D: Spike Lee; Harvey Keitel, John Turturro, Delroy Lindo, Mekhi Phifer, Isaiah Washington, Keith David, Pee Wee Love, Regina Taylor.
From the novel by Richard Price (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Spike Lee) comes Lee's first real look at urban drug dealing and the effects it has on life in the 'hood. Clockers
is the tale of two brothers, Victor (Washington) and Strike (Phifer) and what happens when Victor, the "good" brother, is arrested for the murder of a local "clocker," or low-level street dealer. While Victor spends his days working two jobs and saving every penny to try to get his family out of the projects and away to a better place, brother Strike makes time - and good money - selling crack to the marks in the local park with his gang of gangsta rap-loving thugs and taking lessons in crime from Rodney Little (Lindo), a local merchant who runs a drug ring out of his corner grocery. When Victor lands in jail and confesses to murder "in self defense," local detective Rocco Klein (Keitel) puts the heat on Strike in an effort to find out if the squeaky clean Victor is covering up for his wayward brother. This is the first Spike Lee Joint that feels more like a mainstream Hollywood cops-in-the-'hood picture and less like one of Lee's recurrent soapboxes: There are fewer of his glissando "look ma!" camera flourishes (although they're not gone entirely), a decided drop in the speechifying, and, in general, not as much attention drawn to the filmmaker's style in deference to the story line. Co-produced by Martin Scorsese, Clockers
shares much of the gritty, color-drenched feel of this New York auteur's earlier works, but it's still very much Spike's movie, from the harrowing opening credits that take us on a tour of brutal NY crime scenes to the excellent casting and performances from Keitel (who, granted, could probably do this role in his sleep by now) on down to Pee Wee Love's role as Tyrone, the neighborhood kid who is caught between the glamour of the clockers and the pull of a good family. Lee's eighth film is missing the in-your-face punch of previous outings such as Do the Right Thing,
but more than makes up for it with its nuanced characters and a 'hood script that for once doesn't seem like it was lifted part and parcel from a 2Pac rhyme. It's about time.
3.5 stars (M.S.)
Arbor, Highland, Riverside, Westgate
D: Ann Turner; with Sandra Bernhard, Victoria Longley, Frank Gallacher, Jake Blundell, Rose Byrne.
With Sandra Bernhard, irony is everything; she revels in the stuff. In the Australian film Dallas Doll,
her impertinent bad-girl persona - characterized by a delivery so deadpan that you never really know when she's serious and when she's putting you on - overwhelms everything to the point of distraction. For all its aspirations - and what they are is never exactly clear - Dallas Doll
is little more than a vehicle for Bernhard's patented sneer and mock sincerity. As the eponymous title character, she plays an American golf pro who goes Down Under to create interest in her profession and ends up becoming a New Age cultural guru of sorts. She also ends up seducing most of the members of the family with whom she is staying; in golfspeak, she swings her club both ways. (Make no mistake; this is nothing like the gorgeous Terence Stamp sleeping with parent and child, both male and female, in Pier Paolo Pasolini's exceptional Teorema.
Here the pansexuality plays like an in-joke about Bernhard's personal life.) At its best, Dallas Doll
is a droll, flaky satire on the cult of personality. At its worst - and that's for most of its duration - it's a silly, pointless movie that collapses under the weight of Bernhard's one-note sarcasm and a bizarre ending involving poor Sandra surrounded by a herd of cattle. (Don't even ask....) Some critics have found Dallas Doll
to be a modern-day parable about the subversion of Australian culture by corruptive outside influences. An interesting assessment, but one that is generous and way off par. What Dallas Doll
needs is some discipline, a little of the Zen that its heroine espouses for the perfect game of golf. Like the incomparable but unpredictable Bernhard, without it, it's nothing.
1.5 stars (S.D.)
D: Wong Kar-wei; Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, Carina Lau Ka-ling, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Jacky Cheung Hok-yui.
A moody, dramatic opus that sports a world view as fully developed as its cast of intriguing characters, The Days of Being Wild
is a beautifully realized picture - in many ways, really, a masterpiece - that finds gifted Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wei at the top of his game. Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing (Farewell My Concubine, A Chinese Ghost Story)
stars as York, a strikingly handsome and charismatic, if selfish, young playboy who spends his time hopping from one lover to the next, leaving in his wake a string of broken-hearted women who, despite his indifference, can't help being drawn to him. Throw in a mother as uncaring as her (adopted) son, a loser of a best friend who refuses to come in through the front door, a world-weary beat cop (presumably, judging from 1994's ChungKing Express,
a favorite character of Wong's) who longs to be a sailor, and you have a thoroughly unique drama well worth raving about. Much like Wong's brilliant Ashes of Time, The Days of Being Wild
seamlessly weaves together the lives of a handful of characters in a web so emotionally complex that occasionally the threads can't help but cross. It is for this reason that the coincidental plotting that pops up in the movie's third act doesn't seem quite so coincidental after all - in fact, it not only makes perfect dramatic sense, but seems genuinely fated... it just couldn't have happened any other way. Aiding Wong considerably are the performances from the all-star cast, creating a world of all-encompassing insecurity and uncertainty. From Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing's mesmerizing York to Maggie Cheung Man-yuk's lovelorn counter clerk, this ensemble is just about perfect, with many of these famous faces giving the best performances of their careers. While the movie's leisurely pace and sporadic tinkering with typical narrative structure may alienate some viewers, all those seriously interested in foreign cinema are encouraged to take a look at this atmospheric drama - sure to be remembered as one of the key achievements of the Hong Kong cinema in the 1990s.
4.0 stars (J.O.) Hogg
D: Christopher Ashley; with Steven Weber, Michael T. Weiss, Patrick Stewart, Bryan Batt, Sigourney Weaver, Olympia Dukakis, Kathy Najimy.
If you've seen Paul Rudnick's play Jeffrey,
then for all practical purposes you've seen the movie version of the same. What's eye-opening about the film is how thin Rudnick's work really is - there's really not much there, when all is said and done. True, Jeffrey
is without a doubt entertaining enough, particularly given its sobering subject matter: love in the age of AIDS. But there's a palpable, arm's-length distance in its story of a gay Everyguy who swears off sex and then meets Mr. Right, an HIV-positive man. Like its title character, the movie has a fear of commitment and, as a result, it doesn't grab you in quite the way that you expected it would. As Jeffrey, Weber is winning and likable - he has a gift for facial expression - but he can't overcome the obstacle that Rudnick has created, i.e., the characterization of Jeffrey as, well, a whiner. By the time he's chastised for his self-pitying selfishness, you'd like to give him a piece of your mind, too; after all, he is
a healthy gay man amongst many sick ones. Perhaps if Rudnick had given Jeffrey more strength of character, his dilemma would evoke more sympathy and compassion. The film's highlight is Stewart's campy but grounded performance as Jeffrey's flamboyant and witty older friend, an interior designer who can carry off just about anything (including this movie). Less successful are Batt in the critical role of a Cats
chorus boy who's not as empty-headed as one might think - he hasn't much of a presence in the film - and Weaver, Najimy, and Dukakis in comic cameo roles that are practically over before they start. Although Jeffrey
has its faults, there's something to be said for an almost-mainstream movie with name actors that doesn't flinch in its depiction of a gay romance. After all, no matter what the sexual orientation, a kiss is still a kiss.
2.5 stars (S.D.)
D: Kaisho Hayashi; with Masahiro Takashima, Mami Yasuda, Mikijiro Taira.
I can sum up The Legend of Zipang
in a simple, one-syllable word: Fun. Yes indeed, this 1990 Japanese swordplay fantasy is a real blast, a wild, exciting, and hilarious 90 minutes of unpretentious fun. No, it's not perfect, but its faults are easily dismissed in light of the overall entertainment value of this cartoonish epic. The story is one of mythic proportions: Our hero, master swordsman Jigoku, and his motley entourage attempt to escape the clutches of vicious bounty hunters and high-flying killer ninjas, while also trying to uncover the mysteries of Zipang, a magical, otherworldly kingdom that supposedly houses untold amounts of gold, jewels, and other riches. Not unlike Tsui Hark's Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain, The Legend of Zipang
is a go-for-broke fantasy with all the stops pulled out, serving up a palette of action, comedy, and special effects that should prove irresistible to fans. While ultimately this picture isn't the equal of Hark's classic, it's certainly not for lack of trying - there's almost always something crazy happening on the screen, with generous helpings of fabulous swordplay (one amazing scene has Jigoku taking on and defeating at least 40 sword-wielding enemies as he makes his way across a bridge, all shown in one impressive, unbroken shot) and some cute in-jokes for fans of Japanese action cinema. As mentioned before, there are some problems, the most obvious being that many times the movie's ambitions are infinitely larger than the budget the filmmakers have to realize them. But while this occasionally results in some rather slapdash effects work and stumbling photography, it doesn't really hamper the high spirits of this particular adventure and even manages, in a few choice moments, to heighten the movie's sense of cheesy euphoria. If you're looking for a quiet, somber drama with plenty of telling, insightful performances, then stay away from The Legend of Zipang.
If, however, you're looking to switch off your brain and simply have a good time, then don't miss out on this kinetic roller coaster of a movie... it's a real hoot.
3.0 stars (J.O.)
D: Kelly Makin; with Matt Frewer, Valerie Mahaffey, Lawrence Dane, Tommy Chong, Kevin McDonald, Jeremy Renner, Rob Moore, Eric "Sparky" Edwards.
Remember in high school how there was one kid who had a wise-ass comment for everything and no matter how snide it was or how crude, it always cracked everybody up? Remember how there was also some goof who thought
he was as funny as the wise-ass but wasn't? Whenever Wise-ass made a crack that got a big laugh, Goof would wade in with a line he knew
would get the same reaction, but it just lay there, still and stiff like a dead bird. Well, this film is that goof. You get the feeling that somebody involved in Senior Trip
really thinks it's in the league of the franchise's first hit, National Lampoon's Animal House,
that its gross-out gags and smutty yucks will make viewers roar the way that film's did. But every time Senior Trip
cops a bit from Animal House
- or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
or Fast Times at Ridgemont High
or The Simpsons
or Mr. Smith Goes to Freakin' Washington
(the film is next to nothing but lifts from other shows) - we're in dead-bird land. The comedy just lies there - flat brain wave, no vital signs. I blame the screenplay by Roger Kumble and I. Marlene King, which whizzes past opportunities for genuine comedy to get to more recycled gags from Up in Smoke, National Lampoon's Vacation,
then cops them so ineptly as to make those flicks look like contenders for the Palme d'Or.
Early on, you can see director Makin's efforts to infuse the film with some of the same snap he brought to episodes of TV's Kids in the Hall,
but midway through, he seems to have been overwhelmed by the extremely lame script. The clichŽd climax, with the loser kids accepting their good-hearted if anal principal, then being applauded by a roomful of senators for "telling it like it is" (puh-leeze!),
is staged without a shred of irony. The "teen" actors are uniformly bland, exhibiting almost no comedic savvy. Matt Frewer tries singlehandedly to compensate for this by overacting (and exceeds the posted limit of 55 facial tics per minute). We do get a few chuckles from Mahaffey (Northern Exposure)
and McDonald (Kids in the Hall),
but in the end, the material defeats them, too. This Trip
goes nowhere, save to the same slag heap that contains National Lampoon's European Vacation, National Lampoon Goes to the Movies,
and National Lampoon's Class Reunion.
1.0 stars (R.F.)
Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Riverside, Westgate
D: Wesley Strick; with Daryl Hannah, Keith Carradine, Moira Kelly, Vincent Spano.
A terminally limp "suspense thriller" that's anything but thrilling or suspenseful, The Tie That Binds
is an inane, poorly conceived bore that attempts to meld the suburban yuppie nightmares of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle
with the hell-raising, white-trash terrors of Kalifornia.
The result? A pathetically uninspired mishmash of illogical plot mechanics and pedestrian shocks that's more likely to leave you yawning than cringing. The plot concerns a young couple (Kelly, Spano) who adopt an adorable, but slightly disturbed, six-year-old girl, unaware that her crazed birth parents, a pair of murdering hillbilly criminals (Carradine, Hannah), are desperate to reclaim her and will seemingly stop at nothing to get their only daughter back. Strick, previously best-known as a screenwriter of similarly styled thrillers, makes a major fumble with this, his directorial debut. This is one of those movies where normal people do abnormally stupid things. Take, for example, the unforgettable moment when our little heroine wanders out from her safe hiding place and into the arms of her deranged birth father when she mistakes a passing rabbit for her lost stuffed animal toy(!). Even the old, trusty slasher movie standby, the helpless woman who can't help but trip and fall on her face every other step, can been seen in this supposedly "respectable" big-studio production. Gimme a break, even the last Friday the 13th
sequel made a point of parodying this kind of stuff. It's also a little hard to feel sorry for these parents - they just don't seem capable of rational thought (as evidenced in a number of unintentionally hilarious and generally bewildering moments). There aren't many pleasures to be found in The Tie That Binds,
but there is some stylish photography on display, and Graeme Revell's score has its moments during the picture's more somber moments, before it goes absolutely bonkers in the gratuitous stalk-and-slash climax. The performers aren't given much to work with, so perhaps they're not to blame (I have always found both Moira Kelly and Vincent Spano to be quite likable), but mention must be made of Daryl Hannah's non-performance, which comes across more like a drab Juliette Lewis imitation than anything else. Not everyone here is quite so dull; Keith Carradine looks like he's having a blast, even when reading his goofiest lines, and occasionally, his spirited attitude is infectious. But it's not often enough to make this cynical enterprise worthwhile.
1.0 stars (J.O.)
Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate
D: Christopher Cain; with Stephen Lang, Yi Ding, Ryan Slater, Wang Fei, Zhou Jian Zhong.
How about The Boring Panda Adventure?
Or maybe The Formulaic Disney Ripoff?
Either one is a more apt title for this tired retread of Uncle Walt's past nature-in-jeopardy vehicles. When 10-year-old Ryan Tyler (Slater) is invited by his conservationist (and divorced) father to rural China for the summer, he finds himself caught up in a fight to save an orphaned panda cub from clumsy poachers while struggling to renew the bonds of love between himself and his semi-estranged dad. Ouch, that hurts. This numbingly predictable story is helped not one whit by the lackadaisical direction of Christopher Cain (The Next Karate Kid),
the yawningly uninspired script by screenwriter Jeff Rothberg, and the tedious camerawork by Jack Green (one can only take so many magnificent shots of the Chinese countryside before they cease to be so magnificent). As Ryan's gruff, non-parental father Michael, Stephen Lang seems caught in a bad TV movie of the week, all stern looks and grizzled platitudes. As Ryan, Slater does his part well enough, but mediocrity seems to be the rule of thumb here, with only the real-life panda cub inspiring any audience sympathy (the animatronic pandas are much too gawky to be very oooh-inspiring). Compared to the recent sleeper hit Babe,
the porcine star and story of which elicited far better emotional and dramatic responses from both adults and kids, this is one adventure that is anything but amazing. Oh, here's one: The Insufferably Tedious Panda Cinema-Scam.
A bit lengthy, perhaps, but much more accurate.
1.0 stars (M.S.)
D: Yim Ho; with Siqin Gowa, Tuo Zhong Hua, Li Hu, Ma Jing Wu, Wai Zhi.
Based upon a true story, the exquisitely titled The Day the Sun Turned Cold
is a wonderfully suspenseful drama that also pulses with emotional resonance thanks to the carefully measured performances of the cast and the thoughtful direction of celebrated Hong Kong filmmaker Yim Ho (Red Dust, King of Chess).
The film tells the bizarre tale of Guan Jing, a young man who one day walks into his local police station and demands an investigation into the death of his father, who he believes was murdered by his mother 10 years earlier. Did she do it? Didn't she do it? To give away any more could quite possibly hamper the entertainment factor of the movie, even though Yim Ho is obviously far more interested in the emotional shock waves that are introduced into the lives of the characters following Guan's accusation. Thankfully, the talented cast is well worth this focus as each gives a performance of uncommon detail and precision. And although special mention must be made of Li Hu's turn as the cautious police captain drawn into the intrigue, the real triumph of The Day the Sun Turned Cold
must go to Siqin Gowa (last seen in Xie Fei's Women From the Lake of Scented Souls)
and Tuo Zhong Hua (Zodiac Killers),
for their turns as the mother and son, respectively. Their complex, strained relationship not only serves as the heart of the movie, it allows for some of the most gripping dramatic moments I've seen all year, especially during the pair's final confrontation. With performances like these, coupled with Yim's flawless sense of atmosphere, The Day the Sun Turned Cold
makes for great drama - intriguing, involving, and unafraid to take its time (in fact, some tastes may find the movie too slow... so be warned). Due to its subject matter and themes, it will no doubt invite unfair comparisons with this year's Dolores Claiborne,
but such analogies don't hold up quite so well when both films are placed side-by-side. Yim's movie offers up a much richer world view populated by a far more compromised cast of characters than Taylor Hackford's effective but simplistic, one-note feminism. Fans of gifted director Ann Hui (Song of the Exile, Love in a Fallen City)
will be interested to hear that she is credited here as both executive producer and costume designer.
3.5 stars (J.O.)
D: Larry Clark; with Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny.
For once, the hype is right on the money. Kids
is an emotional sucker punch, a raw, dirty, disturbing piece of cinŽma vŽritŽ filmmaking that simultaneously hooks and repulses you from its opening scenes of the teenaged Lothario Telly adrift in his favorite pastime: deflowering young girls. After the shockingly on-target coitus during which the practiced youth assuages his young lover's fears with hollow promises of respect and ongoing warmth (his by-rote words carry all the weight of a thrice-used condom, but the virgin in question is oblivious in the heat of the moment), Telly - the self-proclaimed "virgin surgeon" - cruises off to hook up with pal Casper, who plies him for details of the tryst, living vicariously through his friend. On the other side of the city (New York), Jenny, a past conquest of the "de-virginizer," goes for an HIV screening as moral support for a friend. The friend comes up negative, but Jenny, with Telly being her one and only lover (and that was last summer, with no phone calls or tender words since), is stricken to find out she's a carrier. Frantic, confused, and afraid, she numbly wanders the parks and boroughs of a sweaty, grimy New York trying to find Telly to alert him to the situation. Director Clark (previously best known for his gritty photos of urban street kids and hollow-eyed junkies) uses Jenny's dazed meanderings as a way to explore the seamy underbelly of America's urban youth. We see Telly and his friends hanging out, getting drunk, smoking dope, fighting, fucking (there's no sex here, no lovemaking, just simple, unromantic rutting), and generally acting without any moral compass whatsoever. They're kids playing at being grown-ups playing at being time bombs. Clark's brilliant eye keeps the film running as an edgy, in-your-face observation of what many kids consider a normal day's events. The loud public outcry that accompanied the release of Kids
- that it was little more than an exploitative attempt at teenage titillation - is as silly as Telly's come-ons. Anyone who's been out clubbing in an urban area after 2am will find few surprises in what Clark depicts. Shocking, yes, but hardly surprising; the film, perhaps not unintentionally, feels very much like a documentary. Disturbing, harrowing, visceral, and even sporadically humorous, Kids
is one of those rare films that begs the description "a must-see." For once, it's the truth.
4.5 stars (M.S.)
D: Tab Murphy; with Tom Berenger, Barbara Hershey, Kurtwood Smith, Steve Reevis, Dawn Lavand.
Beautiful scenery, a somewhat intriguing story, and weak dialogue characterize Last of the Dogmen,
the directing debut of screenwriter Tab Murphy (previous credits include his Oscar nomination for co-scripting Gorillas in the Mist).
When a bus full of prison inmates crashes in the Montana town of Big Sky and three prisoners make a run for the wilderness, bounty hunter Lewis Gates (Berenger) is enlisted by his father-in-law, Sheriff Deegan (Smith) to bring the men back to justice. Gates deduces that the men are most likely dead after he hears an explosion of gunfire and finds blood-soaked clothing but no bodies. When he also discovers a blood-streaked arrow and glimpses what he thinks are American Indians riding off through the trees, Gates decides to investigate further. He enlists the aid of professor Lillian Sloan (Hershey), a noted anthropologist and specialist in the field of Native American history. Their pairing sets off sparks in true Hollywood fashion, and the tension between the two characters shapes one of the film's subplots. Gates and Sloan journey into the Oxbow Quadrangle, a section of the Montana mountains well known for its sheer cliffs and dense wilderness and rumored to be the base of a secret military-type society within the Cheyenne Indian tribe known as the Dogmen. Fierce warriors who protect their land and their tribe at any cost, the Dogmen prove intimidating and shrewd objects of Gates' and Sloan's search. While the majority of the film bogs down in uninspired dialogue and predictable plotting, there are a couple of scenes worth noting. The Dogmen's first appearance in the film is truly powerful, and Karl Walter Lindenlaub's cinematography conveys the majesty and raw power of these "Dog Soldiers." Equally haunting is a dream sequence in which Gates imagines the confrontation between the Cheyenne Dogmen and the lawmen looking for him and Sloan. Add to these scenes the overall beauty of the Canadian wilderness that subs for Montana in the film and Last of the Dogmen
manages to appeal visually if not always cerebrally. Berenger and Hershey are adequate as the leads and Reevis is impressive as Yellow Wolf, but the film itself cannot sustain the compelling level of drama that occurs only sporadically. Last of the Dogmen
reminds us of the legacy that was lost when the American Indians were forced from their land onto government-sanctioned reservations, but this reminder is not reason enough to recommend the film.
2.5 stars (A.M.)
Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Roundrock, Westgate
D: Tom DeCillo; with Steve Buscemi, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, James LeGros.
Hollywood's always had a bit of a love/hate affair with itself, but no more so than in the spirit of the independent filmmaker: Constrained by miniscule budgets, production delays, and occasionally inept crews (not to mention caterers from hell), the independent sets itself up for failure, and somehow, seemingly against all odds, succeeds. Or maybe not. DeCillo's second feature (his first being the underrated Brad Pitt vehicle Johnny Suede)
is a caustic, witty, nightmarish look at what goes into the making of an indie film, from the endless screw-ups that transpire as the crew battles with backbiting, egomaniacal stars run amok, sexual politics on and off the set, and all the little horrors of day-to-day filmmaking on a shoestring budget. And it's pretty funny, to boot. Buscemi is Nick, the director of the titular film Living in Oblivion,
a sensitive, Nineties drama, a "serious film" that just doesn't seem to be going right at all. Alternating between being maddeningly conciliatory toward his feuding leading man (LeGros, wonderfully ridiculous here as Chad Palomino, the Gen X heartthrob whose only come-on seems to be "So, do you like jazz?") and leading lady (the equally brilliant Keener) and exploding in a manic rage, Nick is a harried director pushed nearly to the point of collapse (even his downtime is spent wrapped up in nightmares of endless foul-ups) by cast and crew alike. DeCillo keeps the film moving with the kind of frantic energy you find on a real film set, alternating between judicious use of black-and-white and garish color, all the while keeping both frazzled director Nick and the audience just a little off balance. It's a hilarious, scathing look at one man's attempt to get a film made, "whatever it takes," and it may be the most relalistic depiction of that struggle so far.
3.5 stars (M.S.)
D: Gregory Widen; with Christopher Walken, Eric Stoltz, Virginia Madsen, Amanda Plummer.
A theological film noir with Walken in a shaggy black Beatles mop-top is the best way to describe The Prophecy.
When an NYPD detective with the doubtful name of Thomas and a previous life as a failed priest starts turning up clues that point toward otherworldly murders, he becomes involved in a literal war between the angels. As director Widen (who also had more than a passing interest in the priesthood) posits it, there has been a full-fledged war raging in heaven for the past 2,000 years, with the archangel Gabriel (Walken) at the head of a group of heavenly minions seeking to break away from God and destroy humankind. Gabriel and gang have become jealous of man's elevated status on God's Things to Do Today list, and, in a less than fully explained plot twist, end up on terra firma in hopes of stealing the soul from the corpse of the "most diabolical military mind the world has ever seen." Colonel Kurtz, is, of course, nowhere in sight, so Gabriel must make do with the recently deceased essence of a cannibalistic Vietnam vet. On God's side is Stoltz as Simon, one of God's more trustworthy lieutenants, who engages the morally confused cop in the action and manages to hide the soul in question in the body of a young Navaho girl. As confused as it is ambitious, The Prophesy
is one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink horror films that leaves you scratching your head and wondering "Why?" Crammed with interesting and genuinely weighty theological issues (the fact that Satan himself appears in the final reel, and on God's side no less, is one of the film's more startling revelations), The Prophecy,
nonetheless, feels like a rush job, full of gaping plot holes and unanswered questions. And despite the excellent cast, not counting Walken's decidedly un-angelic looking locks, the film caroms about, from silly to eerie and back again. Occasionally knockout special effects (a vision of the shores of Heaven upon which are skewered the rotting corpses of thousands of slaughtered angels puts you in mind of Vlad the Impaler) also fail to make up for the story's convoluted twists and turns. Widen gets an "A" for ambition here, but by the end of the whole shebang, you really couldn't care less.
2.0 stars (M.S.)
Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside
D: Beeban Kidron; with Patrick Swayze, Wesley Snipes, John Leguizamo, Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Arliss Howard, Jason London, Chris Penn.
To Wong Foo
is a fairy tale in every sense of the word. Kidron's (Used People)
latest film outdrags, outdresses, and generally outdoes last year's Australian hit about traveling drag queens, Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. To Wong Foo
screams old-style Hollywood, from its casting of Snipes and Swayze in the lead roles to its over-the-top costuming and music to its brightly colored sets. Kidron cleverly entices even the most reluctant viewer by opening the film with a narcissistic credit sequence that allows us to watch Snipes and Swayze transform themselves into their characters Noxeema Jackson and Vida Boheme, contestants in the annual New York City Drag Queen Pageant. Watching Swayze apply his makeup is akin to a religious experience: He is truly handsome dressed as a woman, and we share in his character's obvious pleasure in the transformation. The same goes for Snipes, who is less reserved as Noxeema but no less proud of her appearance. It is almost impossible not to be swept away by the sheer fun of this movie. When Noxeema and Vida tie for first place as winners of an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood for the national level of pageant competition, they are promptly sidetracked by "drag princess" Chi Chi Rodriguez (Leguizamo), despondent over her own loss in the pageant. Taken in by Chi Chi's dejection and obvious need of a fashion mentor, Vida convinces Noxeema to trade in their airplane tickets for cash, which immediately is invested in a convertible that will take all three of them to the Hollywood pageant competition. Just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz,
these ladies meet many interesting characters on their trip, and a breakdown in Snydersville (closer to Kansas than Oz, really) proves to be fortuitous on many levels. Their deeds and experiences in Snydersville are truly the stuff of Hollywood moviemaking with transformations, revelations, and happy endings all around. For some, the film's unabashed sentimentality and fairy-tale quality may go too far, but To Wong Foo
is such a delight that it's easy to overlook the few awkward moments. Calling To Wong Foo
campy doesn't do the film justice: The film camps it up but still allows us to believe in the characters. Snipes and Swayze are so successful in exploring their feminine sides that all of their future roles should be played in drag. Also, watch for Robin Williams' cameo and Chris Penn's hilariously offensive Sheriff Dollard, whose list of "Places to Find Homos" nails every stereotypical employment opportunity for those with same-sex preferences. So what does the film's title refer to, you ask? Well, you'll just have To Wong Foo
to find out.
4.0 stars (A.M.)
Great Hills, Lakehills, Lincoln, Riverside
D: Bryan Singer; with Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey, Suzy Amis, Benicio Del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito, Dan Hedaya.
A movie shouldn't have to be seen twice in order to be understood. Second viewings can certainly deepen an appreciation and enrich our knowledge and experience of a movie. But a second look shouldn't be required in order to have a solid understanding of certain things as essential as who did what to whom... and why? That said, I can't think of a movie the second viewing of which I looked forward to more eagerly than The Usual Suspects.
When revisited, the movie comes through like a champ and reveals a clarity and overall vision that seemed tentative at first encounter. The Usual Suspects
is a movie with style to burn, and, initially, that is this crime drama's most mesmerizing aspect. The plot's convolutions and unexpected surprise ending all seem to be extensions of the film's stylistic flourish. Upon reflection, The Usual Suspects'
story line is not all that eventful. The film begins with the elegantly filmed explosion of a boat. The only survivors are a charred Hungarian sailor who fearfully babbles about having seen the face of the devil, a man by the name of Keyser Sšze, and a con man with a distinctive limp who's known by the name of Verbal (Spacey). The rest of the film recounts the events that led up to the explosion. A seemingly random roundup of several top New York City thieves tosses five larcenous professionals into a jail cell and when they emerge, the web of heists that seals their doom is set in motion. Out of the group of five, Verbal is the last survivor. The web pulls the audience along, too, because we all become actively engaged in the process of figuring out which one of them is Keyser Sšze. The characters contribute so much to the movie's richness. These performances are full of fine nuances, dialogue, and slowly revealed traits. Very little really occurs in terms of the film's essential actions, but everything occurs in the way that these events go down. Everything is so fascinating to watch and piece together. Director Bryan Singer and screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie are high school pals whose first feature film, Public Access,
won the Grand Jury Award at Sundance two years ago, though this widely hailed film languished from a lack of sincere distribution. Their second feature, The Usual Suspects,
seems destined for greater things.
4.0 stars (M.B.) Arbor, Highland, Lakehills, Northcross, Riverside
D: Ron Howard; with Tom Hanks, Bill Paxton, Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Kate Schellhardt.
Ron Howard's take on the ill-fated 1970 moon shot is a big step forward from his previous two films - Backdraft
and The Paper
- which were generally muddled exercises in how an excellent filmmaker can get lost in his own story. Apollo 13
has no such problems, and as such, it's a riveting, nail-biting, two-buckets-of-popcorn return to form for Howard, filled with the almost unassailable heroics of the U.S. space program and the genuine urgency of history. The story, by Texans William Broyles, Jr., and Al Reinert, is equally compelling. Howard pulls out all the stops on this one and the performances are uniformly wonderful: It's almost a valentine to NASA, but without the celestial mythologizing of films like The Right Stuff.
Oddly, some of the integral special effects in the film - and they are integral - seem less than perfect but, overall, Apollo 13
succeeds and may be the only summer adventure blockbuster without bullets or
3.5 stars (M.S.)
Arbor, Highland, Lakehills
D: Chris Noonan; with James Cromwell, Magda Szubanski.
Perhaps one of the cutest children's films ever made, this tale of the young piglet who decides his calling in life is to be a sheepdog is also a rousing comedy appropriately filled with a variety of subtle messages, from self-empowerment to the importance of treating others as equals, even though they may be, ah, sheep. When Babe the piglet is taken from the automated pig farm, he ends up at the farm of kindly, taciturn Farmer Hoggett (Cromwell, in a brilliant piece of casting) and his wife (Szubanski). Here, he falls in with Hoggett's sheepdogs, the bitter Rex and motherly Fly. Fly adopts the lonely innocent as her own, introducing him to the various members of the farm community, from old matron ewe Maaa to Ferdinand the duck. Eventually, Babe gets the notion to join Rex and Fly as sheep herders, and, when he proves adept at the job, Hoggett enrolls the piglet in the local sheepdog trials.Babe
looks and flows wonderfully. It's a clever, witty, touching piece of work that, coincidentally, is a decidedly excellent date movie. Really.
3.5 stars (M.S.)
Great Hills, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Westgate
D: Edward Burns; with Burns, Maxine Bahns, Connie Britton, Mike McGlone, Jack Mulcahy.
First-time director Burns, an ex-Entertainment Tonight
employee, has written a wry and touching script about a family of Irish Catholic brothers, all at different stages of denial toward commitment and Catholicism. We follow the brothers as they fall in and out of love, make stupid mistakes, and generally bolster each other "rules and regulations" of Catholicism. Burns' scripted dialogue weaves smoothly through the film; it's easy to pretend that you're eavesdropping on a friend's family rather than watching a movie. Not only do we come to know and appreciate these brothers even when they're at their most unevolved, but we also get to spend time with the women in their lives. The Brothers McMullen
, the Grand Jury prizewinner at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is a rare treat of a film: a debut that exudes freshness and polish all at once. Welcome to the big screen, Mr. Burns.
4.0 stars (A.M.)
D: Clive Barker; with Scott Bakula, Kevin J. O'Connor, Famke Janssen, Vincent Schiavelli, Barry Del Sherman, Sheila Tousey.
Anyone who knows me even remotely knows how much I respect and admire the talents of artist, author, and filmmaker Clive Barker. So, it is with a very genuine sense of disappointment that I say that Lord of Illusions
is not a worthy horror movie by any means; it is simply a horrible movie: plodding, fragmented, confusing beyond words, and finally, the ultimate sin, excruciatingly boring. Barker's eye is still good, but his pacing, his direction, and, more than anything, his dialogue, are all disastrously off-key. Jumping wildly from scene to scene and shot to shot, the film just makes no real sense. Awful in every way, shape, and form (even the score by Dario Argento's right-hand composer Simon Boswell seems seriously flawed), Lord of Illusions
fails at almost every conceivable level, from computer effects on down to the Passaic, New Jersey dinner-theatre dialogue. Fans will be heartsick. Anyone else, go check out Hellraiser
and its immediate sequel to see what all the fuss was about.
1.0 stars (M.S.)
Great Hills, Highland
D: John N. Smith; with Michelle Pfeiffer, George Dzundza, Courtney B. Vance.
Michelle Pfeiffer stars as an ex-Marine who serves as the Great White Hope to the "dangerous minds" of the title: a classroom of ill-mannered, cynical kids who have lost all interest in learning. Never mind that the movie's plot is a tired one and that the script doesn't even try to re-work this particular genre's clichŽs... like Pfeiffer's B-Boy stance on the film's poster, something about Dangerous Minds
just feels bogus. Perhaps it has something to do with the aseptic, TV-movie atmosphere that hangs over the entire production, or the way it asks us to buy the idea that old Bob Dylan tunes, karate, and candy bars are going to turn a bunch of hardened inner-city kids on to the joys of education. Although it's based on a true story, Dangerous Minds
just doesn't seem to take place in the real world. Pfeiffer's got charm and pep to spare, but next to zero substance when it comes to exploring her character's particular hypocrisies and pretensions. About the only thing that keeps Dangerous Minds
from being a total washout is the humor and energy of the young actors portraying Pfeiffer's students.
1.5 stars (J.O.)
Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Westgate
D: Robert Rodriguez; with Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Quentin Tarantino.
During its opening moments, Desperado
announces itself as an action picture that demands to be watched, if not for its hyperkinetic staging and riveting fusillade of superhuman physical feats, then for its stunning choreographic vortex that sweeps all action and drama into its ever-escalating cyclone of forward progression. With Desperado,
a follow-up to his 1993 ultra-low-budget indie success El Mariachi,
Austin-based filmmaker Robert Rodriguez proves that his earlier success was no one-hit wonder. Rodriguez is a filmmaking dynamo whose talent derives from his kinetically composed images and vibrantly economic editing style. His lively image flow gathers no dross. Happily, the comforts afforded by Desperado's
larger budget have not endangered Rodriguez's stylistic economy; instead, the additional funds mean that now Rodriguez can blow things up real
good. By the time Desperado's
opening action sequence concludes prior to the opening credits, the viewer has already lost count of all the fatalities and the film has adopted a kind of comic-book logic, humor, and vitality that is sustained until nearly the end. This maxed-out Hollywood shoot-'em-up is also notable for its complete absence of American actors and settings.
4.0 stars (M.B.)
Dobie, Great Hills, Highland, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock
D: Michael Gottlieb; with Thomas Ian Nichols, Joss Ackland, Ron Moody, Paloma Baeza.
It figures that the latest re-telling of Mark Twain's classic A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
would be a Disney effort with a kid in the title role. Modern-day dweeb Calvin Fuller drops out of the dugout (literally) and back in time about 1,600 years to Arthur's Camelot, which has fallen on hard times. The movie equips its unlikely champion with age-old, singularly human attributes such as courage and honor and love. Nichols essentially reprises his Rookie of the Year
role as a less-than-stellar baseball player whose life is changed by an extraordinary turn of events. Despite a goofy hairdo and a voice that cracks as often as my office mate's gum, he still shines as the charmingly ordinary hero. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his current vehicle. Even with Nichols, decent production values, a pair of plucky princesses, and a few pleasant surprises tucked in here and there, A Kid in King Arthur's Court
is a pretty prosaic picture.
0.5 stars (H.C.)
D: Paul Anderson; with Linden Ashby, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Robin Shou, Bridgette Wilson, Talisa Soto, Trevor Goddard, Christopher Lambert.
Taken for what it is - a comic-book actioner based on a popular, relentlessly violent video game - Mortal Kombat
isn't half bad. Sure, there's wooden acting, wooden dialogue, and wooden sets, but on the whole, it manages to achieve a late summer escapism and, thankfully, it doesn't take itself very seriously. It is, in essence, the video game transferred part and parcel to the screen, and very well at that. Terrifically loud, bombastic, and over-the-top, Anderson's film recalls everything from those old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad
adventures to more modern teen-oriented fare, throwing in everything and
the proverbial kitchen sink. Not much goes on here except for battle after battle and set-piece after set-piece, but both battles and set-pieces are filmed with vigor and originality, and all three leads are affable, likable cartoon fodder. It's silly, of course, but more importantly, it's a hell of a lot of fun, with plenty of above-average gags (many from the usually Ÿber-stoic Lambert, believe it or not) and some nifty monsters lumbering about and bellowing at the top of their fiery lungs (not to mention the gorgeous Thailand settings).
2.5 stars (M.S.)
Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate
D: Michael Radford; with Massimo Troisi, Philippe Noiret, Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Linda Moretti, Renato Scarpa, Anna Bonaiuto.
is an Italian co-production whose history is as tragically romantic as the poetry of one of its main characters, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It is loosely based on a novel about an incident in Neruda's life when he was befriended by a young postman while living in Italy. Set in 1952 during the time of Neruda's exile from Chile to a small island off the southern coast of Italy, the film recounts the friendship between the aging Communist poet and the shy, directionless son of a fisherman who knows only that he does not want to follow in his father's footsteps. The Postman
also is a love story of the first order, a sweet Cyrano tale and, in fact, one of the sweetest stories on film this summer. Slow in parts but appealing overall, The Postman
suggests how interwoven the bonds of friendship and love can be. With lyrical beauty and memorable performances, The Postman
articulates many feelings that seem to defy explanation.
3.5 stars (A.M.)
D: Wayne Wang and Paul Auster; with William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Stockard Channing, Harold Perrineau, Jr., Forest Whitaker, Giancarlo Esposito, Ashley Judd, Victor Argo.
As beguiling and as ephemeral as its title, Smoke
is a movie that draws you in and lingers a while in your bloodstream. It's certainly not harmful to your system but like those darned cigarettes, Smoke
leaves you wanting another not long after the last one has been extinguished. Knockout ensemble performances like these don't come around all that often, and when they do they ought to be savored. The performances here are smokin'. On the other hand, the story that connects all these characters is a bit wan. The movie is structured as a series of converging vignettes; however, the story lines never converge as completely as one might like, though their fumes are quite intoxicating.
3.5 stars (M.B.)
D: Lasse Hallstrom; with Julia Roberts, Robert Duvall, Gena Rowlands, Kyra Sedgwick, Dennis Quaid, Haley Aull.
In this latest by Swedish director Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog, What's Eating Gilbert Grape?)
a family is laid bare, warts and all, and made to seem ideal, ugly, weak, and strong all at the same time. Grace (Roberts), a young Southern wife estranged from her philandering husband Eddie (Quaid) and battling her domineering father (expertly played by Duvall), struggles against expectations and years of tradition to pinpoint her own goals. Credit should be shared between Hallstrom and screenwriter Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise).
Khouri's dialogue contains some sweet surprises. Just when you think you've got a handle on Grace, she utters some line that reveals a little more depth than is apparent. The film offers Roberts a rare opportunity to play an adult role that allows her some range. While the film does have its overwrought moments, Something to Talk About
is a pleasant surprise amidst a summer of big cinema hype and little entertainment payoff.
3.0 stars (A.M.)
Arbor, Highland, Lakehills, Roundrock
D: Alfonso Arau; with Keanu Reeves, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Anthony Quinn, Giancarlo Giannini, Angelica Aragon, Evangelina Elizondo.
Describing his experiences in World War II to his new acquaintance Victoria Aragon (Sanchez-Gijon), Paul Sutton (Reeves) declares, "Once the shooting starts, you just go blank." Never have I heard a more fitting description of Reeves' acting. How this overrated and monotonal actor could have been cast in director Arau's Hollywood debut is beyond me. Arau's follow-up to Like Water for Chocolate
contains a similar blend of elements; it is a story of fate, love, and family honor. A Walk in the Clouds
has sweet moments of humor and sensuality interspersed among rather flat scenes. Quinn is superb. Giannini is equally wonderful. Sanchez-Gijon gives an impressive performance. But alas, Reeves sticks out like a bad grape in an otherwise acceptable harvest.
2.5 stars (A.M.) Arbor, Lakehills, Lincoln, Movies 12, Roundrock
D: Kevin Reynolds; with Kevin Costner, Dennis Hopper, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tina Majorino, Michael Jeter, Zakes Mokae.
If you can work your way past the monumental anti-hype and ill-will surrounding this most expensive of all films, you'll find Reynolds and Costner's enfant terrible
of a movie isn't so terrible
after all. Reynolds' film is essentiallyMad Max
remade by Greenpeace, but it succeeds nicely on its own merits. Sure, there's the occasional plot hole that gapes wider than the maw of Spielberg's Jaws, but Costner's misanthropic characterization and all the terrific stunts allow you to forget logic and just have a good time watching things blow up. Waterworld
is a near-model summer fantasy: two hours and 21 minutes of loud, expansive fun.
3.0 stars (M.S.)
Great Hills, Westgate
D: Patrick Read Johnson; with Charlie Talbert, Chris Owen, Ariana Richards, George C. Scott, Kathy Bates, Rita Moreno.
More teen trauma, this time focusing on the kinds of kids who are picked last for the schoolyard games: the big, the smart, the nerdy. Adolecent Angus is largish, brainy, and the butt of the school jocks' jokes. Can he possibly win the heart of his dear cheerleader Melissa? And could this be America's answer to Gregory's Girl?
stars (R.F.) Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Westgate
D: Iain Softley; with Jonny Lee Miller, Angelina Jolie, Fisher Stevens, Jesse Bradford, Laurence Mason, Renoly Santiago, Lorraine Bracco.
Are we tired of the phrase "cyberpunk thriller" yet? United Artists isn't. Here, it casts a Net
for the Clueless
crowd, with a tale of teen screen jockeys who must, I kid you not, "pool their resources to battle The Plague, a master hacker" who has framed them "in a diabolical industrial conspiracy." Yawn. Maybe the, um, hack story will be saved by director Softley, who energized the Beatles' biopic, Backbeat.
stars (R.F.) Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Westgate