EMMA. The glut of 19th-century literary adaptations continues with a new version of Emma, Austen's most lighthearted novel. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as a young woman with the unfortunate habit of meddling in other people's affairs. The plot is the same as in Clueless, except the women in Emma wear nightgowns and the guys ride horses. Emma is not as good as Sense and Sensibility, but if you like to see meek girls find husbands, it's a perfectly solid movie; and Paltrow has such a beautiful smile it's a delight to watch her, even when she's not quite in stride.
FEELING MINNESOTA. Have you ever been mellow? Have you ever felt Minnesota? Does "feeling Minnesota" mean we're all supposed to feel like Keanu Reeves? What's wrong with Keanu Reeves? Could he be more stiff? Is he really the anamatronic Abe Lincoln model from Disneyland, with an early-'90s grunge makeover? Is it time for early-'90s nostalgia already? Why does Cameron Diaz talk like a 12-year-old girl in this movie? Why on earth does she want to be a showgirl? Why do those two brothers who both love the cloyingly girlish Cameron Diaz like to yell and yell and yell at each other? Does this yelling have something to do with "feeling Minnesota?" Why is this billed as a comedy? Do they really think we are going to somehow believe that this is another version of Fargo? Is feeling ripped off, bored and disappointed the same as "feeling Minnesota?" Why are they doing this to us? What have we done to deserve this?
FIRST WIVES CLUB. White ladies are doing it for themselves in this gleefully man-bashing tale of the fury of women scorned. Bette Midler, Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn play the discarded first wives of wealthy husbands who have cast them off in favor of beautiful, young, ditzy girlfriends. The wives mourn their fate, bond, then set about getting even in mildly amusing ways. Though the movie is predictable and silly, and though the victimhood of women is stressed, celebrated and monumentalized here (even as the wives take matters into their own hands), First Wives Club is still engaging because of the fresh subject matter. It's no All About Eve, but it's still interesting to see middle-aged women depicted on screen as something other than happy mothers for once.
FLY AWAY HOME. Anna Paquin stars in this dignified kid's movie about a young girl who's adopted by a gaggle of orphaned Canadian geese. Amy (Paquin) is lonely and withdrawn after the death of her mother, but the discovery of the goslings invigorates her and leads to a round of bonding with her dad, nature, the news media and her own little self. An even directorial style and great cinematography help to keep the corniness from getting out of hand as Amy learns to fly an ultralight plane and leads the wild geese in their migration south. Beautiful footage of geese flying beside the enthusiastic Paquin will warm the chilliest heart.
LONE STAR. Director John Sayles delivers an offbeat, thoughtful examination of border life and love in this winding tale of one lawman searching for his roots. Chris Cooper plays a divorced Texas sheriff trying to sort out fact from legend, particularly in regard to his father, who may or may not have been a bad kind of a guy. His search leads him across the big, dusty state and into a half-dozen different recollections of a puzzling past. Though the characters have an annoying propensity for explaining their motivations in gruesome psychological detail, and though Sayles (as always) can't resist an opportunity to preach the liberal cause; and though the production values of this movie are uninspired, Lone Star still somehow manages to be an engaging, surprising film.
NELLY AND MONSIEUR ARNAUD. A moving, unsentimental film by Claude Sautet (Un Coeur en Hiver) about the friendship between a beautiful young woman (Emmanuelle Beart, fresh from her role in Mission Impossible) and an older man (Michel Serrault). Nelly is a stunning but poor woman living in Paris with a depressed husband who won't get out of bed. She falls under the kind patronage of Monsieur Arnaud, a wealthy but lonely older man. With his help, she leaves her husband and starts to move forward in life, while Monsieur Arnaud simultaneously begins to examine his past. Their relationship, though not sexual, comes to involve far more complex elements of love, romance, dependency, hate and desire. Though quite reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: Red, the film is anything but derivative.
A TIME TO KILL. An overblown but entertaining courtroom drama, based on a John Grisham novel, about racial strife in the deep South. Samuel L. Jackson plays a humble working man driven to take the law into his own hands when a pair of good ol' boys rape his young daughter. Matthew McConaughey plays the white-bred attorney who decides to defend him. (Chris Cooper is also in this movie, in a strange reprisal of his role in Lone Star.) Somewhere in there is Sandra Bullock, playing an eager young law student who both helps and distracts the white guy from his lawyerin'. Yes, morality is laid out on a nice flat grid, but the fact that there even is a moral battle here gives this movie a heavy, heavy dose of tension and drama, despite the fact that its view of the South and the people in it are so stereotyped they're practically cartoons.
A VERY BRADY SEQUEL. The characters from the popular TV series are back, bringing with them our collective nostalgia for a time when their blandly, happily broken home captured the hearts of the nation. The Brady's are still stuck in the '70s (though the world has aged around them), and they're still blithely unaware of the 20-million dollar price tag on that decorative horse in the living room. Carol's first husband reappears, coveting her, the horse, and threatening the stability of a whole generation's paradigm of what it means to be a family. A loving recreation and exaggeration of every little nuance of the original TV show is at the heart of A Very Brady Sequel--if you know the name of the Brady's dog, you'll probably like the movie.
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