Film Clips

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 it's 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

Film Clips APT PUPIL. If ever we needed proof that no one truly knows how to beat an idea into the ground until it's mashed, bloody and dead like Stephen King, proof has arrived. The master of overstatement is back, this time with a lovable-Nazi-in-the-suburbs story. How bad is the Nazi? He's so bad he puts kitty cats in the oven. King, who wrote the novella on which the movie is based, should not bear the blame for this alone; screenwriter Brandon Boyce and director Bryan Singer (of The Usual Suspects fame) have truly wasted their energies on this gorgeously shot, utterly boring film. Ian McKellen makes a go of it as an aged Nazi officer living quietly in an American suburb, but this role is simply too silly for his talents. Teen heart throb Brad Renfro is eerily convincing as the self-satisfied high-school senior who is at first fascinated and ultimately corrupted by the older man, though he's so unlikable it's hard to care. The first hour of this movie consists of Renfro and McKellen sitting around talking about war crimes--a sort of My Dinner With A Nazi. Then the long knives and sledgehammers come out...but it's too late, much too late. --Richter

BELLY. In response to the assertion that Black English is drifting away from standard English, Linguist John McWhorter has recently tried to make the case that Black English is a fairly stable dialect that is about as close to Standard English today as it was 30, 50 or 100 years ago. Perhaps he could get a job subtitling Belly, a story of inter-state, international, inter-gang rivalries which is, at times, as visually engaging as it is hard to understand. This "gangsta" film is so artfully shot that you'll forget how hard the convoluted plot is to follow. It's first 45 minutes are dedicated to visual excess, with director Hype Williams employing a delicious palate of alternating monotone scenes. One of the most notable segments cuts back and forth between a blue-tinted boudoir and an all-in-yellow suburban living room to smashing effect. Oddly, all the half-toned shots, beautiful compositions and Fritz-Lang-on-Ecstasy lighting vanish about half-way through, and suddenly the story starts to make sense. Maybe it's an either-or thing, but both halves of the film work, first as psychedelic-noir eye-candy, then as a reasonably engaging story of gangsters searching for redemption. Starring Nas (who co-write the script with video director Hype Williams) as Sincere, and DMX as his gangsta pal Tommy. --DiGiovanna

BELOVED. A Hollywood film with a female protagonist is rare enough, so a thought-provoking Disney movie with a black woman as the central character is certainly even more unexpected. Based on the Toni Morrison novel and directed by Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Something Wild), Beloved tells the story of Sethe (Oprah Winfrey), a former slave confronted with the ghost of her dead child. Narrative devices such as flashbacks and dream sequences help to maintain interest during the three-hour running time, but the film is most notable, and enjoyable, for the use of stylistic devices to reflect the psychology of its characters. The set of the house, where Sethe lives with her daughter Denver (Kimberly Elise) and, at times, with Paul D (Danny Glover) and Beloved (Thandie Newton), is claustrophobic and worn, and provides an important touchstone for this barely functioning family. The variety of filmstocks as well as camera and soundtrack manipulations also help convey the disjointed and uneasy existence of the characters. Winfrey is distracting at times because, well, she's Oprah; but Elise gives an excellent performance as her lonely dependent.--Higgins

HOLY MAN. Eddie Murphy must be blessed, because there's no other way to explain his recurring leading roles. This is the Oh God sequel you never expected nor wanted, with Murphy getting in touch with his spiritual side as G, a pilgrim who befriends infomercial director Ricky (Jeff Goldblum) and uses his vast powers to aid Ricky's faltering career and love life. The really tough choices, of course, Ricky must make for himself--such as whether to endure a relationship with fashion-challenged Kate (Kelly Preston) or set up situations to be naked with G. I don't want to give away the ending, so let's just say that most major religious groups won't be offended. --Higgins

A MERRY WAR. I say, if you must get out of your flat because there's nothing on the telly, perhaps you'd have a mind to pop out and watch something so very English as this slow-moving film. Sadly, itís a bit of a let down, entertainment-wise. Richard Grant plays a poet who writes ad copy, but quits to lead a life of starvation and artistic integrity. Helena Bonham Carter plays the woman who has no rational reason for putting up with his behaviour as he descends into drunken excess and poverty. Like all extremely English films, this one is set in the past, tries for a dry wit, and has an odd chastity about even its erotic scenes. If you like PBS, but would rather pay $7 to watch it, do go to A Merry War.--DiGiovanna

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.--Higgins

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

PRACTICAL MAGIC. Survey a bunch of witches about what they want most, and nine out of 10 will tell you good, old-fashioned love. The other 10 percent will insist that their true desire is a soundtrack that masquerades as a script. Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) are sisters (but, really, aren't we all?) who are witchy and cursed--if they fall in love, their men will die. Sally resolves to beat it with normality (husband, kids, etc.), while Gillian accepts it and pursues a good time. This, of course, means that Gillian must be punished, so her boyfriend returns from the dead to torture her. Sally exorcises him, then falls in love with a cop (Aidan Quinn) and makes out. The more interesting story--the one of their aunts (Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest)--is unfortunately of lesser importance. But at least Wiest gets to utter the line, "There's a little witch in all of us." Gals, this is empowering stuff. --Higgins

THE SIEGE. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has expressed grave fears about the potential effects of this film, which they believe could increase hatred and suspicion towards members of the Muslim and American-Arab communities. The Siege tells the story of a wave of terrorist bombings that occur in New York City. In response, the U.S. government declares martial law and imprisons all Arab men (which here seems to mean anyone of Persian, Middle Eastern or North African descent) between the ages of 14 and 30. The film does attempt to address the issue of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States; however, in its broad Hollywood way, it employs stereotypes, simplifications and sometimes offensive misrepresentations of Islam. Perhaps most egregious are the images of the terrorists (who are only referred to as "Muslims" and "Arabs," as though those terms could constitute a cohesive identity or a terrorist organization) performing ritual hand washing prior to their attacks: the film implies that this is something specifically done in preparation for acts of violence, when in fact this is a daily ritual that Muslims engage in prior to prayer. When the army places all of Brooklyn's young males of Arab descent in a camp, the scene shows an unrealistically homogenous crowd of people, all with the same pigmentation and clothing. The effort to mute this effect by casting Tony Shalhoub as one of the FBI agents in charge of the investigation is itself muted by having him play sidekick and second-fiddle to leading man Denzel Washington. Still, interesting issues are raised here: in several scenes, disembodied voices point out that this kind of government action would not be tolerated against Jewish or Black Americans; the army is definitely portrayed as villainous in their treatment of the Arabic prisoners; and there are (fairly awkward) assurances that "most" Arabs are decent, law-abiding citizens. The very fact that the film begins to question the prejudices against Arabs and Muslims shows a radical leap forward in Hollywood thinking. In spite of the very reasonable reservations of the ADC, the history of American cinema shows that clumsy first steps like The Siege are often signs of real progress.--DiGiovanna

SOLDIER. Marx once said that the proletariat must "safeguard itself against its own deputies and officials, by declaring them all, without exception, subject to recall at any moment." Wow, he could have written the script for Soldier, wherein a team of super-soldiers are replaced by newer, even superer soldiers, who go on an evil killing spree (as opposed to the good killing sprees of the original super-soldiers). See, while the original super-soldiers are nearly soulless automatons trained from birth only to blow things up and destroy human life, the newer, superer-soldiers are almost entirely soulless automatons, trained from before birth only to blow things up and destroy human life. Kurt Russell plays one of the original super-soldiers, who, while speaking only 62 words during the course of the film (Entertainment Weekly counted 69 words, but I stand by my figures), shows himself to be nearly almost human-like in defending some poor interstellar settlers against the superer-soldiers. The superer-soldiers, see, are all bald, whereas the super-soldiers have some hair. So they're, like, our friends. Caution: This film contains some scenes of hugging. --DiGiovanna

TOUCH OF EVIL. Thirty years after its original release, this version of Orson Welles' film is re-edited according to changes the director requested after viewing the studio cut that significantly altered his vision. A beautifully shot film noir, the story follows the investigation of a car bombing in a small town on the Mexican border. Newlyweds Mike (Charlton Heston) and Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh) witness the explosion during their honeymoon, so Mike joins a nasty American police chief, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), in the investigation. In true noir style, Welles creates a claustrophobic world with a slippery definition of morality, where the cops are sometimes as corrupt as the criminals. Though the murder is solved by the end of the film, the most compelling question, why Heston is playing a Mexican, remains unanswered.

VAMPIRES. Please benefit from my suffering and don't waste two hours of your life hoping that director John Carpenter's (Halloween, Escape from New York) latest effort will be bad-good rather than bad-offensive. James Woods, showing his wood in particularly tight jeans, and Daniel Baldwin, struggling to stay awake, play vampire slayers who pursue the father of all vampires. Along the way they pick up Sheryl Lee so that Baldwin can take off her clothes, tie her up, call her a bitch, and eventually fall in love, and a priest, so Woods can talk about his penis. Interesting ideas, such as the mixing of the horror genre with the western and viewing vampirism as a virus, surface, but only for about 30 seconds. After that, it's back to Lee's rope burns. If you hate women, this film could be for you, but I still think you'll be tripped up by the bad dialogue, clichéd revenge plot, and hokey music. Oh, and there's some homophobic stuff thrown in for extra flavor. --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

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