A Family Thing. It goes like this: A white man discovers he's actually the son of a black woman and that he has a brother (black) in the big city. He goes to the city to meet his brother. Against insurmountable odds (you know, race) they strike up a warm relationship. Because we're all just people inside! As dumb, implausible and potentially offensive as this plot sounds, it ends up being a kind of charming little tale of friendship between the two brothers, due mostly to the skill and warmth of Robert Duvall and James Earl Jones. I'm convinced Duvall is one of our most talented living film actors--early in this movie, before the plot chugs into absurdity, he's just amazing. It's a little exhausting though, the way Hollywood movies have reduced the questions of class and race in America to a simple plot device. Oh well, what did we expect?
The Birdcage. Mike Nichols' big-budget remake of the 1978 La Cage aux Folles involves a gay drag club owner, Armand Goldman (Robin Williams), who lives with his star performer and longtime boyfriend Albert (Nathan Lane), and the imminent marriage of Goldman's son (Dan Futterman) to the daughter of a right-wing, homophobic, antisemitic senator played by Gene Hackman. Though funny at times, the plot jerks from one unsettling relationship to the next, as the already oxymoronic couple (raging queens who strangely show no affection toward one another) try to act like straight people to impress the senator. The hilarious dinner party scene aside, the humor-with-a-message plot is a bit too saccharine for grown-up tastes.
Diabolique. A remake of Georges Clouzot's classic, boring thriller of 1955 about a wife and mistress who plot to kill the man they share. With Sharon Stone in the role of the mistress it has been updated into that thoroughly modern genre, the psychosexual thriller. Unfortunately, not much else has changed from the 1955 version. The women seem to be wearing the same clothes, the boys boarding school where they teach is as gothic as ever, and Isabelle Adjani, as the abused wife of Chazz Palminteri, still doesn't seem to have heard of divorce. Come on ladies, get empowered! Kathy Bates does turn in a refreshing performance as the grizzled old police detective though.
Executive Decision. This deeply predictable action thriller shows evil, dark skinned men killing senselessly and practicing their religion while noble white guys bond with each other and try to stop them. The racist, stereotypical treatment of the Middle Eastern villains is so cheap and unnecessary it's enough to make you convert to Islam. Meanwhile, in the white guys' camp, Kurt Russell plays the reluctant leader of an anti-terrorist squad sent on a daredevil mission to stop extremist hijackers. Most of the action takes place in the aisles and bowels of a 747. Some Mission Impossible-style gadget sequences spice up the otherwise monotonous plot, but if you've ever seen a movie before you can pretty much figure out exactly what's going to happen after thirty minutes. There is one and only one surprise--Steven Segal gets killed!
FAITHFUL. Chazz Palminteri and Cher star in this comedy about a hit man having a job-related mid-life crisis. Cher plays a housewife with a Rolls Royce and a fancy house--she has everything except the love of her husband (Ryan O'Neal), who has apparently sent a hit man to whack her on their twentieth anniversary so he can run off with his secretary. His plan gets complicated though when the wife and the hit man strike up a friendship. The screenplay, based on a play by Palminteri, doesn't have quite enough twists to carry the story off, and events never turn as complex as it seems they should. But Palminteri and Cher have a nice chemistry between them and the movie has a decent number of satisfying moments. I just wish the actors didn't keep saying the word "faithful" over and over, with an unsettling emphasis.
Fargo. A wonderfully deadpan thriller/comedy about a couple of mediocre psychokillers being chased by a mediocre cop. Frances McDormand is terrific as Marge Gunderson, a patient, pregnant chief of police plodding along after Jerry Lundergaard (William H. Macy), a financially insolvent car dealer who has his wife kidnapped so that he can scam the ransom money for himself. Of course, the plan goes awry, and half the fun of this movie is watching the perky, have-a-nice-day citizens of the northern Midwest get caught in the cogs of gruesome crime. Only the Coen brothers could pull off such an effortless blend of humor and gore.
French Twist. A zippy French sex farce about a husband, a wife and the wife's butch girlfriend that generously expands the notion of what it means to be a family. Loli (Victoria Abril) is married to Laurent (Alain Chabat), a handsome and charming philanderer. One day while he's out carousing with his mistress, Marijo (Josiane Balasko) has car trouble and stops by to use Loli's phone, and I think we all know what that means. The story occasionally leans too heavily on the apparently exotic fact that the wife is having an affair with a woman, but the story is so good-natured that it manages to overcome its fascination with its own "daringness."
Girl 6. This film about an enthusiastic phone sex babe has all of Spike Lee's typically brilliant style along with all of his typically elliptical content. Theresa Randle, as Girl 6 herself, swoons in and out of fantasy so that it becomes hard to tell what's real and what's inside her head. This might be nifty if it weren't for the fact that Lee embeds it all in a male-oriented, typically Hollywood world: All the phone sex girls are drop-dead gorgeous and they all wear skimpy outfits. Is this Girl 6's fantasy or Spike Lee's? Music from Prince livens up Girl 6 but overall, the concept of this film seems so confused that it's hard to tease any meaning out of it at all.
If Lucy Fell. Sweet, sentimental and utterly stupid, this romantic comedy stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Eric Schaffer as Lucy and Joe, two friends who agree to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge if they haven't found love by Lucy's 30th birthday. Parker plays a bored psychotherapist comfortable discussing everyone's psychological shortcomings but her own, while Joe is a sensitive, guy-next-door painter committed to his five-year fantasy with the scantily clad rear-window girl (Elle Macpherson). Despite its superficial moralizing (beware lines like "Congratulations, you finally discovered the girl in your heart is not the girl of your dreams"), the dialogue is just great at times. Ben Stiller's performance as Bwick, Lucy's unlikely love interest, is downright hilarious. A welcome diversion for star-crossed lovers half-heartedly contemplating suicide.
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