ANTZ. Remember Woody Allen? Well, he's back--in ant form! Woody plays himself, only with more chitin, in this perverted children's story about an ant who is emotionally unable to support his colony's collective consciousness. He accidentally becomes a war hero, kidnaps a princess, leads a Marxist revolution, and has a fulfilling relationship with his wife's adopted daughter. Well, three out of those four, anyway. I'm not really sure at what audience this movie is aimed, since its "G" rating and the fact that its animated seems to direct it toward kids; but Allen, as Z the Ant, makes comments like "Just for that I'm no longer including you in my wild, erotic fantasies," which I'm not sure is kid stuff. (I haven't been a kid for a while so I could be off-base here). Still, this is the most Woody Allen-like Woody Allen film since Manhattan, so maybe it's for that next generation of self-obsessed neurotic pre-schoolers who've been looking for a voice for their generation. Still, there's something a bit unnerving about this project--do we want Woody Allen attracting underage fans? --DiGiovanna
FIRELIGHT. This hilarious sci-fi/comedy/period romance is what PBS will look like in the future, when all the other channels offer nothing but pornography and live executions. Andrea Dworkin would love the plot: It's about a woman (Sophie Marceau) who contracts out as a prostitute/baby machine for an anonymous rich man, with whom she instantly falls in love. After their three-day affair ends, she's never to see him again, though she must surrender the child they have conceived to his agents. Seven years later, she inexplicably becomes her own daughter's governess. I really cannot express how funny this film is: When Marceau finds her daughter, the daughter says, "Why did you give me away?"; and Marceau replies "I didn't--I sold you." I haven't heard so many guffaws in a movie theater since the death scene in Rocky IV. --DiGiovanna
THE IMPOSTORS. Stanley Tucci wrote and directed this delightful light comedy, set aboard a sumptuous 1930s luxury boat. Tucci and Oliver Platt play Arthur and Maurice, an inseparable skinny/fat pair of actors who're nothing if not dedicated to their craft and each other. Though not very successful on stage, the two hold the philosophy that anytime is a good time to act--in a pastry shop, a sidewalk café, you name it. Such shenanigans of course get them into trouble, and before you know it they've inadvertently stowed away on a boat. Such ridiculous comic tropes actually work, because the script is smart; and the ensemble cast, including Isabella Rossellini, Steve Buscemi, and Lili Taylor, seems to be having a ball. --Richter
NIGHT AT THE ROXBURY. Try "night at the torture chamber."
First they tried to break me with that damn Haddaway song, then
it was the breast montage. But I was strong. I lasted through
the way-dumbed-down Swingers plot, lame references to the
over-referenced '70s, overused jokes, and the ass montage.
Other viewers must be similarly tenacious, because Night has
lasted longer in the theaters than It's Pat! (Granted,
one day at the box office isn't tough to beat.) Short Doug (Chris
Kattan) and tall Steve (Will Ferrell) are the clubbing brothers
from Saturday Night Live who (this is the clever part)
don't realize how annoying they are. They have a dream and...yawn...achieve
it by the film's end. And they get laid (maybe that's the
clever part). We're graced with brief appearances by Loni Anderson
and Richard Grieco, but they were much too little, too late. What
finally broke me was the running time--almost two hours. It's
really all about endurance.
ONE TRUE THING. Poor Rene Zewiggler--she perpetually looks like she's about to cry. At least that probably made her a shoo-in for this weepie about how a family handles their dying mother/wife (Meryl Streep). Daughter Ellen (Zewiggler) has a crush on her father (William Hurt and runaway goatee), and is therefore successfully manipulated into postponing her promising writing career to play caretaker. In the process she discovers how devalued her mom has been as a homemaker and that her dad would not be a fun date. While it's nice to see a film that focuses on a mother-daughter relationship, it seems a bit cruel to show the underdeveloped characters wading through the contrived scenes with the assistance of alcohol without offering any to the audience. Most recent Hollywood films about women over 40 are just plain boring, though in this case it probably has a lot to do with the insane amount of Bette Midler music on the soundtrack. For you Beverly Hills, 90210 fans out there, you'll be glad to see that Mr. Walsh (James Eckhouse) has expanded his range to include a supporting role as a lawyer.--Higgins
PERMANENT MIDNIGHT. If you hate Ben Stiller's acting, you'll want to avoid Permanent Midnight like it was a weekend with Richard Simmons. If not, this is definitely worth checking out. Although not long on originality, this true story of Jerry Stahl, the heroin-addicted writer for the TV series Alf, has some creative and engaging moments, including the best crack-smoking scene ever filmed. In the role of Stahl, Stiller does his entire quivering, double-talking, hyper-active shtick here, and it works well in conveying the excited desperation of someone on the edge of fame. Still, I know a good number of people who find Stiller unbearable, and this is him at his most intense. Maria Bello (of ER) turns in a creditable performance as the anonymous woman who finds him working at a drive-through burger stand after his rehabilitation; and Elizabeth Hurley plays her standard role as Stahl's beautiful green-card wife, but really it's Stiller's show. Even if you can't stand him, at least slip in for the last few minutes where, as Stahl, he goes on all the talk shows for the obligatory post-modern, post-addiction, post-recovery, public self-flagellation. --DiGiovanna
RUSH HOUR. Although this is the first Jackie Chan movie
to score big at the box office in its opening weekend in America,
it's probably his worst film. Other than the five jokes that have
been spread out over the 90 minutes of this films length, all
the dialogue is incredibly painful. When asked why he's so gung-ho
about capturing the villain, Chan is even forced to utter the
line, "He killed my partner." There's a couple of good
acrobatics/martial arts sequences, but not enough to make this
worth sitting through. On the other hand, if you think you'd like
to watch Chris Tucker do an exaggerated impression of an Asian
while Chan tries to get "funky" and "down"
to some soul music, then this film's for you.
URBAN LEGEND. Did you ever hear the one about the Hollywood movie that was actually satisfying? A friend of my second cousin's friend heard about it, and it's true! Several of those scary stories you believed as a kid are compiled here for a by-the-book but nonetheless clever horror film. The tortured female this time is Natalie (Alicia Witt), a coed with a past that includes the death of a teenage boy because of her enactment of an urban legend. Well, somebody knows what she did last summer and is playing out other terrifying tales on her friends, such as hiding in the back of a car with an ax and killing her roommate while she sleeps in the next bed. Robert Englund (best known as Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street series) plays one of the main suspects, Professor Wexler, and doe-eyed Jared Leto and clean-skinned Rebecca Gayheart offer lots of frightening cuteness. --Higgins
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. Hamlet fretted over what dreams may come when we shuffle off this mortal coil, but Robin Williams doesn't have to worry, because he's already been to heaven. And Annabella Sciorra has been to hell. This well-intentioned but stupid mutation of the Orpheus story (based on the novel by Richard Matheson) concerns a very happy couple who like each other a lot. In fact, Christy and Annie Nielsen (Williams and Sciorra) are soulmates. They have it all: an upscale life, a nanny, expensive objects, until their kids die in a car crash, and then Christy dies in one, too. Eventually he ends up in heaven, and his wife ends up in hell--Max Von Sydow plays the shrink-turned-ferryman who navigates between the two. The special effects are pretty darn nifty here, and as a welcome relief, they don't involve any shooting or blowing up. But the freshman-level philosophy ("You know who you are because you think you do!" ) and tons of painful psychoblather shove this movie into the fiery depths of banality. There is one good part: We get to hear Robin Williams called "Christy" for two hours, evoking images of a freshly scrubbed teenage girl in a tennis skirt. --Richter
WILDE. As in Oscar. This is another film by Brian Gilbert, who brought us Tom and Viv and seems quite fascinated by the secret bodice-ripping lives of literary figures. Though Wilde's life is anything but secret. The usual high points are visited here--his marriage, the discovery of his "true nature" with the help of a young relative, his Platonic love for boys, in particular Lord Alfred Douglas (Jude Law), who led to his downfall and eventual imprisonment for immoral behavior or debauchery or whatever they called sex between men then. As always when visiting the 19th century, there's lots of transgressive sex. Here we have "buggering" in soft focus and some hot, deep, man-on-boy mouth kissing. Nothing else stands out in this movie; I found Stephen Fry's Wilde a bit too trembly and vulnerable for the great wit who loved irony. Still, Wilde will do for evenings when Masterpiece Theater has been preempted; though you have to agree, if it were really good, they would have thought of a better title. --Richter
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