Carried Away. Dennis Hopper, Amy Irving and Amy Locane star in this uncomfortable, small town love story directed by Bruno Barreto. Joseph Svendon (Hopper) is a 47-year-old bachelor who succumbs to the temptations of a 17-year-old vixen from the Big City (Locane). The lurid premise of a vibrant young beauty seducing her bored, befuddled, middle-aged school teacher is truly disturbing: The young girl is portrayed alternately as an adoring innocent and a nympho she-devil who preys on a decent, lonely old man trying to negotiate the skids of caring for his dying mother and a budding mid-life crisis. If you can squirm through those scenes, the life-long romance between Svendon and fellow school teacher Rosealee Hensen (Irving) has some truly tender moments. In spite of its dream-on male fantasy quotient, Carried Away seems more of a real-life love story than the rest of the Hollywood romance pabulum we've seen this year. With its nostalgic feel and any-town setting (it's filmed entirely in Texas, but you'd never guess) it's an odd, incongruent little movie you'll either love or hate.
EMMA. What would Jane Austen think of the movie adaptations of her novels? How would she conduct herself at a Hollywood opening? Surely she would be appalled at the sudden excess of Jane Austen movies, as she was appalled at the excess of almost anything else. But the glut of 19th-century literary adaptations continues with a new version of Emma, Austen's most lighthearted novel. Gwyneth Paltrow stars as a young woman with the unfortunate habit of meddling in other people's affairs. The plot is the same as in Clueless, except the women in Emma wear nightgowns and the guys ride horses. Emma is not as good as Sense and Sensibility, but if you like to see meek girls find husbands, it's a perfectly solid movie, and Paltrow has such a beautiful smile that it's a delight to watch her even when she's not quite in stride.
KANSAS CITY. In the last 25 years, Robert Altman has made some of the best movies in America and some of the worst. Kansas City finds Altman at the dip in the graph. This story of a politician's wife who is kidnapped by a manicurist during the height of the jazz era lacks all nuance, cohesion and sense. The plot is forced and arbitrary, and the characters never spring to life. Altman seems to be trying to make two movies at once: An adventure crime flick and a moving character study, but ends up not really doing either. Jennifer Jason Leigh's career is much like Altman's: When she's in form, she's terrific, but when she's not, she's horrible. As Blondie the manicurist, Leigh twists and ticks through a self-conscious, mannered performance that's painful to watch. The only good parts of this movie are when the jazz musicians come in, but they can't save it.
Kingpin. Funny, energetic and totally offensive, Kingpin is a surprisingly engaging film about bowling, of all things. But enough of reviewers, what do the fans say? "It exceeded all my expectations for a bowling movie," reports one viewer after a recent screening. "One of the top-five bowling movies of all time," chimes in another. "A motion picture extravaganza like no other. Two hooks up!" exclaims yet a third enthusiastic citizen. But not all reports are rosy. "It has too much character development and not enough cheap laughs," one disappointed fellow responds. And a confused audience member asks: "Which Jane Austen novel is this based on?"
JACK. Francis Coppola, director of Apocalypse Now and Captain Eo, brings us a "heartwarming" comedy about a 10 year-old boy who has a disease that makes him look like Robin Williams. Jack's parents have kept him home because they're afraid the other kids will taunt him for being different; but Jack is lonely, and after considerable prodding they consent to send him to school. At first the other children do tease him, but eventually they come to love him. The intersection between the idealization of childhood as an unfallen, perfectly natural state and the sexuality of an adult male body in this movie is completely bizarre. Robin Williams is supposed to be ten, but he reads Penthouse, makes passes at his teacher and tongue kisses his best friend's mom, all while teaching his friends and family about the spontaneous beauty of childlike behavior. It's interesting, but kind of disturbing, too.
Lone Star. Director John Sayles delivers an offbeat, thoughtful examination of border life and love in this winding tale of one lawman searching for his roots. Chris Cooper plays a divorced Texas sheriff trying to sort out fact from legend, particularly in regard to his father, who may or may not have been a bad kind of a guy. His search leads him across the big, dusty state and into a half-dozen different recollections of a puzzling past. Though the characters have an annoying propensity for explaining their motivations in gruesome psychological detail, and though Sayles (as always) can't resist an opportunity to preach the liberal cause; and though the production values of this movie are so shoddy that nearly 20 annoying minutes of it are out of sync, Lone Star still somehow manages to be an engaging, surprising film.
A Time to Kill. An overblown but entertaining courtroom drama, based on a John Grisham novel, about racial strife in the deep South. Samuel L. Jackson plays a humble working man driven to take the law into his own hands when a pair of good ol' boys rape his young daughter. Yes, morality is laid out on a nice flat grid, but the fact that there even is a moral battle here gives this movie a heavy, heavy dose of tension and drama, despite the fact that its view of the South is so stereotyped.
Trainspotting. Based on the novel by Irvine Welsh, this hip, streetwise movie meanders through the underworld of Scottish drug culture with a cold, steely eye. A group of disillusioned blokes sneer, shoot-up and slug their way through the stupefying sludge of middle-class life, hoping drugs or crime or a combination of the two will help them transcend the boredom and humility of being young, without ambition and Scottish. The funny, fast-talking characters don't have enough direction in their lives to allow this movie to have a plot, but who needs a plot when you have such a great script?
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