FAITHFUL - SGT. BILKO - THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS
LA HAINE
- JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
KIDS IN THE HALL: BRAIN CANDY

FAITHFUL

Stars Cher as Margaret O'Donnell, who's depressed by her obviously philandering husband Jack's (Ryan O'Neal) inability to get home on time for their twentieth wedding anniversary.

To make matters even more interesting, as Maggie's taking a bath, a hit man, Tony, played by Chaz Palminteri, enters the house. Tony ties Maggie up to wait for the two ring phone call that will signal him that Jack has established his alibi, but the two eventually start to converse on a whole range of subjects including love and fidelity.

Laura LAURA
After being away from the big screen for 6 years, Cher should have found a better vehicle than this. She looks good, but her character's motivation is supposed to keep us guessing - instead she ends up a bit of a blank slate.

This was a stage play written by Chaz Palminteri - I'm not too sure this material would have worked much better on the stage, but it certainly hasn't been well translated onto the big screen - its origins are painfully obvious.

Their idea of "opening up" the film is to have Palminteri wheel around Cher around her suburban mansion and have the camera race after them - instead I kept wondering how Palminteri's character seemed to know where everything was in Cher's house.

Palminteri's OK here, but this is nothing compared with both his acting and writing work in the earlier 'A Bronx Tale'. Ryan O'Neal doesn't embarrass himself and looks suprisingly unbloated.

I was expecting more than this pedestrian turn at mediocre material from director Paul Mazursky, who also plays a small part as Palminteri's shrink, Dr. Suskind. The "surprise" revelations at the end are very dull indeed.

D+


SGT. BILKO

Steve Martin stars as the irrepressable Army con artist, Master Sargeant Ernest G. Bilko, in the comedy remake of the hit 50's comedy series of the same name, "Sgt. Bilko", costarring Saturday Night Live alumnus, Dan Aykroyd, as Bilko's commander-without-a-clue Col. Hall.

Bilko is, nominally, the head of the motor pool at Ft. Baxter and has the distinction of having never even looked under the hood of a car. Instead, his talents are geared more toward such endeavors as running the post's illegal gambling casino, or renting out the base HUMV's to the local kids.

Life is good for Ernie and his crew of hustlers, even though he has to constantly connive to avoid marriage to his long-suffering girlfriend, Rita, played by Glenne Headley.

Until, that is, the arrival of the proverbial wrench in the works, in the guise of Major Thorn, played by Phil Hartman. Thorn, on base to investigate the progress on a topsecret hovertank, has a long standing grudge against the conniving Sgt. Bilko.

Ernie, a survivor by instinct, immediately senses the inherent danger when he again meets his nemesis, Major Thorn.

The main plot, among the several presented, is Bilko's scamming his way around being caught by the major.

Robin ROBIN:
What I remember about seeing the original Bilko series when I was a kid was the assured goofy wackiness delivered by Phil Silvers and a marvelous supporting cast of character actors. Vaudeville had come to television in a pretty unadulterated form to entertain new generations.

Well, in the remake of "Sgt. Bilko," vaudeville is dead and I regret its passing.

This has the elements of the show - the ongoing casino, lotteries, greyhound racing - it's all there, but it's just background fodder for a pretty mundane revenge conflict between Bilko and Major Thorn.

Aside from Martin and Hartman, Aykroyd is pretty much wasted. The rest of the cast - Bilko's crew - tend to stay in the background. One exception is Daryl Mitchell as the newcomer to the outfit. He almost introduces a character to the crew surrounding Bilko.

Glenne Headley does her best to lend character to a totally thankless role.

Tech credits are regulated to the high-end TV movie level. This includes direction and cinematography.

The script lacks the laughs needed to elevate it above the cable fodder level.

The sidestory of the hovertank is cheaply handled and doesn't help the movie at all.

A big disappointment. I give it a C-.


THE TRUTH ABOUT CATS AND DOGS

Stars Janeanne Garefalo as Dr. Abbie Barnes, a veterinarian who dispenses advice with a sense of humor over the radio.

Abbie has a very poor sense of self esteem so when an interesting Wellmanesque British photographer Brian, played by Ben Chaplin, pursues her after getting help with his model Hank, she has her friend Noel, played by Uma Thurman, masquerade as her.

Laura LAURA:
Too bad about this one - Garofalo and Chaplin are actually quite charming in this and there is some very funny stuff, but I just couldn't believe such obviously intelligent characters would act this dumb! This plotline may have worked for Cyrano de Bergerac, but Garofalo's hardly that unattractive. Uma Thurman is completely flaky/flighty, but that's the way the character is intended. How Brian can't tell the difference between Garofalo on the phone and Thurman in person (often WITH Garofalo) ... well, you can only get away with so much in the 'men don't understand women' vein to explain this.

There's one very well done six hour phone call where Garofalo and Chaplin 'consummate' their relationship (Holy Girl 6!) and some neat stuff with Chaplin's dog Hank on rollerskates. Director Michael Lehman, who started his career with the wonderfully original 'Heathers' needs to get his material past the first draft stage.

C

Robin ROBIN:
This is a cute little chick-flick/date-flick that doesn't have a great deal of originality, but does have personable performances by the three principles.

The comparisons to Cyrano De Bergerac are very apt. A bit too literary, but good nonetheless.

Uma Thurmond isn't that comfortable with comedy but gets by in a gangly, pretty kind of way. She uses her physical looks to her advantage.

Janeane Garofalo has the comic delivery ability for her role as Abbey.

Ben Chaplin is charming in a bumbling way ala Hugh Grant, but isn't an imitation.

The script is light-weight and relies on silly things like phone calls that appear to last for days on end.

The scene with the dog on roller skates is almost, just almost, worth the price of admission. It at least gives you another reason to watch our show.

It's not a bad date movie for younger audiences. Not much meat in the fluff, but OK. I give it a C+.


LA HAINE

Is by twenty-eight year old French writer/director Mathieu Kassovitz. It's called "Hate" and it's a contemporary urban drama about three disenfranchised youths growing up in a Parisian housing project.

The events of the story take place over an emotionally charged 24-hour period, centering on the very close friendship of Vinz, a white Jew, Said, an Arab, and Hubert, a Black.

Following a riot the evening before, a friend of theirs is arrested and brutally beaten by the police. It's the same old thing for the boys, but there's a twist: during the riot, an officer lost his big, gleaming Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum.

The gun falls into the hands of Vinz and becomes the catalyst for the film dramatic climax.

One cop wants to help Hubert with his boxing school, but even here, the gun and its promised violence, are always present.

Robin ROBIN:
Contemporary urban drama really does describe this film.

More than any film I have seen in recent years, Hate doesn't wear itself on its shirtsleave. It shows the element of its title matter of factly without having to embellish or glamourize on the emotion inherent in the film.

The characters - the Jew, the Arab and the Black - are a little obvious in the writing. But, the performances of the three young men, particularly Vincent Cassel as the explosive Vinz, capture the screen with their performances and characterizations.

Mathieu Kassovitz, who did the film "Cafe au Lait", if you remember, does a terrific job on both the directing and screenwriting fronts here. The ending is obvious - the violence of the confrontation is anticipated all along - but the tension created and maintained from the beginning is deftly handled.

This is definitiely a socially significant film. One would expect, from the initial look and feel, that this is a skin-head flic. It is so much more complex, though, covering a gammut of social strata within strata.

This is a thought provoking and powerful film that has a strong social commentary.

I recommend it at an A-.

Laura LAURA:
Well the setup may be a little plot-convenient (a Jew, an Arab and a Black as best friends in the riot-torn Mughet projects of Paris), but sophomore director Mathieu Kassovitz (Cafe au Lait) has turned out a film that manages to be documentary-like and stylish at the same time and is certainly one to watch.

Vinz (Vincent Cassel) has a great cinema face - he's the Jewish member of the triad and is hottest for revenging the death of an Arab friend who was beaten by the cops during the most recent riot. Said (Said Taghmaoui) is the Arab who's the most outwardly in-your-face tough talking member of the group, but he's actually the peacemaker. Hubert (Hubert Kounde) is the Black who's the gentle teddy bear - the pacificist who believes hate breeds hate. While we know that all three are an accident waiting to happen, it's due to the circumstance of their fate rather than any evildoing of their own. In La Haine, the cops are clearly the bad guys (and it seems to me that I've noticed more police brutality in French films - "La Balance" comes to mind). The recurrent theme of the film is that "it's not how you fall, it's how you land."

The film's technical quality is fine. Note a particularly striking scene where an impromptu "concert" is performed in the project square by an anonymous DJ "scratching" on a rap record by his open window.

B+


JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH

Is the well-know children's book by Roald Dahl brought to the screen by the team who gave us "A Nightmare Before Christmas" two years ago.

James has an ideal life with his parents, but once they're killed by a mysterious rhino, he's forced to live with his awful aunts Spiker and Sponge (played by AbFab's Joanna Lumley and Miriam Margoyles).

James' life is reduced to that of a poorly fed servant whose only friend is a spider when a strange man entrusts him with a bag of magical crocodile tongues. James promptly trips and spills all of them, but one that burrows underneath a barren peach tree has a most unusual effect - a giant peach grows! Aunt Spiker and Sponge are thrilled - they see this as a money making proposition.

James enters the giant peach and undergoes an amazing change. He also makes several new friends of varying insect varieties who inhabit the fruit. When these new friends discover that James' awful aunts are anti-bug, they take decisive action that sets them off on a wondrous adventure.

Laura LAURA:
First off, the voice cast is terrific in this - particularly David Thewliss (Naked) as the Earthworm and Susan Sarandon as the Spider (with a wickedly seductive French accent. Rounding up the insect cast are Richard Dreyfuss as the Centipede, Simon Callow (Four Weddings..) as the Grasshopper, Jane Leeves (Frasier) as the Ladybug and Miriam Margoyles as the Glowworm.

This has more types of animation and special effects than "The Nightmare Before Christmas" - particularly inventive is a weird dream sequence using cut-out animation. Computer animation is also used to great effect, especially in a menancing mechanical shark scene.

There's also a scene added to the film that wasn't from the book - an underwater sequence where the blustery Centipede becomes a real hero after meeting up with Captain Jack (as in Skellington, making a cameo appearance here :-).

This moves along at a zippy pace and keeps throwing new things to delight out onto the screen. My one disappointment with this as opposed to "Nightmare" is that Randy Newman's songwriting (he was just nominated for "Toy Story") just doesn't have the wit or sparkle of Danny Elfman's.

B+

Robin ROBIN:
I'm not comfortable with my rating of this film.

I give it a B+, but really feel that this is just a placeholder. There is so much detail on the screen that I couldn't really could not take it all in in one viewing.

This is a step up from the production of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in that it takes the terrific and painstaking details of stopmotion photography and combines it fluidly with computer generated imagery to build a complete fantasy world, melding the puppet and live actions combinations seamlessly.

Henry Selick, who directed "Nightmare," got so engrossed in the production that he tried to mold the live action actors like the puppets - Joanna Lumley and Mariam Margoyles set him straight pretty quickly.

From a children film view, this is a clever, enthralling little tale that, if the kids in the audience were a guage, should keep all but the youngest kids entertained through its 75 minute run time.

As I said, I give it a B+, but reserve the right to change that grade. This film has too much going on to judge it quickly.


KIDS IN THE HALL: BRAIN CANDY

In their film debut, the Kids in the Hall star in a satiric story about a country possesed by a new, mood-altering prescription drug, called Gleemonex. The marketing slogan is, "It makes you feel like it's 72-degrees in your head - all the time."

Kids creators and stars David Foley, now of TV's News Radio series, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson team together to bring cinematic life to a collection of over 40 bizarre characters.

The Kids debut in the film produced on the heels of the taping of their final episode of their critically acclaimed series in 1994.

Robin ROBIN:
"Brain Candy" is an unfortunate effort to take the verve and pace of a 30 minute show made up of various skits and plug a feature length story and budget into the mix and hope for the best.

They don't get the best. Instead, they start of with a funny premise that does not dovetail well into a feature. If the Kids were looking to have another "Monty Python's Holy Grail," they missed the mark by far.

The Kids are talented, no doubt, and some of the early skits are downright funny. It's just not enough to sustain an interest level for 90 minutes.

The Kids stopped doing their show two years ago. It's too bad that this may be what they're remembered for. I give it a C-.

Laura LAURA:
This started out well and had several truly neat elements to it, but it implodes at the half way point so badly that it became one of the most forgettable films I've ever seen (I think I had to ask Robin what we had just seen on the way home).

The Kids could have had something here if they had simply parodied the corporate world of Roritor Pharmeceuticals - Mark McKinney as Don Roritor is just terrific. They had me wondering if this was an intentional parody of Tim Robbins in "The Hudsucker Proxy." Bruce McCulloch is also funny in several roles including the female love interest and a brooding gloom-rock star. Scott Thompson's also fun as a matriarchal guinea pig remembering her most pleasant memory (a Christmas visit from her son's family which is hellishly funny to say the least).

Too many character strands and subplots fail to add up though and the whole affair loses steam and deflates quickly. I wonder if people should just give up using the word "Brain" in movie titles ("The Man With Two Brains" or 'Brain Donors" anyone?).

D+


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