NOVOAINE: In The Little Shop of Horrors, Steve Martin was a sadistic dentist. In this movie, he is a stupid dentist. When an alluring woman patient seduces him in order to steal the narcotics he keeps in his office, he lies to the DEA to protect her. Why? Because he is smitten. Also, because they had sex in his dental chair and he doesn't want his fiancée/hygienist to find out. What follows is occasionally funny, but mostly weird. Martin soon finds himself implicated in charges involving drugs, perjury and murder. At first, I thought it was a really dumb movie, but I found myself watching it to the end. If you like Steve Martin, and the sight of blood doesn't upset you, you might enjoy it. Laura Dern is the fiancée, and Helena Bonham Carter is the drug-addicted femme fatale. Kevin Bacon has a funny bit part as an actor doing research for a movie in which he will be playing a detective. Elias Koteas plays Martin's derelict brother. The New York Timer reviewer said, "Nothing is particularly believable here, but there are still a few moments of silly, sinister fun." We give it a very marginal Thumbs Up.
THE OPPORTUNISTS: After serving eight years in prison for safe-cracking, Victor (Christopher Walken) is trying to live a straight life working as an auto mechanic. The problem is, the straight life isn't working too well for him. Badly in need of cash, he succumbs to the pleas of some friends to help them with a sure thing. However, his friends leave something to be desired in the brains department, and things go awry. Cindi Lauper is Sally, Victor's girlfriend. For a crime caper movie, this is very low key and not very exciting. It held our interest, though, and it was refreshing to see Walkne play it straight and create a sympathetic character. MARGINAL THUMBS UP
PANIC: This is a dark and strange movie about an unhappy hit man who starts seeing a therapist. In the therapist's waiting room, he meets a young woman and falls in love with her. William H. Macy is Alex, the conflicted hit man and Neve Campbell is Sara, the troubled young woman. Donald Sutherland plays Alex's father, an accomplished hit man who brought his son into the "family business." The family scenes are at once normal and bizarre. For example, we see a flashback that shows the father teaching his young son how to kill. Sutherland is terrific, and no one is better than Macy at playing troubled men who keep their emotions carefully hidden. At one point Alex tells his therapist (John Ritter), 'I don't think I've ever gotten angry." Tracey Ullman is excellent as Martha, Alex's wife. She knows that Alex runs a mail order business out of their home, but has no idea what his second job is. David Dorfman, the young actor who plays their six-year-old son is quite extraordinary. Henry Bromell wrote and directed the movie. He began his career writing for "Northern Exposure" and "Chicago Hope." This is a man who knows how to create characters and write dialogue, and his first directing effort shows a sure hand. PANIC was a hit at the 2000 Sundance Festival, but it never received major release after a test audience didn't like it. I can understand that the average audience wouldn't know what to make of it. This is not an ordinary movie. But it is a fascinating one, and we can enthusiastically recommend it for those of you who enjoy something out of the ordinary.
ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
PARALLEL LIVES: This 1994 made-for-TV movie has a dynamite cast and a so-so script. It takes place at a Sorority and Fraternity reunion at a small private college and introduces us to about twenty of the men and women attending the reunion. Jim Belushi is a journalist who actually was a member of the Fraternity, but at a different school. He came hoping to get a story. Everyone there seems to have a story, but only a few of them are really interesting. What is interesting is watching all these well-known actors strut their stuff. If you rent the movie you will see Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands, Jack Klugman, Liza Minelli, Ally Sheedy, Mira Sorvino, Paul Sorvino, Treat Williams, JoBeth Williams, Lindsey Krause, Lavar Burton, Patricia Wettig, James Brolin, Robert Wagner, and, believe it or not, Dudley Moore. The movie was made with the cooperation of Sundance Institute and was originally presented on Showtime. I'd only give it a Marginal Thumbs Up, but Gary thinks it deserve a Thumbs Up.
THE PLEDGE: On the eve of his retirement, Jerry Black (Jack Nicholson) becomes involved in a murder investigation. The victim was is young child, and Black makes a promise to the girl's mother that he will find the killer. It is a promise he takes seriously. His search for the real killer becomes an obsession that is carried to the point of madness--to the point where he is willing to use a child he loves as bait. This is a movie that looks like a crime story, but is really a character study. I can understand why this one was not popular in the theaters. The pace is laborious. I don't doubt director Sean Penn intended it this way to show the slow deterioration of a once great policeman, but at times it is tedious to watch. Nicholson, however, is fascinating to watch. The cast is star-studded: Benicio Del Toro, Sam Shepard, Vanessa Redgrave, Mickey Rourke, Helen Mirren, Harry Dean Stanton, and Penn's wife, Robin Wright all shine. I guess all Penn has to do is ask his friends to be in one of his movies and they all say "yes." MARGINAL THUMBS UP
RED SORGHUM: Movieviewer Kaye Young saw this 1987 Chinese film at a foreign film festival in Mason City, Iowa, and recommended it highly. We were able to get it at our local Blockbusters. The film was directed by Zhang Yimou who also directed Ju Dou. In Red Sorghum, he tells us about his grandparents: How they met and married and how they dealt with the Japanese occupation. Chinese films are always visually beautiful, but often the dialogue loses something in the translation. If you appreciate the beauty of Chinese movies, you will like this one. THUMBS UP
THE REF: If you can imagine O'Henry's short story, The Ransom of Red Chief, combined with Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff, then you have a good idea of what this movie is like. Dennis Leary stars as Gus, a burglar who kidnaps an upper middle class couple. He forces them to take him to their house so he can hide from a police roadblock. Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey are Caroline and Lloyd, a couple who cannot say three words to each other without starting an argument. It doesn't take long for their bickering to drive Gus crazy! And it doesn't take long for us to realize that the burglar is actually the nicest person in this movie. All of this happens at Christmastime, on a night when Caroline and Gus are expecting their son to arrive home from college, and five relatives to come for a Holiday dinner. Gus winds up posing as Caroline and Lloyd's marriage therapist, and he is actually rather good at it. Friends Joanna and Carl recommended this film. It is Joanna's favorite holiday movie. Ted Demme directed with a sure hand. We suggest you try this film for a different kind of Christmas movie. THUMBS UP
THE REPLACEMENTS: This pleasant though predictable movie is harmless enough. Set during a football strike, it introduces us to a team of replacements. (There actually were replacement teams during the 1987 football strike. I remember Chicago had a team that was called, among other less printable things, the Spare Bears.) The replacements in the film are all either has beens or never weres. Keanu Reeves is OK as the replacement quarterback, a college player who lost big in the Sugar Bowl and never played football again. He does need a haircut, though. Even ten-year-old Nathan noticed that. The movie did accomplish one thing--it made me anxious for football season to start. (Those who know me are aware of this character flaw--I love football.) There are some funny moments, some great football collisions, and a thoughtful bit on what makes a team. Gene Hackman is the coach, and an actor we once played golf with, Brett Cullen, is the striking quarterback. Rhys Ifans, who was Hugh Grant's roommate in NOTTING HILL plays a chain smoking Welsh soccer player used as a place kicker. And John Madden plays himself! I guess for mindless entertainment, and for those who like football, we can give it a VERY MARGINAL THUMBS UP.
RIDE WITH THE DEVIL: This coming of age movie, set in Missouri during the Civil War, was directed by Ang Lee. Tobey Maquire is excellent as a teenager whose sympathies are with the South. He and a friend (Skeet Ulrich) join a band of confederate fighters who are not part of the regular army. There are several battle scenes, but this is much more than a war movie. Jeffrey Wright, as a freed slave who joins the southern bushwackers, creates a memorable and sympathetic character. We both really liked this one. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
ROGER DODGER: Campbell Scott is terrific as Roger, a slick womanizer who thinks he is charming and cool but who actually is an incredible jerk. When his 16-year-old nephew, Nick, comes to New York and asks for some help with girls, Roger proceeds to give him lessons in womanizing. Everything he says is wrong, wrong, wrong. Fortunately, Nick's basic goodness keeps him from following Roger's advice. Elizabeth Berkley and Jennifer Beals play two young lovelies that Roger and Nick spend some time with. Isabella Rossellini is Roger's boss. Jesse Eisenberg is very good as Nick, but the movie belongs to Roger. The man may be clueless when it comes to women, but boy, can he talk! This movie is dialogue driven, and the dialogue is funny and smart. We give it an ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP.
SECRETARY: We watched this most unusual movie on video. James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal star in a sadist meets masochist story. Gyllenhaal plays a young woman who has the illness of self-mutilation and comes from a neurotic family. Released from a mental institution, she studies typing and gets a job as secretary to an obsessive/compulsive lawyer. The make a perfect couple: He is an dominant personality and she is submissive to a fault. Not a film we'd recommend for most people, but extremely well acted and rather disturbing. If you like very weird, you might like it. Qualified Thumbs Up
SEX AND THE CITY: Since we don't get HBO we decided to watch some of the episodes of this popular TV series starring Sarah Jessica Parker. We can see why people like the show--there are some wonderful insights on man/woman relationships. In one episode, Samantha says that women only have influence over men in two areas--hair and wardrobe--and they are "constant battles." The tape we got had six episodes. There is another tape at Blockbusters that claims to have the entire second year of episodes. I think we'll get that one, too. THUMBS UP
A SHOT IN THE HEART: This film is taken from the book written by Gary Gilmore's younger brother, Mikal. He never really knew his older brother, but in the week before Gary's execution, Mikal visited Gary in order to decide whether he should attempt to secure a stay. It is a powerful drama, and Elias Koteas as Gary and Giovanni Ribisi as Mikalare outstanding. I don't know if it is out on video yet, but if you didn't see it on TV, we recommend renting it. This is the second film about Gilmore. Do you remember The Executioner's Song, in 1982? It won an Emmy for Tommie Lee Jones as Gary Gilmore? THUMBS UP
SHOWER: (Subtitled) This Chinese film is full of old-fashioned values and is absolutely charming! The story revolves around a bathhouse run by a father and his retarded son. An older brother comes to visit and is forced to chose between a fast-paced modern life in the city and the life his father and brother live--a life that is rapidly disappearing. The regular customers come to the bathhouse to relax, socialize, and get help for both their physical and personal problems. There are no special effects here, just ordinary people living ordinary lives. Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars and said, "is a cozy and good-hearted comedy, not startlingly original but convincing in the way it shows the rhythms of the days and customs of the bathhouse." We think you will enjoy it. THUMBS UP
SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS: Great effort was expended to make this film moody and artistic. Perhaps it is too moody for the small screen. In our family room is seemed as though the story suffered in the service of the artistry. I think it would have worked better on the large screen in a dark theater where you have few distractions. The movie was adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name. Set during a murder trial in a Pacific Northwest community, it deals with the communitys prejudice against the Japanese. Flashbacks show the deplorable events of WW II when Japanese-Americans were stripped of all their possessions and taken to relocation camps in the desert. The flashbacks also bring to life a secret love affair between a young white boy and a Japanese girl. They were separated by the events of the War, and the girl is now married with two children. Her husband has been accused of murder, and her former boyfriend, now the towns newspaper editor, has information that may clear him. I would be interested in hearing from those of you who saw this film in the theater. In our family room it seemed awfully slow. QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
SUNSHINE: This epic film follows three generations of the Sonnenschein family and how they deal with the political turmoil of the 20th Century. It is set in Budapest, Hungary. The film's running time is three hours and it is presented on two videotapes. Ralph Fiennes appears in all three segments playing grandfather, father, and son. Jennifer Ehle is luminous as Valerie, the young Grandmother, and Rosemary Harris, looking remarkably like Ehle, plays Valerie in the later segments. Rachel Weisz and William Hurt also appear. SUNSHINE is a sweeping story of how a Jewish family tries to accommodate a sucession of political regiemes, constantly having to make choices between expediency and ethics. At one point, they change their name to Sors in order to be "more Hungarian." Incorporating some newsreel footage, the director shows us Adam (the father) winning a gold medal in fencing at the 1936 Olympics, and Ivan (the son) participating in the 1956 revolution. We highly recommend this compelling film. It was written and directed by Istvan Szabo. I should warn you that it is rated R for strong sexuality and for violence, language and nudity. THUMBS WAY UP!
SUNSHINE STATE: We enjoyed this John Sayles film although we must warn you that it is quite slow moving. There are some good scenes, though, and the acting is uniformly excellent. The action takes place on Plantation Island, Florida--a stretch of beach that has not yet been developed. One area, called Lincoln Beach, was, before civil rights, the only beach in the State where blacks could own property. Now developers are threatening to destroy their community. Notable actors include, Eddie Falco, Angele Bassett, Tim Hutton, Jane Alexander, Mary Steenburgen, Mary Alice, and Ralph Waite. Sayles doesn't tell a conventional tale about developers vs. home owners, but weaves in family stories. He is a master and letting his actors live in their parts. The actors seem unaware of the camera. Roger Ebert called the film an "observant, elegiac, sad movie, about how the dreams of the parents are not the dreams of the children." If you like Sayles (Lone Star, Limbo, The Secret of Roan Innish, Matewan), you'll like this one. Thumbs Up
SWIM FAN: This film is Fatal Attraction for the teenage crowd. Erika Christensen (Traffic) takes the Glenn Close role and Jesse Bradford is in the Michael Douglas role. As with most imitations, it falls short of the original, although it did hold our attention. Christensen is Madison Bell, a new girl at an upscale suburban high school. She becomes obsessed with Ben Cronin (Bradford) who is a swim team star. They have a brief encounter--in the swimming pool, of course--but Ben has no intention of forsaking his girl friend for this newcomer. Madison doesn't take no for an answer, and she turns Ben's life into a living hell. There is an over-the-top ending which, although it also involves water, doesn't quite measure up to the bathtub scene in Fatal Attraction. This might pass the time on a hot summer afternoon, but it's only a QUALIFIED THUMBS UP.
THE TASTE OF OTHERS: We enjoyed this French film that was nominated for Best Foreign Film last year. It's a hard one to review because the plot is secondary to the characters. If you can say the film has a message, it is this: Everyone's taste is unique to them, and my good taste may be your bad taste. The film introduces a variety of people representing different social circles: a successful industrialist, an actress, an artist, a bodyguard and a chauffeur. We see them interact and form impressions of each other based on their "taste." Roger Ebert had this to say about the film: "One of the delights of The Taste of Others is that it is so smart and wears its intelligence lightly. Films about taste are not often made by Hollywood, perhaps because it would so severely limit the box office to require the audience to have any." Agnes Jaoui, who plays a bar tender and low level drug dealer, directed the film. It is subtitled, and for that reason we give it a QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON
: Paul Sorvino did a terrific job both starring in and directing this made-for-TV film version of Jason Millers powerful. Gary Sinise, Tony Shaloub, Vincent Donofrio, and Terry Kinney play the high school friends who formed the Fillmore High School basketball team twenty years agothe team that won a state championship in the final ten seconds of the playoff game. Paul Sorvino, who was a player in the first movie version in 1982, is the coach in this one. Gary saw the play when it opened in New York, and we also saw the earlier movie version. In addition, we remember the Glen Ellyn Theater Guilds excellent version, directed by Loretta Hauser, a Movie Viewer, and starring Bill Wedmore, another Movie Viewer, as Coach. This recent film is an outstanding production, and the actors are unquestionably perfect in their roles. I think they made a mistake trying to update it to 1998: Certain things simply do not play. However, this small negative takes nothing away from the acting and directing, or from the beautifully written dialogue. We watched this just after midnight on New Years Eve, and were so caught up in the drama we hardly noticed the time pass. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER: It is unfortunate that this gem of a movie never got theatrical release. Although it received positive buzz at Sundance and Cannes film festivals, writer-director Rodrigo Garcia apparently couldn't get a distributor. It was sidelined directly to Showtime. This movie is a series of vaguely interconnecting vignettes set in a San Fernanco Valley neighborhood. It boasts a dynamite cast: Holly Hunter, Glenn Close, Calista Flockhart, Amy Brenneman and Cameron Diaz. It's no wonder these fine actresses were drawn to the script. Garcia has a wonderful talent for writing revealing moments, and each actress lives up to the fine writing. There is not a weak scene here: all are splendid. I don't want to tell you anything about the plots of these vignettes because that would deprive you of the joy of discovery. Gary thought this was the best movie he has seen in a long time and he hopes that many of you will watch this one. The only thing he didn't like about the film was its title, and we wonder if the Hollywood studios dismissed it as a "chick-flick" because of the title. Both Ebert and Roeper highly recommended this film, and so do we. Enthusiastic Thumbs Up
TIGERLAND: "My father says the Army makes all men one. But you never know which one." TIGERLAND begins with this quote, spoken by one of the Infantry soldiers being trained for Viet Nam. "Tigerland" is the name of the camp where the infantrymen spend their final week of training before shipping out. It has been called the second worse place in the world. It is designed to look as much like Viet Nam as possible, and the only difference between being in "Tigerland," and actually being "in country," is the absence of live ammunition We agree with Movie Viewer Jim S. who said that the film is "as horrific as any combat film." None of the actors are familiar names, but several are memorable. Raymond Boz, the film's protagonist, is played by Colin Farrell, an Irish Actor who I am anxious to see again. Boz is a cynical soldier, but a natural born leader. He befriends Jim Paxon (Matthew Davis), a nave young man who enlisted in the Army for the experience, hoping to write a novel about that experience. These two actors have only a few screen credits, but I hope this 2000 film is a boost to their careers. The New York Times reviewer criticized the film for "its secondhand sentimentality," but the Los Angeles Times reviewer said it was a "taut, spare drama, that is consistently fresh, engrossing and unpredictable." Both Ebert and Roeper gave it a thumbs up, and Roeper called it a "gem of a movie." Joel Schumacher is the director. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
25TH HOUR: Edward Norton is Monte Brogin, a drug dealer who is going to jail for seven years. In this film, we watch him spend his last 24 hours of freedom. Spike Lee directed this film and it shows what a talented filmmaker he is. Rosario Dawson is Monte's girlfriend who may or may not have been the one to tell the police where he kept his drug supply. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Barry Pepper are his best friends and Brian Cox is his father. Even though Monte profited from the misery of others, we can't help but feel tremendous sympathy for him. That shows what a good actor Norton is. THUMBS UP
TWIN FALLS IDAHO: What a haunting and beautiful film this is. It is the story of conjoined twin brothers and the young woman who befriends them. The brothers, Francis and Blake Falls, are played by Michael and Mark Polish, twin brothers in real life. Mark and Michael wrote the script and Michael directed this most unusual movie. As grade school children in Northern California, the Polish brothers were entranced by a grainy photograph of Chang and Eng Bunke in The Guinness Book of World Records. "It was the way they were standing," recalls Mark. "They were so stoic. Just from that image, we knew there was an intriguing story in that kind of life." They have created a most intriguing movie and a touching and loving look at two young men whom the world regards as freaks, but who are simply brothers. Francis has a weak heart and it is Blake's stronger heart is that keeps them both alive. Penny, the prostitute hired to help them celebrate their birthday, is at first repelled by the brothers. Eventually she forms a fond relationship with them. It's hard to imagine being literally "joined" to another person. At on point, Penny asks Blake if he has ever been lonely. He tells her that there are only two minutes in the day--the minute he wakes and the minute before he falls asleep--that he feels truly alone. He treasures those two minutes. Penny is played by Michelle Hicks, whom one critic referred to as an "Uma Thurmanesque beauty." Leslie Ann Warren appears as the mother who gave her boys up because she couldn't face life with "Siamese twins." Garret Morris, a SNL alumnus, appears briefly, and William Katt plays a doctor. Roger Ebert called it "one of the best films of the year." We give it an ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP.
WAKING THE DEAD: We picked this video up because it features Billy Crudup (ALMOST FAMOUS). The movie reminded me of GHOST STORY with political overtones. Crudup is Fielding Pierce, a young man from a blue-collar family who is determined to someday become President. Jennifer Connelly is Sara Williams, a political activist. The two fall hopelessly in love although they are political opposites. The story, which jumps around in time from 1972 to 1983, begins in 1974 when Williams is killed in a politically motivated car bombing. Or is she? In 1982 when Fielding is running for Congress, he begins to see and hear Jennifer talking to him. The ending is ambiguous, and getting there is often slow and confusing. We both liked Crudup and Connelly and were intrigued by the story, but I'm not sure it would please most viewers. QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
WINCHELL: Interesting biopic of the famous columnist who is known for his powerful gossip columns and his rapid-fire delivery on the radio. Stanley Tucci won a Golden Globe for this HBO special now out on videotape. Glenn Headley also appears. Winchell was a complicated man: a hero for the way he vilified Hitler in his columns and told the truth about what was happening to the Jews in Nazi Germany, but less than a hero for the way he fawned over Joseph McCarthy and supported the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. THUMBS UP
A WALK ON THE MOON: This is an exceptionally good movie. Diane Lane and Liev Schreiber are parents of a teenage girl (Anna Paquin) and a young boy. They are spending the summer of 1969 at a family camp in upstate New York. As her daughter begins to mature, and gets her first boyfriend, Lane starts to feel that life has passed her by. Married at 17 to her very first boyfriend, she is envious of young people. Wanting to be somehow different, she begins an affair with a hippie blouse salesman (Viggo Mortenson) who regularly visits the camp. 1969 was the summer of the moon landing and of Woodstock. Both events figure in the film. The relationships are touching and real, the dialogue is exceptional, and the actors are outstanding. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
THE WINSLOW BOY: When a young boy at the Naval Academy is accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order and dismissed, his father decides to fight for his vindication and for vindication of the family name. The boy's father, Arthur Winslow, is played by the wonderful Nigel Hawthorne. Rebecca Pidgeon is the Winslow boy's suffragette sister, Catherine. Jeremy Northam is Sir Robert Morton, the famous London attorney who agrees to take the case. The London newspapers make the Winslow case a household word, and a simple theft case becomes a fight between the mighty and the powerless. Pursuing the case case requires great sacrifices from the Winslow family, and therein lies the story. How refreshing it is to hear truly elegant dialogue--so proper, yet so revealing of feelings. Hawthorne (The Madness Of King George) is splendid and Northam proves once again that he can do just about anything well. Rebecca Pidgeon is very good as Catherine, a woman who believes ardently in women's rights. David Mamet adapted The Winslow Boy from a 1940 play by Terence Rattigan. The story was based on the real events-- The 1910 trial of George Archer-Shee, a 13-year-old cadet at the Osborne Naval Academy who was accused of stealing a five-shilling postal order. The boy's father, a Liverpool bank manager, went to enormous lengths to argue his son's case in what became a cause celebre. We highly recommend this fine film. ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
WITHOUT LIMITS: Steve Prefontaine was a long distance runner who placed fourth in the 5,000-meter race at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. He was from Oregon State where he set a three-mile record for runners 19 years and younger, which still stands today. This 1998 biopic starring Billy Crudup as "Pre," tells the story of his brief life and his desire to not merely win races, but to test his limits every time he ran. In his short career, Pre set seven U.S. speed records and had a powerful influence on his coach, Oregon State's legendary Bill Bowerman. Donald Sutherland is Bowerman, a coach who spent most of his spare time designing running shoes with a strange waffle patterned sole. He later started a company to manufacture running shoes of his design. The company is called Nike. Robert Towne, the director, must have a fondness for making movies about athletes. He also directed Personal Best. He, like Robert Redford, sees sports as a metaphor for life. We enjoyed this one and give it an ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP.