THE BIRDCAGE - THE CELLULOID CLOSETGIRL 6
THE STARMARKER - DIABOLIQUE (1996) - ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED

THE CELLULOID CLOSET

Our next film was, unbelievably, overlooked by the Academy in its selection of nominees for best documentary feature, probably because it hits too close to home.

The Celluloid Closet is a fascinating effort following the depiction of gays in film from the very early footage of Thomas Edison's silent short,"Two Men Dancing," to today's Hollywood blockbusters, such as "Philadelphia."

The film tells, chronologically, of the ever changing role of gays in Hollywood movies for the the last century, from the extreme homophobic to the ardently pro gay rights and all things in between.

Commentary for the film clips is provide by past and present celebrities and filmmakers involved in these films' creation

One of the bits of cinematic history shown is the infamous bath scene deleted from the original version of the epic film "Spartacus." Tony Curtis, who appears opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in the scene, provides the type of color commentary typical of the film.

Laura LAURA
This documentary is another overlooked for Oscar consideration - it certainly is a more interesting look at filmmaking than the Oscar nominated docu on Orson Welles and Hearst. There are lots of fun facts and tons of clips. Some of the more well known examples of gay characters in cinema are still given a nice spin, such as Dame Edith Anderson's jealous housekeeper in Hitchcock's Rebecca and the snails or oysters scene in "Spartacus." It's amazing to realize just how early and consistently homosexuality has been present in cinema. This is a filmlovers' delight.

A-

Robin ROBIN:
I think the Academy is responsible for a real travesty by not recognizing this film with a documentary nomination. Actually, having seen both this film and the Academy winner, "Anne Frank Remembered," I think that "The Celluloid Closet" was the better documentary.

This is a finely crafted work about the role and involvement of gays in film from the medium's inception in the late 1800's to the present.

The variety of the footage provided, along with the plethora of personalities used to narrate, including Tony Curtis, from "Spartacus," and Whoopie Goldberg and Tom Hanks, from, respectively, "The Color Purple" and "Philadelphia," carries the film nicely from beginning to end.

This is a tightly done documentary, focusing, unrelentingly, on the film industry and its years of formenting anti-gay propaganda.

Because of the tacit acceptance of gay life style in Hollywood film, "The Celluloid Closet" is an upbeat, positive feeling film that will make an excelent addition to anyones' history of Hollywood video collection.

"The Celluloid Closet" is scheduled to hav a limited opening starting in April, so keep your eyes open for it. It's a treat.

I give it an A


THE BIRDCAGE

Director Mike Nichols and long-time collaborator Elaine May have put together the American remake of the successful and funny 1978 French farce, "La Cage Aux Folles," in "Birdcage," starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane.

"Birdcage" moves the action from Sainte-Tropez to Miami's South Beach, but keeps true to the original film and stageplay. Williams and Lane are Armand and Albert, a middle aged gay couple who own and perform in their cabaret named the Birdcage.

Their hectic life is further complicated by the unexpectedly announced marrige of Armand's son, the product of a one-time fling from Armand's younger days, to the daughter of the leader of the conservative Coalition for Moral Order, with Gene Hackman reprising the role of the confused right-winger.

The gay couple tries to put on a straight face for their future in-laws, with the flighty Albert posing as Armand's matronly wife, to the expected comic affect.

Robin ROBIN:
For a film that very faithfully retells the story in "La Cage Aux Folles," "Birdcage" does a remarkably good job of delivering a movie that puts its own decided spin on the tale.

Many of the elements are identical between the two, but Elaine May and Mike Nichols manage to make this an truly American film.

The South Beach locale translates perfectly from the south of France.

Robin Williams gives a terrifically understated performance as Armand, almost playing it straight - no pun intended - with only a little of his typical mania.

This smart move by Williams and Nichols allows Nathan Lane to really shine out Albert. Lane plays it much like Michel Serrault did, with just a shade more suffering buried in the thatrics.

Support from Gene Hackman and Diane Weist is solid and believable.

Hank Azaria as Armand and Albert's houseboy, Aragone, is priceless and unique.

There are a LOT of laugh throughout this film. High marks for its comedy.

I give "Birdcage" a strong B+.

Laura LAURA:
Being a big fan of the 1978 French original 'La Cage aux Folles', I wondered what the point was for another American remake of a French film. Well, this one was a huge surprise - it stands shoulder to shoulder with the original! Robin Williams was smart to take the less flamboyant Ugo Tozznazzi role - he gives what may be his finest comic performance here, and only once, in a very appropriate spot, goes into his familiar schtick ('Fosse, Fosse, Fosse...'). Nathan Lane has the Michel Serrault role and runs with it, complete with a wonderful ultra-Republican Barbara Bush-like turn. Hank Azaria is a scene stealer as the Cuban houseboy. Gene Hackman and Dianne Weist give us a little more than the original French film's counterparts.

Production values are terrific - wonderful art direction and great use of neon South Beach Miami colors.

A-


GIRL 6

Girl 6 is the new Spike Lee film about an actress played by Theresa Randall who turns to paid phone sex to pay her way from NYC to LA but ends up becoming addicted to the lifestyle. Her ex-husband, played by Isaih Washington, is a shoplifter who hasn't gotten over her, but is clearly even more intrigued by her new persona(s).

Laura LAURA:
Hmmm, a mixed bag here - the strength of the individual pieces do not add up to a cohesive whole. Randle's nameless (until the very last scene) character often seems a bit of an empty slate - she goes through a journey of addition to phone sex but doesn't seem to come out too differently at the end. Fantasy sequences are handled nicely - we see Randle as Dorothy Dandridge playing Carmen Jones, as Foxy Brown and in a very funny takeoff of The Jeffersons with Spike Lee as Mr. Jefferson (this last scene is oddly reminiscent of the 'fake' sitcom in "Natural Born Killers"). The phone sex girls offer up some nice diversions as they cater to a variety of clients. A subplot about a little girl who falls down an elevator shaft (6 floors) seems to parallel Girl 6's descent, but it's not handled as well as it could have. Ten songs by Prince. Fun cameous from Quentin Tarantino, John Turturro, Madonna, Halle Berry, etc.

B-

Robin ROBIN:
My initial reaction when I came out of the theatre after seeing Girl 6 was leaning far more to the negative, overall. I just didn't like it.

Upon reflection, I was able to carve up the good and bad of the film. I can't fault Spike Lee on this one. This is his first film where he did not get a writing credit - and it shows.

The story, written by Suzan Lori-Parks, lacks any real development of the character of Girl 6. It doesn't build at all well dramatically, leaving some potentially hi-tension conflicts unresolved. At one point, it seemed to be heading down the dramatic path of such films as "Looking for Mr. Goodbar," then just drops it.

The supporting men in the film, Isaiah Washington and Spike Lee, are so two dimensional, they almost become invisible.

Virtually all the members of the phone sex service come across very well..

As I looked at Spike Lee's latest effort, I found it to be a nicely constructed film. He uses lots of variety, combining reality, fantasy, and fantasy within fantasy (using TV sitcoms as backdrop) to propel his characters along. Too bad he didn't have a story to match his talent.

Because of Lee, I give "Girl 6" a B-.


THE STARMARKER

The Italian entry for this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Language film is "Starmaker", by director Guiseppe Tonatore, who was awarded with the little golden guy a few years ago for his film, "Cinema Paradiso".

Set in Sicily following World War 2, "Starmaker" tells the story of Joe Morelli, a conman working the island with his scam - he travels from village to village psing as a talent scout representing Universal Studios in Rome.

For only 1500 lira, just to cover processing costs he assures his "clients", he will shoot a screen test and forward it on to the studio's powers that be in Rome, who will very likely make that person a star.

Even though he makes no promises to his clients, Joe is conning them out of money they can ill afford to spend.

As the film progresses, Joe goes from performing his con game, as usual, to the realization that his vocation presents him a serious moral dilemma of right and wrong.

Robin ROBIN:
This is a beautifully crafted work, from its story to its post-WW2 look and feel to cast of incredible looking characters.

Tonatore lovingly recreates the period atmosphere necessary to draw the viewer into the story and Joe Morelli's growing battle with his moral dilemma over right and wrong.

Structurally, "Starmaker" uses film within film within film to nice affect. The "screen tests" are mostly seen from the viewpoint of the lens, making for some magnificent visual studies of the faces of the villagers.

The moral conflict that increasingly enters Joe's mind reaches a head as he is accused of crimes much greater than his con game. His acceptance of his punishment for the crimes he is ambiguously linked to has a politically correct feel, but I found that it drains the emotion out of the films ending, especially after the long build. I felt a little deflated at the end.

Sergio Castellito (I hope I have the spelling correct) is wonderful as the torn con artist, as are all the principles closest to him.

Casting of all the villagers is very rich with lots of characters fully drawn, not just background.

Technically, this is one of the best looking and sounding films out now. Excellent period feel.

I give this an enthusiastic B+.

Laura LAURA:
'The Starmaker' was received rather apathetically when it was making the film festival rounds, so I hadn't been expecting too much and was pleasantly surprised! The film looks great and has a great conceit - we get snippets of so many various lives via the 'screen tests' that a wonderful emotional tapestry is woven. Joe's character undergoes a much more startling and audience-fulfilling transformation than the aforementioned Girl 6. I only wish that the film hadn't ended on what seemed a rather abrupt summation.

B-


DIABOLIQUE (1996)

Diabolique is a remake of the 1950's French film which starred Simone Signoret and Vera Clouzot, the director's wife. This version brings us Isabelle Adjani as the meek, literally weak-hearted owner of a run-down private boys school lorded over by her tyrannical, abusive husband Guy played by Chazz Palminteri here. In the Signoret role is Sharon Stone as Nicole, a Math teacher and lover of Guy, who also seemingly lusts after Mia. Guy's a complete lout, so his wife and lover decide to join forces and do him in. Things start getting really strange when Guy's body isn't in the swimming pool they dumped it in and the suit he was wearing is returned from the cleaners..

Laura LAURA:
File this one under 'what WERE they thinking?'. The original is an A-rated classic that even Hitchcock found things to learn from and starred the incomparable Simone Signoret. When the headmaster in that version wants to pinch pennies, he provides bad fish for the evening meal. This remake thinks it should be equally repulsive to watch Guy force Mia to eat chipped beef on toast!

Isabelle Adjani is just awful here - a usually gorgeous woman, she spends most of this film looking like a scared chipmunk. Kathy Bates is wasted as the retired detective who literally takes this case 'for something to do'. Palminteri's merely OK, but nowhere near as threatening as he should be. Sharon Stone actually comes off best here, managing to toss off some cutting lines - she does a more obvious spin that the marvelous Signoret, though.

Where the original was ghostly and truly surprising, this remake is just plain silly, particularly the ending which has been changed dramatically and found me lifting my jaw from the floor. The score sounds like a mediocre 'Silence of the Lambs' ripoff.

Hey - it was in focus.

D

Robin ROBIN:
Bad cinema!

How someone could take a classic like the original and mutilate it so badly is beyound my comprehension. The incredible climax is so poorly done that my jaw, quite literally, dropped.

As advanced preparation for seeing this turkey, we watched the 1955 French original by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Where that film is a taut, edge-of-the-seat psychological thriller, this version is flacid and inane, lacking any of the tension the original has in such copious amounts.

Although I have never been a Sharon Stone fan, I give her credit for making the best of a bad situation. Her delivery of some genuinely bad lines shows her professionalism, if not her good taste in choosing roles.

Isabelle Adjani borders on the truly bad in her portrayal of the weak-hearted Mia. She mostly looks like a deer caught in the headlights of a car.

Chaz Palmentari and Kathy Bates (remember her? The Oscar winner!) need to think about getting new agents if this is the best roles they can get.

I'm not going to dignify this film by saying anything more. Avoid this movie at all costs.

Using Laura's guideline that a film won't get an F if its in focus and you can hear it - "Diabolique" meets both of these criteria - I can do the next best thing.

I give it a D-


ANNE FRANK REMEMBERED

Robin ROBIN:
A couple of things that draw a person to see a documentary are: 1) an interest in the subject matter, and b) to learn something new about that subject.

"Anne Frank Remembered," for me, meets the requirement of 1), but failed for me in part b).

We visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam a couple of years ago, so my knowledge about this remarkable young girl definitely challenged the filmmaker to give me something new. It doesn't.

Looking at it as a documentary, I found that, once the Franks go into hiding, the focus of the film moves away from Anne and her family and lands upon a more generic Holocaust story. I'm not being facetious, but the film IS called "Anne Frank Remembered".

It is a solid, if too long, documentary work that will deliver some new insights into the short life of Hitler's most famous victim, to most people.

I give it a B.

Laura LAURA:
The first half of this documentary I found DID stay with Anne Frank or at least the Frank family circle and it was very engrossing. However, I found that the second half became a general holocaust documentary that really didn't return to the Franks again until pretty much toward the end. There's some real powerful stuff here, including the amazing bit of live footage of Anne herself at the age of twelve, but on the whole I would have found this to be more impressive with some snipping and more focus.

B


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