Film Clips

AMISTAD. Sure, the story is important, but the movie's not. Though Steven Spielberg capably navigates the complex 19th-century politics that were preventing abolition, he fails to shape them into an effective drama. The tale's catalyst--a black mutiny aboard a slave ship on its way across the Atlantic--is powerfully, artfully rendered in scattered, flashback sequences. The rest of the movie, however, turns into a long, talky yawner full of courtroom scenes and endless exposition. And unlike Schindler's List, there's no central character to care about: Matthew McConaughy's quickly becomes irrelevant, Morgan Freeman's has little to do, and even Cinque (Djimon Hounsou), the African who led the revolt, is reduced to a banal noble-savage role. (Anthony Hopkins, playing John Quincy Adams, shows up just long enough to give a terrific speech--which John Williams manages to ruin with his intrusive, uninspired score.) Amistad vividly re-imagines history, but there's no heart; it's just a big-budget history lesson. --Woodruff

Film Clips AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS. This goofy, exuberant cross between a horror movie and a comedy is an unexpectedly refreshing way to waste 99 minutes. Director Anthony Waller packs a whole lot of snarling beasts, romance, rotting corpses and dare-devil stunts into this energetic homage to John Landis' 1981 An American Werewolf in London. Tom Everett Scott plays an American tourist who just wants to make fun of foreigners, but ends up being pulled into some beastly doings; Julie Delpy plays a young Parisian werewolf trying to control her bitch of a monthly "lycanthropic cycle." Of course, the two fall in love. One scene shows a detective carefully fingerprinting someone's hand; the camera pulls back and we see it's attached to a severed arm. That's the kind of movie this is. --Richter

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

FLUBBER. In this remake of The Absent Minded Professor, Robin Williams plays the Fred MacMurray role not just absent-humoredly, but with that saccharine vocal lilt he always uses in kids' movies--the one that makes him sound like he's trying to reassure a baby. The flubber itself is anthropomorphized to the point where it becomes a Gummi human, thus saving us the tedious task of imagining its personality ourselves. Then there's Weebo, an intelligent flying robot/secretary whose crush on Williams is, to be honest, rather sick. Basically, everything in Flubber is blibber-blubber. Screenwriter John Hughes and his team of corporate filmmakers have turned the once-charming Disney story into an effects-dominated rehash that's lost nearly all of its bounce. --Woodruff

HOME ALONE 3. Sometimes, when awakened in the middle of the night, as if by an unpleasant dream, even though no dream is remembered, we will stare upwards, unable to move or to reach for the light or to make a sound, in spite of the darkness and the sense that something which is not frightening has in some way scared us. If the bed is otherwise empty, the house devoid of company, then there's no one to turn to for solace, no one to whom we can say, "I don't know what it is; nor could I explain it if I did know. I only know that what I am was felt to be in jeopardy, or perhaps beyond that, unredeemable, irretrievable, even undone and never made." On nights such as these, when even our souls threaten to abandon us, we can truly, and with deepest sensibility, say that we are Home Alone. So take the kids because this is a slam-bang adventure where a single, scrappy lad with Rube Goldberg's inventiveness and Errol Flynn's panache manages to repeatedly thwart, humiliate, and thrash the kookiest gang of international criminals this side of the IRA!!! --DiGiovanna

JACKIE BROWN. Quentin Tarantino adapted his screenplay from the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch, with unexpectedly lackluster results. Jackie Brown has the flat, literal look of a made-for-TV movie, and about as much style and charm. Tarantino does show his great knack for working with actors and making interesting casting decisions. Pam Grier--best known from her roles in '70s blaxploitation flicks Foxy Brown and Coffy--does a great job playing Jackie, a down-on-her-luck flight attendant who's a hell of a lot smarter than everyone else thinks. Bridget Fonda is funny as a stoned surfer chick who likes to hang out with criminals, and Robert Forster is wonderfully deadpan as the bail bondsman Max Cherry. But despite some good performances, Tarantino seems restrained, and concerned with keeping things slow, smooth, and real easy to understand. There's plenty of exposition, as well as intertitles to tell us where we are, just in case you go for popcorn during one of the long explanations. It's as though Tarantino doesn't trust himself to tell this story. Even the settings--mostly apartments, shopping malls and offices--seem tired and bland. --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

FOR RICHER OR POORER. A complete lack of effort marks this "film." The plot, about an obnoxious land developer and his stereotypical rich-bitch shopaholic wife, each redeemed by spending a couple of weeks with an Amish family, is almost too embarrassing to recount. Every element of this entertainment alternative is so trite that I can only imagine it was written by some kind of scriptwriting computer program which analyzed all of the mediocre comedies of the last 10 years and reduced them to their most banal moments. The only thing that stands out is Kirstie Alley's incredibly grating performance, which almost makes Tim Allen look good by comparison. Almost. While I was watching this, two audience members actually fell asleep, and a third left to rent a Pauly Shore film. --DiGiovanna

SCREAM 2. What? You say you didn't scream loudly enough during Scream one? I can't hear you. Wes Craven brings us more gory hijinks, including stabbing, slashing, blowing to pieces, crucifying, splattering and of course, taunting. More tired and blatantly formulaic than the first Scream, Scream 2 trundles out the same old slasher movie chops and tries to make them shiny. But Craven has set himself an impossible task: Could there be any way to make a sorority girl in a tight sweater being chased by a psychokiller "new"? Neve Campbell plays Sidney Prescott, the girl all the boys love to stalk. Now she's a college girl; the film version of her last traumatic weekend has just reached the big screen, and there's a copycat killer hoping to mark her on his scorecard of innocent victims. Courteney Cox and David Arquette provide additional bodies to butcher. --Richter

TOMORROW NEVER DIES. Prior to this year, only one James Bond novel had been made into a film more than once: Thunderball. Oddly, for the latest Bond flick, the producers decided to remake Thunderball. That move sums up the lack of imagination in this film, which is mildly brightened by a fine performance by Judy Dench, who's inexplicably slumming here after her role as Queen Victoria in Mrs. Brown. Also of note is hot Hong Kong action star Michelle Yeoh, who plays a Chinese secret agent who allies herself with Bond to capture the Rupert Murdoch-like supervillain. Pierce Brosnan gives a characterless performance as Bond, unenthusiastically killing his way through the international cast of bad guys. The story is, of course, mostly nonsensical, with Bond gaining and losing the superhuman ability to defeat any number of heavily armed foes, as the plot demands. Thus, he is repeatedly captured by two or three thugs, then escapes by fighting his way past entire armies. For my part, I kept hoping he'd get his snotty British ass blown off so that Michelle Yeoh could take over and kick some Occidental butt, because, unlike Bond, she didn't feel the need to make an insipid pun every time she offed someone. --DiGiovanna

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