A Month By The Lake. Beautiful locations and charming acting can't quite make up for the deep-down boring soul of this movie, a tension-less love story between upper class Britons on vacation in Italy. Vanessa Redgrave plays the lively Miss Bentley, and it's difficult to understand what, exactly, she sees in the crusty old Major (Edward Fox)--especially considering she's being courted by a fine young Italian with a motorcycle. The Major, in turn, is smitten with the young American governess (Uma Thurman), an irresponsible flirt who clearly detests him. The few mix-ups and cross-generational crushes all sort themselves out neatly in time for a sun-dappled ending, just like you knew they would.
Casino. A film that lodges midway between The Age of Innocence and Taxi Driver on the Scorsese scale. Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci and a bunch of jowly Italian guys have returned from Good Fellas to screw, bash and plug one another again as the director continues his romance with the Mafia mystique. DeNiro plays a Casino chief who has everything: money, prestige and a fox (Sharon Stone), which in Scorsese's world means he has everything to lose. Set over more than a decade and thick with narration, Casino is an uncannily alienating movie. It's hard to sympathize with any of the characters and it's so long that sometimes you just want it to be over. Still, no one has as much style as Scorsese; the camera lurches and rolls through this film like the entire town of Vegas is a sinking ship. Totally violent, but where else can you watch silver-haired old men beating each other to a pulp?
FATHER OF THE BRIDE PART II. A squeaky-clean peek at the stress of fatherhood, with Steve Martin doing double-duty as the expectant father and the expectant grandfather. Something about Steve Martin is just so damn likable; even watching him run through idiotic gags barely worthy of a sitcom is mildly pleasant. Still, his performance here is awfully safe. In fact, everything about this movie reeks of safety and suburbia, from the family's nice middle-class house to the nice middle-class plot. Father of the Bride Part II is a remake of the 1951 film Father's Little Dividend, and retains traces of a stereotyped, 1950s' kind of birth anxiety. Remember when fathers fainted in the waiting room? Haven't we grown up just a little bit since then?
Goldeneye. Sorry to disappoint, but this is the most lackluster Bond movie in years. We can forgive 007 his sexism, his archaic cloak-and-dagger ways, and those ridiculous one-liners; but we simply can not forgive him for being boring. The opening scene does boast the highest freefall in history, which was probably a real adrenaline rush for the stunt-double. But from there, Goldeneye continues on a downward spiral, in spite of the spirited vileness of Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp, the Russian archbabe with the lethal-weapon thighs. Pierce Brosnan is not to blame: It's the script that's tired, not the acting. And there aren't nearly enough gadgets. With all the obscene sums of money they're willing to spend, the next one should be an IMAX production. Now that would be something worth $7.50.
Grumpier Old Men. Walter Matthau is the boy and Sophia Loren is the girl in this boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl comedy that will disabuse you of the notion that age lends finesse and wisdom to love. Jack Lemmon and Ann- Margret play Matthau's next door neighbors who weather a few romantic storms of their own. Between misunderstandings, the men go fishing and bungle the wedding plans of their respective progeny. Yes, they're grumpy; yes, they're old; yes, it's as corny as Kansas in August. There are a few funny moments, and Burgess Meredith is delightful as the Dirty Old Man, but the greatest part of the whole movie are the out-takes that run beneath the closing credits. If only the script were as funny as Matthau is when he's forgetting his lines.
Heat. Somewhere inside this three-hour, overblown cops-and-robbers epic there's a good movie hiding, but Michael Mann, the guy who brought us Miami Vice, just couldn't keep it simple. The action portions of the movie are tense, exciting and often beautifully shot in desolate industrial landscapes as Robert DeNiro, playing a thief, tries to outwit Al Pacino as the cop. The personal-relationships parts of the movie, on the other hand, are boring and trite. The characters slink around shiny LA hotspots talking like they've been reading a lot of airport fiction and chasing it down with self-help books. Pacino is annoyingly over-the-top as Lieutenant Hanna, though the lousy script doesn't really make naturalistic acting a possibility here. DeNiro is better as the thief McCauley, engineering nifty Mission Impossible-style heists and turning in a performance eerily reminiscent of the one he gave earlier this year in Casino.
Jumanji. Need a break from ambiguity and complexity? Is the meaninglessness of existence getting you down? Then shell out some cash and retreat to Jumanji, a special effects-jammed cross between an adventure movie and a haunted house thriller. Robin Williams stars as a man who's been trapped inside a magical board game for most of his life. When a couple of kids set him free, they're obliged by the rules to finish playing. It's a conservationist's dream: The game spews out endangered species like water from a garden hose. The special effects are cool, but the computer-generated animals aren't nearly as endearing as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. Most of the animals don't interact with the human characters much--they just run around. And you know that talent Robin Williams has for being weirdly funny and manic? He doesn't use it here.
Nixon. Oliver Stone is obviously obsessed with the Vietnam era, and like most obsessed artists, his work is both fascinating and disgustingly self-absorbed--much like Richard Nixon himself. This dense, information-packed epic will be most rewarding to those already familiar with the facts; otherwise, the barrage of exposition can snow you under. It doesn't matter much if you miss some plot points though, since Nixon is more of a character study than a narrative. Luckily, Anthony Hopkins is just perfect--alternately charismatic and repulsive as our self-pitying, sweaty, 37th President. There are tons of nice little touches, like the glances the cabinet members give each other behind the President's back as he rants, the crisp period sets, and references to that great film about the corrosive effects of power, Citizen Kane. Also, there are tons of stupid touches, like gratuitous MTV-style effects and the sentimental revelation that even the Prince of Darkness was once a poor little boy. What's next Mr. Stone? A film called Ford?
Powder. No groundbreaking cinematic effort; but Powder delivers entertaining sci-fi, with the optimistic twist that the highly evolved and intelligent "alien" life form is actually from our own planet. We less-evolved beings find it impossible not to ponder the connection between Victor Salva and his creation, considering the writer/director recently did time for child molestation. Promotional copy reads: "Alienated from society, he tries to fit in but only finds intolerance. Despite the cruelty inflicted upon him, Powder's extraordinary compassion helps him to persist, and people begin to understand that their harsh judgment is more a reflection of their own ignorance and fear." Spooky. Sean Patrick Flanery, Mary Steenburgen and Jeff Goldblum deliver engaging performances in a script that doesn't ask for much.
TOM & HUCK. Any living girl under fourteen can tell you Jonathan Taylor Thomas (JTT to his fans) is the hot boy in the universe, and he's just dreamy as Tom Sawyer in this lively interpretation of Twain's classic. He and Huck Finn (Brad Renfro) run around the 19th century with blown-dried hair, perfect teeth and immunization scars, eating pies off of windowsills and chasing treasure maps. There are no peaks to this movie but no valleys either: It's a nice, solid kid's adventure story. Best of all, Renfro and JTT are totally cute and non-threatening, though Renfro is a couple of inches taller and can't completely suppress all signs of puberty. The story stresses the meaning and importance of friendship between the boys, and sometimes, I swear to God, it looks like they're going to kiss. They don't though.
Toy Story. In real life, you probably wouldn't enjoy listening to Tom Hanks and Tim Allen argue over who's more exciting to play with. But in Toy Story, the familiar voices take us on a giddy ride into the Brave New World of computer animation. This may be the best Disney film in years, with a feel-good story that takes its cue from The Velveteen Rabbit rather than some glib socio-ecological scenario. The result is a full-length animated feature that's refreshingly original. This, no doubt, is in large part due to Joel Cohen's involvement with the story. Best of all, none of the characters sing.
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