Film Clips

AMERICAN HISTORY X. Films that tell me what to think are boring and insulting, and that's generally what I expect from movies that address race issues. That's not the case with American History X, and that alone makes it satisfying. It tells the story of Nazi skinhead Derek (a buff Edward Norton) and his turnaround while imprisoned for brutally murdering two black men. Largely told via beautifully shot black-and-white flashbacks, it focuses on the impact of Derek's hatred on his younger brother Daniel (the under-cast Edward Furlong). This gives the film resonance as it comments on how impressionable and willing to seek out simple answers we are when we're young, and we watch Daniel spout propaganda that's been fed to him by his brother and White Power guru Cameron (Stacy Keach). The film is also troubling, because much of the story revolves around hatemonger Derek and his clear articulations of his position; in this sense the revelatory ending has less of an impact. Also, Derek's turning point is the result of being raped by another skinhead, so his hatred for non-whites is simply transferred to the group he once supported rather than growing out of realizations about any wrongdoing on his part. The film is certainly thought-provoking in that it brings up more questions than it answers; and avoids the disingenuousness of having the final word on race relations summed up in two hours. --Higgins

A BUG'S LIFE. Antz may've beat Pixar's computer animated insect-o-rama to the big screen, but A Bug's Life is the far superior of the two, both for enchanting animated life and a serviceable kids' storyline. Where one hopes in vain for Antz' whiny, accidental hero (Woody Allen) to get irrevocably smashed, Bug's Flik (Dave Foley--whoever he is) is a far more dynamic instigator. Essentially a story about two engaging screw-ups--one a princess (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the other an unsinkable everyman (Foley)--who make good in the end, the most engaging aspects here are the cinematic direction and the zippy one-liners (yes, they saved a few for the paying audiences). Celebrity voices are well-matched to their insectine counterparts, including Kevin Spacey as the evil grasshopper leader, Phyllis Diller as the queenly cut-up, and Denis Leary as a ladybug at odds with his feminine side. If you go, be sure to stay through the credits for the animated outtakes. --Wadsworth

CARLA'S SONG. This film begins with the almost unpardonable sin of having a woman fall in love with a man who stalks her and breaks into her apartment. After that, it makes an odd political shift and becomes a pedantic, but informative, series of monologues about CIA involvement in the Nicaraguan civil wars of the '80s. Robert Carlyle (from Trainspotting and The Full Monty) plays the obnoxious but golden-hearted bus driver George, who drives a double-decker in Glasgow. Newcomer Oyanka Cabezas plays the woman he becomes obsessed with after he helps her get away from the police. The two of them fall in love (after the stalking and assault) and go to seek out her missing ex-boyfriend in the war-ravaged Nicaragua of 1987. It's hard to get past the incomprehensible Scottish accents and sickly sexist opening of this film, but some might enjoy its heavy-handed and preachy second section, which features gorgeous Central American landscapes and a series of anti-CIA speeches. --DiGiovanna

CELEBRITY. Remember Woody Allen? Well he's Kenneth Branagh form! Branagh plays Woody down to the last tick and hiccup in this rehash of Stardust Memories. Consistently entertaining and occasionally funny, Celebrity is the story of a screenplay writer who leaves his wife and gets obsessed with a much younger woman, begging the question, Where does the endlessly creative Mr. Allen get the ideas for his films? Woody is at his funniest when he's drawing from his infinitely deep well of hatred, and here he gets good effect from his distaste for ordinary people, using the terms "dentist," "salesman" and "antique dealer" as though they were deeply derogatory. Luckily, he also lets fly with his hatred of artists, actors, and directors, leaving, as far as I can tell, only writers and editors amongst the chosen people. If he could just eliminate editors he'd have it perfect. Bebe Neuwirth, Judy Davis, Isaac Mizrahi, Melanie Griffith, Hank Azaria, Leonardo DiCaprio, Famke Janssen, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Charlize Theron, and even Andre Gregory show up here, just so they can say that they were in a Woody Allen film. The cinematography is by Sven Nykvist, easily one of the two or three greatest cinematographers of all time, though he never does his best work when he's shooting for Woody. (Check out his imagery in Pretty Baby, What's Eating Gilbert Grape or any Bergman film from the '60s to see why his drooling fans refer to him as "master of darkness, master of light.") --DiGiovanna

ELIZABETH. Cate Blanchett plays the Virgin Queen, who ruled England during Shakespeare's time. She's a sassy wench, according to this version--a bejeweled rebel bucking the Catholic system and following the dictates of her royal heart in all things. It's ridiculous, but kind of fun. The court is perpetually bathed in inky gloom, and a series of stabbings, beheadings, stake-burnings and exotic poisonings make Elizabeth's castle look a lot riskier than any old sorority house in a horror movie. All pretensions to high art are abandoned early here anyway, so if it's lusty cads in short pants and fine ladies in satin gowns you want, this is your one-stop shopping place. If you're hoping for an intelligent story of any sort, however, browse elsewhere. --Richter

ENEMY OF THE STATE. This tribute to Francis Ford Coppola's early masterpiece The Conversation takes the star of that film, Gene Hackman, and hands him a heavy-handed action script, Will Smith's bubbly Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes as a co-star, and lots of explosions in order to deaden any of the impact that Coppola's film had. Enemy of the State tries to raise questions about the surveillance society through a story wherein a young lawyer (Smith) is observed and undermined by the NSA, which utilizes every security camera and spy satellite in the world just to track one guy who's running around D.C. in his pajamas. For good measure, it throws in offensive stereotypes of Asians, Italians and Mexicans, as well as some unconvincing speeches, a cute little boy and a series of deus-ex-machina rescues. No doubt Coppola's aesthetic sensibilities are spinning in their grave. --DiGiovanna

HAPPINESS. A funhouse view of varieties of suffering from Todd Solondz, creator of Welcome to the Dollhouse. A New Jersey family, featuring two miserable parents (Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara) and three tortured grown daughters, put themselves and others through as much pure hell as possible. We witness a series of sex crimes, failed relationships, bitter rejections, and doomed quests for self as Solondz struggles to situate himself as the Hieronymus Bosch of our times. Happiness is a comedy, though a disturbing one, that exaggerates misery just enough so that some people--maybe a few--might laugh at it. In any case, it's a cheering antidote to the pat, happy endings of Hollywood movies, and this director has a real knack for capturing the nuance of suburban ugliness. Chairs that match the wallpaper! Endless cubicles of office space! The doings in Happiness are more exaggerated than in Welcome to the Dollhouse, and this film is less likely to evoke that complex, nauseating God-that-happened-to-me feeling of his earlier film. Nonetheless, it's an interesting, disturbing, and sometimes amusing tour of the downside of being alive. --Richter

HOME FRIES. Dark comedies aren't generally sweet, but cast a ringlet-adorned Drew Barrymore as a pregnant, small town drive-thru attendant, and you can skip those M&Ms at the concession stand. The enjoyably convoluted story centers around two families, the white trash, big-hearted Jacksons and the upper-class, insane Levers, and the adultery that brings them all together. Sally Jackson (Barrymore) dates the much older Henry Lever (Chris Ellis), but only until she discovers he's married. His wife (Catherine O'Hara) finds out about the affair and decides that one way to cure a cheating heart is to manipulate her sons, Dorian (Luke Wilson) and Angus (Jake Busey), into killing it. Dimwitted Angus suspects Sally knows of the murder, so Dorian goes undercover as a fry cook at the Burger-Matic where she works. In addition to lots of cute with a capital K between Dorian and Sally, Home Fries offers a cynical and funny look at the idealized bourgeois family, a great cast, and practical advise, such as, "a relaxed jaw means an open vagina." If that's not enough of a recommendation, at least go to see the ever-enchanting Shelley Duvall as Ma Jackson. --Higgins

JACK FROST. Sitting through this family flick is kinda like flossing with piano wire. The bloody mess begins when Jack Frost (Michael Keaton), who's a perfect dad in every way except for the fact that he sometimes says "no" to his son in order to pursue his career as a blues singer, dies. Oddly enough, he dies after he decides that family should always come first--almost like he's being punished for believing the movie's message. A year later, Frost becomes a snowman due to a magical harmonica, which could have solved all the family's woes years ago if they'd known it was magical. Oh well. Now he's a snowman with a creepy rubberized computer-animated face, and "better a snow dad than no dad." With his twiggy arms, he finally teaches his son the game-winning hockey moves, and they bond. For unexplained reasons, this Snuffleupasnowman avoids everybody else from his life, including his hot mama of a wife played by Kelly Preston; perhaps he's worried she'll ask him to "Sing me a smile" again. It's nice that filmmakers can smoothly animate snowmen and whatnot, but when will they program computers to smooth out logic problems in the plot, like the fact that horny men aren't beating down Kelly Preston's door a year after her husband snuffs it? Or that Jack Frost lets his son risk his life trekking to the Colorado Rockies to keep dad from melting, when Frosty knows darned well he can't stick around anyway? Kids who have lost a parent may get something therapeutic from this poorly thought-out McMovie, but I'd recommend actual therapy. --Woodruff

JERRY SPRINGER: RINGMASTER. In the 1920s, Robert Musil wrote his magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities, in which he bemoaned the excessively refined culture of his age. He expressed the belief, prevalent amongst intellectuals of the time, that the mannered, overly civilized society of the modern world had robbed humanity of all possibility for genuine self-expression by virtue of its insistence on historical knowledge and schooled, aestheticist sensitivities. Musil was wrong. Jerry Springer has brought us living proof that humanity's most immediate and unmediated desires are still capable of unfettered expression; that mankind still has the capacity to push aside the constraining sublimations of culture in order to be, freely and without shame, that which, at basest heart, it truly is. To stress this point, here's the finest bit of dialogue from Ringmaster: Stepfather: "Do that other thing." Stepdaughter: "What thing?" Stepfather: "That thing your mother won't do." I thank God almighty that the nightmare world of literate, cultured, effete snobs that Musil imagined so brilliantly has not overwhelmed the world, and that there is still room for a TV show about men who love their girlfriends' pet goats. Pull up a 40-ouncer and slide into Ringmaster, where hope reigns supreme and foley artists have perfected the slurpy noises that accompany oral lovemaking.

LIVING OUT LOUD. This journey-of-self-realization flick has the same problem a lot of movies have these days: It's entertaining but annoying. The ever-charming Holly Hunter plays Judith Nelson, a wealthy doctor's wife who loses it when she discovers her husband is in love with a younger woman. She slowly pulls herself back together with the help of some quirky new friends, a saucy nightclub singer (Queen Latifah) and the building's elevator operator (Danny DeVito). The ad campaign for this movie points out that director Richard LaGravenese also wrote The Fisher King and the screenplay for The Bridges of Madison County, as though this were a good thing. Living Out Loud suffers from the same gut-kick episodes of sentimentality and overwrought meaning-of-life moments as in LaGravenese's earlier movies, cheap shots all of them. Does anyone really need a movie to show them how to connect more deeply with their fellow humans? Even so, this could have been a decent film if LaGravenese had cut out the kids-dying-of-cancer, crack-baby-rescue subplots. The performances are quite good and the story zips along; yet, at the end of it all, it feels awfully fake for a movie about "authenticity."--Richter

MEET JOE BLACK. That's right, Brad Pitt plays Death in Meet Joe Black. Imagine The Seventh Seal remade as a three-hour episode of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and you might get some idea of how pretentious, repetitive, and boring this movie is. What happens is this: Death comes to earth for a vacation, where he falls in love with a strange, wealthy, young woman (Clair Forlani), a doctor who can't stop squinting. Her father is Anthony Hopkins, and he is stinking rich, and quite understandably does not want his daughter to marry Death. All this occurs within a leisurely three-hour time frame. Somewhere in there is the least sexy sex scene from a non-porno movie ever, featuring super close-ups of the pores on Brad Pitt's nose. This reviewer recommends you stay home and clean the grout between your tiles with a toothbrush. You'll have a better time.

PSYCHO. Director Gus Van Sant has made a shot-by-shot edition of Hitchcock's 1960s masterpiece, a sort of 101 Strings version of your favorite hit. The result is a film that's interesting only in its pointlessness. Why mess with something as trashy and fine as Psycho, Gus? What's the big idea? The new Psycho features some updated props, like a Walkman; and an updated cast, like psychohunk Vince Vaughn, who plays Norman Bates as a big, knife-wielding sexpot. Hitchcock, that famous, repressed romantic, would blush in his grave if he could see his own Norman Bates waxing the bishop while spying on a girl through his peephole. It's wrong, oh so wrong! The title sequence, updated with some puke-green accents, is still stunning, as is Bernard Herrmann's sublime score. The rest is for the birds. --Richter

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. Measure for measure, this is not playwright Tom Stoppard's best work. Still, it's a reasonably decent comedy of Eros, wherein young Will Shakespeare (Joseph Fiennes) spends his midsummer's nights dreaming about the beautiful Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow), trying to write Romeo and Juliet, and avoiding the vengeful Lord Wessex, who wants to kill Will for messing with his woman. All this stirs up a tempest in the court of Queen Elizabeth, played by perennial noble Judi Dench (Mrs. Brown). Say what you will about the witty use of Shakespeare's titles and plots in this script (slightly altered scenes from Romeo and Juliet and Twelfth Night form the basis for this story about a girl named Viola who dresses as a boy to get a part in Shakespeare's play), it's all much ado about nothing as there are too many long pauses between funny bits. Still, if you'd enjoy seeing lots of Paltrow and Fiennes, both of whom are attractive and talented young actors, then this film is as you like it. --DiGiovanna

YOU'VE GOT MAIL. Okay, let's clear this up: "You've got mail" is not grammatically correct. It is, in fact, redundant: it should be "You have mail," or even just "You've mail," if you want to give it a 19th-century feel. It's just the absence of 19th-century sensibilities that bugged me about this cute and intermittently funny romantic comedy. It tells the story of a petit bourgeois bookstore owner (Meg Ryan, who's maintained her pixie-like looks for far longer than should be naturally possible) who is driven out of business by a grand bourgeois owner of a chain of bookstores (Tom Hanks, who is either wearing a toupee or has an atrocious dye job, or both). Think they'll fall in love? While there's lots of sentimental whining about the loss of small businesses, I wondered why anyone should care when the exploited workers were as far removed from the means of production under one boss as the other. It's the hallmark of late 20th-century capitalism that production facilities have been moved away from the politically sensitized "first world" and into the emerging economies, where 19th-century conditions are not yet considered appalling and inhuman, and where child labor and cramped, dirty factories are far from the eyes of concerned do-gooders. Which isn't to say that a lot of people won't like You've Got Mail; if they liked Nora Ephron's other films (When Harry Met Sally and They Made Unchallenging Witty Comments for 90 Minutes Before Falling in Love, and Sleepless in a Very Cleaned-Up, Middle of the Road Version of Seattle). If so, then they'll have to like this one, as it's a virtual carbon copy of those earlier efforts...but why not read Volume I of Karl Marx's Kapital instead? It's informative and stars Meg Ryan as the bookish but sexy...oh, never mind.

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