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Norma Jean & Marilyn

March 7, 1997, Screens

D: Tim Fywell; with Mira Sorvino, Ashley Judd, Josh Charles, Ron Rifkin, David Dukes.
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

The juxtapositions and duality of Marilyn Monroe's life are illustrated with chilling literalness in HBO's Norma Jean & Marilyn. Judd, as Norma Jean Baker before her Hollywood makeover, and Sorvino, as the actress after the metamorphosis into Marilyn, occupy the screen at the same time as separate characters. What sounds like a hokey gimmick instead offers an opportunity to peek into the haunting interior of Marilyn's world as personal ambition sends her up the movie star ladder and personal demons drag her back down. Fywell casts Marilyn's life in the same eerie light he brought to his two other BBC productions, A Fatal Inversion and A Dark, Affected Eye. 1995's best actress Academy Award-winner, Mira Sorvino, joins forces with Wynona's younger sister, Ashley Judd, in presenting a cautionary tale that will scare any fiercely ambitious woman into a long, hard look in the mirror.

-- Kayte VanScoy


2 Days in the Valley

D: John Herzfeld; with Danny Aiello, Greg Cruttwell, Jeff Daniels, Teri Hatcher, Glenne Headly, Peter Horton, Marsha Mason, Paul Mazursky, James Spader, Eric Stoltz, Charlize Theron.
VHS Home Video

2 Days in the Valley

It may not be the last, but 2 Days in the Valley is certainly the best of the long procession of films to pay homage to Pulp Fiction since that film hit the screens in 1994. Combining a plot that weaves a dozen main characters into a heavily violent story sounds almost too familiar, but writer-director Herzfeld (coming from a career in television) manages to infuse 2 Days with a freshness that belies its derivative origins. Basically the story of an intricate scam gone wrong, Spader turns in one of the best performances of his career, and Aiello, Headly, and Cruttwell stand out as well. Herzfeld's writing is consistently witty and blackly comedic, and he manages to fold in some unexpectedly powerful themes about bygone happiness, greed, and desperation.

-- Christopher Null


Blood Simple

Blood Simple

D: Joel Coen; with John Getz, Frances McDormand, Dan Hedaya, Samm-Art Williams, M. Emmet Walsh.
VHS Home Video
Encore Movies & Music, 8820 Burnet

The same minds that created Fargo, arguably one of the best movies of 1996, are also responsible for this earlier film noir set in a Texas town. Blood Simple is a tale full of twists and turns that leaves you struggling to figure out what will happen next. Frances McDormand fans will enjoy her magnetic portrayal of a confused wife whose affair leads to murder. As is par for the course when it comes to Joel and Ethan Coen's handiwork, Blood Simple is heavily stylistic; this time almost to a fault. Each shot is deliberately constructed to convey vast amounts of information as well as to be aesthetically pleasing, an exacting quality which detracts from the action of the film. Above all else, though, Blood Simple is a solid movie that knows how to keep you on the edge of your seat. Plus, viewers can witness the seeds of the Coens' compositional brilliance and the emergence of their unique balance of suspense and humor. -- Adrienne Martini


To Catch a Thief

D: Alfred Hitchcock; with Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Auber, Jessie Royce Landis, Charles Vanel, John Williams.
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th St.

Cary Grant is dashing, Grace Kelly is elegant, the French Riviera is stunning. No mystery there. The question is, if John Robie (Grant), the notorious cat burglar, isn't stealing all the jewels in France, then who can it be? Robie sets off an adventure to uncover the copycat thief and finds American heiress Frances Stevens (Kelly) adamant about coming along for the ride. Although Kelly only made one more film in Hollywood (1956's High Society) before being whisked off to Monaco, she was already carrying herself like a princess. Frances Stevens is a terrific female character, at once divinely demure and dangerously indiscrete. Although To Catch a Thief took home 1955's Oscar for best cinematography, it isn't one of Hitchcock's more gripping thrillers. However, this movie overflows with the sort of pomp and pageantry you might expect to surround true Hollywood royalty. -- Kayte VanScoy


Tempest 2000

CD-ROM for Windows 95
Interplay

During its premiere year of 1981, Tempest, Atari's space ace up their sleeve, created a boom loud enough to jostle the ears of the Kremlin. Retrofitted with 3D-style graphics and "90 death-defying levels," Interplay is hoping to reignite the fuse. However, this new version styles a second debut with all the combustion of a cherry-flavored Pop Rock. Overpriced and uninspired, Tempest 2000 comes equipped with three variations of the original: Tempest Plus, Tempest 2000, and Tempest Duel, all of which add up to nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Even with the addition of a truly annoying techno-rave soundtrack, and a "trusty A.I. Droid" that makes R2-D2 look state-of-the-art, Tempest 2000 serves only as a reminder of how far game design has evolved. The arcade action is about as exhilarating as matching one side of a Rubik's Cube. In all fairness, there is one feature that deserves a whit of praise -- an easy-to find uninstall button.

-- Marcel Meyer

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