Film Clips

THE AVENGERS. I was only 7 years old the last time I saw The Avengers TV series, but I don't remember it sucking in quite this fashion. The most striking thing about this super-spy story is that there's nothing striking about it--it has absolutely no salient characteristics. From the initial meeting of secret agents John Steed (Ralph Fiennes) and Mrs. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman, in a double role), through their encounters with super-villian Sean Connery, through Connery's attempts to control the world by controlling the weather, up to the final confrontation, every moment has exactly the same sense of force. It's like listening to a metronome while watching special effects: There's no more excitement or suspense in the explosions than in the expository dialogue. I can't say whether this movie was bad or good; it was so consistently the same, and so full of distracting if unorginal visuals, and slack but not painful dialogue, that seeing it was like having no experience whatsoever. After its mercifully brief 90 minutes were over, I almost completely forgot what it was about. --DiGiovanna

Film Clips COUSIN BETTE. Pre-20th-century period pieces can be frightening propositions: boring, slow-paced films about weak aristocratic women who faint at the mention of Heathcliff. Don't let that too-often-true generalization keep you from Cousin Bette, though. It's kind of like Terminator set in mid-19th-century France, as Bette (Jessica Lange) methodically plans the demise of those around her. Her family degrades her and consistently contributes to her rather skewed sense of self, but rather than throwing herself into a river she devises a plan of revenge that would make Alexis Colby proud. Bette's especially refreshing in that she doesn't need to use sex to get what she wants; she uses other people and their desires to achieve her goals instead. Elisabeth Shue and her bare ass co-star as her confidants and key elements in her schemes and provide moments of cheeky (sorry) humor. Really, the only offense in the whole film is a multitude of bad hair. So set your VCR to tape Melrose Place this week, and go to the Loft for two hours of backstabbing melodrama and sweet sisterly justice. --Higgins

DEAD MAN ON CAMPUS. Did you ever hear that thing that if your college roommate committed suicide, you'd get straight A's? And did you ever think it would make a good premise for a movie? And do you think Mark-Paul Gosselaar can overcome the stigma of having played "Zak" on Saved by The Bell if he dyes his hair black and plays a party-crazed pot-head? Me neither. Still, there's some decent comic sequences here thanks to Lochlyn Munro's performance as an adrenaline-charged psychotic who's too horny and drunk to be allowed to live in a frat if that were possible. --DiGiovanna

EVER AFTER: A CINDERELLA STORY. Here's a welcome revision: a Cinderella that kicks butt. Sure, Drew Barrymore's character is neglected and mistreated, but she's no helpless little waif: In a pinch, she won't hesitate to deck her wicked stepsister (Megan Dodds) or throw the prince (Dougray Scott) over her shoulders and carry him away from danger. These sorts of touches, smartly handled by director Andy Tennant, make Ever After a delight--even for those of us who never thought we could thoroughly enjoy a Cinderella movie. I'm not sure how Tennant got it out of her, but Barrymore's performance is winningly effective, and surprisingly well-rounded. A political idealist with passion to spare, she earns the prince's respect until he realizes he needs to earn hers in return. Better still is Anjelica Huston, who plays the bitchy stepmother with a trace of complexity--you get the sense she's evil because it hurts to be nice, and you keep watching her face for signs of pain. Everything else about the movie turns out a shade more entertainingly than you'd expect, from the fate of the chubby stepsister (played by Heavenly Creatures' Kate Lansbury) to the whimsical way Leonardo Da Vinci is integrated into the story. Rock on, Cinderella. --Woodruff

HALLOWEEN: H20. Twenty years ago, Halloween was released and established a number of the conventions now associated with the slasher film. H20 continues the narrative begun in the original--the mental torture of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) by her knife-happy brother Michael Myers (Chris Durand). Now in her late 30s, Laurie has adopted an alias in order to hide from her psychotic sibling. He finds her, of course (pure evil is freaky like that), both in her nightmares and on Halloween, 1998. Though the pacing is slow and the body count low throughout much of the film, the bloody opening sequence and frenetic, surprising, final 20 minutes redeem H20 and make it worth your while. Also noteworthy is a cameo by Curtis' real-life mother, Janet Leigh, in a small role which comically references her character in the film generally credited as having gotten the slasher ball rolling, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. --Higgins

HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK. Stella (Angela Bassett) may have gotten her groove back, but in the process she took mine away. After two hours and 20 minutes of ridiculous dialogue and clichéd situations, the only boogying I wanted to do was out to my car and far, far away from Whoopi Goldberg commenting on the Jamaican surf by saying "God is here," and six-figure Stella moaning about her mortgage amidst numerous Tommy Hilfiger product placements. This is a made-for-TV movie on the big screen, with the choppy editing and poor lighting to prove it. The semi-autobiographical story by Terry McMillan (Waiting to Exhale) is about 40-year-old Stella, who goes to Jamaica and enlists 20-year-old Winston (Taye Diggs) to pull her out of a sexual, emotional and creative dry spell. The majority of the film attempts to convince us that the two are in love, but Stella is so neurotic and Winston so accommodating that the requisite coupling at the end elicits screams rather than tears. --Higgins

SMOKE SIGNALS. A modest film that nonetheless tackles big themes, Smoke Signals is a quirky, inventive road movie that bills itself as the first feature film written and directed by Native Americans. It's the story of two friends, Victor (Adam Beach) and Thomas (Evan Adams), who live on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation and have known each other all their lives. When Victor's father dies, the boys take to the highway to go collect his ashes (in Phoenix, which is a little hamlet in the middle of the desert in this movie), and end up finding out something about themselves. The plot is familiar, but the inventive script by poet Sherman Alexie raises it above the standard boy-into-man story; there are even occasional flashes of beauty. --Richter

SNAKE EYES. How is it that a director so masterful at the techniques of manipulation can be so obtuse about connecting to his audience? At the start, Brian DePalma's use of moving camera is brilliant--he sets up an elaborate assassination plot in what seems like only one or two rapidly tracking shots through a boxing arena. Then, as protagonist Nicolas Cage (in a wild but well-focused performance) unravels the case, DePalma shifts into Rashomon mode, depicting the same scenes repeatedly from a variety of perspectives--including those of several video surveillance cameras. It's wonderful, but DePalma and screenwriter David Koepp reveal the mystery midway through, giving way to a poorly established character study; a limp series of cat-and-mouse scenes involving a beautiful and hopelessly nearsighted witness; and a brutal, stupid finale. What were they thinking? The whole movie could have been just mystery-thickening tracking shots and it would have been great. Snake Eyes is still a visual feast, but you might want to throw it up afterwards. --Woodruff

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY. The brothers Farrelly, known for their gross but weirdly compelling comedies (Dumb and Dumber; Kingpin) have tried to show a little taste in their latest romantic comedy. The result is cute and evokes the occasional giggle, but this movie just isn't as funny as their previous ventures. Cameron Diaz plays Mary, an all-around nice girl who somehow attracts more than her fair share of psychos. Ben Stiller plays Ted, the modest nice guy who's been in love with her since high school, when he once walked her home. Matt Dillon, Lee Evans, and Chris Elliott are among her numerous lovers/tormentors. Adorable musical interludes from Jonathan Richman help give this movie pep, but how funny is it really to watch a woman being stalked? --Richter

UNDER THE SKIN. This mediocre drama is a working-class English take on Waiting for Mr. Goodbar. Samantha Morton does a credible job as Iris, a young woman who tries a turn at sluttiness after the death of her mother, though she probably doesn't have quite the acting skills to pull off a role that has to make up for a rather thin storyline. The plot is mostly an excuse to string together a series of sex scenes and close-ups of Morton's face while she has "feelings." All of the close-ups are hand-held shots, which makes them a little hard to watch, though there are some nicely photographed sequences when the camera is allowed to pull back and expose the cramped quarters in which Iris takes her sexual odyssey. Certainly more engaging than most summer blockbusters, but it never rises to great heights. --DiGiovanna

WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE. This bio-pic about Frankie Lymon, doo-wop heartthrob of 1950's pop group "Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers," is so oddly intriguing that it overcomes many of its faults, including a penchant for melodrama and some goof-ball acting by Lela Rochon and Vivica Fox. The story of a teen idol's fall from fame and his marriages to three different women is framed by a courtroom sequence wherein the three wives fight over his estate. Told in flashbacks that start from the witness stand, Lymon's life is a compelling oddity, charting what happens to someone who must outlive his brief flirtation with celebrity. Larenz Tate's performance as Frankie has a get-under-your-skin quality that's perfect for both his overly-optimistic early years and nostalgic, junkie decline; and Paul Mazursky does his usual stand-up job as the paradigmatically sleazy record executive. Worth a look, though perhaps not the two hours that it asks for.

WRONGFULLY ACCUSED. Wrongfully written, wrongfully released, and wrongfully attended by me. Leslie Neilsen sleepwalks through the lead role, reiterating the lame jokes he's become known for in films like Dracula: Dead and Loving It and Spy Hard. Whether or not a spoof of The Fugitive was necessary, here it is, complete with a cultural critique via toilet jokes. If you're really into this kind of humor, save your money and go stare at a pile of dog shit instead. Absolutely hilarious! --Higgins

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