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Gattaca

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I had extremely high expectations coming into this flick and my report is: This is a cool movie! How professional a comment, I know, but really, it is the most accurate I can be without writing a doctoral thesis on how clever this movie is. So here goes:

In the not-too-distant future, Ethan Hawke is a genetically “natural” (read: inferior goober) person who poses as a genetically elite (read: good looking) person (Jerome Morrow) in order to work at Gattaca and thereby go into space. Along the way he meets Uma Thurman who, after running a DNA screen on him, finds him irresistible.

He also lives with the man he is impersonating, played by Jude Law. A murder occurs, and the story progresses. Lovely people drift past the camera with the serene boredom of the perfect.

The coolest thing about Gattaca is the fact that the coolest elements of the film are not battered into your skull, Men In Black style, but rather left to see if you get it. Thank god for a semi-sci-fi thriller where you get to use your brain!!!

The plot winds in a lovely double helix just like the FABULOUS staircase in the real and false Jerome’s house – except for the mutation of some stupid macho theatrics in the 3rd reel (wow, see, the plot is slightly flawed just like Hawke’s real character!).

GATTACA is in itself a joke, kind of – the letters G,A,T, and C are like a quaternary code for genetics (as compared to binary 110010110) – they stand for the 4 nucleotides that are the building blocks of like, guanine, thymine, adenine, and cytosine. Excuse my spelling, docs, I didn’t have a Gray’s Anatomy handy (thanks Catherine for the words!).

Anyway, except for these letters being bold face in the credits, there is no mention of this clever joke.Also, in the building of the company Gattaca, there is the constant hum of announcements in Esperanto! The most sterile and artificial of languages and it mutters in the background the entire time. Brilliant! (thanks Alan for identifying it for me!)

The story is as elegantly shot as it is written. For $22 million dollars, the production designer Jan Roelfs (who must shop at Ikea) made the world look chilly, sterile, and expensive. But I mean this in a good way. The design is as clean as the setting. The production team of writer/director Andrew Niccol & cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (not enough credit goes to the locations people!) have succeeded in creating a movie about a controversial and philosophically challenging subject without being heavy handed.

They have also created a surprisingly detailed presentation of a culture totally used to the invasiveness of pervasive genetic screening – everywhere there is testing. Instead of a badge, Gattace employees get a fingerprick and a quick blood sample screening to get into work. Even dating is screened by the genes, regardless of intent to reproduce. With the bat of an eyelash, everyone’s complete potential and shortcomings is available printed out – with so much intimate information available to anyone with a mini-vac, they respond by becoming interpersonally colder and more distant.

It does seem that they successfully eradicated communicable diseases – in an AIDS-wary culture, the amount of automated fingerpricking is kind of scary. But once a candiate is deemed perfect enough one can fall into bed with no worries.The exposition is in a lovely “in those days” kind of remembrance – and “those days” are still in our future. It’s not handled in a Gene Roddenberryesque narrow minded way but in a well thought out sociological treatment.

The generation gap between the adults whose parents had no benefit of genetic tinkering and the kids generation (that of our hero) who are more sharply defined by their level of tinkering is prominent. Hawke’s character finds connections with older folks who are less perfect than the the engineered and lovely youth swarming about them.

Bonus points for casting Hawke, who can be awfully pretty in one shot and butt ugly in the next – like he’s phasing in and out of his genetic disguise. Uma Thurman (real life offscreen squeeze of Hawke) is also one who looks perfectly lovely and then bizarrely weird. I like her but every film, her voice is inflectionless and pitched just so it is like…like i don’t know. But it’s OK here. Then there is Alan Arkin, a wizened detective, kowtowing to a younger detectve who is his genetic superior when we would expect him to be the boss.

Oscar winner Ernest Borgnine as a janitor. Perfect looking strangers in cleanlined suits and smooth hair. Awesome locations. Making us figure out why he pops out his contacts instead of telling us. Very refreshing!

I’m sorry that this is an original screenplay rather than based on a novel because I would like very much to know more about the world created in this film. It’s relentlessly interesting (what a phrase!) and only barely flawed by that goofy macho bit towards the end.Hollywood by and large has forgotten how to make a movie that is good all the way through (LA Confidential excepted) it seems but this one is 95% pure. I recommend it highly and hope to God there is no sequel to ruin it.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 10/28/1997
Time in minutes 106
Director Andrew Niccol
Studio Columbia Tristar

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Fairy Tale – A True Story

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Fairy Tale, in short, is well made and charming – but it is not a movie for everyone. It’s not busy enough or filled with enough fairies for children, but it does have a lot of interesting commentary (and non verbal commentary) about the value of faith in people’s lives.

The true story is: in 1917, two cousins (Florence Hoath and Elizabeth Earl, bith excellent) take photographs of the fairies they believe with all their hearts that live in the beck behind their house. It’s like a creek. The children are 8 and 12 and take a remarkably adult approach to the fairies – we the audience have no doubts as to their belief and their respect for the fairies. Adults, shockingly enough, do not believe in fairies, but like the angel fever of today, deep down, they want to. So the photos are examined by professionals and nothing is found to be tricky and the great debate begins – are the photos of fairies real or
not?

My main problem with the film was that I had not a moment’s doubt of the fairies’ existence because I saw them all the time (true story label or no, it was presented from the girls’ point of view and therefore the fairies are definitely real) – but the debate centered on whether the *photographs* were real. In these modern times, the proof is in the picture.

It was lovely and it was touching to see how the belief in the fairies helped people – and it was interesting to see how 80 years ago the power of the press to exploit beauty, purity and goodness was just as strong as it is now. Peter O’Toole plays Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who writes fantasy but lives pragmatics, and Harvey Keitel plays Harry Houdini, a man who lives fantasy by employing secret pragmatics. They are, as many reviewers have already noted, surprisingly understated in not stealing the movie from the children, and they are lovely endpieces to the debate. The best part is, being the effusive actors that they are, they manage to get across their character’s celebrity without tainting it with their own. I
personally have little patience for Pumpkinhead, er, I mean Harvey Keitel, but I appreciated him very much in this film.

Houdini’s job is reliant on the faith of his audience; Doyle’s job is create fiction with a basis in hard scientific reality (for the time). It’s an interesting debate that is carried on in slow, picturesque European casualness, with lovely dragonfly winged fairies and a lot of really deeply felt emotions. I found it sweet and lovely and I enjoyed the vulnerability of the men especially.

The period details are delicious – lots of cool photolab information and props (the kind of stuff I really dig but I know you guys don’t actually care). The dolls house for the fairies is positively dreamy. The production of Peter Pan (do I have to point out the symbolism?) with the classic theatrical technology was a delight as well.

It’s Arthur Rackham vs the Adult/Capitalist/Industrial Revolution – the obsession with exploiting the extraordinary and making it ordinary. The worst part is remembering that these women recently came forward with the truth about the pictures. Notice I do not reveal it here. Director Charles Sturrige does not grant us an epilogue card at the end to tell us the result, which I appreciated. The cinematographer does a great Fairy-Cam too.

Full Price for the production team’s work. Matinee Price with a snack for the movie as a whole – it does not pick a sie, so it meanders like a Yorkshire beck; a nice bit of a trot but not richly fulfilling. It will quickly be forgotten which is a shame since it is a very interesting story and the theme is especially timely. If you are writing a paper inspired by the paparazzi-riddled lives of celebrities and the loss of privacy and sacredness in the world, then buy the laserdisc when it comes out.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 10/24/97
Time in minutes 99
Director Charles Sturrige
Studio Paramount Pictures

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Breaking Up

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Russell Crowe and Salma Hayek are the only people (save two one liners) who speak in this movie. They play a couple who (they tell us) had a great relationship at the start and now it’s all going to hell. Then we get to watch
them exist together in time for 2 unbearable hours. The screenwriter was Michael Christofer writing based on his own play of the same name, and maybe a movie screenwriter could have saved this movie. If anyone is tolerant of stagey screen adaptations of plays, I am, OK, but this script is all about two people and it’s all done by two people, with non-speaking extras filling the screen.

The movie starts with a sort of split-screen interview style with Russell and Salma. It’s too long. WAY too long. AND they are not even actually in a split screen – they are set up on a set that is made to look split screen and they
don’t even use it. The whole movie is painted in shades of red and blue and some yellow and green – it’s like Dick Tracy when he was just out of college and depressed because his relationship isn’t working out. Unlike Dick Tracy (which, for the record, I hated, but respected the thoroughness of the production design if not the aesthetics), Breaking Up doesn’t attempt to use this visual aid to their conflicts – instead, their apartments are identical so we can’t tell what is going on.

The couple have great sex, then a HUGE need to be apart. They fight, split up, spend time apart, and end up crawling pathetically back to each other, whining about how great it was, they should see each other, they miss each other. (What’s to miss?) Then they have dinner and argue, make up by having sex, and one or the other sneaks home or starts an argument to have an excuse to leave. They pine constantly for the great emotional relationship they once had but we never get to witness any of it to feel as robbed of it as they do.

If we could ever have had a sense that they had a decent relationship, we would care. If they broke up, had the same problems with other people, then went back to each other, we would care (albeit less). If they even remotely had any kind of decent relationship sustained for longer than an orgasm, we could care. BUT THERE IS NO REASON GIVEN US TO CARE.

To Crowe’s and Hayek’s credit, they were very natural and real with each other on screen and they spouted off the good parts of dialogue well. Really, it’s a very good depiction of a horrid relationship with only fading chemistry. Crowe was at the screening of the movie and I wished someone would have asked him “How could you do this movie after doing LA Confidential?” He did say something enigmatic to the tune of “This is not like all those epic romantic love stories that have been made throughout the years.” My friends and I got a sense that he was not all that pleased.

The director, having been given a shooting script that was no doubt nothing more than the stage play with CUT TO and FADE TO added in, tried to wake us up with interesting little camera tricks like video montages and weird dream sequences and a nifty little black and white bit where we pan back and forth from table to table in a cafe and see each of them on dates and it’s shot live so they are literally running (out of sight) to be in the next “scene” within the same shot – once the camera had to wait for Russell to get to his table. Cute ideas but films should open up the 1 or 2 rooms setting of a play and this movie did not. Basically it was pretty annoying. The best parts were some man on the street interviews done by the wacky couple as to whether or not they should get married (NO GOD IN HEAVEN NO!) but that, sadly, was only a few minutes.

An audience member quote: “That movie was so annoying I almost didn’t want to see Salma Hayek naked.” I think anyone who saw Desperado would agree that would have to be awfully annoying to miss her naked.

Really, unless you are trying to break up a couple just like these people, do not go. If you go, take that terrible couple with you (make them pay too just for making you live through the hell of watching them together) and then gush about what a terrible relationship the movie couple had. Otherwise, avoid. I”m so sorry, Russell and Salma, it’s a big zero.

MPAA Rating R – language & sexuality
Release date 10/17/97
Time in minutes 96
Director Robert Greenwald
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Peacemaker

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The best things about this movie are not the things the marketing department wants to to see it for. Bat alumni George Clooney and Nicole Kidman toodle around the world chasing a stolen nuclear warhead (with an amazing wealth of intimate personal knowledge of all the persons involved), managing to access America Online from Sarajevo AND Vienna – I can’t even log on in Texas!

The best things of which I speak are some interesting camera tricks (despite some cheesy CGI effects that aren’t even necessary)by the cinematographer and some heart pumping music by Hans Zimmer. Director Mimi Leder, and this sounds sexist to say, applies her feminine touch to the movie in a way I would defend as thematic – her camera lingers on the beauty of our world so we worry more about losing it.

She also spends some time exposing a little remorse, an aspect I appreciated after so many summers lately of KILL KILL KILL and no kind of mental repercussions or anything. Very novel, that, but not the type of thing that drives the pacing of the movie.

Enough characters abound so you do have to pay attention, and lots of languages and subtitles thrown in for good measure.

I was dubious of the locations at first, with Nicole Kidman parking her Calvin Klein (he got a credit) clad heinie in a Turkish airplane hangar with the electric fans going full tilt. But they are all in the former Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Russia, and of course, NYC.

Nicole and George’s characters are nicely painted, with lots of tics and idiosyncracies – but really, would a woman who reports directly to the president wear miniskirts like Amanda on Melrose Place and CHEW GUM in the war room? And Clooney almost looks as if he is having a petit mal as he tries to cuteness implode.

A major character, a piano teacher named Dusan, is played beautifully by Marcel Iures – he has an interesting face and Mimi Leder lets her camera soak him up.

Plotwise, it’s a great deal of same old, same old when it comes to terrorists and nukes. I would sum it up by saying it’s a stylish rendition of a mediocre movie.

As with Kiss the Girls, the best scene is the inciting incident of the nukes being stolen, rather than the climactic victory of the good guys (oops – did I give it away?) Maybe this is the new approach to making films; wow ’em within the first 15 minutes then coast til the credits. Attention spans are waning, budgets are waxing…it’s just a matter of time until Contact 2 consists of that awesome opening shot and then Jodie Foster sitting on a car and then the credits (don’t forget the soundtrack – on sale in the lobby!)…

You get almost everything you could want (I don’t mean to disappoint naked celebrity fans – but no naked George or Nicole) in the movie, but how many times has this type of story been done, and how many more might it still?

A few things aren’t clear – why does the US rush in to save the Russian provinces – I mean, why can’t they do all this footwork? The bad guys might as well have a parade with banners saying Local Bad Guys Union #457.

It’s not a terrible film, it’s just a little silly, but it looks fabulous. You make the call.

MPAA Rating R for strong violence and some language.
Release date 10/15/97
Time in minutes 123
Director Mimi Leder
Studio Dreamworks

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Kiss The Girls

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I have a confession to make: my pen dried up at the very beginning of the movie so I have no notes to jog my memory of actors or whatever. I understand that the book (by John Patterson) is extremely disturbing and violent and rich in explicit, painful detail of the ordeal suffered by the victims of the serial abductor and rapist, Casanova.

I was VERY pleased to find out before seeing the movie through an extremely good inside source that there would be no such scenes in the film. I HATE that stuff and I was able to see the movie thanks to their omission.

But I am sure some people will feel gypped of the power of the novel. So go read it. I will admit that not knowing (as a movie audience member) just how horrible the treatment of the women is, makes the behavior of Morgan Freeman’s character less justifiable.

Basically, the idea of the story is, women are being abducted. Coincidentally, some of them are turning up dead occasionally in the woods, in a brazen show of “you can’t catch me!”

Morgan Freeman is a forensic psychologist who gets personally involved when his niece is captured. One victim, played extremely well by Ashley Judd, escapes and helps them find the bad guy.

The acting is great. The music is creepy. The idea is chilling. The detective work that Freeman exercises is intuitive. The story and the policework is dangall silly. I, as a tender flower of a woman, was frightened by the entire movie, and Judd’s abduction scene in particular was very scary. The men I was with had no more reaction than, and I paraphrase to be gentle: “That was dumb.” They did agree the abduction was well done.

An awful lot of people do go rushing into the lion’s cave with no backup or really any safety
precautions, and Judd is taken all over the place with them as if no post-traumatic effects would be experienced by her by doing so. To her credit, she looked pretty uncomfortable.

Morgan Freeman can do no wrong in my eyes (I am shameless in my adoration) and he is pretty much how you would expect him to be: perceptive and sage and kindly. But then he charges around all insane (presumably blinded by personal emotion, what with his niece being captured and all) and you just go, man, I thought you were smart.

The guys I saw the movie with were bothered by the tight camera work that made a viewer not quite sure what was happening some times – I found that it involved me more viscerally with the film and it made me scared.I’d say ladies, bring a date and make him pay matinee price and then you pay for the snacks, because it’s scary, it’s just not very smart.

MPAA Rating R for terror, violence and language.
Release date 10/14/97
Time in minutes 111
Director Gary Fleder
Studio Paramount Pictures

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I Know What You Did Last Summer

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II don’t need to tell you that this movie will add nothing to the world treasury of cinematic art that Scream did not do already. It’s written by the same screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, in the same joyous love-to-be-scared spirit as Scream, and even has the same feel to it. This is not a bad thing. It’s scads of fun and a great guessing game “He’s the one!” “It’s her!” “I just know it’s that guy!” almost the whole way through. We were all (the whole packed house) laughing and screaming and having a ball.

Four kids in a fishing town accidentally hit a guy with their car and they dump him in the bay. A year later, creepy and even deadly things start happening, occasionally presaged by a forboding figure all encased in a black slicker. The word slicker is somehow so hilarious in this movie too, but maybe it’s just because we Texans call it a RAINCOAT. All four kids are naturally upset and frightened and mayhem ensues.

It’s gobs of fun and I don’t want to give anything away. It’s a perfect 80’s style schlock horror film with 90’s cutting and lighting and dialogue. It pokes fun at the campfire stories of HE HAD A HOOK FOR A HAND! and all the permutations thereof. For you folks who like busty ladies running and screaming and bouncing, you got that, in Jennifer Love “Party of Five” Hewitt and Sarah Michelle “Buffy the TV Vampire Slayer” Gellar.

You got your hunky boys (Freddie Prinze Jr and Ryan Phillippe, both from movies no one has seen) in undershirts acting macho and handsome. You have the proverbial fake outs for tension relief and real life EWWWWWW stuff. Even a spooky turn by Anne Heche! It’s got it all, even a soundtrack that screams at the kids BUY ME I’M CRAZY MAN!

To wit: a real hard rockin’ almost unrecognizable cover of “Summer Breeze” plays over a really nice looooooong helicopter shot at the beginning. It’s a perfect way to say “The movies that scared the pee outta you in the 70’s are STILL ALIVE and they have a HOOK FOR A HAND!”

I know something about art and (as you may have guessed) I know what I like, and this is not art, but it’s a great friggin’ time, man!

Pay full price and bring popcorn because you will be sucking it down while you grin bug eyed at the screen then WHAM! Face fulla popcorn!

MPAA Rating R for strong horror violence and language.
Release date 10/14/97
Time in minutes 96
Director Jim Gillespie
Studio Sony Pictures

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The Man Who Knew Too Little

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Sometimes knowing nothing about a movie before going in is a good thing. I had no preconceptions to topple or bad reviews to forget. If you do not want a plot synopsis or any kind of analysis, just check out the rating (Matinee Price) and stop reading now. I don’t want to raise or lower anyone’s expectations. You could read the book, “Watch that Man” by Robert Farrar if you like.

Bill Murray is a Blockbuster Video employee who pops by England on his birthday to visit his brother, Peter Gallager. Peter is a high-stakes businessman entertaining important German clients and can’t be disturbed so he buys Murray a ticket to Theatre of Life, a new entertainment concept. Three and a half hours of interactive semi-improv puts you in the starring role of some underworld crime intrigue. A cool idea – but he shows up to the phone booth too early and accidentally ends up in some actual genuine intrigue involving international espionage and bombs and girls and reviving the Cold War on the eve of a treaty signed between Russia and England.

There’s more to it than that and you know I mean the Union of Soviet States. Anyway, hapless movie buff Murray gets sucked into the real plot (and the intended grunt for the real job dispatches with the actors, starting a manhunt for Murray) and genuine wackiness ensues. I was fortunate, unlike my companions, to not think of The Game while I was watching – the conceit of the Theatre of Life was a similar one to the Game’s Game but after that all the similarities cease. I loved the Game, though.

At times The Man Who Knew Too Little reminded me of the Peter Sellers Pink Panther movies, with the accidental bumbling into heroics, but without that special spark that Sellers brought to the role that made you think, maybe he does know what he is doing. At other times, especially the final scene with the bomb, it reminded me of the 50’s/early 60’s mistaken identity Danny Kaye movies (readers take note: I worship Danny Kaye as a god so, so, just know that) with our hero trying desperately to fit in but failing but at the same time accidentally bumbing into heroics, but without Kaye’s innate lovableness and warmth.
Murray has always been a gifted comedian but his gift has generally been in being abrasive. Even in Stripes, his most “love me ain’t I cute” role I can think of without a video guide, we still wonder why that MP likes him even as we accept that she does. It doesn’t make him less funny, but generally the bumbling heroics genre has been limited to affable, cuddly comedians, and that is the only thing wrong with this movie. Joanne Whalley (without the Kilmer) is the dame and she looks as if she is performing in a Zucker movie, as if she’s about to break character and be really funny or never break character and just be a small incidental bump in the plot. A third object is to be the empty beautiful woman role for Murray to save, and since she does none of these things, only serving to reinforce the mistaken identity gags, she is kind of forgettable.

As with all plots like this, we know what everyone is talking about, and sometimes the jokes are kind of obvious. But to make up for it, right after a moderately simple joke about impressing the Germans, we get a whole new situation thrown in and it’s OK again. The music is totally fabulous. A classy noirish lounge groove. “Fever!”

It’s worth seeing, but in a way it’s a museum piece – it harks back to those movies deemed classics now that they never make any more, like The Inspector General or The Pink Panther, but it doesn’t trash the genre with rapping or sexual situations or anything – it could be released via time travel and except for a little language and some mild S&M (all for the greater gag I assure you) it would be a big hit. Today we seek different things, and that is a shame, because these movies are classics for a reason. For that reason I enjoyed it, and I hope you will too.

Mild irony: These genre movies were a big hit when the Red Menace was hovering over us all; this movie’s villains seek to restart the Cold War. Ooh ironic! Maybe the filmmakers want to usher in a new age of sweet wholesome family comedies. More power to them, I say! Anything to prevent the production of Spawn 2.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 10/10/1997
Time in minutes 94
Director Jon Amiel
Studio Warner Brothers

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The Matchmaker (1997)

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The Matchmaker is being billed as a great date movie and a romantic comedy. It’s very sober for a comedy, particularly an Irish one (pun intended), and the romance is pretty much taken for granted. The always delightful Janeane Garafalo (remember her from Cop Land and Reality Bites? Oh and some great movies too!) goes to Ireland to look up her campaigning Senator’s roots to save his campaign. Weak premise, but it gets her to Ireland, where, we assume, the romance and comedy will ensue.

Now I don’t want to sound like some snotty international jet setter but I JUST WENT TO IRELAND in August. No, I swear I did! I have pictures! Anyway, the filmmakers apparently were as taken with the place as I was and totally forgot they were making a movie about something.

It’s very Irish, and a great deal of things are funny IF you know what the heck they are talking about – we are talking some fine craic, laddies! So *I* was laughing and not feeling at all romantic. But the things I was laughing at were not so much jokes as “Yeah, that is funny how….etc.”

The guy Janeane is supposed to end up with, Sean (played by David O’Hara, is funny and charming and they already look to have some grand inside joke when they first met. The chemistry between them is lovely and you are waiting impatiently for them to act on it. When they do (come on, are you surprised? Did I ruin it?) it seems an afterthought, filmically speaking.

It’s slow on general laughs and high on pathos – it’s really just marketed wrong, but even so it does flow in a rather pat manner (ha ha so to speak) just because it doesn’t know what it wants to be. I would like to read the original script before Marketing screwed it all up.

The Matchmaker himself, who is actually the hub of the film, is a really interesting character.

If the filmmakers had settled on the matchmaker and the festival of matchmaking, it would have been nice. If they had settled on the story with the shallowness of trying to prop up a dying campaign with contrived family ties, so be it. However, the crew and staff were obviously CHOWING down on Irish stew and salmon and Guiness and all the wonderfulness of the place and forgetting to make a movie with any linear qualities or even a theme.

It’s OK. Ireland is gorgeous, the people are all actually like that, and one character is good enough to point out that even though it seems like a fairy land, it’s as real as any other place – and that we Americans are just too herky jerky to stay there, wish as we might. So, see Janeane have a love-inducing expression on her face, plan your trip to the Emerald Isle, and feel a great deal of fondness for Milo O’Shea’s matchmaker character (I cried).

But don’t pay full price. Save your money for going to Ireland. And I am mad because I wanted to love this movie but I mostly loved reliving my trip and watching the glorious Janeane.

MPAA Rating R for language.
Release date 10/6/97
Time in minutes 97
Director Mark Joffe
Studio PolyGram

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Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control

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Many of you may not get a chance to see this movie – it’s a funky documentary art house piece, but it sure is interesting! Directed by Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, A Brief History of Time), and with music by Caleb Sampson, it’s a pastiche of 4 short documentaries on these 4 extremely diverse guys, blended together to make an unusual statement about humanity and our relationship to nature and animals and each other. The thing I find saddening about documentary style filmmaking is the knowledge of all the material I will never get to see that had to be cut to keep focus or in a certain time frame. I also realize how much work went into getting the footage and editing it and I always worry that people don’t appreciate the love, the labor, the incredible focus!

This project, in particular, could suffer from a cursory dismissal, just because the guys being interviewed are really unusual. Many filmmakers would somehow get us to laugh at them and turn the work into a kind of mocking tribute – I mean, these fellas are freaks – but by the end, you just respect them and care about them and the whole mishmash has gone and made you think about your place in the world.

One guy, Dave Hoover, is a lion tamer. George Mondonca tends to a topiary, full time, all his life, for 40 years. Another man, Ray Mendez, is devoted to the study of these rare hairless mole rats. And Rodney Brooks is a robot scientist. Their interviews and voice overs are juxtaposed with images from the other stories’ lives; the mole rat guy, talking about the termite-like culture of these mammals, might be talking about their mating habits while we watch scenes from a Clyde Beatty movie. Or shots of the robots making tentative mistakes walking accompany the care that Mondonca takes with his animals in the topiary. 45 degree, 90 degree camera angles, mood-enhancing music, and great footage of everything fills your head. You never feel bored or assaulted.

By the end (and there is no theme stated implicitly at all, and we only hear the voice of the interviewer once), you sit in the darkened moviehouse, considering man’s urge to shape, study, reproduce, replicate, manipulate, revere, respect, emulate, and live with nature and animals. These four men are all passionate about what they do, and their vocations fill their lives with meaning. I took almost no notes as I watched, afraid to miss anything, but I can’t convey how interesting it all is.

I only say matinee price because it is sort of an odd piece and not for everyone. But I think you should grab a huge tub of popcorn and just stare and eat at the amazing job Morris and his DP Robert Richardson and the production designer Ted Bafaloukos did.

* Note: Buy the score (by Caleb Sampson) if you can find it.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 10/3/97
Time in minutes 80
Director Errol Morris
Studio Sony Pictures Classics

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LA Confidential

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I expected this to be a stylish thriller with as many delights as The Usual Suspects and Silence of the Lambs and Seven. I was not granted the same delights, but I was not disappointed by the film. It’s a long 2 1/2 stretch with tons of stuff going on, and the exposition is very lengthy – I would say that the movie doesn’t really get going until the middle of the second reel, but by then you are hooked.

Some ballsy choices in casting (like lots of relative unknowns, a refreshing change!) and a gorgeous period piece. It’s slick and confident like a real Hollywood movie, but it’s unpretentious considering everything it has going for it AND the fact that it’s set in Hollywood!

The three main male characters are played by Guy Pearce (who? great!) Russell Crowe (he looks familiar – oh, he’s the guy who looks a little like that guy from the Usual Suspects) and Kevin Spacey (cool – the guy from the Usual Suspects) and they are all great. How descriptive, right? Their characters, along with everyone else’s, are total hard boiled cliches – but what makes the movie work is how these total types interact as we expect them to, with unexpected results and all sorts of surprises.

It’s as if you are playing a game straight by the rules, but when you roll a 6 you move backwards 4 squares, and it makes sense. It’s a complicated story, with a million characters, and from what I understand, the suits have been trying to make a movie adaptation of this book for a long time, but couldn’t trim it down enough to fit, or to make sense. I guess they didn’t want another Dune on their hands! But it’s very interesting and it is also stylish.

Luscious costumes and cars and sets and lingo, plenty of stuff you never dreamed took place in the 50’s, and Kim Basinger redeeming herself by almost parodying herself. Swell soundtrack, too!

The beginning is a bit disjointed, I had written down the night I saw it, because I was being assaulted with too many story lines – but in the end, there really is just one story line. Cool.

By mid-movie, after I had gotten a hold on the various characters and their motivations, I wrote down “cliche and transparent.” I did note that segments were cliche but the dialogue was not. Proof here that you must follow through to the end – it’s a good payoff. If you leave in the middle (or go to the bathroom) you will miss something, so just don’t.

It’s very butch and manly and you can almost smell the rooms they are in. If you are turned off by lots of gunplay, well, sorry. It’s all necessary. But do go see it – make sure you will not have to go to the bathroom.

And feel comfortable paying full price. It’s extremely novel after the attempted stylish thrillers of recent years like the BORING Two Days in the Valley and so forth.

MPAA Rating R for strong violence and language, and for sexuality.
Release date 10/1/97
Time in minutes 136
Director Curtis Hanson
Studio Warner Brothers

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