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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

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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

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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

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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

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Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion

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I don’t know about all of you, but if my best friend from college and I had gone to high school together, we would have been B+ student versions of Romy and Michelle. Having said that, I enjoyed the characterization and the ideas behind the film, but found it a little….odd. The dialogue was sometimes devoid of any interest and the soundtrack wasn’t 80’s enough. But! With my ten year reunion looming 2 months away, and having a job and a life I could wish to be somewhat more…impressive, I found another way to identify with Romy and Michelle.

The short version is that these women were best friends in high school and are still best friends today, 10 years later, and are fairly unsuccessful by material standards. Their high school experience was as an offshoot of the normal pecking order, and they have anxieties about impressing the snobs they looked up to way back when. Needless to say, mayhem is supposed to ensue, but it doesn’t really.

It’s funny, but not laugh out loud funny, and it’s interesting, but not enthralling. It’s not a waste of money, but if you had to choose between high school reunion flicks to see in the theatre, I would again recommend Grosse Pointe Blank.

Mira Sorvino (that’s Oscar winner Mira Sorvino to you) and Lisa Kudrow are surreal in their roles but not in a bad way. Janeane Garafalo is, as always, edgy and angst ridden, and always funny. There are gratifying moments, Big Kahuna in-jokes, and every now and then, an attempt at a Message (but not in a bad way). I say to everyone, rent this movie with a high school chum.

MPAA Rating R-language
Release date 4/30/1997
Time in minutes 91
Director David Mirkin
Studio Touchstone Pictures

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Volcano compared to Dante's Peak

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To start off with, Volcano is worth more than a dollar if you saw Dante’s Peak. If you live in LA, I bet it’s worth a little more to see your city up in flames…again. The dialogue is predictable in a general action/disaster movie style, characterization is at a minimum, yadda yadda yadda. The lava looks very cool. The sound sounds very cool. The models of the various city landmark look great. Unlike Dante’s Peak, this lava actually melts stuff like plastic, rubber, and metal. Cars melt, and that is cool. However, there are plenty of silly little gaffes and “Um, why would….” type moments, but overall Volcano is what you make of it.

I had a small group together and we insisted on eating together afterward so we could tear apart the movie. Inevitable comparisons to Dante’s Peak occurred, and I will share some with you here. Dante’s Peak had a more believable couple with Pierce ‘I’m So Yummy” Brosnan and Linda “I Can be Soft and Feminine Too!” Hamilton. Volcano had an actual volcano that actually destroyed stuff, rather than just causing earthquakes, acidic water, and ash.

DP had agonizingly bad dialogue and blazingly obvious gaffes like a town meeting where they say DON’T DRINK THE WATER while imbibing sparkling ice water. Volcano had an abrupt lava eruption in the middle of downtown with only 100 casualties. DP had an actual dormant volcano coming back to life. Volcano had the La Brea tar pits with heartburn. I’m no vulcanologist….but neither were any of these people. Between these two movies I know less about Volcanos than I did before.

Classic Volcano banter: “What will come up (from the volcano)?” “Magma.” “What’s that?” “Lava.” If they need to explain to audiences who were drawn to the movie by the possibility of seeing Angelyn burned up by a Volcano, don’t you think they have an idea that Magma is that groovy hot orange stuff that melts rock? The Lava was actually quite cool, did I mention that?

I even took notes during the movie but some of them will give away too many great laughs that we had. It’s not as bad as Anaconda, though. Think of it as a ratio: Anaconda : The Relic : : Dante’s Peak : Volcano.

None of these are Oscar Winners, and so few are good popcorn movies.

Rent The Ghost and the Darkness instead – it was woefully underrated. For Volcano, go to a dollar show (or sneak in – it’s really a big screen type deal).

*Note: the original rating for both these movies was Dollar Movie; this rating has been discontinued. The closest approximation is something between Catch the Network Premiere and Catch it on HBO. Sorry kids.

Volcano
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/25/97
Time in minutes 105
Director Mick Jackson
Studio 20th Century Fox

Dante’s Peak
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1997
Time in minutes 109
Director Roger Donaldson
Studio Universal

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Cinerina

The Hudsucker Proxy

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This movie came and went in theatres, not helped by its weird name and lack of car chases. It’s written and directed by the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan), best known recently for Fargo, but also loved for Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink (which, by the way, I hate), and Blood Simple.

Hudsucker is their most underrated film. The story line, a fictional account of the sap that brought us the hula hoop, is almost secondary to the amazing writing and the gorgeousness of this movie. It’s an homage to Frank Kapra films (like It’s a Wonderful Life), and it has that same sentimental feel, but it also has amazingly funny, fast, brilliant moments which you just have to see to get. If you’ve seen these other Coen movies and just not gotten their sense of humor, you might want to start out easy with Raising Arizona or Fargo.

Hudsucker is not bloody like Fargo, or farcical like Arizona. It’s…classic-feeling. Tim Robbins is our hero, Norville Barnes, and a host of familiar supporting actors buoys him – notably Paul Newman. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the dame, and I will admit it took me three viewings of this movie to get used to her mannerisms and voice, but she is just right. This movie is delicious like ice cream. My friend Sam says, “You can’t write dialogue like this,” yet they did and it’s great. Rich, textured, and if you’re one of those gaffe watchers on the hunt for continuity errors, you won’t find a one, despite amazingly complicated background stuff.

The music is huge, the sets are fabulous 40’s, and the script deserves a way bigger fan base. Worth every penny.
~~~~~~~~
Hudsucker Proxy redux 7/10/02

Matinee Plus Snacks

In honor of the recent death of Arthur Melin (7/8/02), the man who really invented the Hula Hoop in 1958, and the Frisbee, I am resending my Hudsucker Proxy review. Ok, I did rewrite some of it too.

This movie came and went in theatres, not helped by its weird name and lack of car chases. It’s written and directed by the Coen brothers (Joel and Ethan), best known recently for Fargo, but also loved for Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, Blood Simple, and O Brother Where Art Thou. It’s about a man named Norville Barnes who accidentally set off the Hula Hoop craze after World War II, but it’s also about hubris. Released in 1994, Hudsucker was a fictionalized account of a real event told in a sort of hiccup of time. Kind of. Oh and then there is the almost Gilliamesque approach to the inner workings of Big Business. It’s an homage to Frank Kapra films (like It’s a Wonderful Life), and it has that same sentimental feel, but it also has amazingly funny, fast, brilliant moments which you just have to see to get.

Tim Robbins plays Norville Barnes, a sap who accidentally vaults his way to the top of Hudsucker Industries by spitting out an idea the board is sure will fail but takes off in a way nothing has taken off since marketing unremembered

Hudsucker is not bloody like Fargo, or farcical like Arizona. It’s…classic-feeling. A host of familiar supporting actors buoys Robbins – notably Paul Newman. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the dame, and I will admit it took me three viewings of this movie to get used to her mannerisms and voice, but she is just right. She’s got the same flat, brassy tone of all the greats of that era, but it feels strange and out of place in a modern film, despite being so “right.” This movie is delicious like ice cream. My friend Sam says, “You can’t write dialogue like this,” yet they did and it’s great. Rich, textured, and if you’re one of those gaffe watchers on the hunt for continuity errors, you won’t find a one, despite amazingly complicated background stuff.

The film is shot with razor sharp and elegant precision and beauty, painted by Carter Burwell’s portentious score and the visually lyric period details. Robbins is a delicious choice to play such a figure, making the logical ego transition of instant success, while retaining his unique sense of innocence and humor. “You know, for kids?” is all the marketing the Hula Hoop really needed to launch it into a major craze, both in the film and real life – but the movie is about much more. And it’s quite funny, in the way character studies can be funny.

As with all Coen brothers movies, Hudsucker has an angle, an edge, a line of humor few filmmakers cross. Since this film came out before Oscar darling Fargo and did not have the high profile silliness of Raising Arizona, it is frequently overlooked. However, most of the people I chat with choose this as one of their favorites. It’s more about the ridiculous nature of Big Business and the beauty of inspiration and gumption and honesty. It is also an elegant 1940’s period piece that makes fun of itself, complete with gumshoe narration by one character about another, a wiseacre reporter named Smitty (Bruce Campbell) and smart, sassy dialogue. It bears up with repeated viewings, and the bizarre dreamy/out of time sequences make more sense the more you live with them.

Viva la Hula Hoop!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 4/24/97
Time in minutes 111
Director Joel & Ethan Coen
Studio Warner Bros

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Chasing Amy

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Any of you who are familiar with Kevin Smith (the working director, not Kevin Smith, locally known as my boyfriend) and his work will find Chasing Amy to be his best produced film to date. It’s fun and infantile and vulgar, like Clerks (and with plenty of inside jokes for those who have seen Clerks and Mallrats), but with a really mature message and well-developed characters. I don’t want to give away the plot to those who don’t know, because ignorance would be bliss for a moviegoer, so if you don’t want it given away, skip to the next paragraph.

As you may know (or don’t mind knowing ahead of time), the main character falls in love with a lesbian. A gay friend of mine expressed disgust for this plot line, saying it trivialized homsexuality as a concept, and he felt that it implied that everyone is straight really, but we are waiting for the right member of the opposite sex. Having heard this dismissal, I went to the movie worried that it would turn out just so. I think it was handled appropriately, but I would love to hear from the 10% out there what they think!

Anyway, the dialogue (as in all Kevin Smith films) tends to be a tad overwritten (although I do know people who really talk that way spontaneously) but it’s still very sincere and enjoyable. Go see it!!! I only give the Matinee Price reservation because Smith’s directorial style may grate on some who are used to Steven Spielberg or say, Woody Allen. But it’s definitely a movie to see.

MPAA Rating R – language, sexuality
Release date 4/22/1997
Time in minutes 105
Director Kevin Smith
Studio Miramax

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Anaconda

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OK, I didn’t expect this to be the next Alien or anything, but my GOD. I at least hoped to see some really cool snake effects or maybe be able to tell the salivating hordes out there that there was some bare female flesh. Neither exist. There is an embarrassing acting turn from Oscar Winner Jon Voight (I should have been worried when he got third billing to Ice Cube), an equally useless performance by Oscar nominee Eric Stoltz, and some truly stupid dialogue from start to finish.

To be completely fair, the locations were lovely real rain forests and the camera work was actually quite good. BUT THIS MOVIE BIT THE WANKER AND IT HAS BEEN #1 IN THE BOX OFFICE FOR TWO WEEKS RUNNING. Will wonders ever cease. Save your money and rent Living in Oblivion instead. Or SSSSSSS – at least that’s a funny snake movie.

Avoid Anaconda. If you can’t breathe, you can’t scream is the tag line. If you can’t leave, you can’t respect yourself. yuck. ugh. bleagh. ick. phooey. yarg. hork. shemp.

(Best line from my companion: “Oh no, the snake’s got a knife!”)

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 4/22/1997
Time in minutes 90
Director Luis Llosa
Studio Columbia Pictures