Carol's life is killing her, or so it seems. But, maybe it's just her new couch. That's how the problem first became noticeable. As portrayed by Julianne Moore, Carol is an affluent Los Angeles housewife who busies herself with the routines of her life. Then, a new couch she purchased is delivered in the wrong color and its very presence seems to make her feel ill. Bit by bit, auto fumes make her retch, a trip to the dry cleaners results in suffocating hysteria, and her hair won't take a permanent. Her doctors prescribe, her friends console and suggest diets, her husband tries to understand and support. Everyone is having a hard time putting a finger on Carol's problem, but nothing seems to cure her discomfort and, steadily, she wastes away. Is her problem medical, societal, or psychological? All of the above? One of the key elements that makes Safe such an enormously challenging film is that writer/director Todd Haynes leaves these critical decisions to the viewer. The information he provides may support all these arguments but none is given pre-eminent weight. Still, Carol, who was rather wan and enervated when in good health, grows even weaker. Then she spots a flyer about a meeting for people with fume sicknesses and upon attending, she learns about immunity disorders and something called Twentieth Century Disease. Eventually, she checks herself into a New Age retreat that is designed to alleviate the symptoms of people suffering from this disease. At this point, Carol can not go anywhere without carrying an oxygen tank. Self-love is the main remedy taught at this retreat, and while the affirmations prove somewhat helpful, they also seem laden with all sorts of New Age sleight-of-hand. What Safe does so brilliantly is to plunge us down this frightening rabbit hole with Carol. We can see how the bourgeois trappings of her lifestyle do her harm. So, too, the fumes and chemicals present a life-threatening hazard. And perhaps Carol is too gullible and susceptible to persuasion by sources apart from herself. Safe also has an element of science fiction to this coming holocaust and maybe even an allegorical rendering of the AIDS epidemic. Such readings would be in keeping with Haynes' last feature Poison and his infamous short Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story. Safe has aroused a lot of controversy and criticism from some who either disagree with the film's arguments or prefer more conclusive resolutions. Personally, I suspect that such rabble may be one of the latter stages of Twentieth Century Disease.
4.0 stars (M.B.)Village
If you are one of those rare birds who recall their high school days with trilling glee or cooing fondness, Angus is probably not your cup of moo juice. If, though, the simple clanging of a locker door can give you shudders, you will probably find this little movie familiar and oddly comforting. Angus (Charlie Talbert) is smart, sensitive, courageous... and... fat. His widowed mother is a big-rig truck driver, his grandfather an irascible 74-year-old about to wed a woman 30 years his junior, and his best (and only) friend a pint-sized Howdy Doody look-alike with an affinity for James Bond. In short, Angus Bethune is one humongous square peg. The story is certainly not new - you know the ending before you even step into the theatre - and it suffers from a few too many "Yeah, right" reality gaps, but Johnson's telling of it holds your attention nonetheless. Angus' nemesis, Rick Sanford (James Van der Beek), leads a seemingly golden life: He's handsome, athletic, class president, going with the girl of Angus' dreams, and has won the free tickets to the Green Day concert. Still not content, Rick savors his role as Angus' personal tormentor and plans a crowning finale to his life-long rein of ridicule. That Angus wins the day will come as no surprise, but the way that he wins it just may. Newcomer Talbert (discovered by the director at an Illinois Wendy's) at times reveals his inexperience in front of the camera, but his Angus has a palpable decency and a valiant heart. Bates as his mother and Scott as Grandpa Ivan bring an eccentric dignity and intimate, credible affection to the big screen. From the terrific credit sequence to the solid performances to the high-profile soundtrack, Johnson has fashioned an affecting picture with an endearing, unlikely hero. And while it never really pushes the envelope, Angus does manage to give some square edges to that confining round hole.
2.0 stars (H.C.)Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Westgate
For Jennifer Montgomery, there is no question that the personal is political. First-time director Montgomery calls her autobiographical film Art for Teachers of Children a "boarding school melodrama," but the issues the film raises ripple far beyond the walls of an educational institution. Using actors McDonnell and Hannah to portray Jennifer (based on Montgomery) and John (based on Jennifer's real-life dorm counselor Jock Sturges), Art for Teachers of Children methodically lays out the development of a sexual relationship between Jennifer and her counselor, who is 14 years older and married. Montgomery's film is not necessarily an indictment of her counselor or his involvement with her. In fact, his interest in photography and teaching her how to take pictures initially provide Jennifer with a way to channel her teenage anxieties. As she points out in voiceover, John's photographing of the adolescent girls in the dorm "performed an important service. We needed to know that we existed." Jennifer is the one who offers to pose with her shirt off, and she is the one to ask him to be her first lover. However, John's initial rejection of her request (mainly because she is "underage") lasts only a matter of hours before he agrees to have sex with her in his darkroom. Their relationship develops from this initial encounter until a loose-lipped classmate reveals their secret affair. John's arrest for trafficking in pornography some 20 years after their relationship and Montgomery's subsequent refusal to cooperate with the FBI in an investigation of the case prompt further reflection from the director. Montgomery's calm, eerily detached voiceover enhances the stark remove of the images and the spare, rather stilted dialogue between the characters. The film is more successful in examining Montgomery's own attitudes towards her sexual awakening than it is in commenting on censorship issues and the state of the NEA, issues that Montgomery has claimed in interviews are at the heart of the film. While these concerns certainly can be inferred from the film's narrative, their existence (communicated in part through actions of an adult Montgomery at an artist's colony) may be obscured simply by underlit scenes and the graininess of the 16mm film stock. Despite these few technical detractors, Montgomery's first feature promises to provoke debate. Less a confessional work than a broad rumination on the politics of sex and censorship, Art for Teachers of Children raises provocative questions about the oft-disputed fine line between art and pornography, consensual sex and rape.
3.0 stars (A.M.)Texas Union
Hackers is an afterschool special for the X-Generation. The earlier years Softley (Backbeat) spent in the video trenches serve him well here, allowing Hackers to rise above the level of sub-mediocrity into the realm of truly inspired, insipid eye (and ear) candy. A roller-coaster ride of trippy computer animation, outlandishly ridiculous plotting, and fantasy cyber-fluff, this film has about as much to do with hacking, phreaking, and general Net-oriented misbehavior as one of its characters, the ironically named Emmanuel Goldstein, has to do with the real Emmanuel Goldstein. Real-world hackers tend to resemble the computer nerds you knew in high school, only with baggier pants and nicer laptops. The seven core hooligans here look more like they just stepped out of a Ridley Scott/Gianni Versace/Anna Sui fashion explosion. Framed by an older, more conservatively attired hacker/security systems expert (Stevens) for a crime they didn't commit (something to do with a killer computer virus capable of capsizing a fleet of oil tankers), they must put aside their petty braggadocio and band together to, you know, save the world! Ridiculous it may seem... and overwhelmingly ridiculous it is, but Softley's lightning-fast editing and Blade Runner-meets-ClubKid-heaven sets manage to keep your mind off the glaring, frequent plot holes and on the screen where the action (and pretty, swirling colors) are. The young ensemble cast is uniformly well chosen, both for their boisterous, goony line-readings and their charisma (a special Best Pouty Lips Award goes instantly and irrevocably to newcomer Angelina Jolie). As always in films of this stripe, a marketable soundtrack is half the battle, and in this category, at least, Hackers rises above, with a wonderfully well-chosen mix that grabs everything from techno-superstars Orbital and the Prodigy to the brooding ambience of Underworld and Leftfield. Needless to say, the whole thing comes off feeling like a giant, 100-plus minutes music video co-sponsored by Sega, MTV, and Apple Computers. Silly, predictable, and, dare I say it, oddly endearing, Hackers is the first film I've seen in a long while that annoyed me so much I actually enjoyed it.
2.5 stars (M.S.)Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate
A More Perfect Union plays like a movie about a bunch of guys in college made by a bunch of guys in college - it's a little rough around the edges, to say the least. (The movie was shot here in Austin and had its world premiere in March at the SXSW Film Festival where it garnered some of the event's biggest crowds. Word just received from the producer tells us that A More Perfect Union has been trimmed to 100 minutes from the original time on the screening tape that was the source for this review that was originally published on March 24, 1995.) Actually, the four guys in the movie are recent college graduates and roommates who inexplicably decide to found a new country - a one nation under Budweiser, so to speak - in tune with their twentysomething perspective. The lofty principles of this nation's new government, the congress of which meets in the unkempt living room of the "founding fathers," include getting the landlord to install a basketball net and exacting vengeance upon high school gym teachers for past humiliations, among other things. The joke is that, in contrast to the radical youth of the Sixties, this is the X Generation's idea of a revolution. The comic and political ideas in A More Perfect Union never quite gel, however, and so what you're left with is something as anarchic in its execution as the new, fledgling country at its center. What this movie needs, if you'll forgive the pun, is a stronger constitution.
1.0 stars (S.D.)Texas Union
Showgirls is the kind of movie that gives NC-17 a bad name. It's exactly the kind of exercise in salacious pandering that you already suspect it is. The story is so shabbily built that it can make no valid claim to motives other than the filmmakers' mercenary desires to cash in on the public's prurient interests. And even on this bottom-feeder level, Showgirls fails to deliver the goods. The movie reteams Basic Instinct creators, the once-promising director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. The plot is a cross between A Star Is Born and A Chorus Line and, even with all the nudity, virtually anyone from Vincente Minnelli to Russ Meyer could have turned in a more watchable end product. Any movie that gets you wondering where Jacqueline Susann is when you really need her is, undoubtedly, a movie with more than its fair share of problems. Plot potholes abound, character motivation is an alien concept, illogical actions are the order of the day, and dialogue as elegant as "I just have a problem with pussy... okay." The less said about Elizabeth Berkley's acting the better, and the kinder. She can't act. Or dance. But that's hardly her fault. No one can blame this former Saved by the Bell ingenue for taking her shot at the grown-up big time, even though the plum role meant walking around buck naked for most of the movie's over two-hour running time. In fact, it's the same career path chosen by Berkley's fictional character in the film. Spooky, hunh?, this life imitating art (or what passes for it) stuff. And why shouldn't Berkley grab this shot? Just look at what Joe Eszterhas scripts did for the careers of Jennifer Beals (Flashdance) and Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct). Still, someone should have warned Berkley how ill-equipped she was to carry a film lead or, at the very least, someone should have told her when her plentiful lipstick smudged on her teeth. Yet, thinking practically, what possible direction is left for Joe Eszterhas to explore? Only complete feature-length female nudity is the answer. And Eszterhas' public statements have made few bone(r)s about that fact. His story about Vegas showgirls is so flimsy and illogical that it becomes an all too transparent excuse for an excessive amount of T&A. And for those of you who contend that you can't get too much of a good thing, Showgirls is the movie to prove the fallacy in that particular argument. Besides, what Eszterhas specializes in is the slow tease, especially faux lesbian come-ons. The amount of lesbian teasers we witness are in inverse proportion to the amount of lesbian activity we see. Showgirls is a movie that makes you want to go home and shower afterwards. It's not a cold shower that you want, either. Rather, what you crave is a long, hot soak to scour away all the grime and participatory guilt.
0 stars (M.B.)Dobie, Lakehills
What could be more timely than a film about the Grateful Dead's camp followers, the Deadheads who follow the band from location to location and create something of a mobile village in location after location? It would be crass to call it good fortune but Tie-Died, which was shot during the Grateful Dead's 1994 Summer Tour, had, at least, the good timing to be geared for release the month following Jerry Garcia's much-publicized death. For its part, the movie is a solid documentary about the Deadhead nomads who travel from city to city in search of alternative community and another hit of Dead magic. Tie-Died contains no performance footage of the Dead; the movie's focus is entirely on this mass entourage phenomenon. The virtual villages that form in the stadium parking lots along the Dead tour are composed of tens of thousands of people. Most are there for the vibe, others are there to vend items such as food, T-shirts, and crystals. Most of them have been doing it for a while, some even for decades and now come with their own children. Tie-Died might be best viewed as a tabula rasa, as open to meaning and transmutation as Jerry Garcia's guitar-playing. Both can beckon to the great beyond or diddle the frets endlessly. What each viewer of Tie-Died may find is a merely a sharper reflection of what was already possessed going in. Some will find a deeper understanding of this specific scene and keys to unlocking the societal phenomenon of tribal identity. Deadheads will find affirmation, naysayers will find stoned babble, and social scientists will find a windfall of subject matter. But that's cool, too. As the Dead might sing, "Take what you need and leave the rest." Interestingly, Tie-Died also captures a sense of disorder and ugliness creeping into the scene: the mendacity of certain vendors, the increase in violence and theft, the drifting of the years, and the growing number of drug busts due to undercover narcs infiltrating the crowd. Time is also given to the editors of High Times and Relix magazines to rail against the criminal sentencing laws that require "mandatory minimums." Here, the movie drops all documentarian pretenses and whole-heartedly editorializes in favor of the abolition of mandatory minimums. Despite the multi-generational make-up of the Deadlot community, one can also observe the absence of people of color and ethnicity. When interviewed, a kid with a mohawk complains of ill treatment by the crowd. But the only thing that I can guarantee that everyone will see in common is this: more VWs per inch onscreen than in any movie since Herbie starred in The Love Bug.
2.5 stars (M.B.)Dobie
Young Steven Lidz (Watt) is baffled by some of the things that lately have been going on between his parents in his early 1960s Jewish household. Home life with his parents Sid and Selma Lidz (Turturro and MacDowell) and younger sister (Krull) had always been "different." Sid is a scientist and an obsessive inventor whose elaborate creations and explanations sometimes overshadow the needs of his family. Sid and Selma are clearly in love with each other and their children, but it's Selma that Steven depends on for practical sustenance; his father he suspects is from another planet. But then Selma becomes sick with what the children are told is a bad cold but is really cancer. Sid, whose life credo is that nothing has been made that can't be fixed, is unhinged by his sudden ineffectuality in the face of cancer. Steven, as a result, turns to his even more eccentric uncles Arthur (Chaykin) and Danny (Richards) in his need for guiding influences. These two are certifiable - Arthur a grown-up na•f who collects the lost detritus of the world and Danny a paranoid schizophrenic who everywhere sees anti-Semitic plotters and collaborators. Steven seeks shelter in the bizarre little world that constitutes his uncles' apartment and they take to calling the boy Franz Lidz. The heart of the movie is the funny and bittersweet story of this boy's coming of age. There's so much that I like about Diane Keaton'sUnstrung Heroes that I feel positively churlish about also having to point out some of its faults. Keaton remains behind the camera throughout. Her eye for the details is impeccable. All of the "stuff" that contributes to her images - what hangs on the walls, the look of the house, the kitchenware, the costumes, the furniture, and so on - is dead-on accurate. One of Keaton's great skills has always been her knack for accessorizing. And the script by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, The Ref, The Little Princess, and The Bridges of Madison County adaptation) holds many marvelous moments and treats. Yet, it is also curiously wanting in some other ways. You can't help but want to know more about the background of these three eccentric brothers who can claim only Sid as the sane one amongst them. The movie makes us privy to various aspects and events in young Steven's life but none of them are sustained enough throughout to give us a sense of anything other than "Scenes from an Unusual Adolescence." Some might find the casting of an unfledged actress named MacDowell to play a Jewish housewife in a period piece to be an example of Keaton's bold chutzpah; others may say it's plain meshuginah. MacDowell acquits herself decently, but hers is, nevertheless, an ebbing presence in the story. For once, Turturro has been cast as a romantic lead and it's clear that he's in possession of enough acting skills to move beyond his ghettoization playing edgy, unbalanced, ethnic types. One might, typically, have thought of Turturro to play the character of Danny, who is, instead, played by Michael Richards. Richards needed a stronger directorial voice that stopped him before his got too far into his routine mannerisms and eccentricities. Apart from the anti-Semitic paranoia, there is no qualitative difference between the character of Danny and that of Richards' stand-up persona or his brilliant habitation of the character of Kramer on Seinfield. Eccentricities, though they are essential to the story, nevertheless come across as too pat and planned in Unstrung Heroes. Despite my inability to dismiss the film's uncomfortable flaws, these were not so distracting that I had anything other than an enjoyable experience while watching the movie and was awash in a small puddle of tears at the end.
3.0 stars (M.B.)Arbor, Highland, Lakehills, Riverside
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 NYC 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
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
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.)Dobie
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
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, Movies 12, Riverside
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
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 (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). 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.
1.0 stars (M.S.)Roundrock
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 warheads.
3.5 stars (M.S.)Highland
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
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's "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.)Village
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
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
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.)Movies 12
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. On the other side of New York City, Jenny, whose only sexual contact was with the "de-virginizer,"learns she is HIV positive. Photographer-turned-director Clark 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. 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.)Lincoln, Village
DeCillo's second feature 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, a Gen X heartthrob) 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 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.)Dobie
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, Roundrock, Westgate
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 - 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, and Caddyshack, 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. 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.)Movies 12
In this latest by Swedish director Hallstrom, 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, Roundrock
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. 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. 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, though 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.)Movies 12
The Usual Suspects is a movie with style to burn, and, initially, that's 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. The film begins with the elegantly filmed explosion of a boat. 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. These characters are fascinating, complicated, and compelling, and the actors' portraying them create breathtaking performances. Very little really occurs in terms of the film's essential actions, but everything occurs in the way that these events go down. 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
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, Movies 12, Roundrock
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 essentially Mad 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
This new animated tale is directed by Richard Williams, an Oscar-winner for his creative work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Other examples of his animation work can be seen in the title sequences for the Pink Panther movies, Casino Royale, and What's New Pussycat? The story has something to do with a King, magic balls of gold and an invasion of the Golden City. The voice talents are as good as they come and Vincent Price's posthumous intonations are always welcome.
stars (M.B.)Lake Creek, Northcross, Westgate
The Austin Film Society has quietly been celebrating its 10th anniversary with a year-long retrospective of some of their favorite films from programs past. Every Tuesday night at 7pm for the past several weeks and continuing through the end of summer 1996, the Austin Film Society reprises some great film of one sort or another. On that you can count. The movies show in either Hogg Auditorium or the Union Theatre on the UT campus and admission is free. This Tuesday night, one of my personal favorites will be shown, Robert Bresson's 1966 masterwork Balthazar. The sensibilities brought to filmmaking by Frenchman Bresson are a hallmark of the craft. He employed a simple, realistic, and austere approach to storytelling that was distinguished by his aversion to stylistic flourish and its Christian exploration into the nature of innocence and the source of the world's suffering. In this movie, Balthazar is the name of a donkey in the French countryside and it's through this animal's sufferring and sacrifice that the movie establishes its unique point of view. Yea, let us not forget, we are all members of one flock. For more info on this or other programs on the Austin Film Society schedule, call them at 322-0145.
stars (M.B.)Texas Union
Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman play a couple of homicide detectives searching for a serial killer whose murder patterns revolve around the seven deadly sins. Director Fincher previously directed Alien 3, but is probably best known for his prize-winning commercials and music videos (Rolling Stones' "Love Is Strong," Madonna's "Express Yourself," "Vogue," and "Oh Father"; Don Henley's "The End of Innocence"; and Aerosmith's "Janie's Got a Gun"; amongst many others).
stars (M.B.)Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate