Scan Lines

Independence Day

D: Roland Emmerich; with Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, James Rebhorn, Harvey Fierstein.
VHS Home Video

Independence Day
Either you love it, or you hate it; there's no middle ground in the great Independence Day debate of 1996. But regardless of where you end up, ID4 is a phenomenon that has already had a profound impact on cinema by bringing back the classic disaster movie -- and it's a true must-see for that reason. While somewhat lost on the small screen, the film's special effects are the real stand-outs, with the now-famous White House demolition, and my personal favorite, the nuclear destruction of my loathsome hometown, Houston. Part paranoia, part feel-good Americanism (even though director and co-scriptwriter Emmerich is German), the movie borrows plots and characters from a dozen other films, effectively turning the whole thing into one giant cliché. You can either roll your eyes or just let go of all the plot holes, physical impossibilities, and hackneyed dialogue, and ID4 becomes one of the most amusing films of the year. It's one or the other: Either you get the joke, or you don't.

-- Christopher Null

Big Business

D: Jim Abrahams; with Bette Midler, Lily Tomlin, Fred Ward, Edward Herrmann, Michele Placido, Barry Primus.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

With less vivacious and skilled comedians, this movie could have easily fallen apart at the opening frame. To be honest, there are plenty of people who don't like this sort of schtick, but Midler and Tomlin are having the times of their lives, four to be exact, as they play two sets of identical twins mismatched at birth in a rural hospital. One set lives in New York City, the other in the backwoods. Unlike most misidentification flicks, this film's humor does not rely solely upon the fact that the twins are mismatched. The country twins (from the hamlet of Jupiter Hollow) travel to New York to confront the New York owners of Moramax, a firm that wants to close the factory that provides the livelihood for the town. It just so happens that the New York twins own Moramax. Midler's hauteur as the vicious company boss perfectly complements Tomlin's role as the flaky sister, and vice versa.

-- Clay Smith

Let's Talk About Me

CD-ROM for Mac or PC

Remember the Ungame, that brainchild of the 1970s? With no way to win or lose, the point was only to bounce around the board talking about yourself. Let's Talk About Me, the first product from Austin-based GirlGames, is another ungame but this time it's being marketed to the people who love to talk about themselves the most, pubescent girls. Divided into sections titled My Body, My Future, My Personality, and My Life, girls are able to explore just about everything that interests them from boys and clothes to dream analysis and astrology. Excellent sections like CyberPals and SportsPals introduce players to girls from all over the world who, they will find, are very much like themselves. Many of the "games" could have been made easier to understand. I found myself having to go to the help box for every new section. But if I'd had this CD in junior high, I would have been in hog heaven, typing in the diary and taking romance quizzes on my computer. Let's Talk About Me is the ideal stocking stuffer for that phone-monopolizing, note-passing teen girl in your life. -- Kayte VanScoy

The Low Life

D: George Hickenlooper; with Rory Cochrane, Sean Astin, James LeGros, Kyra Sedgwick, Ron Livingston, Christian Meoli, J.T. Walsh, Bill Boll.
VHS Home Video
I Luv Video, 4631 Airport Blvd.

The Low Life
John Martin (Cochrane) lands in Los Angeles intending to foster his writing career, but finds himself in a temp agency separating credit card slips into two piles. Writing falls to the wayside as he's distracted by drunken nights at the local dive bar, the lure of an older woman (a southern vamp cut and pasted straight from a Tennessee Williams play), and the invasive antics of his roommate Andrew, the just-a-little-too-nice, small-town boy who still has his senior song by Journey committed to memory. Writer-director Hickenlooper's cynically refreshing reminder of life beneath the glass ceiling of fame and recognition will have many a Generation X-er nodding knowingly. The intelligent dialogue (sometimes self-indulgent) balanced with the quietly suggestive visual narrative creates an ensnaring subtext that keeps us wondering. (Incidentally, The Low Life made its regional premiere in the 1996 SXSW Film Festival.) The sterling performances from indie favorites Cochrane (Dazed and Confused) and LeGros (Living in Oblivion) bring the full-bodied characters to life from the first swill to the last swallow.

-- Stephany Baskin

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