Clockers. Spike Lee's adaptation of Richard Price's intricate novel follows a young park-bench drug dealer (Mekhi Phifer) who may or may not have been the gunman in a murder. In spite of his over-emphasis on style, Lee successfully juggles a number of characters whose lives affect each others' like chess pieces in a microcosmic Brooklyn neighborhood, including the wire-pulling dealer who runs the show (Delroy Lindo) and a friendly homicide cop played (very engagingly) by Harvey Keitel. Because the story is more a societal character study than a mystery, don't expect the oomph of Do the Right Thing; the film deals in texture and dialogue, not bright action. And while it's a cut above most other movies in drug-related black cinema, the content unfortunately fails to reach deeper.
How to Make an American Quilt. Winona Ryder gets seven lessons in love when she spends a summer listening to the romantic histories of all the women in her grandmother's quilting bee. We're talking flashback-o-rama, with the majority of the stories taking bittersweet turns in which the women's husbands either leave them, cheat on them or die. This uninspiring "quilt" of mini-narratives is somehow supposed to help Ryder choose between a hunky Don Juan type (Jonathon Schaech) and a regular-guy carpenter (Dermot Mulroney). Though the appearance of so many fine actresses has its benefits, the movie's lessons about life are mere bromides, and they're made all the sappier by Ryder's talentless presence and weak narration. (Why does Ryder always choose scripts that require her to narrate?) American Quilt features Maya Angelou, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Samantha Mathis and Alfre Woodard.
Jade. Joe Eszterhas ought to win a special award, because he's responsible for two of the worst films this year. At least Showgirls has campy laughs, extravagant choreography and soft-core nudity on its side. What does Jade have? Ornate set design, an extended (and very boring) car chase and an incomprehensible murder-mystery plot, for starters. Directed unpleasantly by William Friedkin, it's kind of like Basic Instinct without the sex. David Caruso does his NYPD Blue shtick--again--as an investigator trying to uncover the identity of Jade, a prostitute-turned-psychologist played by Linda Fiorentino. The role is supposed to showcase the cold, ruthless sexuality Fiorentino displayed so engagingly in The Last Seduction, but the actress is lost in this dispiriting mess. Let's hope she finds something better soon.
Jeffrey. Based on the play by Paul Rudnick (the scribe behind the wildly funny Libby Gelman-Waxner movie reviews in Premiere), this tale of love and sex in the age of AIDS has caustic wit to spare. The movie becomes stale, however, whenever the love story between Jeffrey (Steven Weber) and HIV-positive Steve (Michael Weiss) receives focus; the sparks don't fly and you become too aware you're watching a stage adaptation. If only Jeffrey had concentrated a little more on Rudnick's rude, crazy comedy, it would have been a great film--the kind of entertainment that could break down barriers between straights and gays with laughter. Also starring Sigourney Weaver, Nathan Lane and Patrick Stewart.
The Scarlet Letter. When the opening credits state the film is "freely adapted" from the novel, they aren't kidding. The filmmakers have taken an American literature classic and turned it into a plainly idiotic bodice-ripper that pits small-town intolerance against Hester Prynne's fiercely independent feminist sexuality. This is the second film of the year in which a woman's love is signaled by a little bird that leads the way (the other is How to Make an American Quilt). The bird leads Prynne (Demi Moore, as superficial as ever) into the arms of Gary Oldman, a minister who swims naked so as to expose his buttocks to God and anybody else who might be watching. You can bet that when the time comes for nooses to be tied around the lovers' necks, a bunch of Indians will pop out to save the day. Maybe this movie's creators should be forced to wear a big letter "A" around Hollywood--for the sin of asinine adaptation.
Showgirls. With this heavily hyped NC-17 travesty, Robocop-director Paul Verhoeven has created a new type of robo-erotica where robocharacters have robosex in the roboscummiest areas of that robocity they call Las Vegas. Roboscreenwriter Joe Eszterhas fills his inane, behind-the-scenes roboexposé with gobs of crude robosub-plots and robodialogue, creating plenty of excuses for roboactress Elizabeth Berkely and others to bare their robobreasts and robopelvises with increasing regularity. If you're a robot, you'll no doubt be turned on. (All others stay away.)
Unstrung Heroes. Diane Keaton directed this quirky nostalgic tale about a young boy whose troubles dealing with the death of his mother (Andi Macdowell) are exacerbated by the cold, scientific mentality of his father (John Turturro). Ironically, the boy finds emotional release by staying with his two crazy uncles, played by Maury Chaykin and Michael Richards (a.k.a. Seinfeld's Kramer). The result is a low-key, subtly magical-realist film with a welcome European flavor. The film works very well in its modest terms, though viewers should be warned that the picture is as much a weepie as it is a comedy.
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