Film Clips

A CIVIL ACTION. This true story of a lawsuit gets off to a rousing start, with snappy, somewhat Mamet-esque dialogue and an extremely promising cast. William Macy, Robert Duvall and that Vinnie Barbarino guy all turn in crisp performances, though sadly the versatile Tony Shalhoub (Big Night, The Siege) is wasted in a tiny role. The plot concerns a sleazy personal injury lawyer who gets overly involved in a case against some polluters. There's a lot of good moments, but the film gets desperately lost about three quarters of the way through and trails off like a drunk telling a story. Things get so out of hand that director Stephen Zaillian finally resorts to the very non-cinematic move of just putting text on the screen. Hey Stephen, if we wanted to read we could have stayed home. Nonetheless, the fact that I enjoyed the film at all implies that it must have been pretty good, since my viewing of it was marred by an audience of corpulent half-wits who babbled like a convention of Tourrette's syndrome sufferers. Seriously, if you have nothing interesting to say, just write it down and send it to the Arizona Daily Star's letters page instead of barking it out like a trained dog every time something your Paleolithic intellect is capable of understanding happens to flicker across a movie screen. And if one more of you cretinous semi-literates brings a laser pointer to a movie theater I'm gonna...(editor's note: here the crayon-written text breaks off into an illegible smear).
--DiGiovanna (on his way to a well-deserved rest at a quiet place where he will be properly cared for)

Film Clips DANCING AT LUGHNASA. None of our reviewers can stand to even be in the same multiplex as a Meryl Streep film, so we didn't check this one out first hand. We understand it's set in 1930s Ireland and involves Streep playing one of a group of unmarried sisters awaiting the return of their brother from Africa. I'm guessing that other critics will use the words "poignant" and "affecting" in their reviews, and that Streep will add a fanciful brogue to her catalogue of incompetently executed accents. I get the creeps just thinking about it.

HURLYBURLY. It's a common refrain of first-year film school students that film is a "visual medium." They say this whenever a talky picture comes their way as a means of dismissing it without too much thought. What's missing from this little axiom is that ever since the 1920s, film has also been an auditory can verify this by going to just about any movie and listening for noises, sounds and sweet airs. Hurlyburly is definitely not a visual film; its 122 minutes are filled with almost endless chatter, delivered at cocaine-frenzied pace by Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri and Garry Shandling. Needless to say, with a cast like that the performances are fabulous, and the David Rabe-penned dialogue is up to the challenge these actors lay down. Hurlyburly tells the story of four misogynistic, drug-addicted, Hollywood players who lapse into rapid-fire philosophizing between snorts of blow and meaningless sexual encounters with underage runaways. Penn and Spacey are roommates and a kind of post-ethical odd couple, with Spacey's cold demeanor and imperturbable impeccability igniting Penn's hysterical bundle of male emotions. If verbal acrobatics and Actor's Studio performances are your cup of tea, Hurlyburly is probably your best bet amongst the current crop of movies. On the other hand, if you're looking for a slow-moving meditation on the imagery of early spring, you'd best shop elsewhere. --DiGiovanna

PATCH ADAMS. A heartily insulting moving that, strangely, also occasionally works. Robin Williams stars in the allegedly true story of Hunter "Patch" Adams, an early '70s medical student whose experiments in humor therapy almost got him kicked out of school. Tom "Ace Ventura" Shadyac's direction is baldly manipulative and simplistic, and the music couldn't be more syrupy and trivializing. Yet for every embarrassing moment in the movie, there are a few saving graces. When Williams sneaks into a hospital ward to do zany clown antics for cute chemo-kids, it's creepy--who the hell does he think he is? But the movie rarely plays down the negative reactions of his peers and mentors; with the exception of one straw man (the humorless dean), it acknowledges that their suspicions are valid. This effectively mitigates the New Agey message, as does the fact (assuming the screenplay isn't lying) that when not compassionately horsing around, Adams consistently got high A's in his classes. Patch Adams is flaky, but it's a flakiness that doesn't crumble, and it's further aided by some swift dialogue at key moments (which Williams delivers well) and solid supporting performances. Especially good is Philip Seymour Hoffman--remember him as the fat guy with a crush on Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights? Here he's a hoity-toity, upper-crust med student, and his performance is spot-on. Those with a strong gag reflex rightfully won't like Patch Adams, but they may need a smaller sick bag than expected. --Woodruff

PLAYING BY HEART. Going to the movies is, to some extent, a way to rent some feelings for 110 minutes. With action films, you get exactly what you pay for, and all the feelings are returned, intact, when the credits roll. Other films, like "feel-good" movies, sometimes leave an audience buoyed for a few hours or even the rest of the day. Then there are the deeply disturbing movies--films like Happiness, Eraserhead, or the almost impossibly painful Happy Games--that can leave a viewer sickened and edgy for days or weeks. If you pro-rate your $7.50 admission fee over the time it takes to recover from one of these films, they wind up being your best emotion-rental value, but they often involve getting far more than you bargained for. Thus, the best mid-range value in feelings for sale is probably the tear-jerker, as it has a very strong pay-out during the time it's being watched, and then, if well done, produces a pleasant, post-cathartic feeling as the audience departs for the parking lot. With that in mind, Playing by Heart is well worth the money. A five-hanky film, it's only rarely maudlin, and is well written and well paced. A Robert Altman-style narrative weaves together the romantic tribulations of three sisters (Gillian Anderson, Angelina Jolie and Madeleine Stowe) and their mother and father (Gena Rowlands and Sean Connery) over the course of a series of evenings in Los Angeles. While all the actors do smashingly well (except for Ryan Phillippe, who's so beautiful that he's got an excuse for just standing around and pouting), there are stand-out performances by Jolie as a manic hipster with great fashion sense, and Dennis Quaid as a depressed guy who pretends to be a lot of different depressed guys. Also starring Ellen Burstyn, Jay Mohr, Anthony Edwards and Nastassja Kinski, with cinematography by the over-talented Vilmos Zsigmond (Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies). --DiGiovanna

A SIMPLE PLAN. Director Sam Raimi takes the campy, violent and juvenile sensibility that he honed to perfection on such films as Evil Dead and Darkman, and such television productions as Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena, Warrior Princess, and chucks it out the window for this subtle and very grown-up film noir piece. An accountant (the omnipresent Bill Paxton), his mentally challenged brother (the also kind of omnipresent Billy Bob Thornton) and his brother's trashy, drunken friend (the largely unknown Brent Briscoe) find four million dollars inside a wrecked plane in a snow covered forest. They decide to hide the money until they know whether or not the heat is on. In standard noir fashion, double crosses, murders and intrigues ensue. The script is, obviously, not terribly original; but it is perfectly paced and plotted, a flawless rendition of this time-worn story. And Bridget Fonda wears this incredible fake-pregnant-belly prosthesis...probably the finest fake-belly prosthesis since they made the waif-like Marlon Brando look fat in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Although you should probably see it for the disturbing and evocative story of ordinary evil, rather than for the fake-belly prosthesis. But it's a really good prosthesis. Really. --DiGiovanna

VIRUS. If you count a couple of TV movies, Virus is Donald Sutherland's 99th film. Sutherland is renowned for making quick cash by appearing in awful films that, in the old days, wound up on the unreleased shelves of the studio's cold storage facility. Nowadays they'd go straight to video. If you read a list of all his movies, you'd probably only recognize the titles of 10 percent of them. Nonetheless, he's managed to show up in such acclaimed and important films as M.A.S.H., Johnny Got His Gun, Little Murders and Klute. What's up with that? In Virus, he plays an evil ship's captain who can't decide whether or not he has an Irish accent, so he teams up with a robot monster from outer space to put the kibosh on Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, and four other people of varying degrees of stardom. Reasonably entertaining, but the comic book was better. --DiGiovanna

WAKING NED DEVINE. Ah, the clever Irish. When they're not plotting world domination or making those Tamagotchis and lederhosen that they're so famous for, you can usually find them doing those slithery, funky, dances to those crazy jungle beats. So, what could be more fun than watching a village of 52 Irish persons try to con the Irish National Lottery out of nearly seven million Irish pounds ("pound" or "punt" is a zany Irish word for 1.4695 dollars)? I'll tell you: nothing. Waking Ned Devine is good, clean Irish fun, even if it does include some shots of naked Irish men. Really old naked Irish men, so don't get all excited. Naked old Irish people are in no way pornographic. And Waking Ned Devine is full of non-naked fun and surprises, too, like village intrigues, fake eulogies, pints of Guinness and a swiftly moving plot that unfolds against gorgeous landscapes that were shot on location in the Isle of Man. Which is just so Irish, to shoot a movie about Ireland in another country. So rather than waste your time going to some Babylonian or Akkadian movie that will just try to numb you with explosions and pseudo-snappy catch-phrases, go see this refreshing and crisp Irish film that features spot-on acting by Ian Bannen and David Kelly as Irish men, and funny, believable dialogue by the extremely Irish writer/director Kirk Jones. Well, okay, Kirk Jones is English, but he's so good he should be Irish. --DiGiovanna

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