Archive of 1999 Reviews

Rating System:

*A loser, a bomb. Miss it at all costs.

**An acceptable film, but not much more.

***A decent film with some virtues.

****An excellent film. Recommended highly.

*****A one of a kind. A great film.

1999 Films

"Dick"-When I lived in Washington during the Watergate years, I had the joking theory that The Washington Post's Woodward and Bernstein fell into the Watergate story by accident. This movie confirms that I'm not the only one who believed that their winning the Pulitzer Prize was nothing more than a lucky fluke. Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams cleverly play two 15-year-olds who find themselves in the middle of both the Watergate break-in and the Nixon White House coverup. While "Dick" has some slow moments, generally it's a funny take-off on one of the lowest points in our history. Notable are Dave Foley as Haldeman, Dan Hedaya as Nixon, Saul Rubinek as Kissinger, and Harry Shearer as G. Gordon Liddy. The funniest scenes are those of Rubinek as Kissinger arguing with the two girls about the merits of the Vietnam war. Video *** (12/24/99)

"Summer of Sam"-Spike Lee has here created New York at its absolute worst. It was the summer of 1977, it was very hot, and a killer was stalking couples in cars. Lee has turned this awful experience into a commentary about a group of low class New Yorkers whose lives seem to revolve around sex, drugs, power, and four letter words. John Leguizamo is Vinny, the husband of the beautiful Dionna, played by Mira Sorvino. Vinny is unfaithful, using drugs, and worried that he may have been seen by the .44 caliber killer, later known as "Son of Sam." Back to the neighborhood comes Ritchie (Adrien Brody), a local boy turned punk, who, despite having spiked hair, engaging in male prostitution and porn, and being forced to live in his mother's garage, seems the sanest and most reasonable of the whole neighborhood crew. And it's a neighborhood populated by loudmouth creeps who think they know the identity of the killer. Lee, who does a turn as a seemingly inept TV newscaster, doesn't let up in this script which simply goes too far. This movie had potential, but one can only take filth and violence for so long. The film runs 2 hours and 20 minutes and at approximately the 2 hour mark, I realized that I no longer cared about the characters and wished Lee would wrap it up. The highlight of the film for me was Adrien Brody's marvelous portrayal of the punk Ritchie. Also making appearances were Ben Gazzara, Patti LuPone, Bebe Neuwirth, and Anthony LaPaglia. DVD *** (12/19/99)

"Run Lola Run"-Without a doubt this is one of the most original and strangely satisfying films I've seen in a long time. To describe it is simply inadequate. Lola (Franka Potente) is a young German woman with wonderfully bright and obviously artificially colored red hair, wearing green pants, who is confronted with a frantic call from her boy friend, Manni. It seems Manni has lost a great deal of money that he received in a drug deal and knows that he will be killed unless he can produce the money. He's got 20 minutes and Lola promises to do something in that time. And something she does. She runs. Down the stairs and for seeming miles, trying to reach her father who is a banker. To avoid giving away anything, I'll simply say that the film tests time, reality, and fortitude. Watching Lola run, seemingly effortlessly, to the pulsating sound of the rock film score is surprisingly pleasant. The film has a life of its own and is uniquely European in its concept and sensitivity. I can't imagine an American director making anything like this. Video **** (12/18/99)

"Drop Dead Gorgeous"-Done in the form of a mockumentary, this biting tale about a teen beauty pageant in Minnesota, obviously paying some homage to "Fargo," simply goes too far. It cynically tears to shreds the insipid nature of much of middle America's cultural values, but is in dire need of a better editing job. Kirstie Alley is appropriately obnoxious as the wealthy mother of the leading contestant for the contest who is doing everything she can to guarantee that she can pick a winner, and Denise Richards is appropriately sexy and inane as Alley's arrogant and talentless daughter. Ellen Barkin does her usual wacky job as the mother of the other main contestant, a sensible and actually somewhat talented young lady played quite well by Kirsten Dunst. One watches this film in amused horror. It's on the right track, but it's just too much. Need I mention the local pageant "talent" scene in which Denise Richards' character sings "You're Just Too Good To Be True" and dances with a statue of Jesus on the cross? Video *** (12/18/99)

"Autumn Tale"-Eric Rohmer, the French director who is now 79, makes films about human beings and their peculiarities, flaws, and personalities. Among his many great films are "Claire's Knee," "Chloe In The Afternoon," and "Le Beau Mariage." Early on, he did six moral tales, and now this film completes his series of four seasons. In "Autumn Tale," Beatrice Romand plays Magali, an earthy wine grower in the Rhone Valley, who is a widow and who seems to have little time for men despite her desires. Marie Riviere is her more elegant friend Isabelle, whose daughter is about to be married and who decides to place an ad to find a man for Magali. Alexia Portal plays Rosine, Magali's son's girlfriend, who cares more for Magali as a friend than for Magali's son as a lover. Rosine is also up to matchmaking, attempting to match Magali and Etienne (Diedier Sandre), Rosine's teacher and former lover. The film has magic moments, but they are subtle. Alain Libolt, for example, is wonderful as Gerald, the lonely man found and somewhat enticed by Isabelle. When Gerald and Magali meet at Isabelle's daughter's wedding, the nervousness of the meeting is palpable and the spark of attraction is superbly demonstrated. People's emotions are real in this film. The little games, the attractions, the standoffishness, the desires all are revealed as they would be in real life. As almost always in French films, there is little action. This is a film of talk, but it is also film that is wonderfully human and superbly acted. Despite some new industry, the Rhone Valley looks gorgeous. Video **** (12/12/99)

"The Dreamlife of Angels"-The story of two down and out young women in France, searching for work and for some meaning in life could be a deadly dull one. But not this film. Isa (Elodie Bouchez) is a spunky 21-year-old who finds herself in Lille working in a nightmarish garment job only to wind up living with a found friend and co-worker, Marie (Natacha Regnier). Marie has been caring for the apartment of a mother and daughter seriously injured in a car accident and Isa, finding the diary of the young girl (who is in a coma), begins to find meaning in visiting her in the hospital and trying to communicate with her. Meanwhile, Marie, having a completely different view of life, is throwing herself at an arrogant wealthy young bar owner (Gregoire Colin). The performances of these two young women are extraordinary and each was properly rewarded with the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award. This film deservedly won various European film awards. Natacha Regnier is utterly convincing as the beautiful but lost Marie. Elodie Bouchez is truly delightful as the more alive and thoughtful Isa. I highly recommend this film to anyone who likes serious and well acted films. Video **** (12/11/99)

"The Love Letter"-This is a most pleasant little film about a group of people in a New England seacoast town who are variously affected by an anonymous love letter. Kate Capshaw stars as Helen MacFarquhar, a divorced bookstore owner, who finds the letter and believes it is meant for her. But who wrote it? The cast is quite good, including, somewhat surprisingly, Tom Selleck who plays a man who has loved Helen for years without her knowledge. Others in this delightful ensemble cast are Ellen DeGeneres as Helen's friend and bookstore manager, Blythe Danner as Helen's mother, Geraldine McEwan as a local woman of character, Gloria Stuart as Helen's grandmother, and Julianne Nicholson as an employee of the bookstore. Tom Everett Scott is quite charming as Johnny, a young man who gets quite a bit of experience as a result of the letter. Based on a novel by Cathleen Schine, the film takes place in Loblolly By The Sea. The name and the picturesque town are a little too perfect (it was filmed in Rockport, MA), but that's what you get when love is in the air. DVD ***1/2 (12/10/99)

"The Iron Giant"-Based on a 1968 book by Ted Hughes, the late former poet laureate of England, this animated film is a lovely paean to peace and humanity. And ironically (a pun?) it takes the form of a gentle gigantic iron creature which falls to earth in the late somewhat paranoid 1950's and is ultimately befriended by young Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) and Dean McCoppen, a beatnik metal collector and artist (Harry Connick, Jr.). Hogarth, who lives with his young mother (Jennifer Aniston), quickly realizes that the iron creature is dangerous only if attacked and, contrary to appearances, is filled with traits we often think of as only "human." Government agents and military personnel are, as usual, shown to be stupid, wrong-headed, and evil (I wonder why?). I particularly liked one segment which would clearly be unappreciated by the National Rifle Association. The animation is excellent and the scenery is quite lovely. DVD **** (12/5/99)

"eXistenZ"-If I've been using the words "strange" and "bizarre" a lot recently, I should have saved them for this film about futuristic virtual reality game playing. The director, David Cronenberg, also known for a film ("Crash") in which car crashing and sex were equated, now attempts to bring us into the world of biological game playing through a spinal opening called a bio-port. Jennifer Jason Leigh is effective in this Canadian film as Allegra Geller, the genius creator of these biologically based games (no, no computers in sight), and Jude Law is acceptable as Ted Pikul, the marketing trainee assigned to protect Geller after she is the subject of an assassination attempt, but the rest of the cast is poorly used. First rate actors like Ian Holm and Willem Dafoe play grotesque cartoonish caricatures, and Sarah Polley is wasted in a small role at the end of the film. Cronenberg appears to be wanting to comment on the dangers of virtual reality, but this film feels more like a bad LSD trip through a factory loaded with unreal and slimy biological creations. Yucch. "eXistenZ" has the usual and often expected twists and turns. DVD ** (12/4/99)

"Austin Powers, The Spy Who Shagged Me"-This is the 10th film I've seen so far in November and it's not getting any better. Although I must say that Mike Myers, the creator of Austin Powers, has his funny moments. Did I laugh? Yes, occasionally, I can't deny it. Was I turned off occasionally? Yup, I'm not big on scatalogical humor which is a Myers specialty. There's lots of color, some amusing cameos (one of the most amusing being a scene with Bert Bacharach and Elvis Costello), some fun music and dancing, and agonizingly obvious takeoffs on lots of things, from James Bond to Laugh-In. Heather Graham is very attractive as Felicity Shagwell, Austin's new spy girlfriend. The wierdest thing in the film is a character called "Fat Bastard." This is an obscenely obese evil character with a Scottish accent. You'll never guess who plays the part. DVD **1/2 (11/26/99)

"A Bug's Life"-This one came free on DVD with my new Apple iMac computer. The theme was surprisingly similar to the animated film "Antz," also about a male ant who is somewhat of a schlemiel and who ultimately becomes a hero, saving the colony from disaster, and winning the "princess." That's just about it for the theme. What's special about this film is the amazing animation by Pixar Studios, headed by Apple Computer's own Steve Jobs. This film and the "Toy Story" series demonstrate remarkable animation at a level never before seen. Some of the voices in this film are very well done, including Dave Foley as Flick, the schlemiel turned hero; Kevin Spacey as the evil leader of a group of enemy grasshoppers; and Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the princess. DVD *** (11/24/99)

"Entrapment"-There is a thriller a minute coming from Hollywood. Just try to imagine the filmmakers plotting the various twists and turns necessary to surprise the viewers. And they succeed for the very simple reason that the plots are so absurd that anything is possible. Catherine Zeta-Jones (can she really be from Wales?) here plays an insurance agent out to catch Sean Connery, a fabulous art thief. Or is she? Ving Rhames plays Connery's artful assistant. Or is he? Who is out to get whom, and who is out to get what? The answers lie in the lochs of Scotland and in Kualu Lumpur. This film has its moments and there is even some spark between Connery and Zeta-Jones, but ultimately it looked like a combination of "Topkapi" and "The Thomas Crown Affair" meet "Mission Impossible." Video **1/2 (11/22/99)

"Tea With Mussolini"-A fine cast, including Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Cher, and Lily Tomlin, and what would appear to be a charming story about a group of mostly British women who hang around Florence despite the oncoming of the Italian fascist movement in the 1930's. Sounds like the makings of a fairly good film. But, ultimately, it is an annoying and frantic film with a silly and rather unbelievable plot. There is the perfect young man (Luca, played by Baird Wallace) who helps the women at every turn, and the general silliness of the women (there are too many of them and they become unsympathetic when they hang around Italy despite very good warnings to leave and return home). Maggie Smith plays an utterly and stupidly egotistical Brit to the hilt and then miraculously turns into a warm person at the end. Cher seems out of place. The film is too long and when it's over, the only reaction I had was relief (that it was over). Video **1/2 (11/21/99)

"Besieged"-A somewhat peculiar movie, this Bernardo Bertolucci film is about two very different people who find themselves in close proximity. Thandie Newton is Shandurai, an African woman whose husband has been beaten and imprisoned by an African dictator. She moves to Rome and becomes both a medical student and a housekeeper to Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis), a strange recluse who spends most of his days playing the piano in his large inherited house. Kinsky becomes enamored of Shandurai, who initially is repelled, but who later realizes the depths of Kinsky's passion for her and willingness to sacrifice. Although the theme is unusual and interesting, the film ultimately seems lacking in spice. There is little dialogue and little happening that warrants the time that passes during the film. The performances are okay. David Thewlis is an excellent actor who has little to do. The end is predictable. Video **1/2 (11/20/99)

"Notting Hill"-Julia Roberts, the epitome of cuteness! If only she could act! This movie presents the ultimate contrast between a Hollywood star and a group of talented British actors. Roberts plays (what else?) a beautiful Hollywood star who meets a poor bloke, Hugh Grant, a bookstore owner in (where else?) Notting Hill, London. Romance ensues. While Roberts smiles and looks pretty, having almost no dialogue (because the director and producers know that she can't deliver?), a cast of British actors surrounding Grant steal whatever there is to be stolen of this film. Particularly outstanding are Rhys Ifans as Spike, Grant's somewhat unkempt and undisciplined roommate, as well as Hugh Bonneville, Emma Chambers, James Dreyfus, Tim McInnerny, and Gina McKee as Grant's family and friends. Of all the British actors, Grant is the most good-looking and the least talented as an actor. As usual, he hems and haws his way through the film, but he does look like a romantic interest for a movie star. Don't expect much from this film except the excellent performances of the group of little known but talented British actors who support Roberts and Grant. DVD **1/2 (11/12/99)

"Election"-A satire on the morals and ethics of teachers and students at an Omaha high school, this film stars Matthew Broderick as teacher Jim McAllister and Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, an overachieving and friendless student who feels she is destined for "greatness." McAllister's life is totally disrupted by two events, his desire for his former friend's wife (the friend having already been tossed out of school for unethical and illegal behavior) and his urge to prevent Flick from gaining her short-term "destiny" as student body president. Witherspoon is delightfully comic as Flick. Broderick is outstanding as McAllister. The film has an overlapping humorous plot about a female student with lesbian tendencies who admits to having committed an act of school vandalism (which, of course, she didn't do) just so that she can be tossed out and sent to an all-girls Catholic school. Although I can't say I was overwhelmed by this film, its positive features certainly outweighed some of the negatives (some crude talk, and at least one weak plot advancer--after coming on to McAllister and asking him to meet her at a motel, his former friend's wife immediately goes to McAllister's wife and tells all--this seems hardly likely). DVD *** (11/11/99)

"Arlington Road"-I wasn't expecting much from this thriller. It looked typical and I expected the usual. But I was in for a surprise. Jeff Bridges stars as the widower of an FBI agent who died in the line of duty. He teaches a course in terrorism at a Washington area college and concentrates on a theme of the government screwing up its investigations or rushing to judgment. After saving the life of the son of new neighbors, played deviously well by Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, Bridges becomes suspicious of them, in the process alienating his girlfriend played by Hope Davis. We all know how these pictures end. Well, this one is a gigantic surprise. The DVD contains a fascinating interview with Mark Pellington, the director, on how the film came about and how an alternate ending was considered. This is not a great film, but it's certainly an unusual and different experience from a thriller. DVD ***1/2 (11/11/99)

"Hideous Kinky"-And then there are the films that are barely known and are utterly worth watching. This is one of them. It is 1972 in Marrakech, Morocco. Kate Winslet is a 25 year old British woman with two precocious daughters who has abandoned London and the father of her kids and who is attempting to "learn the truth" and survive in northern Africa. Living the ultimate hippy fantasy, Winslet discovers that the truth is not so easy to learn and in the process she almost loses one of her daughters. Based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Esther Freud, the film magnificently displays the atmosphere and scenery of northern Africa. Winslet is lovely and convincing as the determined although somewhat desperate mother. Said Taghmaoui is unforgettable as Balal, the street performer who becomes part of the family. But most memorable are the performances of the two eight year old actresses who play Bea and Lucy, Winslet's daughters. Carrie Mullan and Bella Riza are absolutely perfect and charming in these difficult parts as two young girls who are forced by circumstances to live in an alien environment and make the most of it. DVD **** (11/6/99)

"Life Is Beautiful"-Every once in awhile, one gets to see a film that has been lauded by almost everyone, only to find that it is essentially a dud, and offensive to boot. Here we have the almost constantly frenetic Italian star and director Roberto Benigni playing a character who is supposed to be romantic but who, if he existed in real life would probably drive any normal person crazy with his slapstick humor and virtually total escape from reality. Benigni is a Jewish waiter in an Italian hotel as the Nazis grow in power. He woos and marries the young upper-class woman he accidentally meets, has a son, and then the three are sent to a concentration camp (the wife choosing to go voluntarily). Rather than take this somber experience seriously, as it deserves, Benigni chooses to approach it with humor, but a humor that is so cloying and insulting that it makes watching the film painful. Benigni and his fellow camp inmates appear to live in the cleanest concentration camp imaginable. The Nazis are barely present, look almost harmless, and Benigni has almost full run of the camp. His son, who looks too intelligent to believe the nonsense his father is feeding him, wears the same clothes day in and day out and looks as clean at the end as when they first arrive at the camp. What Benigni has done is reduce the horror of the Holocaust to cheap and banal humor.

Nicoletta Braschi is luminous and wonderful as the wife. Benigni, on the other hand, overdoes everything (not unlike his hysterical outpouring of emotion at both the Cannes Film Festival and Academy Award ceremonies). This is not my idea of great acting. However, he obviously pushed enough buttons to win a Cannes Film Festival award, a multiplicity of Oscar nominations for this film, and an Academy Award for Best Actor. It's apparent to me that Hollywood couldn't resist the Holocaust theme despite the glaring weaknesses of the film. DVD **1/2 (11/6/99)

"A Walk On The Moon"-This is a charming little film about a difficult summer in the Catskills for a Jewish family from New York during the summer of 1969. Diane Lane is the mother, Liev Schreiber is the father, and Anna Paquin is absolutely delightful as the 14 year old daughter who is just discovering sex and romance. Mother and two children stay at a bungalow colony while father spends most of his time back in the city fixing TV's for people who want to see Neil Armstrong's landing on the moon. Mother meets the blouseman (Viggo Mortensen), a young traveling salesman and begins an affair that leads them to a day at the Woodstock festival. Since this affair is being conducted right in front of the mother-in-law (Tovah Feldshuh), it doesn't take the husband long to learn that something is very wrong in his marriage. Not a great film, but well done. Lane is touching as the young attractive mother who never really lived before having a baby at 17. Schreiber is perfect as the somewhat square husband, and Mortensen is perfectly charming and attractive as the blouseman. Finally, Feldshuh has to be too young to play the mother-in-law but play it she does and well. DVD *** (10/23/99)

"The Blair Witch Project"-Heather, Josh, and Mike innocently trudge off into the Maryland woods to film a documentary about the legend of a local "witch" and wind up wishing they'd never heard of this tale. I personally like a good terror movie occasionally. It's fun to completely suspend disbelief and allow oneself to be transported away into the world of the fear of the unknown. But this isn't that film. Instead, what we get for the longest 90 minutes on record is one very dominating character (Heather), pushing two mild-mannered characters (Josh and Mike) further and further into the middle of a forest in which something strange is indeed happening. However, instead of the film concentrating on the mystery, we get to watch three extremely annoying personalities yelling at each other and acting like complete dolts. Beyond all belief, one of the characters discards their only map in a fit of pique just before they are about to depart. Otherwise, they have no ability to figure out how to get out of the forest. Despite having brought cameras with seemingly endless battery capacity and plenty of other gear, they never thought to bring a method of communicating with the outside world (a cell phone, for example). Of course, it is possible that their inability to leave the forest is caused by the "witch," but this is never even hinted at in the film. Instead what we see are three increasingly frustrated, angry and tired characters trudging around and screaming at each other in frustration. If this is what you enjoy watching, you're welcome to it. Video *1/2 (10/23/99)

"The Red Violin"-I knew this film was in trouble as soon as it began. Ever so slowly, the camera pans through a violin manufacturing studio in 17th Century Italy. What will it ultimately show? Well, nothing but a silly scene in which the "great" violin maker destroys the efforts of one of his employees by hitting it against a table. The violin maker's wife is very pregnant but must ask for a Tarot card reading to determine her future, which, of course, is obvious immediately. Jumping back and forth between a modern auction house in Montreal in which the "Red Violin" is being auctioned and scenes from the violin's past, we see that it winds up in the hands of a young boy in a monastery where all of the kids play the violin like Jascha Heifetz, a group of gypsies who have no appreciation of the instrument, a slightly nutty British violinist who can't play without his lover (Greta Scacchi in another of her meaningless sex-object roles) making love to him as he practices, and finally in the midst of the Cultural Revolution in China. Despite the fact that the violin has hardly ever been in the hands of anyone significant in the music world (other than the nutty British violinist), it is considered an object of life-long desire by Samuel L. Jackson as a modern violin expert. This is a film that could have been truly different had it had a director with some ability to make the story jump. Even the ultimate twist at the end was somewhat unsurprising. Video **1/2 (10/10/99)

"Pushing Tin"-An interesting premise; a film about air traffic controllers in the New York metropolitan area. And a very good cast: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Cate Blanchett, and Angelina Jolie. But this film ultimately fails as it has little or nowhere to go. Cusack is a whiz air traffic controller who suddenly finds himself distracted by a new strange controller from the Southwest played by Thornton. Although married to the beautiful Cate Blanchett ("Elizabeth"), who is wonderful and almost unrecognizable as a Long Island housewife, Cusack is also attracted to Thornton's sexy wife, played by Jolie. The circumstances disrupt Cusack's life which starts to come back together only after some rather silly scenes, the ultimate being one in which he, having just returned to his job after allowing two close calls in mid-air on one shift, is allowed to plead to his wife, and even serenade her, over the pilot's radio on the plane in which Blanchett is traveling. Highly unlikely and silly, or at least I hope so. Video **1/2 (10/2/99)

"The Mummy"-It's that time of year when there aren't a lot of first rate movies being released on video. So, it's special effects time; time to watch the silly but fun films. And this is one of the silliest reasonably enjoyable film I've seen recently. Most of the enjoyment comes from the charming cast of Brendan Fraser as a treasure hunter going after dangerous bounty, Rachel Weisz as a young librarian with an amazing knowledge of Egyptian language and lore, and John Hannah as her somewhat ditzy but ultimately heroic brother. Arnold Vosloo, a South African actor, is absolutely perfect as Imhotep, the mummy. The story is not worth describing but suffice it to say that a bunch of silly treasure hunters release a monstrous curse and set the mummy free to plague the earth. The production values of this film are outstanding, especially the magic of Industrial Light and Magic, George Lucas' company. If you see this film on DVD, it has a tremendous feature showing in detail how some of the magic is created. DVD *** (9/25/99)

"The Matrix"-For many years, high tech has provided the movie world with the many wonders it needed for miraculous special effects. In some recent films such as "Enemy of the State," "Dark City," and now "The Matrix," filmmakers have had the opportunity to go beyond the realm into a world of complete high tech imagination. This film carries it to the "nth" degree. Keanu Reeves, who has clearly found his niche, plays Neo, a computer hacker who is drafted into a futuristic battle between "real" humans and the "machine" humans who control the world as we know it. And that is the "matrix," a computerized pseudo-world in which "real" people are essentially the puppets of the machines. Interestingly, the film fails to show any reason why humans would want to rebel against the "matrix" as no one is shown to be ill-treated. But the philosophical point of "freedom" is made. Under the leadership of Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Neo is transformed into a real but computer controlled human who can travel between a ship of the future and the "matrix" in order to battle the evil machine police. Sound bizarre? Sure. But for those who like high tech glitz, this is a film to enjoy. Loaded with attempts at philosophy and humor, one of the funniest things in the film is that the characters can travel between the "matrix" and their rinky-dink spaceship only by contact through a regular telephone. Carrie-Anne Moss is absolutely perfect as Trinity, one of Morpheus' group, who walks and runs both up walls and between bullets. Hugo Weaving is perfectly evil as the lead machine cop. And Gloria Foster does a wonderful turn as "The Oracle." DVD ***1/2 (9/18/99)

"La Séparation"-I am now convinced that the French are obsessed with films about romantic relationships, and which have neither plot nor substance. This film is like watching a documentary about a couple, played by Isabelle Huppert and Daniel Auteil, whose relationship is deteriorating in spite of having a young child. Huppert tells Auteil that she's in love with another man and yet she shows no signs of wanting to leave or to respond to Auteil's feelings for her. Auteil experiences angst and ultimately frustration at the woman's mixed responses to him. They talk, he talks to friends, she talks to friends. Little or nothing happens. This might have been more interesting about 100 similar French films ago. Video ** (9/11/99)

"The Celebration"-The dysfunctional family seems to be a major theme of films these days and this Danish film is the ultimate. A wealthy family is gathering at the family mansion for the father's 60th birthday. Two sons arrive, one seemingly out of control and uninvited, and the other, Christian, seemingly in total control. A daughter arrives, and we learn that Christian's twin sister has just recently died, a suicide. All seems otherwise fairly normal until Christian drops a bomb of a toast and the gathering turns into the birthday party from hell. Filmed with an incredibly original style and many unusual and fascinating camera angles and cuts, this is one of the best foreign films I've seen in years. It is the ultimate vengeance story without any need for physical violence (other than a few thrown punches). And the cast is excellent. You'll remember this family and its party, believe me. Video **** (9/10/99)

"The Governess"-Minnie Driver plays a young Jewish woman in 19th Century London whose father is murdered and who must thus leave home for a job as a governess on the Isle of Skye. She finds herself ensconced in the massive but ugly home of an almost mandatory dysfunctional family. Tom Wilkinson plays the husband, a photographic experimenter with a somewhat limited imagination and an eye for Ms. Driver. Harriet Walter plays the boring and bored wife to a tee. There are also two kids, a young seemingly nasty daughter, easily tamed by Ms. Driver, and a teenage son with a lust for Ms. Driver similar to that of his father. The theme is of lust, creativity, betrayal, and its effects. The premise is different and interesting, but ultimately very unlikely considering the religious differences of the lead characters and the period in which the film takes place. Also, the film bogs down in the middle. Video **1/2 (9/8/99)

"One True Thing"-I was hesitant to watch another film about a woman dying of cancer. But when it came on cable tv, I figured I'd give it a shot. And to my surprise, this film, based on the novel by Anna Quindlen, is quite good, telling the story of a young up-and-coming writer (Renee Zellweger) who does not want to live her mother's domestic life, but winds up temporarily giving up a career in New York to care for her dying mother (Meryl Streep) and who gets caught up in the very thing she dreaded. Streep is, as usual, wonderful as the mother who is a housewife and knows the value of what she does. William Hurt plays Zellweger's father, a professor and writer with a very large ego. The film does a good job of showing all of the angst experienced by the characters and especially the growth they experience as a result. Cable ***1/2 (9/4/99)

"October Sky"-Based on the story of Homer Hickam, Jr., a NASA engineer, this delightful movie tells the story of Homer and his friends back in Coalwood, WV, in 1957, just after Sputnik had been launched. Faced with life in a coal mine of which his father was the boss, Homer decided to build rockets and he and three friends became "rocket boys." Jake Gyllenhaal does a fine job as Homer who is inspired by his young ill-fated teacher played by Laura Dern. Homer has to battle the somewhat stereotypical negative Southern male 1950's attitudes of both his father, played well by Chris Cooper, and the school principal, toward young men who want to use their brains instead of their brawn. This film has the kind of ending that can make you choke up with emotion. It's always nice to see a story about someone who has a dream and actually gets to live it. DVD ***1/2 (9/3/99)

"The General"-Brendan Gleeson stars, and I mean stars, in this film about Martin Cahill, an Irish criminal first-class and his gang of followers. Directed by John Boorman and also starring Jon Voight as Ned Kennedy, the police inspector out to get Cahill (also known as "The General"), this film follows the career of a master criminal who always, well almost always, is able to outsmart the police and the law. Ultimately, Cahill outsmarts himself, but not before Gleeson has had his tour de force playing this unusual, witty, and brutal criminal. Others in the cast of significant note are Adrian Dunbar and Sean McGinley. DVD ***1/2 (8/28/99)

"EDtv"-A cable network comes up with the idea of showing the life of an individual uncut during all of his waking hours and then the executives are shown shocked when nothing exciting happens immediately after he wakes up. Duh! This somewhat silly film is about the social phenomenon of "fame" and its importance in our society. People become important not because they have done something worthwhile, but simply because they are famous. And Ed (Matthew McConaughey) discovers this very quickly. Of course, everyone else in Ed's life is also turned into a TV star, some obviously against their will. But whereas the network originally planned to follow Ed's real life, ultimately they can't resist interfering and controlling. Others in the cast are Jenna Elfman as Ed's love interest, Woody Harrelson as his brother, Ellen DeGeneres as the executive who thinks up the idea and ultimately is repelled, and Rob Reiner as the head honcho at the TV network. Martin Landau as Ed's stepfather is very funny. DVD *** (8/21/99)

"True Crime"-This is a corny film about an old self-destructive newspaper reporter who says he doesn't care about justice but who has a hunch and goes down literally to the last second to try to save a man on death row at San Quentin. The film's merit is that it shows, as in life, that innocent people are on death row. Clint Eastwood, who will be 70 next May and looking it, is still playing the leading man, marrying, flirting, and sleeping with much younger women. Not to deny that it can happen, but this character is an ex-drunk who doesn't seem to have much going for him. Isaiah Washington is very good and stoic as the death row inmate. James Woods and Dennis Leary turn in serviceable performances as editors at Eastwood's newspaper. Frances Fisher has a wonderful scene as the brightly redheaded DA who won't listen to Eastwood's hunch. Video *** (8/21/99)

"Analyze This"-Robert DeNiro is a mobster who has an emotional problem and wants a psychiatrist to help him deal with an upcoming underworld crisis, but he won't let the psychiatrist do his job because he doesn't really believe in psychiatry. Nevertheless, he seems to "need" the poor psychiatrist at the most inopportune and absurd moments (such as during the psychiatrist's wedding). DeNiro plays the part of Robert DeNiro as a mobster to the nth degree. It's his usual two-dimensional performance when he isn't really trying. Billy Crystal, as the psychiatrist, looks like he's going through his paces and wishes he were somewhere else. The script is absolutely awful. And who in the world keeps casting Lisa Kudrow (here as Crystal's fiance)? She is as inept an actress as any I've seen lately. Video *1/2 (8/14/99)

"Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels"-This British film is about several groups of criminals falling all over each other to wind up with the ultimate reward. The primary group is led by Eddy who loses £500,000 in a card game to a very tough underworld type. If the money is not repaid within so many days, Eddy and his cohorts will start losing their fingers and possibly more. And when Eddy and the boys figure out a way to get the money, the fun and the twists and turns begin. Very confusing at the start, and loaded with heavy British accents, this film ultimately becomes reasonably clear and produces quite a few smiles, if not laughs. But although obviously intending to be "theater of the absurd," it's still loaded with some rather unpleasant gratuitous violence. Video *** (8/13/99)

"Tango"-The Spanish director Carlos Saura has created an absolutely gorgeous and wonderfully sensual film about the tango. It is exquisitely photographed and the dancing is breathtaking. The story is essentially that of the director, who is creating a show based on the tango and is at the same time seeking a new love in his life. The viewer is never quite sure what is part of the director's show, the director's imagination, or "reality," assuming that there is such a thing in this film. Saura also makes some choreographed political comments about oppression, but ultimately the film is simply a feast for anyone who loves beautiful movements of the human body in the form of dance. There is an early tango between an older male tango expert and a young gorgeous redhead that is as beautiful and sensual as I've ever seen. DVD ***1/2 (8/7/99)

"Celebrity"-The theme is obvious. Woody Allen is commenting on our societal obsession with celebrity, big and small. Not surprisingly, celebrities are portrayed as egotistical, empty, mindless, and, in some cases, violent and drug-abusing, hardly worthy of society's rapt attention. But nevertheless there are the little people, the ones who fumble and stumble and say the silliest things when confronted with someone they think of as famous. Kenneth Branagh, who seems to have a knack for accepting some of the strangest roles in the movies, plays Lee Simon, a struggling New York writer, who despite looking like Branagh, sounds an awful lot (at least in some scenes) like Woody Allen. Allen's need to have himself in the film without actually appearing is made even stranger by the choice of Branagh who one can hardly imagine as a New York neurotic of the Woody Allen sort. And yet there he is. What's even sillier is that the Woody Allenish characterization disappears every once in a while and we are left with a more Branagh-like portrayal. Simon's former wife, Robin, is played wonderfully by Judy Davis, who seems to be making a career of playing New York neurotics for Woody Allen (see "Deconstructing Harry"). Robin, initially lost after the breakup of her marriage, meets a TV producer played by Joe Mantegna who is the perfect man and turns Robin from a schoolteacher into a TV celebrity. Other characters come and go in this film which centers around the celebrity-oriented activities as well as lovelife of Simon, a man who cannot make up his mind about his women. Now that certainly is also a typical Allen theme, and often works when Allen plays the part as a loveable schlemiel. But here the Simon character is not a sympathetic one, something which is brought home when he rids himself of the beautiful editor (Famke Janssen) whom he has just invited to live with him and who is literally in the process of moving in when she is effectively kicked out. Her character's response is completely appropriate. Others of note in the film are Leonardo DiCaprio playing a young self-obsessed actor, Charlize Theron as a stunning supermodel who passes through Branagh's life in one night, Winona Ryder (doing one of her best performances) as a beautiful but independent young woman who shakes up Branagh's existence, and Bebe Neuwirth who has a wonderfully funny scene with Davis which centers around bananas. Incidentally, the film is also ironically done completely in black and white. DVD *** (8/6/99)

"Hurlyburly"-Based on the play by David Rabe, this is a talking drama about a group of unattached men in the Hollywood hills. Most of the action takes place around the home of Eddie (Sean Penn) and Nicky (Kevin Spacey) with characters coming and going (including Robin Wright Penn as Darlene, Chazz Palmenteri as Phil, and Garry Shandling as Artie). Most stories these days are about dysfunctional families. This one is about a dysfunctional group of men, the society in which they live, and the women around them. Eddie is incessantly cocaine snorting and otherwise in a fog. In fact, these men seem to inhabit a world in which they really have no idea how to live or what to do with themselves. The TV is often on, unwatched, but telling the usual horrifying and bizarre tales. These men talk about their lives but seem to understand little. The acting is first rate. Meg Ryan is excellent as a stripper friend of Eddie's who seems to be one of the few people in the film who knows who she is. Anna Paquin is also excellent as a teenage hanger-on. There's little or no action. This is a film that requires one's full attention. DVD ***1/2 (8/1/99)

"Enemy of the State"-A techno-glitzy thriller about murderous government intelligence agents trying to catch a man with an incriminating video, this film is loaded with completely absurd coincidences and highly unlikely technology. The film would have you believe that people sitting in front of computers can follow every movement, if not every breath, of a person's existence via super technology and satellite spying. Fortunately, I don't think we're quite there yet, although much of the high-tech spying (bugging devices, etc.) seem likely and quite frightening. Will Smith is the man on the run from Jon Voight, the icy cold and murderous intelligence overseer. And Gene Hackman is the man who ultimately comes to his rescue and somewhat turns the tables on the techno-geeks. All of the actors do their job in a workmanlike manner. The film has a quite humorous and appropriate ending. DVD *** (7/31/99)

"The Hi-Lo Country"-Big Boy (Woody Harrelson) and Pete (Billy Crudup) return to New Mexico after WWII to attempt the cattle business. The two are fiercely loyal friends both of whom are driven by their passion for Mona (Patricia Arquette), the wife of the foreman of the local big-time cattle rancher (Sam Elliott). That this passion and their competition with the cattle rancher will ultimately lead to tragic consequences almost goes without saying. The scenery is lovely, and the cowboy story somewhat familiar. Woody Harrelson is strong as Big Boy, but the script and much of the acting leaves a lot to be desired. Video **1/2 (7/30/99)

"Insomnia"-Stellan Skarsgard ("Good Will Hunting") plays a Swedish detective sent to a northern Norwegian town to investigate the murder of a young woman. This film is the opposite of "film noir," as the town experiences no darkness during the summer and Skarsgard feels the effects of the unremitting light. And his sleeplessness is exacerbated by a serious error he makes, dragging him into the questionable behavior he is investigating. "Insomnia" has a first-rate plot, moves rather slowly, and provides an almost existential atmosphere. Video *** (7/25/99)

"Eyes Wide Shut"-I am a Stanley Kubrick fan and saw this movie through the eyes of someone who admires many of his films as being among the best of all-time. I do not believe this film ranks among his best and yet, simply coming from a filmmaker as intelligent and serious as Kubrick, the film deserves serious attention and analysis. One is immediately struck by the blatant nudity, initially from Nicole Kidman (who leaves little to the imagination, including in an intentionally discomfiting toilet scene) and later from many other women (bare both front and rear). I was also surprised at the quality of the cinematography which I thought was surprisingly mediocre in many scenes, as well as the editing. Some of the jumpy cuts from scene to scene were hardly worthy of someone who made such masterpieces as "A Clockwork Orange" and "2001: A Space Odyssey." I also was initially struck by the acting of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman who in the early stages seemed stiff and inappropriate (despite looking great), but who later seemed to relax as the story unfolded.

There is the mysterious and sensual nature of Kubrick's style. The director (and co-screenwriter) purposefully moves the film slowly. Kidman often speaks deliberately and slowly in the opening scenes. It is as if Kubrick is asking "what's the rush?" The homes are opulent and there are many long halls and clicking footsteps. Most outdoor scenes are at night and reflected in Christmas lights. The story is mysterious. Dr. Bill Harford (Cruise) and his wife Alice (Kidman) are sexually tempted at a party thrown by Victor Zeigler (Sidney Pollack--poorly cast, although a wonderful director and fine at cameo roles, Pollack here is stiff in a part that requires greater acting dexterity), an obviously super wealthy and somewhat debauched character. After their initial temptations, and following a few puffs of marijuana at home, the Harfords argue about love and fidelity and Alice admits having been overwhelmingly attracted to a total stranger the year before while on vacation at Cape Cod. In reaction, Dr. Bill begins a night of sexual exploration that will take him to the outstretched arms of the grieving daughter of one his patients (now deceased), the unusual warmth of a beautiful streetwalker (Vinessa Shaw) whose temptations he luckily avoids, and the flirtings of a child temptress (Leelee Sobieski) who is the daughter of a strange costumer. Ultimately, however, Cruise as Dr. Bill finds himself so disturbed by his wife's admissions that he cannot resist making his way to a Long Island mansion at which he finds a mysterious costumed gathering and the dangers that go with it.The scene that follows is a classic of Kubrick's creations. Cruise finds himself among masked and hooded people engaging in a satanic-like ritual at which a large number of women undress and an orgy begins. It is only at this point that the real mystery of the film begins as Cruise attempts to find out just what he has seen and survived.

Kubrick's films have almost always been social commentaries of some sort about disturbing human behavior. Among his films, he commented on the evil of uncaring and unfeeling generals ("Paths of Glory"), the technological creations of man run amok ("2001: A Space Odyssey"), the insanity of politics and atomic war ("Dr. Strangelove"), the passions of a pederast ("Lolita"), and the nature of violence and politics ("A Clockwork Orange"). Kubrick here turns to the passions of sex and its dangerous effect on both men and women. He provides an experience like little else in filmmaking today. By Kubrick standards, this is not a great film, but it is one that should have you twisting in your seat and talking about the experience afterwards. This film is for ADULTS. Theater. **** (7/24/99)

"Central Station"-The story of a retired schoolteacher in Rio de Janeiro who has become a jaded letter-writer and the young boy who falls into her life when his mother is killed in an accident, this exquisite film leads one on a journey of humanity. Fernanda Montenego as Dora and Vinicius de Oliveira as the boy, Josue, begin an extraordinary journey to find his father. Not only do we experience the beauty of the Brazilian landscape but the warmth of the people as well. The photography is out of this world. The acting is brilliant. The final scenes with Josue's half brothers are extraordinarily human. This film is not to be missed. DVD **** (7/19/99)

"Affliction"-Based on the novel by Russell Banks (author of "The Sweet Hereafter"), this film stars Nick Nolte as an ordinary man in a cold, snowbound northern New Hampshire town who gets caught up in the emotions surrounding the recent loss of his wife and child to divorce, the pain of an abusive alcoholic father (played superbly by James Coburn) and his mother's strange death, and his suspicions about the shooting of an influential man during a deerhunting expedition. Led on innocently by others, including his more intellectual brother (Willem Dafoe), Nolte enters a spiral of undisciplined action that will lead to lawlessness and total destruction of the life he has known. Written and directed by Paul Schrader, this is a perfect visual image of the cold, upstate world envisioned by Russell Banks in many of his excellent novels. Sissy Spacek is charming as Nolte's loving but ultimately frightened girlfriend. DVD **** (7/18/99)

"Hilary and Jackie"-This is a very moving, intelligent, and disturbing film about the relationship of Jacqueline Du Pre, the great cellist, and her sister Hilary Du Pre, extending from their childhood to Jacqueline's tragic demise at 42 from MS. Emily Watson ("Breaking the Waves") (Jacqueline) and Rachel Griffiths (Hilary) are superb as sisters who love each other and yet invariably must compete. An extremely powerful film, there are some disturbing and uncomfortable scenes; but this is the kind of movie that makes the viewer feel a multitude of sensations (the thrill of talent, jealousy, love and desire, and incredible pain). With performances by the real Jacqueline Du Pre on the soundtrack, this film is highly recommended. Video **** (7/17/99)

"She's All That"-Seen on a recent airline flight from NY to California, about all I can say of this film is that she's "none of that." This film is so slight, I can barely remember what it was about. Airplane video 1/2 (7/2/99)

"The Thin Red Line"-This is a film of poetry and beauty about a monstrous subject: the meaning and horror of war. Terrence Malick, the director of "Days of Heaven" has at long last returned and, after obvious obsessive care, has produced a gorgeous thought-provoking film about war. It begins in an Eden-like setting in the south Pacific and gradually wends its way toward the island of Guadalcanal where one of the great epic battles of the Second World War is about to begin. Actually filmed on Guadalcanal, the scenes of battle in the lush south Pacific setting present an astonishing contrast to the death and destruction about to unfold. It is the ultimate irony of war. One of the things I found most compelling about this film was Malick's use of voiceovers by various participants in the battle. Man does not just act, he thinks. In a setting such as this it becomes compelling to hear the thoughts of the soldiers and realize their heartache, desires, and fears. We learn that one of the officers, Lt. Col. Tall, played by Nick Nolte, while outwardly confident, is hardly such inside. Ben Chaplin plays Bell, a man who idyllically dreams of his wife and life back home: "Why should I be afraid to die? I belong to you. If I go first, I'll wait for you there. On the other side of the dark waters. Be with me now." Witt, one of the central characters, waxes poetic in his soft southern accent: "What's this war in the heart of nature? Why does nature vie with itself? The land contend with the sea? Is there an avenging power in nature? Not one power but two?" Malick obviously loves photography. "Days of Heaven" was a beautifully photographed movie and so is this. The scenes of soldiers gradually moving across the island and up the hills among the tall grasses of the lush island setting are among some of the most magnificient scenes I can remember. One of the things that sets this and a film like "Saving Private Ryan" apart from World War II movies of the past is the willingness to show the shock and fear that men had to have experienced in such a nightmare setting. Soldiers throw up, look for excuses, shake in fear, and ultimately go crazy (John Savage plays such a disturbed and lost soldier). Everyone is not John Wayne, although ultimately some had no choice. They fight. Some die, some survive. As one of the company points out, it is all a matter of where you happen to be. "The Thin Red Line" cast includes several cameo appearances, including bits by such as John Travolta and George Clooney which weren't necessary. On the other hand, Sean Penn as Sgt. Welsh, a cynical soldier, Elias Koteas as Captain Staros, an officer who refuses to send his men to instant death, and Jim Caviezel as Private Witt are particularly outstanding. This is a memorable film and one everyone should see. Video ****1/2 (6/26/99)

"Rushmore"-A brilliant and eccentric 15 year old named Max Fischer (played interestingly deadpan by Jason Schwartzman), a depressed millionaire played against character (and also deadpan) by Bill Murray, and a beautiful English 1st grade teacher who likes fish (Olivia Williams), are the primary elements of this wacky film. Fischer (Schwartzman looks here like a junior Ben Stein), has an amazing capacity for extracurricular activities, but not for academic activities and he faces expulsion even though the school administration recognizes his talents in other areas. Along the way he befriends Murray, a Rushmore alumnus who loves the school and acts as if he hadn't a friend in the world except a 15 year old, and Williams. His premature love for Williams and his ultimate conflict with Murray on the same issue, causes the young man's seeming downfall and departure from Rushmore as he becomes nasty and turns against his friends. Murray was praised for his performance in this film, but it almost seemed to me like a non-performance. This quirky film is described as a comedy but an awful lot of it made me feel uncomfortable. An interesting idea that doesn't quite work in the way I think it was intended. DVD *** (6/25/99)

"A Simple Plan"-The premise is simple. Two dimwits and a regular guy (who also happens to be a brother of one of the dimwits) accidentally discover a bag of millions in a plane that has crash landed in the upper midwestern snow. The regular guy wants to report it to the police. The two dimwits insist on keeping the money. The regular guy agrees but only on condition that he maintain control. Boy, will he be sorry! Bill Paxton is the regular guy; and Billy Bob Thornton is up to his usual as Paxton's dimwit brother. Bridget Fonda is good as Paxton's pregnant and seemingly innocent but ultimately scheming wife. This film is loaded with plot twists and turns, but is ultimately predictable and annoying. Nothing is particularly surprising and it's full of gratuitous and unpleasant violence. In different forms, I've seen films like it before. DVD *** (6/19/99)

"Dancing at Lughnasa"-Meryl Streep stars as the oldest of five Mundy sisters who live together in a rural house in a beautiful setting in Donegal and are struggling along in the mid-1930's. One sister, who has a young son out of wedlock, experiences a visit from the boy's father. The inability of the two to come together, despite obvious affection, is never clearly explained. The sisters' older brother, a priest, played wonderfully by Michael Gambon, returns from Africa and is clearly mentally disturbed. Streep, as always, is uncanny in her acting and her accents. In fact, the entire cast is delightful. The other sisters are played wonderfully by Kathy Burke, Catherine McCormack, Brid Brennan, and Sophie Thompson. As always, a British production is worth watching simply to see talented actors at work. DVD ***1/2 (6/18/99)

"Dark City"-Describable only as film noir/sci-fi, this movie is a lame attempt at commentary on the human condition in the form of a seeming murder mystery within a bizarre city of permanent night controlled by alien creatures. Containing many of the cliches of such movie genres, "Dark City" is like a weird combination of "The Truman Show," "Batman," and "Ghostbusters." Rufus Sewell stars as the born-again hero who awakens in a hotel room bathtub sans memory. Keifer Sutherland is the strange doctor who is forced to work for the aliens. William Hurt is the police detective attempting to solve apparent murders of prostitutes. Jennifer Connelly is or is not the singing wife of Sewell's character. And Richard O'Brien is the alien "Mr. Hand." Roger Ebert considered this relatively little known film to be the best film of 1998. So much for Roger Ebert's taste and judgment. DVD *** (6/13/99)

"Gods and Monsters"-To me, great actors are those who can completely lose themselves in the characters they are playing. Ian McKellan is one of those. Here he literally becomes James Whale, the homosexual director of such films as "Frankenstein," "Bride of Frankenstein," and "The Invisible Man." It is the late 1950's, well after Whale's career has ended, and he is confronting many of his own demons as he is suffering the ravages of age and illness. Whale retells painful experiences and observations to a young gardener played artfully by Brendan Fraser. The relationship they develop seems unlikely, especially when Fraser's character allows himself to be put in a situation that a big husky heterosexual laborer would not likely endure. But he serves well as a foil for Whale's dreams and tales. Lynn Redgrave is another actor such as McKellan. She is marvelous as Whale's housekeeper, Hannah, a stiff Germanic woman totally dedicated to her employer despite his obvious predilections. The acting alone is worth the price of admission. Video **** (6/12/99)

"Waking Ned Devine"-There is nothing like good old Irish charm and this film, starring the wonderful Ian Bannen and David Kelly, is loaded with it. The premise of this comedy is that Bannen and Kelly as two elderly friends learn that one of their townspeople has won the lottery, and they do everything they can to find out who it is. Find out they do, and the situation they discover leads them to a scheme to obtain the money for themselves. Ultimately, the entire town becomes involved. Filmed on the beautiful Isle of Man, the movie also stars Fionnula Flanagan as Bannen's wife. Video ***1/2 (6/5/99)

"The Theory of Flight"-This is a quirky little film starring Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter about an eccentric artist named Richard who seems bent on self-destruction, albeit in the form of flight, and a young woman named Jane who is wheelchair bound due to ALS (known as Motor Neuron disease in Britain). Richard, sentenced to so many hours of public service because of a nutty attempt to fly off a bank building in downtown London, is called upon to be Jane's companion and they seem to click although he doesn't realize it at first. This is a different kind of love story, said to be based on a true story, about a woman with a serious physical handicap and fatal illness seeking love. It's got pathos and humor, although not a lot of warmth. Video *** (5/30/99)

"Saving Private Ryan"-Growing up in the era right after World War II, I got to see many films about the war. One of the elements of most of those films was the typical story-line and the ultimate heroism of one or another character. Although violence was certainly depicted, the horror of war never was quite so clear as in this outstanding film by Steven Spielberg. Spielberg departs from the standard WW II film techniques to reveal in almost documentary fashion the ultimate nightmare of war. Technologically, the film is overwhelming. The opening depiction of the landing at Omaha Beach is one of the most terrifying and horrifying scenes I can remember ever seeing in movies. No horror film can ever compare to the kind of horror that humans have imposed on each other in reality. One can only barely imagine the terror of being in those landing boats knowing that getting off at the beach could mean instant death. And the film also raises some fascinating questions about moral dilemmas that rarely have been seen in war films in the past. What does a small group of soldiers on a mission do with a captured enemy soldier? Do they keep him prisoner under the rules of war, shoot him, or let him go? The cast of Tom Hanks, Tom Sizemore, Matt Damon, and Edward Burns, among others, cease to be actors and simply become human fodder in one of the great tragedies of this century. When the film ends, the viewer undoubtedly has a greater understanding of "shell shock" or post-traumatic stress disorder. This film was released on video for the Memorial Day weekend and I watched it two days before Memorial Day. It could not have been more appropriate. Video ****1/2 (5/29/99)

"Star Trek Insurrection"-A little change of pace; a little almost mindless fun. This latest in the long-lived Star Trek series takes Commander Picard and his crew to the typical Star Trekian idyllic planet where they discover a group of people who have enjoyed a planetary "fountain of youth" for many years, and who are the subjects of a sinister plot by the Federation and an ugly race of aliens, contrary to the "Prime Directive," to remove them from their planet so that the benefits of the planet can be used by others. As always it is up to Picard and friends to save the ancient and yet youthful group. There are some reminders of forced resettlement in places like Kosovo, but the comparison is certainly stretching a point. Video *** (5/22/99)

"Mrs. Dalloway"-This is a beautiful little film, based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, about an aging woman planning a party and recalling the times of her youth when she made the choice to reject out of fear the man (Peter) she really loved. Vanessa Redgrave is majestic as Clarissa Dalloway who, as a young woman (played charmingly by Natascha McElhone), chose the safer and less exciting man. A rather critical portrait of post WWI English society, the film contains a unique counter-story of a young "shell-shocked" man and his Italian wife whose unhappy story ultimately provides ironic positive food for thought for a somewhat unhappy and perplexed Clarissa. Rupert Graves is outstanding as the disturbed man. Also noteworthy was Michael Kitchen as the older Peter who has returned to London from India just in time for Clarissa's party. Video **** (5/16/99)

"Wilde"-There are two ways to make a film about someone as brilliant as Oscar Wilde. One is to concentrate on his intellectual life and the other on his sex life and personal problems. Not surprisingly, this film focuses on the latter as Wilde was the subject of one of the great Victorian scandals in England. Wilde is wonderfully done by Stephen Fry (known here previously for his portrayal of Jeeves the butler in the Jeeves and Wooster series on PBS a few years back), who is both a large presence and an extremely articulate one. Fry very sympathetically reveals Wilde as a man of tremendous intellect and talent, but one who could not control his dangerous desires for young men, including especially Lord Alfred Douglas, son of the Marquess of Queensbury. This affair led to Wilde's downfall and an extended prison term at hard labor that ultimately did him in. Jude Law is quite good as Douglas; Tom Wilkinson ("The Full Monty" among others) is perfectly evil as the bitter Queensbury; Vanessa Redgrave does her usual turn as Wilde's mother; and Jennifer Ehle is sweet and understanding as the abandoned Mrs. Wilde. I personally would have preferred more of Wilde's intellect and less of his sex life but it is nevertheless one of the most interesting tales of literary biography. Video *** (5/9/99)

"You've Got Mail"-Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star together once again and possibly once too often. Tom is Joe Fox the wealthy superbookstore owner, and Meg is Kathleen Kelly, the children's bookstore owner, who anonymously write to each other via email without realizing that they already know and dislike each other in "real life" because his superbookstore threatens the very existence of her little store. Based on the classic film "The Shop Around The Corner," which was also made into a Broadway musical called "She Loves Me," this version is unfortunately insufferably cute. As wonderful as the west side of Manhattan really is, this film by Nora Ephron makes it look almost Disneyland-like.The romance is certainly catching, but completely and utterly predictable. If you like Tom and Meg, don't miss it. Otherwise, the earth doesn't really shake. Video *** (5/8/99)

"Happiness"-Todd Solondz, who directed "Welcome to the Dollhouse," a rather depressing story about an unattractive teenager, has directed this black comedy about three sisters and their friends and acquaintances who are living multiple nightmares of sexual perversion, loneliness, and depression. Virtually every person in the film is seriously unhappy for one reason or another. The film is loaded with subjects and images that were once inconceivable in first-run movies and is otherwise dedicated to the proposition that life is misery. Solondz is either an unhappy man or, despite obvious movie-making talent, feels he must hit the viewer over the head with his bitter view of life. Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, and Cynthia Stevenson are the three sisters. Video *** (5/1/99)

"Elizabeth"-A powerful film about the events that brought Elizabeth I to the throne of England and ultimately kept her there. The film describes the intrigues between Catholicism and Protestantism, and between leaders of the two faiths. The film ultimately describes the lack of morality that permeated the power game that was being played by monarchs, royalty, priests and the powers behind the throne. Cate Blanchett is gorgeous and dynamite as Elizabeth, going from a young beautiful maiden with fears and inexperience, to the powerful Virgin Queen of history. Joseph Fiennes does a nice job as Robert, Duke of Leicester, Elizabeth's love. Geoffrey Rush is again, as always, marvelous as the loyal and effective Walsingham. Christopher Eccleston is perfect as the evil Norfolk. And Richard Attenborough is the embodiment of Sir William Cecil, the Queen's predictable advisor. Video **** (4/30/99)

"The Opposite of Sex"-Christina Ricci, a young actress with a lot of talent for character parts, plays, for want of a better term, a bitchy 16-year old who leaves her mother behind in Louisiana, goes to visit her gay brother (Martin Donovan) and his friend in Indiana, and winds up disrupting just about everyone's life. Obviously intended to be a black comedy, the script of this film is second rate and full of stereotypes and anti-stereotypes, and some of the acting is weak. Particularly unfortunate are the performances of Lisa Kudrow as the sister of the gay brother's former lover who died of AIDS; and Lyle Lovett as a police officer. Kudrow's ultra-negative character somewhat mysteriously and annoyingly is present in virtually every scene, possibly to protect the ashes of her late brother which seem to be everpresent in the film; and Lovett, who has performed better in the past, seems to have acted this part without any rehearsal. His lines are stilted and his expression never changes. Donovan, for that matter, is another actor whose expression rarely changes (he also played Holly Hunter's expressionless former husband in "Living Out Loud"). Ivan Sergei is enthusiastic as Donovan's current gay lover who suddenly turns bisexual and falls for the Ricci character. Video ** (4/17/99)

"Living Out Loud"-This is a movie about a woman who has rid herself of her husband, finds herself abandoned and feeling lost and empty in an expensive upper east side coop in NY, and who manages to break out of her emptiness, find some inspiring friends, and live again. That description, however, simply doesn't do the film justice. Holly Hunter, whose tremendous acting talents were once recognized for "The Piano," but who isn't seen often enough, is absolutely delightful as the woman. Danny DeVito, demonstrating that he is as talented a serious actor as he is a comedic actor, plays an elevator operator with dreams of glory. And Queen Latifah, as a nightclub singer who provides the woman with friendship and some inspiration, sounds wonderful performing in cabaret style. This film is another little known gem and it sounds good too. Video ***1/2 (4/16/99)

"American History X"-When this film played in the theaters I had the mistaken notion that it was somehow favorable to skinhead ideas. As it turns out, the film was nothing like I imagined. In fact, I'd say it was one of the best American films I've seen in several years. Edward Norton is quite impressive and dynamic as a young man loaded with hate after the murder of his father, an LA firefighter. The hate leads to dire consequences for him, his victims, and his family. This is a movie that isn't afraid to discuss very controversial attitudes about racial and ethnic issues in blunt terms, although it ultimately takes the necessary high road towards decency and humanity (even if it does follow a somewhat unrealistic path). Also outstanding in the cast are Edward Furlong as Norton's younger brother who appears headed down the same road as his older sibling; Jennifer Lien as their sister; Beverly D'Angelo as their mother (here's a talented actress who far too often is seen in films such as the National Lampoon series when she is capable of far more serious roles); Avery Brooks as a black school principal with faith in Norton's ultimate humanity; Fairuza Balk as Norton's skinhead girlfriend; and Stacy Keach as the hatemonger responsible for egging on the vulnerable skinhead youth. The film's theme is obvious, but needs to be said, over and over and over and over. Video **** (4/10/99)

"Wild Man Blues"-There is another side to Woody Allen, the film director, that of a clarinetist and jazz musician, and in this documentary we get to see it in full bloom. Woody, the ultimate New York kvetch, and his wife, Soon-Yi Previn, travel with a group of jazz musicians from New York to numerous locations in France and Italy to perform their marvelous renditions of New Orleans jazz. Woody is seen moaning and groaning as he travels, going from hotel rooms to theaters. But when he gets to the theater, he is transformed into Woody Allen, a first-rate jazz clarinetist who, with an excellent group of musicians, produces outstanding music. Although not looked at in depth, the film reveals the controversial relationship between Woody and Soon-Yi to be a rather peaceful and benign one in which Ms. Previn is the perfect, secure, non-judgmental companion for Mr. Allen. In fact, they seem to go together like a couple that had been married for many years. If you like and admire Woody Allen, you can't go wrong with this delightful look at Allen's rather wonderful hobby. And the music is great. Video ***1/2 (4/3/99)

"Bulworth"-I suppose many of us wonder what it would be like if politicians actually spoke the truth and said what they really feel about issues. In fact, in these politically correct times, it might be interesting if all of us could express our true feelings. But they don't and we don't. Here, however, Senator Jay Bulworth, in the midst of a suicidal depression, gets to unload his inner feelings about minorities and minority issues. Because this film is a fantasy about an obviously disturbed man, it's not really feasible to discuss the controversial issues raised by the Bulworth character. The real concern is with truth and honesty in political dialogue. Warren Beatty is interesting as Bulworth, a politician who suddenly turns into a rap artist of politics. Hallie Berry is okay as the young woman who finds herself accompanying Beatty on his adventure. The concept is original, but ultimately it's overdone and tires somewhat. Not a great film, but certainly entertaining in its uniqueness. Video *** (4/2/99)

"Polish Wedding"-Often, I find, the most charming and entertaining films are also the least known. This is one of those. Gabriel Byrne, Lena Olin, and Claire Danes star in this film about a Polish family in Detroit with a few of the typical movie-family problems. Lena Olin, a beautiful Swedish actress, is pretty convincing as the mother of five with lust in her heart. Byrne, an Irish actor, is perfect as the unhappy, but quietly stoic husband. And Claire Danes, as usual, is delightful, as the beautiful and wild daughter. The video box contains a blurb describing this film as "wildly hilarious." Well, wildly hilarious it is not. But it is charming, well acted and entertaining. The tone of the film is set by pleasant European style theme music. Video ***1/2 (3/27/99)

"Pleasantville"-Fantasy can come in all shapes and sizes. Here it comes in colors. An original concept, this film magically takes two 1990's siblings (Tobey Maguire as a somewhat nerdy brother and Reese Witherspoon as the with-it, cool, and sexy sister) back to a black and white TV-perfect world of the 1950's. That neither one of them can adapt to the sterility of the gray shades leads to chaos in this Stepford Wives sort of world. And with the changes they cause, comes sex, passions, color, and ultimately trouble. With a theme of the necessity for acceptance of inevitable change, this entertaining film is also philosophical and worthwhile. Maguire and Witherspoon seem completely natural as the transformed brother and sister. William H. Macy is perfect as the "Honey, I'm home" father who ultimately is bewildered by the changes occurring in his wife and family. Joan Allen is delightful and looking very good as the mother who discovers a whole new world for herself. Jeff Daniels does a nice turn as the soda shop owner with an eye for color, and Don Knotts is a perfect choice as the mysterious TV repairman who is behind all the magic. Video ***1/2 (3/27/99)

"Sunday"-The independent film these days seems to be dedicated to the down and out. This is a somewhat interesting but ultimately puzzling film about a man who is living in a shelter in Queens, NY, and one day meets an attractive woman his age who believes he is a movie director she once knew. The action jumps between the interaction of these two and the sad activities of the other homeless men in the shelter. Both stars are British. David Suchet is Oliver who is mistaken for Matthew. Lisa Harrow is Madeleine, an actress who is separated from an annoying and somewhat mysterious husband. Oliver and Madeleine seem perfect for each other, but they can't seem to communicate in a forthright manner. It simply is not clear who they are and what they want. And this somewhat typical indie film has a somewhat indecisive typical ending. Video *** (3/12/99)

"Ronin"-Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Natascha McElhone, and Jonathan Pryce star in this thriller which takes place in France about a group of killers hired by a mysterious Irish woman to capture a mysterious metal case. It's loaded with action and cliches. There are all the required twists, turns and double crosses, street battles, car explosions and car chases. DeNiro is fairly low key as the main operative who, of course, is very sly and knowing. The bad guys shoot thousands of bullets and most get killed. The "good guys" (and I say that very loosely) rarely get hit despite being shot at by hoards of enemies. The car chases are incredible, but absurd and cliche-ridden. Yes, the cars smash into vegetable stands. How could they not? And two cars ride for miles on the wrong side of the road heading directly into oncoming traffic. Everyone else crashes but them. Video *** (3/6/99)

"Antz"-Yes, it is an animated film and appears on the surface to be aimed at kids. And yet, it is loaded with adult themes, including politics (oppression of the worker class, oligarchy), romance (love between members of different social orders), society (individualism vs. group thinking), and so on. One could almost say that this is a "Woody Allen film," as Allen does the voice of "Z," the main ant character, who grows from schlemiel to hero in the colony. Some parts of the script sound as if they had been written by Allen. Sharon Stone is the princess who finds herself involved in an "out-of-colony" experience with Z, and grows quite fond of the developing hero. Other recognizable characters are Sylvester Stallone as Z's soldier buddy, Gene Hackman as the evil General, Christopher Walken as an officer who begins to realize how he is being used for the General's insane purposes, and Jennifer Lopez as a female worker ant. One of the most humorous scenes is Z's encounter with a pair of wasps named Chip and Muffy. Video ***1/2 (3/6/99)

"Your Friends and Neighbors"-Neil LaBute made a tremendous impact with his misogynistic film "The Company of Men." Now he returns with a film about even deeper inadequacies and lack of communication in human relationships. Ben Stiller, one of three male friends, is in an awful relationship with Catherine Keener who is also having a mediocre relationship with Nastassja Kinski. Aaron Eckhart is in a miserable marriage with Amy Brenneman who is also involved in a monumentally dysfunctional affair with Stiller. And Jason Patric, the third of the male friends, is as monstrously misogynistic as they come in his relationships with the unfortunate women who cross his path. I was particularly taken with the portrait of Stiller's character, a professor of drama who is incapable of completing an intelligent sentence when he is around the people important in his life. This is a tough film with some rough language and scenes. Unfortunately, while still thought-provoking, it does not compare to LaBute's earlier film. Video *** (2/27/99)

"When The Cat's Away"-This is a French film about a young woman who has a gay roommate who won't take care of her cat while she goes on vacation. So, she finds an elderly lady in her Paris neighborhood to board the cat while she's away. Upon returning, she discovers that the cat has disappeared. The young lady and various strange neighbors begin a search for the cat that seems to become an obsession. The young lady, who is single, may or may not also be looking for love. Ultimately, the cat is found but there certainly isn't much else to say about this rather strange and dull little film. Video ** (2/20/99)

"Little Voice"-Jane Horrocks, previously known for playing "Bubble" on the British TV comedy "Absolutely Fabulous," has admirably seized her opportunity to blossom as an actress and performer in this sad but very funny movie about a terribly introverted young woman known as LV, who mourns her music-loving father and must survive the constant bitter prattle of her overwhelming mother played remarkably by Brenda Blethyn ("Secrets and Lies"). LV (really Laura) listens obsessively to her father's records while trying to drown out her mother's sounds and seems incapable of human contact. But deep down there is a remarkable talent for mimicry and singing that will ultimately come out through her mother's sleazy but charming boyfriend Ray Say, played wonderfully by the great Michael Caine. Say sees an opportunity for sucess in promoting Little Voice, and the audience ultimately gets the opportunity to see Horrocks' amazing talent as she does Judy Garland, Shirley Bassey, Marilyn Monroe, and a multitude of other singers and movie voices. Ewan McGregor is fine and different as a quiet young man who takes to LV. Jim Broadbent is, as usual, outstanding as the nightclub owner, Mr. Boos. Once again, the British demonstrate that they really know how to put on a show. Theater. **** (2/14/99)

"Shakespeare In Love"-A fantasy about the imagined love of William Shakespeare and a young upper class lady named Viola, this film is magnificent. From the script co-authored by Tom Stoppard, to the incredible costumes and sets, to the absolutely wonderful acting of Joseph Fiennes as Will, Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola, Geoffrey Rush (hilarious as the bumbling operator of the Rose), Tom Wilkinson (as the evil financier who turns into an authentic Shakespearean apothecary), Judi Dench (as a magisterial Queen Elizabeth), Simon Callow (as the Ken Starr of his era), Colin Firth (as the nasty and unworthy Wessex), and Ben Affleck (as "Romeo's" Mercutio), this movie constantly overwhelms with quality. Fiennes is a wonderful new presence on the acting scene, with substantially more energy and excitement in his eyes than his also highly talented brother Ralph. And finally, I have never before been so impressed as I was in this film by Gwyneth Paltrow. If I had never seen her before, I would have no doubt she was British and raised in the English repertory. She is lovely and dynamic in this film, certainly a worthy inspiration for Will's creation of Juliet. Theater. ****1/2 (2/13/99)

"Kurt and Courtney"-This documentary turned out to be more interesting than expected. But after it was over and the filmmaker Nick Broomfield had thoroughly trashed Courtney Love and implied that she might have had something to do with the death of her husband, the rock star Kurt Cobain, I had the strange feeling that the film might not be terribly reliable and that many facts might have been omitted. Love refused to allow Cobain's music to be used and Broomfield admitted that he was discouraged by many sources from proceeding with the film. His potential motivation for revenge in the making of the film was not discussed. One would have to believe that Love is an amazingly powerful figure in the movie industry. Maybe so, but the whole thing doesn't ring true. The most interesting part of this film were the personalities of some of the characters around Kurt and Courtney. I was most taken by Kurt's aunt who seemed unusually cheerful considering the subject she was discussing. And watching her standing in front of a classroom, guitar in hand, talking to the class about Cobain, you would have thought she was discussing Beethoven or Mozart. Video. *** (2/6/99)

"There's Something About Mary"-This trash is wonderful if you were born in approximately 1991. Otherwise I'd recommend that you stay as far away from this film as possible. I turned it off after 45 minutes of embarrassingly juvenile humor. Video. 1/4 (2/6/99)

"Buffalo '66"-A grungy guy (Vincent Gallo) leaves prison, kidnaps a young tap dancer (Christina Ricci), visits his repulsive and football-mad parents (Ben Gazzara and Anjelica Huston), abuses a friend, and thinks about killing a placekicker who cost him a gigantic bet and five years of his life. This independent film is weird and depressing and little else (despite a brief upbeat ending). The film is Vincent Gallo's creation and he certainly has some talent, but it would be nice to see it directed towards something more viewable. This film certainly isn't, although Christina Ricci is exceptional (a scene in a photo booth with Gallo is memorable). Video. **1/2 (2/5/99)

"Smoke Signals"-This is a "road" film of two young Coeur d'Alene (Idaho) Indians, Victor and Thomas, who both survived a tragic fire as babies, but otherwise have little in common. In fact, they appear to be complete opposites. One is good looking but depressed and angry over his father's abandonment of his mother and himself, and the other is nerdy but filled with intelligent insight and wonderful stories. When Victor learns of his father's death in Phoenix to which he had run after a final alcohol-related argument with Victor's mother, the two start a journey to Arizona to recover the father's remains. It sounds like a cliche to say that they grow with the experience, but that is what happens nevertheless. The journey is beautifully done with marvelous segues between the boys as young teenagers and the present. Adam Beach and Evan Adams are perfect as Victor and Thomas. Irene Bedard also does a fine job as the Phoenix neighbor and friend of Victor's father. This film is based on a book by the novelist Sherman Alexie (whose reputation as a significant writer is growing) who also wrote the screenplay. This is the kind of delightful film that one sees and then feels sad about because it's obviously one that few people will hear about or see. Highly recommended. Video. **** (1/30/99)

"The Truman Show"-Ed Harris gives an intense and frightening performance as a "God-like" director of a lifelong television show about Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), a man who although obviously bright, is totally oblivious to the repetition and inanity of his TV show life. The premise is absurd, and yet the film makes a significant comment about the nature of reality and the extent that television and entertainment has taken over our lives. The exposure of an individual's life certainly has its real life counterparts in the world of the media, including the most obvious tale of Tripp/Lewinsky/Clinton. And it is always interesting to see movie makers effectively attacking their own profession. Carrey, avoiding his usual obsessive comedic presentation, is excellent as Truman who finally begins to see through the charade. Laura Linney is fine as Truman's "wife." Video. **** (1/18/99)

"Pi"-A glaring, harsh black and white film about a disturbed mathematician obsessively seeking a numerical solution to the stock market. Our hero comes across a series of numbers on his computer which may or may not be significant either to stock market technophiles or Jewish cabalists. Our hero also plays Go with a former mentor and suffers horrifying headaches that lead to repetitious scenes of pill-taking and paranoid hallucinations. This is pseudo-intellectual claptrap of the highest order. Video. ** (1/17/99)

"Henry Fool"-This is what one might call "Indendent Film Channel fare." A lamentation on the nature of literary talent, inspiration, and deprived living conditions, this is the story of two men. Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) begins as a lowly sanitation worker and achieves fame as a poet, and Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan) somewhat mysteriously appears as a pretender to the role of a serious writer, but has a somewhat surprising fate. The effect one has on the other as well as Fool's effect on Grim's mother and sister (Parker Posey) are the essence of this tale of irony. Posey is well established as the queen of the independent films. Urbaniak and Ryan are new and excellent in their counterpointing roles. This film is recommended only for those who enjoy unusual and somewhat challenging films. No car chases here. Video. ***1/2 (1/16/99)

"Out of Sight"-When I read recently that the National Society of Film Critics had named this film best film of 1998, I was astounded. Frankly, I'd barely heard of the film and certainly wasn't impressed that the stars, George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, could be in a "best film." Well, I was right. It couldn't possibly be the best film of 1998, but it is an excellent film nevertheless. The genre is familiar. The Elmore Leonard characters, the good looking bank robber, the beautiful Federal marshal, the usual crew of bumbling crooks planning on the ultimate diamond heist, and the twists and turns of the plot. Clooney and Lopez look good and act well. The supporting cast is first rate, including Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn, Dennis Farina, Albert Brooks, and a couple of surprise cameos. Steve Soderbergh has created an attractive, well paced, low key, and just plain fun genre film. Video. **** (1/9/99)


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