The Cable Guy. Editor's note: Our regular reviewer would like to state that she is not a Jim Carrey fan; and in fact believes he's a sort of brain-damaged version of all that is sinister and annoying about Jerry Lewis. In deference to her professional integrity, we'd like to make clear the opinions contained here (and in the Dragonheart clip, while we're at it) belong to another reviewer. Jim Carrey plunges into the dark side in this purely cynical comedy about psychopaths and free cable. Matthew Broderick co-stars as the victimized straight man, reeling and lonely after his girlfriend kicks him out. The silliness of Carrey's trademark antics are offset by his black humor about a lonely boy (nation?) that grew up with TV as his only friend. The attention to detail and sheer volume of TV-show references make this a downright eerie journey through latchkey America and a burgeoning psychosis lurking behind so many strangers in anonymous coveralls. Under Ben Stiller's direction, The Cable Guy is a perfect example of Freud's theory that laughter is a latent expression of fear.
Cold Comfort Farm. John Schlesinger makes a wonderful comeback with Cold Comfort Farm, a zippy comedy with a very sly, British sense of humor. Tons of witty dialogue and clever asides pepper this story of a plucky gal who decides, after the death of her parents, to go live with the most "interesting" family members she can find in order to scavenge fuel for her writing career. The distant relatives she locates are closer to insane than interesting--a weird, gothic clan of vaguely inbred farmers who don't even observe the custom of afternoon tea. The plucky Flora Poste tries her 1930's modern-girl best to turn her relatives' shame-filled, squalid lives into something out of the society section. Ah--but will she succeed?
Dragonheart. Not since the Star Wars trilogy have we seen an otherworldly creature this "realistic" and lovable. Unfortunately, the quality of the storytelling is light years away from that cinematic masterpiece. The plot (and the occasional quip) err at times on the contemporary side considering the 18th-century setting; but Dragonheart overcomes its weaknesses to deliver an action-adventure-comedy that's perfect for bored, young audiences out-of-school children with nowhere to go. The moral for insolent teenagers-in-training may alone be worth the price of admission. Dennis Quaid plays the dragon-slaying knight and Sean Connery is wise, clever Draco, the last dragon. Overall, this is a marvel of special effects with plenty of comic relief to make the cloying sentimentality bearable. On an unlikely yet appropriate scale, it's better than First Knight but not as good as Princess Bride.
Mission: Impossible. Rather than having a plot, this movie features an accretion of random events arranged next to each other on film. If you're confused during this movie, join the rapidly expanding club. On the other hand, Brian DePalma is a genius at directing action scenes, and you will almost certainly gasp involuntarily when Tom Cruise hangs above that white supercomputer by a thread. Those who consider Cruise to be a babe will certainly find him in top form here. But if you were a fan of the Mission: Impossible TV series, or if you expect your movies to have coherent plots, you will be disappointed.
Moll Flanders. This marathon of a period movie, based loosely on the novel by Daniel Defoe, is plagued by a corny script and is just annoying in general. Moll Flanders (Robyn Wright) is an 18th-century independent spirit, poor and alone, trying to make her way in the cold, hard world. It seems the only two choices she has are the convent and the whorehouse, and she tries them both without much success. The dialogue in this movie is atrocious, as is the gut-wrenchingly dramatic plot. A special throne of badness is reserved here for the extremely annoying, other-worldly music that tortures the viewer subliminally for the first half of the movie. A few fine actors, including Stockard Channing, do their best to enliven this film, to no avail.
The Phantom. A flick that truly earns the adjective unwatchable, The Phantom is simply the corniest, most predictable, flat piece of filmmaking imaginable. Okay, yes, so a guy runs around the jungle in a purple spandex suit, but don't let that fool you: There's nothing exciting here. Every single line of dialogue has been recycled from other movies (example: "She's a feisty one, isn't she!") and all the sets look like they've been borrowed from the back lot of Xena: Warrior Princess. There's some plot here somewhere, something about forbidden skulls or something; but believe us, it's nothing you haven't seen before. Don't waste an irretrievable portion of life on this travesty.
The Rock. If you're looking for an entertaining action movie to fritter away a summer afternoon, this should be your first stop. Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage star as mismatched partners battling pure evil in the form of a chemical weapon that resembles a giant tube of fluorescent-green bath beads. The weapons are controlled by a whacked-out Vietnam vet (Ed Harris) on The Rock, a.k.a. Alcatraz, and the guys have to break in to the impenetrable fortress in order to save San Francisco, and possibly Oakland. Okay, so the situation is contrived, but the little twists of fate in this movie combined with genuinely funny dialogue make it a stellar piece of vapid entertainment. Extra bonus: Both Cage and Connery look surprisingly hunky in wet clothing.
Stealing Beauty. Bernardo Bertolucci splashes around with both the MTV and the Masterpiece Theater generations in this coming-of-age movie set in the Italian country side. Beautiful shots, sets, and actors, hallmarks of any Bertolucci film, make Stealing Beauty easy on the eyes--and Liv Tyler, the gorgeous 17-year-old star, doesn't hurt either. Tyler handles herself with ease and dignity as she plays the role of an American virgin aiming to get herself deflowered while a bored group of cosmopolitan grown-ups egg her on. Sometimes though, it seems like the camera lingers a little too obsessively on the upper region of the inner seam of her tight jeans, and it's hard to escape the sensation that perhaps this is just a classy way for Bertolucci to act like a dirty old man. The screenplay, by author Susan Minot, is disappointingly flat; but Tyler is so entrancing it hardly matters.
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