STEALING BEAUTY - HARRIET THE SPY -STRIPTEASE
PHENOMENON
- PURPLE NOON
NELLY AND MONSIEUR ARNAUD

STEALING BEAUTY

Bernardo Bertolucci's "Stealing Beauty," stars Liv Tyler as a 19-year old American girl, Lucy, visiting the beautiful Italian countryside of Tuscany to spend the summer with family friends.

Lucy is seeking two things: a special romance started during an earlier visit four years ago; and, a solution to the riddle presented in the diary of her dead mother.

While Lucy seeks answers to her questions, she also has an intoxicating affect on the members of the household, who all fall under the spell of her sweet freshness.

Robin ROBIN:
Coming out of seeing this film, I thought that either Bernado Bertolluci or cinematographer Darius Khandji, or both, have a great big crush on Liv Tyler, if the beautiful, almost loving, way she is presented and photographed in this film is any indication.

This obvious emotion, coupled with the other aspects of the film -- casting, art direction, locale, and story -- help to make this pleasant little film a positive entry into the non-action genre we have all too much of right now.

Liv Tyler is, physically, perfect for the role. She has the charm and presence on camera that make her interesting to watch. I'm just not sure just how much real acting she has to do. Her task through most of the film is to react to the camera. It will be interesting to see how she does in the upcoming film, "Heavy."

On the supporting end of things, I have to give Jeremy Irons the nod as the best talent in the film. His middle-aged author and poet, dying from some undefined disease, is subtle and believable as he falls for the nubile, but innocent, young American. He knows he can never have her in any real way. He's just happy with the opportunity to fall in love with her.

Which brings me to the main criticm of the film -- the central character is little more than an object of desire to those around her. The film doesn't really lose much because of this, but it is a criticism.

The rest of the supporting cast, well anchored by Sinead Cusack and Donal McCann as the earth mother and father of the little commune, give, across the board, solid performances.

The script is in keeping with the fabric of the film. It's languid and meanders about a bit, but, coupled with the lush and inviting Tuscany countryside, this is not a bad thing at all.

Bernardo Bertolucci is renowned for his epic films, like "1900" and "The Last Emperor," with their sweeping scope. Even his "smaller" films, like "The Conformist" and "Little Buddha," have a grandness of production. "Stealing Beauty" is a much simpler film for Bertolucci. It's nice to see a master give his best even in his smaller works.

"Stealing Beauty" has a good heart and I give it a B+.

Laura LAURA:
We first meet Lucy as an anonymous male surreptiously videotapes her from when she departs the U.S. until she boards a train in Italy and his hand only is seen giving her the tape -- right from the onset, Bertolucci sets Lucy up as an object to be reacted to. It's this that gives Liv Tyler little more to do than look gamine and innocent. Granted, she does get a chance to do a bit more in her scenes with the dying writer played by Jeremy Irons and at the end when she discovers her true love. The jury's out on her acting ability, but this doesn't harm the film too much.

"Stealing Beauty" is an odd film that mostly takes place at a Tuscan commune of ex-patriot Bohemian artists. Beautifully photographed by the versatile Darius Khondji ("Delicatessen," "Seven"), the film moves along at its own leisurely pace. Even though it's essentially about a young woman searching for her first love and the mystery of her father's identity, it struck me more as a slice of life or a short journey in a grander trip.

There's some great support here -- Jeremy Irons is philosophically melancholy, yet has enough life left to desire Lucy. His real wife Sinead Cusack is also fine as the earth mother than grounds the group. Donal McCann, Cusack's husband who is sculpting Lucy, lets his character be discovered by letting layers be peeled away. The great Jean Marais (Cocteau's "Beauty and the Beast") is fun to watch, but adds little as a senile former art dealer.

B


HARRIET THE SPY

"Harriet The Spy" is the Nickelodeon channel's first foray into theatrical films and is an adaptation of the well loved children's book. Harriet wants to be a writer, so at the suggestion of her beloved Nanny played by Rosie O'Donnell, she begins to write early while still in the sixth grade. Harriet fancies herself a spy who secretly observes her neighborhood. She also writes about all her friends and classmates. Unfortunately, during an outdoor game, a school rival gets a hold of Harriet's top secret notebook and lets everyone in on what Harriet's written about them.

Laura LAURA:
"Harriet the Spy" is a terrific, intelligently made kid's film that presents children's society and problems in a very adult way. This is a film that manages to address such issues as an 11-year-old caring for an alcoholic single dad, class separation, betrayal, cruelty, parents who make decisions without fully understanding the picture and growing up in general. It also manages to have fun while doing so! Call it "Welcome to the Dollhouse" light.

"Harriet the Spy" is a great choice for the 8-12 year old crowd. It moves along at a good pace and features some kinectic camerawork, choreograpy and editting. It's also aided by good hip-hoppy music.

Michelle Trachtenberg (Nickeldeon's "The Adventures of Pete and Pete") makes a fine feature film debut. She's a real kid -- never saccharine, sometimes rebellious. Rosie O'Donnell is made to order as Harriet's nanny Golly, dispensing wisdom and offering adventures with love and humor. Gregory Smith ("Andre") as Harriet's friend Sport shows independent spirit in dealing with a difficult homelife. Vanessa Lee Chester ("A Little Princess") is a bit less natural as Harriet's friend Janie. Eartha Kitt is also featured as a strange neighbor (surprise!).

B+

Robin ROBIN:
I made the big mistake, on going in to see "Harriet the Spy," of prematurely dismissing it a probably a piece of kidee TV fluff. I mean, after all, it is just a Nickelodeon production. Right?

Well, folks, guess again, the people at Nickelodeon show that the know a lot about kids, and know how to tell it.

"Harriet the Spy" has more intelligence and angst than most of the "adult" level films we've been seeing this summer. Though a little long, this is as solid a kid's film as I've seen in a couple of years.

I was a little bothered, watching "Harriet," with the harsh, even cruel, behavior the kids display toward each other as their feud gets out of control.

I have been assured, by parents, that this rings true to form. Kids CAN be cruel and use whatever means they can to strike back.

Production-wise, this is pretty slickly done. Most of the action sequences are done in true MTV fashion, with fast cuts and funky camera work, along with an energetic score. It looks nice and crisp and almost hyper real.

The litle girl who portrays Harriet, Michelle Trachtenberg, is terrific. She is natural and confident and holds up well.

Rosie O'Donnell is a plus for any kids' movie and is no exception here. Her character, as Harriet's muse, is delightful and funny. She has a good influence on the film.

The rest of the cast is OK.

Now, I HAVE to read the book.

I give "Harriet the Spy" a B+, and would love to hear what the kids think.


STRIPTEASE

"Striptease," starring Demi Moore and costarring Ving Rhames, Armand Assante, Robert Patrick and Burt Reynolds, is written and directed by Andrew Bergman, who also made the very original comedy, "The Freshman."

Moore plays Erin Grant, a divorced mother who has just lost custody of her child to her low-life ex, played by Patrick.

To be able to afford her up-coming custody appeal, Erin takes a job as an exotic dancer in a local joint called The Eager Beaver, where she comes to the obsessive attention of corrupt congressman Dave Dilbeck, played by Burt Reynolds.

Fortunately, she also has the respect and friendship of the clubs bouncer, Shad, played by Rhames.

Robin ROBIN:
This has to be one of the biggest turkeys this year! I understand it made back Demi Moore's $12,500,000 (I had to write it out -- for effect) salary on the opening weekend. I hope that's all it makes.

Demi Moore, to her credit, is physically up for the role, but, as an actor, lacks any genuine thespian talent. Her delivery of some of her more dramatic moments approach the unwatchable.

Her dancing is very athletic. Unfortunately, it's also quite sterile and lacks any real eroticism. Not a draw that would get me down to the Eager Beaver too soon.

If not for the performances of Ving Rhames, Armand Assante and Robert Patrick, and the OK, if much ballyhooed "return" of Burt Reynolds, this would easily have gotten an "F".

Fortunately, for me, Rhames steals the show as the club bouncer. This may be the performance that gets him a starring role. He's is funny and charming and exudes a genuine warmth for Moore's character, Eron.

Robert Patrick (it took me a bit before I realized he's the T-2000 from "Terminator 2") does a very funny, if twisted, performance as Erin's sleaze bag ex. It did make me wonder, "Would a judge really give child custody to this man?" I hope not.

Armand Assante plays a good guy cop and he helps to anchor down this silly film.

Burt Reynolds camps it up and plays it over the top. As I said, he's OK. Too much hype.

I plan to read the Carl Hiaasen novel for comparison's sake. I'm counting on the best-seller being bunches better than the movie, and, a lot cheaper.

Thank goodness for the supporting actors. They save me from total misery.

What can you say about a movie about exotic dancers that's not exotic?

I say give it a D.

Laura LAURA:
"Striptease" is two movies in one duking it out to neither's advantage.

The good part is the supporting cast who all play for some genuine laughs. Ving Rhames is the most worthwhile as the club bouncer -- he's loyal, true, and hilarious. Burt Reynolds has a ball playing the total goofball corrupt pol. Robert Patrick is slimy through and through.

The big problem here is Demi, who's earnestness sinks the film. Whenever she's on screen (which is most of the time, unfortunately), the whole affair falls flatter than Demi's stomach. She looks great and has obviously put most of her effort into her appearance and carefully staged exotic dance moves. However, she's like a Barbie doll -- all physical perfection and no real appeal.

The ending of this film was reshot afer test audiences objected to how Reynolds' character came off at the end. The new ending is pathetic slapstick of no wit and feels tacked on. It also throws any semblance of coherent plot out the window.

D+


PHENOMENON

"Phenomenon" stars John Travolta as George Malley, an average nice guy who runs a small town auto repair shop, hits the bar with his buddies, and tries to romance elusive once-burned Mom Kyra Sedgewick. Then one night, when he leaves his birthday celebration, he witnesses a strange light in the sky that literally knocks him off his feet. The town likes to tease George about his UFO sighting, but George begins to change in very strange ways -- he's able to learn a language in 20 minutes and can move objects without touching them. Suddenly, Berkeley professors and the FBI are interested in George, while most of the townspeople start to give him a wide berth.

Laura LAURA:
"Phenomenon" is a likeable film that reminded me of the old Cliff Robertson film "Charly." It's nothing original, and even could have easily become overly sentimental and maudlin if it starred an actor of less charm and skill than John Travolta. Travolta's George is a kind everyman, whose confusion and frustration over his newfound talents is beautifully played.

Robert Duvall gives another solid performance as Doc, the town doctor who's always had a strong affection for George and stands by him when others desert him. Forrest Whittaker also charms as George's lonely friend Nate. Kyra Sedgewick is serviceable in a tiringly cliched written character of a woman who rejects what is obviously the best thing for her because of past hurts. Elisabeth Nunziato is memorable in the small role of Ella, a South American housekeeper George sends Nate's way with more than housework in mind.

Another aspect of "Phenomenon" I liked was the real sense of community and place achieved by director Jon Turtelbaum.

B

Robin ROBIN:
I was most struck, when I saw "Phenomenon," just how many parallels there were to another film "Charly," which garnered Cliff Robertson a Best Acting Oscar in 1969. They both tell the story of a man propelled to credible heights of intelligence, only to have it ripped away. There are others, too, like Duvall's doctor/friend and Clare Bloom similar doctor/lover in "Charly."

"Phenomenon" overall, is a more evenly conceived film and stands on its own quite well. It's tight with an understated, but effective, performance by Travolta. His character, George, acts as a genuinely nice guy would in turmoil over why he's blessed, or cursed, with his new abilities -- a good job by Travolta.

Supporting cast is fine. Real performances are limited to Robert Duvall and Forrest Whittaker. Duvall is, as always, a pleasure to watch up on the screen. He is a great actor.

Kyra Sedgewick is OK, not much more, as the love interest.

It's a nice story with lots of tugs on the ole heart strings by the end, but, is that a bad thing?

Nope. I give "Phenomenon" a B.


PURPLE NOON

Following the critical and popular success of the re-release of Luis Bunuel's "Belle du Jour" last year, Martin Scorcese and Miramax Zoe team up again. This time for the re-release of the 1960 Rene Clemente film, "Purple Noon," starring Alain Delon as the young friend of a rich mans son, sent to Italy to bring back his friend Phillipe.

There begins a story of deception, intrigue and murder, as Delon's Tom Ripley undergoes a transition from lackey to his friend Phillipe to becoming Phillipe himself, even to seducing Phillipe's amour, Marge.

Robin ROBIN:
"Purple Noon" is the second of what I hope will be a long relationship between Martin Scorcese and Miramax Zoe. To have access to some of the more obscure good and great films of the past decades is a thrill for the film buff.

This may have been the first starring role for a young Alain Delon, I'm not sure. It certainly is a good showcase for an extremely talented young actor. Delon easily holds your interest through the entire film.

Actually, the three principle actors, Delon, Maurice Ronet as Phillipe, and Marie Laforet as Marge, are all quite good. There's one scene where Phillipe, in a fit of anger, tosses Marge's manuscript - many hours of hard work -- overboard. The look of hate in Marge's eyes is so palpable that you must believe it real.

Rene Clemente, in many ways, pays homage to Alfred Hitchcock with this film. He shoots many of the suspence scenes in a style that is directly evocative of the master. He also happens to choose a novel by the same author who wrote the novel for one of Hitchcock's best works, "Strangers on a Train."

My only complaint about "Purple Noon", what keeps it from being a great thriller, is the last 20 minutes or so. The end meanders around as it tries to find a logical conclusion. It kept the film from being completely satisfying.

This does not discourage me in the least from recommending "Purple Noon." You will be amazed just how '90's a film from 1960 can be.

I give "Purple Noon" a B+.

Laura LAURA:
While not quite in the masterpiece class of "Belle du Jour," "Purple Noon" is one hell of a film. I had actually never heard of this film before, so Scorcese is to be commended on bringing back such a fine mystery thriller.

Based on a Patricia Highsmith's ("Strangers on a Train") novel "The Talented Mr. Ripley," "Purple Noon" could stand alongside some of Hitchcock's work. Alain Delon must be one of the screen's most handsome villains. His piercing blue eyes almost burn from this magnificent print.

Delon's Ripley meets up with his buddy Phillippe (Maurice Ronet) in Italy after being offered $5,000 by Phillippe's father to get his son to stop living the high life and return home. Tom Ripley begins to cause trouble between Phillippe and his girlfriend Marge (Marie Laforet) when he gets Phillippe to go off galavanting without her. Things really begin to heat up, however, when the three board Phillippe's yacht to sail to Taormina. This is the most thrilling sequence where the games really begin -- in fact, I was reminded of Polanski's "Knife in the Water."

The story takes many twists and turns before finally coming to a very satisfying conclusion. The film looks great and has a memorable score. Two problems -- the pacing falls a little off in the final act and Marie Laforet is not quite up to the acting talents of her two male costars.

B+


NELLY AND MONSIEUR ARNAUD

"Nelly And Monsieur Arnaud" was nominated for 11 Cesar awards (the French Oscar) and won for best director (Claude Sautet) and actor (Michel Serrault). It tells the strange tale of a young woman (Emmanuelle Beart) dissatisfied with her marriage who meets the older Pierre Arnaud (Serrault) through a mutual friend. Arnaud makes a generous loan offer to Nelly, who decides to take him up on it in order to have the financial freedom to leave her depressed, long unemployed husband. Arnaud, a former judge and businessman, wishes to write his memoirs and so offers Nelly the job of helping him.

While Arnaud, separated from his wife and estranged from his children, attempts to seduce Nelly, she amusedly dodges him and begins an affair with his publisher (Jean-Hughes Anglade). Nothing can stop the dance between Nelly and Arnaud, however.

Laura LAURA:
In a season of multiple explosions on screen, there's nothing more satisfying than a quiet study of human interaction brilliantly executed by director Claude Sautet and his actors. This, in fact, would make a wonderful companion piece to another beloved Sautet film, "Un Couer en Hiver" ("A Heart in Winter") also starring Beart.

Michel Serrault ("La Cage aux Folles," "Diabolique") is perfection as Pierre Arnaud - a complex character of loneliness, humor, wit, pettiness, and great warmth. Beart holds more back as Nelly - she feints and parries - and we don't get a real understanding of her character until the end, when she has her own moment of self realization.

The film is delightful, funny, mysterious, and ultimately heartbreaking. A perfect film for those willing to slow down and reflect on human nature.

A-


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