Film Clips

COOKIE'S FORTUNE. Director Robert Altman comes back strong in this quiet story about confused relations in a southern town. Charles Dutton turns in a career performance as Willis Richland, who is falsely accused of murder when Camille Orcutt (Glenn Close) rearranges things at the scene of her aunt's suicide. Julianne Moore gives even better than her usual turn as Camille's deranged, thespian sister. Also featuring the ubiquitous Chris O'Donnell (perhaps most tragically known for his role as Robin), the fetching Liv Tyler, the under-appreciated Ned Beatty and the indescribable Lyle Lovett. --DiGiovanna

Film Clips THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS. The structuring device of this French film is not a narrative but a location. The apartment that young transients Isa and Marie share is the site of the beginning and end of their relationship; it serves as their protection from the patriarchal world they have difficulty navigating, and rejects them when that realm is invited inside. Focusing on mundane events such as job hunting and dish washing proves effective in revealing well-rounded protagonists and the friendship that thrives within the safe haven they've found. In stark contrast, the male characters are merely devices to portray these women. Unfortunately, the film's second half is dominated by Marie's dramatic and unbelievable emotional shift, as she enters a simplistically vile relationship and follows it to a clichéd conclusion. --Higgins

ELECTION. I've never really agreed with universal participatory democracy, because so much of the electorate is ill-informed and their votes are easily manipulated by demagogues and heartlessly ambitious power-mongers. (That's why I just let Tucson Weekly editor Jim Nintzel pick my votes for me...he's well informed and has no ambition. I call it Nintzelocracy.) Commenting on this, Election takes all the worst traits of American politics and squeezes them into a high school full of immature teens, which is pretty much what American politics looks like to the rest of the world anyway. Director Alexander Payne's sharp eye for satire makes Election the funniest, and one of the smartest, films so far this year. --DiGiovanna

ENTRAPMENT. A rather lifeless crime spree, weighed down by mediocre plotting and a plodding script. Sean Connery stars as an aging art thief out for one last heist. Catherine Zeta-Jones emphasizes her assets as a young criminal hoping to get a good start by falling in love with Connery and stealing $8 billion. Lots of prancing about in tight clothing, James Bond-type gadgetry and unlikely sexual tension shove the story forward, though you'll probably get a better crime drama by staying home and watching Rockford Files reruns. --DiGiovanna

INSTINCT. After The Matrix and The Phantom Menace, I thought we'd have a dearth of "chosen one" references, but Disney keeps the trend alive by offering Cuba Gooding Jr. as its savior of the month. How exciting that men keep choosing men--this time, the smitten one is Anthony Hopkins. He plays Ethan Powell, an anthropologist who communes with gorillas for a couple of years until he is jailed in Rwanda for killing three men. When he's transferred to a psychiatric penitentiary in the United States, Theo (Gooding) is the doctor who attempts to discover Ethan's motives and understand how he was accepted into a simian family. The blossoming doctor-patient relationship is dialogue heavy and relatively free of tension as Ethan recalls his jungle days and teaches Theo "how to live." Most of the trips outside of the prison are disjointed, as Theo visits either his reality-based mentor Ben (Donald Sutherland), or Lyn (Maura Tierney), Ethan's heterosexually recuperative daughter. According to the musical score, every scene contains a highly dramatic moment, so be prepared to laugh, cry and cheer as Ethan sits down, Theo pours a cup of coffee and a gorilla grooms itself.--Higgins

LIFE. The Shawshank Redemption meets Stir Crazy in this decades-spanning prison comedy. Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence play a couple of buffoons who get framed for murder in the Deep South. Their incarceration carries them from the Prohibition Era into modern times, and director Ted Demme takes the opportunity to mix social observation (it'd be a stretch to call it "commentary") into the story. This includes surprisingly well-shaded views of racism. Mostly, though, Life provides Murphy and Lawrence with scattered opportunities for comic riffing. Murphy does his funniest, most free-spirited work in years, and Lawrence makes a likable straight man. It's a shame the movie is so aimless, but a sloppy Life is worth a dozen tight Dr. Dolittles. --Woodruff

THE LOVE LETTER. Releasing a film the same weekend as Star Wars might at first seem insane, but the folks at DreamWorks are smart enough to realize that older viewers and women are two huge audiences not targeted by the Lucas blockbuster. Hence, The Love Letter: a romance with 40-plus-aged characters and lots of women. Kate Capshaw plays Helen, a bookstore owner whose faith in love is restored when she receives an anonymous letter she believes is meant for her. The letter is then found by several other characters, who all interpret it according to their own emotional needs. This premise gets tiring quickly, the main character is unlikeable and the slow pace may make you wish you'd stopped for coffee before hitting the theater. At the same time, there are a number of elements that are just wacky or unexpected enough to be enjoyable: Ellen DeGeneres, playing an overly determined heterosexual, dispenses blunt sarcasm and practical one-liners; there's the all-too-rare H-wood circumstance of a woman (Helen) bedding someone half her age; a strange All-That-Heaven-Allows-inspired feminist character (Jennifer, played by Julianne Nicholson) spouts academic rhetoric; Tom Selleck tests his powers without his mustache; and an older lesbian couple anchors much of the story. --Higgins

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. Local punk rock star Greg Petix told me that there's always one woman whom you cannot openly admire without pissing off every other woman in the country. Currently, that woman is Calista Flockhart, who I must say, turns in a fabulous performance in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She has a clear mastery of the language, and is the only actor in the production who emphasizes the iambic pentameter without sounding artificial. Kevin Kline is also outstanding, as are Stanley Tucci as Puck and Rupert Evert as Oberon. Unfortunately, Michelle Pfeiffer as Titania sounds like a non-native speaker attempting to phonetically sound-out the script; but there are enough strong performances here to make her insignificant. This is good stuff for Shakespeare lovers, but the difficult dialogue may be off-putting to those who prefer Shakespeare in Love to the real material. --DiGiovanna

NOTTING HILL. A glorified made-for-TV movie, Nodding-off Hill employs a mind-numbing pace and uncomfortable story-stretching conventions. For more than two hours, the simple premise of ordinary guy William (Hugh Grant) falling for very beautiful and very famous movie star Anna (Julia Roberts) is painstakingly told through a series of contrived scenes and an abundance of ridiculous montage sequences where songs are substituted for actual character development. For example, "Ain't No Sunshine" plays while William (sad? confused? hungry?) deals with Anna's absence over a year's time. The result is a lack of chemistry between the leads and a sense that William falls in love merely because Anna is pretty, and ends up in more scenes with him than anyone else. It's a welcome change that Rotting Hell is told largely from a male perspective, as William pines for the self-involved Anna. Further adding to this genre piece is the continuance of Robert's persona, from My Best Friend's Wedding, of the romantic comedy anti-heroine who rejects stereotypically feminine characteristics for more masculine ones. Eventually, though, the tacked-on "happy" ending forces both William and Anna into traditional and dissatisfying roles.--Higgins

OPEN YOUR EYES. A sterilized-looking Madrid is the backdrop for this incredibly smart and challenging Spanish film investigating--you guessed it--virtual reality, body modification and immortality. As César (Eduardo Noriega) recounts stories of lovers, a disfiguring car crash and numerous plastic surgeries to a psychiatrist, his credibility is consistently undermined as reality is embedded in dreams which are in turn enveloped in nightmare. This engaging phenomenological tale is ostensibly guided by César, but he is plagued by a seemingly benevolent yet mysterious man who heads a cryogenics company. The protagonist dons a mask for much of the movie, raising issues of authenticity as well as self-image in contemporary Western culture. As the narrative layers are revealed and recovered, the characters are repeatedly duped; best of all, so are the viewers.--Higgins

STAR WARS: EPISODE 1--THE PHANTOM MENACE. This movie is just like real life for a museum tour guide: the dialogue sucks and there's no plot, but it's full of pretty things to look at. --DiGiovanna

TEA WITH MUSSOLINI. A disappointing effort by Italian cineaste Franco Zeffirelli, Tea tells of the trials of a group of English expatriates in Mussolini's Florence. While there are a number of good performances, the lackluster script and understated cinematography fail to bring out the style and verve that made fascism the best-looking force for evil in the 20th century. --DiGiovanna

13TH FLOOR. What if everything was just a virtual reality simulation? And what if you found out that you were part of that simulation? And what if this movie had been done twice already this year? Bonus: 13th Floor postulates that the non-existence of the world can be proved by going to Tucson. --DiGiovanna

THIS IS MY FATHER. One sign of a weak script is a narrative that relies upon coincidence to drive its story forward, and this Irish/Canadian co-production depends upon several. The film attempts to document an ordinary man and his family against an unbelievable backdrop, a move which results in an uneven tone throughout. Kieran (James Caan) never knew his father, yet he's motivated to travel to the Irish village his mother Fiona (Moya Farrelly) grew up in after his nephew accidentally smashes open a wooden box that just happens to contain a love letter written by Kieran Sr. (Aidan Quinn). When he arrives in Ireland, he has the uncanny fortune to lodge at the home of a woman who was told the story of his parents by a young Fiona. The narrative then alternates between Kieran and his father; but their tales are so unrelated, the characters exist without substantial resonance for one another. The cinematography and locations are beautiful, but they cannot calm the frustration caused by the disjointed and incongruous plot. --Higgins

THREE SEASONS. Extremely beautiful cinematography doesn't quite make up for the trite stories in this Saigon-slice-of-life piece. A young woman who begins work at a lotus-blossom farm, a bicycle-taxi driver and a 10-year-old street urchin all encounter compelling others in the streets of modern Vietnam. Harvey Keitel does a long vanity bit about a former Marine searching for his daughter, and there's a hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold piece, but the show stealer is the story of the flower girl. Serene shots of lakes filled with blossoms and the women who row out to pick them make this a relaxing, if not entirely engaging, effort. --DiGiovanna

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