Film Clips

ANASTASIA. Against all odds, Anastasia eventually won me over. The movie gets off to a typically lame-brained start by attributing the fall of the Czar to a magical spell by Rasputin, conveniently ignoring the rest of the Russian Revolution. Glossing over Anastasia's amnesia and the murder of her parents doesn't help. But once the "could she be the princess?" fantasy kicks in and leaves history behind, Anastasia becomes a pleasant little movie full of first-rate animation and mercifully brief musical sequences. The love story between the title character and Dmitri (a con-man who unknowingly trains Anastasia to pretend to be Anastasia) is so effective, in fact, that the evil schemes of Rasputin (now half-dead) and his droll bat sidekick Bartok (hilariously voiced by Hank Azaria) almost seem tacked on. I'm not so sure Anastasia will be a hit with kids--it scores low on the easily hummable tunes and cute animals meter--but I enjoyed it. Moreover, it's great to see 20th Century Fox steal some of Disney's fire (definitely see this before sitting through The Little Mermaid again). Besides, even when it was slow I had a swell old time closing my eyes and picturing Meg Ryan and John Cusack as the voices. --Woodruff

Film Clips FAST, CHEAP, AND OUT OF CONTROL. Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven) turns his considerable talents to the world of work. Four men, each obsessed with their difficult, quirky occupations, are profiled in this looping, affectionate meditation on the lucky few who've managed to make their passion into their lives' work. A gardener with a gift for topiary, a robot designer, a wild animal trainer and a mole-rat specialist are the subjects of this exuberant film about talent, dedication, and the pleasures of marching to the beat of a different drummer. --Richter

THE ICE STORM. The '70s seem to be the hot decade in the movies right now, and The Ice Storm is one of the few films that treats that era as something other than camp. Based upon the novel by Rick Moody, this quiet, intelligent story of a family lurching through the chaos and disillusionment of the sexual revolution and Watergate treats the decade as a time of lost innocence, dirty secrets, and ungraceful quests for meaning. Kevin Kline and Joan Allen play Ben and Elena Hood, a WASPy Connecticut couple whose only fight has been over whether to quit "couples therapy." We soon learn that this isn't due to a harmonious marriage; rather, they're simply too dedicated to disguising their emotions to consider fighting. Their teenage kids, Wendy (a terrific performance by Christina Ricci) and Paul (Tobey Maguire) have absorbed this lesson well and are already nurturing their own secret lives. Though all four seem to long for closeness, all they can manage is to edge farther apart, as the worst storm of the decade glazes the trees and roads of their Connecticut town in a beautiful, treacherous layer of ice. Director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility, Eat Drink Man Woman) continues to do what he does best--chronicle complicated family relationships with sensitivity and compassion. --Richter

THE JACKAL. An assassination plot is about to be carried out by a ruthless hit-man who's a master of disguise, and the only man who can stop him must be released from prison in order to do so. Now that's originality! For all who haven't seen The Rock, In the Line of Fire, The Professional, The Day of the Jackal, or about 17 dozen other films about über-assassins and experts let out of jail so they can stop them, this is the most daring, innovative movie since Godard's Breathless. For the rest of us, it's an expensive-looking but constipated series of preparation scenes, as cold-hearted meanie Bruce Willis checks into airports wearing various frizzy wigs, and former IRA sniper Richard Gere anticipates where that rascally Jackal will strike next. Willis has hardly any lines, Gere has too many (at least with that Irish accent, it's too many), and good-guy FBI agent Sidney Poitier basically stands around and watches. There's some nasty business in which Willis seduces a gay man to gain security clearance, and shoots somebody's arm off with a big gun. Director Michael Caton-Jones approaches Willis' smirking sadism in much the same way he did Tim Roth's character in Rob Roy--that is, he lets mind-numbing evil permeate the entire picture, hoping we'll be relieved when the accent-voiced hero finally saves the day. Aye, isn't it time for a new approach, laddie? --Woodruff

A LIFE LESS ORDINARY. The third film from the team that brought us Trainspotting and Shallow Grave has the same startling sense of composition and color as these previous efforts, but none of the wit. Ewan McGregor plays a poor janitor who falls in love with a beautiful rich girl (Cameron Diaz) due to the influence of some bizarre angel-creature-things. The film lurches from fantasy to romance to road movie without rhyme or reason; even worse, the Boy and Girl don't even seem to like each other, much less light up each other's lives. If you crossed the 1932 Hollywood romance It Happened One Night with Touched by an Angel and stirred in a little bit of Tommy and then doubled your dose of Prozac, then you'd be watching A Life Less Ordinary. The question is, why would anyone want to do this? --Richter

THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE. Okay, so this movie only has one joke. And so its one joke could have been much better exploited here, with genuinely hilarious results instead of merely amusing ones. Still, I had a fun time watching Bill Murray good-naturedly goof his way around London, and even at its worst the film deserves tolerance. Murray plays a Des Moinesian dimwit who, on holiday for his birthday, signs up for "The Theatre of Life," an audience-participation program where actors help you act out a heroic mini-adventure in real-world settings. Somehow Murray stumbles upon an actual espionage scheme (can you spell "contrivance"?) and (the big silly) he thinks it's all part of the game. Murray spends the rest of the movie blithely "acting" while real hit-men and other shady characters come at him from all directions. Idiot luck and conversations full of double-meanings ensue. If this had been any other comic (say, Jim Carrey), the film would probably be unwatchable; but Murray's easygoing yet well-tempered mania saves the day. The gimmicky material is putty in Murray's hands: He plays with it, rolls his eyes, winks, shrugs, dances around a bit, and the show's over. Also starring the attractive Joanne Whalley and Peter Gallagher as foils. --Woodruff

MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION. Let's see: The women are beautiful, the men are ugly, there's tons of cheesy techno music, the plot is skeletal, and the film follows a predictable pattern that alternates between inept talky scenes and heavy-duty action every ten minutes. Yep, basically this is a porno movie for kids. You might call it a porno trainer. The only differences are that there's fighting instead of fucking, the "special effects" cost more, and for a quarter you can play a video-game version in the lobby afterwards. If you want your kids to see a fun, inventive martial-arts film, wait for the next Jackie Chan picture. If you want to introduce them to the aesthetics of skin flicks, why not just cut to the chase and take them to Boogie Nights? --Vincent

THE MYTH OF FINGERPRINTS. I must confess I have absolutely no idea what the title means. Which is par for the course since the movie, about a dysfunctional family which reunites for Thanksgiving, left me equally confounded. Two brothers (Noah Wyle, Michael Vartan) and two sisters (Julianne Moore, Laurel Holloman) come home to find Dad (Roy Scheider) as aloof and moody as ever while Mom (Blythe Danner) remains blissfully co-dependent. The story has something to say about how the parents' warped psyches and repressions trickle down to all the children, infecting their own love relationships in ways they recognize yet can't control. But the characters are sketchy and the scenes just don't seem to fit together. Whether the effect of a bad screenplay or an overzealous editor, I'm not sure, but the result is that The Myth of Fingerprints comes across like a half-baked TV melodrama with Chekovian pretensions. --Woodruff

ONE NIGHT STAND. Mike Figgis, the director of Leaving Las Vegas, brings us another bummer of a love story with One Night Stand. Max (Wesley Snipes) is a sell-out director of TV commercials who has a brief affair with Karen (Nastassja Kinski) on a business trip to New York. When he returns to L.A. he has an epiphany: His life sucks. His wife is annoying. His job is degrading. To top it off, his best friend Charlie (Robert Downey Jr.) is dying of AIDS, and the sight of Charlie's suffering reminds Max that life is brief and death is final. Figgis has a great visual sense, but this movie is filled with silly coincidences and mean-spirited characterizations. Figgis treats Max's marriage and family life with such animosity that it's hard to believe love is possible for this guy at all, even with Nastassja Kinski. --Richter

THE RAINMAKER. John Grisham's story of a courtroom battle between a fledgling lawyer and a corrupt insurance company may be too slight for the big screen, but (shhh!) don't tell Francis Ford Coppola--he thinks he's directing an epic. He's turned this TV-movie-of-the-week into a two-and-a-half-hour, star-studded opus complete with an irrelevant and equally TV-like sub-plot involving Claire Danes as an abused wife. In spite of its generic underpinnings, however, The Rainmaker is a fine film: The pacing's smooth, the cinematography and Memphis locations lovely, and the performances kick butt. Jon Voight is snaky as ever as a conniving corporate lawyer; and newcomer Johnny Whitworth is well-restrained as a leukemia victim who dies because the insurance company won't honor his claim to get a bone-marrow transplant. Best of all are Mickey Rourke, chewing up the scenery as a shifty lawyer named "Bruiser," and Danny DeVito as Damon's unscrupulous but practical-minded assistant. I usually find DeVito annoying, but he almost steals the show here. Mary Kay Place, Dean Stockwell, Roy Scheider, Danny Glover and the great Teresa Wright also star. --Woodruff

TEMPTRESS MOON. The cinematography and sets are beautiful, and the portrayal of the changing social rules of China in the 1920s fascinating in this period film about a handsome seducer who victimizes the rich women of Shanghai. Leslie Cheung plays Zhongliang, an intense gangster with a flair for melting the ladies' hearts. He visits the traditional estate of the Pang clan, hoping to squeeze the beautiful opium smoker Ruyi (Gong Li) for her fortune. The plan, of course, goes horribly awry, and everybody ends up falling in love with the wrong person. The plot tends to get melodramatic; best to just relax and look at the pretty pictures assembled by Chinese director Kaige Chen. --Richter

WINGS OF THE DOVE. This adaptation of one of Henry James' lesser-known novels is faithful to the original plot, but loses something of James' famous psychological complexity on screen. A beautiful, wealthy American travels to Europe to grab one last jolt of life before she'll surely die of a lingering illness. Her friend arranges for her boyfriend to marry the sick girl, so that he can inherit her money when she dies. But the young man can't help but be moved by the sick girl's courage and spirit, and a complicated triangle springs up between the three. There's some hot bedroom sex in here that James didn't write into the original, but even that can't save this movie from getting predictable and dreary. But the lavish art nouveau costumes and sets are so lovely they're practically worth the price of admission. --Richter

Special Screenings

BLOW UP. Michelangelo Antonioni's great 1966 film Blow Up plays at The Screening Room as part of the fall Shutterbugs series. This groovy, wonderful ramble on the theme of the obsessive, erotic, and subjective nature of photographs is both entertaining and intelligent. David Hemmings plays a hip fashion photographer in swinging '60s London. He drives around in his roadster, makes out with sexy teen models, and in his spare time, he becomes curiously fixated on one of his own photographs, which he believes contains evidence of a murder.

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