Bed of Roses. If you liked Untamed Heart and Sleepless in Seattle, then Bed of Roses is just your kind of budding romance. Mary Stuart Masterson (last seen as an emotionally-distraught love object in Benny and Joon) plays the tough-because-I-have-to-be career gal who's whole life is turned upside down by an anonymous flower delivery. Christian Slater (last seen as the mysterious, romantic rescuer in the aforementioned Untamed Heart) plays the impetuous introvert who holds the key to the mystery. Bed of Roses is more a collection of scenes than a story, following the standard premise that two sad lives somehow add up to one happy one. Character development is dismally lacking in this universal fairy tale that true love will find us--and save us--in spite of ourselves. Suspend your cynicism and Bed of Roses may offer a respite from the real world, in which the characters really would turn out to be psychos.
Dead Man Walking. Sean Penn gives an amazing performance as a death-row inmate in this Tim Robbins film. The movie is based on the true story of Sister Helen Prejean, a nun who befriended a convicted killer bound for a lethal injection. The nun slogs through a moral minefield as she visits the prison, the victim's families, and the family of the condemned man, trying to figure out what she's doing hanging around with a low-life. Susan Sarandon does a fine job as Sister Helen, but it's Penn who really steals the show with his restrained, charismatic portrayal of the convict--it's almost weird how good he is as the hate-filled, anti-social Poncelet. The rest of the story sometimes drifts into sentimentality or preachiness, but whenever Penn is on-screen, everything clicks.
From Dusk Till Dawn. If you still can't get enough of vampires, this movie should help you reach your quota. George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play bad-boy brothers who hijack a nice, upstanding minister (Harvey Keitel) and his family and force them to drive their big, American RV to Mexico. There, they go to a sleazy bar where, suddenly, everyone turns into vampires! Not quite camp, not quite a straight adventure movie, From Dusk Till Dawn inhabits a twilight region between the two where you don't know if the next twist of the plot is going to be funny or frightening. For those of us raised in front of TV sets, the buckets of blood and media references seem like a silly joke. Those less bewitched by the tube will probably be sickened.
Leaving Las Vegas. A moving, melancholy portrait of a desperate alcoholic making one last grab for love and redemption in the city of neon. Nicolas Cage plays Ben, a total loser who has lost his family, job and self-respect. He goes to Las Vegas in an effort to escape everything, basically, and there he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a heart-of-gold hooker who takes him in and accepts him just the way he is (sort of). There's no moralizing about the evils of drink here, or romanticizing either--it's just relentless scenes of Nicolas Cage quaffing liquor like water and spreading some kind of bottomless sadness all over the screen. Though Leaving Las Vegas is very sad, it never panders and it never manipulates the audience. Instead, it treats its grim subject matter with intelligence and restraint.
Restoration. Men in wigs and ladies in low-cut bodices frolic and fret to no end in this Robert Downey Jr. vehicle. Downey plays a young physician who fortuitously ends up in the service of the King. The fun-loving physician takes to the frivolities of the court like a fish to water, but it all ends when the King decides to marry him off to His Majesty's mistress in order to fool another, jealous mistress. Then the physician does the one thing forbidden by the King and falls in love with his own wife. What a perfect, romance novel of a plot! Yet the romance never really pans out. Instead, the physician leaves the court and goes out into the world to become a man. There's a classic Oedipal drama buried in here, for those of you keeping up on your Freud. (The King is the father figure, his mistress is the forbidden mother, and Robert Downey Jr., with his big, liquid eyes, is the son.) This film is well-made but there's nothing especially enticing here unless you love lavish costumes. I did think Sam Neill gave a good performance as King Charles II, proving there's no accounting for taste, even one's own.
Sense and Sensibility. Is this ever a costume drama! Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant and practically every other British actor you can think of romp thorough the country in funny clothes in this clever adaptation of Jane Austen's novel about impoverished girls hunting for husbands. Of the recent crop of movies about Britons in by-gone eras falling in love out-of-doors, this is by far the best. The script (by Emma Thompson) is witty and well-paced; the crisp, brisk direction by Ang Lee (who made, most recently, Eat Drink Man Woman) keeps the slow-paced lives of the 19th century from ever becoming boring. This movie deals with Love and Romance like they made it in the old days--big, sweeping and stormy.
Tie-Died. This documentary about Grateful Dead fans is recommended only for the converted. It's clearly made by a Grateful Dead fan for other fans. Filmmaker Andrew Behar has recorded not the band itself (there's no Dead music in the movie) but only the "movement" "going down" outside in the parking lot. It's about love, brotherhood, expanded consciousness, etc. Anything dark or critical that could be said about this scene is either left out or glossed over. Still, it's interesting to look at this once-vital subculture, especially since the death of Jerry Garcia probably means it will come to an end. It's also interesting to note the variety of motivations Dead Heads have for going "on tour" with the band. Nevertheless, these insights could have been delivered in a half-hour film instead of a full-length documentary.
Two if by Sea. Possibly the most painful romantic comedy of the year, for those who don't find falling down, outlandish wardrobe changes, clichéd lines and faux east-coast accents the least bit charming or amusing. We hereby dub Sandra Bullock the Goldie Hawn of the '90s: just a smidgen smarter, tougher and more sophisticated than her predecessor, but apparently destined to make "Sandra Bullock movies." This time around, she tries to play the honest-but-scheming girlfriend of a sometimes-repentant petty thief (Denis Leary). The plot involves a band of bumbling thieves, a black FBI agent named O'Malley (yes, this is supposed to be funny), a grand art heist and a bunch of people pretending to be something they're not (stay tuned for the Big Lesson at the end). Along the way, we get to see Bullock looking cute during a high speed chase, Bullock looking cute in baggy clothes, Bullock looking cute while arguing with her boyfriend, Bullock looking cute while being swept off her feet by someone tall, dark a
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