Angels And Insects. A semi-creepy tale of lust and romance between perpetually uptight Victorians. A poor naturalist is taken in by a wealthy benefactor and eventually marries his beautiful but distant daughter. At first, all seems well, but a sense of corruption and decay is stalking the not-so-happy clan. Apparently Tolstoy was wrong about the variety among unhappy families--they all seem to be alike these days. (See Mary Reilly for bad-family-of-origin cross references.) There are fascinating shots of bugs throughout this film serving a variety of metaphorical purposes, but mostly they just look cool. Based on the novella by A.S. Byatt, this is an intelligent, literate film that unfortunately relies on an "unexpected" and completely predictable "secret" for its energy.
Broken Arrow. It's good guys against bad in this zippy action flick from acclaimed Hong Kong director John Woo. John Travolta plays an appealingly evil nuclear weapons thief trying to waste the world for fun and profit while Christian Slater and Samantha Mathis do their spunky best to stop him. Travolta's giddy, over-the-top performance along with Woo's creative, reckless directorial style raise Broken Arrow above the humdrum predictability of most action flicks. (The opening boxing sequence alone is worth the price of admission.) Once the initial dose of characterization is administered, the plot just whizzes along, punctuated by regular explosions. Don't expect to have your moral and intellectual horizons broadened; do expect to be entertained.
City Of Lost Children. Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the dynamic duo who dreamed up the award-winning Delicatessen four years ago, delve into a retro-future fantasy world that is such a visual and narrative feast, you won't even mind the subtitles. Their cinematic Cirque de Soliel is a surreal journey through a dark, dank harbor town populated by genetic mutants, a cult of Cyclops kidnappers and a scrappy band of street-wise orphans. It harkens back to traditional (un-Disneyfied) fairy tales: untamed flights of fancy that are equal parts funny and fearsome. Miette (a haunting nine-year-old femme fatale) and One (a simple-minded circus giant) band together to save One's adopted brother from the clutches of Krank, a horrible scientist who's slowly dying because he lacks one vital function: the ability to dream. From his laboratory on a remote, mist-shrouded rig, Krank invades the dreams of his stolen children in a desperate attempt to make them his own...until One and Miette penetrate Krank's sinister fortress and challenge him on a level playing field--within the world of a little boy's dream.
Mary Reilly. The tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde told from the point of view of Jekyll's house maid, Mary Reilly (played by Julia Roberts). The film is essentially a character study of Reilly, and the question is Why? Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a strange, intelligent story that has a point. The story of Mary Reilly (based on the novel by Valerie Martin) is slow, predictable and empty. Half of the movie is taken up by shots of Julia Roberts walking around in the fog, or wandering around the stunning sets by Academy Award-winning production designer Stuart Craig. The sets are pretty, Roberts plays the pretty victim to perfection, and even John Malkovich is kind of good-looking, but the question is, what's the point?
A Midwinter's Tale. The latest dose of Shakespeare from writer/director Kenneth Branagh, who doesn't actually appear in the film. This black and white, low-budget offering chronicles the rehearsal and performance of Hamlet by a band of idealistic, misfit actors. The players are all quite self-consciously kooky and they all have personal "issues" that are miraculously dissolved on opening night. The catalogue of things that go wrong in the course of the production is exhaustive, and sometimes watching these things go wrong can be kind of funny. The claim made on the poster, that this is "Spinal Tap for the Shakespearean set" is probably overly optimistic, but at times this film does manage to succeed in pulling off a little highbrow humor. Unfortunately, recurring waves of sentimentality and a few annoying performances rob this film of its clout.
Mr. Wrong. Ellen DeGeneres plays the straight man (so to speak) in this horrific romantic comedy about a 30-something career gal fending off attacks on her status as single older sibling. Bill Pullman plays the boyfriend turned stalker with such convincing psychosis it's hard to decide where the humor ends and the horror begins. Far from a simple romantic comedy about exploded expectations, this twisted tale exploits every fear you've ever had about intimacy. And if you never had any, it'll give you a few to consider before ever again saying, "I just want you to be yourself." A hilarious black comedy that starts on the set of a San Diego morning show and ends in a Tijuana jail.
Rumble In The Bronx. Jackie Chan, the Buster Keaton of Hong Kong, is one of the most engaging action stars of all time. He's credited with inventing the kung fu comedy and is famous for choreographing and performing all his amazing stunts himself. Rumble In The Bronx has the impish underdog protecting his uncle's grocery store in the bad South Bronx from a coed band of marauding motorcycle thugs. Thrill to one breath-taking stunt after another of Roadrunner-and-Coyote-style action come to life! Marvel at the campy coolness of the production values! The English voices of the Cantonese-speaking actors are overdubbed and the whole thing is charmingly out-of-synch. Plus, the plot seems to have been dreamed up by someone whose primary contact with American culture is '70s action movies. What could be more delightful?
Up Close and Personal. This B-side to Broadcast News stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert Redford as earnest TV journalists struggling to lead meaningful lives in a trivialized profession. Up Close and Personal chronicles the rise of a tough-but-unseasoned trailer-park Cinderella (Pfeiffer) and her sexist but savvy Prince Charming (Redford). What's more, the movie is a Cinderella story unto itself: What appears to be the makings of a sappy and clichéd
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