adaptation
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Hercules (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Emma (compared to Sense & Sensibility)

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There comes a time in every woman’s life where she needs to curl up with a pizza, some Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, and Jane Austen, and last weekend was just such a time. I picked Emma at the store because I hadn’t seen it since it came out, and even though I had also *read* it, I completely forgot my impression of it. Plus it had Ewan McGregor in it. Did I mention Girl Scout cookies?

After greatly disliking Gwynneth Paltrow in Great Expectations, I was horrified to find myself adoring her again in this film, and the multitude of wonderful people who join her – Jeremy Northam, priming himself for the conjugal spanking of a lifetime, Phyllida Law and her daughter, Ms. Thompson – not Emma, but her sister whose name escapes me – it didn’t even occur to me to write anything down at this stage in the game. Emma Thompson’s sister (to that actress, I sincerely apologize) is big in British TV and not so much in film, but she gives an excellent performance as the poor spinster friend to Paltrow’s Emma. And Toni Collette – how underappreciated she is!

I had forgotten how true to the book this adaptation was, and I appreciated by proxy how true to the source material Clueless is as well. I have always like Austen’s women leads, they are strong but neurotic, insecure but confident, lovely yet stupid at times as well – they are perfectly normal people, trapped in this unwittingly sexy period when restraint was the order of the day and gossip and wordplay were art forms. Oh, I wish I could conjure such magical times in my immediate social circle!

Ah well. Yet despite the restraint and British stuffiness and decorum, the mood is so genial and comfortable – I can’t stand the formality of a regular mid-week sit down dinner, much less servants and dressing for tea!

After traipsing through a pleasant, winsome, sunny British romantic tale, I said, well, geez, I have to watch Sense and Sensibility again. Watching the two films together, it is difficult to imagine the germs of the books coming from the same author – true, the films have different casts and directors, but Sense and Sensibility draws more deeply from the well of melodrama (in the best sense) with a wider range of pain and joy than in felt in Emma. Emma is an adolescent tragedy that turns out well – Sense and Sensibility is a more dire, heartfelt exploration of women’s predicaments and feelings. Emma was written 5 years after S & S – could it be Austen just lightened up? Or is Ang Lee (director of S & S) simply more sensitive to the issues underlying the plot?

The bottom line is, who cares? They are both excellent books and movies in their own right, and neither actually lose anything when contrasted to the other. And I want to buy them both on DVD when available. The sexual tension is a bit more exposed in Emma, perhaps because it is a more “Hollywood” film. And frankly, there are way hotter guys in Emma as well, and a greater number of lovely ladies. The incomparable Kate Winslet’s sensibility is a keen match to Emma Thompson’s sense; while both actresses are thought of as those personalities in real life, it’s their sisterly affection that sells us on the contrast.
Rent them both and you will see. Neither will disappoint, even on repeated viewings. My 10th grade English teacher was right – there is a reason these books become classics, and it’s because they’re freakin’ great.

*Author’s note, much much later in time: While Emma remains a delicate froth of a movie, Sense and Sensibility always makes it onto my top ten list of all time for its sheer perfection of craft and content, casting and color. if you are trying to choose, Sense should win every time. Also: enjoy Clueless as a brilliant modernization of Emma!

Emma
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 8/2/96
Time in minutes 121
Director Douglas McGrath
Studio Miramax

Sense and Sensibility
MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/14/95
Time in minutes 135
Director Ang Lee
Studio Columbia Pictures

Coma

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You know what’s a scary flippin’ movie? Coma. The movie came out in 1978, a year after Robin Cook’s book, when telephones had dials and nervous housewives took valium, and shortly after Roe vs. Wade went into law. Why is this relevant? Robin Cook wrote medical thrillers with big ideas (though I find the actual writing unbearable, the ideas are incredible) disguising even bigger ethical concerns. Whatever his stance on abortion, it was clear that he didn’t feel that men could play god with other people’s lives, or decide the relative values of one life over another. Enter Coma, directed by Michael Crichton. Crichton himself is a writer with big, ethical ideas, but once upon a time, before he settled on producing, he was a director too. Let’s hope he catches the bug again soon.

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