THE ROCK - THE NUTTY PROFESSOR
WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996) - THE CABLE GUY

THE ROCK

"The Rock" begins with Ed Harris as Brigadier General Francis Hummel and his team stealing weapons, a half a dozen missiles and deadly V.X. nerve gas (and losing one of their own in the process, just to give the audience a taste of the stuff's effect!), and then taking over Alcatraz complete with a tour group as hostages. FBI Director Womack, played by L.A. Law's John Spencer, needs to pull together a group of specialists to defuse the situation, so quirky chemical specialist Stanley Goodspeed, played by Nicolas Cage, not only gets pulled in, but gets involved with recruiting the mysterious John Mason, played by Sean Connery. Mason's identity has been wiped out and he's been held by the F.B.I. for 30 years for stealing a J. Edgar Hoover microfilm that contained secrets about the Roswell alien incident and the JFK assassination when he was a member of the British Secret Service. Mason and Womack loathe each other, but Womack needs him as he's the only man who's ever escaped from the Rock.

Laura LAURA:
Ptooey on "Mission Impossible" and "Twister" -- we've finally gotten a GOOD big Hollywood action film that has what those other two lacked -- characters!

Nicolas Cage puts a wacky spin on his character of Stanley Goodspeed (who, I understand, was more of a stock action figure in the script). When we first meet Stanley, he's in the lab setting off an elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption. Shortly thereafter, he's thrilled as a kid to be receiving a package containing the Beatles' LP he ordered for $600. Stanley's got a loopy sense of humor, but is also serious and weighted down by the line of work he's in -- he's horrified by the devastation the chemicals he works with can bring upon the human race.

Sean Connery is fine as John Mason - he acts here more by what he doesn't say -- Connery's a master of finely modulated facial expression. AND he gets to pull off a lot of Bondian moves. His bravado nicely balances Cage's reluctant hero and the two work well off each other.

Ed Harris is also effective as Hummel, although I never quite believed he'd go through with his threat (to launch missiles with nerve gas on San Francisco if the Government didn't fork over millions as recompense for the families of Hummel's men who died during covert missions). But this is the character of Hummel, not a fault of Harris' acting (which does have one awkward moment - when Harris speaks to his wife at her gravesite).

The rest of the supporting cast is like a who's who of character actors -- Michael Biehn gets to give a great speach as the leader of the Navy Seal team who infiltrates Alcatraz. David Morse is solid as Hummel's right hand man. William Forsythe is fun as another F.B.I. guy.

I start to wonder how many more times Hollywood can mix up the car chases, explosions and the like and make them entertaining, but "The Rock" proves it can still be done. There's an amazing car chase through San Francisco where Connery escapes in a Humvee to be followed by Cage in a 'borrowed' canary yellow Ferrari. :The Rock"'s storyline does bear an amazing similarity to that of "Executive Decision" from earlier this year -- terrorists with nerve gas and hostages threaten an American city under the U.S. Government is forced to decide to take their own men out in order to save the city, but "The Rock" executes all its moves as professionally as can be.

Directory Michael Bay ("Bad Boys"') has put together a far more cohesive film that his last effort.

B+

Robin ROBIN:
My only regret in reviewing "The Rock" on this show is that I didn't get to review it on the last show. Then, at least, we would have had a action thriller worth talking about instead of "Mission Impossible" and "Twister".

Not to say "The Rock" isn't derivative of the likes of "Die Hard", it most certainly is. But, it does it on its own terms. There are interesting tangental subplots, which is almost a miracle in the making of a Hollywood blockbuster.

The story behind Mason's secret incarceration is carefully pieced together as the film progresses, instead of using some silly device like a voice-over. Mason's epilogue provides a funny conclusion to the film.

Cage's Stanley goes through his own metamorphosis with, first, as the film opens, his reluctance to accept marriage to his girlfriend and looming fatherhood, to, as the crisis erupts, enthusiasm for the concept of being a married dad..

Connery and Cage play well opposite each other. Neither does a stretch here, but they are likable fellows.

Ed Harris, a fine, capable actor, does a credible job as the renegade Marine general who has a heart. He makes you believe or, at least accept, the reasons for his betrayal to his government - because of their betrayal of his men.

They spent a lot of attention to the many small supporting roles. William Forsythe, Michael Biehn, John Spencer, David Morse and John C. McGinley are some of the solid, if unchallenged, supporting actors cast here.

Alcatraz proves to be a suitably dark and moody locale which complements the films heavy drama.

Now that I think about it, I think that's what I like about "The Rock" - it may not be an original, but its certainly a good knock-off.

I give "The Rock" a B+


THE NUTTY PROFESSOR

Inspired by the 1963 Jerry Lewis comedy, "The Nutty Professor" stars Eddie Murphy as Professor Sherman Klump, an extraordinarily weight-challenged young man who has tried EVERYTHING to lose weight.

Finally, Sherman invents a miraculous fat gene formula, which, with a single swig, turns the gentle, but shy, teacher, into a swaggering, loud, ladies' man, named Buddy Love, thus beginning this Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde tale.

Robin ROBIN:
I know he's trying to make a comeback with "The Nutty Professor," but Eddie Murphy is still a star, so he probably gets a few million bucks for a film, even now.

Well, with his six, count them, six characters -- all portrayed with enthusiasm by Murphy -- his salary, divided among them all, makes him one of Hollywood's best bargains.

This is a solid summer comedy entertainment, with loads of Rick Baker's superlative makeup -- obviously, and some VERY interesting drastic weight change computer graphics.

One thing I like, especially, about "The Nutty Professor" is the seamless combination of these F/X with the well-delivered comedy of this oddball Jeckyl and Hyde.

Murphy is very endearing as the grossly overweight Sherman Klump. He also moves the moves of a large person, sometimes exhibiting a gracefulness that reminded me of Jackie Gleason. He did his homework.

His Buddy Love character is not as richly defined as is Sherman.

Murphy's multiple portrayals as most of the members of Sherman's very large family (what they lack in numbers, they make up in size) is fascinating and funny to watch, particularly the sexually graphic dialogue from Sherman's grandma.

I was really surprised, watching the opening credits and seeing that four writers were involved in the screenplay and, still, it is tight, crisp and funny.

There's a lot of bodily function humour, mostly fart-related, but, it's taken to such outrageous proportions in a wild dream sequence reminicent of "Honey, I Blew Up The Kid." that I let it pass as a problem.

It's funny and interesting to watch, and it's about 90 minutes long.

The theatre we saw it in had a rotten sound system. That notwithstanding, the movie is fun - welcome back (I hope) Eddie Murphy. I'm almost, that's almost, tempted to watch the Jerry Lewis original. The new one gets a B.

Laura LAURA:
"The Nutty Professor" has Eddie Murphy back in form playing 6 roles! He's the title character, the grossly overweight Professor Sherman Klump, as well as his slim alter-ego, Buddy Love, Klump's mother, father, brother and even grandmother! The makeup, special effects and makeup special effects are just terrific -- I wouldn've been fooled by most of Eddie's extra characters if I hadn't know it was him -- amazing! There are also some great hamster effects at the film's beginning that put me in mind of "Twister"'s flying cows.

The main problem I have with "The Nutty Professor," though, is that the humor runs too high and low a scale. I think a lot of small kids will want to see this film, but Eddie gets too raunchy for them -- oral sex is referred to (by Eddie's grandmother, in a hilarious monologue), there's an erection sight gag, and Eddie's portrayed in bed with three women. The PG-13 rating is appropriate.

The humor also gets pretty juvenile with gross-out hamster turd jokes and way too many fart jokes for my taste.

Jada Pinkett is effective and lovely in the girlfriend role, but there's no room for her to make the role anything more than that. Larry Miller and James Coburn barely register. This is entirely Eddie Murphy's film.

If you're a Murphy fan, you'll probably enjoy this and it actually did make me laugh out loud more than once, but on the whole I found it a bit distasteful and wholly pedestrian plot-wise.

C+


WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE

"Welcome To The Dollhouse" stars Heather Matarazzo as Dawn Weiner who surely must be one of the most unpopular 7th graders at Ben Franklin Junior High. Dawn, known to her classmates as Weiner Dog, must bear the daily torture of finding an inconspicuous seat in the school cafeteria and the taunts of even those off worse off than her who she tries to stand up for. To make matters even more painful, Dawn's got a hopeless crush on the most popular guy in High School, Steve Rodgers(?), who fronts her nerdy brother's band. And then there's the last injustice - a perfect little sister who's clearly her mother's favorite.

Laura LAURA:
35 year old writer-director-producer Todd Solondz' sophomore effort won this year's Sundance Film Festival and it's clear that 'Welcome to the Dollhouse' has all the right ingredients to merit that honor.

A great cast -- Heather Matarazzo is simply great as Dawn - there's not a false note to her brave, honest, endearing performance. She really put herself on the line for this and we'll be seeing more of her -- she's been signed on for two more films on the basis of her work here. Also dead-on is Matthew Faber as Dawn's geeky, deadpan brother Mark who's only concern is building up the right resume for college applications. Victoria Davis is Lolita, one of Dawn's worst tormentors at school. She actually reminded me of a young Jodie Foster with a nasty streak! Brendan Sexton Jr.'s Brandon is a complex character finely honed. He's believable as the thug who threatens Dawn with rape but is sympathetic as we learn his situation in life is even worse than Dawn's.

A great script -- Solondz has written a story that can make you cringe and laugh at the same time. The dialog is fresh and true as are the situations. I don't believe very many couldn't find something to relate to with Dawn's adolescent woes. Solondz even has the smarts to make Dawn scholastically average - no exceptional brains to balance the lack of beauty. For a very dark film (the humor plummets to a horrific bathroom humiliation, rape threats and implied pedophilia), Solondz manages to keep a glimmer of hope wavering through.

Great costume -- it's hard to tell if Dawn's wardrobe is her mother's idea of what's cute and appropriate or the result of Dawn's own horrendous fashion sense, but it certainly helps define her character. There's one long shot of Heather in a midriff baring ruffled top partnered with lime green pants and her ever-present color-coordinated pony tail holder that caused me and the audience to break up. Little sister Missy's always perfect look (when she's not in her pink tutu) provides more definition to the division of the two sisters' lots in life.

Great use of music -- from the title song, as performed by Steve Rodgers fronting Mark Weiner's band to the terrific bridging music.

"Welcome to the Dollhouse" is a true original and one of the best of the year. It's most amazing accomplishment is that it manages to be heartless and compassionate at the same time.

A

Robin ROBIN:
I can see why this film was so well received at this year's Sundance Festival.

"Welcome to the Dollhouse" tells about what it's like to enter junior high school as the outsider. Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) is the extreme version of the outsider, but one I can certainly identify with.

This is a small budget film with modest goals. Fortunately, the writing/directing talent of sophomore film auteur Todd Solondz, combined with a solid cast, especially Heather Matarazzo as Dawn, raise this far above average.

The neat thing about the story is that, yes, there is angst in Dawn's life. But, there is also fantasy and romance. Usually they're the same thing for Dawn, but not always.

There is also an unsettling sense of menace pervading the film that never really manifests itself in any expected ways. It's a interesting device that adds to the tensions Dawn faces daily.

One comical thread that carried all the way through in a satifying way involves Dawn's little sister, Missy, and her tutu. This whole thread culminates in a suprisingly humorous, if kind of dark, way.

I think that "Welcome to the Dollhouse" is an excellent film for young teens if they have the patience and willingness to give it a chance. I would certainly be interested to hear from any teens that have the interest to give this a chance.

I give it an A-.


THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1996)

Based on Victor Hugo's epic novel, Disney Studios 34th full-length animated feature is "The Hunchback of Notre Dame", the heroic adventures of Quasimodo, the reclusive bell-ringer of Notre Dame, who wants only to join the everyday world as a normal man, especially now, during his favorite day, the Festival of Fools.

Joining Quasimodo are the evil Frollo, his master and the reason for his seclusion, the brave Captain Phoebus (voice and song by Kevin Klein), and the beautiful and seductive Esmeralda, voiced by Demi Moore - plus a trio of not-so-stone-faced gargoyles, named Victor, Hugo and Laverne.

Robin ROBIN:
Right up front, I'm giving "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" a resounding "A"!

This is nothing less than terrific, with dazzling animation, first rate voice characterizations -- with British stage actor Tony Jay (the voice of the evil Frollo) and his animators getting a standing ovation from me. Frollo is a truly great bad guy, the best since Cruella DeVille, I think -- AND the best string of songs since "Beauty and the Beast," this film is the highlight of this summer's movie entertainment. I don't think it will be beat.

The rest of the voice cast, Klein, Moore and Tom Hulce as Quasimodo, are perfect for the characters.

The gargoyles, Victor, Hugo, and Laverne, offer the requisite comic relief normally relegated to cute little animals in other Disney animations. They are welcome additions to the Disney fold.

My only criticism, and it's not really a criticism, is that this could almost be rated PG. There is a marked sophistication to the story and a sinister obsession by Frollo for Esmeralda that may be beyond the younger kids out there.

On a positive note, parents are going to find themselves better entertained at "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" than at just about anything Hollywood has to offer this summer.

And, Esmeralda is definitely a cartoon babe.

Again, I give "The Hunchback" an A and call it the must see summer movie.

Laura LAURA:
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" is one of Disney's best efforts and the best to come along since "Beauty and the Beast." It's also the most adult Disney animation effort -- its dark subject matter includes genocide and a villain tortured by lust (Frollo's set piece song, "Hellfire" is sung to images of the sexy Esmeralda swaying within leaping flames). I also wonder Demi Moore's voice was her only contribution to the character of Esmeralda ...

The animation here is simply breathtaking. Shots of Quasimodo swooping over the rooftops of the cathedral reminded me of the ballroom sequence from "Beauty and the Beast." When Quasimodo swoops high above the marketplace crowd, for a second I though I was watching a live crowd shot. Light spills through the Rose stained glass window of Notre Dame onto Esmeralda in a more realistic way than has been done on an actual set.

The voice characterizations are all first rate. What a great villain Disney has in Frollo -- both as animated and as voiced by British actor Tony Jay. Demi Moore does surprisingly good work with the plucky Esmeralda and Kevin Kline's courageous and self-effacing as Phoebus. The choice of Tom Hulce for Quasimodo I found a litle wanting -- I would guess Disney wanted a more youthful quality for the lead, but I would expect this character to have a weightier, deeper voice. Lots of fun with the three gargoyles -- the late, great Mary Wickes' Laverne even gets to quote a Wicked Witch line from "The Wizard of Oz!"

I hope this one does well at the box office -- I'd hate to see Disney dissuaded from this type of material.

A


THE CABLE GUY

"The Cable Guy" is a dark comedy by director Ben Stiller and the beginning of the $20 million man, Jim Carrey's self-transformation into a serious actor. He's Chip Douglas, cable installer extraordinaire, and desparately lonely guy. Once Chip's deemed newly single Steve Kovaks, played by Matthew Broderick, one of his VIP customers, Kovaks doesn't know what's hit him. Chip can be insanely manipulative when Chip hasn't returned one of his ridiculously high number of phone messages, or sweet and caring when Chip tries to cheer Steve up by throwing a karaoke party.

Laura LAURA:
"The Cable Guy" is the first Jim Carrey outing I've been able to enjoy on a filmic level rather than a cartoonish one. The 20-million-dollar man is out to prove he can act and I'm beginning to be convinced. Carrey has a few moments of mugging here, but mostly we get a scary characterization of a guy who can be charmingingly friendly, if a bit odd, to a complete psychopath.

Matthew Broderick is good as the confused, then threatened Steve Kovaks. Carol Baker has an amusing scene playing perverted password with Douglas. Janeanne Garofalo is drolly amusing in her small cameo. Also funny are Ben Stiller as Sam Sweet, seen on Court TV as a cross between O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers, and Eric Roberts, seen in a commercial for the upcoming film bio of Sweet. But, this is Carrey's film through and through.

Ben Stiller's direction is also to be commended -- he kept this dark, dipping into some really dark, borderline areas (such as Douglas' partial reminiscence of being kicked in the face by his father's steel tipped boot and he reconstructive surgery that resulted) before springing back quickly back into comedy while the audiences' heads are kept spinning.

"The Cable Guy" does end up degenerating into a by-the-numbers effort in its third act where the story's conflict must be dealt with and brought to a conclusion.

B

Robin ROBIN:
Up front, I like "The Cable Guy." It is a black comedy with an unusual comic turn by Jim Carrey. Carrey still does his amazing rubber man schtick, but, if you go into this movie expecting to see "Ace Ventura" or "Dumb and Dumber," you may be very disappointed.

I am very interested to see how this does at the box office. It may get the initial Jim Carrey fan attendance, but it is not going to get the multiple viewings his other films, like "The Mask."

Enough about marketplace.

Ben Stiller takes a pretty standard story about an obsessive, unbalanced, character worming his way into someone's life -- look at "What About Bob?" as an example -- then turning that life upside down.

Matthew Broderick holds his own as the straight guy here. He's a good actor who is strong enough to play off of Carrey.

Carrey gives a rather dark turn to his character. His usual moves are used effectively, especially during a surreal dream sequence.

The film maintains a dark edge throughout, even with its happy ending.

We'll see how it holds up during the summer. I think it may break even, but it won't be a blockbuster. My opinion.

I give "The Cable Guy" a B.


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