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There's a scene two-thirds of the way through the Australian film "Kiss or Kill" that represents what I most appreciate about this rough-hewn, little road film. It's nothing much. Just two guys, in this case homicide detectives, sitting around talking. What makes it special, though, is how they play off each other. And, in the end, how smoothly they connect just when it seems impossible for them to ever do exactly that.
Does God smile on Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain? Let's examine the evidence: Mickey Mantle, Will Rogers and J.J. Cale; 168 dead in a terrorist bombing and the banning of "The Tin Drum." The question seems open to debate. Debuting writer/director Tim Blake Nelson seems convinced that the place suffers from deity deprivation, judging by "Eye of God," a dark little tale that borrows the Genesis story of Abraham and Isaac as its opening conceit but really deserves something out of Revelation. Murder. Madness. Fundamentalist hysteria. And a strain of apocalyptic malevolence running throughout that occasionally blossoms into real tension. On the other hand, there's so much flashing (back and forth, forth and back) that the movie should be wearing a raincoat. Time here is a very, very flexible thing, so much so that just keeping track of when and where you are is enough to keep you from noticing how slim the story is. We encounter young Tom Spencer (Nick Stahl) as a happy kid watching TV, then in a post-traumatic catatonia, then as a vaguely unhappy kid, very quickly and without enough immediate detail to establish what's happening when. It's not an ineffective technique; when Atom Egoyan does it in the upcoming "Sweet Hereafter," it works both dramatically and logically. It just doesn't quite work here. The acting is uniformly fine, and Nelson exhibits terrific control over the sequence that closes the film. Getting there, however, involves transversing a too-belabored and confusing series of plot pieces, stacked in a rather mad manner. Without the narrative trickery, on the other hand, the story is exposed as a fairly predictable bit of business.
Miranda Otto and George Schevtsov in "Love Serenade."
"Grizzly Mountain" marks the return of Dan Haggerty, star of the popular "Grizzly Adams" TV series and subsequent movies. While it's nice to have the burly, amiable portrayer of mountain men back after a near fatal motorcycle accident, it's too bad "Grizzly Mountain" is such an amateurish effort. Actually, its premise has possibilities for a family entertainment. A surveyor (Don Borza) for the state of Oregon takes his family along when he starts mapping out a condo development in a beautiful forest a two-hour drive from Portland.
(photo of Robin Williams in "The Man Who Knew Too Little")
Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman portray soldiers trying to rid their spacecraft of a dozen aliens.
Kyle MacLachlan, Nastassja Kinski, Wesley Snipes and Ming-Na Wen in "One Night Stand."
Robin Williams is the absent-minded professor in Walt Disney's "Flubber."
There's a scene in "Showgirls" - Paul Verhoeven's 1995 ode to American trash - that revolts while it delights, and in doing so, captures the essence of the director's latest film, "Starship Troopers." Nomi, the deliriously dim stripper/heroine of "Showgirls," has just been hired to perform in the classiest erotic dance revue in town. Sitting in on a rehearsal, Nomi apes the dancers' herky-jerky movements, including that signature forearm-over-forearm, "cross my heart" bit that serves as the foundation for their hackneyed routines. Her movements are embellished with "pfft-pfft" sound effects - dubiously popularized by Michael Jackson's "Bad" video.
Theater operators screening "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation" should take a cue from tractor pulls and pass out earplugs to those attending. Sound and fury are this film's two trademarks, introduced by an opening in which plumes of fire light up the screen as the techno soundtrack blasts. This sequel, like the original "Mortal Kombat," has just the sort of plot you would expect from a movie based on a video game.
It's man vs. bug in "Starship Troopers."
"Anastasia" is a sophisticated and ambitious work.
In his screen adaptation of "The Rainmaker," Francis Ford Coppola has brought a fresh element to John Grisham's patented brand of legal potboilers a healthy dose of humor. The result is the most satisfying Grisham picture to date. "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" (the official title) is thoroughly entertaining, character-driven fare boasting a sparkling "cast of thousands," crisp pacing and a visual luster that conjures up the classic Hollywood courtroom dramas of the 1940s and '50s. Coppola clearly has fun with the satirical potential of Grisham's portrait of the seamy underbelly of the legal profession but never at the expense of the involving story lines.
It's always a pleasant surprise to find something real and touching in a film. Even in one written by Joe Eszterhas. Especially in one written by Joe Eszterhas. Recent credits like "Basic Instinct," "Showgirls," "Sliver" and "Jade" and their emphasis on eroticized violence have made Eszterhas perhaps the highest-paid screenwriter in today's Hollywood. But while it might be thought easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for Eszterhas to write a largely heartfelt film like "Telling Lies in America," he has done so with an unexpected degree of success. Drawing on elements from his own youth growing up as a Hungarian refugee in Cleveland, Eszterhas and director Guy Ferland have come up with a poignant immigrant's tale set in that city in the early 1960s. Though it's hampered by numerous plot contrivances that are overly conventional and predictable, "Telling Lies" has an affecting emotional texture at its core that makes up for a lot.
This is a film chock full of opposing forces: delicacy and roughness, hope and despair, isolation and community. And as a piece of moviemaking, it presents a similar conflict for the viewer. "Sunday," which won both the screenwriting award and the best film prize at Sundance earlier this year, is a frustrating film that challenges the viewer's ability to get close, yet has an indelible power and grows stronger in impact the further away from it we move. We simply can't shake it. On a wintry Sunday morning, a middle-aged actress, Madeleine (Lisa Harrow) totes a dying palm tree through the Queens streets. She spies a man across the way. He looks like Matthew Delacorta, a famous film director she met once at a party. She hails her acquaintance, who responds to her greeting.
If there's something satisfying to "The Wings of the Dove," it is not in watching yet another set of English people trussed in period costume and finding their (cross out the ones that do not apply) warmer, sexier, darker or doomed selves in Italy. There is partial satisfaction in director Iain Softley's and scriptwriter Hossein Amini's sensual interpretation of Henry James' dark, impressionistic, turn-of-the-century novel. There's also a particularly strong performance from Helena Bonham Carter, as Kate, the manipulative, but vulnerable woman who engineers a convoluted strategy to consummate her socially forbidden love with Merton (Linus Roache), a journalist of modest means. She seems to have come into her own.
Alison Eastwood, as Mandy, and John Cusack, as magazine writer John Kelso, in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."
John Travolta stars in "Mad City."
That old sexist stereotype, the castrating woman, hasn't vanished from pop culture. In John Patrick Kelley's pulpy Freudian allegory, "The Locusts," she makes a bizarre comeback in the person of Delilah (yes Delilah!) Potts (Kate Capshaw), the widowed nymphomaniac owner of a cattle ranch in Kansas. In the film's most lurid scene, this sex-starved gorgon, whose impotent husband committed suicide, forces her stammering, emotionally retarded, 21-year-old son Flyboy (Jeremy Davies) to watch as she castrates his pet bull, reducing the boy to quivering glazed-eyed catatonia. All seems fairly calm on Delilah's ranch until the arrival of Clay Hewitt (Vince Vaughn), a studly hitchhiker with a mysterious past. Delilah, eyeing him hungrily, takes him on as a worker on her feedlot, and it isn't long before she has slipped into his quarters and begun slithering against him while the "Theme From 'A Summer Place"' conveniently plinks on the radio (the story is set in the early 1960s). But the noble Clay stands his ground. He decides it is his personal mission to save poor Flyboy from his devouring mother by making a "man" of him in the usual way and enlists his sexy girlfriend Kitty (Ashley Judd) in a plan to get this quaking wreck of a youth a willing sex partner. If the screenplay for "The Locusts" reads like a drag queen spoof of Tennessee Williams (without Williams's poetry and humor), this turgid two-hour melodrama is paced and acted with a deadly solemnity.
More aptly named than it's prepared to acknowledge, "The Ice Storm's" glacial saga of New England WASPs behaving badly is as frigid as its name. Burdened with a story of some of the world's least interesting people going through a holiday crisis, director Ang Lee and screenwriter James Schamus get as close as any creative team could to making matters involving, but the task is finally too much for them. The Taiwanese-born Lee, whose last film was "Sense and Sensibility," finds the milieu of repressed New Canaan, Conn., during 1973's Thanksgiving weekend as fascinating as the remote interior of Papua, New Guinea, and though he, production designer Mark Friedberg, costume designer Carol Oditz and set decorator Stephanie Carroll carefully mimic the period, they can't succeed in making it our concern. Based on a novel by Rick Moody, "The Ice Storm" is filled, in case anyone should miss the point, with images of frost ranging from the natural event of its title to ice cubes in a tray. Father Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) is having an inept and unsatisfactory affair with neighbor Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), a predatory suburban virago whose husband Jim (Jamey Sheridan) is often out of town. And though mother Elena Hood (Joan Allen) does no more than suspect this truth, she's still edginess itself and, like almost everyone else in the film, apparently has forgotten how to smile. Aside from its final storm, "The Ice Storm's" turning point is that relic of suburbia past, a wife-swapping key party, where the men put their car keys in a bowl and the women go home with (gasp!) the man whose keys they select. The film treats this tedious event as reverentially as Margaret Mead did the coming of age rituals of Samoa, even though the tribe in question is so off-putting the anthropologist would likely have fallen asleep or fled in terror. The setting has mandated a terribly constrained style of performance for all concerned, encouraging the actors to tiptoe through their words as rigidly as highly choreographed marionettes on the end of a string. Typically hamstrung is Kline, so delightful in farce, who comes off fatuous and close to boring here. Only the blessedly reliable Allen manages to make something real and human out of her character. Otherwise, when one of her co-stars says, "This has been kind of a discouraging evening," it's difficult not to nod in agreement.