THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD
ANGELS AND INSECTS - BEFORE AND AFTER
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND
RUMBLE IN THE BRONX - CITY HALL
THINGS TO DO IN DENVER WHEN YOU'RE DEAD
In the new crime thriller, Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead, Andy Garcia plays Jimmy the Saint, an ex-seminarian turned mobster, who dearly wants to go legitimate with his business, Afterlife Advise, which, for some reason, isn't successful.
His marker is up for grabs and falls into the hands of "The Man With A Plan", Jimmy's parapalegic ex-boss, played over the top, as usual, by Christopher Walken. The Man gives Jimmy a simple job - an action, NOT a piece of work - to perform - scare the hell out of the guy who took his son's girlfriend.
You get a clue that things are not going to go right from the start, when Jimmy assembles four of his old crime cronies to help him pull off the action.
A mixed bag - some good characters (Treat Williams as Critical Bill, Christopher Lydon as Pieces, Fairuza Balk) and some snappy dialog, but all in all a might too precious. Some muddy dialog - I couldn't figure out one characters name through the whole film. Some nice symbolism with Jimmy the Saint 'saving' his henchmen and the two women in his life, but Garcia's performance isn't very finely shaded (he mostly emotes by slowly closing his eyes).
Everyone wants to be Quentin Tarantino, these days, and Gary Fleder joins those aspiring ranks. I like the campy dialogue with all the crime slang - narrated, offhandedly, by Jack Warden. My complaint with the film is the attempted love story between Andy Garcia and Gabrielle Anwar. It didn't work as a plot line and detracted from the hardboiled nature of the rest of the film. The supporting cast of characters - Lloyd, Bill Nunn, William Forsythe, Williams - lend the requisite color to the crime drama. There's not enough lead acting, though, from Garcia.
Christopher Walken gives his patented over-the-top bad guy perf to good affect.
ANGELS AND INSECTS
Angels and Insects is a slyly comic, lurid, over the top, perverse Victorian film from British director Philip Haas. It stars Mark Rylance as William Adamson, a studious naturalist who's just lost everything in a shipwreck returning from South America with rare insect specimens. He has saved one very rare butterfly specimen, Morpha Eugenia, for his benefactor Lord Alabaster, who asks Adamspm to stay on to catalog his collection. Adamson is reeled in by Alabaster's beautiful and seemingly innocent daughter, the aptly named Eugenia, played by Patsy Kensit. Her brother, Edgar, is opposed to the match and to William in general. Another penniless inhabitant of the manor is Governess Matty Cromptom, played Kirstin Scott-Thomas as quite the opposite of Eugenia, who suggest that Adamson write a book on a red ant colony with her assistance.
While Adamson is overwhelmed by his wife's passionate nature on their wedding night, he is promptly locked out of her room once she declares her pregnancy, which begins to become a permanent state.
This was a real hoot - outrageous symbolism! From Lady Alabaster's appearance as a corpulent white larva-like queen bee (not to mention her surname) to the costuming, the insect behavior is constantly being juxtaposed with that of the humans. The viewer should be much quicker to know what's going on that Adamson. Performances are fine, if not exceptional, although Kirstin Scott-Thomas is interesting to watch. The film looks gorgeous, especially when Adamson creates a shower of butterflies for Eugenia.
I was feeling a bit anxious going in to see this film. The trailers didn't convey the wit and satirical bite that make up the nature of this film. This wit, combined with the ongoing juxtaposing of nature and Victorian society visually, brought a smile to my face.
Plus, it has some better-than-gratuitous sex scenes!
Writing, set and costume design are worth the price of admission.
A nice bit of intelligent film-making.
BEFORE AND AFTER
The director of 1990's Reversal of Fortune, Barbet Schroeder, takes another crack at murder and courtroom drama in Before and After, starring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson as a well-to-do couple - she a doctor, he a sculptor - in rural New England, whose lives are shattered by the possibility that their son, Jacob, may have murdered his pregnant girlfriend.
Jacob, played by Edward Furlong, disappeared after the girl's violent death, making Neeson's Ben assume the worst, destroying evidence before he gets the whole story. Ben's attempt to help his son actually causes problems, making Jacob the focus of a murder trial.
Ben and Carolyn declare their intention to stand by their son, no matter what.
With Barbet Schroeder directing Streep and Neeson and an intriguing story idea, this turns out to be the biggest disappointment of the year so far. Streep does what she can, but Neeson could have been reined in a bit - he's like a bull in a china shop. The big problem with this film is the script - plot holes and idiocy abound. If you were on the lam, would you send your folks in a small town where everyone not only knows you but knows you're a murder suspect a coded POSTCARD????
With the top-notch cast and crew involved in this project, my expectations were very high for "Before and After". These expectations were not just not met, they were dashed on the ground. None of the characters went beyond a two-dimensional portrayal - pretty astounding when you consider who stars.
I lay blame for this disappointment on Barbet Schroeder's pedestrian direction and a screenplay by Ted Tally that is anything but compelling.
Good actors trapped in a less than mediocre movie.
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND
Muppet Threausre Island brings back our felt friends for their 2nd classic story retelling. Tim Curry is the shift pirate Long John Silver while Kermit is the noble Captain Smollet, both searching for treasure pinpointed by cabin boy Jack Hawkins' map. When all the characters reunite at the titled island for a harrowing climax, Captain Smollet runs into new dangerous territory.
The Muppets are all wonderfully cast - Gonzo and Ratso are the audience guides as well as being cabin boys, Kermit makes for a fine, upstanding Captain and Miss Piggy knows the woman scorned role (although she's apparently got quite a history)! Tim Curry digs into Long John Silver with enthusiasm and has a great singing voice for the musical numbers. Scottish comic Billy Connelly's fun as Mr. Bones at the beginning. The new pirate Muppets are amusing, especially Old Tom, Very Old Tom and Dead Tom. The film looks great - the ship afloat looks quite convincing. Great silly puns and attention to detail (watch for Kermit's tatoo!). My only complaint is that there were too many musical numbers to the point where some felt like fillers.
This is the most lushly produced Muppet venture to date. Tim Curry, like most of the guests appearing on the old Muppet TV show, rises to the occasion and gives a wonderfully good natured spin at portaying Long John Silver.
Nearly all, if not all, of the Muppet Show characters show up at one point or another during the film, making you feel very at home while you're watching.
About 10 minutes in the middle of the film, probably one of the many music numbers, could have been eliminated to tighten things up a bit. The kids in the audience got a little antsy around the middle mark.
Jim Henson, we miss you, still.
RUMBLE IN THE BRONX
Hong Kong martial arts film super star, Jackie Chan, takes control of his first all-out foray into the American market with "Rumble in the Bronx". Chan plays Keung, who is, of all things, a Hong Kong martial arts expert visiting the Bronx for his Uncle Bill's wedding and sale of his store. Keung stays on to help protect the attractive new owner, Elaine, from the local biker hoods. The bikers rep the least of Keung's problems, when the Mafia gets involved in the mix searching for $7 million worth of stolen diamonds, giving Keung a real challenge. Here, we see him warm up for the really big fight by taking on the bike gang with the use some major household appliances.
Jackie Chan's amazing to watch and has tons of charisma. That said, I now hope some of his earlier, better films get wider release here. For a $20 million film, this should have been a lot slicker - the supporting cast (except for the 2 female co-stars) is truly awful, the Vancouver location in no way resembles the Bronx and the script is hokey as all get-out.
"Rumble in the Bronx" has one big thing going for it, besides Jackie Chan, of course, and that's a whole lot of heart! Yes, the production values for support acting, dubbing, and photography are marginal, at best. But, the stunts and action sequences - and there are a bunch - are a breath of fresh air when compared to the bloated, hi-tech Hollywood actioners we're seeing.
I may have been a little, and I mean "lttle", overly enthusiastic when I gave this a B. A B- (with heart) is more appropriate.
City Hall brings the viewer on a tour of all the cogs and wheels of inner city political machination. It begins with an off duty cop meeting a mob-connected drug dealer in the presence of an informer. An errant bullet kills an innocent child. As people begin to look for answers, more and more questions turn up. Al Pacino is Mayor John Pappas who meets up with city boss Frank Anselmo, played by Danny Aiello, to smooth over a deal that had gone awry earlier in the day when handled by John Cusack his devoted deputy mayor.
While the script shows its hand after about 10 minutes, Al Pacino and Danny Aiello's acting makes this worthwhile. They're both at top form. David Paymer amuses as the mayor's chief of staff. Cusack is an underused actor who's solid, if not startling, in the audience POV role. Bridget Fonda does nothing with a nothing role which should have been cut altogether. Nice production values. Story is a C+, but the acting reachs up to A caliber, so...
I like the build of intrigue in the story for the first hour. In that time, the writers and director weaved a neat little tapestry of corruption as all the prinicple characters are brought into the picture. After that, I found it to be rather predictable, probably due to the horde of writers involved, but entertaining and well-crafted.
Danny Aiello steals the show, as far as I'm concerned, even over Pacino.
Keep an eye open for Tony Franciosa, who plays the Mafia boss.
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