Film Clips

AT FIRST SIGHT. It's not a romantic comedy, it's not a horror film, it's that mutant that lives somewhere in between. It's in that special place where grown men dress like clowns and mothers form better bonds with their daughters by dying. This time the couple consists of the uncharismatic Virgil (Val Kilmer), a blind man, and Amy (Mira Sorvino), his true love. She finds a miracle cure that allows him to regain his vision, and they hit many obstacles, such as maudlin music, Kilmer's distractingly huge capped teeth, and bad dialogue. ("So this is what beautiful looks like.") But when all is said and done, all those Coca-Cola product placements Virgil can see don't mean a darn thing. Of course not, because the best kind of seeing is not done with the eyes, but with the heart. Please, take my word for it and stay away from this genre-bending freak show.--Higgins

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. --DiGiovanna

GLORIA. What a great movie: Gena Rowlands, as a fading gangster moll, hooks up with a cute kid who's fleeing the same gangsters. While this Little Miss Marker idea may seem trite, Rowlands overwhelms every scene, completely engaging the viewer with each raised eyebrow and wrinkled lip. John Cassavetes quirky directing doesn't hurt, either, and while this is a much more "mainstream" movie than Cassavetes' earlier work, it still retains his improvisational sensibility and singular camera style. Oh, wait a minute, this isn't that's a lousy remake with Sharon Stone struggling to fill Gena Rowlands shoes and Sydney Lumet's cowardly and conservative directorial style dumbing down the more challenging Cassavetes approach. Damn. --DiGiovanna

HI-LO COUNTRY. This boys-and-their-cattle film is a Cormac McCarthy-esque (the sweet McCarthy of The Crossing, not the twisted McCarthy of Blood Meridian) look at two men (Woody Harrelson and Billy Crudup) who return from WWII to their ranch lands and try to live a cowboy life that's fading into the world of corporate farming. While the story is a bit obvious and melodramatic (they're both in love with the same woman, who's married to the factotum of the evil proto-corporate rancher), Harrelson's performance is strong enough to hold attention. He's just such a weird actor, playing an odd cross between his mass-murderer role from Natural Born Killers and sweet, lovable "Woody" from Cheers, that it's always interesting to watch his wild mood swings and enormously overstated facial expressions. Unfortunately, the female characters are treated like window dressing, denied much in the way of screen time or good dialogue. In the end, the cowboys themselves come across as less sexist than the filmmakers, in that they make some effort to understand the women they are attracted to and who are attracted to them. It's too bad that director Stephen Frears and writer Walon Green don't share this interest in women's inner lives, and can only give us a beautifully photographed, slow and sad buddy film, which, while not without rewards, could have been much richer in exploring the relationships it backgrounds against the red skies and grasslands of the Southwest. --DiGiovanna

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

IN DREAMS. It may be kind of early in the year to commit, but my nomination for the best filmic wig of 1999 goes to the one atop Robert Downey Jr.'s scalp. Sure, some will say it's bad, even evil, but I cheer you on, brave little soldier. When Vivian (Downey) wears this ambitious rug, it makes him want to rid us of bad child actors and, more importantly, expose the false ideal of the bourgeois family. Vivian enters career mom Claire's (Annette Bening) head via her dreams and updates her on his latest murderous adventures. Feeling her class status threatened, Claire attempts to track him down so she can destroy his revolutionary thinking and quit wearing the Communist reds he clothes her in in her nightmares. It's nice to see an arty horror film, but it usually helps to have more sympathy for the protagonist than the antagonist's wig. This latest effort from Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) is at the very least beautiful to watch. --Higgins

LITTLE VOICE. Jane Horrocks, probably best known for her role as Bubbles on Absolutely Fabulous, stars in the filmic version of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, a play written to showcase her talent for imitating the singing voices of such greats as Judy Garland and Shirley Bassey. The character "Little Voice" is a soft-spoken, pastel-wearing introvert who's overshadowed by her tawdry mum Mari (Brenda Blethyn), who shouts some of the best dialog (such as referring to her lover's genitalia as "meat and veg") and wears similarly boisterous outfits. Ray (Michael Caine), Mari's man and a promoter for such class acts as the chubby male strip crew "Take Fat," discovers her musical abilities and attempts to exploit them in a sleazy nightclub. Little Voice resists, supported only by her father's ghost and a pigeon-obsessed telephone repairman (Ewan MacGregor). This simple and satisfying story about discovering the importance of being heard is affectionately directed by Mark Herman, and offers a host of excellent performances.--Higgins

SHE'S ALL THAT. A remake of every '80s teen film, which would compete well with the best of them, if only I hadn't already seen this story so many times. Popular boy loses girlfriend, accepts bet to turn dorky girl into prom queen, falls in love with her. Not a bad effort, but Patrick Dempsey's legacy is safe. --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 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 fake-belly prosthesis. Really. --DiGiovanna

VARSITY BLUES. It's a whipped-cream bikini of a movie as the football team at West Canaan High School goes wild in the streets! Love, life and Kurt Vonnegut are all given cursory treatment and meaningful stares as teens take over Texas, and their evil football coach gets his comeuppance. James Van Der Beek of Dawson's Creek (a show that made a friend of mine vomit when she heard that one of the characters was named "Pacey") makes his film debut as the little quarterback who could. Judging by the giggling and aahing from the adolescent women in the theater, he is cute. --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

Special Screenings

ANIMATED WORLDS. That little gem of cinephilic delights, The Screening Room, brings us an animated film festival that is in no way dedicated to explosive diarrhea and injuries to the eye. Animated World presents the best of two decades' worth of animation from Portland. Highlights include Jim Blashfields photo-animation (including his award-winning video of the Talking Heads song "And She Was"), the Academy Award winning "clay paintings" of Joan Graetz, and a piece by Portland-area cartoonist and America's favorite paraplegic, John Callahan. Shows are 8 p.m. Friday; 6, 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday; and 3, 5 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $4, $3 for matinees.

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