Film Clips

CHINESE BOX. Wayne Wang, who directed Smoke, has managed to make an almost entirely unintelligible movie's hard to say, exactly. It's kind of about the transfer of Hong Kong to the Chinese, and it's sort of about a journalist, John (Jeremy Irons), who rather conveniently comes down with a bad case of incurable leukemia that has him scheduled to die at the same moment the British are scheduled to pull out. John is an odd fellow, an antihero from the old school--macho, self-obsessed, frequently drunk. As soon as he's diagnosed with cancer, he runs out and begins to stalk a young girl (the adorable Maggie Cheung) with a video camera. Then he goes back to his apartment, where he and his buddy Jim (Ruben Blades), another middle-aged ex-patriot, obsessively ruminate over her image. Despite his fixation with the girl, John is hopelessly in love with Vivian (Gong Li). But Vivian loves Chang (Michael Hui), who refuses to marry her, because she was once a prostitute. Watching these two blowsy, middle-aged actors compete for the favors of Gong Li, indisputably one of the most beautiful women in the world, is like watching two bulldogs fight over an orchid. The melodrama heats up even more as John, increasingly fascinated and repelled by Vivian's disreputable past, takes a tour of Hong Kong's seedier sex dives. It's not long before the whole thing degenerates into a pretentious version of Showgirls, only more misogynistic. Sharing the blame for this travesty are co-writers Jean-Claude Carriere, Larry Gross and the ever-annoying Paul Theroux. --Richter

DIRTY WORK. Norm Macdonald has the sort of face and attitude that's funny even if he just stands there doing nothing. Unfortunately, in Dirty Work, Macdonald runs around spewing stillborn half-jokes and pulling unimaginative revenge schemes on stereotypical villains. Big dogs hump big dogs; skunks hump little dogs; Macdonald gets ass-raped in jail; the highly obnoxious Artie Lange (Mad TV) and highly dead Chris Farley try to squeeze laughs out of their corpulence; Gary Coleman and Adam Sandler appear for so-over-the-top-they're-under-the-bottom cameos; Chevy Chase and Don Rickles do what they always do, tiredly--and none of it is funny. Then again, if you willingly go to a movie directed by Bob Saget (of America's Stupidest Home Videos fame), you have no one to blame but yourself. --Woodruff

DOCTOR DOLITTLE. The Eddie Murphy version of the classic story spends almost all its screen time on the frustrating issue of whether or not others believe in Murphy's ability to talk to the animals. At home, Murphy has problems with his wife (the ever-glaring Kristen Wilson) and children, from whom he is alienated; at work, Murphy struggles to overcome his own medical cynicism (as exemplified by his greedy partner Oliver Platt, who wants to sell off their practice). Everybody thinks he's going crazy, so Murphy spends time in a mental hospital, and then goes into denial about his powers. What this means is that the animals, including a dog voiced by Norm MacDonald and a tiger voiced by Albert Brooks, seem to exist solely to help Murphy overcome his problems. Their wisecracks are somewhat cute, but there's little magic surrounding the animal world. Mostly, we're supposed to laugh at how much their comments (stuff like "Hey baby, whassup?") mirror those of humans in stereotypical situations. Not much fun in my book. --Woodruff

GONE WITH THE WIND. While it may seem confusing at first why a film that doesn't star John Travolta is in re-release, it all makes perfect sense when you consider the long-movie madness that's afflicted Hollywood in recent years. (Anybody wish they had the three-and-a-half hours they wasted at Titanic back?) So it was only a matter of time until the four-hour, 1939 Gone with the Wind was recycled. It's a brand-new Technicolor print, but you can thank Ted Turner for less-than-spectacular results. Just in case you're very young or have been living with Nell your whole life, this epic film follows the Civil War-era adventures of feisty southern belle Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and the fall of her family's aristocratic empire. But, not to worry: Bourgeois bliss is restored as Scarlett discovers the economic advantages of a well-researched marriage. The man who tries hardest to tame this unruly entrepreneur is the fabulously dressed Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) and his arsenal of pomade--though he's more successful at trimming his mustache and killing children. A note to parents: The film's "G" rating is not reflective of its horrendously stereotyped black characters; narrative support of drunken marital rape (which sure puts a skip back into Miss Scarlett's step); and Gable's creepy capped teeth. At the very least, we can take comfort in the fact that Hollywood is ecologically minded. My only hope is that a director's cut of Travolta's full-length exercise video, Perfect, is similarly pulled out of the recycling bin sometime soon. --Higgins

HAV PLENTY. Christopher Scott Cherot wrote, directed, and stars in this exceedingly inconsequential romantic comedy. Based on a "true story," the film follows Lee Plenty (Cherot) during a New Year's Eve weekend he spent in Washington, D.C., with a high-society female friend named Havilland (Hav Plenty--get it?). We watch as Plenty, a struggling book writer, resists the advances of Hav's friend and sister, all the while holding out for Hav, who's too self-absorbed to realize she loves him back. The picture has the dry staginess and spotty performances of a low-budget first feature, with absolutely nothing resembling good comic rhythm; but the characters slowly grow on you, and their specific situation becomes amusing--if not actually romantic--for its smartly detailed observation. Great movie-within-a-movie ending. --Woodruff

HIGH ART. "High melodrama" would be a more apt description of this ambitious but annoying soap opera by first-time director Lisa Cholodenko. Radha Mitchell plays Syd, a twenty-something Manhattanite stuck in a boring heterosexual relationship. When her ceiling starts to leak she goes to meet the Bohemian upstairs neighbor, Lucy Berliner (Ally Sheedy), a heroine-snorting lesbian. Syd seems to have no choice but to fall for Lucy, given the boringness of her job and the one-dimensionality of her boyfriend. It's a walk on the wild side, but a predictable one. Cholodenko has a good eye and the cinematography is appropriately lush, but rather than being beautiful, it just makes it all seem pretentious. --Richter

I WENT DOWN. Male-identified films, especially those grouped within the buddy genre, often go out of their way to direct audience attention away from queer interpretations of male-male relationships. In some ways that holds true for this Irish production--we get the mandatory female love interest; a three-second sex scene; and plenty of discussions about female hardware. The much more interesting and consequential narrative, however, involves the burgeoning Odd Couple-esque relationship between a doe-eyed ex-con named Git (Felix) and his bumbling partner (Oscar). They are brought together because both are working off debts of sorts to a mob boss, and initially their personality differences result in animosity and frustration. Many references to Git's titanic manhood later, the two decide to put their girls on the side and move to the United States. It's a formula we've all seen before: After many obstacles, the couple couples and rides off into the sunset. The satisfying and self-referential ending of I Went Down is welcome, too, because the weak comedic elements (madcap antics, pratfalls) that occur throughout the film become increasingly tedious and annoying. --Higgins

THE OPPOSITE OF SEX. Forget about wholesome sincerity in writer/director Don Roos' tale of unrequited love among gays and schoolteachers. Sarcastic self-cancellation rules, as the story's narrator, Christina Ricci, sourly criticizes all the storytelling conventions that come with the depressing territory. The result is a funny, energetic movie with a severe case of multiple-personality disorder. The travails of the spurned Martin Donovan form a fast-moving but not terribly compelling plot that provides Roos plenty of material for the bitchy Ricci (a manipulative catalyst throughout the story) to verbally trample. The movie's inability to keep its heart in one place might become annoying if it weren't for Roos' great lines of dialogue, most of which he gives to Lisa Kudrow, playing Donovan's cynical best friend. Kudrow's gift for sharp comic delivery ensures that the picture remains the opposite of dull throughout. --Woodruff

OUT OF SIGHT. In the hierarchy of adaptations based on Elmore Leonard books, this one ranks up there with Get Shorty. The direction (by Steven Soderbergh, of Sex, Lies and Videotape fame) expresses the Leonard style perfectly, nudging humor out of naturalistic dialogue and displaying a whimsically carefree attitude about matters of life and death without letting all the steam out of the story. George Clooney, as a bank robber, and Jennifer Lopez, as his police pursuer, make an extremely good-looking couple; and their two verbal tennis matches (one in a car's trunk, the other in a hotel) are the film's sexual-spark-filled highlights. The smoothly developing romantic mood begins in sunny Miami and ends in snowy nighttime Detroit, so even if you see Out of Sight during the middle of the day you might walk out expecting a cool, dark sky. A standout supporting cast includes Albert Brooks, Catherine Keener, Ving Rhames, Get Shorty alumnus Dennis Farina, and a couple of uncredited surprises. --Woodruff

SIX DAYS, SEVEN NIGHTS. For our summer enjoyment, Six Days, Seven Nights allows us to relive the dimmer aspects of African Queen, and with pirates. Anne Heche plays a fashionable magazine editor stranded on an island with a daddy-esque Harrison Ford. She's a feisty talker; he's a tough man of action. They hate each other, then they love each other, and it's all shot in a lush vacation-porno setting. Anne Heche is adorable, and you can see through most of her shirts. Harrison Ford is a charming piece of aging beefcake, though if you remember what he looked like in the Star Wars era, it's hard not to feel like we're missing something. This is puréed entertainment, easily digestible. --Richter

THE X-FILES. Help! I can't get that whistling theme music out of my head! That's just one of many reasons to avoid the movie version of The X-Files. On TV, the X-Files successfully exploited the conspiratorial secrets and creepy things lurking in the dark shadows, but the bright light of big-movie translation reveals them as rather cheap. Although the film delivers more special effects and a broader geographic scope, all the promised Big Answers turn out to be big nonsense, and the relationship between agents Mulder and Scully remains teasingly chaste (not to mention stiff). Plus, the plot takes too many asinine steps, from Mulder's easy discovery of a bomb in a building tastelessly similar to the one destroyed in Oklahoma, to his quick recovery from a point-blank gunshot wound to the head. The truth may be out there, but these aren't the sorts of truths about which The X-Files is supposed to leave you wondering. --Woodruff

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