Film Reviews


< H3>PUBLIC ACCESSD: Bryan Singer; with Ron Mar quette, Dina Brooks, Burt Williams, Larry Maxwell, Charles Cavanaugh, Brandon Bo yce. (NR, 92 min.)
Before there existed The Usual Suspects - directo r Bryan Singer's scintillating thriller that's been blasting audiences nationwid e to attention over the last few months with its intoxicating blend of visual fl air, internal wit, narrative complexity, and ingenious performances - there was Public Access, Singer's first feature-length film. Made in 1992, Public Access i s just now receiving limited national distribution despite having won the top Gr and Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 1993 and also having a cult repu tation as one of the great unseen movies of recent years. Amazingly, upon viewin g, Public Access lives up to its hype and, perhaps, even exceeds The Usual Suspe cts in its structural audacity and chilling content. Both films share more than their similar story lines about the evil done by devils on earth. Singer co-wrote both films with collaborator Christopher McQuarrie, and John Ottman edited both movies, in addition to overseeing their music. (The music in both pictures is a key ingredient to their creative success.) Essentially, Public Access is the story of a mysterious stranger who comes to the small town of Brewster, rents a room in the home of the ex-mayor, and begins a public access TV show called Our Town that airs in the Sunday night "family hour." He appears in a tidy suit on a bare set, faces the camera, and then asks, "What's wrong with Brewster?" Week by week, the calls start pouring in and the commentary gravitates from the general to the specific. About 45 minutes into Public Access, you begin to realize how insidious the movie is and that the somewhat geeky and, frankly, rather boring access producer we've been dutifully following is up to so much more than we could ever have imagined. By then, it's too late; we've been lured in by our notions about the sanctity of free speech and are then blindsided with the reality of vigilante expression. Public Access is a prime example of the kind of elliptical storytelling that has become so popular these days and though it suffers some consequential narrative ambiguities, they do not mar the film's overall impact. By the time he made The Usual Suspects, Singer's narrative concepts gained a pleasant assist by the seasoned professionalism of its knockout cast of actors. But where The Usual Suspects tells a polished and convoluted caper story, Public Access is a morality play in the guise of a suspense tale. (11/17/95)

3.5 stars (M.B.)


New Review


D: Steve Oedekerk; with Jim Carrey, Ian McNeice, Simon Callow, Maynard Eziashi, Bob Gunton. (PG-13, 91 min.)
When speaking critically about any of Jim Carrey's films, there's only one burning question that really needs to be asked: "Is it funny?" Keeping this in mind, let's cut right to the chase. If you liked the fir st installment of the sure-to-be-long-running Ace Ventura series, chances are very good you'll enjoy the second. The most over-the-top of Carrey's vehicles, Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls will definitely not win any new converts, but let's face it, the man's got plenty of fans already. The plot is pure nonsense - something to do with our heroic pet detective traveling to Africa to recover a sacred albino bat - but it nicely manages to set up a non-stop barrage of silly antics which, when you think about it, is all a "plot" is good for anyway in a Jim Carrey movie. Director Oedekerk, for the most part, has a nice sense of pacing, and also brings a scope that wasn't in the first film. Occasionally, signs of the film's on-set production problems seem all too obvious and, by the picture's third act, the movie has simply exhausted itself. Still, to look too far beyond "Is it funny?" is probably a mistake, especially when one considers that the majority of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls delivers those huge mass-audience fits of laughter that often leave the next couple of gags unheard or unnoticed. For Carrey, every moment of screen time presents a comic opportunity and every scene is a potential set-piece, so it's hardly surprising that he wastes no time before letting the jokes fly fast and furious. From the hilarious opening parody of Cliffhanger to Ace's mid-film wrestling match with a hungry alligator (in a memorable moment, Ace slaps the attacking animal around with its own stubby arms, while reciting that classic childhood taunt, "Quit hitting yourself! Quit hitting yourself!"), Carrey is in top form here, giving a wildly confident, physically draining performance with all the stops pulled out. Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls has its fair share of problems - like the aforementioned third act and the fact that Carrey so monopolizes the screen that his co-stars are often left with nothing to do - but the movie is funny, sometimes side-splittingly so. And that's all that really matters, isn't it? (11/17/95)

3.0 stars (J.O.)

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


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

3.0 stars (A.M.)

Arbor, Highland, Lakehills, Movies 12


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

3.0 stars (M.S.)

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


D: Andy Tennant; with Kirstie Alley, Steve Guttenberg, Mary-Kate Olsen, Ashley Olsen, Philip Bosco, Jane Sibbett. (PG, 97 min.)
Not reviewed at press time. To our eyes, this more or less looks like a modern reworking of that timeless wonder The Parent Trap. It features two single adults (Alley and Guttenberg), each the guardian of a nine-year-old girl (the Olsen twins). All of them need a family and true love, so the girls plot (perhaps there are also shades, here, of Sleepless in Seattle). The stars of the TV sitcom Full House, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, are an inexplicably popular phenomenon that, like teenage mutant ninja turtles, adults were never meant to understand. Kids of all ages and sexes, however, love these insufferably cute twins, so we may have little choice in the matter as these starlets move up the show business ladder. I can't wait 'til they do Circus of the Stars. ()

stars (M.B.)

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


D: Noah Baumbach; with Josh Hamilton, Eric Stoltz, Elliott Gould, Chris Eigeman, Carlos Jacott, Jason Wiles, Olivia d'Abo, Cara Buono, Parker Posey. (R, 98 min.)
"Twentysomething and fresh out of college" is increasi ngly coming to define a whole genre of pictures that may trace their lineage either all the way back to The Graduate or simply as far as the recent crop of Reality Biters. For the most part, these films have little that distinguishes them from each other: They are generally intelligent, technically competent musings on the difficulties of significant others or satisfactory career direction. Kicking and Screaming stands out amongst this crop due to its smart dialogue, elegant camera shots, and fine ensemble work. It's a nice debut piece for director Baumbach, despite the film's reliance on the twentysomething blues formula. Eric Stoltz, the icon of the genre, is used to good effect here as a perpetual student who moonlights as a bartender who dispenses his insular wisdom and complacent life lessons to an appreciative group of male post-grads. The film focuses on the plight of Grover (Hamilton) and his three housemates and pals, all adrift in their post-graduate angst. It's "guy stuff" by and large, and although the girlfriends are mostly peripheral characters, they are vibrant and engaging whenever they appear and are a welcome breath of life in the guys' otherwise dreary existence. Granted, it's difficult to make the life of a writer (no less, a blocked, would-be writer like Grover) interesting onscreen. So when his girlfriend unexpectedly picks up and goes to Prague to study writing upon her graduation, it seems earth-shattering to the staid Grover. This group of actors creates a comfortable, ensemble feel, lending a realism often missing from these types of films. I suppose it ultimately says more about me than it does about the movie that I felt my strongest twinge of identification while Grover's separated father, played by Elliott Gould, rambles on about all the new problems he's encountering in the dating world. Perhaps a new movie rating system needs to be devised that restricts movie admission according to age, although in this instance, the dividing line should be "under-30" and "over-30." (11/17/95)

3.0 stars (M.B.)



D: Claude Lelouch; Jean-Paul Belmondo, Michel Boujenah, Alessandra Martines, An nie Girardot, Clementine Celairie, Philippe Leotard, Rufus. (R, 174 min.)
Not reviewed at press time. French filmmaker Claude Lelouch (A Man and a W oman) has created a modern meditation on the Victor Hugo classic, Les Miserables , though the movie is not a filmed re-creation of the novel. It has been transpo sed to the 20th century, with the now-venerable actor Jean-Paul Belmondo (Breath less) playing a truck driver in Nazi-occupied France. He agrees to help a Jewish family escape to the Swiss border in exchange for their reading the Hugo novel aloud to him during the journey. Lelouch's free interpretation of Les Miserables sounds like a possibly wonderful reinvention of the heroic Jean Valjean and could, perhaps, serve as a lesson in taste for the lunkheads who recently vulgarized Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Scarlet Letter for film profit. ()

stars (M.B.)



D: Tony Guzman; with Daniel Spector, Jennifer Fabos. (NR, 90 min.)
Not reviewed at pess time. Appropriately enough, this French film aka Philosophy in the Bedroom is based on the work of the Marquis de Sade. And once again, appropriately enough, the film comes with the warning that the images are graphic and shocking. The movie, which marks director Guzman's debut, tells a story about two lovers who take revenge on one partner's conservative spouse by corrupting the spouse's innocent 18-year-old daughter. (11/17/95)

stars (M.B.)

Texas Union


D: Ang Lee; with Sihung Lung, (NR, 100 min.)
Not reviewed at press time. After scoring solid arthouse successes with A Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, it was decided to release director Ang Lee's earlier 1992 movie Pushing Hands, the first film in this Taiwanese trilogy focusing on the culture clashes between grown children and their parents. Here, a retired Tai Chi master comes to live with his son and daughter-in-law in a New York City suburb. The more he finds his equilibrium shattered by all the modern bustle, his American-born daughter-in-law finds his tranquil presence thoroughly disruptive to her lifestyle. Certainly, this earlier film cannot be expected to have the assured humor of A Wedding Banquet or the subtle expressiveness of Eat Drink Man Woman, but anyone intrigued by these latter two films should find Lee's earlier work most interestiing. (11/17/95)

stars (M.B.)



D: Jeff Stolhand; with Christian Zimmerman, Roger Harrell, Michael Dalmon, Dee-Dee Stirneman, Tonie Perensky, Bill Wise. (NR, 103 min.)
Locally shot, cast, and crewed, Stohland's indie take on the lives and loves of a group of twentysomething Austin roommates is an often hilarious, though occasionally dormant, meditation on the need for acceptance, both in love and out of it. Zimmerman is Tom, a young guy who leaves his oversexed, underqualified wife when he finds out she's been banging a gold-toothed loser and loving every minute of it (Loverboy fans, take note). Distraught, Tom opts to move back in with his college roommates Aaron (A More Perfect Union's Dalmon), aptly described as "the Dr. Kevorkian of Romance," and Roger (Harrell), a barely employed stand-up comic who's just now beginning to feel the pressures of life in the Real World. When Tom meets the beautiful ballet dancer Sarah (Stirneman) and falls head over heels in love - as does Aaron, upon meeting the tattooed, left-of-center Roseanna (Perensky) - things seem to be looking up after all. Then again, this is a Gen X love story set in Austin, so, hey, something's got to give. That "something" is the relationship between Sarah and Tom. While he's practically ready to choose a silver pattern, she's barely coping with the idea of his moving in... let alone taking the relationship any further. Director Stohland treats these obvious foibles with a deft wit and above-average flair. When Tom turns to the camera and spouts off some pithy comments on the nature of love, it usually works. Not always, though. There are some weak passages here that cry out for more comedy and less angst, but overall, Cafe Bob is a funny, funky look at romance, Austin-style. (11/17/95)

2.5 stars (M.S.)


First Run


D: Ringo Lam; with Andy Lau Tak-wah, Rosemund Kwan, Wu Sien-lin. (NR, min.)
Hong Kong pop star and occasional actor Andy Lau Tak-wah stars as a vengeance-obsessed air force pilot in Ringo Lam's newest picture, The Adventurers - a less-than-perfect but solidly entertaining action/drama that overcomes its clichŽd plotting thanks to some nice performances and Lam's assured direction. Having seen his parents killed in front of him when just a child, Lau is eager to take down the man responsible for their deaths, a former CIA agent-turned-underworld crime boss. But in order to get him, he must (of course) go undercover as a member of the crime syndicate. Things get increasingly sticky when our anti-hero finds himself romantically entangled with both the gangster's daughter and femme-fatale girlfriend, allowing the usual ramblings on honor, duty, and betrayal to come into play. With its over-the-top action and intermittent comic relief, The Adventurers is much closer to the Lam of such recent, slam-bang entertainment as Full Contact and Burning Paradise than the gritty stylist who gave us streetwise crime classics like City on Fire, but that doesn't mean that his nihilistic sensibilities have dissipated altogether; it's just that now his world view makes room for happy endings. Occasionally, though, the difficult mix of somber drama, wild action, and comedy lends the movie a slightly schizophrenic feel, making it a little difficult for the audience to truly get involved with the characters and events on screen. Nevertheless, The Adventurers still has a lot going for it, and is probably one of the better efforts to come stateside from the Free City in the last few months - making it well worth a look for fans. (11/17/95)

2.5 stars (J.O.)

Still Playing


D: Abel Ferrara; with Lili Taylor, Annabella Sciorra, Christopher Walken, Edie Falco, Kathryn Erbe, Paul Caldeon, Father Robert Castle. (R, 98 min.)
The movies of Abel Ferrara (Ms. 45, King of New York, Bad Lieutenant) are not meant to go down easily, and The Addiction is surely his most uncompromising effort yet. Shot for a small budget in stunning black-and-w hite on the downtown streets of New York City, The Addiction is clearly a movie that Ferrara urgently wanted to make. The movie tackles the topic of evil, prese nting evil as an immutable force that is very much alive and ever-recruiting in our time. At the outset, the movie's opening images show us horrific pictures of the massacres at My Lai and the Nazi death camps as viewed by Kathleen Conklin (Taylor), a doctoral candidate in philosophy at NYU. Yet, The Addiction's brilli ance and originality are due to its ability to bring the evil back home, back ac ross the ocean and into the sorry hull of each individual human being. Evil pers ists because we allow it to... because we desire its offerings... because we all ow it into our hearts every time we do not refuse its approach... because goodne ss cannot exist without evil. Ferrara's universe argues for a kind of lapsed-Cat holic existentialism in which the act of being human absolutely requires a perso nal relationship with evil (we are all addicted), but the act of being human als o means that our power to reject evil must overcome our impulse to submit. Mere silence or acquiescence is collaboration with evil and in this sense it becomes impossible to cite one individual's guilt for the My Lai massacre without also h olding responsible an entire nation's addiction to its war machinery and combat mentality. The Addiction frames its unpopular philosophical premises within the guise of a generic vampire story. Here, the vampire's nightly need for blood is the addiction. In the larger sense, addictions are whatever gets us through the night: drugs, work, obsessions, The 700 Club, or whatever. Yet what really gets us through the night are our rationalizations; whatever props we use are merely the gauzy curtain that keeps the evil at bay and allows us to believe that we are doing "good." Each time in The Addiction before a vampire goes for the jugular, the victim is offered an opportunity to "say no like you mean it." The perpetual lack of resistance "causes" the bloody, vampiric holocaust of the film's climax. Ferrara's visual style is gritty, visceral, and energized by his rap-fueled soundtrack - a marked contrast to all the philosophical interjections of the characters. For these are characters who can quote extensively from Nietzsche and Heidegger or ask, during the middle of a tirade, if someone's read Naked Lunch. Philosophy is what these characters do, but never has it sounded more vital and relevant than when coming from the likes of actors such as Lili Taylor or Christopher Walken. At center stage throughout, Taylor's embodiment of Kathleen's increasing mental and physical decay rivet our attention like a stake through the heart. In all honesty, parts of The Addiction could stand some trimming while others might have benefited from a reshoot, but I find such distractions to be minor in face of the movie's monumental daring. Though ostensibly an urban vampire tale (in many ways, not unlike this year's other vampire original, Nadja), The Addiction is less a blood-sucking story than a fable about modern enervation. Not everyone will get off on The Addiction, but much like the aforementioned Naked Lunch, The Addiction renders with perfect clarity all that which we swallow. (11/10/95)

3.5 stars (M.B.)



D: Jon Amiel; with Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney, William McNamara, Will Patton, Harry Connick, Jr. (R, 110 min.)
Serial killers are in vogue in the movies - witness the popular and critical success of Seven, an exquisite piece of in-your-gut filmmaking if there ever was one. Copycat is also about a serial killer, but it's too gimmicky to knock you on your ass; you may marvel at some of the narrative turns, but you won't lose yourself in this movie. The plot wrinkles here are two-fold: a highly intelligent killer who mimics the murders of America's infamous from the Boston Strangler to Jeffrey Dahmer, and an agoraphobic forensic psychologist who's unwillingly drawn into helping solve the slayings. It's an occasionally entertaining ride, although one fraught with numerous logical holes. For instance, why must the stupidity of the police be inversely proportionate to the smarts of the killer? The film's screenplay offers a couple of genuine surprises - the murderer's planned piece de resistance is unexpected - but there's an overall pedestrian feeling about it, particularly in its killer-gets-his ending. In the ostentatious role of the celebrated criminologist who shuts herself off from the world, Weaver perfects the details of her character, down to the constant off-and-on grapplings with a pair of eyeglasses. Hunter is all no-nonsense as a detective investigating the seemingly unrelated murders, but if she isn't careful, those tics and mannerisms may soon become an acting clichŽ. Her symbiotic rhythm with fellow detective Mulroney, however, is pretty good; their characters are appealingly in sync with each other. Despite the freshness of their chemistry, most of Copycat feels way too familiar. As its title indicates, it's lacking in imagination, a movie with too few original thoughts in its head. (10/27/95)

2.5 stars (S.D.)

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


D: C arl Franklin; with Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals, Don Cheadle, Maury Chaykin, Terry Kinney, Lisa Nicole Carson. (R, 100 min.)
Mea n streets. They are what you expect to see in a detective thriller, streets pave d with corruption and washed in blood, streets on which a good man doesn't belon g. What you don't expect to see - and what Devil in a Blue Dress shows us, with great results - are not-so-mean streets, streets with homes and shops, streets p aved with hard work and washed in sweat, streets on which a good man may find a home. The story, adapted from Walter Mosley's novel, centers on Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins, a WWII vet whose pride and joy is his own home in 1948 L.A. Desperate to keep up the payments after he loses his job, Easy agrees to find the missing sweetheart of a mayoral candidate, which sends him down dark roads. Much of Devil in a Blue Dress follows the detective fiction formula: Its thugs are brutal, its events are driven by men of wealth and power, and the key to its secrets are held by an alluring woman. Where the story differs is its shading: Rawlins is black, and his world is black. This marginalizes our hero not only for his morality but for the color of his skin. It also offers us a milieu rarely seen, a world largely lost. Reviving that world may have been the most important thing about this film for screenwriter-director Franklin (One False Move). While he stages the genre material efficiently enough - the obligatory slugfests and gunfights are crisp and the scenes of confrontation are adequately tense - he doesn't give them the spark of other, less plot-oriented sequences: making small talk in a store below a speakeasy, sharing food and drink at a kitchen table with a grieving man, panning past crowds of African-Americans bustling along Central Avenue. These moments flash. In them, Tak Fujimoto's cinematography seems to catch the light especially vividly, the sounds of Franklin's exquisite soundtrack of period jazz seem particularly evocative of time and feeling, and the fine players (with Don Cheadle a standout as Easy's loyal but trigger-happy pal) seem to display an electric vitality. Even the supremely reliable Washington, whose fit into Rawlins is - what else? - easy, comes to life a touch more in these scenes. When he is at home, his pride in this place, in a good neighborhood of good people, is something to behold. On the mean streets, Devil is okay; but it's something special when it gets to Easy's street. (10/6/95)

3.5 stars (R.F.)



D: Gregg Araki; with James Duvall, Rose McGowan, Jonathon Schaech. (R, 95 min.)
Admittedly, Araki's new feature may not appeal to all tastes, but that does not at all diminish its immediacy and wit. This bloody roa d movie about two bored teenaged lovers, Amy Blue (McGowen) and Jordan White (Du vall), who get mixed up with the manipulative and violence-prone drifter Xavier Red (Schaech), contains images of sickening mayhem that are matched only by the director's inveterate romanticism. These alienated teens are TV babies, whose no tions about love and affection sound just as deep as the advertising slogans the y were reared on. Nicknamed X, Xavier adds an ambisexual challenge to the couple 's sexual diet; he adds, if you will, an X factor to the situation. Sex with Amy is consummated quickly, but X's homosexual come-ons to Jordan lead to the movie's concluding maelstrom of violence. This set-up is all the more interesting coming from Gregg Araki, whose earlier movies The Living End and Totally F***ed Up earned him a reputation as one of the pioneers of the Queer New Wave. The opening credits of The Doom Generation bill it as "a heterosexual movie by Gregg Araki." But Doom is really a lot more anarchic than that. It challenges the heterosexual status quo at most every turn: for example, the way in which most of the kisses are composed as three-shots, or the way Jordan brings his face close to X's and, instead of kissing him as anticipated, burps loudly. Doom is Araki's first movie shot in 35mm on a budget that required more than mere toes and fingers to count. The movie also had a sudden and much-publicized shift in distributors prior to its release. Yet, none of this has dampened Araki's unique blend of nihilism and romanticism fueled by a witty script and dynamic compositions. Of course, some of these compositions involve gross images like the newly severed head of a Quickie Mart manager that X felt compelled to kill still babbling and hollering from its new perch amidst the relish tray. The Doom Generation is also packed with loads of funny material, as well as a mountain of cameo performances from the likes of Margaret Cho, Heidi Fleiss, Perry Farrell of Jane's Addiction, Amanda Bearse of Married With Children, Lauren Tewes of The Love Boat, Christopher Knight of The Brady Bunch, and Dustin Nguyen of 21 Jump Street. The movie's soundtrack presents a relentless driving force featuring music by the Jesus & Mary Chain, Nine Inch Nails, Cocteau Twins, Pizzicato Five, Love & Rockets, and much, much more. More than any other filmmaker making movies about the new "kids" generation, it seems to me that Araki - with both Doom and Totally F***ked Up - has his finger tuned most acutely to the human pulse and not just the lens shutter. (11/3/95)

3.5 stars (M.B.)



D: Andrew Sipes; with William Baldwin, Cindy Crawford, Steven Berkoff, Christopher McDonald. (R, 89 min.)
Very slick and extremely silly, not to mention aptly titled, Fair Game is just that - a noisy actioner so inanely scripted, acted, and directed that it practically begs you to make fun of it. In her first starring role, model-turned-actress Cindy Crawford says little and does even less as leggy Kate McQueen, a civil attorney on the run from a gang of nasty KGB assassins. Following her uninspired lead is William Baldwin as Max Kirkpatrick, a reckless, cigar-smoking Miami cop assigned to protect Crawford from the renegade Russkies. Charlie Fletcher's screenplay (based on a novel no less) is one hoary clichŽ after another, and is filled with a number of dialogue groaners ("I was hoping to demo your unit," Crawford purrs while seducing a computer nerd), in addition to being structured in such a way that the forward motion of the plot is wholly dependent on both the good and bad guys continuously doing stupid things. The performances aren't any better, with Baldwin coming off like a cheap Bruce Willis wannabe and Crawford making for a pretty ineffective heroine, spending most of her screen time either cowering, screaming, or undressing. There are one or two neat stunts - a chase scene involving a burning tow truck is handled with some imagination - but for the most part, even the action scenes are limp, marred by confusing compositions and weirdly sped-up photography. Realizing that Fair Game's chief asset lies in the curvy bodies of its attractive stars, director Sipes makes sure to keep them constantly on display in skimpy clothing, even allowing time for a totally illogical, hilariously unerotic sex scene midway through the picture. And there you have Fair Game - sex, guns, and explosions served up with no rhyme, reason, or flair. With some knowing humor, maybe this could've been a campy time-waster; as it is, it's an embarrassingly bubble-headed bore. (11/10/95)

0 stars (J.O.)

Highland, Movies 12, Roundrock, Westgate


D: Barry Sonnenfeld; with John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, David Paymer. (R, 105 min.)
It's said that Hollywood can be a tough and ruthless town, a real killer. Therefore, who better to grab all that bull by the horns th an an out-and-out, legitimate gangster? That's the premise of this very funny ne w comedy Get Shorty. When a small-time loan shark from Miami, Chili Palmer (Trav olta), is sent to Los Angeles to find a dry cleaner who skipped on his debt, thi s movie-loving gangster seizes the opportunity to change careers. Chili's trail has led him to Harry Zimm (Hackman, in one of the best performances of his alrea dy outstanding career) of Zimm Filmz, a one-man production empire that churns out cheesy movies starring Harry's B-movie queen girlfriend Karen Flores (Russo). In his perpetual quest for funding, Harry has built up a hefty Vegas debt and, in turn, borrows from some L.A. gangsters (Lindo and Gandolfini) in order to keep his affairs afloat. But this is Hollywood, babe, where all the waiters are actors, the video store clerks are directors, and the gangsters are "investors." Thus, with a story pitch about the runaway dry cleaner and some assistance with funding acquisition, Chili is now a producer. Get Shorty was adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel by screenwriter Scott Frank (Little Man Tate). The film is wickedly hilarious but more in a droll and knowing kind of sense than a har-de-har-har manner. Director Sonnenfeld (the Addams Family films) originally worked as a cinematographer and his eye for composition truly shows. The performances are all great. Travolta demonstrates that his Pulp Fiction return to stardom was no one-trick fluke; Hackman works against type and walks away with many of the film's best comic bits; Russo does a delightful turn as a scream queen who sees a brighter future in producing; Lindo creates a wonderful wiseguy who'd kill to get into the film business; and DeVito creates a one-of-a-kind portrait of the actor who's at the top of everyone's A-list. The only slip-up here is with the characterization of the mob guy played by Dennis Farina: It's an awkward and unbelievable mixture of violent menace and ridiculous buffoonery. Get Shorty creates its own distinct rhythm that, takes a few sequences to adjust to and, perhaps, is a bit too slow overall. One thing is certain: Danny DeVito's production company Jersey Films is turning into a major industry force. After a slow start with Hoffa, the company scored big with Reality Bites and John Travolta's comeback Pulp Fiction. Get Shorty is sure to continue that success. (10/20/95)

3.5 stars (M.B.)

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


D: Kevin James Dobson; with Anna Chlumsky, Christina Ricci, Polly Draper, Brian Kerwin, Diana Scarwid, David Keith. (PG, 93 min.)
Adventure movies starring two adolescent girls are hardly commonplace and that, sadly, is virtually the only aspect of Gold Diggers that could be regarded as remarkable or unusual. It's a better-than-average kid's picture about the friendship struck between a newcomer and the town's teen outcast (whose community isolation, as we come to learn, is due as much to family turmoil and physical abuse as it is to the cruelties of peer pressure). Christina Ricci is the newcomer, Beth, who has just moved from Los Angeles to the bucolic Northwest. Anna Chlumsky is the outcast tomboy Jody whose plan to mine gold from Bear Mountain may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Her plan is based on the regional legend of Molly Maguire, a gold rush pioneer and escaped convict whose maps Jody has acquired. The girls bond and, in the course of events, come to save each others' lives. Through their loyalty and smarts, they expose the hidden violence inflicted by Jody's mother's boyfriend, they direct the sheriff through the steps of the rescue procedure, they pilot a boat, and discover the secret of Bear Mountain. Ricci (Addams Family, Casper) is a brilliant young actress and someone I'd pick as most likely to mature in the Jodie Foster mold of kid-to-grown-up stardom. Chlumsky's (My Girl) capabilities appear to diminish into the shadow of Ricci's orbit. Her adolescent awkwardness seems more a part of her own personal make-up than a part of the fictional Jody's. She makes you wish that she had learned more from those young Kristy McNichol tomboy roles than from her former co-star Macaulay Culkin. The adult performances are generally rudderless with Polly Draper especially seeming as if she were acting in some other movie. Australian director Dobson provides listless guidance and focus. Thus, while Gold Diggers is a movie that casts young girls in an encouraging spotlight, the fill light surrounding them is too faint and murky to create a completely satisfying composite. (11/10/95)

2.5 stars (M.B.)

Great Hills, Highland, Movies 12


D: Jodie Foster; with Holly Hunter, Robert Downey, Jr., Anne Bancroft, Charles Durning, Dylan McDermott, Geraldine Chaplin, Steve Guttenberg, Cynthia Stevenson, Claire Danes. (PG-13, 104 min.)
I wished I liked this movie more than I did. Iron ically, that's something of the feeling I think director Foster is trying to cap ture in Home for the Holidays - not in regard to her movie, of course, but in re gard to that universal feeling we all share about the ritual of going home: the dread, the constant reminders of why you left, the corny predictability, and, despite it all, the overwhelming comfort gained from the knowledge that there exists a "home" to which you can return. Maybe it's just that I have higher ambitions for family life than the port-in-a-storm scenario seemingly posed by Home for the Holidays. Overall, the movie stresses the more painful and awkward moments; moments that might be classified as "heartwarming" are rare. This results in a very cynical tone and I suspect that was not the desired effect. Perhaps the aim was for a tone that was more knowing and wryly comical, but as it stands, Home for the Holidays is a very mixed bag. The performances are all pleasurable to watch, although I must admit that Hunter's mannerisms are starting to seem a bit worn to me. However, Downey, Jr., as Hunter's gay brother, can do no wrong in my book. Durning and Bancroft make a believable, long-married couple and Bancroft's homage to her role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate as she strips down to her bra and slip is just breathtaking. Yet too many things about the movie are implausible. Claudia (Hunter), who begins the movie with a bad head cold, loses it suddenly and miraculously with nary a trace. It's also hard to believe that someone like Claudia who journeys home out of a sense of obligation and "good daughter" responsibilities would, in turn, allow her own daughter (Danes) to stay home and not also make the trek. I could go on with examples for a while. But the big thing that I can't figure is the movie's ending which shows Claudia giving in and taking a chance on love. Is that what this whole family hegira was about... to find a handsome stranger and start all over again? There so many likable moments in Home for the Holidays that nail situations so aptly that it's a shame that there are so many more moments that leave you scratching your head and wondering what to think. (11/3/95)

2.5 stars (M.B.)

Arbor, Lake Creek, Lakehills, Lincoln, Movies 12, Riverside


D: Jocelyn Moorhouse; with Winona Ryder, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Dermot Mulroney, Maya Angelou, Kate Nelligan, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, Alfre Woodard, Samantha Mathis, Kate Capshaw. (PG-13, 109 min.)
How to Make an American Quilt blankets the audien ce with warm and fuzzy sentiments. In most ways, it's a nice enough movie. My pr oblems with it stem from its clear desire to be something more than a "nice enou gh movie," to become a mouthpiece for timeless wisdom and transcendent truths. T he movie equates the evolution of love and the art of quilt making: Both bring diverse, contrasting, and conflicting elements to the overall mix but beauty is found through balanced placement and patchwork. Ryder serves as the hub of the story, a graduate student named Finn who is working to complete her third stab at a master's thesis. She is spending the summer at the country home of her grandmother (Burstyn) and Aunt Gladys Joe (Bancroft) despite the fact that her live-in boyfriend (Mulroney) has just proposed marriage. In between working on her thesis and chatting with the women who gather at the house for their regular quilting bee, Finn wonders whether it's better to marry a best friend or a best lover. Pardon my lack of suspense here, but it's obvious that anyone who searches for the correct answer to such a question is someone incapable of abandoning security for sexual impulse. The primary problem with How to Make an American Quilt, which was adapted from the bestselling novel by Whitney Otto, is its narrative structure. Each of the characters represents a quilt panel and the story of each panel is told discreetly, one by one by one. Yes, we get a sense of how their lives interconnect but the movie's end result is more like a series of character outlines than a fleshed-out narrative fabric. In other words, it's too much "how-to" and not enough "quilt." Perhaps it's just that I expected so much more from Jocelyn Moorhouse, the Australian director whose debut film Proof, about a blind photographer, was so penetrating and perverse. Certainly, How to Make an American Quilt has numerous good points, as well, and is far from a chore to watch. Next to Showgirls, this movie has probably provided women with the largest number of onscreen roles in any Hollywood production this year. And this particular group of actresses really does shine however, and it's a complete delight to watch them work. Their warm camaraderie cannot salvage this predictable script. (10/6/95)

2.0 stars (M.B.)

Great Hills


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

4.5 stars (M.S.)



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

2.0 stars (S.D.)



D: Lesli Linka Glatter; with Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman, Thora Birch, Ashleigh Aston Moore, Rosie O'Donnell, Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith, Rita Wilson. (PG-13, 96 min.)
We need more films about girls - big girls and little girls. But as much as Lesli Linka Glatter's debut feature promises to be a Stand By Me for girls, Now and Then fails in its attempt to portray both the present and the past with equal success. It's sweet and it's often funny, but ultimately its slice-of-life approach tries too hard to incorporate current events like the Vietnam War. Set predominantly in the summer of 1970, Now and Then describes a summer in which four 12-year-olds from Shelby, Indiana, save their money to buy a room of their own in the form of a treehouse from Sears. Roberta (Ricci), Samantha (Hoffman), Teeny (Birch), and Chrissy (Aston Moore) are four friends who spend the summer conducting seances, trading pranks with the local family of terrorizing boys, and saving their "treehouse dollars." The four young actresses effectively convey that on-the-verge feeling between puberty and teen-hood, and smaller roles played by Janeane Garofalo, Bonnie Hunt, and Cloris Leachman provide entertaining distractions. However, less effective are the present-day segments in which the girls are played by an interesting combination of bankable adult actresses: O'Donnell as Roberta, Demi Moore as Samantha, Griffith as Teeny, and Wilson as Chrissy. Trailers for the film shrewdly play both sides against the middle by marketing the film toward adults and young girls, but viewers expecting to see the adult actresses as much as their younger counterparts will be disappointed. Bracketing the film in two segments that bring Teeny and Samantha back to Shelby for the birth of Chrissy's first child (delivered by Roberta, now an obstetrician), the scenes and the actresses fall flat in an attempt to cram a reunion, a birth, and a reconciliation with the past into less than 20 minutes of screen time. Now and Then somewhat successfully pushes all the right emotional buttons by depicting themes common to most young girls, but I expected more, not less, from the now in Now and Then. (10/27/95)

2.5 stars (A.M.)

Great Hills, Highland, Movies 12, Roundrock, Westgate


D: George Ratliff. (NR, 73 min.)
This is a reprint of the Austin Chronicle review that ran in March when this film premiered in Austin at the SXSW FIlm Festival. Texas mystique will receive a boost as big as anything since the Dallas heydays if The Plutonium Circus gets the audience it deserves. Ratliff opens his film conventionally enough, with black-and-white graphics giving solemn voice to the history of Pantex, a Department of Energy nuclear weapons plant located in the Texas Panhandle just outside of Amarillo. In fact, much of this 73-minute documentary has a pedestrian look to it: relatively static shots of each subject, with identifying icons filling out the frame. We see the weathered roughneck with an oil derrick pumping away behind him, the demure young couple sitting on a porch swing, the earnest priest haloed by the light of a rose window, the irascible artist in front of the Cadillacs he has embedded in the windswept Texas soil. Rarely have I had so much fun watching people talk. The conventional framing gives a serene, if somewhat surreal, balance to the wonderfully out-of-kilter monologues the interviewees deliver. The controversial decision to store "the deadliest substance known to man" on the outskirts of a city and on top of an environmentally sensitive aquifer (ostensibly the raison d'�tre for the documentary) takes a twelfth-Cadillac-back seat to the colorful Amarillians voicing their opinions about it. Pantex is merely the ringmaster at this circus, holding the star attractions together but commanding no real audience appeal. Who can concentrate on the issues when an eccentric millionaire is showing you a picture of the 350-pound transvestite he hired to escort him to his high school reunion or when the Pantex PR man/city commissioner/Amarillo booster winks at you during his country-western karaoke performance? Ratliff recognized the real high-flying acts when he saw them and wisely gave them center ring. A mesmerizing tightrope walk between the mundane and the bizarre, The Plutonium Circus deserves a place under the big top. (10/20/95)

4.0 stars (H.C.)



D: Victor DeSalva; with Mary Steenburgen, Sean Patrick Flanery, Lance Henricksen, Jeff Goldblum, Susan Tyrell. (PG-13, 111 min.)
Halfway through this visually arresting, controve rsy-embroiled film, I found myself thinking that perhaps this might have been si milar to what might have resulted if Rod Serling had written and directed Forrest Gump instead of Robert Zemeckis. Certainly, Powder's director Victor DeSalva is acquainted with The Twilight Zone: There's plenty of Serling's brand of misty-eyed fantasy and loss of innocence here. But DeSalva isn't really a storyteller. Serling was (though not beyond that seminal show's first two seasons). Powder's premise starts strong - a teenaged genius suffering from the dual pangs of albinism and an odd propensity to attract large jolts of electrical current is thrust into the world when his caretakers die and he becomes a ward of the state. Taken to the state home for wayward and parentless youth (exactly what state this is we're never told, nor does it matter), Powder (Flanery) is immediately and predictably ostracized by his bullying peers. Only the social worker Mary Steenburgen is in his corner and, perhaps, Henricksen's gruff local sheriff. When given a chance to attend the regular high school on a trial basis, he literally electrifies both his peers and local science prof Goldblum. As a tale of an outsider and teenage angst taken to its dangerous, passionate extreme, the film has echoes of everything from Brian DePalma's Carrie to Nicolas Roeg's The Man Who Fell to Earth, and, at times, it's every bit as exhilarating as either of those films. DeSalva stumbles, though, when he overplays his emotional hand. Subplots having to do with family reconciliations and cut-and-paste schoolyard bullies constantly threaten to drag the film down to the level of a trippy after-school special. It never quite falls flat on its face - Flanery's nervous, riveting portrayal of Powder just won't let it - but occasionally it dips mighty close (as in the predictable doomed-romance clichŽ). Despite the obvious problems, though, Powder retains a lyrical shine. It's a modern fable, and at the heart of it, a rather depressing one at that. But that doesn't make it any less magical. (11/3/95)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Great Hills, Highland, Lake Creek, Lakehills, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock


D: David Fincher; with Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Richard Roundtree, R. Lee Ermey, John C. McGinley. (R, 107 min.)
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. (9/29/95)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Great Hills, Highland, Lincoln, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate


D: Steven M. Martin. (PG-13, 85 min.)
Some stories just write themselves. This fascinati ng documentary about the life of Leon Theremin is wilder than anything a storyte ller might have imagined. The Russian-born Theremin was an electronics genius wh o invented the strange contraption that became the world's first electronic musi cal instrument. Named after him, the theremin is that eerie-sounding instrument that Hollywood has used to good effect for its ethereal ooooo-eeeee-ooooo sound. Brian Wilson used it, too, in the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations." The instrument is a device containing an electromagnetic force field that is controlled by the movement of a musician's hands which never touch the instrument itself. In 1922, Theremin demonstrated it in the Kremlin for Lenin. In 1928, Theremin sold out Carnegie Hall and became a New York celebrity. In 1938, he was kidnapped, presumably by the KGB, from his New York apartment and reports of his death circulated thereafter. But just as some stories can write themselves, other stories require detective work and research. Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey falls into the latter category as well. In recent years, Theremin was discovered by a reporter to be alive in Russia and director Martin tracked him down 1991 and sponsored the 95-year-old Theremin's return to the United States. It turns out that, after exiling Theremin to Siberian labor camps for "rehabilitation," the Soviets had the electronics genius masterminding their Cold War eavesdropping equipment. Theremin's return to the New York City that he no longer knows is quite touching. He is also unaware of the huge impact the theremin has had on popular American culture. The filmmaker interviews a variety of people in telling this story: amongst them are Clara Rockmore, Theremin's protege and early paramour who still performs as a theremin virtuoso; Dr. Robert Moog, the pioneer of synthesized music who began his career building theremins; and rock innovators Brian Wilson and Todd Rundgren. Martin also makes wonderful use of performance footage, newspaper items, home movies, Hollywood movie clips, and posters to illustrate the tale. Theremin is a blend of great subject matter and a well-told story and, furthermore, proves that sometimes things are stranger than fiction. (10/27/95)

4.0 stars (M.B.)



D: Wes Craven; with Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, Zakes Mokae. (R, 103 min.)
Horror comedies are a schizophrenic lot: More often then not, they go overboard in one direction while falling flat in the other. John Landis' American Werewolf in London and the Nicolas Cage vehicle Vampire's Kiss are the exceptions that prove the rule, but unfortunately, the take on the genre adopted by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes) only reinforces the stereotype. Murphy is Maximillian, the last in a long lineage of Egyptian vampires searching for a half-breed female vampire (Bassett) with whom to mate. For some unknown reason, she's gravitated to Brooklyn, where, unaware of her heritage, she works as a police detective alongside her partner Justice (Payne). Once ensconced in a Brooklyn tenement, Maximillian creates a Renfield-esque henchman out of local clocker Julius (Hardison) and gets to work trying to woo Bassett's Rita with fine food and piercing looks. Murphy seems to have patterned his nosferatu after Gary Oldman's turn in Coppola's Dracula, down to the elaborately coifed hair and spectacles, but what worked for one wurdelak won't necessarily work for another. Murphy's vampire comes off as Dracula lite, full of pithy quips one moment and cheesy, oft-repeated special effects the next. Bassett, for her part, adds the only real flair to a film that suffers from everything-but-the-kitchen-sink syndrome. Torn between this mysterious stranger and her unresolved feeling towards her partner Justice, she's the emotional hub of a stunningly unemotional film. Craven does his best to imbue the proceedings with simple terror - the opening shots of Maximillian's ghost ship cruising unchecked into the Port of Brooklyn are nicely staged, but there's nothing at all to equal the dreadnaught chills of that one scene for the remainder of the film. Neither all that scary nor all that hilarious, Vampire in Brooklyn falls directly between the two, into the valley of mediocrity. (10/27/95)

2.0 stars (M.S.)

Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate


D: AndrŽ TŽchinŽ; with Gael Morel, Elodie Bouchez, Stephane Rideau, Frederic Gorny, Michele Moretti. (NR, 110 min.)
Certain scenes in TŽchinŽ's award-winning film Wild Reeds crackle with unresolved sexual tension: Two attractive boys speed on a sco oter through golden-hued farmland in rural France, one with his arms wrapped lov ingly, almost desperately, around the other. These moments are quite powerful. T hey have a way of carrying the more mundane scenes in which young boarding school friends Francois (Morel), Maite (Bouchez), and Serge (Rideau) analyze their feelings and desires almost incessantly. A type of Jules and Jim for the younger crowd, Wild Reeds follows these three youths in France in 1962 toward the end of the Algerian War. Complicating the triangle is the presence of an older student Henri (Gorny), a man who both repels and intrigues Francois and Serge, but perhaps affects Maite, the schoolteacher's (Moretti) daughter, most dramatically. Although Francois shares an intense relationship with Maite, the two have not become physically involved. Francois feels "reassured" by his soulmate Maite, but he is not as certain of his sexual orientation because of his strong attraction to and feelings for Serge (with whom he shares a sexual encounter) and the older Henri. Maite is not so much confused as she is not quite willing to give herself to a man, seeing the act of sex for the power dynamic it often becomes. In addition to affecting performances by all the principals, TŽchinŽ's coming-of-age story foregrounds lush images of the French countryside beautifully photographed by Jeanne Lapoirie. Wild Reeds swept this year's Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Oscar) for best picture, director, screenplay, and young new actress (Bouchez), and it deserves much of the praise it has received. However, Wild Reeds may not be for every viewer. Its story is distinctly French in the way it focuses on interior dilemmas and privileges mental action over physical drama. To this end, TŽchinŽ's camera fluidly celebrates the conflicts of each character as it glides through close-ups, which are most effective on the face of actress Bouchez whose features clearly convey a range of adolescent emotions. While the story of Wild Reeds may be at times unbearably obscure, the images infuse the film with a drama and beauty that is unrelenting in its impact. (11/10/95)

3.0 stars (A.M.)



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