Casper, who plies him for details of the tryst, living vicariously through his friend. On the other side of the city (New York), Jenny, a past conquest of the "de-virginizer" goes for an HIV screening as moral support for a friend. The friend comes up negative, but Jenny, with Telly being her one and only lover (and that was last summer, with no phone calls or tender words since), is stricken to find out she's a carrier. Frantic, confused, and afraid, she numbly wanders the parks and boroughs of a sweaty, grimy New York trying to find Telly to alert him to the situation. Director Clark (previously best known for his gritty photos of urban street kids and hollow-eyed junkies) uses Jenny's dazed meanderings as a way to explore the seamy underbelly of America's urban youth. We see Telly and his friends hanging out, getting drunk, smoking dope, fighting, fucking (there's no sex here, no lovemaking, just simple unromantic rutting), and generally acting without any moral compass whatsoever. They're kids playing at being grown-ups playing at being time bombs. Clark's brilliant eye keeps the film running as an edgy, in-your-face observation of what many kids consider a normal day's events. The loud public outcry that accompanied the release of Kids - that it was little more than an exploitative attempt at teenage titillation - is as silly as Telly's come-ons. Anyone who's been out clubbing in an urban area after 2am will find few surprises in what Clark depicts. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising; the film, perhaps not unintentionally, feels very much like a documentary. Disturbing, harrowing, visceral, and even sporadically humorous, Kids is one of those rare films that begs the description "a must-see." For once, it's the truth. (9/1/95)

4.5 stars (M.S.)

Dobie


LEAVING LAS VEGAS

D: Mike Figgis; with Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue, Julian Sands. (R, 111 min.)
Leaving Las Vegas hits you like a breath of fresh air coupled with a 100-proof chaser. The movie is an amazing, bracing, funny, audacious, tender, and sobering piece of filmmaking. Few movies have ever dared to be this remorseless in their portraits of addiction - in this case, alcoholism. Nicolas Cage plays Ben Sanderson, a hopeless drunk with no desire to quit and no overriding need to live. So, when his drunkenly rank behavior causes him to be let go from his Hollywood executive job, he takes his severance pay and gathers all his possessions and tosses some of it into large, plastic trash bags that he leaves at the curb and burns all the rest of his stuff, pulls his convertible out of the driveway and heads to Las Vegas, where he plans to drink himself to death. Hey, it's a plan. Ben has no regrets, creating a story that's quite different from all the alcoholism movies, like The Lost Weekend and The Days of Wine and Roses, that have come before. Ben can no longer remember if his wife left him because he drinks or if he drinks because his wife left. The first time we see Ben in the movie, he is gaily wheeling his shopping cart through the liquor store aisles, stocking his basket to the brim. Cage plays the part with complete abandon, creating a searingly immortal character. Part buffoon, part poet, part lout, and part angel, Ben is no easy character to pin down. Just when you think you're about to witness his sensitive side, he does something crass like plummeting through a glass table. In Las Vegas, he becomes taken with a $500-a-night hooker named Sera (Shue), who, in turn, takes a shine to him. Shue is wonderful in the role, surpassing any of the more wholesome work she's done before. Yet, her role is also one of the problems of the film. Though she's a good soul who is willing to accept Ben on his own terms for whatever brief time they may have together, she is essentially little more than the whore with a heart of gold. Even the movie's breakaway scenes of Sera talking to her therapist add little depth to the character and remind us far too much of Klute. Her story line also builds to a horrifying and disturbing climax, that really seems like an unnecessary sidetrack. Director Mike Figgis makes a valiant return to the tenor of some of his earlier and darker work like Stormy Monday and Internal Affairs, rather than the recent missteps he's taken with films like Mr. Jones and The Browning Version. Figgis also composed the soundtrack which is sung by Sting. I suppose it must also be mentioned that the novel on which the film was based was penned by John O'Brien, who committed suicide two weeks after learning that the book was bought for the movies. Leaving Las Vegas is redolent with cameos: Look for everyone from Richard Lewis to Carey Lowell to Bob Rafelson to Lou Rawls. Leaving Las Vegas is the kind of movie that feels like a terrific place to visit, but you know in your heart that you'd never want to dwell there. (11/22/95)

3.5 stars (M.B.)

Village


MIGHTY APHRODITE

D: Woody Allen; with Allen, Mira Sorvino, Helena Bonham Carter, F. Murray Abraham, Michael Rapaport, Peter Weller, Claire Bloom, Olympia Dukakis, David Ogden Stiers, Jack Warden. (R, 93 min.)
Mighty Aphrodite may take its thematic and structural cues from Greek tragedy, but it's second-rate Borscht Belt all the way. The story of a successful sportswriter who searches out the birth mother of his adopted son, a brilliant boy beyond his years, this is minor-league Woody Allen, a half-baked comic meditation on hubris that's partially redeemed by Sorvino in a performance as skintight as a pair of Capri pants. The one-joke premise of Mighty Aphrodite is in its clash of cultures: While Allen is predictably Upper West Side, Sorvino is as downtown as they come. A somewhat dimwitted hooker who moonlights as a porn star named Judy Cum, Sorvino's absolute lack of guile initially shocks Allen's sheltered sensibilities - the f-word has never been so freely uttered in one of his movies before - but he soon sees himself as her knight in shining armor, a savior bent on helping her find a good man and the good life. What motivates Allen's staid character, Lenny, to come to her rescue, however, is not so simple - while arrogant pride has much to do with it, it's also that he's strangely attracted to this woman, both sexually and paternally. (Soon Yi comparisons, anyone...?) Where Mighty Aphrodite attempts to flesh out the relationship between Lenny and his wife Amanda (Bonham Carter), a troubled union in crisis that is inexplicably resuscitated in the last reel. (Bullets Over Broadway had the same rushed romantic denouement.) Maybe it's that everything else in this film can't help but pale in the brilliance of Sorvino's bright-light performance as a dim-bulb. The high-pitched voice and the go-girl appearance may strike you as if Judy Holliday were reincarnated. When Sorvino's on screen, Mighty Aphrodite has a sweet punch to it, an attribute that Allen seems intent upon constantly undermining with narrative ploys like a real Greek chorus that comments on the plot's developments like a two-bit Catskill comedian. While some have judged that, in light of recent developments in his personal life, Allen has become morally bankrupt, Mighty Aphrodite is further proof that the bankruptcy may be artistic, as well. (11/10/95)

2.0 stars (S.D.)

Dobie


NIXON

D: Oliver Stone; with Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Ed Harris, Bob Hoskins, E.G. Marshall, David Paymer, David Hyde Pierce, Paul Sorvino, Mary Steenburgen, J.T. Walsh, James Woods. (R, 190 min.)
If Robert McNamara's recently published apologia for the war in Vietnam struck you as well-reasoned and compassionate, then you're likely to find yourself also in the mood for Oliver Stone's new bio-pic Nixon. Overall, the movie is the most sympathetic portrait of the publicly disgraced president we're likely to observe since the collective amnesia we, as a nation, experienced while listening to the eulogies following his death last year. Certainly it is time for us to put some demons of the past to rest, and Stone's movie seems an honest attempt to do just that. His Nixon wants to make sense of the politician and his actions, and covers a lot of ground in that quest. It's as if Stone were looking for Nixon's "Rosebud," the key that might unlock all the forgotten secrets. What Stone delivers is a psychological portrait that exposes aspects of the former president not widely considered in the past. Stone's Nixon is a man resentful of the East Coast social elite and the Ivy Leaguers (especially the Kennedys), a man whose internalization of the stern value system of his Quaker parents dogged him throughout his life, a man who was haunted by the idea that the deaths of his two brothers and the deaths of the Kennedys caused him personal gain. This Nixon is a man with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. "Can you imagine what he might have become," comments this dramatized Kissinger (Sorvino), "if only someone had really loved him?" Such psychoanalytic theorizing opens up a character in a narrative sense, yet I'm not sure that it adds much to our political understanding of the figure. Nixon is a self-consciously epic story that views its subject as a great tragic figure. Stone uses the word "Shakespearean" to describe his drama; the Greek concept of "hubris" also fits with Stone's narrative approach. What eludes me is how a better understanding of Nixon's human tragedy can contribute to our understanding of his "incursions" into Laos and Cambodia, his contempt for the courts in the Watergate debacle, his actions that earned him the moniker "Tricky Dick," and so forth. We come away with greater compassion for the human being, but I don't think increased empathy can ameliorate the consequences of his infamous actions. Though his physical features bear little resemblance to Nixon's, there could not be a more serendipitous choice than Hopkins to play Nixon. Hopkins captures the mannerisms and speech patterns ably enough, while his allure as a great British actor amplifies the Shakespearean angle of the story at the same time his notoriety for portraying Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter proves him capable of rendering the most reprehensible of human beings likable. In the three hours it takes Nixon to run its course, the movie feels like it only provides a swift glimpse of a portion of the man's life. It all takes place during the waning days of Nixon's presidency in a White House populated by conspiratorial underlings. Flashbacks to Nixon's youth, his rise to power, and his survey of his accomplishments are interspersed with all kinds of surreal visual effects to indicate the passage of time and history. In the end, we are left with the now-familiar image of Nixon on his knees praying in the Oval Office. For all its unwieldy temporal scope and narrowness of perspective, Nixon is an amazingly graceful beast, flawed yet invigorating, packed with enough material that will fascinate and irk moviegoers of all stripes for quite a time to come. (12/22/95)

2.5 stars (M.B.)

Arbor, Highland, Movies 12


PERSUASION

D: Roger Michell; with Amanda Root, Ciaran Hinds, Corin Redgrave, Phoebe Nicholls, Sophie Thompson, Fiona Shaw. (PG, 104 min.)
Attend a screening of this adaptation of Jane Austen's last (and posthumously published) novel expecting the lavish likes of an Merchant-Ivory period extravaganza and you'll be sorely disappointed - or inordinately pleased depending on your bent. Entirely devoid of dewy-eyed, luscious-lipped, heaving-chested heroines, Michell's Persuasion makes us work a bit at Austen's story rather than serving it up to us on a big silver platter. Amanda Root's portrayal of Anne Elliott is so restrained and so unmovie-star-like that we are compelled to plumb her depths to see how a bird with such dull plumage flies. Anne has had eight-and-a-half long years to reflect on her dismissal of Frederick Wentworth (Hinds), the man she'd meant to marry. Anne's neighbor and surrogate mother, Lady Russell, persuaded her that Wentworth, "having nothing but himself to recommend him," was an unsuitable suitor. In a deliciously ironic twist of fate (the sort that fuels all really great romances), Anne's foppish father (Redgrave) and peevish dilettante of a sister (Nicholls) have squandered the family fortune, forcing them to "retrench." Thus, the family manse, Kellynch, is sublet to Admiral Croft and his wife, who just happens to be... Wentworth's sister. Now Captain Wentworth of the Royal British Navy (and if you don't think that's a glorious station in 19th-century life, just check out his hat), his star has risen just as precipitously as the Elliotts' has fallen. Michell's treatment of Anne's story is spare and muted, a movie of small moments. Whitened fingers gripping the back of a chair, a red velvet cape billowing in the sea air, a gloved hand on the small of a back. These are the images that set our pulses racing, and race they do even though we know perfectly well the outcome of the story. Even the comedy, which is quite subtle and likely to elude the inattentive listener, is capable of producing audible laughter. Persuasion is nearly a lesson in understatement, with fine, controlled performances, and a pace that quickens your interest in inverse proportion to its speed. I can't help but think that Austen would be pleased that this seeming Plain Jane of a picture could be a thing of such beauty and spirit. (10/27/95)

3.0 stars (H.C.)

Dobie


SABRINA

D: Sydney Pollack; with Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond, Greg Kinnear, Nancy Marchand, Lauren Holly. (PG, 127 min.)
Pollack's remake of the 1954 Billy Wilder romance movie poses no threat to the original Sabrina's charm, glamour, and wit. While it can't hold a candle to Wilder's film, the updated Sabrina has its moments. Pollack's film stays fairly true to the original story of Sabrina, the daughter of a chauffeur who drives for the Larrabees, a monied Long Island family. Sabrina (Ormond) has been in love with the younger son, playboy David Larrabee (Kinnear), since she was a child. He doesn't know she exists. A trip to Paris imbues Sabrina with both style and confidence, and thereby she captures the attention of the fickle David upon her return. Now engaged, David must be policed by his older brother Linus (Ford) and his mother Maude (Marchand). In an effort to keep David from ruining his impending marriage and thus an important business merger for Larrabee Industries, Linus squires Sabrina as David's surrogate. Those of you familiar with the earlier Sabrina know what happens next. For those who may not have seen Wilder's film, you probably can guess the ending. Ford's droll performance as the uptight and single-minded business tycoon gives the film its strongest character and some of its best lines. Ormond's fresh beauty and guileless acting give Sabrina the same ingenue status as the original character although it goes without saying that there can never be another Audrey Hepburn. Additional entertaining moments are played effectively by Marchand as the brusque, elite, but ultimately earth-bound Maude Larrabee, and Greg Kinnear's reprise of the part originally played by William Holden has its own smug charm. Pollack has made a few changes to keep the film contemporary, and generally these work unobtrusively - having Sabrina intern at French Vogue instead of a cooking school, learning photography instead of haute cuisine, making David more of a Nineties celebrity by having him pose for a Gap ad, and so on. However, the biggest problem with this story is that it seems so out of place in the present. Granted, chauffeurs still exist and they still produce daughters, but somehow the extremes in class seem implausible from the beginning. If you can get past what was for me a large stumbling block, then you probably will enjoy the romance between Ormond and Ford. Giuseppe Rotunno's photography ensures that the visual images are as sweetly appealing as many of the other elements in the film, making Sabrina a little piece of Christmas sugar just in time for the holidays: too sweet for some, but just right for others. (12/15/95)

2.5 stars (A.M.)

Arbor, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate


SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

D: Ang Lee; with Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Gemma Jones, Emilie Francois, Elizabeth Spriggs, Greg Wise, Imogen Stubbs. (PG, 135 min.)
Who could have imagined that 1995 would have been such a banner year for Jane Austen? This new film adaptation of Austen's first novel, Sense and Sensibility, is the third Austen appearance onscreen this year. Earlier, there was the excellent adaptation of Persuasion and, remarkably enough, even Amy Heckerling declared that her movie Clueless owes a great debt to Austen's Emma. Whether this cluster is mere coincidence or an indicator of new social trends in film is a matter for conjecture... but not here. Here, I'm willing to count my blessings and not fret about their source. Sense and Sensibility is a wonderfully fashioned film adaptation, which only makes us rue there not being more Jane Austen novels for filmmakers to rework. The movie is lively, beautiful, and funny, though perhaps not as subtle as some of Austen's later work. It is, typically, a story about manners and morals set within a narrative context of finding suitable husbands for eligible young women. (Such a passˇ story line has greater relevance in this early 18th-century British setting when women were denied both occupations and inheritance; the setting also makes the characters' desire to marry for love rather than security a much more daring notion than it might seem currently.) Though many might be surprised by the choice of Taiwanese director Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet, Eat Drink Man Woman) to helm this English period production, his sensibilities turn out to be in perfect accord with Austen's. Both artists use the subtleties of domestic microcosms for their tableaux, though until now, each explored the confines of radically different cultures. Even more intriguing is the accomplished screenplay by actress Emma Thompson, who also stars as the elder sister Elinor Dashwood. It is her first screenplay and its skillfulness belies her inexperience. Thompson has pruned the novel into solid dramatic nuggets and kept the excisions and alterations reasonable. One of the movie's biggest changes is the casting of Thompson as Elinor. In the novel, the character is 19 years old and her sister Marianne is 17. As played by Thompson and the dazzling Kate Winslet (Heavenly Creatures), the sisters are clearly older and more mature, but that alteration does not harm the story so much as add a greater urgency to their situation. Not enough can be said about this fine cast, each of whom chisels a vibrant, one-of-a-kind characterization. Sense and Sensibility is an absorbing, delightful, and nuanced movie with laugh-out-loud humor, and though it often plays events broadly where you might have preferred subtlety, it's not a movie that could have settled for muffled silence. (12/15/95)

3.5 stars (M.B.)

Arbor


TOM AND HUCK

D: Peter Hewitt; with Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Brad Renfro, Eric Schweig, Amy Wright, Charles Rocket, Michael McShane, Rachel Leigh Cooke, Marian Seldes. (PG, 95 min.)
The camera follows a lone man as he strides through the dark night, seemingly oblivious to the driving rain and the thick mud sucking at his boots. A fiddle plays some strident, doleful chords. It is a beautiful scene, full of murky, menacing shadows and the sporadic wet, gleaming play of light. It shivers with danger. And it opens Tom and Huck, the latest telling of Mark Twain's tale of two rapscallions. I settle into my seat with anticipation, awaiting more of the same. And I keep on waiting.... Director Hewitt manages to maintain the lofty production values, but the spasmodic pacing and uneven performances drag down the rest of the movie. The interior shots have the cramped, flickering, echoing feel of 19th-century buildings while the exteriors ring with the fresh, noisy activity of a river boomtown. The costumes are wonderful - properly prim or fittingly filthy depending upon the wearer. The milieu is right, with the Mississippi a powerful player, and much of Twain's sly wit intact there on the screen. But the timing in the picture is off. Comedy plays at odds with Injun Joe's ominous brutality and the sweet morality lessons about truth and honor and friendship that basically drive the picture. Thomas makes a perfect Tom, with a natural command of the river vernacular's slow Southern drawl and an innate impishness that allows him to be at once exasperating and endearing. Renfro's Huck, on the other hand, seems stiff and aimless and downright sullen in comparison and the two just don't have the onscreen chemistry they need to carry the picture. Alternating between cartoonish posturing (Charles Rocket might as well wink at the camera) and winning performances (the always dependable Amy Wright delivers again), the film ends up being an uneasy mix of parody and pathos. Hewitt does seem to find his footing with the truly terrifying Injun Joe (Schweig). His scenes are downright suspenseful and could even be too scary for the very young. True to the promise of its opening sequence, Tom and Huck shines brightest in its darkest moments. (12/22/95)

2.0 stars (H.C.)

Great Hills, Highland, Movies 12, Northcross, Roundrock, Westgate


TOY STORY

D: John Lasseter; with the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, Jim Varney, John Ratzenberger, Annie Potts, Laurie Metcalf, Penn Jillette. (G, 81 min.)
Pixar and Disney join forces and take the next great leap forward in animated films with this moving, hilarious, and ultimately groundbreaking tale about the secret life of toys. John Lasseter's Pixar computer animation company first gained fame in the mid-Eighties with a series of then-astounding computer-generated short films including Red's Dream, Knick-Knack, and the seminal Tin Toy, which featured the first-ever attempt to create a computer-animated human. You can see how much times have changed in Toy Story: The film has plenty of humans running around, in addition to the myriad toys of the title. Woody (Hanks) is young Andy's favorite plaything, a stuffed cowboy with a pull-string voicebox that lets him spout such western witticisms as "Somebody's poisoned the water in the well!" When Andy's not around, Woody comes to life, overseeing the other toys (Mr. Potato Head, Slinky Dog, little green plastic army guys, and all the rest you probably remember from your own childhood) as their unofficial leader. When Andy's birthday rolls around, Woody and company anxiously await the possible arrival of new, better playthings. Although protesting otherwise, it's all too obvious that Woody's worried that he'll end up obsolete and forgotten in the shadow of some G.I. Joe or Tonka toy. Woody's fears seem justified, to a point: The hit of Andy's birthday is his new Buzz Lightyear doll (Allen), a gizmo-laden, slam-bang action figure that not only talks, but has lasers, wings, and a mean karate chop. Before long, a jealous Woody is plotting ways to get rid of the interloper. Things go awry when both Buzz and Woody are accidentally lost in the world outside of Andy's house. When they find themselves in the clutches of Sid, the vicious, toy-destroying brat next door, it's up to Woody to come to terms with his jealousies and find a way home for the two of them. Like Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Chrismas, Toy Story's brilliant animation is its chief draw; unlike Burton's film, however, Toy Story has a lot more going for it that just eye-popping visuals. The film actually has more in common with traditionally animated films such as The Brave Little Toaster and Disney's more contemporary work. Toy Story is just that: a great story supported and enhanced (but never overshadowed) by its stunning animation. All the characters - from Andy's Bucket o' Soldiers running tiny recon missions throughout the household, to Ham the piggy bank and all the rest - are fresh, fully realized, and easily identifiable characters. The evil (sort of) Sid is a veritable American male archetype as well; is there anyone who didn't blow up, melt with a magnifying glass, or otherwise deface a few GI Joes and Matchbox cars in his time? Lasseter's Toy Story is a comic and animated gem, the kind of holiday film you actually look forward to seeing again and again (and if you have kids, you're almost certain to go more than once). (11/22/95)

4.0 stars (M.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Lakehills, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock


WHEN NIGHT IS FALLING

D: Patricia Rozema; with Pascale Bussi¸res, Rachael Crawford, Henry Czerny, David Fox, Don McKellar, Tracy Wright. (NR, 93 min.)
To describe the plot of Patricia Rozema's (White Room, I've Heard the Mermaids Singing) third feature is to do this film a disservice. When Night Is Falling involves two professors at a religious college and a circus performer, but the film is far from kooky or zany. Canadian writer-director Rozema's When Night Is Falling is an enchanting film filled with luminous images and intriguing characters much like her debut film I've Heard the Mermaids Singing. The unexpected death of mythology professor Camille's (Bussi¸res) dog Bob opens the film. After distractedly placing the lifeless Bob in her refrigerator, Camille finds herself sobbing in a laundromat to a stranger, circus performer Petra (Crawford). Bob's death begins a period of contemplation for Camille that includes a re-evaluation of her relationship with her lover Martin (Czerny, last seen in The Boys of St. Vincent). Drawn back to Petra and her Sircus of Sorts through a series of "planned" coincidences, Camille tentatively begins an affair with Petra that jeopardizes Camille's career and her relationship with Martin. When Night Is Falling begins with images of bodies in water, beautiful and fluid. This fluidity marks cinematographer Douglas Koch's expertise as he visually weaves Camille's life with Petra's. A scene in which Camille's blue Volvo drives on a misty, wintry evening to the colorful warehouse where Petra and the circus are rehearsing succinctly conveys the distinct personalities of the women. Bussi¸res' and Crawford's acting contribute wonderfully to this as well. Rozema's dialogue helps to create believable characters which allows a space in which to engage with Camille and Petra despite the extraordinary circumstances of their situation. Additionally, Martin's character becomes effectively nuanced as the film develops, due in part to Czerny's performance. The same cannot be said for Reverend DeBoer (Fox), the chaplain of the college whose role deteriorates into a caricature. The film's treatment of religion is otherwise balanced and thoughtful, which makes DeBoer's depiction that much more unfortunate. Also problematic is a subplot involving the circus manager (McKellar) and his girlfriend (Wright); the performances are fine, but their characters' relationship seems superfluous to the story. Despite these minor detractions and an ending that may not satisfy all viewers, When Night Is Falling is worth seeing, a magical film full of small delights. (12/22/95)

3.0 stars (A.M.)

Village



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