From the director of the bizarre cult hit Twister comes this genuinely affecting comedy-horror film that updates the Dracula lineage to present-day New York City. The movie follows the meanderings of the Count's daughter, Nadja (Lowensohn), as she tries to cope with both the recent death of her father (at the hands of a nicely crazed Peter Fonda) and her place in the world of the living. Fonda, as a very distant quasi-relative of the Van Helsing clan, and his nephew Jim (Donovan) soon become involved in yet another vampire hunt, this time involving the beautiful, delicate Nadja, though the question of who is the hunter and who is the prey, seemingly, is without much resolution here. The story borrows heavily from what has come before, from the stakes through the heart to Renfield (Geary) to much of the vampiric mythos, and then knocks it all just a little off-kilter. Nadja has much of the spare, deadpan look and humor of early Jarmusch films; it's Stranger Than Paradise by way of Salem's Lot. Cinematographer Jim Denault's faultless black-and-white photography perfectly captures the edgy hopelessness that surrounds Nadja's (un)life like a tattered gray shroud (much use is made of a toy Fisher-Price Pixelvision camera, as well as more conventional techniques), but Almereyda's direction never lets this bloody gem become too bogged down in its own vampiric angst. Although the film sometimes dances dangerously close to camp, an oddly touching comic sense - like the scene in which Van Helsing describes his dispatching of Dracula by referring to the count as being "confused... he was like Elvis at the end" - pulls it right back up and into the realm of something we've never really seen before. Infinitely subdued, sexy, and melancholy, Nadja is one of the most stylish and quietly exhilarating genre movies to arrive in a long time. Recommended, and not just if you wear black all the time.
3.5 stars (M.S.)Dobie
This Indian movie, in Hindi with subtitles, is a fascinating work f or a number of reasons. The story is based in the true-life saga of the contempo rary outlaw heroine, Phoolan Devi. Devi, who was released from 11 years of impri sonment in 1994, is a legendary figure, feared by government forces and worshipp ed by the many, especially amongst the lower castes. She stood accused of many c ounts of murder and kidnapping, though many regarded her actions as an avenging angel with a kind of Robin Hood-like flair. The movie is based on diaries she wr ote while in jail. Born impoverished and of low caste, childhood ended for Devi (Biswas) at the age of 11 when she was sold as a bride for a cow and a bicycle. Beaten and ill-treated in her husband's home, she ran away after he forced her to have sex with him. Her fate, as her unhappy father remarks, would be that of all women who take their life into their own hands - she will be blown about like a leaf forever after. Well, that's a poetic manner of describing Devi's future; the reality is that her life bears a greater likeness to a mountain crashing in an avalanche. Once back with her family, the upper-caste Thakurs consider her a loose woman and fair sexual game, thus her defiance results in her banishment from the village. Next, she's arrested, raped, and beaten in prison. Following that, she is kidnapped by a gang of bandits and, again, raped. She wins the respect and love of the gang's temporary leader Vikram Mallah (Pandey), who becomes her lover and eventually makes her co-leader. Eventually, upper-caste Thakurs return to rule the bandits and kill Mallah and gang-rape Devi. Her vengeance takes the form of a brutal massacre. Following a long period during which the government was unable to capture her, Devi negotiated her own surrender, which was conducted before a cheering crowd of 10,000 people. In America, Devi's story would take the form of a cartoon superhero, an avenging feminist Wonder Woman in revolt against the rich, male patriarchy. In India (the country which annually produces more movies than any other nation in the world), Devi's story fits into the context of that particular industry. Most Westerners are only familiar with the art films of Satyajit Ray, but an elaborate structure of superstars and generic structures exist, structures which thrive on polar oppositions, spectacular action, and ritualized song and dance routines that, in recent years, have become more and more risquŽ. For this common woman who became a popular heroine to have her story, albeit somewhat romanticized, told on international movie screens, could be seen as one further blow against the patriarchy.
3.5 stars (M.B.)Village
Model-turned-actress Jade Leung Zhang stars in this unofficial Hong Kong re-make of Luc Besson's arthouse smash La Femme Nikita, and while (surprise!) it lacks the subtlety of that movie, it is a sleeker, more efficient action picture, and, at the very least, avoids the banality of director John Badham's stateside version, Point of No Return. The plot here is virtually the same, blow-by-blow, as in Besson's movie. Despite the derivative nature of the plot, director Shin does have a few surprises up his sleeves, most notably in our heroine's first assassination assignment, which, in both other versions, took place in a crowded restaurant, whereas here the scene takes place at a wedding. To say any more would spoil the sequence. Simon Yam Tat-wah, best known for his roles in perverse "Level III" thrillers, is terrific as Leung's stern mentor; but Leung herself just doesn't have the style and grace of Anne Parillaud or the spunk of Bridget Fonda, and to make matters worse, she is often prone to overacting. To be fair, Leung is a fairly likable screen presence, but, unfortunately, she's no great actress. The stunts and action are pretty nicely staged, particularly in a scene involving a falling steel girder and a passing car, and, overall, I would say that Black Cat is a more evenly paced movie than the one which inspired it (which is not to say that it is a better movie overall, just more consistent in its pacing). Make no mistake: Black Cat is a minor thriller, with a couple of moments that call for some unintentional laughter, but it also has its own share of thrills and spills, and manages to add a few interesting twists to its source material. And, let's face it, that's more than John Badham tried to do. Black Cat was followed by an outrageous sequel, ridiculously subtitled The Assassination of President Yeltsin. I think you get the idea.
2.5 stars (J.O.)Hogg
Perhaps it's only because both films are awkwardly titled and share in the presence of Whoopi Goldberg, but Moonlight and Valentin o, more than once, brings to mind that other mainstream gal-pal picture of l ate, Boys on the Side. Certainly, it points out the rarity of commercial films that present male characters as figures existing in t he stories' margins (or on the side), as mere plot devices in the narratives of heterosexual women. Moonlight and Valentino tracks the stor y of the suddenly widowed Rebecca (Perkins) and the three women who sustain her in her time of grief and adjustment. Her best friend and close neighbor Sylvie ( Goldberg) is an eccentric artist and emotionally self-absorbed, but a comfort an d a provider of laughter nonetheless; her sister Lucy (Paltrow) is a callow youn g woman still suffering from the death of their mother during the girls' childho od, yet also a fount of unconditional love and support for her older sister; her ex-stepmother Alberta (Turner) is an extremely successful businesswoman who foi sts her "take-charge" style on all her personal relationships, though it turns out that her actions are capable of yanking these women out of their morass. Each of these women has a fascinating story line and these actresses all do fine work adding depth to the characters. The problem with Moonlight and Valentino, however, is this multiplicity of story lines. Too many paths of emotional discovery are embarked upon without delivering any true sense of arrival or even destination. The movie was scripted by Ellen Simon, daughter of Neil, who originally wrote the material as a stage play which was based on her own life experience with widowhood. Too many story strands intertwine artificially. The script even underlines for us, in case we don't perceive it on our own, that these four women represent different stages of womanhood: the virgin, wife, widow, and divorcŽe. And in following the strict schematic of this story line, the movie loses some of the messiness that is so intrinsic to reality. However, any movie that matches these four powerful actresses with a sole male lead - no less than rock star and untried actor Jon Bon Jovi - is a movie that automatically captures my interest. Bon Jovi, it turns out, gets the role usually played by film bimbos: an incidental but physically arresting character who provides a diverting sexual encounter for the lead character. Nothing more, nothing less. If, like me, you find Moonlight and Valentino intriguing despite its shortcomings, you might want to check out Douglas Sirk's wonderful 1955 film All That Heaven Allows, in which a widowed Jane Wyman falls in love with her much younger gardener Rock Hudson. When Wyman's country-club set reject Nature Boy as unsuitable and her grown children want to disown her, Wyman goes into a tailspin from trying to fulfill all her "womanly" functions simultaneously and comes to an intuitive understanding of the constrictions inherent in the bourgeois patriarchy.
2.5 stars (M.B.)Arbor, Highland, Riverside, Westgate
Director Fincher, whose last outing was the butchered-by-the-studio Alien 3, seems more comfortable working on the terrestrial level in this vicious, solid, moody slice of Nineties noir. Pitt and Freeman play Mills and Sommerset, a mismatched pair of Gotham detectives (and is there any other kind?) who stumble across a serial killer whose motivation seems to be lifted directly from the classics: Each victim is slaughtered according to one of the seven deadly sins, and passages from Dante's Divine Comedy keep turning up as mocking clues. The catch is that Freeman's world-weary, methodical Sommerset only has seven more days until retirement, and the case-happy Mills, a recent transplant to the city with his lovely wife (Paltrow), is forcing him to stick around. Fincher, whose work in the music video field is readily apparent here, is a powerful director when he's given half a chance, and Seven is a perfect showcase for what he can do without benefit of MTV (although the unnerving main and end titles, set to music by Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie, respectively, could have come, part and parcel, from that unholy network). Positively dripping with a soggy, oppressive atmosphere, the film is blanketed with a miasma of madness: The city itself is the enemy here, and the mysterious quarry only a symptom of a much more insatiable disease. Freeman is fine as the recalcitrant, literary Sommerset, and Pitt is, well, he's not as bad as you might think, although his eagerness to please sometimes gets the better of him. I can't help but think that if unknowns were cast in the principal roles we'd be seeing something almost as disturbing as John McNaughton's seminal Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer but, I suppose, that's Hollywood. Fincher keeps the film moving at a grimly frenetic pace, using intertitles to keep track of time (it's always raining here) and knocking you out with a one-two conclusion that you may see coming but that rocks you anyhow. A very nasty piece of work, indeed.
3.5 stars (M.S.)Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate
While driving out of the parking lot after seeing Nancy Meckler's p rovocatively disturbing debut film Sister My Sister, I noti ced the bumper sticker on the car in front of me: Sisterhood Is Powerful. Normal ly not moved by sentiments expressed on car bumpers, I found the coincidence eer ily appropriate. Based on actual events that occurred in Le Mans, France in the early 1930s, Meckler's film is a retelling of the murder committed by two sister s against their employer, an upper-middle class woman, Madame Danzard (Walters), and her daughter Isabelle (Thursfield). Revealing this key plot point will not ruin the film because its impact comes through the telling, not solely in the ta le itself. In fact, the murder is revealed in the film's first 10 minutes. An in itial scene introduces the sisters as young girls playing together and establish es Christine's (Richardson) position as caretaker of her younger, weaker sister Lea (May). Immediately following this gentle tableau is a scene depicting the Danzards' home in the aftermath of their grisly attack. Sister My Sister is not the first recounting of this grisly murder; the event has provided rich source material for other artists to mine over the years, most notably Jean Genet in his play, The Maids. Additionally, Meckler directed the London play on which this film is based, and playwright Wendy Kesselman adapted her story for the film. Kesselman's script makes good use of the inherent doubling in the story: the two sisters, the mother and daughter whose relationship mirrors that of their maids, and the parallel ideas expressed by older sister Christine and Madame Danzard about class and social behavior. This carefully constructed framework provides a very formal structure to the film, one that lends even more impact to its violent, uncontrolled climax but also succeeds in distancing the viewer somewhat. The distance generated by the film's narrative structure is a double-edged sword: It gives the story a sharp tension but also a somewhat sterile tone despite richly detailed sets and warmly lit scenes exquisitely photographed by Ashley Rowe. Perhaps Meckler intended this effect, underscored as it is by the judge's unemotional reading of each sister's sentence. A similarly relevant issue in Sister My Sister is the depiction of the sexual relationship between Christine and Lea. While I don't doubt that Meckler intended the film as a commentary on the taboos of 1930s France specifically and of the oppressiveness of religion and society in general, the film suggests a link between the sisters' lesbian relationship and their later pathological behavior that is quite disturbing. Because of these ambiguities, Sister My Sister invites a first viewing and perhaps even a second.
3.5 stars (A.M.)Village
Here's a silly bit of business that nevertheless holds a very impor tant place in the history of Hong Kong cinema: It was the 1978 directorial debut of Yuen Woo-ping, who would go on to become one of the most important and consi stent filmmakers working in the Chinese action cinema. It also helped to popular ize the burgeoning "kung fu comedy" genre, and, most importantly, it managed to bring a then-little-known actor by the name of Jackie Chan to the public at larg e - who has since, of course, gone on to become one of the world's biggest and m ost beloved superstars. This picture, Chan's first big hit, puts the engaging ku ng fu hero in his trademark role of the good-hearted loser who learns how to fight despite his overall lack of ability. And just as in Drunken Master, which is basically a better, streamlined re-make of Snake in the Eagle's Shadow, Chan's master is portrayed by the one-and-only Simon Yuen Hsaio-tien (Yuen Woo-ping's father and martial arts instructor), and their delightful chemistry here is every bit as much fun (and influential) as it was in the re-make. Veteran bad-guy Wong Jang-lee (also from Drunken Master) is on hand as a cruel master of the "Eagle Claw" fighting style, determined to wipe out the remainder of the rival "Snake Style" clan, to which Chan and his teacher belong, but beyond that there's not a whole lot of plot to chew on. While it's more or less acknowledged that in Chinese martial arts movies the plot is usually secondary to the physical action, there are a couple of moments in The Snake in the Eagle's Shadow that are a little too goofy for even my tastes - like when the comic-relief preacher (Horan) turns out, in the film's final reel, to be a master fighter from Russia. However, despite its faults, Yuen Woo-ping and company do manage to pull off a number of thrilling fight scenes and memorable moments of physical comedy, and it is for these reasons that the picture is so fondly remembered by fans. For example, who could forget the tribute to Lui Chia-liang's seminal Dirty Ho, played out in the sequence when Simon Yuen Hsaio-tien manipulates Chan's limbs from behind, enabling him to beat up villains despite his lack of fighting skills; or the sublimely silly moment when our hero slides towels under the feet of a man trying to mess up the floor he's just cleaned? It's not every day that you get the opportunity to see a movie like this on the big screen, and for that reason alone, it's worth the effort for Jackie Chan fans to seek out this fun, near legendary chopsocky flick.
3.0 stars (J.O.)Hogg
Fashion photographer Douglas Keeve turns his camera on designer Isa ac Mizrahi for an intriguing and often funny look into the making of a seasonal fashion collection. The documentary opens with Mizrahi receiving and reacting to the lukewarm reviews of his Spring 1994 collection. As he bounces back to desig n that year's fall collection, Mizrahi explains how his clothes are often inspir ed by a gesture, a bit of minutiae that somehow resonates for him. The Fall 1994 collection had its roots in a number of diverse gestures: images from Robert Flaherty's Nanook of the North, Seventies sitcom single goddess Mary Richards, and an antique French corset made of metal and fabric. The documentary chronicles the collection from its beginnings in Mizrahi's sketches to its parade down the catwalk in New York City. While the film entertains with its peeks into Mizrahi's daily life, more visually interesting is the whirl of models and fashion personalities who pass before Keeve's lens. Despite its provocative title, Unzipped is no exposŽ of the fashion world: Some models are well-behaved (Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford); others are more than a little obnoxious (Linda Evangelista). Mizrahi himself is very likable and grounded, somewhat surprising considering the eccentrics he must deal with, like Allure magazine creative director Polly Mellen. Yet the film's compilation of interviews, black-and-white and color images, and home movies of the budding designer proves engaging throughout. The film's visuals stylishly capture Mizrahi's dramatic sense of color and playful combination of shapes and fabrics, such as synthetic fur with silk and satin. Additionally, Mizrahi's extensive repertoire of popular culture references sheds some light on his more daring ideas, such as the faux-fur jumpsuit fantasy creation he hoped to make (but compromised into a short "chubby" jacket) in honor of the Banana Splits, those fur-encased musical maniacs from Saturday morning television. Keeve's self-conscious stylistics (random pieces of film leader, for instance) grow a little tiresome, but the witty Mizrahi manages to keep the film moving. By the time the film concludes with his impressively staged fall collection, Mizrahi has become the unzipped hero. A must-see for addicts like myself with an embarrassing number of fashion magazine subscriptions, but worthwhile for everyone else, Unzipped overflows with style and just enough substance.
3.0 stars (A.M.)Village
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 mel odrama," but the issues the film raises ripple far beyond the walls of an educat ional institution. Using actors McDonnell and Hannah to portray Jennifer (based on Montgomery) and John (based on Jennifer's real-life dorm counselor Jock Sturg es), Art for Teachers of Children methodicall y lays out the development of a sexual relationship between Jennifer and her cou nselor, 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
From the novel by Richard Price (who also co-wrote the screenplay w ith 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, Victo r (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
Hackers is an afterschool special for the X-Generation. The earlier years Softley (Backbeat) spent in the video trenches serve him we ll 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, Lakehills, Movies 12, Roundrock
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
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 suspec t it is. The story is so shabbily built that it can make no valid claim to motiv es other than the filmmakers' mercenary desires to cash in on the public's pruri ent interests. And even on this bottom-feeder level, Showgirls fails to d eliver the goods. The movie reteams Basic Instinct creators, the o nce-promising director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas. The plot i s a cross between A Star Is Born and A Cho rus Line and, even with all the nudity, virtually anyone from Vincent e Minnelli to Russ Meyer could have turned in a more watchable end product. Plot potholes abound, character motivation is an alien concept, illogical actions are the order of the day, and dialogue rings with poetic lines like, "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 she'd walk 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? 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 this film lead. 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 cam p followers, the Deadheads who follow the band from location to location and cre ate 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 mov ie 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 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 late ly have been going on between his parents in his early 1960s Jewish household. H ome life with his parents Sid and Selma Lidz (Turturro and MacDowell) and younge r sister (Krull) had always been "different." Sid is a scientist and an obsessiv e inventor whose elaborate creations and explanations sometimes overshadow the n eeds of his family. 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 m ade 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 (Ch aykin) and Danny (Richards) in his need for guiding influences. These two are ce rtifiable - Arthur a grown-up na•f who collects the lost detritus of the world a nd Danny a paranoid schizophrenic who everywhere sees anti-Semitic plotters and collaborators. 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's Unstru ng 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. 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. You can't help but want to know more about the background of these three eccentric brothers explaining how they came to be the way they are. 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 he 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
Angus (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. Newcomer Talbert at times reveals his inexperience in front of the camera, but Bates as his mother and Scott as Grandpa Ivan bring an eccentric dignity and intimate, credible affection to their roles. 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.)Movies 12
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. 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, Movies 12
First-time director Burns 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 prize-winner 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, 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.)Great Hills, Highland, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock
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.)Village
Beautiful scenery, a somewhat intriguing story, and weak dialogue characterize Last of the Dogmen, the directing debut of screenwriter Tab Murphy. While the majority of the film bogs down in uninspired dialogue and predictable plotting, there are a couple of notable scenes. 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 confrontational dream sequence. 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, Roundrock
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.)Movies 12, Roundrock
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. The angel Gabriel (Walken) 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." As confused as it is ambitious, The Prophecy 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 Prophecy, nonetheless, feels like a rush job, full of gaping plot holes and unanswered questions. Occasionally knockout special effects 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.)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, whose dialogue contains some sweet surprises. 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, Roundrock
To Wong Foo is a fairy tale in every sense of the word. Kidron's 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. 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. 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
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, Lake Creek, Northcross
How an overrated and monotonal actor like Keanu Reeves could have b een cast in director Arau's Hollywood debut is beyond me. A Walk < i>in the Clouds marks Arau's follow-up to the much-acclaimed < i>Like Water for Chocolate and is a story of fate, love , and family honor. It has sweet moments of humor and sensuality interspersed am ong a few rather flat scenes. As the Aragon patriarch Don Pedro, Quinn is superb. Giannini is equally wonderful. Making her American debut, Sanchez-Gijon also gives an impressive performance. Despite Reeves' one-dimensional acting, there does exist a smoldering chemistry between the two actors. Luscious images by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki add to the sensuality of A Walk in the Clouds. But alas, Reeves sticks out like a bad grape in an otherwise acceptable harvest.
2.5 stars (A.M.)Roundrock
Self-esteem through soccer - that's what a bunch of kids and their Texas hometown learn in this new Disney live-action comedy, The Big Green. The movie was shot in and around Austin last fall. Screenwriter Holly Goldberg Sloan marks her directing debut with this project (which she also wrote), after scoring big with her script for Angels in the Outfield.
stars (M.B.)Great Hills, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Northcross, Roundrock, Westgate
Expectations run high for this film adaptation of mystery writer Walter Mosley's acclaimed first novel, Devil in a Blue Dress. It's helmed by actor-turned-director Carl Franklin, whose debut film, One False Move, turned so many heads. This story is set in 1948 Los Angeles and narrates a vortex of crime that vaunts its mixture of "the hard-boiled poetry of Raymond Chandler with the social realism of Richard Wright."
stars (M.B.)Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Westgate
Poor Haddonfield, Illinois. You'd think that, by now, there would be fewer people living there than in Love Canal. I mean, this Michael Myers psycho has struck there five bloody times since 1978, and now he's back for the sixth. We know the drill pretty well by now, and so do the producers of this money-making murder spree. But, every so often midst the mayhem, gleaming sparks of originality arise. Unfortunately, this is the last time we'll get to see Donald Pleasence as the good doctor making his pronouncements about the "Ee-vill" that confronts us.
stars (M.B.)Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Westgate
Families, fueds, and fortunes are the bedrock of this story about twin brothers, both of whom are played by Andy Garcia. Mistaken identities, greed, patrilineal disputes, and love drive the narrative which is directed by the sure hand of stylish action director Andrew Davis (The Fugitive, Above the Law, Under Siege).
stars (M.B.)Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12, Westgate
Bresson's 1969 film is reportedly one of his best. It must also be one of his most unusual since it was shot in color and stars a professional actress, the young Catherine Deneuve.