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Comments Off on Brassed Off

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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Con Air

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OK, this movie is no Schindler’s List, but it’s not Beastmaster II: Through the Portals of Time either. Con Air has all the things that make a decent action movie a better action movie: really good acting, unique visuals (despite the marketing campaign’s obsession with the one shot of Nicholas Cage walking in slo-mo away from a fireball), and two things which heighten tension for me: characters who are not 100% good or bad, and the claustrophobia of being trapped in a closed area (in this case, an airplane). Not to say that plenty isn’t thrown away in favor of some pyrotechnics.

Steve Buscemi is utterly wasted in this film, and some of the villains were interesting enough that I wouldn’t have minded knowing a little more about them. I like to think that I, unlike many reviewers these days, know when to shut up and enjoy the ride, and I did enjoy it.

With so many talented, savvy actors on this train (Ving Rhames, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Colm Meaney, Nicholas Cage, Steve Buscemi, several other familiar faces) I know that much of the moments of humor or business that I found interesting must have come about on the set rather than in the script-writing process. Even a turkey like Showgirls would have been better had it been populated with actors working *with* the script instead of popsicle sticks making a bad thing worse.

The script is peppered with clever humorous bits, and it makes the movie worth seeing. I don’t have to tell you how it ends, but you don’t have to know how it gets there. John Cusack made a suprisingly spunky action star himself, without being too unbelievable (despitre his inappropriate footwear). It’s exciting and funny and the acting is great. But it’s just an action movie. You make the money call, but I was willing to pay full price.

MPAA Rating R – language, violence
Release date 6/9/97
Time in minutes 115
Director Michael Bay
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Addicted to Love

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Addicted to Love is an offbeat romantic comedy about revenge, voyeurism, the nature of love, and what makes one feel complete. Maggie (Meg Ryan) is an off-putting loony you can’t help but like, and Sam (Matthew Broderick) is a guy who, post-dump, wants to regain what he thinks he’s lost. Their interaction throughout the movie, while interesting in and of itself, wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans without their exes – played by Kelly Preston and Tchéky Karyo.

While having their former lovers under surveillance, Sam & Maggie interact deeply and honestly yet ignore their actual camaraderie for the false but fascinating one they create with their exes.

The movie is filled with really innovative shots and use of light, both in the actual making of the movie and within the plot. I don’t want to give anything away, but the shot with the paint roller is my favorite in a long time.

Pre-release press has stirred low expectations for this movie and I truly hope everyone ignores it. The situations may be unusual, but all the characters behave and react with utter loyalty to the internal logic of the world freshman director Griffin Dunne has created.

It’s funny and engaging, full of genuine honesty cleverly edited into a satisfying tale. There are so many oportunities for this movie to make the wrong choices and I was overjoyed that those pitfalls were avoided.

The audience seemed delighted, but not in that soft-focus warm fuzzy delight, but by the sheer pleasure of watching an interesting story unfold. In this summer filled with gorgeous vapidity (as all summers tend to be), Addicted to Love will leave you sated.

MPAA Rating R for sexual content.
Release date 5/27/97
Time in minutes 100
Director Griffin Dunne
Studio Warner Bros.

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Jurassic Park: The Lost World

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Full Price Feature (if you’re on crack)

Stephen Spielberg. Dinosaurs. Sequel to $300 million+ audience favorite. What more do you need? An engraved invitation? Yes, granted, the Lost World book was a hack job obviously designed to be a sequel that denied much of the prequel.

The book is silly and atrocious (but, to my amusement, extremely easy to visualize – I mean, including cuts and fades!): the movie has one scene in common with the book. This is a good thing. It is more violent than past Spielberg outings, even surprisingly so. Less technobabble – all that was covered in the first flick, it is assumed you know it already for this one.

It’s got everything: great visual gags and monster movie homages, witty lines with actual wit, and real nail biter scenes to boot! Kids with actual personalities, TONS of new dinosaurs, rain, terror, Jeff Goldblum and Vince Vaughn all wet and frightened, Pete Postlethwaite all manly and cunning…the most intense image I walked away with was slowly cracking glass. OH my god.

It’s a total carnival ride! My friend Sam had a bit of a problem in the third act, and upon consideration I will concede that I had to suspend disbelief just a smidge higher than normal, but the payoff is worth it. The CGI effects have matured – I wouldn’t have thought they could improve on what already looked seamless but they did! You can practically feel the dino’s pulse.

The animatronic ones are gorgeous too – I am so happy to be alive in a time when I have to use moviemaking logic, rather than my eyes, to figure out which is the puppet and which is the computer generated one. In Dolby Digital the sound is EVERYWHERE. This movie will not disappoint you. It’s not as smooth and delicious as Jurassic Park, (at least Lost World doesn’t have all those annoying side trips into parenthood issues) but it is an utterly worthy sequel.

Pay full price and hold on to your socks/prepare to regret the expense! (So, pay Rental with Snacks)

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/23/97
Time in minutes 134
Director Steven Spielberg
Studio Universal

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Pin Gods

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Pin Gods is a tiny little documentary about three guys, Bob, Tony, and Sonny, going on the Pro Bowlers Association tour in 1993 (or it may be 1994). It was shot on video by various sources and then transferred to film, but by and large (except for the very old footage) the picture quality is very consistent.

They are all inspired by the reigning champion, Walter Ray Williams, who will be on the tour as well. We meet them prior to the tour, watch them bowl, compare their standings, and see them advance and drop out, their families reactions, etc. It’s got a lot of great footage that was carefully assembled all over the country, and some great title screens that push the story along well. Interspersed within their stories is 60 yr old champion Carmen Sa… (his name was long and Italian and in script on the back of his shirt so I never got the whole thing) who preaches the gospel of the excitement and the science of bowling.

Our three bowlers are pretty good at ignoring the cameras, and their personalities are so…well, I mean, they are young, ambitious (one describes himself as cocky) wanna-be pro bowlers with a dream, and they are very competitive. But not necessarily born to the sport. The film does seem a lot longer than it actually is, but that may be because I can only watch so much bowling footage before I get sleepy. The conversations and interviews are interesting, and the turn of events on the 14th stop of their tour is interesting also. It’s not a wacky comedy, unless you want to laugh at middle class east coast Italians dreaming of the bowling circuit. At first it seems so kitschy and ludicrous you want to laugh, or think it’s a fake documentary, but once you see how really committed these boys are, you can’t mock them.

The music was written for the movie, and it’s kinda swingy loungy 50’s beat stuff but it emphasizes those great shirts perfectly, and our old pro Carmen. It’s a look at a world few people, even few sports enthusiasts, even think of, but the people involved in it are completely into it. Only in the US, I say.

If it’s playing in your town (it is in Austin at the Dobie) try and catch it, but I would recommend a matinee only because it doesn’t splice together as smoothly as I would like for six and a half bucks.

MPAA Rating Not rated; no objectionable material
Release date 5/22/1997
Time in minutes 82
Director Larry Locke
Studio Arc Pictures

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Inventing the Abbotts

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Inventing the Abbotts is an attractive little period piece about two brothers obsessed with the three rich and pretty Abbott sisters in their town. It has some interesting things to say about small town politics in the 50’s, and about love and about using people, but it meanders around, touching on the interesting points before flitting away to another plot point.

I thought it was paced a little slow, but the performances were all worth watching. It’s not a fun-filled fifties teen fest, nor is it a pre-beat generation angstorama, it’s a little of both. The costume designer stuffs Liv Tyler, Jennifer Connelly and the other sister into some unflattering costumes. The two boys (Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup) seem as cynical and gritty as the street boys of today.

Much of the drive behind the narrative is supposed to come from a present day voice-over (not unlike The Wonder Years or Stand By Me), but I didn’t really want to hear about what Joaquin’s adult version thought about those times in his youth – I wanted to watch for myself.

Considering how unmotivated some of the action is, the up-and-comers cast in this movie did all they could to justify their part in the script, and that is why this film is worth watching.

It’s gone out of theatres, but if you see it starting on cable (uncensored cable), try and catch it.

MPAA Rating R for sexuality and language.
Release date 5/19/97
Time in minutes 110
Director Pat O’Connor
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Cats Don't Dance

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To head off any commentary:

I like animated movies, and I am 27 years old. I too thought this was some stupid-looking knockoff when I first became aware of it.

On with the review. My friend Tom, who is an animator by trade, recommended this movie to me, and I generally trust his movie-going instincts. Now, it’s no Toy Story, nor is it Meet The Feebles, but it is actually quite entertaining, very well executed, and interesting.

On some scenes I thought, “There is no way a kid could catch all these jokes” – there are scads of adult jokes and plenty of kid friendly ones too, but nothing so lame as anything in the ABC prime time lineup. The music (by Randy Newman, the man who ruined Toy Story for me) was nice and toe-tapping, the artwork was really very interesting – if you suffered through Space Jam, you HAVE to see this movie just to restore your faith in animated physical comedy. What Warner Brothers *used* to be, in their finest moments, Cats Don’t Dance comes close enough.

It’s about a tabby named Danny (voiced by Scott Bakula – oh boy. But he can sing!) who comes to Hollywood in the 40’s with a dream to be in the movies – only Hollywood would never let an animal perform song and dance. He meets up with a bunch of other animals who tell him to give up, and basically talks them out of their bad attitude and everybody’s happy.

One of the best parts of the film is the villain, a Shirley Temple-meets-Joan Crawford child star with a giant ape of a manservant, Max – who is really really really funny. She is everything bad about Hollywood and she’s great.

It’s really very true to the old school of Warner Toons (it’s a Warner Picture, as well!) and for all you out there in the dark who are still mad at how Bugs Bunny has ruined his formerly cool image, I think you will appreciate it. I did. The kids in the audience really liked it too – they were quiet, but I heard one say, “Can we see it again!!!!!” and another clapped and clapped. For you fuddy duddies out there who think cartoons are for kids, I don’t know when the last time you saw a cartoon was, but movie cartoons have never been for kids. Classic Bugs Bunny shorts were made for adults and the 90’s wave of Disney treasures, while marketed for kids, are definitely adult-savvy. Drop your “I’m too old for this nonsense” façade and go enjoy yourself. Movie musicals are practically dead except in animated form, and really, after all the live-action dreck that passes for cinema these days, you will appreciate the thought, planning and care that goes into these films. Animation is not just Scooby Doo! Space Jam is a painful exception, made by fuddy duddies who think animation is for kids. Do NOT see Space Jam. I would be overjoyed to make you a list of the good ones.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 5/19/1997
Time in minutes 76
Director Warner Bros.
Studio Mark Dindal

Comments Off on Breakdown


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I was hesitant about this movie because I don’t really like Kurt Russell all that much; but I was very entertained and tense and it was all quite unnerving. The short version: Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan are driving across country, break down, and she takes off with a trucker to get help – then, when Kurt starts poking around, no one knows anything and then the real excitement starts.

The previews tell you this much and I will tell you no more, because the fun is watching all the other stuff unfold. But it is very tense and exciting and I believe that the things his character were doing to try and recover his wife were just what any guy would do. No super-heroics or part military training required, just a jolt of survival instinct and a little luck, and the fact that is was an everyman kind of guy going through all this made it all the more exciting. Some superstud ex-Marine type wouldn’t be as potentially fallible, as seat-of-your-pants, and that is what made this movie work.

The bad guys are scary in a real, hick town looney kind of way rather than some seething übervillain kind of way, and that makes this movie work too. The music is evocative of creepy, wide open spaces and the death that awaits you there. It’s a cool flick, with a good story, and it’s worth paying full price.
And I never say that about Kurt Russell movies.

For the opposite type of vehicle, try renting Executive Decision for contrast.

MPAA Rating R for strong violence/terror and language.
Release date 5/19/97
Time in minutes 96
Director Jonathan Mostow
Studio Paramount Pictures in Association with Dino DeLaurentiis and Spelling Films

Comments Off on The Fifth Element

The Fifth Element

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Wow. This is actually as cool as it wants to be. It is not a typical American film – in many ways it is extremely French, but it is this novelty that makes it so interesting. (It is in English) I hate to use the word “neat” because it does not adequately capture it, but think of an 8 year old kid looking into a microscope for the first time and using the word “neat” because he doesn’t have the vocabulary to say “fascinating, unique, interesting, pretty…”

Bruce Willis is by no means treading any new ground with this role, but it works perfectly in this version of the future (2259). Think of this future as a better-maintained, more peaceful Blade Runner – but this movie is not like it. It is different from other movies in the same way that Blade Runner or Brazil are different, but it is more rooted in a kind of mythos than just cold hard technology.

It’s not all explosions and sexy women like an American action film. Previews made me fear it was colorful and silly, but it is only colorful and….and NEAT.

Luc Besson directs a movie that would never have been made in the US because the lowest common denominator would have demanded at test screenings to change all the things that make this movie fascinating.

Ian Holm, Milla Jovovich, and a score of interesting creatures (and Ruby, a manic DJ who annoys his way into your favor) in these beautiful settings make this movie worthwhile.

The overall message in and of itself is not all that original, it’s the presentation that makes it worth seeing. This movie did not open Cannes *just* as a publicity stunt. The music is different, the sheer volume of information and plots is different, and it all works great.

Don’t get me wrong – some of you may go and just think, “This is too much, too busy, too many things!”

But despite the fictional quote from the Emperor about Mozart’s music having too many notes, some times too much is really a wonderful thing. Go see it, get together and talk about it. It’s really good. Pay full price to get in, too. It’s cooooooool.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/12/1997
Time in minutes 127
Director Luc Besson
Studio Columbia Pictures

Comments Off on The Saint

The Saint

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To preface this review I have to say that I never saw the TV show or anything else related to The Saint. I did not read up on the concept before seeing the movie and so if the purist Saint fans are out there breathing heavily because I did not have a problem with this movie, well, that is my excuse.

Val Kilmer is really perfectly suited for this role – his mimicry and acting abilities come to a perfect peak playing a surprisingly fallible badass who happens to have an astounding array of wigs and disguise materials. His liver lipped goober persona is so far from his manliness-oozing Thomas Moore persona that it’s truly amazing. When I say manliness-oozing I am not speaking out of some lusty haze for Val Kilmer – I am immune to his charms but when he assumes his artist persona you practically smell sex right through the screen. Val idolizers will eat it up.

He has suspiciously hot chemistry with Elisabeth Shue (you know, Oscar Winner Elisabeth Shue) and an amazing Apple PowerBook which not only has a trackpad to die for, but it boots right up in seconds! The Saint has an interesting story, interesting situations, and it’s definitely worth seeing, it just didn’t blow my socks off.

Apparently the ending was drastically different (and maybe this is what all the Saint fans are complaining about) before a TON of reshoots but I don’t think the movie would have gained anything another way. You’ll know what I mean. My nitpicky thing? His little pocketknife/swiss army killing machine dealie. It is dealt with like it is the only thing he keeps from his youth (though this is never mentioned) but it seems so over the top James Bondy after a while I wanted him to use it even more – as a remote control, a fold-up car, a condom dispenser…but it certainly doesn’t detract from the movie.

Great locations and spiffy but low key action sequences, and Shue makes it all human without being The Dame. A bizarre and *almost* intrusive rock soundtrack pervades the action – and I don’t mean they are rocking to songs, I mean a rock-composed pumping club mix score which, after being inundated with John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Carter Burwell music all year, well, it seemed funky. But it didn’t bother me, it just had a whiff of MTV to it. Only a whiff.

I say, go to cheap night or a matinee and you will feel great – full price won’t kill you but so many others are more worthy.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 5/2/1997
Time in minutes 116
Director Phillip Noyce
Studio Paramount Pictures