Antonia's Line. This flick received this year's Academy Award for best foreign picture, and it has all the banal mediocrity and pre-fab pathos we've come to expect from the Academy. Antonia is an old, dying farm woman, and the plot is a Cliff Notes version of the highlights of her life, given to us swiftly but succinctly, presumably so we may experience sorrow when she dies. The film produces so many rapidly growing babies that it's hard to feel connected to any of the characters, and the plodding narration keeps us further at a distance. This is the kind of ground best covered in novels, and the filmmaker struggles without much success to make her very long story visually dynamic. The occasional jolt of magic realism just makes the whole project more derivative and embarrassing.
Brain Candy. This first movie from the Canadian comedy troupe Kids in the Hall is notable for its rampant weirdness and Monty Python-esque, sketch-based humor. Each member of the all-boy troupe plays a variety of parts, both male and female, and half the fun of this movie is watching the actors transform themselves from character to character. The story involves a conventionally nerdy scientist who invents a happiness drug called Gleeminex, then traces the sheer hell of the perky world where this drug is sold over the counter. Elaborate sets, lighting and camera work add to the surreal, original flavor of this film. It's funny in a disturbing, nightmarish kind of way.
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 get 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.
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?
Fargo. A wonderfully deadpan thriller/comedy about a couple of mediocre psycho killers 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 getting caught in the cogs of gruesome crime. Only the Coen brothers could pull off such a effortless blend of humor and gore.
Flirting With Disaster. David O. Russell, director of Spanking the Monkey, continues his investigation of the zany problem of instability in one's parents in Flirting With Disaster, the story of an adopted guy (Ben Stiller) who goes to look for his birth parents. He takes along his wife (Patricia Arquette) and a sexy adoption counselor (Tea Leone), who keeps matching him up with the wrong set of parents. This movie is funny but ultimately quite predictable, with a theme borrowed from the Wizard of Oz and a final ascension of family values. Comedy/insight/entertainment-wise, it's about at the level of Seinfeld, only longer. Check out the wickedly funny performance by Mary Tyler Moore.
James And The Giant Peach. Roald Dahl's children's classic comes to life in this movie through the Disney magic of stop-motion animation. The overgrown bugs are cute, young James is darling and the animation is absolutely charming; still, if you're over 12, plan to be a little bored, especially during the singing part. Those to the left of the political spectrum may enjoy the secret embedded Marxist mythology being espoused here--James and the bugs seize the fruits of their labor (the peach!) from the evil, property owning aunts and take it across the ocean to share with the masses. Apparently Disney has been brainwashing our young for years, perhaps creating the Cold War through the seemingly "cute" shenanigans of little dancing bugs and mice. Probably with the cooperation of the phone company.
Primal Fear. Richard Gere is a lawyer in this courtroom drama about an arrogant attorney who questions his own methods after he begins representing a sweet, stuttering altar boy accused of murdering a bishop who has sexually molested him. Gere is just dandy in the role, alternately repugnant and charismatic, and best of all, the years have not robbed him of his hunkiness. The plot twists with predictable regularity but manages not to grievously insult the intelligence of the audience. All the material here has been covered by TV cops and lawyers shows, probably a little better, but at least no one in the theater is going to stop everything to try to sell you Pepsid AC.
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