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A fictional tale of down-and-out playwrights Gilbert and Sullivan giving it their last effort to stage a new musical they have written, The Mikado.
Lisa Kudrow, Diane Keaton and Meg Ryan play three sisters brought together to help their ailing father, Walter Matthau.
The Talented Mr. Ripley
Sometimes, I just want to wipe that smug grin off Matt Damon's face. He just rubs me the wrong way. Damon has a great relationship with the beautiful Minnie Driver, but she's not enough, and they break up (I put the blame on him). Then, he gets into a relationship with Winona Ryder, and she is not enough, so they break up (once again, I put the blame on him, maybe it's unjustifiable, but it's my rage and I'll hate if I want to). As my friend Paul says, "some people just deserve a butt kicking." However, he surprised me in this disturbing thriller.
Damon plays Tom Ripley, a poor kid who is a master impressionist and forger, who misleads a ship building magnate into believing that he attends Princeton with his son, Dickie Greenleaf (Jude Law). The elder Greenleaf offers Tom $1,000 (the movie is set in the 40's or 50's, so that's a ton of money), to convince Dickie to return to the United States from Italy. However, Dickie is living the life of the rich and spoiled.
He has a beautiful girlfriend, Marge (Gwyneth Paltrow doing a fabulous impersonation of Grace Kelly), a boat, a fancy house on the beach and an unlimited supply of money (Sign me up!), so he vows never to return to the United States and his overbearing father. Once Tom arrives in Italy, he gets swept up in this life of luxury and amusement, becoming extremely jealous, yet, fond of Dickie.
How far with he carry his obsession with Dickie's life? Is he dangerous?
Damon is sufficiently creepy and shows a new side to his acting ability. If it's possible, he is subtly menacing and dangerous, a refreshing change from the over-the-top type of madman Hollywood usually shoves down our throat. Dare I say he was robbed of an Oscar nomination?
Director/writer Anthony Minghella takes a long time to introduce the plot and move towards the final resolution, but it is necessary to give us enough background about our main characters, so we can understand their motivations and intentions.
My biggest problem with the film is the lack of resolution. The ending left me feeling like there was no ending. Give me something a little more substantial, and the movie would have gotten a better rating. Grade: B-
New on Video for the Weekend
Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo
They don't pay me enough to watch stuff like this. Rob Schneider, the copy guy on Saturday Night Live, stars in this film, produced by buddy Adam Sandler, about a guy who must pose as a male gigolo. Wouldn't you slam the door shut in his face if you had to pay for sex with him?
Anna and the King
Shall we dance? Not in this musicless remake of the King and I. Stars Jodie Foster and Chow-Yun Fat.
Sweet and Lowdown
This is the most interesting and promising new video for the week, but, unfortunately, I was slightly disappointed.
Sean Penn stars as a fictional jazz legend, Emmett Ray. A drunk, kleptomaniac, gambling, obnoxious, pathetic man, Emmett gets by in the world because he has great musical talent. One day, he meets Hattie (Samantha Morton), a mute girl who he resists at first, but, eventually, they fall in love.
Can this lout and this sweetheart stay together?
Morton is stunning in this role. Without any words, she steals the show from Penn. Her facial expressions say everything that we need to know about her mood, opinions and feelings. She creates an innocent, loving character that you will love. Her Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress was well deserved, and she should have beaten Angelina Jolie!
Penn also is very good. I always love it when an actor does something extraordinary to make himself more believable in the role. In this case, Penn, who never played the guitar before, learned how to play the very difficult and complex songs on this film. While he didn't play every note in the movie, at least he looked like he knew what he was doing.
Penn and Morton have a great chemistry together. He is hyper and talkative, while Morton is quiet and understated. Her performance is stunning. She won't jump off the screen, but if you watch her closely, you get to see a virtuoso performance.
Unfortunately, the audience doesn't get enough of these two. The story heads off in another direction, but it should have explored this complex, interesting relationship a little more. Grade: B
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The Green Mile
This movie is long. Very long. Extremely long. It is loooooooooooong.
Tom Hanks stars as Paul Edgecomb, a prison guard in 1935. The movie follows the lives of the guards and the prisoners as they try to live normal lives in this extraordinary place. The prison changes when John Coffee (Michael Clarke Duncan) is incarcerated for killing two little girls. The prisoners and guards soon learn that John Coffee is not your normal convict.
While this is a good movie, it is over-ambitious and should have been made into two films. On one hand, we have the story of John Coffee, his questionable conviction and the healing power that he uses to make others lives better. On the other hand, we have a prison drama about a crazy guard, Percy Whitmore (Doug Hutchison), who uses his familial connections to do whatever he wants.
Hanks is very good as the understanding, but powerful boss. Duncan is great as the strapping, muscle-bound criminal who wouldn't hurt a fly, and Hutchison should have gotten more kudos for his performance as the guard with a Napoleanic complex. However, it is best to watch this film in segments, which is what I did on DVD. Grade: B-
Robin Williams as Pinocchio! Williams plays a robot, who wants to be a man as he watches his loved ones change all around him.
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When I saw that this movie was coming out this week, I figured it would be a good chance for a big, tough guy like me to show off my sensitive side to all the single ladies out there in cyberspace and radioland. Unfortunately, this movie stinks.
Winona Ryder, acting like a deer caught in the headlights, plays Susanna, a young high school graduate battling depression and recovering from a suicide attempt. Since it's 1968, she has been placed in a mental hospital for one year to recover. In the institution, she meets a group of high school girls just as scared, confused and sick as she is, so they join together and fight their problems with the power of sisterhood.
Angelina Jolie, whose performance won her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, steals the show playing Lisa, a psychopathic, control freak. However, considering her overly cozy relationship with her brother and her marriage to Billy Bob Thornton, is playing a crazy person that much of stretch for her?
While I usually like James Mangold's work as a director, this is one to avoid. Grade: D-
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Man on the Moon
Was Jim Carey robbed of an Oscar nomination? Should more people have gone to see this movie? Yes and no.
In this biographical film, Jim Carey plays the anarchist comic Andy Kauffman. Best known for his stints on Taxi and Saturday Night Live, the film makes little effort to look behind the public façade and show us the real Andy Kauffman until the last half hour of the movie, - easily the best part of this flick. While it is interesting to see Carey recreate the most famous and best known moments of Kauffman's life, you can get this information from a Comedy Central documentary about the comic. The first ¾ of the movie tries to hard to pack in every well-known moment and jumps too quickly from scene to scene. In the last half hour, we finally get to see the human side of Kauffman as he fights cancer (Carey is amazing). Until that point, he is a bad caricature.
Carey does a dead-on impression of Kauffman, but it isn't enough to make me want to rush out and see this movie again. Grade: C
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One of the funniest and most tragic documentaries I have seen in years. The film follows the efforts of Mark Borchart, a Milwaukee burnout, as he tries to make the movie he believes to be his Citizen Kane - Northwestern. A lover of cheap horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Borchart has a burning desire to be the next Steven Spielberg, but worries that he does not have the determination necessary to achieve that goal.
After watching Borchart struggle, the audience comes away with the belief that he knows a great deal about movies, but hasn't realized that he can't achieve his goal in Milwaukee. If you want to be in movies, move to Hollywood. However, Borchart struggles to make the movie, borrows money from his relatives and seems to live in a perpetual state of being a teenager. While others have moved on, Borchart continues to do the same thing he did in high school - drink beer and make cheap movies that aren't very good.
The family members and friends who support Borchart are an eclectic bunch who also swing between tragic and hilarious. At times, I felt like I was a voyeur watching a train wreck. Check it out if you are in the mood for something different. Grade: A-
This film had one of the best trailers in movie history, and lived up to most of the hype. Johnny Depp stars as Ichabod Crane, an investigator from New York City sent to the small little town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate the mysterious murderer known as The Headless Horseman. Will he find out the truth behind this mythical figure?
The film takes a great deal of poetic license. (WASN'T HE A TEACHER IN THE ORIGINAL STORY?). However, writer Andrew Kevin Walker develops an interesting plot with substantial backstory and motivation for the characters we have become familiar with, but know little about. Depp and Ricci put in fantastic performances as Ichabod and Katrina. Ricci continues to show great acting ability that many more will discover as she stars in big budget films like this one.
Perhaps the film would have been more visually stunning on the big screen, but I enjoyed it with the lights turned off. If you are looking for the original story by Washington Irving, you will be greatly disappointed. Grade: B
New On Video For The Weekend Of
This week features a couple films you may have missed during the last holiday season. Don't worry. There is no reason to rush out and catch them now.
Cradle Will Rock
Oh, the suffering of the persecuted artists! This film is just one stinking heap of liberalism and political correctness served cold with no flair and no compelling reason to watch.
The almost all fact-based film portrays the production of a controversial, pro-union play financed by the WPA Federal Theater Project in the mid-1930's. The Federal Theater Project and Cradle Will Rock quickly find themselves under attack for supposed communist sympathies.
I hated this film. It takes far too long to establish a plot and wastes our time with many characters who seem irrelevant to the main plot of the story. John Cusack and Susan Sarandon are wasted in a meaningless subplot that contributes nothing to the story, and Emily Watson is almost unwatchable as the down-on-her-luck young lady who wants to break into show business.
The only two performances that I enjoyed came from John Turturro and Bill Murray. Turturro stars as a working guy with a young family who must decide if he will perform in the controversial film or protect his future job prospects. Bill Murray is amazing as an old-time vaudeville ventriloquist who loathes the communists.
I like Tim Robbins' work, but do yourself a favor and skip this one. Grade: D
The World Is Not Enough
The plot is not enough! Actually, it is too much.
Our super suave spy, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan), ends up with the task of protecting the daughter of an oil magnate and friend of M (Judith Dench) after a terrorist attacks the secret headquarters of the MI6. He later learns that she was kidnapped and tortured by the maniacal Renard (Robert Carlyle), whose big important villainous trait is the lack of feeling pain. Ooooooh scary! By the way, he is out for revenge.
Can Bond handle the wild and sexy Elektra King (Sophie Marceau)? Will Renard come back to kidnap Elecktra again? Will Denise Richards learn how to act? Does she have to with a body like that?
There are three reasons you go to see a Bond film. Number one, James Bond is cool. He's the white Shaft. Number two, stuff gonna 'splode! Lots of things get blown up in this film, especially the plot. Number three, you can count on super hot women being scantily clad. If that's all you want in a movie, you're going to love this film. However, I want more.
I want a villain who instills fear, not chuckles. Robert Carlyle is way too wimpy to be scary. The whole deal with his not feeling pain is just plain silly. It makes no sense.
I want a compelling plot that makes sense. This one has more weird twists and turns than a scary roller coaster.
I want actors who can act (YES THAT MEANS YOU DENISE "I COULDN'T ACT MY WAY OUT OF A PAPER BAG" RICHARDS). She is only in this film because she is a great looking woman. However, the best Bond women had a sexiness and intelligence that she lacks.
The Bond flick is barely passable at best. Grade: C
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Did it deserve all the praise and adulation? Should Kevin Spacey have the Oscar for Best Actor? Yes.
Spacey stars as Lester Burnham, a middle class suburban father who is hated by his family. His wife, Caroline (Annette Benning), is a type-A personality obsessed with cleanliness and success. His daughter, Janie (Thora Birch), is insecure about her life and wishes she had better parents. He has become bored with his job and feels life was much better when he was young and dreamed of a better tomorrow.
Lester is reborn when he gets a crush on Janie's cheerleading friend, Angela (Mena Suvari). He starts acting like a teenager by working out to impress her, buying his dream car and hanging out with Janie's boyfriend. Will Lester get the girl? Will his family start loving him?
I think too many critics took this film too seriously. I remember reading statements about how American Beauty was some sort of revelation about the evils of suburbia and an unmasking of its insincerity and phoniness. Take the film for what it is - a tragic drama that is entertaining in its originality and style.
The cast is one of the best ensembles you will see in film. Spacey deserves every kudo he has received for this film. He creates a total loser who still evokes sympathy from the audience. He amazingly transforms from a henpecked husband into a dynamo. Benning is wonderful as the shrew and Birch is very good as the troubled teenage daughter. However, the surprise performance comes from Chris Cooper who plays Colonel Fitts, the domineering and abusive father of Janie's boyfriend. Cooper is able to become every liberal's nightmare as he embodies a gun loving, homophobic military man. The movie's climax is shocking due to his performance.
I can't praise the screenplay enough. Alan Ball, who supposedly based the character of Caroline on his former boss, Cybil Sheppard, created characters with depth, complexity and a burning desire to be special. Each character wants attention and love.
Rent American Beauty this weekend! Grade: A
Being John Malkovich
Being John Malkovich is one of the most daring and quirky films in recent memory.
John Cusack stars as Craig Schwartz, a frustrated puppeteer who works as a filing clerk. One day at the office, he finds a secret portal into the brain of actor John Malkovich. Craig partners with his co-worker, Maxine (Catherine Keener), to sell the opportunity to enter the portal and be Malkovich. All seems to be going well, except Craig is in love with Maxine. Unfortunately, so is his wife, Lahti (Cameron Diaz). Will this lead to trouble? Will Malkovich find out that other people are entering his brain?
Everything in the film is quirky and turned upside down, which provides a kooky, other worldly atmosphere. The sets are unlike anything you have seen before, especially Craig's office on the 7 ½ floor. Malkovich is hilarious as the man who's body and mind can be controlled by any loser who wishes to experience fame. He gets the chance to show off some great comedic skills and takes a few self-depricating shots that soften his serious image.
The person who really surprised me is Cameron Diaz. She is unrecognizable as the frumpy wife who falls in love with Maxine. For once, she is more than just a pretty face and, like Malkovich, gets the chance to show off some comedic skills.
I like the film, but it takes a strange, serious and disturbing turn in the middle before returning to its farcical nature. This inconsistency in tone takes away from the true brilliance of the film - its ability to create another world that that is entertaining. Grade: A-
Mystery, Alaska is a small, hockey-loving town that gets the chance to become famous when a former resident offers the chance to host a hockey game between the local legends and the New York Rangers. Stars Russell Crowe and Hank Azaria.
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Kevin Smith is one of my favorite directors, and Clerks is one of the best comedies that you will ever see. He followed that film with a passable sophmore effort, Mall Rats, but his third movie, Chasing Amy, was a daring look at modern romance and the consequences of our more liberal attitudes towards sex. Now, we have Dogma, a satirical look at those who believe they speak for God and don't follow the true spirit of his teachings.
Matt Damon and Ben Affleck star as two angels cast out of heaven by God when they refuse to do their jobs. Condemned to a lifetime on Earth with real people, they have become bored and yearn for a return to the pleasures of heaven. They find a biblical loophole that will allow them to re-enter heaven, but that would prove God to be fallible and end life as we know it. When God enlists the help of a ragtag ensemble, will they succeed in stopping the angels and save Earth?
Dogma is one of 1999's best and most controversial films. The team assembled to stop Damon and Affleck pushes the envelope, but tries to make the point that you should listen to the beliefs rather than the messenger. Linda Fiorentino plays a very religious abortion clinic worker who supposedly is a distant relative of Jesus Christ. Chris Rock plays a fictional thirteenth apostle who feels slighted by his omission from the Bible. Salma Hayek plays a muse who dances in a strip club. Hey, I never said it was for the closed minded.
I was quite surprised at the level of sophistication Smith shows in his script. While Affleck and Damon's characters come up with a reasonable explanation for their actions, they interpret the Bible to falsely justify the actions. Is that done on purpose to make a point?
Damon and Affleck are great. Usually, I am annoyed at them for being two pretty boys with attitudes, but they put those attitudes to good use here. Rock is hilarious, while Smith and his friend, Scott Moser, make yet another memorable appearance as Jay and Silent Bob.
The deeply religious Smith wrote Dogma in the early 1990's, about the same time he was working on his first film, Clerks. "It started with me asking some questions about my own faith but the flick doesn't attempt to hold out answers to any of those questions," says Smith on the Dogma web site. "It's meant to make you laugh."
Instead of jumping into production of Dogma after Clerks' success, Smith waited because he didn't feel quite ready to take on the difficult shoot required to make the film. "Personally, I don't think I was mature enough to take it on until now, " says Smith. "Not that the subject matter is so mature - because it's really a flick that's as goofy as it is thoughtful - but I think taking it on earlier would have led to a far more adolescent film."
The Miramax-produced film debuted at the Cannes Film festival in May of 1999, but trouble was starting to brew. Disney, Miramax's parent company, had faced controversy over other films and television that examined Catholicism, so Bob and Harvey Weinstein, the brothers who run Miramax, personally purchased the film from the company to avoid any backlash against Disney. After an uncertain summer, independent film distributor Lion's Gate purchased the rights and put the film out in November of 1999.
This is one is for the younger crowd, and will drive the most religious viewers nuts, but sometimes a new take on religion and a challenge to our beliefs can be a good thing. The special effects cheapen the movie, but the script raises it back up. Grade: A-
I have heard raves about Galaxy Quest, so I was anxiously awaiting its release on video. Unfortunately, it didn't live up to the hype.
Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Daryl Mitchell and Tony Shalhoub star as the ragtag cast of a cancelled science fiction program with a small, but rabid following. Yes, this is a spoof of Star Trek.
Tim Allen plays the swaggering Captain who accidentally starts an inter-stellar war when he is drafted by a group of aliens who believe the television program is real. With no hope in sight, they turn to the cast of Galaxy Quest to save them.
Most of the movie is very predictable as the cast reaches within to find the strength to be the heroes they were on TV. You can telegraph just about every plot twist and most of the laughs can be seen coming from a mile away. If you rent the film, you will get a few good laughs, but don't expect the second coming of Animal House. Grade: C
Anywhere But Here
Susan Sarandon plays a crazy mother who wants to find success in Beverly Hills and Natalie Portman is her more sensible daughter.
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