Film Clips

THE APOSTLE. Robert Duvall has chosen parts in interesting, meandering movies so often that it's no surprise he's finally made one himself. The Apostle deals in the fuzziness of morality, the difficulty of self-knowledge, and the uses and misuses of religion so gracefully that you may not notice anything is being questioned, at first. Duvall, with gleeful unselfconsciousness, plays Sonny, a preacher who can't tell when he's being generous and when he's being self-serving. His devotion to a life of God looks an awful lot like a devotion to himself--he commits some of the really bad sins, but he's prone to kindness as well. The sheer ambiguity of this story is staggering, given the state of American movies these days. How often can two people see a film and come away with completely different ideas about its meaning? With The Apostle Duvall, who has already proven himself to be a spellbinding actor, has shown himself to be an intelligent writer and director as well. --Richter

Film Clips BLUES BROTHERS 2000. Watching this plodding sequel to 1980s manic, over-the-top Blues Brothers, one can't help but sense the cynicism of director John Landis. Every uninspired gag and dull, lifeless scene seems to grumble, "To hell with trying. I'm just going to repeat the structure of the first film, adding tons of car crashes and music-world cameos, and that ought to be enough to make a lot of money." Reprising his role as Elwood Blues, Dan Aykroyd (who co-wrote with Landis) does what he can, occasionally goosing up his stiff, laconic shtick with outbursts of deadpan verbosity. The movie gets off to a grim start by explaining that Aykroyd's friends John Belushi, John Candy and Cab Calloway are dead; then Aykroyd spends what seems like two hours forming a new band that includes John Goodman, Joe Morton and a 10-year-old boy--none of whom ever comes close to matching the inspired zaniness of the film's predecessors. Why Landis waits until the film's last half-hour to cash in on his huge guest list of great old rock and blues performers is beyond comprehension. The musicians, who include B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Bo Diddley, Steve Winwood and ringleader Paul Shaffer, jam and sing and whoop it up as if they think they're in a much better movie. --Woodruff

DEEP RISING. I don't know how this movie got past the typical Hollywood dumbing down, but it's actually a half-way decent genre pic. Instead of just setting up a scenario where a group of heavily armed stereotypes blast their way through a swarm of bug-eyed monsters, this film actually went to all the trouble of producing a fairly compelling story of intrigue, and even included a couple of sub-plots that were more than just window dressing. Even more odd, when someone does do a little killing, they don't feel obliged to make a stupid wisecrack. Of course, there are still all the standard elements of a thriller, and when things blow up they blow up real good, but there's also some very nuanced acting by Kevin J. O'Connor, and a decent job by the under-rated Treat Williams as the macho lead. While this is by no means Citizen Kane, it's certainly a lot better than the last couple of Alien films, to which it will no doubt be compared. --DiGiovanna

DESPERATE MEASURES. Things I learned from watching Desperate Measures: (1) If the sociopathic prisoner who was supposed to donate life-saving bone marrow to your son with leukemia escapes from the operating room and is running around killing people, don't try to prevent cops from shooting him. That's just selfish, and makes you look like a jerk. (2) If you've gotta have shoot-outs, hospitals are a nifty place for them because immediately after somebody gets popped, doctors can swarm around and perform on-the-spot emergency surgery. (3) If you're a tough, smart female surgeon played by Marcia Gay Harden, and you konk the killer unconscious with a large metal object, make no attempt to restrain him. Instead, just run off. That way the ridiculous plot can continue. (4) Even if hero Andy Garcia gets real intense and wild-eyed, villain Michael Keaton becomes 100 times more animated than he was in Batman, child actor Joseph Cross overcomes his precocious courage-in-the-face-of-death lines with an excellent performance, and Barbet Schroeder directs with his usual stylish competence, that still doesn't mean the movie's going to be any good. --Woodruff

GREAT EXPECTATIONS. If only Ethan Hawke could have been surgically removed from the universe, this film would have fallen just slightly short of excellence. As it is, it's still pretty decent. DeNiro has a cameo that shows he can still fill up the screen, and Gwyneth Paltrow is a surprisingly good actor for someone with no visible body fat. The real star of this film, though, is director of photography Emanuel Lubezki. In the last 20 years, cinematographers seem to have become universally technically competent, but they squander their skills on difficult-to-shoot explosions and special effects. Lubezki, on the other hand, uses his considerable talents in the service of this well-designed genre romance, and in the process produces one of the longest, and most complicated, unbroken tracking shots ever filmed: the camera follows artist Finnegan Bell (Hawke) through a revolving door, into a black tie party, around the room, weaving between guests, until he finds his beloved Estrella (Gwyneth Paltrow), who walks away from him, and, still without cutting, he chases her out the revolving doors, down the street, into a restaurant, where she is seated at the very back with her fiancee (Hank Azaria). Still without a cut (except perhaps a well-hidden one as Hawke walks past a column), Finnegan takes her hand, they dance, walk out of the restaurant, into the street, and the camera rises in a crane shot as they run down the sidewalk and out of the frame. Now if only Ethan Hawke could be convinced to give up acting, writing, and looking pouty. --DiGiovanna

THE REPLACEMENT KILLERS. Where executive producer John Woo's Hong Kong action films register triple-digit deaths with many thousands of bullets fired, this gringo homage, directed by Antoine Fuqua, manages a mere 32 fatalities, making Replacement Killers a marvel of understatement. It's all about family values: A hard-boiled cop (Michael Rooker) kills the sneering son of very bad guy Mr. Wei (Kenneth Tsang) in a bust gone sour. The mighty Chow Yun-Fat, the perennial hero of Woo's best films, is sent to dispatch the cop's kid as payback. But Yun-Fat's John Lee, a lean and mean assassin, suffers a fit of conscience--he's a devoted family man in his free time--and calls off the mayhem. Hounded by Mr. Wei's backup assassins, he falls in with a gun-toting forger with a heart of gold, a character nicely played by Mira Sorvino's expressive underwear. Jurgen Prochnow and Clifton Gonzalez vie for the role of evildoer with the worst complexion, while Yun-Fat looks mostly amused as he dances through mad acts of car-wash fu, fire-escape fu, and movie-within-a-movie fu. --McNamee

SPICE WORLD. Some physicists theorize that there are countless universes in existence. If this is so, then surely the Spice Girls are at the center of one of them--it just may not be your particular universe. When I saw a matinee of Spice World, the audience was comprised of pre-pubescent girls and lone, adult males with raincoats draped across their laps. Even if you don't fall into one of these groups, you may want to check out Spice World just to see what all the hype is about. The Spice Girls are five British Barbie dolls who sing, sort of, and change their clothes a lot, definitely. In this movie, they face episodes of slight jeopardy and overcome them easily, all the while spouting off about "girl power," which appears to be the power to wear tiny dresses in cold weather with no adverse effects. "We're strength and courage in a Wonderbra!" declares brainy Ginger Spice. Who has the heart to tell her she's wrong? -- Richter

THE WEDDING SINGER. This film calls into question the value of the very large brain and the opposable thumb possessed by our species. Really, what's the point in creating cultural artifacts, if they're as stupid as The Wedding Singer? Adam Sandler plays a crooner who specializes in weddings (though he quits near the beginning and is a wedding singer no more); Drew Barrymore plays the sugar cube he falls for. There are a few little obstacles to their love, but nothing serious, and a few little jokes thrown in, but nothing funny. The '80s clothes are the best part of the whole thing, and that's not saying much. --Richter

ZERO EFFECT. Yes, it is a little like eating rice cakes and yes, the title does describe what you're left with a few days after seeing it, but Zero Effect is still a pleasant experience while it's actually happening. Bill Pullman can't help coming across as deeply affable, even when he's playing a psycho detective with a serious mood disorder (proving he is indeed the Jimmy Stewart of the '90s). Ben Stiller is similarly likable as Arlo, Detective Zero's faithful sidekick. The two of them go about solving mysteries with a Watson-and-Holmes routine, complete with amazing deductions gleaned from mere shreds of evidence, and, for master detective Zero, a nagging drug problem. The script leans towards the goofy end of the spectrum, rather than the ironic/witty, which is a nice change for a comedy in our Sienfeld-dominated era. We award five special bonus points for the tender age of writer/director Jake Kasdan, who is just 22. --Richter

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