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Cop Land

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Watching this movie, I got the distinct sense that there was a lot left on the cutting room floor. Like an actual movie. What was left is a series of sequences that look like they relate but really don’t – why did Stallone wreck his car?

This serious film, dripping with testosterone, has been widely touted as Sylvester Stallone’s foray into serious actor-dom. In his defense, there was nothing at all wrong with his performance, or anyone else’s – all the big names in this movie were working very hard to make some sense out of a painfully empty and seemingly stupid script.

I am amazed ANY characterization occurred at all, with what little these folks had to work with. Robert DeNiro, Cathy Moriarty, Annabella Sciorra, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert Patrick (you know, the T1000), Janeane Garafalo (and why was she so wasted?), and Michael Rapaport are also horribly underused or wrongly used or just plain overcast in this film.

Lots of moments appear to be leading to someplace interesting, only to crash and burn (unresolved) under the weight of a terribly portentious score by Howard Shore.Dun dun da-dun! He is reaching for a sandwich! Daa da da DUNN! He bit into it! CUT TO: Car driving along street, driving beat and lots of horns and drums as the driver looks at THE SKYLINE! DUN DUNDAAAA!

There was no reason to use all these expensive, scenery chewing people if they were not going to be portrayed as someone interesting. People were sleeping around and no one cared. All kinds of terrible mayhem happened and I wondered how Air Bud’s game was going. I sensed I should have had some emotions at some point but perhaps it was just the music. I was bored silly. I didn’t care about anyone, but as soon as I thought about getting interested in the Robert Altman-like scattering of random and unrelated plot points, they dropped the thread.

I still don’t know what the movie was about. I say Catch It on HBO because it’s only fair to Sly that you see how hard he worked. But for heaven’s sake, don’t pay any extra money to see it. And Janeane Garafalo, who I love, why was she in this movie???

MPAA Rating R for violence, strong language and brief nudity.
Release date 7/14/97
Time in minutes 100
Director James Mangold
Studio Miramax

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Contact

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Wow. Cool. Smart. How did they do that shot? (open mouthed silent gaping)

The opening sequence begins as interesting but as your mind starts to wrap around it, it just becomes…ahhhh open mouthed silent gaping. As Kevin says, the best use of silence in a film in years. Jodie Foster is genetically engineered for the role of Ellie Arroway – reading the book it was an inescapable comparison. The movie does diverge significantly from the book on both major and minor points, but it is completely devoted to the central theme in the novel.

My only complaint is the distracting use of footage of our real president in scenes that could very well have been set in a future administration with an actor as our future unknown president. OK, and a certain blazing hypocrisy is not pointed out in a key scene. But besides that, Contact left me feeling viscerally tugged and with an intense desire to reflect and be alone.

I don’t want to give away too much, but essentially we get a little wakeup call from the stars and start re-examining everything – science, theology, our place in the universe…the ideas are not new to me as I was raised in a similar environment to Ellie, but to have them executed so eloquently on screen is a rarity.

The start of the film has the most “mundane” action, but to compensate, director Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the agonizingly overrated Forrest Gump) does some totally amazing camera things – it never stops moving, like the curious eyes of a child.

Most people would not notice so just watch for a scene when young Ellie runs upstairs. Wow! How did they do that! It was almost distracting it was so neat. But the story hooks you and the sophistication of the novel is hinted at. Naturally they have to get through a lot to get to the end, so many plot elements came off a bit pat and contrived, but only because they didn’t take the time to explain why it is not contrived.

Just go see it, but read it as well. It’s more visceral than I can explain in a short little review like this – but you can feel your breath in your throat at the most unexpected times. Matthew McConaughey is Palmer Joss, a flip side of Ellie’s coin, and frankly I don’t understand the point of much of the parts of their relationship (especially since it was created for the film), but he does provide some valuable debate points.

Pay full price and I don’t think you will be disappointed.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/14/97
Time in minutes 150
Director Robert Zemeckis
Studio Warner Bros

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A Simple Wish

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This is a film for children – adults on their own will find the jokes predictable and even a little old – however, we must not forget that kids have never heard these jokes before. The kids all around me this Sunday matinee were laughing and giggling at Martin Short’s antics – he definitely was channeling a little Danny Kaye. If you know me at all, you know that is a high compliment – I mean, he is not Danny Kaye’s heir to the silly children’s jester throne, but he was really as close as Hollywood will let anyone get.

Mara Wilson is – guess what? adorable as the one making the wish. The movie is crawling with Oscar nominees too – generally in scenes together and everything – Kathleen Turner, Teri Garr, and Amanda Plummer (not sure if nominated ever but she should be). There are cute fairy godmothers and wicked witches and adventure and lessons to be learned. A great deal of work went into this movie – it would be a shame if no one ever saw it. But see it with a child, certainly. Robert Pastorelli is a different kind of dad, the wish is a different kind of wish, and this is an infinitely better children’s movie than Wild America or Space Jam (shudder). The production designers and camera people did some really clever things – and there is a fake Broadway show in it that is a soooooo very perfect stab at that institution.

It’s not brilliant or for adults, but it’s a nice, pleasant movie you can pretend to be eight years old with.

Catch a matinee or rent it, depending on your tastes. But only with a kid. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 7/14/1997
Time in minutes 89
Director Michael Ritchie
Studio Universal Pictures

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Men in Black

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Men in Black showed such promise in the preview – it delivers everything in the preview and almost nothing more. Some interesting production design, a couple of predictable but humorous digs at famous people, and some amusing bits strung together make this movie the cuisine equivalent of a light Chinese meal.

Will Smith’s likeability, which makes him a good foil to the practically personality-free character that Tommy Lee Jones plays, seems forced (more so than normal) and Jones’ looks like he wishes he could have had some of the funny lines. The creatures were pretty interesting looking, and there is a weird farmer guy who was an interesting side story, but all in all, it was kinda….well….

There is a plot but it’s really just a linear slice of time rather than an actual plot – oh they try to hook us into some kind of suspense with a countdown clock and all that, but really, are we ever in doubt? At least in movies where there are possibly apocalyptic events that MIGHT happen if our heroes come through, we are all wound up thinking “My god, how will they ever do that thing and make that doohickey?” Not so here. MiB exists for critters, cool toys, and cute bits. It felt vaguely like a skit comedy show with one running theme.

I say matinee price rather than rental JUST so you can see all the cool critters and things down at MiB headquarters and such visuals – but you have seen almost the entire thing already, you just don’t know it.

Rent Independence Day for Will Smith and effects, see Men in Black because it’s a hot summer afternoon and you don’t have much else to do.

But don’t pay more than matinee price.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 7/9/97
Time in minutes 98
Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Studio Columbia TriStar

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Hercules (1997)

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For you fuddy duddies out there who dismiss animated features as “kid’s stuff,” you must have been living under a rock these last 8 years or so – Disney, Nickelodeon, Fox, HBO, all these studios have been producing cartoons that appeal to adults. Hercules is a perfect example – it has all the fun mythological stuff to hook the kids, cute baby Pegasus, familar myths and legends stories, and Disney’s prerequisite BEAUTIFUL animation.

Alan Menken, shaking off the extremely wrongful snub for Best Score at the Oscars last year, composes a fun bopping score much more along the lines of his Little Shop of Horrors than Hunchback of Notre Dame or Beauty and the Beast. The Greek chorus is a girl group style chorus who are worked into the action in truly clever ways only possible with animation, and of course anachronisms abound (as in Aladdin). Best of all is all the clever, knowing, yet squeaky-clean humor that will FLY over the kids’ heads.

James Woods voices a smarmy Hollywood agent/used car salesman version of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, so he’s no nightmare-inducing Queen from Snow White, but he is definitely bad – but very very funny. Herc himself is sympathetic and developed in a way that a comparable live action hero just isn’t these days. The jokes are actually so fast and furious I am going to have to see it again to catch them all! And yes, I will pay full price again! The soundtrack is not as strongly standalone as Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, but it fits perfectly within proper Greek theatre parameters – only adults would appreciate that.

Michael Bolton is the only blemish on this shiny urn. But hey, it’s only during the credits!

It’s fast and fun, it’s a short movie with lots packed into it (voice talents include Matt Frewer aka Max Headroom, Bobcat Goldthwait, Charlton Heston, Rip Torn, Tate Donovan, and Danny DeVito, among others of course). Amusing stabs at Space Jam (shudder) and the present day iconization of the strangest things, not to mention self-mocking Disney merchanidising mania, will keep the grownups interested, and may even help them save some money at the Disney store.

It’s a cool movie and really very satisfying. Full Price Feature with a drink (it’s short, you won’t need to go to the bathroom) and popcorn.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 7/9/1997
Time in minutes 86
Director Ron Clements, John Musker
Studio Walt Disney

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Face Off

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Aka Face/Off

If you like gunplay, especially well-executed and original looking gunplay, well, John Woo is your man and Face/Off is your movie. I enjoyed this a lot more than Woo’s Broken Arrow by the simple virtue that it had a really interesting story and you never knew where it was going to turn next. The movie is stuffed with plot, and crammed with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta doing what they do best, which is inhabiting a character (well, two characters each) and having the time of their life doing so. There is a ton of gunplay, did I mention that? I tend to find firestorm type shoot-em-ups boring, but this was different. To say more would require delving into plot and I don’t want to ruin anything for anyone. The preview ruins very little for us. Joan Allen, still haunted by the spirit of Goody Proctor, turns in a nice performance as The Good Guy’s Wife, as well as Gina Gershon (but not until well into the 2nd reel) as…? Go to the bathroom before it starts, it runs something like 2 hrs and
20 minutes.

If you don’t like John Woo movies (the slo-mo bad guys, sunlight flashing dramatically off sunglasses, etc.), well, you still might like this one. The bad guy slo-mo shtick was stupid to me in Broken Arrow but fit its subjects better here.

From a medical standpoint, Face/Off is wildly improbable (I mean, just look at the SIZE of Travolta’s SKULL!) but at the same time uniquely fascinating. It’s not for the squeamish, and you should have a sense of humor going in, because these bad guys are greatly funny and the good guys are pretty silly too! Hong Kong filmmakers are breathing new life into the genre for us Americans who think we want to see Batman and Robin or Speed 2. (yuck)

Woo throws us climax after climax, just like all the other action movies this summer, but his actually seemed to be building toward something and towards an actual payoff, rather than just BLAM for BLAM’s sake. A strange little actor plays Pollux Troy, the brother of Castor Troy, and they are the bad guys. I wish I knew his name but he was like the Anti-Niles Crane to Troy’s Anti-Frasier. I won’t say any more! Just go see it!

I hope you all enjoy it, I know I did. Nicholas Cage is so perfect for this kind of stuff – who says you have to do only Merchant Ivory films after an Oscar win?
Pay full price.

MPAA Rating R-strong violence, strong language.
Release date 6/27/97
Time in minutes 138
Director John Woo
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Batman and Robin

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6 butt shots. 5 crotch shots. Infinite chest shots. Stupid stupid stupid! Oh, if only watching this movie was like mixing liquor and beer – at least I could have thrown it up. OK. Um, good points….nice Gotham City architecture left over from Batman Forever. Uhhhh…Mr. Freeze’s makeup is very cool – even with a blue light in his mouth. Poor George Clooney, trying to inject some ER-quality heart into a few scenes with Alfred but just getting squashed by all the inane, whiny loud, boring, nonsensical crap.

The sparsely occupied theatre was hooting at all the incredibly pathetic one-liners that a fourth grader would roll his eyes at. Sid and Marty Kroft style sound effects – seriously – bad guy goes flying (and there is plenty of way-too-high, way-too-far flying around of bad guys) WHOOSH! Bad guys lands on his fanny, a la Sigmund the Sea Monster, and bdoooiiiinng! YAWN! says the audience. BOO says the cow.

The $200 million used to torment me last night could have been distributed among the needy upstart filmmakers all over America. Or sent to Africa to feed the entire continent for a year. No storyline to speak of. Why were Elle McPherson and Vivca A. Fox in this movie? They didn’t do anything. Vendela was suspended in a jar, she might as well have been some lovely extra from the enormous pool of non-working actors. Heroes dangling in a seemingly unsavable situation – then cut to them chatting and relaxed at home. Um, I guess they escaped!

I walked into that theatre with EXTREMELY low expectations, I was embarassed to tell a coworker I saw in the lobby what I was there to see (until he said he was also seeing it, “under duress”), and I am bitter that my duty to protect you, my readers, from wasting money, forced me to see this dreck.

Did I mention that I was disappointed by this movie? Noisy ready-to-sell alternarock soundtrack, whiny Chris O’Donnell, uninteresting and unfinished plot involving Alicia Silverstone, not enough bad guys doing bad things, but plenty of bad guys talking about all the bad things they were going to do. I actually didn’t notice when one of them was caught (ooh gave it away, oops!) and still I don’t know how it happened. Bane was funny. But even a piece of asbestos looks pretty in a pile of vomited barbeque.

Rent something, go see an art film, a movie you have seen before, just don’t see this.

Unless you like sickening car accidents.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/23/1997
Time in minutes 126
Director Joel Schumacher
Studio Warner Bros

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My Best Friend's Wedding

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Girl is best friends with boy, finds out he’s getting married, realizes she loves boy, tries to steal boy by any means necessary.

As my male readers roll their eyes, “Of course she likes it, it’s a chick flick,” I wish I could quote the men coming out of the packed theatre to prove to you that it is a fully accessible movie for both sexes. This movie is fabulous! And I mean that in the splashy Birdcagey spectacle of it all. I have long been leery of Julia Roberts, but she pulled off the devious yet vulnerable yet smitten role just right. She even does the physical comedy.

Everyone was perfect – they were utterly believable even in their sometimes outrageous behavior. I have actually been to a rehearsal dinner similar to the one in the movie so I can talk! Cameron Diaz is gutsy enough to poke fun at herself and we love her – there is no bad guy/good guy thing and there is no pat predictable throwaway ending. It’s full of genuine, honest emotion from start to finish and I sped to the store to buy the soundtrack.

The opening title sequence sets the stage and you folks out there who think the opening is dumb, well I pity you and your inability to feel the joy that I was feeling. A line from the preview was shuffled around in a scene but ultimately cut because the riotous laughter prevented its ever being heard.

Rupert Everett, as Julia Roberts’ friend and editor is a prize! He breathes life into scenes that would otherwise have been clumsy and awkward. I have read some bad press on Dermot Mulroney, and maybe you have to have a taste for Demot Mulroney’s character’s type of relating to other people, but I found him utterly apt. Just go see it right now!

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/23/1997
Time in minutes 105
Director P. J. Hogan
Studio Tri-Star

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Speed 2: Cruise Control

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Ever sacrificing for my loyal reading audience, I saw Speed 2. Now, in defense of Jan deBont, this guy knows how to make movies look good. I think that Jan deBont is THE man you want shooting any kind of vehicular movement for you – he could make an ice cream truck tootling down your street look exciting. That said, he is not the person you would go to for any kind of complicated character analyses. Now, don’t get me wrong, I will defend Twister’s sparse plot line to the death – I mean, how much character development can you have, really, in that kind of situation?

But isn’t Speed 2 a sequel, with already-familiar folks doing what they do best? Well, no.

This is a movie with basically a tie-over character (Sandra Bullock) who introduces us to the HERO Jason Patric. It’s Jason’s movie, start to finish, and while he is completely good at what he is doing (and he is asked to do a LOT), he doesn’t bring anything external to the script to his role, like Sandy did in the first one. I’m glad Keanu Reeves is not in this picture, but I’m sorry that Sandra Bullock is. She, and Willem DaFoe, are totally wasted.

Best line, also from the preview: “Who’s driving the boat?” Willem: “I am!” (Sigh of relief from audience – Jesus is driving the boat! * ) Unfortunately, good visuals only go so far. Jan deBont takes the material he has to the utter limit, and for that he should be applauded, but he needs to hire the guy who wrote the Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont, instead of the Bananas in Pyjamas he has on his script team right now.

To better enjoy this movie, try to have never seen the preview at all ever. It ruins the whole thing. Try and find a HDTV and rent Twister instead, or go see Brassed Off (do that anyway). When Speed 2 comes on HBO, grab some popcorn and try and invent a drinking game based on the silliness.

*if you don’t know what I am talking about, see The Last Temptation of Christ and you will understand why Willem Dafoe should not have been in this movie.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 6/16/1997
Time in minutes 121
Director Jan de Bont
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Brassed Off

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Brassed Off is a tiny little British movie about the coal mining town of Grimley, the Tory party’s coal mine closures, and the Colliery Band trembling on the edge of packing it all in. It may not sound like much, but it was a wonderful movie – “Pete Postlethwaite’s best film this summer!”

Pete Postlethwaite is really amazing as the colliery band leader – emotions track across his cheekboned face leaving deep footprints. Ewan McGregor (you know, Trainspotting alum turned young Obi-Wan Kenobi) is similarly translucent – if the sound had cut out of the film, we still would have known exactly what was going on, just by watching him and Pete.

Steven Thompkinson plays Postlethwaite’s son, a man in a terrible position in town, with more layers than an onion. Tara Fitzgerald is fine as Gloria, the Grimley native who is an outsider as well. My writing skills are insufficient in such a brief medium and without giving away plot points to fullt recommend this film. I don’t know much about Tory/Whig British politics or the Margaret Thatcher detractions, but the plight of these desperate miners does not need to have a political background to have power.

Brassed Off has a great deal of comedy as well, and at the beginning I would have descibed it as “sweetly funny,” but then the movie becomes much more than a catch phrase. You dialect hounds out there will fancy the Yorkshire sounds and music fans will love the band’s performances. The cast is filled with comfortable, real faces and viscerally real performances. Please go see it! Pay full price!

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 6/16/97
Time in minutes 107
Director Mark Herman
Studio Miramax

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