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Last Days of Disco

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I am sorry to say this, but this movie is just not at all what it should have been. Written and directed by Whit Stillman (Barcelona, Metropolis) this tale is loosely based on the fall of Studio 54, the famously decadent nightclub that defined the Disco Mystique, if I can use such a phrase without being shot. It’s not 54, nor is it even all that disco, or all that mystical.

I was hugely disappointed in the period aspects of the film. OK, the early 1980’s were not even 20 years ago, yet the costumes look like vague approximations of a long-ago time period – like a poor high school doing The Crucible wearing ANYTHING made before the advent of the zipper. I don’t like to rag, but the togs were first of all unflattering (which could be interpreted as a Choice) and second of all practically modern. And I don’t even mean this pseudo-70’s comeback kind of modern polluting the malls these days – I mean like real clothes. The hair is all pretty modern too – not a feathering in sight, no big curls, no frizz, no crimp, no nothing remotely anything. Yes, Disco is not New Wave, but Kate Beckinsale (looking porcelain and more perfect than any 1998 Revlon ad) has a really Friends-friendly ‘do. The guys have pretty cute, regular haircuts. It’s shameful. Sarah Edward’s costumes are even cruel to some actors.

The club. A den of iniquity, a meat market drug addled party palace that’s just impossible to get into. OR The Hard Rock Cafe with some people wearing silver body paint and masquerade costumes. Everyone is conversing at living room volume despite the pumping rhythm of the O Jays. The peak of the sexual revolution is expressed by gay and straight people dancing at the same club! Horrors! It’s well lit, and about as scary as Disney’s Pleasure Island. Not fantastic and decadent but kind of lame, while still upbeat. For one brief, random shot, the club actually looked like a disco – even my moviegoing companion noticed that was the only spot.

A giganto ensemble cast of characters who don’t use each other’s name enough may be realistic but it’s hard to follow – and in true Hollywood style, no one has a defined character until they hook up with someone. Chloe Sevigny slumps her way through the women’s perspective (really obviously written by a man) with an annoyingly wafflish character who is only NOT annoying right when everyone says she is being so. Robert Sean Leonard and Jennifer Beals have small parts but do great. Too bad they couldn’t have replaced some of the other folk. Beals, to her credit, actually looks perfectly Disco. Some of my friends will recognize Matt Keeslar (who I lovingly refer to as Box Office Poison – he needs a new agent) in an oddly against-type role, and he really almost gets to do something with it. He’s involved with my two favorite speeches in the movie (re: Lady and the Tramp, and Disco) and he’s magically delicious. His character is a total tool, however, so be prepared. If you wanna see him naked, rent Run of the Country. Beckinsale is a bitch, totally see through and not as witty as the previews would lead you to believe. It’s all very muddled and strange and then it’s over, felled by a weird sting.

It’s kind of interesting, and poor Keeslar really is worth watching, as are a couple of the supporting players, trudging gamely through Stillman’s labored writing. The ideas are good, the actors are doing their best, but the energy just doesn’t translate. Everyone is depressed before the end of disco, dragged down by egos they don’t exhibit. But I was unsatisfied by the whole affair. Rent it – rent it for Matt.

MPAA Rating R -some sexuality and drugs.
Release date 5/29/98
Time in minutes 113
Director Whit Stillman
Studio Gramercy Pictures

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Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas

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Uh…half a kilo

To tell the truth, I saw this movie over a week ago – I just haven’t been able to decide how I felt about it. On one hand, I have never taken a hallucinogenic, so I am pretty sure I missed something pretty important (and yet, I have missed nothing but near-death experiences, apparently). On another hand, I can’t imagine anyone more suited to taking another person’s autobiographical relation of an unreal experience and making it real than director Terry Gilliam. Terry, you may recall, gave us Brazil, 12 Monkeys, and a slew of other enduring image bombardments. On yet another hand (a twisting, gore-stained hallucination of a third hand), the movie really goes nowhere. Of course we don’t expect a standard narrative with exposition, conflict, change, denouement, or what have you, in a situation like this – but at the same time, acting, production values, and sheer spectacle can only take you so far watching a movie.

At no point was I bored, disinterested, or even all that alienated. One person I saw it with thought the novelty wore off and it went 30 minutes too long. Johnny Depp, as usual, is just great. I don’t know anything about Hunter S. Thompson, but I do know Depp, and I believe I was in those hotel rooms with Thompson. Depp bravely goes bald, bowlegged, and way skinny, as Benecio Del Toro goes hugely paunchy. By shedding their original sexy guy images, Del Toro and Depp gave us some serious acting. I was terrified by the constant peril Dr. Gonzo and Thompson put themselves in, and yet drawn to it, like an accident scene. I cannot recommend chemical enhancement before viewing the movie – it would be a disservice to the work of the production staff to foil their attempts at creating a seriously trippy flick.

It seems almost redundant to take hallucinogens in Las Vegas, but I’m telling you, nothing could be scarier than the alterna-Circus Circus that they built for the film. And I mean nothing. Even sober. If anyone out there has seen the sideshow themed CD Rom that The Residents put out, just paste in Depp and tilt the angle a bit and you have an idea of what *some* of the movie is like. Then add another obscure bit of Peter Jackson work, Meet The Feebles, and you have a vague notion of what this movie is like. (I mean no disservice to director of photography Nicola Pecorini or production designer Alex McDovell) To add to the surrealism (for the audience), Fear and Loathing is chock full of wacky random cameos – not like the überhip “look at me I’m a cameo” of most movies, but people I don’t think have ever worked with Gilliam, Depp, or Del Toro before. Like Mark “Can you believe how hunky I am at this advanced age” Harmon. Yeah, you know, the guy from Summer School.

I was a tad disappointed in the soundtrack – it seemed like they used every song you would expect in a drug related movie set in 1971. Yep, they used the one you are thinking of right now. Yeah, yeah, that one too. But at the same time, every song *was* perfect. And, hey, there’s a reason they are classics of the brown-acid set. On top of it all, it wasn’t a painful soundtrack-pushing exercise in Forrest-Gumpistic commercialism. So it added nothing to the experience except a conscious awareness that it was a movie. But maybe that was the point – so Thompson fans, sitting in a mescaline and ether haze in the audience, can discern the film from their own chemically induced entertainment. But what do I know of these things?

The script, of course, was mostly from Hunter’s writing in the moment, with of course shooting instructions stuck in – but I find it hard to believe anyone on distilled human adrenaline could possibly have the presence of mind to notate everything that happened. But the events are great and wild and alarming and entertaining. Isn’t that what you want? A great line, referring to our protagonists: They are “God’s prototypes, not intended for mass production.” I am told by a friend who saw the movie with me that they stuck faithfully to the book, so for those of you out there for which that is an issue, rest easy.

So if this is your cup of tea, spend some cash, grab a tub of corn, and enjoy. But if you would rather sit through your 7th viewing of Titanic *just in case* Leo makes it out alive this time, skip this movie altogether.

MPAA Rating R-pervasive extreme drug use, strong language, brief nudity.
Release date 5/22/98
Time in minutes 119
Director Terry Gilliam
Studio Universal Pictures

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Godzilla (1998)

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Do I have to tell you this movie was all hype and precious little delivery? Was anyone fooled by the 7-DAY-LONG weekend to fudge the opening weekend grosses and opening on as many screens as possible before word of mouth brought the Green One down like a ton of….well, like a ton of mutated lizard?

To be fair, in the Godzilla continuum, this is better than most, if only for having somewhat better effects and an honestly cool looking lizard…oh, if only we saw the whole guy sooner than an hour into the movie. Money shot? There is none.

Incompetence amongst the characters? Sure! Goofy inconsistencies with reality? Of course! But without all the camp of say, watching a giant turtle do high bar gymnastics. By the way, Ford, or whoever provided the cab for this movie, should stand to make a bundle. That is like, supercab. No airbags but totally safe. In my notes I wrote, “It’s nothing if it’s not loud.” I saw it on the best screen in town, with 21 of my closest acquaintances and about 8-10 strangers. LOUD HUGE BOOM YOW. This, I realized, was designed to distract me from the film. As my contacts shattered, I would be unable to see how poorly the CGI effects were matted. I would recognize the voices of all the main people but forget that they mostly come from TV and (with the exception of Broderick) can’t carry a feature, must less a feature starring an inconsistently massive/sorta massive/extra massive T-Rex, er, I mean, Gorilla-Whale. Oh, Hank Azaria and Harry Shearer, you guys finally got your raises on the Simpsons, don’t stoop to this. I just kept thinking about how Broderick and Azaria (who both got married during the shoot) could have been home with their beautiful blonde and brainy wives (or me) but instead would be remembered for…Godzilla.

For the cinematically inclined, you will appreciate how many shots were embarrassingly copied from Jurassic Park. “Please please think of that much better movie while you are watching this one!!”

Ever on the watch for shoddy on-set work (my personal pet peeve – if I were hired this crap would NEVER happen!), I’d like to point out the amazing rotating snow-globes, the hideous recycled insert shots, and the magical floating props, always just in reach no matter where the actor is. AND the astounding waterproof video equipment.

I don’t mind giving anything away – if you want to see Godzilla you will regardless of what anyone says, so here goes. They hire an expert (on worms?!) to advise them about this big old lizard that they have not identified as such, and then disregard the second intelligent thing he says in the movie and boot him. He is then made privy to all kinds of information by Jean Reno and well, that’s the good parts. The mayor is played by an actor playing Roger Ebert, I don’t get it – it’s hardly sly. Just dumb, really.

The very pretty Maria Pitillo, great at playing hyper-adorable women no man could ever be mad at, despite being blatantly sexually harassed and resorting to a sitcom scheme to win back her man’s heart, is supposed to be the smart and scrappy one.

I haven’t even gotten to Invasion of the Godzukis yet. They are trapped in a building, uh oh , they might escape into….an abandoned city. Big whoop, let em out. The biology is questionable, the behavior is questionable, and the matte work is even worse.

Now, the didactic part of the review. As most people know, Godzilla (Gojira) was created as a sort of cultural symbol of both the fear of nuclear devastation and the terrible “what if” fears of long-term nuclear usage. Godzilla has been both terrorizer and hero in the past movies, but always with those themes and lessons in mind. I can’t speak for Godzilla 1985 because I can’t recall it. Anyway, so we see this island being bombed by US and these poor sweet iguanas being nuked, helpless victims of mankind’s willy nilly destruction of their habitat, so we are kind of set up to sympathize with the beastie. Add one sweet little biologist concerned with mutations and other problems from nuclear testing, and this is shaping up to be a “Go, Zilla!” type flick. The poor critter (who, as creature design goes, does look pretty cool) swims halfway across the world looking for a safe place to hide and nest, and Matt from Melrose Place (Doug Savant) shoots at it mercilessly.

This continues until the poor beast dies a miserable death, its children killed before its eyes, and the sympathetic biologist and his lovely lady looking at it die painfully, as if that will comfort it. I don’t know. The humans in this film are such idiots that I’m thinking, give him Manhattan, it’s a toilet anyway!

Unlike Roland Emmerich’s and Dean Devlin’s previous effort, Independence Day, our “bad guy” is not a clearly malevolent creature purposefully trashing our planet, but rather a lonely parthenogenetic creation of our OWN MAKING looking for a safe place to hide. It just doesn’t work. Oh, and the jokes are by and large, not all that funny. Pitillo’s room at Azaria’s place (?) has the coolest lamp I have ever seen and that is what I took out of this movie. The set dressers had a great time on this flick and I applaud them trying to flesh out one-dimensional characters with interesting work. Woo hoo! It’s really tragic, because the majority of the performers here are above this kind of material EVERY WEEK ON THEIR RESPECTIVE TV SHOWS.

Humorous trivia: Shearer’s character name, Caiman, is an obscure and I think endangered type of crocodile with a slim wicked snout and a lot of teeth. Ha ha. Broderick’s last name Tatopoulos is the last name of the creature’s designer. Hoo ha. Oh and Azaria’s nickname is Animal – get it? Nature jokes.

I say dollar movie rather than recommending full avoidance because the critter is cool, the lamp is cool, and Doug Savant needs the exposure.

* This movie was originally rated Dollar Movie, which fell between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/19/98
Time in minutes 139
Director Roland Emmerich
Studio Sony Pictures

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The Horse Whisperer

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I never dreamed I would see this movie – I rolled my eyes at every preview, groaned in agony at the triumph-of-the-human spirit arm waving by the little girl in the show. I shuddered to be subjected to a love affair between a human saddlebag and a human iceberg. But one of my best friends “had” to see it since she’s moving to Montana so what can I do?

My primary complaint was the score, and the pace. But I’ll get to that, I want to dispense with what positive things I have to say first. The acting is all good, the dialogue is generally tolerable, but the movie was like 50 hrs long, filled with insert shots of buttering bread and putting needles on records – cut to TIGHTER shot of the needle on the record! Da daaaaaa! As a romance, The Horses of Madison County may have been more realistic and responsible than others played out by actors closer to myself in age, but man oh man, was this slow and unrewarding. Kristen Scott Thomas, age 31 (she looks 40+ in the movie) and Robert Redford (age 60, looks 410 in the movie) have a surprisingly nice chemistry – if she had shown this much animation in The English Patient, I might not loathe that movie as much as I do. One scene Redford and Thomas had together in a dance hall was almost worth watching the movie for.

The horse (played by 7 horses actually) was a better actor than anyone in the last 5 John Hughes movies. The rancher’s son was more mature than any of my friends (and we all admitted it!), and the teen daughter, played by Scarlett Johansen, was really good too. Seriously, though, the horse trainer, Rex Peterson, is the man. No previews or opening credits?!

Now down to it. The movie is long, languid, and slow. Sure, we get some gorgeous vistas and aerial shots – and that’s only of Redford’s face. There are filters aplenty on him, like a Barbra Streisand movie, and lots of “shoeleather,” shots of nothing, walking, doing, etc, that don’t serve the story or even the mood. Tight shot of hand on saddle pommel. Closeup of buckle being tightened. Cut to hand on fencepost – pan along arm to face, watching action inside corral. New angle of same face. In the audience, there was a blind kid (we only know this from the seeing eye dog who got bored midway through and started to dream) – I can’t imagine what he took away from this movie! Thomas Newman’s score is flat and unemotional and doesn’t even bother to try and capture the grandeur of Big Sky Country – I listened to my Shawshank Redemption score for comparison and the one track where he is sitting in the prison yard staring into space is the exact hum of strings and plink….plink of the piano that is the ENTIRE Horse Whipper score. Sigh.

The most annoying thing about the movie is that there is nothing really wrong with it, but I’ve been rolling my eyes about it for so long I just couldn’t relax into it, like the cowboys relax into Montana. If you like your triumph of the equine spirit combined with a little asexual frustration then this is your movie.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/15/98
Time in minutes 164
Director Robert Redford
Studio Buena Vista Pictures

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Deep Impact

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One could say Deep Impact is an above average action movie or an average drama. An article in my local paper says that scientists have actually said that the majority of the science in the movie (OK, besides the shuttle mission objectives) is fairly accurate – I’m no rocket scientist, and the rocket scientist I saw it with got a little hung up on the nukes in space – but all parties agree the governmental ability to cover up an extinction level event would be nil.

To begin with, any movie with Morgan Freeman as president, directed by an ER veteran (Mimi Leder) dealing with epic unavoidable disaster is OK by me. Disaster movies have enjoyed a new renaissance in recent years, utilizing the awesome technologies previously nonexistent in the Airport 75-era. Since they have so much more to show than tell, they now overall forgo telling at all, ditching Poseidon Adventure character development in favor of Twister eye-popping cow juggling. Deep Impact returns to the more effective model of news-reaction-various attempts-disaster-aftermath, rather than the Young Hollywood’s premature ejaculation model of hi my name is WHAM-aftermath-lamer protracted aftermath.

We can’t care that comets decimate a bunch of people we never met. Independence Day was all about cool explosions and did you notice that 1/3 of the earth’s population was destroyed? Not me – the friggin DOG survived! Woo hoo! Leder scrolls us through a variety of characters and then kills a gutsy large number of them off – there will be no hugging across story lines, despite the lead’s unusually intimate connection to the disaster. The best part is that people, no matter how well developed, how warned in advance they are, still act like morons and wait until the last minute to do anything.

I don’t need to tell you that a comet hits the earth, do I? But of course most of the movie is taken up with our varying attempts at stopping it, hurling our bones and rocks at the monolith. Knowing that the comet strikes takes quite a lot out of the tension of the scenes – “Well, I know this fails, I saw the dang thing hit during the previews.” I actually tried to talk myself into thinking, maybe that was a computer generated “what if” that the press in the movie create to demonstrate what will happen if they fail, a la the Titanic computer generated thing, but pre-disaster. I was desperate for tension. But I was gratified by the amount of genuine feeling and caring and sympathy I had for all these people. Freeman has a delicious speech to the American people that moved me quite a bit. Ron Eldard too gets a scene, and Vanessa Redgrave too.

I thought the science was a little suspect, but what do I know? I am liberal arts all the way. Of course, watching HBO’s From the Earth To The Moon made me feel like an expert and I thought they acted like they were on a real mission. Even if it had been bogus, it felt like they THOUGHT about it. At least our heroes don’t survive a 10000 foot tidal wave holding on to the ledge of a building or anything.

Unfortunately, the very interesting quandary and human dilemma of the national lottery to select survivors was steamrolled by the MSNBC promotional freak show. The emotional content of the film skates just at the edge of maudlin but the sincerity of performers like Freeman and Eldard and Redgrave keep us from falling in the abyss. It’s an interesting mix of sentiment and spectacle and certainly worth seeing on the big screen. And if I didn’t know Morgan Freeman tended to shun the spotlight, I would write him in for President.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/8/98
Time in minutes 115
Director Mimi Leder
Studio Paramount Pictures

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Clockwatchers

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Clockwatchers is an obscure little film filled with familiar faces (three from Waiting for Guffman alone!) and an interesting take on the mind-numbing misery and humiliation of being a temp in today’s corporate environment. But it’s not a political statement – rather, a creepily surreal comedy with more bemused smiles as the target reaction than out and out guffawing. Directed and co-written (with Karen Sprecher) by Jill Sprecher, Clockwatchers has a very personal feel to it. I think everyone has felt the way our main four characters feel, but few are ever brave enough to admit it, even to their fellow beleaguered temps.

The ensemble of Parker Posey (in her usual spitfire outsider spaz role), Lisa Kudrow (temp slut), Toni Collette (always underappreciated, and she brings that to bear here) and Alanna Ubach (the pretty one who doesn’t *really* need this job) have a Breakfast Clubby sense of demographic and bonding. They each typify some element of humanity that gets trapped in temping hell, and they bond and dissolve with the same ease as the princess, the criminal, the geek, the athlete, and the basket case. Everyone is great, possibly greater than the material, but I felt that the dryness of the material matched the dryness of the subject matter – NBC’s “Working” treads the same path but tries to make it wacky – the not-wackiness is what makes Clockwatchers more real. That, and the acting.

The production design of Clockwatchers is great – brilliant use of almost no money – the office is dismal, Toni Collette’s home is lush and warm, implying character that doesn’t get explored but the interestingness of her home contrasts nicely with the flat non-persona she is saddled with at work. Icky green, stark, vaguely outdated, everything looks great except the appallingly horrid costumes. Edi Guignere is the offender so unless her unflattering fashions and vile color schemes were a purposeful choice to make all the characters look like Good Will Shopping freakazoids, don’t hire her!

I was bummed to see the camera skip lightly over important, plot-related detail – not that *I* need to be hammered in the head with anything, I mean, I *noticed* the stuff, but I bet people who don’t prop-watch as much as I do would miss a lot of connections. Like some of the folks I was with at the movie, for example. And they are scientists! But then the movie turns around and hammers in some detail to MAKE SURE you see it. It was a little uneven but definitely interesting. Good performances and nice ensemble, and that Randy guy from Scream. I wanted to learn a little more about the peripheral characters and get a little less whining from the main temps, but then again, temping is all about getting to know only certain people. It’s worth a watch.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/8/98
Time in minutes 96
Director Jill Sprecher
Studio BMG Independents

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Dancer TX, Pop. 81

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I don’t care if most of the audience found it predictable – I didn’t. I don’t care that it’s a weekend-long slice of life in an incredibly scenic hick town that has no major plot line outside of the world of verbage, in fact, that is what I liked most about it. I really enjoyed this movie. It’s languid, and slow, and more slice-of-lifey than Joe Q. Moviegoer likes to shell out the bucks for, but what you’re paying your full price here is for Tim McCanlies’ wonderful storytelling. As director and screenwriter, he just thought, hey, this will make a good movie, and he went out to Brewster Co./Ft. Davis TX (the size of three New England states) and started shooting. When the studios got wind of his low-budget tale of four guys graduating high school and yearning to leave the small town in which they grew up, TriStar tossed some money at it, showed it at SXSW, and said, go, Tim, with our blessing. In 24 days he turned a road-trip musing into a really touching, interesting film.

It’s unspoiled, like the characters and the wilderness in which they live. The sprawling semi-desert and achingly huge world just outside a day’s drive tantalize us city folk anew. Cinematographer Andrew Dintenfass was no dummy, he used the big sky and the simple handsomeness of his stars to show us that there are as many reasons to stay in a place as there are to leave it. Some of the faces are familiar to movie goers or Austinites (hi, Joe!), but mostly these folks look like the real McCoy. The dialogue feels real, the emotions feel real, and we have plenty of time to just kick back and watch. It’s slick in a professional way but not flashy and “look at our budget!”

I have to share a moment from the moviegoing experience. I saw this in the Paramount, an 80 yr. old classic monument to old time theatres, surrounded by Texans, with a bat flying around the theatre. All we needed were some cattle in the lobby and a beer and we all could have been frozen as an archaeological wonder. The movie is sweet and wondrous and takes place in a claustrophobic social microcosm that is somehow presented as big enough for everyone and too small for anyone.

Dancer TX has genuine laughs and characters that you really care about (and a few that are underdeveloped but off the track) and maybe it’s a little cut and dried in parts, but I feel that somehow, that’s how life can be at these important turning points. I don’t want to describe too much, but there isn’t that much to describe. Four friends graduate, planning to move together to LA. Over a weekend, stuff happens that affects that plan. Resolution occurs and the credits roll. The rest is dialogue and movement. I laughed a lot, it’s not My Camping Trip with Andre or anything. Just go see it.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 5/1/98
Time in minutes 97
Director Tim McCanlies
Studio TriStar

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Silding Doors

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I really really liked this movie, and I could go on and on about it. I will attempt not to. Short version for the guys itching to return to their video games: Good date movie. Won’t bore you. No real nudity. Do not bring your date flowers.

Gwyneth Paltrow really turned me off her when she was in the execrable Great Expectations, so she really had a lot of work to do to get me to like her again for this movie. She succeeded. The premise is basically this – Gwynnie either catches the tube (subway), or she misses it, and from that instant her life diverges into two alternate lives (which is the “real” one? They are equally real, equally important) and the simple act of missing the train or not carries her along two closely parallel paths but with utterly different consequences.

I don’t want to tell you ANYTHING and damn me for my discretion. I want to hold fast to my policy of not giving plot away…must…reveal…SOMETHING…entice…viewers…see…movie! OK, a benign example. In life 1, she is depressed and drinking in a bar. The camera pans down the bar away from her, and catches her, in life 2, walking in, happy. Same shot, different reality/life track/whatever. Life2GP passes the spot at the bar where she would have been sitting in Life1. It’s not a hippy dippy cosmic head trip or anything. It’s just, some things, like a crew race, would happen if she were there or not, and other things, like the pretty blue office space, would not.

The cast is great. You know it’s good when I have no adequate adjectives. Jeanne Tripplehorn, widely reviled for some reason in the States, is an American sultry queen, and she’s great! John Hannah, as James, with his strong Southampton brougue and natural wit, is wonderful. John Lynch, as her boyfriend Jerry, is both pathetic and slimy, sympathetic and amoral. Gwyneth totally pulls off the challenge of the role – she’s not two people, she’s just in two movies, simultaneously, with the same other characters, but different plot lines. It’s a testament to the filmmakers that you never confuse one plot line for another.

The cutting back and forth between her life-lines (thank you John Smith!) was used as effectively as the past and present cutting in Dead Again, an extreme compliment if you know me. It was very amusing, entertaining, not predictable, it was romantic and sad and funny and everything that every movie should be and so few are not. It even makes you think. Naturally it’s English. Paltrow’s accent is great and her liberal use of the dialects slang is just the more convincing surrounded by natives. I was doing James Hannah all day at work. Smith’s editing was great – write this one down, Academy folks, it’s a long time til January. Great script, interesting camera work, superb acting. I can find nothing wrong with it, the more I think about it. Hmmm. It’s been a while since I could say that. So pay your money, and if you don’t like it, tell me why.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/24/98
Time in minutes 99
Director Peter Howitt
Studio Paramount

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The Object of My Affection

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Here again is a movie that will market itself to death. A charming preview misleads us into thinking it is a straightforward movie about the pain of loving someone who can’t love you back in the same way. That’s in there, sure, but Wendy Wasserstein’s script is a great deal more than that. And one should think twice before assuming that the director of The Madness of King George and The Crucible would take on While You Were Sleeping II.

Other than the fact that everyone in New York or Chicago or whatever depressing metropolis this takes place in is nicer than a grandmother in Georgia, the people are painfully real. I don’t believe that Jennifer Aniston would date John Pankow (Ira from Mad About You) on a bet, but other than that woeful visual miscasting the actors worked well together. Paul Rudd is achingly cute as the object of Aniston’s affection, but the movie is more than the tension between the hetero couple and the homosexual third wheel/best friend.

Relationships in a romantic comedy always tend to be pretty straightforward, or at the worst one is torn between two. But there are lovers and ex lovers and want-to-be lovers and step parents and parents and aunts and godfathers and best friends and painful tugs between all these links. But in the end, we are all family, we are all one family with a million weird links. I have a friend who shares a father but all different mothers with his brothers – I have another friend both of whose parents came out, got divorced, and then took up lovers. Yet another who has been successfully platonic friends and roommates with his ex girlfriend for 2 years. The world is no longer made up of boy meets girl, boy and girl get married, have a baby, the end, and I am pleased that a film bothered to explore the more unusual and complicated nature of relationships these days.

It does try to cram an awful lot in, and a great deal of these people adjust to truly painful situations more easily than I can claim to be able to, but there is also genuine pain and joy and caring between all these people. One character who is woefully under explored is played by Nigel Hawthorne – he lends some pathos and wisdom to the otherwise free-spirited proceedings. It’s a comedy, and it is shatteringly romantic in places you would not expect to find romance, and comparing it to say, Sleepless in Seattle, it is not your traditional date movie, snuggle-wumpus wise. I found it very interesting but not for everyone. If you are feeling introspective, in doubt about your romantic life, or just want a change, this is for you. If you want to put your arm around a date and much Raisinettes together and feel good about everything, see something else. But rent this later, when you’re feeling introspective.

MPAA Rating R for strong language and some sexuality.
Release date 4/17/98
Time in minutes 111
Director Nicholas Hytner
Studio 20th Century Fox

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City of Angels

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“Please please please,” my mind whispered. “Please don’t disappoint me. The previews make this look so good. It would be so easy to screw this movie up.” Someone was listening.

I know a movie is good when I totally cease taking notes and then can find no adjectives to jot down. I was enthralled and yet not stupefied. My regular readers know how I love to spout off, and they may have even noticed the only movie I have really liked since 1998 began was The Wedding Singer. I don’t want to fall into the alarming trend of only liking squishy chick movies (which admittedly this one does resemble from the outside), so please, read on. Director Brad Silberling continues his afterlife trend after Casper The Friendly Ghost (which for the record was way better than it deserved to be) but he has got it down now!

If you don’t come out of the theatre wanting to make something out of clay or walk around barefoot or eat or have some sort of sensual experience, then you are dead. At the end of the first scene (I hate giving away plot and I especially feel strongly against doing so in this instance) I was already in love with the movie, and I can’t define why. It just felt right. City of Angels is an admitting remake of Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire, which I sort of saw once with an old boyfriend (a cosmic cat who I am sure would dig this flick) and I think City of Angels takes Wenders’ message about beauty and experience and realness and all that and makes it utterly accessible without making it retarded – this is a Hollywood miracle in and of itself.

John Seale’s camera swoops lovingly through the throngs of humanity, and we glimpse gently into their thoughts. They are all thoughts we have had before or will have later, yet instead of being familiar, the smoothly dollying camera makes us step back and get the outsiders’ perspective. Dana Stevens’ script is gentle and wise, even as I *knew* what someone was about to say, I still felt the emotional impact when they said it. Everything in the mortal world is shown with such attention to beauty that you can’t help but wonder at the beauty only the angels can see. It’s a sweetly empathetic movie but it is also very sensual. By sensual I don’t even mean sexual, it’s all about the basic five senses and how glorious it is to have them. I ran home and started typing on my PowerBook but I had already painted my bedroom in a fit of untapped energy and now I want to squish my toes in the mud or rub lotion on my skin or SOMETHING.

Nicholas Cage, previously a roach eating vampire, besotted alcoholic, and heroic parolee, has the perfect face for this role as the angel who aches to be mortal. No evangelism, no denominational anything – the angels in this movie have the purity that they should have on a planet with a thousand religions. As in Wings of Desire, Shay Cunliffe has dressed them in benignly understated overcoats, and their effect is…otherworldly yet accessible. And what better mortal to tempt an angel to fall than Meg Ryan, the Girl We Fall In Love With. Thankfully, she isn’t precious or giggly or any of the things she has been asked to be in the past – she is just…angelic. Ouch! No pun intended.

The two main supporting characters play tough guy cops for their day job – yet seem totally at home in a relatively touchy-feely angel flick – Dennis Franz (NYPD Blue) and Andre Braugher (Homicide). I don’t know how that works either, but it does!

Gabriel Yared (hmmmm yet there weren’t many horns…) composed a score that is pretty and simple but still seemed to imply levels I couldn’t hear. Maybe I am full of it but the movie was really that transporting for me. The songs scattered throughout, a deadly game to play normally, played gently and well.
I want to write about a scene that takes place in Tahoe but I can’t – but trust me, it was…very special. Ugh! I hate not having the words. I have some but they give away stuff. The third reel is why I go to the movies.

On an ironic? touching? note, one of the producers, Dawn Steel, died of cancer a couple of months ago, and the movie is dedicated to her (it just says To Dawn). After watching this film, I imagined how death came to her and how the other members of the production team must have been feeling. Oh just go see it – it’s elegant and great and moving and it just feels right.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/10/98
Time in minutes 114
Director Wim Wenders
Studio Warner Brothers

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