Film Clips

AT FIRST SIGHT. It's not a romantic comedy, it's not a horror film, it's that mutant that lives somewhere in between. It's in that special place where grown men dress like clowns and mothers form better bonds with their daughters by dying. This time the couple consists of the uncharismatic Virgil (Val Kilmer), a blind man, and Amy (Mira Sorvino), his true love. She finds a miracle cure that allows him to regain his vision, and they hit many obstacles, such as maudlin music, Kilmer's distractingly huge capped teeth, and bad dialogue. ("So this is what beautiful looks like.") But when all is said and done, all those Coca-Cola product placements Virgil can see don't mean a darn thing. Of course not, because the best kind of seeing is not done with the eyes, but with the heart. Please, take my word for it and stay away from this genre-bending freak show.--Higgins

Film Clips DANCING AT LUGHNASA. None of our reviewers can stand to even be in the same multiplex as a Meryl Streep film, so we didn't check this one out first hand. We understand it's set in 1930s Ireland and involves Streep playing one of a group of unmarried sisters awaiting the return of their brother from Africa. I'm guessing that other critics will use the words "poignant" and "affecting" in their reviews, and that Streep will add a fanciful brogue to her catalogue of incompetently executed accents. I get the creeps just thinking about it. --DiGiovanna

GLORIA. What a great movie: Gena Rowlands, as a fading gangster moll, hooks up with a cute kid who's fleeing the same gangsters. While this Little Miss Marker idea may seem trite, Rowlands overwhelms every scene, completely engaging the viewer with each raised eyebrow and wrinkled lip. John Cassavetes quirky directing doesn't hurt, either, and while this is a much more "mainstream" movie than Cassavetes' earlier work, it still retains his improvisational sensibility and singular camera style. Oh, wait a minute, this isn't that's a lousy remake with Sharon Stone struggling to fill Gena Rowlands shoes and Sydney Lumet's cowardly and conservative directorial style dumbing down the more challenging Cassavetes approach. Damn. --DiGiovanna

HI-LO COUNTRY. This boys-and-their-cattle film is a Cormac McCarthy-esque (the sweet McCarthy of The Crossing, not the twisted McCarthy of Blood Meridian) look at two men (Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup) who return from WWII to their ranch lands and try to live a cowboy life that's fading into the world of corporate farming. While the story is a bit obvious and melodramatic (they're both in love with the same woman, who's married to the factotum of the evil proto-corporate rancher), Harrelson's performance is strong enough to hold attention. He's just such a weird actor, playing an odd cross between his mass-murderer role from Natural Born Killers and sweet, lovable "Woody" from Cheers, that it's always interesting to watch his wild mood swings and enormously overstated facial expressions. Unfortunately, the female characters are treated like window dressing, denied much in the way of screen time or good dialogue. In the end, the cowboys themselves come across as less sexist than the filmmakers, in that they make some effort to understand the women they are attracted to and who are attracted to them. It's too bad that director Stephen Frears and writer Walon Green don't share this interest in women's inner lives, and can only give us a beautifully photographed, slow and sad buddy film, which, while not without rewards, could have been much richer in exploring the relationships it backgrounds against the red skies and grasslands of the Southwest. --DiGiovanna

HURLYBURLY. It's a common refrain of first-year film school students that film is a "visual medium." They say this whenever a talky picture comes their way as a means of dismissing it without too much thought. What's missing from this little axiom is that ever since the 1920s, film has also been an auditory can verify this by going to just about any movie and listening for noises, sounds and sweet airs. Hurlyburly is definitely not a visual film; its 122 minutes are filled with almost endless chatter, delivered at cocaine-frenzied pace by Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri and Garry Shandling. Needless to say, with a cast like that the performances are fabulous, and the David Rabe-penned dialogue is up to the challenge these actors lay down. Hurlyburly tells the story of four misogynistic, drug-addicted, Hollywood players who lapse into rapid-fire philosophizing between snorts of blow and meaningless sexual encounters with underage runaways. Penn and Spacey are roommates and a kind of post-ethical odd couple, with Spacey's cold demeanor and imperturbable impeccability igniting Penn's hysterical bundle of male emotions. If verbal acrobatics and Actor's Studio performances are your cup of tea, Hurlyburly is probably your best bet amongst the current crop of movies. On the other hand, if you're looking for a slow-moving meditation on the imagery of early spring, you'd best shop elsewhere. --DiGiovanna

IN DREAMS. It may be kind of early in the year to commit, but my nomination for the best filmic wig of 1999 goes to the one atop Robert Downey Jr.'s scalp. Sure, some will say it's bad, even evil, but I cheer you on, brave little soldier. When Vivian (Downey) wears this ambitious rug, it makes him want to rid us of bad child actors and, more importantly, expose the false ideal of the bourgeois family. Vivian enters career mom Claire's (Annette Bening) head via her dreams and updates her on his latest murderous adventures. Feeling her class status threatened, Claire attempts to track him down so she can destroy his revolutionary thinking and quit wearing the Communist reds he clothes her in in her nightmares. It's nice to see an arty horror film, but it usually helps to have more sympathy for the protagonist than the antagonist's wig. This latest effort from Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) is at the very least beautiful to watch. --Higgins

PLAYING BY HEART. Going to the movies is, to some extent, a way to rent some feelings for 110 minutes. With action films, you get exactly what you pay for, and all the feelings are returned, intact, when the credits roll. Other films, like "feel-good" movies, sometimes leave an audience buoyed for a few hours or even the rest of the day. Then there are the deeply disturbing movies--films like Happiness, Eraserhead, or the almost impossibly painful Happy Games--that can leave a viewer sickened and edgy for days or weeks. If you pro-rate your $7.50 admission fee over the time it takes to recover from one of these films, they wind up being your best emotion-rental value, but they often involve getting far more than you bargained for. Thus, the best mid-range value in feelings for sale is probably the tear-jerker, as it has a very strong pay-out during the time it's being watched, and then, if well done, produces a pleasant, post-cathartic feeling as the audience departs for the parking lot. With that in mind, Playing by Heart is well worth the money. A five-hanky film, it's only rarely maudlin, and is well written and well paced. A Robert Altman-style narrative weaves together the romantic tribulations of three sisters (Gillian Anderson, Angelina Jolie and Madeleine Stowe) and their mother and father (Gena Rowlands and Sean Connery) over the course of a series of evenings in Los Angeles. While all the actors do smashingly well (except for Ryan Phillippe, who's so beautiful that he's got an excuse for just standing around and pouting), there are stand-out performances by Jolie as a manic hipster with great fashion sense, and Dennis Quaid as a depressed guy who pretends to be a lot of different depressed guys. Also starring Ellen Burstyn, Jay Mohr, Anthony Edwards and Nastassja Kinski, with cinematography by the over-talented Vilmos Zsigmond (Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies). --DiGiovanna

A SIMPLE PLAN. Director Sam Raimi takes the campy, violent and juvenile sensibility that he honed to perfection on such films as Evil Dead and Darkman, and such television productions as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena, Warrior Princess, and chucks it out the window for this subtle and very grown-up film noir piece. An accountant (the omnipresent Bill Paxton), his mentally challenged brother (the also kind of omnipresent Billy Bob Thornton) and his brother's trashy, drunken friend (the largely unknown Brent Briscoe) find four million dollars inside a wrecked plane in a snow covered forest. They decide to hide the money until they know whether or not the heat is on. In standard noir fashion, double crosses, murders and intrigues ensue. The script is, obviously, not terribly original; but it is perfectly paced and plotted, a flawless rendition of this time-worn story. And Bridget Fonda wears this incredible fake-pregnant-belly prosthesis...probably the finest fake-belly prosthesis since they made the waif-like Marlon Brando look fat in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Although you should probably see it for the disturbing and evocative story of ordinary evil, rather than for the fake-belly prosthesis. But it's a really good fake belly prosthesis. Really.

SPIKE AND MIKE'S SICK & TWISTED. I don't know what your definition of sick and twisted happens to be, but mine definitely doesn't include farting, masturbation and O.J. Simpson jokes. The warning before the screening stated that smuggling alcohol into the theater was against the law, but it really should have mandated we all consume large quantities of caffeine. The two South Park shorts were fun, but the only other highlights--"How to Use a Tampon" (a dancing tampon!) and "Karate Dick Boys" (karate boys with big dicks!)--were unfortunately too short and unparalleled. The rest relied upon lame punch lines and mostly uninspired animation. The crowd was definitely ready for raunch, but all it got was sore booty. For a really good time, skip the festival and go spend that $7 on some good, old-fashioned porn videos. Maybe Spike and Mike, who claim to bring us "all the really cool shit you can't see on TV," will get the idea that good animation doesn't have to be lumped into some meaningless category, and perhaps it's time to retire the "sick and twisted" criterion. --Higgins

Special Screenings

TUCSON JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL. There's still time to catch the last few days of the Tucson Jewish Film Festival. Thursday's screening features Soleil and Hannah, at 5 and 7:30 p.m., respectively, at the JCC. Soleil is the story of a Jewish family in WWII Algeria, where the French government's pro-Nazi laws made work, school, and a normal life impossible for Jews. Hannah is a quirky adventure/love story, and was Austria's submission to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film. Friday the festival closes with a screening of In Our Own Hands, the story of the only all-Jewish fighting force in WWII. Show time is 7:30 p.m. The JCC complex is southeast of the intersection of River Road and Dodge Boulevard.

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