Film Reviews

Film reviews are updated on Fridays. This section compiled by Marjorie Baumgarten (M.B.); with reviews by Hollis Chacona (H.C.), Steve Davis (S.D.), Robert Faires (R.F.), Marc Savlov (M.S.), Russell Smith (R.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

SAVING PRIVATE RYAN

D: Steven Spielberg; with Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Matt Damon, Barry Pepper, Adam Goldberg, Vin Diesel, Giovanni Ribisi, Jeremy Davies, Ted Danson, Dennis Farina. (R, 168 min.)


Weeks before its release, Saving Private Ryan had already been tagged as "the best film about war ever made." This from critics and veterans alike, and though I fall (thankfully) into the former category, the film is inarguably one of the most realistic depictions of what it must be like to engage in modern warfare. For once, believe the hype. It certainly doesn't hurt matters that Saving Private Ryan is helmed by icon/director Spielberg and many of his longtime collaborators, including director of photography Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List, Amistad), and is populated by a brilliant ensemble cast headed by that other Hollywood icon, Tom Hanks. In Robert Rodat's script, Capt. John Miller (Hanks) is ordered to lead his squad of eight men through the madness of Omaha Beach and D-Day, then go behind German lines to rescue Pvt. James Ryan, the only surviving brother among four soldiers, and thereby scuttle a potential public-relations snafu on the home front. Miller and his men don't give a rat's ass for this unseen, unknown private they've been ordered to find, but they know -- or at least Miller knows -- that finishing the mission brings them all one step closer to home and hearth. Rounding out Miller's squad are some of the best character actors working today, including Sizemore's square-shooting Sgt. Horvarth, Burns' wisecracking Brooklyn dogface Pvt. Reiben, Diesel as the requisite Italian-American Pvt. Carpazo, Ribisi's medic Wade, newcomer Pepper as the squad's devoutly religious sharpshooter, Goldberg as the Nazi-baiting Jew, and Davies as the conscripted, unsure Cpl. Upham. Rodat and the actors steer clear of the most obvious clichés in squadron demographics, and instead, let their audience come to know them on their own terms. One by one, the men are introduced by mannerism and dialogue, very slowly emerging as fully developed characters who, by the end of the film, you feel as though you've known maybe your whole dreaming life, if not your waking. All these acting chops merge with Spielberg's brilliant recreation of the final countdown to V-E Day. Beginning with the Allied forces landing at Omaha Beach (which goes on for an unprecedented half-hour), Spielberg proves again and again just why he's one of the most respected filmmakers alive. Never has there been such unmitigated carnage outside of combat documentaries: Awash in blood and strewn with staggering, limbless men jetting arterial gore, the Omaha sequence is a prolonged, relentless nightmare of death, agony, and stark, naked terror. And yet it's a gorgeous, achingly affecting and artistically rendered sequence as well, a ballet of bodies, an adagio of organs. Spielberg paints everything in desaturated, khaki tones; dirt clods hang suspended, jittering in the frigid air while bullets impact and bodies sag and fall like sad, untethered marionettes. On top of this epic, disturbing realism, of course, is Saving Private Ryan's genuine sense of loss and humanity; it's perhaps the most humanistic war film since J'Accuse or All Quiet on the Western Front. A bitter, bloody masterpiece with adrenalized emotions and hyper-realized images, this is perhaps as close to battle as any sane human being should ever hope to tread. (7/24/98)

4.0 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Gateway, Lakeline, Lincoln, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South



New Review

BROADWAY DAMAGE

D: Victor Mignatti; with Michael Shawn Lucas, Mara Hobel, Aaron Williams, Hugh Panaro, Gary Janetti. (Not Rated, 110 min.)
At its best, Broadway Damage evokes the sweet melancholy of those post-college, twentysomething years when you're ambivalently ready for the world. It's a time of financial and emotional struggle, of occasional heartbreak, and of making mistakes, all made bearable by youthful resiliency. The film begins with the painful spectacle of wannabe actors Marc and Robert auditioning for an unspecified stage production. If truth be said, they're not very good; in fact, they're just short of awful. To make ends meet, the boyishly cute Marc works as a telephone operator booking tickets for Broadway shows, living in a six-flights-up Greenwich Village flat with fellow alumna, Cynthia, who spends most of her time irresponsibly using Daddy's charge cards. Marc and Cynthia are a fine pair who perversely complement each other: he's fixated on meeting the perfect-10 man of his dreams (much to Robert's chagrin), while she's obsessed with harassing Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown for a job, despite a total lack of magazine experience. Before it's all over, lessons are learned -- well, some critical self-evaluation occurs -- and things end on something close to happily ever after. Although Broadway Damage goes on a little too long, it's an engaging movie that remains true to its modest ambitions. If it can be faulted for anything, it's that it's too agreeable, lacking an edge that might have made it a more weighty experience. The performance of Lucas, who plays the film's central character, Marc, leaves you with the same feeling: it's nice, it's inviting, it's a tad bland. Of special camp interest is Hobel in the role of Cynthia. Remember her? All grown up now, she played the girl-devil Christina to Faye Dunaway's monstrous Mommy in that infamous movie about Joan Crawford's maternal instincts. Whether Hobel is intentionally charting a career playing spoiled brats remains to be seen, but there's one thing for sure: Nary a wire hanger is visible in Broadway Damage. (7/24/98)

3.0 stars (S.D.)

Dobie


DISTURBING BEHAVIOR

D: David Nutter; with James Marsden, Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl, Steve Railsback, Bruce Greenwood, William Sadler. (R, 84 min.)
John Hughes meets Ira Levin at Carrie's high school. Dopey, histrionic fun from The X-Files alum David Nutter and Scott Rosenberg, writer of a real horror film -- last year's Con Air. Doubtlessly green-lighted following the success of Kevin Williamson and his minions, this paranoiac slab of hormonal overload positively drips with snide asides, though it's not nearly as cohesive (or witty) as the Craven/Williamson Scream franchise. It's instead on a par with such mid-Eighties bantamweights as Dead and Buried and My Bloody Valentine (the film, not the band), poking fun at teenage angst by way of a very sharp stick in the eye, kidney, and groin. What it more accurately resembles, though, is 1974's male domination fantasy The Stepford Wives (penned by Levin), both in its attention to suburban cliquehood -- in this case high school -- and its vision of a utopian elite where all the fistfights, fracases, and fun have been replaced by good table manners and well-coifed dos. Steve Clark (Marsden) is a strapping young lad who has recently moved to the Oregonian coastal town of Cradle Bay after the suicide of his brother in Chicago. Along with his younger sister, mom, and dad, Steve struggles to adjust to his new environment, which includes Cradle Bay High School, where the choice of cliques is endearingly clichéd. As described by newfound stoner buddy Gavin Strick (Stahl), the school is made up of the usual shoprats, skaters, stoners, and computer geeks, but more distressing are the Blue Ribbons, a loose cabal of overachieving MENSAniacs who make up the school's jock and preppie populations. According to the slightly-out-of-it Gavin, however, these future Young Republicans, until recently, were toke-happy freakouts like himself. Until they joined the Blue Ribbons, that is. Leave it to an Atom Egoyan regular to be at the crux of small-town America's mental health problems: Greenwood (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica) is on board as school shrink Dr. Caldicott, whose radical experiments in teen-behavior modification have resulted in this cadre of hot-wired, kill-happy zombies who go in for such buoyant after-school specials as murder, rape, and grocery-store defenestrations. Only Sadler, as an equally weird school janitor with a fetish for Vonnegut, can save us now. The aptly named Nutter has a great time with all this bubble-headed trashiness, and though the script is wildly scattershot in its narrative, there's a certain charm to the film's outlandish sensibilities. This may be due in large part to the teen-dream perfection of Stahl and Holmes (Dawson's Creek), who plays white-trash bad girl Rachel, saviorette of Cradle Bay's artificially oppressed teen libidos. It's all goofily ridiculous, sure, but it's also more than a little fun, and for what it's worth, Disturbing Behavior garners an instant Drive-in Academy Award nomination for Best Use of a Pink Floyd lyric since The Wall. Take that, Molly Ringwald. (7/24/98)

2.5 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Gateway, Highland, Lake Creek, Northcross, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


FULL SPEED (A TOUTE VITESSE)

D: Gaël Morel; with Elodie Bouchez, Stephane Rideau, Pascal Cervo, Meziane Bardadi. (Not Rated, 85 min.)
Although fast-paced and well-intentioned, this French youth film falls into the same trap as so many other youth-focused movies throughout the world: a callow and self-absorbed perspective. The story follows the shifting allegiances between a cluster of friends living in the French countryside. Quentin (Cervo), who is not yet 20, has written a book about disaffected youth that has brought him to the attention of the French literary world. In search of more true-life stories for his next book, Quentin pals around with Samir (Bardadi), who seems perpetually sad due to the violent death of his lover two years earlier. Quentin is looking for stories but Samir is looking for love and is hurt when Quentin rudely rebuffs his sexual overtures. Quentin is sleeping with Julie (Bouchez), who lives alone in her parents' country estate, where much of the story takes place. But Julie finds herself increasingly attracted to Quentin's best friend Jimmy (Rideau). Quentin moves to Paris to follow his muse, Julie and Jimmy become an item, and then, along with Samir, the threesome tries to figure out what went wrong with their old pal. Racism then rears its head and throws more real-world complications into their lives as the film strives for relevance beyond its lovelorn, post-adolescent yearnings. Full Speed bears some resemblance to Andre Techine's 1993 film Wild Reeds, a French coming-of-age story set during the years of the Algerian War. Coincidentally, that film starred Rideau, Bouchez and Full Speed's writer-director Gaël Morel. Here, even though Morel tells his story quite economically and briskly, the film never quite compensates for its lack of substance. You just want to shake it and tell it to grow up already… or whatever the French equivalent of that expression might be. (7/24/98)

1.5 stars (M.B.)

Village


HENRY FOOL

D: Hal Hartley; with Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Parker Posey, Maria Porter, Kevin Corrigan. (R, 137 min.)
"Get up off your knees," barks Henry Fool (Ryan) to Simon Grim (Urbaniak) as he swaggers into Simon's basement at the beginning of the film and takes up residence. It is a directive that comes to characterize their relationship. Henry plays the mysterious, commanding, bombastic life teacher to Simon's reticent, bullied, and unassuming garbage man. The film is about the ironic influence the two men have on each other. It is a tale composed on an epic canvas, which is quite a departure for filmmaker Hal Hartley, whose distinctive vision has practically made all his films (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men, Amateur, Flirt) into their own unique genre. Until now, he has been a master of the hyper-real, depicting characters whose sense of isolation is profound and fairly impenetrable. With Henry Fool, however, Hartley has made his most dynamic and accomplished film to date. In no small measure this is because his new film is about the relationships between people, rather than the gulfs that surround them. Henry is a pontificating intellectual who believes that his notebooks containing his Confessions will revolutionize the writing establishment upon publication. Only thing is, they're never finished and he won't let anyone read them -- and there's also the ugly matter of some vile deeds in his past. But he generously gives the taciturn Simon a blank notebook to record his unspoken thoughts and what comes out is a cramped, scribbled stream of iambic pentameter. The words are so beautiful that they stimulate the mute cashier at the corner store to suddenly sing, turn his once-tormentors into his new acolytes, and causes his sister's period to begin a week and a half early as she types his long poem into the Internet. From there, it's instant fame for Simon as the student surpasses his questionable teacher, although their relationship continues through several more unexpected bends in the moral river. Though Hartley's ironic stance toward the world is still firmly in place, Henry Fool has a more darkly comic tone as questions of art, commerce, and talent are deftly explored. Parker Posey has one of her choicest roles as Simon's loud, promiscuous sister, and Camille Paglia even pops up at one point to provide commentary. Hartley's wry distance makes it hard to say for certain what it ultimately all adds up to, but links together smoothly enough as it unfolds. It's perhaps a little overlong with too much effort devoted at times to secondary characters and subplots. And be prepared for a couple of scenes of a grossly scatological nature that surpass anything found in the current spate of bathroom-humor comedies. Henry Fool is likely to make true believers out of Hartley's existent fans; to the newcomers there may be no better portal of entry. (7/24/98)

3.5 stars (M.B.)

Arbor


JAMES ELLROY: DEMON DOG OF AMERICAN CRIME FICTION

D: Reinhard Jud. (Not Rated, 90 min.)
"I want to leave all of you with a weird, strange, utterly pervasive sense of the bad juju ramifications extending beyond the last page of my books," says Ellroy as he stands on a bluff overlooking the smoggy skyline of his beloved Los Angeles. Anyone who has read the author of White Jazz, The Big Nowhere, or L.A. Confidential knows he's not just talking shit. This 1994 documentary by Austrian filmmaker Jud does that, too, after a fashion. It's not so much your standard documentary as it is a travelogue of Ellroy's dark places, from the gritty El Monte alleyway where his mother's nude corpse was found when the author was 10 years old to the well-trimmed suburban lawn where the bisected carcass of Elizabeth Short -- The Black Dahlia -- was discovered, setting off the largest manhunt in LAPD history. In between, Ellroy dissects his earlier novels, explores his freaky childhood haunts (cruising through a posh section of L.A. in his powder-blue Caddy he gestures towards a house and comments that he "must have broke in there I don't know how many times, back when B&E was easy"), and ruminates on the nature of what he does and why he's become a Raymond Chandler for the new age. In between, Jud inserts long passages of HelL.A. life, shots of winos sprawled comatose in storefronts, hookers milling about Chevy station wagons, and everywhere, the omnipresent LAPD cruisers and the thick, burly officers rousting vagrants and bums. Not surprisingly, Ellroy appears and speaks as he writes. He resembles an aging insurance salesman with vanishing hair more than a bestselling writer, but no salesman in his right mind would ever shroud himself in that many flavors of bad Hawaiian print shirts. His voice is clipped, precise, gravelly, and he's given to speaking in the sentence-fragment stream of consciousness style that makes up his best work. His penchant for bizarre, gutter poetry is on display at a local booksigning, where he inscribes each novel with an original, nasty rhyme, and, later, this self-described "demon dog" sits on the beach, howling like a lunatic. Is he mad? My Dark Places, which chronicles his obsessive search for his mother's murderer 40 years after the fact leads one to believe that certainly Ellroy is not your average bear. He's been marked by a life growing up in the shadow of some of L.A.'s most seedy, spiritually strip-mined areas, and that arcane Forties and Fifties pop culture mélange that makes up the bulk of his novels -- "white male rage," he calls it -- dogs him in real life as well. Like a Fifties grifter propelled forward in time, he drops words and phrases like "dig it," "groovy," and "daddy-o" like other people say "you know." It's a portrait of the writer as a young hepcat, huffing Benzedrine, sniffing panties, and then finally settling down to either die or write. Thankfully for us, he learned to write. (7/24/98)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Dobie


MAFIA!

D: Jim Abrahams; with Jay Mohr, Lloyd Bridges, Olympia Dukakis, Christina Applegate, Billy Burke, Pamela Gidley, Jason Fuchs. (PG-13, 93 min.)
The cinematic equivalent of Cracked magazine, Mafia! never quite lives up to its MAD potential, instead shooting for the obvious, and releasing a steady stream of fart jokes and toilet humor that flows over the audience in a foul wave of lowest-common-denominator titters. Abrahams, who started out as part of the holy trinity of cinematic parody -- (David) Zucker, Abrahams, and (Jerry) Zucker -- with The Kentucky Fried Movie back in 1977, has since helmed the enormously successful and spot-on Airplane!, as well as the Naked Gun series and Hot Shots! Despite, or perhaps due to, his love of exclamatory titles, Abrahams and his writers have been able to keep their one-note comedy ball rolling for two decades now, but Mafia! signals the end. The story takes its structure and plot from Coppola's Godfather trilogy, Scorsese's Casino and GoodFellas, but curiously leaves out any of the gangster genre's more formative examples. I kept waiting for a White Heat gag to no avail. Mohr plays Anthony Cortino, the son of godfather Vincenzo (Bridges, looking remarkably spry -- this was his last film). Paralleling the Coppola films, Anthony is forced into taking over the family business after the death of Vincenzo (in an amusing homage to Brando's scene amongst the tomatoes), despite the protests of his wife Diane (Applegate). From there, it's on to Las Vegas and Casino territory, with plenty of flashbacks to catch up on evil brother Joey Cortino (Burke) and the host of lesser wiseguys who round out the film. Whereas the usual gag ratio in an Abrahams film is two or three per minute of screen time, Mafia! seems to cough up a genuine guffaw only once or twice every quarter-hour, which, as you can imagine, grows quickly wearying. On the face of it, the film seems uninspired, rushed, and cobbled together from leftover jokes that couldn't quite make it into the last Naked Gun episode. Watching grass grow is more humorous than this, and if you have a dead clown nearby, well, there's just no comparison. Mohr has a daft and clever comic wit about him, though. His quiet, not-quite-Christopher-Walken voice is ready-made for zippy one-liners, and Applegate already proved her ditzy comic abilities on Fox's Married … With Children and in The Big Hit. This isn't nearly enough to sustain Mafia!'s 93-minute running time, and a long-overdue Jaws parody three-quarters into the film makes you wonder just how long Abrahams has been sitting on some of these gags. Best to go rent Police Squad! one more time. (7/24/98)

1.5 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Gateway, Highland, Lake Creek, Riverside, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


PASSION IN THE DESERT

D: Lavinia Currier; with Ben Daniels, Michel Piccoli. (PG-13, 102 min.)
In Passion in the Desert the love that dare not speak its name is the love that passes between man and beast. Interspecies love is the dubious topic of this unusual and, indeed, tantalizing film. Between man and leopard, who's to say? Certainly not the makers of Passion in the Desert, which, of all things, is based on a novella by Honoré de Balzac. It takes place in Egypt in 1798 and depicts the story of a young captain in Bonaparte's army who becomes lost in the Sahara. Augustin Robert (Ben Daniels, who is also currently onscreen in Madeline) is a product of the Age of Enlightenment, a logical chap who seems a bit peeved by his assignment to escort an artist/scholar (Piccoli) whom Bonaparte has sent to paint and record the land's monuments and antiquities. The two become lost in a sandstorm, and face doom once the artist uses the last of their water to mix his paints. Augustin sets off alone. Taking flight after an aborted attempt at molesting a Bedouin woman, Augustin finds refuge in the cavernous ruins of an ancient city. He awakes to the sight of two amber cat's eyes gleaming at him in the dark, the eyes of a predatory leopard. But rather than eat him alive, the leopard leads Augustin to water, then shares with him her fresh kill. Time passes and the two bond and romp and purr in the desert sun. Augustin gives her the name Simoom, and they lie entwined, side by side. As the story pushes the envelope of plausibility, it's good to remember that this is no doubt some kind of fable about the abdication of reason and the domestication of violence. It's not the kind of tale one might customarily expect from the pen of the great social realist Balzac, and being unfamiliar with the novella I wonder whether the "passion" Balzac described was meant to be this earthy and sexual or more inclined toward the religious/spiritual sense of the word. And even though the movie encourages us to understand that the desert is a place of jinns and hallucinations, by the time Augustin, in a jealous fit, strips naked and covers himself with spots, the metaphor has become far too bestial for comfort. Augustin howls for Simoom with all the primordial passion of a sunstruck Stanley Kowalski. Still, for all its strained improbability, the mostly wordless Passion in the Desert must be lauded for carrying out its difficult vision. Beautiful to look at and deeply disturbing, it's almost enough to blind us to its willfully ludicrous inversion of nature. (7/24/98)

2.0 stars (M.B.)

Arbor


YELLOW

D: Chris Chan Lee; with Michael Daeho Chung, Burt Bulos, Mia Suh, Soon-Tek Oh, Mary Chen, John Cho, Jason J. Tobin, Emily Kuruda. (Not Rated, 105 min.)
Lee's debut feature is a seriocomic look at the pre-graduation jitters surrounding a group of Korean-American high schoolers over the course of two days as the plan for their futures and the world outside of the Los Angeles basin where the live. Taken as a cultural study, it's notable more for the similarities these kids have to their Anglo counterparts than to their obvious differences -- like graduating kids all over the country, they're champing at the bit, eager to break free of their restrictive home lives and get out into the world, already. The Korean-American clash of old world and new is plainly evident, however, in the dichotomy between their staid, conservative, first-generation immigrant parents' viewpoints on life in the U.S. as opposed to those of their children, who have already become as American as that proverbial slice of apple pie. Nowhere is this more evident than with Sin Lee (Chung). Stocky, conflicted, and ambivalent about the unyielding belief of his domineering father Woon Lee (Oh) that he should forfeit collegiate dreams and possible scholarships in favor of taking over the family's grocery. As he is working behind the counter one day, a pair of customers come in to purchase a six-pack, and then politely ask for paper bags to foil L.A.'s open-container law. Woon Lee demands that they pay five cents extra for each bag while Sin Lee tries to vanish into the floorboards. This micro-epic battle between the traditional and the new comes to a head when the grocery is robbed of $1,500 while Sin Lee is closing up alone. Terrified of his father's impending rage once he finds out, he warily enlists the aid of his peers to help him out of the scrape. In a bitingly dark comedy of escalating errors, Sin Lee and his wannabe-gangster pal Alex (Bulos) first try to borrow the cash, then move on to semi-legit car sales, and from there on to a boomerang robbery that mirrors Sin Lee's original travails. Along for the ride are Sin Lee's levelheaded girlfriend Teri (Suh) and a quartet of friends who realize long before Sin Lee that the situation has moved far beyond the bounds of logical consequence. Director Lee is billing his film as a comedy, but the laughs Yellow generates rise more from desperation and outright fear of failure than anything else. It's not slapstick. And although Lee's script (he produced as well) sometimes ranges off into fields of preachiness, relentlessly good performances from Chung, Bulos, and especially Oh keep things grounded in the essential teen reality. Dazed and Confused it's not, but Yellow still manages to elicit nervous laughter from the planet of tortured teens. (7/24/98)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Village



Still Playing

ARMAGEDDON

D: Michael Bay; with Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Ben Affleck, Will Patton, Peter Stormare, Keith Davie, Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, Ken Campbell. (PG-13, 150 min.)
It's big, it's stupid, it's pretty kick-ass. That's about all you need to know about Summer '98's loudest testosterone-fest, the second in a death-from-above double header that started off last month with the weak Deep Impact. As helmed by "bigger is better" wunderkind Bay, Armageddon ups the ante from that previous film by replacing Robert Duvall's hero-named-Tanner with Willis' hero-named-Stamper, gigantifying the incoming asteroid and wiping out more cities, faster, louder, wilder (particularly nice is the End of Paris, and, presumably, Euro-Disney). Bay wastes no time in getting to the action, leaving the planet just 18 measly days between discovery and impact (Deep Impact had near as many months). Alerted to the problem after a few "Volkswagen-sized" particles redecorate Times Square (in a nice comic touch, one of the asteroid's first victims turns out to be a street-corner Godzilla vendor), NASA director Dan Truman (a slimmed-down Thornton) hires the world's best deep-core oil drillers -- headed by crusty Harry Stamper (Willis) -- to rendezvous with the asteroid just shy of the moon, sink a supernuke in it, and blow it off course. Willis, who one of these days is going to get an Academy Award for Best Squint, is ideal for the role, though I had the feeling he was borrowing heavily from the Ed Harris character in James Cameron's The Abyss. (His whole team, in fact, seems recycled from that film, which in turn was recycled from World War II G.I. epics like The Fighting Seabees.) It should go without saying that supporting characters like Buscemi, Wilson, and Campbell are there for the ricocheting of one-liners, and that Liv Tyler's lips are the most emotionally expressive thing in the film. This is of little consequence in the summer blockbuster wars, in which storylines are lost and forgotten amidst the charred rubble of whatever metropolis "gets it" next and the quality of the effects is more important than the quality of the acting. Bearing that in mind, Armageddon has very impressive effects (not the least of which is making Steve Buscemi into a believable ladykiller). Bay hammers the linear narrative home with the indefatigable strength of John Henry pounding steel, never stopping for breath, and never allowing the audience time to ponder the various incongruities that pop up. His golden-lighted, amber-waves-of-grain patriotism (and there is much of it, usually in slow motion, always accompanied by elegiac music) begins to grate about 10 minutes into the film, but if you look at it as a bizarre comic element it's that much easier to stomach. No one in his or her right mind is going to take this juggernaut explode-o-thon seriously, of course, but as far as popcorn-grubbing eye candy with deafening sound and plenty of cheeseball Aerosmith tuneage (and progeny), it's great fun. And what other film this summer opens with Charlton Heston as the Voice of God intoning global doom? Not a one. (7/3/98)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Gateway, Highland, Lakeline, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


THE BIG LEBOWSKI

D: Joel Coen; with Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sam Elliott, Ben Gazzara, Jon Polito, Tara Reid, Peter Stormare, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, David Thewlis, Flea, Torsten Voges. (R, 117 min.)
The Coen Brothers -- Joel and Ethan -- go for broke in The Big Lebowski, and we the viewers are the winners. With The Big Lebowski they take their now-familiar brand of absurdist mystery/crime/thriller -- writ visually large -- and turn the whole mélange into a fresh new affair. It's paved with delightfully irregular and unanticipated bits of business that stimulate the viewer to stay fully alert, while renewing our faith in the sheer joy of watching movies. In its wonderful title sequence, The Big Lebowski quite literally announces itself as a tumbling tumbleweed of a movie, a go-with-the-flow yarn that intends to drift toward cohesion. And who better to star in a tall tale such as this than a go-with-the-flow character like the Dude (Bridges)? The Dude is a lazy, crumpled leftover from the Sixties whose laid-back daily routine has been pared down to the essentials: weed, White Russians, and bowling with his pals Walter (Goodman), a hotheaded and hazily militaristic vet full of half-baked ideas and an ability to bring any discussion back to 'Nam, and Donny (Buscemi), a dim but good-hearted schlub who always lags a beat or two behind any conversation. A case of mistaken identity causes some nasty goons to break into the Dude's ramshackle apartment, rough him up, and soil his rug. All the Dude wants now is his rug ("because it really tied the room together"), so at Walter's urging he follows the trail of the rug-pissers and thereby becomes embroiled in an intersecting mix of kidnapping, pornography, German nihilists, sultry women, gumshoes, missing money, and missing toes. It's almost enough to interfere with league bowling. But, oh, the characters the Dude meets along the way…. The film is populated with rich, colorful figures: David Huddleston as the Big Lebowski, a wealthy, pompous, wheelchair-bound corporate achiever; Philip Seymour Hoffman as his toady assistant; Julianne Moore as the idiosyncratically mannered artist Maude; Ben Gazzara as the porn entrepreneur Jackie Treehorn; and Sam Elliott as the Stranger, the cowpoke whose inexplicably omniscient voiceover narrates the Dude's story. Then there are all the secondary characters, any of whom could be excised from the story and never hurt the narrative flow. We are the ones who would be deprived of never having known them -- characters like Jesus, John Turturro's heart-arresting turn as the flamboyant Latin pederast bowler; David Thewlis' perversely twittering art-world friend of Maude's; and Smokey, the pacifist bowler played by Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Also punctuating The Big Lebowski are a couple of visually wild and elaborate fantasy/dream sequences, one of them a Busby Berkeley bowling/porn phantasmagoria more outsized and ambitious than anything the Coen Brothers have tried in the past. More like Raising Arizona with its crazy kidnapping plot than straight-ahead narratives like Fargo, The Big Lebowski is also very site specific. It is an L.A. movie, calling to mind the worlds of Raymond Chandler and The Big Sleep. All the film's details -- cinematography, costumes, music -- are note perfect. Some viewers have criticized the movie for being too much of a shaggy dog story, lacking a cohesive point or purpose. Yet to look for the point is to miss it entirely. Coen-heads hop aboard for the ride. (3/6/98)

4.5 stars (M.B.)

Discount, Dobie, Showplace


CAN'T HARDLY WAIT

D: Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan; with Ethan Embry, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green, Jerry O'Connell, Jenna Elfman, Melissa Joan Hart. (PG-13, 101 min.)
Just when you thought everyone in Hollywood had forgotten about the good old days of the teen sex comedy (Porky's, Zapped, Joysticks), here comes this nice throwback that actually has more in common with the classic teen romances of the Eighties (Say Anything, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) than any of that genre's lesser fare. That is to say, when it's not busy being obnoxious and pointing out the obvious stereotypes everyone in high school gets rammed into from time to time, it's all heart. Sometimes too much. The recent renaissance in post-pubescent icons glutting the airwaves (everyone from Party of Five, Sliders, and a post-Clarissa Melissa Joan Hart) has fueled a boom in the genre's evil twin, the slasher flick, so it's only fair play to turn up the heat on the late, lamented estrogen/testosterone fests as well. Thankfully, Can't Hardly Wait is less an exercise in simpering sophomoric hi-jinks than it is an amicable, occasionally hilarious meditation on young love in the Nineties. As the film opens, it's graduation day for Preston Meyers (Embry), a gangly Joe-Average mensch with a four-year-long, unrequited crush on the most popular girl at his school, Amanda Beckett (Hewitt). Until recently, Amanda had been going steady with BMOC Mike Dexter (Facinelli), but that's all over now, and the shy Preston has resolved to take his best shot at that evening's big blowout party. With smirking encouragement from his best friend Denise (Ambrose as a Janeane Garofalo-in-training), he trails Amanda from room to room, waiting for opportunity to present itself. It never does, of course, and poor Preston finds himself unceremoniously lumped in with all the other teenage horndogs eager to make a play for this newly single epicenter of the Babe Universe. Several other running subplots keep things from getting too gooey, most notably one involving class geek Kenny Fisher (Green), who arrives with plans to ambush class bully Mike, but instead discovers the wonders of alcohol and ends up single-handedly resurrecting the career of Guns 'n Roses in an inspired bit of pantomime-cum-karaoke. (Somebody should alert Slash to this guy's obvious talents.) Hardly as ridiculous as the film's trailers have been leading anyone over the age of 17 to believe, Can't Hardly Wait is a nifty little bit of nostalgia for those of us weaned on a young John Cusack or Jeff Spicolli, and, I suspect, a harbinger of things to come. Kaplan and Elfont's smart, zippy script is rife with knowing one-liners and just the right amount of preachy moralism (very little). It is also winningly directed. Nobody's going to give this one an Oscar, sure, but as far as the venerable teen sex comedy goes, this one actually makes it to third base. (6/12/98)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Dobie, Great Hills


COUSIN BETTE

D: Des McAnuff; with Jessica Lange, Elisabeth Shue, Bob Hoskins, Hugh Laurie, Kelly Macdonald, Aden Young, Geraldine Chaplin. (R, 108 min.)
Cousin Bette is so cold, so grimly repressed, it's a wonder she doesn't explode, littering the Parisian landscape with bits of starched black silk and coiled raven hair. A physical study in black and white, Bette (Lange) is an emotional riot of color. You sense it in the sudden, anticipatory movements she makes, like a dull black bird whose wings conceal a flash of cochineal. If only she could fly, we would be struck by her grace and brilliance. But her outward plainness, her reduced circumstances, have relegated her to a social cage for poor relations. When her beautiful cousin Adeline Hulot (Laurie) dies, Bette senses her chance for escape. She soars toward the open door only to have it slammed, humiliatingly, in her face. The widower Hulot, it seems, wants Bette to stay on, not as a replacement wife, but in servitude, tending to his spoiled, grown children and the bothersome affairs of his crumbling household. Bette instead retreats to her life as a costumer for a burlesque show starring the lusciously lewd songbird of Paris (and mistress of Hulot), Jenny Cadine (Shue). When Bette falls in love with the young, starving sculptor in her tenement and saves him from self-destruction, she can't help boasting about him to young cousin Hortense (Macdonald), who promptly sets her sights on the dashing and romantic figure. Once again, Bette is dismissed by the Hulot family, whose beauty, aristocracy, and pretensions to wealth give them everything she cannot have. And in Paris, in 1846, a plain woman of no means has only one recourse: Machiavellian revenge. Bette spares no one in her quest for vengeance. Based on one of the novels comprising Balzac's The Human Comedy, Cousin Bette is wickedly funny, passionately sensuous, and so bitterly cold it makes you gasp for breath. Lange is remarkable as Bette. You long to loosen her hair, to smooth her frown, to soften that grimly austere composure. Her severity is so compelling that you watch every small motion, every slight expression seeking some sign of human warmth or even frailty. By contrast, all the other characters are soft, and silly, and selfish, and totally unaware that their brilliant plumage makes them conspicuous targets. Bette, by her very plainness, is free to manipulate and deceive. She simply does not command enough respect for anyone to notice or suspect her duplicity. She, and we, get a delicious and somewhat sadistic private amusement from watching the upper crust get their just desserts. Aided by a clever script, sumptuous set design, gorgeous cinematography, and a wonderful cast, the Tony Award-winning director McAnuff has fashioned a grippingly entertaining film. Not a movie for the soft of heart, Cousin Bette takes you by the Balzac from the opening scene and never lets go. (6/26/98)

3.5 stars (H.C.)

Dobie


DANCER, TEXAS POP. 81

D: Tim McCanlies, with Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Ethan Embry, Eddie Mills, Patricia Wettig, Eddie Jones, Alexandra Holden, Wayne Tippit. (PG, 97 min.)
There are so many captivating characters, so many funny moments, and so much sweet affection in this movie, its ending comes as a sorrowful leave-taking. You're tempted to wave goodbye to it (if you have a hankie to wave, so much the better) and linger in your seat long after the lights have come up. John, Keller, Squirrel, and Terrell Lee are four fast friends who are fixin' to graduate and make good on their childhood pact to get the heck out of Dancer, Texas, thereby decreasing their hometown's population by five percent. Their plans are to head out to L.A., believing that their small-town woes will disappear once they're west of the Rockies. Most of the townspeople know better, of course -- some hold their counsel, some relate long and (hilariously) tragic tales about the fate of similar odysseys, and still others make book on how many, if any, of the four will actually leave. And, indeed, as the film progresses, it looks as if the skeptical bookie will prosper. Faced with imminent departure, each boy struggles with the childhood vow, and just who will take that westbound bus is uncertain. The hours that unfold between graduation and the estimated time of departure tell a loving and funny tale of small-town life distilled into the creak of a porch swing or the dust from a speeding car on a lonely highway, a tale of opportunities that beckon and ties that bind. Writer/director Tim McCanlies proves that rural wit is not an oxymoron. A wonderful script is matched by a terrific cast. Meyer (Keller) and Mills (John) are particular standouts. Keller is eager to leave and angry at his friends' defection, but he is Dancer's Everyman, a restless native son who is (and makes us) acutely aware of why they would choose to stay. Mills is simply big, big star material. Though John is the quietest of the four boys, Mills' slight frame and scrubbed face emit something powerful and pure, with a connection to that vast land that goes far beyond his years. His John is an anathema to L.A., a young man you'd like to meet. Patricia Wettig (thirtysomething) has a scene-stealing turn as Terrell Lee's mama. She captures a quality peculiar to rich Texas women: the ability to be icily brittle and sashay down the street at the same time. The film is filled with such performances -- fond and funny and never condescending. Shot entirely in the Fort Davis area, Dancer, Texas is a gorgeous picture that makes wonderful use of the West Texas landscape. We can breathe the air, squint at the sun, and feel dwarfed by the towering buttes and endless sky. And, sitting in traffic on I-35, I feel like getting the heck out of Austin and heading straight for Dancer, Texas, where the deer and the antelope and a bunch of warm and witty characters roam. (5/1/98)

4.0 stars (H.C.)

Village


DR. DOLITTLE

D: Betty Thomas; with Eddie Murphy, Ossie Davis, Oliver Platt, Kristen Wilson, Raven-Symoné, Kyla Pratt, Richard Schiff, Peter Boyle, Jeffrey Tambor. (PG-13, 85 min.)
Charm offensive or offensive charm? It's getting harder to make the call as Hollywood continues its strategy -- exemplified by movies like Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, Billy Madison, Half-Baked, and the recent output of the Farrelly Brothers (Kingpin, Dumb & Dumber) -- of compensating for the dearth of good comedy writing with sheer dorky affability. Bristling with enough fart jokes, crass sexual innuendo, and low-grade profanity to make Rex Harrison (star of the original 1967 Dolittle) blanch, this PG-13 remake epitomizes the trend perfectly. With a middle-school class clown's lowbrow cunning, Dr. Dolittle's creators have zeroed right in on the key element of successful audience ingratiation, the benign and endearing lead character. Murphy, who owes his durable appeal to his flair for playing it both naughty and nice, fits the bill perfectly. His Dr. John Dolittle is a classical comic straight-man, a genial, unflappable traditional family guy à la Hugh Beaumont, who suppressed in childhood the only exceptional trait he ever had: the ability to talk with animals. When a knock on the head suddenly restores this long-lost ability, Dolittle's veneer of Cleaverish sangfroid shatters wide open. Suddenly, the air rings with the din of kvetching pigeons, drawling hound dogs, street-punk rats, and wisecracking guinea pigs (voiced hilariously by the likes of Chris Rock, Albert Brooks, Ellen DeGeneres, John Leguizamo, and Gary Shandling). To Dolittle's horror, the ability to walk with, talk with, grunt and squeak and squawk with these lower life forms draws him inexorably into their world and away from his carefully cultivated life as an upwardly mobile surgeon. Dolittle's humor, as I've noted, is hardly Wildean, even by comparison with the fairly lackluster '67 original, and will probably have no appeal at all to fans of the sweetly whimsical children's stories by Hugh Lofting. And yet, given that plentiful witnesses saw me sniggering my way through the preview screening, the critical high-horse stance is not an option. With an irresistible blend of disarming silliness, adorable critters, inspired gags (including allusions to movies like The Exorcist and Sling Blade), and the sheer personal appeal of Murphy and Symoné (as Dolittle's maladjusted younger daughter), there's no denying Dr. Dolittle's bullseye connection with the lowest common denominator. Hedged praise? Absolutely. One wishes -- fervently -- for a dose of the intelligent, genuinely witty kid-targeted comedy writing delivered by Terry Gilliam in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen or Ron Clements and Ted Elliott in Aladdin. But at the risk of serving as an enabler for Hollywood's dysfunctional tendencies, I have to say that, given a choice between the puerile but essentially innocent whimsy of Dr. Dolittle and the dimwitted nastiness of, say, Dirty Work, parents should be grateful for the Eddie Murphys and Jim Carreys of the world for at least providing a kinder, gentler option. (6/26/98)

2.5 stars (R.S.)

Gateway, Highland, Lakehills, Lakeline, Riverside, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS

D: Terry Gilliam; with Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Gary Busey, Christina Ricci, Cameron Diaz, Ellen Barkin, Tobey Maguire, Michael Jeter. (R, 119 min.)
You know the feeling you get when you're the only straight person in a room full of people who are all ripped out of their gourds? That painful realization that you're over-the-counter while everyone else is under-the-table… way under? Watching the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is something like that experience. Not very much fun to observe, yet altogether fascinating. All the naysayers who, over the years, have pronounced Hunter S. Thompson's counterculture classic to be "unfilmable" have now been proved wrong. Co-conspirators Terry Gilliam, Johnny Depp, and Benicio Del Toro have executed the book's transition to the screen almost flawlessly. That flawlessness, in fact, may almost be the problem. There's something about that extra layer of distancing that a book can offer and the screen can't, which in this case might account for why film viewers feel vaguely discomforted by an icky fifth-wheel sensation. The film is amazingly faithful to Thompson's presciently gonzo tome in which a journalist's assignment to cover a motorbike racing event outside Las Vegas turns into a twisted, first-person descent into the demented psyche of the unraveling American Dream. It's a journey fueled, of course, by a legendarily prodigious amount of drugs, extracts, and epicurean black-market imbibeables -- enough to turn Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke (Depp) and his sidekick attorney (Del Toro) into drooling, manic madmen, visionaries of the apocalypse but imbeciles of the immediate reality. The film's most stunning achievement is the veracity of its portrait of the hallucinatory drug state. It's use of state-of-the-art visual technology to create such illusions as winged bats, carpet patterns enveloping their human cargo, and hotel-bar patrons morphing into frightening lounge lizards (courtesy of Rob Bottin) is no less true and dazzling than its ability to capture such moments as the drug-addled paranoia, the twisted perceptions, the mescaline-induced puking, and the more-is-better credo in action. The camerawork by cinematographer Nicola Pecorini (making his feature filmmaking debut here) is a constantly amazing thing to watch, full of strange lenses and intoxicating movements that serve the material well. Also note-perfect are the performances of Depp and Del Toro, whose spooky renditions of their subjects are kinetically compelling wonders. And Gilliam, whose body of work as a director is a virtual testament to the belief that madness is indeed a salve for the soul, seems the perfect director for this "unfilmable" material. So why doesn't this movie work? I think it has something to do with the film's focus on the fictional character of Raoul Duke as the story's protagonist. As a "character" Duke assumes the proportions of a drug-addled buffoon. The movie obscures the key aspect of Duke as the "alter ego" for this wonderfully insightful observer known as Hunter S. Thompson. Even though the film faithfully quotes long portions of the book in continuous voiceovers, we get little sense of the writer and journalist who "shapes" this adventure into a thing of commentary. By focusing on the excess, the film loses Thompson's philosophical mooring in the belief in excess as a valid path to wisdom. And it's that wisdom which may be the untranslatable part of the book. It's what comes through when we read about all this stuff on the page, when we recognize that the experiences have all been sifted through the mental process that translates thought into expression. The immediacy of the movies may contradict the ideological conceit at the heart of gonzo journalism -- that being the idea of the observer creating a fiction that's more true than the movies. Ironically, the film may be a better tribute to the artwork of Ralph Steadman than the writing of Thompson. Steadman's garish illustrations have always been an undervalued element in most understandings of the book's success, and it's certainly this film's visual qualities that truly set it apart. At any rate, the movie is clearly intriguing in ways it may not have intended. Unfortunately, in ways that it probably did intend to engage, Fear and Loathing has much more bark than bite. (5/22/98)

2.5 stars (M.B.)

Dobie


HANDS ON A HARD BODY

D: S.R. Bindler. (Not Rated, 97 min.)
As engrossing as documentaries about manifestly "big" subjects (Triumph of the Will, A Brief History of Time) can be, I've always found even more delight in the ones about picayune-seeming phenomena and pursuits that gain an improbable aura of significance from the passion people pour into them. A classic example is Errol Morris' Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, with The Endless Summer, Pumping Iron, and Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey also popping quickly to mind. So, if surfing, bodybuilding, or mole rats can commandeer souls and spawn whole new schools of philosophy, why not a publicity stunt staged by a small-town car dealer? That's the premise of S.R. Bindler's marvelous little film, Hands on a Hard Body, winner of numerous festival awards including the audience award from the 1997 Austin Heart of Film Festival, that's just now seeing theatrical release. (The movie launches its world theatrical premiere in Austin this Friday.) Hands documents the 1995 edition of a yearly contest in which Jack Long Nissan of Longview, Texas gives a new hard body pickup to whomever can keep his or her hands on it the longest. Apart from short breaks at one- and six-hour intervals, contestants stand in place for up to four days at a time, often lapsing into hallucinations, laughing jags, and other erratic behavior around the 50-hour mark. Now, as a small-town native who's had his fill of specious, smirking "tributes" to down-home culture, I found this premise depressing as hell: a bunch of poor rubes suffering in 100-degree heat for a modest set of wheels that Michael Dell or Jim Bob Moffett could cover with glovebox change. Yet the wonder of Bindler's film is the way this random ensemble's foibles, quirks, and artless declamations work to ingratiate the contestants with the audience, not set them up as a geek show for urban hipsters' delectation. Interspersing live action at the contest with staged interviews held beforehand, Bindler and crew let the people who are the story tell the story. And a roomful of Hollywood screenwriters stoked on espresso and ginkgo biloba couldn't have dreamed up this cast. Former champ Benny, a self-styled Dalai Lama of hardbodyology, reels off malaprop-laden -- though often surprisingly insightful -- commentary. ("It's absurd, very absurd… it's a human drama thang." "I'm gonna just wait out the night and see what transgresses.") Ethereal Jesus freak Norma grooves blissfully to her stack of gospel tapes. Mellow J.D. sucks down unfiltered cigarettes and beams like a shitkicker Buddha. Gap-toothed Janice seethes with righteous fury at unpunished rule violations. Further obviating any doubt that we're meant to laugh with, not at, these people is the filmmakers' direct involvement in the drama. Speaking with obvious empathy to contestants, cracking up at their jokes, underscoring their powers of endurance with frequent shots of the sun and moon crossing the sky, Bindler's affection and respect for his subjects is unimpeachable. As with Fast, Cheap & Out of Control, the documentarian's receptive spirit makes us collaborators in -- not just observers of -- the peculiar quest we're seeing. We've been blessed with an amazing run of great documentaries over the past couple of years, and Hands on a Hard Body ranks with the very best. The cost-cutting measures endemic to DIY filmmaking are clearly reflected in bare-basics production techniques and the rather dodgy look created by blowing up an original Hi-8 video print. Yet a nigh-miraculous blend of high spirits, poignancy, gentle satire, and unpretentious insight into the nature of human aspiration make this one of the most impressive films you're likely to see this year. (7/10/98)

4.5 stars (R.S.)

Dobie


HIGH ART

D: Lisa Cholodenko; with Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell, Patricia Clarkson, Bill Sage, Anh Duong, Gabriel Mann, Tammy Grimes. (R, 102 min.)
Art, ambition, lesbians, heroin, and ennui all combine into a seductive mix in this compelling feature by first-timer Lisa Cholodenko that won the screenwriting award at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Set among the New York City art world denizens whose casual conversations comfortably encompass such rarefied reference points as Derrida, Fassbinder, and MacArthur grants, High Art is at once a naturalistic study and a style-conscious riff on a specific milieu. Its story follows the reciprocal growth of a somewhat ambiguous relationship between a jaded ex-artist and a career-challenged young ingénue. The beguiling young Australian actress Radha Mitchell plays Syd, a lower-echelon editor at a sleek photography magazine whose functions are really no more than that of a glorified coffee fetcher. Young and conflicted because she knows that even though she has snagged her dream job, she sees little more than a continued future of dead-end subservience and creative lockout. Her live-in boyfriend James (Mann) is sympathetic and encouraging. The transparently thin plot device of a leaky bathtub causes Syd one evening to knock on her upstairs neighbor's door to check on the plumbing. Once inside, Syd becomes intrigued by the world she finds. The apartment above her is a demimonde roost, a hazy, druggy magnet for heroin chic lesbians and their brood. Fascinated by the unique photographs that cover the walls, Syd gradually comes to learn that her upstairs neighbor is actually the formerly renowned photographer Lucy Berliner (Sheedy), who defiantly pulled the plug on her own career 10 years earlier and moved to Germany. Back in New York now with her lover Greta (Clarkson), a drug-addicted former Fassbinder actress whose wearisome references to the dead director are as humorously pretentious and ineffective as if she were still playing a role in one of his ripe melodramas, Lucy is drawn out of her retirement by Syd's interest first in her photographs and gradually in Lucy herself. What the movie explores is the extent to which Syd's attraction to Lucy stems more from the new drug experiences, the undeniable lesbian attraction, or the opportunities for work promotions that her presentation of Lucy's work entails. The lines between all these things are opaque and equivocal. High Art treats these questions with a strikingly naturalistic ease, a quality that's also evident in the lovemaking scenes. But just as it imbues these abstract career and lifestyle questions with a refreshing matter-of-factness, the film also perfectly captures the molten one-beat-behind sensuousness of the drug haze. Sheedy's penetrating depiction of Lucy, the bone-thin seductress despite herself is a career high point for the actress, and Mitchell's Syd is a constant pleasure to watch. Well-drawn also are all the secondary characters -- both the magazine hierarchy and Lucy's layabout pals. Additionally, original music by Shudder to Think lends the film another unique tone. A contrived conclusion mars the veracity of the story's escalating drama and provides an unsatisfying solution to the myriad questions the film raises. But High Art is nevertheless a work that shellacs itself into your consciousness. (6/26/98)

3.5 stars (M.B.)

Dobie


HOPE FLOATS

D: Forest Whitaker; with Sandra Bullock, Harry Connick Jr., Gena Rowlands, Mae Whitman, Michael Paré, Cameron Finley, Kathy Najimy. (PG-13, 114 min.)
Hope doesn't float in this film so much as it rises to the surface and then stagnates. This romantic drama has an engaging premise and starts off with a promising opening sequence but then slumps into a flat, familiar routine. Hope Floats tells the story of Birdee Pruitt (Bullock), a former small-town beauty queen whose husband has cheated on her with her best friend. Birdee learns the life-altering news during the film's compelling opening moments. Lured to the taping of a daytime TV talk show by the promise of a free makeover, Birdee is led blindfolded onto the set whereupon her best friend (Rosanna Arquette in an unbilled cameo) tells her of the affair with her husband. With her embarrassment beamed coast to coast on national television, Birdee retreats with her young daughter Bernice (Whitman) to her home town of Smithville, Texas (the neighboring Austin town where the movie was actually filmed). Birdee moves back in with her mom (Rowlands) and is faced with the dilemma of starting life anew. It's enough to make her hide under her bedcovers, but the encouragement of her kooky but wise mother and the needs of her wise but inexperienced daughter draw Birdee out into the world of the living. There's also the allure of Justin Matisse (Connick), the first boy Birdee ever kissed and who just coincidentally still happens to be single, hunky, and head over heels in love with her. There's very little drama or tension to impede their slow courtship. On a pure narrative level, it may be fair to wish for more grit to the romance but on an emotionally superficial level the teaming of Bullock and Connick is picture perfect. The two of them combine to make a very handsome couple. Individually, each of them has an ingratiating presence; together, they create a near irresistible force. Yet no conflict in the storyline warrants the 90 minutes they spend sniffing each other out before giving in to the big release we all know is coming. It's as though they're waiting to exhale or something. Perhaps it's this held-breath tendency that will be the hallmark of Forest Whitaker's directorial career. (Hope Floats is his follow-up to Waiting to Exhale.) He elicits undeniably good performances from his actors, but his visual sensibilities are perfunctory and border on cloying. Hope Floats' thematic undercurrent of small-town salvation is accentuated by the oh-so-pretty camerawork of Caleb Deschanel (The Black Stallion, The Natural). Plaintively slow dissolves encourage us to linger with the sights much longer than we would otherwise be inclined. If there were more developments in the plot, these country cornucopia moments might be less tiresome. (Some suggestions include the under-utilized introduction of Birdee's Alzheimer's-stricken dad in the retirement home and the inadequately explained presence of her nephew Travis.) Love, divorce, mother-daughter conflict, and one death all receive screen time in Hope Floats, but they occur as if on cue and without resonance. Hope floats and time passes. (5/29/98)

2.0 stars (M.B.)

Arbor, Barton Creek, Lincoln, Tinseltown North


THE HORSE WHISPERER

D: Robert Redford; with Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Dianne Wiest, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Cooper, Cherry Jones, Ty Hillman, Catherine Bosworth. (PG-13, 164 min.)
I detect the scent of a golden statuette wafting in the breeze. Redford's adaptation of Nicholas Evans' bestselling novel is a countrified, monolithic thing of beauty -- gorgeous to behold despite the fact that its overlong two-hour-and-45-minute running time plays off Redford's weather-beaten golden boy good looks far too often for its own good. It's an homage to all things Redfordian -- the Big Sky country of Montana; the mercurial, saturnine beauty of the horses; and the redemptive power of love, patience, and the great outdoors. The film opens with a masterful sequence that sets the tone for the whole piece. On a snowy winter's morning in upstate New York, 14-year-old Grace MacLean (Johansson) leaves her parents' house to ride horses with her young friend Judith (Bosworth). The two girls discuss boys and ride through the back country until they encounter gravity while climbing a slope overlooking a rural route road. Judith's horse slips, throws her, and topples backwards down the slope into the path of an oncoming tractor trailer while Grace, astride her beloved horse Pilgrim, struggles to save Judith. Amidst the swirling snow, Judith is killed, Grace loses her right leg below the knee, and Pilgrim is terribly injured, his face a gory mess and his right front leg hideously torn. When Grace recovers, she's the shell of the girl she once was: bitter, angry, and terrified of the future. Her mother Annie (Thomas), a high-powered New York magazine editor (think Tina Brown of The New Yorker), refuses to have Pilgrim put down, and instead takes her wounded daughter and the damaged horse 2,000 miles cross country to visit Tom Booker (Redford), a "horse whisperer" who may or may not be able so save the spirits and bodies of both Grace and Pilgrim, while also teaching the city-bred Annie a thing or two about the meaning of life, love, and other single syllable heavy-hitters. Left behind in the city are Grace's father (Neill) and all pretenses of a normal life. Once the story moves to Montana, Redford opens things up, literally, as the screen image widens to take in all those shots of azure skies and sweeping vistas, and all the quiet, emotional avalanches to come. Apart from being a subtle treatise on the redemptive power of the human spirit, the film might as well also be a travelogue for God's country, so enamored of the snow-capped peaks and scudding clouds is the director. Redford, a screen icon if ever there was one, doesn't do too much here except squint and squat, though he does both with panache. And Thomas, as the brittle Brit who finds the meaning of true love beside the New Age horse doctor, is all pained expressions and tousled hair. However, it's the remarkable, affecting performance of Johansson (Manny & Lo) that propels The Horse Whisperer. She's a broken ray of sunlight cutting through the icy pines, and when the film lags with endless shots of the wise Tom Booker birthing a calf or some such, it's she who keeps things focused and alive in the midst of the film's pageant of unspoken truths. (5/15/98)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Arbor


LETHAL WEAPON 4

D: Richard Donner; with Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Joe Pesci, Rene Russo, Chris Rock, Jet Li. (R, 125 min.)
To hell with Riggs and Murtaugh -- I'm getting too old for this shit. Gibson and Glover are back as those lovable LAPD screw-ups in this, director Donner's homage to cinematic white noise. Not only is the franchise growing hoary, by now it's become downright laughable, leaving Lethal Weapon 4 feeling more like a bad Fox sitcom than anything else. By now you know the standard-issue story: Detective Martin Riggs (Gibson), the hair-trigger, practical-joke-loving wild man is paired with longtime partner Roger Murtaugh (Glover), the doting family man, as meanwhile the city collapses around them and the forces of evil raise their pointy little heads. What's new? Not much: Riggs' Internal Affairs girlfriend Lorna (Russo, somehow still managing to draw life from her vaguely one-note character) is pregnant, as is Murtaugh's daughter (by rookie detective Lee Butters (Rock, wildly firing off comic rounds like a blind sniper with his hair on fire). Much confusion and homophobic jokes on the home front ensue in that department, but the real crux of the alleged plot centers on a gang of Chinese baddies who are smuggling slave labor into the L.A. basin. Led by the steely-eyed Jet Li, they're cookie-cutter parodies of the Yellow Menace at best, and Tex Avery-esque buffoons at worst. Murtaugh, ever the big-hearted putz, offers his home to a Chinese family he rescues, while his partner scrambles about blowing things up (as usual) and miscounting to three every time the aging duo prepare to make their move. The film isn't as bad as it is incomprehensible, a staccato series of action-piece setups and knock-downs that skitters from scene to scene with all the twitchy hilarity of a fibrillating speed freak. Alright, it is that bad. In the 12 years since the first film's release, the series has become increasingly more annoying, and this is the point at which it finally reaches critical mass. Gibson's much-admired glutes can't save him now, and Glover looks perpetually wearied, not so much running after the bad guys as wheezing like a rusty locomotive. Of course, Joe Pesci is back as the Human Whine Leo Getz, but the less said about that particular crime against nature the better. Not since Joel Schumacher turned the once-promising Batman franchise into a personal masturbation fantasy has a once-proud series devolved so awfully. Donner, I think, needs to stop hanging around the ghost of Don Simpson. The whole mess plays like a surreal Brady Bunch or Family Affair episode on dodgy drugs. Interminable, annoying, and just plain boring, Lethal Weapon should've bowed out at sequel number two. No, three. No -- ah, to hell with Riggs and Murtaugh -- I'm getting too old for this shit. (7/17/98)

0 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Gateway, Highland, Lake Creek, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


MADELINE

D: Daisy von Scherler Mayer; with Frances McDormand, Hattie Jones, Nigel Hawthorne, Ben Daniels, Chantal Neuwirth, Kristian de la Osa, Stéphane Audran. (PG, 89 min.)
Madeline opens, not surprisingly, with a voiceover: "In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines …" With those familiar storybook words, the viewer (well, this viewer) must, by pure Pavlovian response, nestle down into her seat in anticipation of a story that will be as comforting and soothing as it is adventurous and exciting. That is Madeline's gift. The young French schoolgirl can slip the leash (falling off a bridge into the Seine, going to the hospital in an ambulance, pooh-poohing a tiger at the zoo) knowing full well that the ever-present, comforting refuge of those orderly straight lines will embrace her the minute she needs them. When his benefactress wife dies, grumpy old Lord Covington (known to the girls as Lord Cucuface) decides to shut down the school she supported and sell the lovely old house. Though she's the smallest schoolgirl of all, Madeline concocts a scheme to undermine the sale and, in the end, totally wins over Lord Cucuface. The doll-like Hattie Jones plays Madeline with the kind of on-demand brightness that makes you think someone must be standing behind the camera waving a candy carrot. She's cute, but too well trained. McDormand's performance, on the other hand, is completely ingenuous and pure Miss Clavel. At once intrepid and demure, this nun provides her girls with the sweet warmth of safekeeping without relinquishing a sense of wonder for the big, noisy world outside. The script, drawn here and there from Ludwig Bemelmans' classic series of children's books, has a weak central plot and a way-too-precious and contrived denouement. Madeline plays more like a collection of loosely connected scenes than a seamless narrative. But small matter, as the scenes are quite engaging and provide plenty of amusement. Especially those centering around a bumbling troupe of awkward acrobats who call themselves The Idiots. It's the cinematic illustrations, though, that give this story its charm. The school and its gardens, awash in muted greens, are impressionistic. The neighbors and Lord Cucuface's potential buyers are thrillingly bright and exotic. They provide a living mural of color and a melodious and multicultural cadence that give the tale a distinctly cosmopolitan flair. Despite the uneven script, Mayer (Party Girl) manages to fashion a world that perfectly captures both the muted, no-ghosts-under-these-beds haven of the school and the vivid, unpredictable carnival of life beyond its vine-covered walls. Both are perfectly lovely places. (7/10/98)

3.0 stars (H.C.)

Gateway, Highland, Lakehills, Lakeline, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


THE MASK OF ZORRO

D: Martin Campbell; with Antonio Banderas, Anthony Hopkins, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Stuart Wilson, Matt Letscher, Maury Chaykin, Tony Amendola, Pedro Armendariz, L.Q. Jones. (PG, 138 min.)
Theoretically, if you take into account some of Einstein's more esoteric theorems (parallel universes and all that), the tale of Zorro has already been filmed several thousand times over. Or maybe it just seems that way. First commited to pulp paper in 1919 by Johnston McCulley, the roguish character paved the way for Bruce Wayne and his ilk before dropping out of sight for a while in the mid-Seventies (1981's George Hamilton vehicle -- Zorro, the Gay Blade -- is notable only as a cultural comic anomaly, I believe). Regardless of what has come before, however, Campbell's new offering is a pleasantly vicarious slice of summertime falderol, innocuous in its presentation and often genuinely fun. It has the sexy, histrionic vibe of those old Republic serials updated for the Nineties, and would make a terrific double bill with Disney's vastly underrated The Rocketeer. Both films gaze back longingly to the daze of classic Hollywood heroics, and even Errol Flynn would have to admit that Banderas cuts a dashing figure as the revamped Zorro. Campbell, who directed the immensely entertaining Goldeneye, has an eye for outrageous action scenes and cliffhanger plotting; his directorial style has as much panache as the larger-than-life characters he works with, and his riotous sense of story serves him well. The Mask of Zorro begins with the fall of Zorro/Don Diego de la Vega (Hopkins, looking remarkably trim and fit and decidedly removed from Hannibal Lecter mode), as the evil Don Rafael Montero (Wilson) discovers his true identity, murders his beloved wife Esperanza (Julietta Rosen), takes the nobleman's infant daughter Elena (Zeta-Jones) as his own, and tosses the avenging swordsman in the dungeon. Twenty years later, de la Vega makes his escape, hooks up with vendetta-happy peasant Alejandro Murietta (Banderas), whose brother was murdered by one of Montero's henchmen, and embarks on the resurrection of Zorro, the people's hero, by patiently teaching the headstrong Murietta everything he knows about fighting, fencing, and, of course, females. Zorro, after all, is nothing if not romantic. As befits its serial pedigree, this new chapter in the Book of Zorro is rife with inspired, edge-of-your-seat plotting, betrayals, treachery, love, lust, masterfully staged swordplay, and many, many shots of the masked avenger rearing up on his trusty mount, silhouetted against the crimson Alta, California sky where the story is set. God knows it's hokum of the purest stripe, but Campbell, Hopkins, Banderas, and especially the alarmingly vivacious Zeta-Jones pull it off in spades. A popcorn movie of the highest order, it's full of garish, silly fun, extreme heat escapism, and nary a Bruce Willis in sight. (7/17/98)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Gateway, Highland, Lake Creek, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


MULAN

D: Barry Cook and Tony Bancroft; with the voices of Ming-Na Wen, Eddie Murphy, B.D. Wong, Harvey Fierstein, Jerry Tondo, Gedde Watanabe, James Hong, Miguel Ferrer, Pat Morita, George Takei. (G, 90 min.)
Ink flows, graceful as a winding river, etching title credits onto a cinematic expanse of parchment. The credits fade, and out of the mist a great wall looms, perched severely, ominously on the mountain ridge, extending far, far into the horizon. So opens Mulan, as beautifully and austerely as a budding plum blossom framed against a forbidding sky. Disney's latest animated feature hearkens back to its heyday fare, a sweet and captivating tale that pits gentle, enduring goodness against dark, malevolent forces. Based on an ancient Chinese legend about a girl who masquerades as a soldier to replace her frail father in the war against invading Huns, the movie makes the most of its remarkable animation, an engrossing story, and a winning protagonist. Mulan is smart, brave, beautiful, and (it's about time!) not the least bit voluptuous. Her disguise as a boy is more natural to her than the whiteface, rouge, and restrictive costume she must don in her quest for a husband. When she fails to pass muster as a prospective bride, her disappointed father comforts her with the assurance that certain flowers merely bloom later than others. And bloom she does, not a fragile hothouse blossom in a cultivated garden, but a strong and hardy wildflower in a cold and dangerous wasteland. As lovely and evocative as the scenes of Mulan's girlhood are, the film's action sequences where she proves her mettle are a visual feast of truly great proportions. The wave of Mongol warriors cresting the snowy mountainside is a thrilling sight -- terrifying and mesmerizing and beautiful -- all perfectly reflecting the contrasts of darkness and light, of grace and power so intrinsic to Chinese art. Such loveliness makes the addition of the prerequisite anthropomorphic sidekick (in this case, a diminutive, jive-talking dragon named Mushu) a jarring, anachronistic addition to the mix. Mushu (Murphy) is of little help to Mulan, but he does have some funny lines and the kids will no doubt love him. Make no mistake though, this children's film is a work of art, replete with mood and history and images that convey a sense of place and time more deftly than any photo travelogue could. Once you've scaled the Great Wall in Mulan, you feel like you've breathed the chill air, felt the fog on your skin, shrunk a bit in the face of the sheer vastness of the land. You also have spent time with a wonderfully engaging heroine. This is 2,000-year-old Girl Power, and it packs a mighty but winsome wallop. (6/19/98)

4.0 stars (H.C.)

Great Hills, Lakehills, Lakeline, Lincoln, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


THE OPPOSITE OF SEX

D: Don Roos; with Christina Ricci, Martin Donovan, Lisa Kudrow, Lyle Lovett, Johnny Galecki, Ivan Sergei. (R, 103 min.)
A nasty, offensive, and thoroughly enjoyable romp through the dark, embittered land of Bad Girl, U.S.A., Don Roos' directorial debut (he wrote Boys on the Side and Single White Female, as well as the script for The Opposite of Sex) is the anti-indie -- a post-PC broadside that manages to skewer everyone from gays to straights, the living to the dead, and never makes you laugh as hard as when it's being downright creepy. Ricci -- as a sort of post-pubescent Wednesday Addams whirlwind -- is 16-year-old Dedee Truitt, who flees her Louisiana home after the death of her abusive stepfather and promptly arrives on the palatial doorstep of her half-brother Bill (Donovan), an Indiana schoolteacher who has recently lost his longtime companion to AIDS. While Dedee is the antithesis of Christian charity (her ongoing narration warns viewers from the get-go that she "doesn't have a heart of gold" and she "isn't going to grow one" either), Bill is positively saint-like in his quiet, stoic generosity. Alongside his new, none-too-bright lover Matt (Sergei), he welcomes this virtual relative into his beautiful home and then by degrees comes to regret his hospitality. In quick succession, Dedee seduces Matt, gets herself pregnant by him, and lightens Bill of 10 grand on the way out of town to Los Angeles. None of this comes as a surprise to Lucia (Kudrow), Bill's ex-lover's semi-frigid sister, who spots Dedee for the predator she is right off the bat. Torn between his love for Matt and his impotent anger towards his conniving step-sister, Bill mopes, pines, and finally throws up his hands in dismay until -- presto! -- things get worse. Matt's queeny ex-flame Jason (Galecki, tackily pulling out all the stops), an ex-student of Bill's, threatens to frame him for scholastic sodomy (and then does) if he doesn't produce the missing Matt posthaste. Then it's off to the City of Angels for more mayhem, a few car chases, and some improbable sex courtesy of Lyle Lovett's Sheriff Tippett. As promised by the film's tagline ("You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be offended"), The Opposite of Sex has a little something to annoy everyone. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, Roos' film is immensely entertaining. It's not just the glib emotional attitudes that are bandied about so frequently, but some great acting chops from Ricci (who somehow manages to make the scurrilous Dedee at least vaguely sympathetic) and Kudrow, whose emotionally denuded Lucia not only gets the film's best lines but also has the most complex character. It's a far cry from her usual featherhead-blonde roles, and she brings it to alarming, bitter life. Still, The Opposite of Sex is above all else a comedy. Black -- no sugar, no cream -- to be sure, and refreshingly free of PC pabulum. Even some third-act deus ex machina scrambling can't homogenize the film's darkly cynical punch. Tough as nails and twice as hilarious, it's a remedy for summer treacle. (7/3/98)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Arbor


OUT OF SIGHT

D: Steven Soderbergh; with George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, Catherine Keener, Nancy Allen, Isaiah Washington. (R, 124 min.)
Finally, a film adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel that really captures that author's seedy, South Floridian love of small-time hoods and big-time losers. Granted, Jackie Brown mined similar territory some months back, but Soderbergh pares Leonard down to his essentials, playing around with the timeline à la Leonard, and just generally having a lighter, wackier time of it all 'round. It's gritty enough to stay true to the source material's comedy-of-despair ethos, yet solid enough to pack a punch, and in doing so it makes for one of the better heist movies in some time. Clooney, looking and acting way above par here, plays career thief Jack Foley, who in a lovingly realized opening scene finds himself in the Glades Correctional Institution after botching an endearingly simplistic bank robbery. Dismayed by the fact that he's not scheduled to see parole for three decades, Foley breaks out of prison and more trouble in the form of Deputy Federal Marshall Karen Sisco (Lopez), who just happened to be in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time. With the help of partner Buddy Bragg (Rhames), Foley ditches Karen (but not before some serious brake-light rapport is established between the pair) and moves forward with his big plan to rob another ex-con -- inside trader Richard Ripley (Brooks) -- of a reported $5 million in uncut diamonds. Plans go awry (don't they always?) when hair-trigger Snoopy Miller (Cheadle) and stoner car thief Glenn Michaels (Zahn, doing his best Jim Breuer impression) cut themselves in on the action. A host of terrific bit players round out Soderbergh's film: Catherine Keener turns up as Foley's ex-squeeze Adele, Isaiah Washington appears as Snoopy's psychotic brother Kenneth, an uncredited Michael Keaton reprises his Jackie Brown role as FBI agent Ray Nicolette, and an uncredited Samuel L. Jackson plays a fellow con in the film's closing scene. Although Out of Sight's whipsawing storyline feels off-putting at first, as the flashbacks-within-flashbacks begin drawing to a head, Soderbergh's obvious glee at playing with linear conventions shines through. It's also readily apparent that the actors are enjoying themselves immensely; more than anything else, Out of Sight captures Leonard's sense of the indefatigable appeal of the downtrodden grifter. Clooney, with his cockeyed half-grin, sparks some real chemistry alongside the tempestuous Lopez, and Albert Brooks -- with his flagrantly shoddy hairpiece and all -- is a sublime hoot. Soderbergh's film has a Sixties pop art feel to it, from the European-styled one-sheet poster on down to his frequent use of freeze-frames and snazzy edits. Hardly a serious caper film, Out of Sight instead takes a lighter approach, effortlessly offering up as many unexpected chuckles as it does bullets. (6/26/98)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lincoln, Tinseltown North


A PERFECT MURDER

D: Andrew Davis; Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Viggo Mortensen, David Suchet, Constance Towers. (R, 107 min.)
For all of its brutality, and it has plenty, A Perfect Murder is a pretty good stab at a parlor murder movie. Tasteful, chilly, and polite, it is foul play at its traditional best: Anglo-Saxon, urban, and upper class. Director Davis (The Fugitive) knows the genre and nearly succeeds at creating a Nineties version of a vintage murder mystery. A Perfect Murder is based loosely on the successful stage play and subsequent Hitchcock movie, Dial M for Murder, but it is the trappings of its mystery, not the plot or the dialogue, that give this version its panache. Michael Douglas plays Steven Taylor, a suavely amoral bond baron whose lust for acquisition has carried over to his very young, very beautiful, very rich wife. But Emily (Paltrow) is in love with David (Mortensen), a talented and struggling artist whose bohemian life and unbridled passion offer an irresistible alternative to the aristocratic confines of her marriage. Steven's reaction is cold-bloodedly genteel. He carefully plots her perfect murder and pays David to do the dirty work while he calmly plays cards at the club with his business cronies. Alas, good help is still so hard to find…. In a transparently foreshadowed fashion, Emily instead turns her attacker into dead meat and the cat-and-cat-and-mouse game begins in earnest. Everything about this movie is stylish. From the burnished copper, tile, and leather of the posh penthouse to the leaden concrete, canvas, and metal of the artist's loft, the set design is a visual feast. And there is a rare and delicious quiet to the movie that makes every moment seem important and serious. Too important and too serious. What's missing is the sly wit, the banter, the suave superiority solidly trounced that are staples of the drawing room murder (and promised in the film's trailer). I kept expecting some clever little crumb to be tossed our way, especially when David Suchet (who plays Inspector Hercule Poirot on the British television series seen on PBS) turns up as NYPD Detective Mohamed Karaman. But aside from the ghoulishly silly murder weapon, there is no drollery in the proceedings and the warmth comes too late, leaving us no one to laugh at or root for throughout most of the film. We're given tidbits of human connection and Paltrow positively shines in a wonderful, wistful whisper of an ending, but as beautiful as the finished puzzle is, it's still missing a few vital pieces. (6/5/98)

2.5 stars (H.C.)

Gateway


SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS

D: Ivan Reitman; with Harrison Ford, Anne Heche, David Schwimmer, Jacqueline Obradors, Te muera Morrison, Allison Janney. (PG-13, 106 min.)
The premise of a girl, a guy, and a desert island is hardly high-concept, but Six Days, Seven Nights treats it as if it were. A barely passable romantic comedy with flimsy action-adventure thrown in for good measure, this entry in the summer sweepstakes is as Hollywood-manufactured as movies about giant lizards traipsing through Gotham or loud sequels starring Mel Gibson. In short, there's nothing remotely real or appealing about it. Rather than focus on the intimacy that develops between the film's oil-and-water protagonists -- a high-strung career girl (read: contemporary woman) and the grizzled airplane pilot (read: traditional male) -- who are stranded on a South Seas paradise together, director Ivan Reitman and screenwriter Michael Browning include murderous pirates, big explosions, and a mammary fixation in Six Days, Seven Nights for fear that a simple love story wouldn't keep anyone's attention for very long. (Imagine if director John Huston and screenwriter James Agee had felt the same about The African Queen, a movie to which Six Days, Seven Nights bears a somewhat passing resemblance. Then again, don't.) As a result, the lurching relationship between the film's mismatched couple doesn't lend credence to the observation that opposites attract, but rather is a testament to some pitchman's ability to encapsulate the plotline of this movie in 25 words or less. It's a cynical view, but one that Six Days, Seven Nights doesn't do much to refute. What's more, the gender politics inherent in the movie's setup are only touched upon briefly, as if to explore them more fully might transmogrify the film into something unthinkable. With the loopy exceptions of his early Eighties outings with Bill Murray, Reitman has proven to be the quintessential director of lumbering, big-budget comedy bores -- remember Legal Eagles or Kindergarten Cop? Like those movies, no one will remember Six Days, Seven Nights in a couple or so years because there's nothing worth recalling. As someone once said, mediocrity makes for a very short memory. (6/19/98)

1.5 stars (S.D)

Gateway, Tinseltown North


SLIDING DOORS

D: Peter Howitt; with Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Douglas McFerran, Zara Turner. (PG-13, 105 min.)
Don't let the title fool you. Sliding Doors has nothing in common with the obstreperous aluminum patio portals in soulless suburban houses. Quite the contrary. This lovely little British movie is filled with the mystery of those noiseless, invisible thresholds around us -- the blind luck of love, the random strike of tragedy, the slippery digressions of deceit. In a finely realized and multi-layered first film, writer-director Peter Howitt treats us to a clever and urbane exploration of the monumental repercussions of tiny twists of fate. Helen (Paltrow) has just been fired from her PR job, and on her way home, dual scenarios are played out. In the first, Helen bumps into a little girl on the steps of the subway and misses her train, delaying her homecoming and affording her philandering lover a narrow escape. In the second scenario (after the footage literally rewinds and begins again), the little girl is whisked out of the way and Helen slips through the closing doors of the train, thereby encountering the charming, jocular commuter James (Hannah), and interrupting Jerry's midmorning tryst. From that pivotal moment of missing or catching the train, the film follows two parallel, but very different, narratives. (Helen #2 cuts and bleaches her hair in a post-betrayal metamorphosis, and so that we'll know just which Helen we're seeing.) The brunette Helen labors on in her relationship, suspicious (Jerry is not the cleverest of Casanovas) and weary (she cannot find another PR position and must take two menial jobs to support them both). She grows paler and more remote in each scene while the blonde Helen, freed by her anger and courted by James, grows more vibrant and joyful (she is, after all, having more fun). But, we find out as the stories unfold, even parallels do not follow straight tracks. The wonderful script is matched by an engaging cast. Paltrow's chameleon beauty dazzles as the dual Helens, wanly aloof one moment and coltishly exuberant the next. Lynch manages to make dirty dog Jerry as endearing as he is exasperating -- a contrite and sweet-faced basset hound who gets into the garbage again and again even though he really does know better. More winning still is Hannah's performance. In a movie literally filled with wonderful surprises, his James is an unexpected gift -- the kind you stumble upon when the fates are smiling. Poorly wrapped and easy to overlook, he's Sliding Doors' reminder of all the hidden treasures out there. If you don't have one yet, you simply haven't happened upon the right door. Yet. (4/24/98)

3.5 stars (H.C.)

Village


SMALL SOLDIERS

D: Joe Dante; with Kirsten Dunst, Gregory Smith, Jay Mohr, Phil Hartman, Kevin Dunn, Ann Magnuson, Denis Leary, Dick Miller, and the voices of Tommy Lee Jones, Frank Langella, Ernest Borgnine, George Kennedy, Michael McKean. (PG-13, 108 min.)
It would be easy to reduce Small Soldiers to the story's lowest common denominators and call it Toy Story meets Gremlins, but this is a Joe Dante film, and nothing's ever that simple when it comes to Dante. One of the genre's leading fantasists, Dante's warped sense of humor -- gleaned, I think, working under the tutelage of Roger Corman way back on Hollywood Boulevard and Piranha way back when -- is coupled with his ongoing fascination with the diminutive (see the aforementioned Piranha, Gremlins, or Innerspace) and his genuinely unique sense of aesthetics. Unfortunately, Small Soldiers never quite rises to the level of Dante's previous work and the result makes the film feel like a transparent, though enthusiastically directed, marketing ploy: Coming soon to a Toys 'R Us near you. Smith plays Alan Abernathy, a young teen with a troubled past who one day signs for a shipment of military action figures -- the Commando Elite -- while taking care of his father's toy store. Although liberal dad (Dunn) is averse to G.I. Joes and the like, Alan feels he can sell the product while his father is out of town and make some quick cash for the financially strapped toy outlet. What he doesn't know is that the toys have been accidentally fitted-out with state-of-the-art military computer chips that give them the ability to think and act for themselves. Along with the Commando Elite arrive the hideous Gorgonites, a Todd McFarlane-esque gaggle of plastic toy mutants who are the Commandos' sworn enemies. When the rival toys begin fighting in earnest (actually the Gorgonites are programmed to "hide and lose," so it's the Commandos who are doing most of the fighting), they wreck the toy store, the neighborhood, and proceed from there. Meanwhile, Alan falls for the lovely girl-next-door, Christy (Dunst), and has to work up the nerve to straighten out not only his life but the future of the flesh-and-blood world as well. With Tommy Lee Jones and Frank Langella providing the voices of the opposing toy leaders (Major Chip Hazard and Archer, respectively) and the relatively stellar casting, you'd think Small Soldiers would be a far more rollicking ride than it really is. Too much of what goes on here seems rushed and poorly planned; the backstory involving the creation of these out-of-control Lilliputians is glossed over in a matter of minutes and even Alan's budding romance is in the end a simplistic script device. As in almost all of Dante's films, regulars Miller and Jackie Joseph (Audrey in the original Little Shop of Horrors) make appearances, but even that feels tacked on. And like Gremlins, I think, the escalating levels of violence in Small Soldiers will distress some parents who may be expecting Toy Story 2. Stan Winston's miniature and CGI effects are wonderful, but they can't conceal an obviously weak script in what is unfortunately a footnote to Dante's better work. (7/10/98)

2.5 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Gateway, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Riverside, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


SMOKE SIGNALS

D: Chris Eyre; with Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal, Cody Lightning, Simon Baker. (PG-13, 88 min.)
This feature debut from Eyre is also being billed as the first film written, directed, and co-produced by American Indians, but hanging it on the indigenous hook does Smoke Signals a disservice. At once poignant and slyly humorous, Eyre's film touches on the universal themes of loss, betrayal, redemption, and father/son relationships in ways that echo not only inside the reservation but outside as well. Beach plays Victor Joseph, a Couer d'Alene Indian in Idaho whose father Arnold (Farmer) quit reservation life and headed out in his prized yellow pickup truck 10 years back, when Victor was a young boy. Years before his departure, a tremendous fire swept through the house of Victor's friend Thomas Builds-the-Fire when an all-night Fourth of July party left most of the reservation -- including Arnold -- falling down drunk and unaware of the impending tragedy. Arnold saved young Thomas, but the boy's parents died, and since then Thomas has become the reservation outcast of sorts, grinning, bespectacled, socially inept, but with a mystical gift for telling wildly improbable stories to anyone who will listen. Flash forward to the present: News of Arnold's death arrives, and a stoic, handsome Victor decides to drive to his father's final home, in Arizona, to collect his truck and whatever else might await him there. The only problem? Not enough money for the journey. It's here that Thomas steps in, offering Victor his piggy bank in exchange for the chance to travel with him. Arnold did, after all, save the young Thomas, and Victor hesitantly agrees. What follows, then, is less road trip than voyage of discovery, that takes the unlikely partnership from the scrubby, hard-scrabble reservation to the final resting place of their only real male authority figure, and beyond. Eyre's film, which has a screenplay by Sherman Alexie and is based on stories from his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, isn't nearly as wearyingly downbeat as a capsule description might make it sound. Smoke Signals is alight with oddball nuances and wry observations: the reservation's radio station, KREZ, uses a broken-down van at the deserted crossroads to gauge the (nonexistent) traffic conditions, and Victor's mother Arlene (Cardinal) is a master in the fine art of flatbread-making. Subtle, lyrically haunting touches like these evoke a palpable sense of loss and the sub-poverty level of Native American life, but also unite the tribe -- broken by alcohol and abuse though they may be -- in long-held beliefs and rituals. It's Victor who teaches his inanely happy friend to "act like a real Indian," and Thomas who forces Victor to confront the ghosts of his past no matter how terrible they may seem. The cast is uniformly excellent in their roles, and Eyre's persistent use of long, trailing shots reinforces the story's elegiac tone. Simple and elegant, Smoke Signals is a delicious, heady debut that lingers long after the tale is told. (7/17/98)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Arbor


SONATINE

D: Takeshi Kitano; with Kitano, Tetsu Watanabe, Masanobu Katsumura, Aya Kikumai. (R, 94 min.)
In a traditional gangster movie, the phrase, "This means all-out war" triggers a very specific set of expectations about what's to follow. But Japanese director Takeshi "Beat" Kitano doesn't truck with conventional wiseguy dramas. So, while a requisite number of Versace suits do get ventilated by 9mm slugs in the course of this story, and while various stock characters and situations do come into play, little else about Kitano's fourth film (shot in 1993 but just now seeing U.S. release) belongs in the same conceptual or attitudinal galaxy as The Public Enemy or The Godfather. Instead, as in his most recent film, Fireworks, Kitano seems far more interested in the arbitrary, ritualistic aspects of criminal society than the macho Sturm und Drang that generally animates the genre. The underworld portrayed in Sonatine is as rigidly patterned and deterministic as an ant colony. Protagonist Murakawa (Kitano), a mid-level Tokyo yakuza functionary, has lost his zest for the job but can't imagine a way out. When his boss packs him and a hastily recruited band of young punks off to Okinawa to help an allied gang in a local skirmish, he suspects a setup. Yet, bound by a code that supersedes every consideration of common sense (saving one's hide, etc.) he takes the assignment anyway. Once in Okinawa, Marakawa and company find the rumble at an impasse and wind up cooling their heels in a cozy beach house waiting for the other side to make its move. The energy intended for wasting their rivals is now redirected into a bizarrely whimsical series of games and rituals involving everything from firearms to Frisbees -- with little apparent recognition of their qualitative difference. During this long middle act, the gang war is all but forgotten. Time passes as if in a dream, albeit one with an absurdly structured feel. The dead-souled Murakawa, already staring into some kind of personal void, is pushed even closer to the brink by these experiences, which force him toward an inevitable day of reckoning. This is the existentialist spin Kitano seems to enjoy putting on his stories. And in many ways Sonatine feels like a rehearsal for the richer, more visually and thematically rewarding Fireworks. Kitano, a hydra-headed cultural phenomenon who also dabbles in standup comedy, literature, painting, and journalism, is a filmmaker with a clear, ever-evolving vision. Based on what I've seen of his work, he appears not to give a rat's ass about genre traditions, narrative convention, or the alleged necessity of providing big emotional payoffs for the audience. If you feel hostile toward art that not only confuses you but then also suggests that your confusion is precisely the point, you'll probably want to pass on Sonatine. But if disciplined, minimalist storytelling, formal innovation, and contemplation of mystery for its own sake appeals to you, a real feast awaits you in the films of Takeshi Kitano. (7/17/98)

3.0 stars (R.S.)

Dobie


THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY

D: Peter and Bobby Farrelly; with Ben Stiller, Cameron Diaz, Matt Dillon, Chris Elliott, Lin Shaye, Lee Evans, Jeffrey Tambor, W. Earl Brown, Markie Post, Keith David, Jonathan Richman, Brett Favre. (R, 119 min.)
When Peter and Bobby Farrelly titled their first film Dumb & Dumber it's as if they issued themselves a comic challenge: Always aim for the next level -- downward. However, this shouldn't be misunderstood as meaning that their new film There's Something About Mary isn't funny, frequently side-splittingly so. These fraternal filmmakers are specialists in lowbrow bodily-functions humor as well as defiant assailants of any subject matter that's marked "Fragile: Politically Correct." Where they branch out in There's Something About Mary is in their creation of sustained comic sequences, an advance over the strung-together assemblage of gags that propel the momentum of both Dumb & Dumber and Kingpin. The film's much described early sequence in which nerdy Ted (Stiller) never makes it to the prom with dream girl Mary (Diaz) because of an excruciatingly catastrophic accident with his pants zipper, is destined to become a classic bit of film comedy. In its antic craziness as more and more characters barge into the scene, Mary is reminiscent of the crazed, hellzapoppin' style of the Marx Brothers. More and more characters pop into the scene, the jokes fly ("Is it the frank or the beans?" Mary's solicitous dad keeps asking), and the audience winces hysterically with laughter. And then, when you think it's all gone just as far as it's able, the sequence layers on a sight gag so audacious that you suddenly understand that you're completely at the film's mercy. Though this sequence is the instant classic, a few others nearly equal its antic mischief and sublime buildup. And, really, they're much better left undescribed. At about two hours in length, however, Mary consists of more jokes than sustained sequences. A surprisingly large number of the laughs work, although, understandably, a good number of them also fall flat. You can bet that whenever the story slows down to advance the plot concerning its paper-thin characters, the film takes a noticeable dip. As the Mary at the center of it all, Diaz certainly exudes that irresistible "something" expressed in the title. In films such as My Best Friend's Wedding and A Life Less Ordinary, Diaz has shown herself to be a good comic sport who is game for just about anything. Here, it's no stretch to understand why, at the end of the movie, some half-dozen suitors have converged in her living room to throw themselves at her feet. Stiller is a deadpan hoot, although Dillon's scuzzball private dick is a bit too extreme for the circumstances. Able support work is provided by numerous players, among them Chris Elliott (who, regrettably has little more to do than be the butt of a skin-ailment joke); Lin Shaye (a Farrelly regular in her assigned role of wizened sexpot), and Lee Evans (the physical comedian who was so good in Funny Bones and Mouse Hunt and here milks his character's crutches for every joke they're worth). Special note must be made of cult musician Jonathan Richman, the minimalist romantic troubadour who is used here with snare-drum sidekick Tommy Larkins as roving minstrels who pop up (à la Cat Ballou) in various scenes to provide running ironic commentaries -- in verse. And speaking of songs, stick around for the closing credits during which the entire cast vamps to "Build me Up, Buttercup." The Farrellys won't be winning any good taste awards in the near future (their next film, reportedly, centers around Siamese twins), but, my oh my, they are modern kingpins of comedy. (7/17/98)

3.0 stars (M.B.)

Great Hills, Highland, Lakehills, Lakeline, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


THE TRUMAN SHOW

D: Peter Weir; with Jim Carrey, Ed Harris, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Holland Taylor. (PG, 104 min.)
Is The Truman Show really the subversive film that all the advance hype would have us believe or is it merely this season's new way of spelling Gump? Well, it's a little of both, though more of the latter -- a movie which couples a captivating premise with a naïve rube protagonist to create the illusion of having witnessed a penetrating study of American values and culture as seen through the eyes of one of its innocents. In The Truman Show life isn't a box of chocolates, it's a 'round-the-clock "reality" TV program which beams its nonstop signal worldwide. And Truman Burbank (Carrey) is its unwitting subject/hero/leading man. Without his knowledge, Truman has been filmed since the day he was born, and the execution of this high-concept premise is The Truman Show's most audacious trick. Truman's hometown of Seahaven, a pristine and visually adorable, planned, island community, is actually the world's largest soundstage and all the town's citizens are mere players on its stage -- each inhabitant is a Truman Show actor fitted with a discreetly hidden body cam. Despite his fake environment, Truman has somehow evolved into a "real" human being with "real" human emotions and it's that sense of veracity in action that keeps the world hooked on the soap opera of his life. Of course, a man in a control booth is running the show. The godlike producer/director/mastermind/wizard of Seahaven is a character of intriguingly complex motives named Christof (Ed Harris, in one of the best performances of his career). At its best, The Truman Show is a compendium of trenchant and funny observations about modern consumer culture, the homogeneity of a world united by its satellite dishes, and the extent to which autocracy can serve artistic ends. Written by New Zealander Andrew Niccol, The Truman Show shares similar thematic concerns with Niccol's other notable project, Gattaca, the futuristic cautionary tale about the limits of individuation and totalitarianism, which he wrote and directed. The Truman Show is funnier however, and not just because of Jim Carrey's presence. The movie assumes a disconcerting stance that intentionally teeters between comedy and Twilight Zone-like nightmare. It's unusually provocative and challenging for a Hollywood movie and, surprisingly, allows the audience to piece things together without too much external direction. However (and this is something you don't hear me say too frequently), the movie could stand to be a little longer. It has too many loose ends and too many logically unexplained phenomena that can only be rationalized away with generalizations about the all-encompassing control that typifies the Seahaven production. Why is it that after 30 years in Seahaven, Truman is only now noticing Klieg lights that fall from the sky and weather patterns that follow his precise footsteps? Is Seahaven breaking down something like a Mir space shuttle that's been in orbit too long? Also, for all the talk of Carrey's toned-down dramatic performance here, it is, though serviceable, still awfully broad and hammy (as is Linney's, yet as Truman's wife it should be said that she's always aware that she's playing to a hidden camera). His behavior is that of an insanely cheerful overgrown kid -- too exaggerated to be believable as the world's most famous "real" person and too limited to convey the psychological turmoil he experiences as he begins to suspect that the whole world revolves around him. Always amazing to look at, conceptually compelling, and entertaining, The Truman Show still seems to promise a bit more than it delivers. (For an earlier take on this ominous plotline of a person who suspects that the whole world is privy to a film of her life, find a copy of Paul Bartel's 1965 knockout short film, "The Secret Cinema," which was later made into an Amazing Stories episode.) The question you have to ask yourself about The Truman Show is the same one you have to ask of most network television broadcasting: Would you ever want to see it again in reruns? (6/5/98)

3.0 stars (M.B.)

Alamo Drafthouse, Barton Creek, Gateway, Highland, Lake Creek, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South


THE X-FILES

D: Rob Bowman; with David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Blythe Danner, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, John Neville, Terry O'Quinn, Jeffrey De Munn. (PG-13, 122 min.)
An enigma wrapped in a conundrum sealed in a plain brown vapor-lock baggie that -- wonder of wonders! -- actually makes a fair amount of sense. In the five years since creator Chris Carter brought his conspiracy-laden, UFOlogist's dream-come-true television show to the upstart Fox network, the ongoing saga of FBI agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) -- he of the credulous wisecracks and she of the pragmatic, slightly chilly disdain -- has amassed a cult popularity to rival that of The Fugitive (or, perhaps more accurately, The Prisoner). Any way you slice it, though, Carter's paranormal, paranoid brainchild was predestined to make the leap to the big screen someday, and now that that yawning crevasse has been summarily bridged, the show seems poised for a revitalization of sorts. The series' early, basic plot lines -- Mulder and Scully investigate a mysterious circumstance, one or the other is put in jeopardy (usually in the dark), and the other arrives in the nick of time (always with a flashlight) -- have given way to the convoluted "mythology" stories, a twisted skein of conspiracy theorist ejaculate that has almost single-handedly devoured most of the Internet's remaining bandwidth. In pre-release hype, Carter and director Bowman (who has helmed multiple TV episodes) promise that "the truth," that precious commodity so often alluded to but so rarely outed, would, indeed, find its way onto the big screen. That's not really the case, but you can't blame Carter for fudging a bit -- it's as much a part of his nature as Mulder's closet porn fetish. What audiences will get is essentially a glitzy, expanded episode, albeit one with gobs of high style, gorgeous cinematography courtesy of Ward Russell, tremendous use of sound, and a few nifty revelations. For non-fans, the story manages to hold its own, being neither inexplicable nor too obvious. Briefly, it concerns the devastating terrorist bombing of a Dallas federal building, which may or may not be linked to a quartet of unexplained civilian deaths, and a mysterious virus, which may or may not be linked to global government duplicity and associated with an ancient, non-terrestrial race. You can be sure that all of this ties in to the Kennedy assassination and the ever-fluctuating price of Tamagotchis in Sheboygen, though Carter has yet to make that clear. Almost all of the series regulars turn up, notably Davis' Cigarette-Smoking Man, Pileggi's Chief Skinner, and the trio of techoids known as the Lone Gunmen, as well as a new "Deep Throat" in the form of Landau. The X-Files' saving grace has always been Carter's slyly subversive sense of humor, and that's in full effect here, leavening the earth-shaking (literally) proceedings with an occasional dose of wry, Duchovnian smarm. Neither the revelatory orgasm promised nor the stillborn confuse-o-thon feared, The X-Files cinematic debut is solid, workmanlike stuff, and enough to keep the legions of X-philes sated until next September. And since I realize some of you are dying to know, no, Mulder's butt remains, as always, fully clothed. (6/19/98)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lincoln, Tinseltown North, Tinseltown South



Revivals

BRAZIL (1985) D: Terry Gilliam; with Jonathan Pryce, Kim Greist, Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian Holm, Bob Hoskins, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson. This modern cult classic is a triumphantly dark comedy directed by one of the film world's truly original visionaries, Terry Gilliam. (R, 131 min.) @Dobie; Fri-Thu, midnight.

FLASH GORDON (1980) D: Michael Hodges; with Sam J. Jones, Melody Anderson, Topol, Max von Sydow, Ornella Muti, Timothy Dalton. This Eighties version of the comic strip is visually outlandish and features Queen performing the theme music. (PG, 110 min.) @Alamo Drafthouse; Thu, midnight.

GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) D: Victor Fleming; with Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Thomas Mitchell, Hattie McDaniel. As God is my witness ... it's back. This re-release boasts a new Techicolor dye-transfer process that promises ravishing colors but has proved to be highly contentious among the film restoration crowd, who have charged that the new process muddies the colors' gradations and textures. Sound-wise, things have been enhanced digitally, and the film has also been restored to its original 1.33.1 format. Some people can't wait for another opportunity to catch GWTW on the big screen, but miss it now and I bet that you'll only have to wait another year before it's back in the theatres for a 60th anniversary re-release. (NR, 238 min.) @Arbor, Tinseltown South; Fri-Thu.

THE NAKED KISS (1964) D: Samuel Fuller; with Constance Towers, Anthony Eisley, Michael Dante, Virginia Grey, Patsy Kelly. One of Sam Fuller's very best films, The Naked Kiss shows what happens to one hard-bitten prostitute after she decides to go straight; that's when sexual perversion really invades her life. With his usual unsubtle style, Fuller's feminist melodrama is a combative challenge. From its opening seconds in which a bald-headed prostitute is shown clubbing her helpless pimp, to the film's shocking climax in which the dark meaning of the "naked kiss" is revealed, Fuller's assault on small-minded hypocrisy is uncompromising. as an added bonus, this archival print is brand-new and restored. (NR, 93 min.) @Alamo Drafthouse; Fri-Sun.



PARAMOUNT SUMMER FILM CLASSICS:

Another Thin Man (1939) D: W.S. Van Dyck, II; with William Powell, Myrna Loy, C. Aubrey Smith, Otto Kruger. With Asta and newborn son Nick Jr. in tow, Nick and Nora Charles solve a murder on a Long Island estate. This third entry in the Thin Man film series is the last one to be based on an original Dashiell Hammett detective story. (NR, 105 min.) @Paramount; Tue-Wed.

Deliverance (1972) D: John Boorman; with Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Billy McKinney, Herbert Coward. In this film adaptation of James Dickey's novel, four businessmen on a weekend canoe trip learn that only the strongest survive. To the tune of "Duelling Banjos" instead of surf pop, they also learn what it means to "get medieval" on one's ass. (R, 109 min.) @Paramount; Thu-Fri (7/30-31).

In the Heat of the Night (1967) D: Norman Jewison; with Rod Steiger, Sidney Poitier, Warren Oates, Lee Grant. Winner of five Academy Awards (and none of them for the great Quincy Jones score), this potboiler uses a routine murder mystery as the background for a passionate study of American racism. (NR, 109 min.) @Paramount; Thu-Fri (7/30-31).

The Magnificent Seven (1960) D: John Sturges; with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Eli Wallach. A Western remake of The Seven Samurai, the film tells the story of gunslingers hired to save a town from bandits; the film made stars of McQueen, Bronson, and Coburn. (NR, 126 min.) @Paramount; Fri-Sat.

The Thin Man Goes Home (1944) D: Richard Thorpe; with William Powell, Myrna Loy, Gloria de Haven, Anne Revere. America's favorite amateur detective/professional lush, fun-loving married couple, Nick and Nora Charles, return home for a visit and wind up solving a murder. (NR, 100 min.) @Paramount; Tue-Wed.

The Unforgiven (1960) D:John Huston; with Burt Lancaster, Audrey Hepburn, Audie Murphy, John Saxon, Lillian Gish, Doug McClure. A Western classic, not to be confused with Eastwood's Unforgiven, Huston's film is set in 1850s Texas and centers around the violent conflict between a Kiowa Indian tribe and a frontier family over the parentage of foundling Audrey Hepburn. (NR, 125 min.) @Paramount; Fri-Sat.

THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975) D: Jim Sharman; with Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien. Austin Rocky Horror fans have been dressing up and doing the "Time Warp" thing live for 22 years straight. Well, more or less straight. So if you've been searching for the way home to Transylvania or are merely curious about perusing a weekend excursion, this show is your winning ticket. In the meantime, you can check out the Austin group's Web site: http://www.kdi.com/~riffraff/queerios. (R, 95 min.) @ Wells Branch Discount Cinema; midnight, Fri-Sat.


Film Series & Other Screenigns

AUSTIN FILM SOCIETY "Summer Free-for-All":
Some Came Running (1958) D: Vincente Minnelli; with Frank Sinatra, Shirley MacLaine, Dean Martin, Martha Hyer, Arthur Kennedy. This Minnelli melodrama, based on a James Jones novel, is a hotbed of small-town hypocrisy. Sinatra and Martin deliver some of the finest film work of their careers and MacLaine truly came into her own with this character study. Minnelli's stunning and playful use of CinemaScope is a joy to behold and this rare archival print should make the big-screen experience a rare opportunity. (NR, 136 min.) @Texas Union; Tue, 7pm.

IMAX THEATRE (San Antonio):
Everest (1998) D: Greg MacGillivray, David Breashears, Stephen Judson; narrated by Liam Neeson. This new Imax film showcases the splendors of Mt. Everest and was filmed during the fateful 1996 expedition when several mountain climbers died. (NR, 44 min.) All seating is assigned and may be purchased in advance. Other daily shows include Alamo: The Price of Freedom, Whales, and conventional 35mm theatrical screenings each evening. For more info and reservations, call 800/354-4629.@Imax Theatre in San Antonio; Fri-Thu.


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