LONE STAR - COURAGE UNDER FIRE
MAYBE, MAYBE NOT (DER BEWEGTE MANN)
INDEPENDENCE DAY - THE FRIGHTENERS - MULTIPLICITY
"Lone Star" is producer/writer/director John Sayles' rumination on the place of history in our lives. The story is set in motion when two off-duty Army officers discover a human scull and rusty sheriff's badge at an abandoned rifle range in Texas. Frontera sherrif Sam Deeds, played by Chris Cooper, immediately suspects that the body is that of former sherrif Charley Wade, a reviled corrupt man played by Kris Kristofferson. Sam also believes that Wade was killed by his father, the legendary and much loved Buddy Deeds.
"Lone Star" is a rich tapestry of a film and my favorite of the year to date. I also believe "Lone Star" to be John Sayles' most fully realized piece of work. Sayles manages to weave the stories of a young lost love affair, political corruption, a Mexican businesswoman who turns in illegal Mexican immigrants, racial strife and a black Army colonel coming to terms with the father who abandoned his family around the central mystery - which also features a son discovering his father. He also moves seamlessly back and forth between the past and present, often in one tracking shot.
There's not a false acting note in this beautifully, expertly cast film. Chris Cooper is the anchor and his slightly melancholy somewhat bitter quietness sets the tone of the film. Kris Kristofferson is a mean SOB and a great villain -- he COULD have been killed by just about anybody! Upcoming star Matthew McConaughey (who we'll be reviewing more fully in our next show when we review "A Time to Kill," the new Grisham flick) is confident and obviously on the right side as Buddy Deeds -- he makes us wonder why Sam seems almost eager to deflate the legend. Joe Morton is impressive as the black man who grew up without a father to become a Colonel and is having problems with his own son -- he's strong enough to make ammends when he learns more about his fathers ways. Also notable are Elizabeth Pena as Pilar, Sam's love interest, Ron Canada as Otis, the Colonel's father and Miriam Cruz as Pilar's mother.
"Lone Star" is a fully satisfying movie experience. Hats off to John Sayles for this intrically written and directed film.
One always hopes that the latest film by a long-standing and talented filmmaker is going to be their best work, yet. Fortunately, this is true with John Sayles' "Lone Star."
Written, directed, and edited by Sayles -- hell, he probably catered it, too -- "Lone Star" is an extremely complex and multilayered story dealing with murder, racism, political intrigue, and police corruption. It tells this story in an imaginative and original way.
Sayles uses a very effective device to transition from past-to-present and present-to-past. He keeps the camera shot and moves the characters out of and into the scene. He uses it well.
The stylish quality is, unfortunately, not supplemented with anything special from the photography of Stuart Dryburgh. This aspect of the film is its most pedestrian. Not a detractor, though, from the overall film.
The cast is huge, with more than several characters grabbing the screen with their stories.
Chris Cooper as Sheriff Sam Deeds, does a solid job as the son of a legend, living in his father's shadow, while investigating what may be a murder committed by his father. Cooper has been criticized for his bewildered portrayal of Sheriff Deeds. I found it fitting for the character. He's presented with a confusing dilemma and spends the filmtime unravelling it all.
Everyone else in the movie is first rate.
Joe Morton, who started his career with Sayles in "The Brother From Another Planet," plays an Army lifer who is, seemingly, at a career low-point in his assignment to command a soon-to-be-defunct army base. This, and his conflict with his estranged father and his past, is a compelling story.
Ron Canada, Kris Kristofferson, Elizabeth Pena, Clifton James, Frances McDormand, and Matthew McConaughey (in a small, but startlingly powerful, role as Cooper's legendary father as a young man (it makes me look forward to his starring role in the upcoming "A Time To Kill") all give effective and convincing performances.
I found that Sayles packs an awful lot of story into this two plus hour film. He tells many stories and ties them all together in the end. He does this in an unconventional way, too, without tritely tying loose ends.
The release for this film is not wide. It's just in the art houses, like the Kendall Theatre, here in Cambridge. But, please, if you enjoy good film that impacts you on a higher intellectual plane than "Independence Day," do yourself a huge favor and go see "Lone Star."
I give "Lone Star" a solid A.
COURAGE UNDER FIRE
Edward Zwick, who directed the epic Civil War drama, "Glory," now brings the Gulf War to the big screen in "Courage Under Fire," starring Denzel Washington as tank group commander, Col. Nat Serling, who is being investigated for his culpability in the death of one of his tank crews in a friendly fire incident.
While awaiting the results of his own investigation, Serling is assigned to investigate the recommendation of Capt. Karen Walden, played by Meg Ryan, for the Medal of Honor for her "courage under fire."
Edward Zwick has proven himself to be a terrific filmmaker and storyteller with "Glory and "Legends of the Fall."
(You may not have liked it, Laura, but "Legends ..." is a solid piece of work, AND, it thrust the Sexiest Man Alive, Brad Pitt, into megastar status. BUT WAIT, People Magazine has just given that award to Denzel! I think Edward Zwick is on to something!)
With "Courage Under Fire," Zwick gives us one of the best pieces of film work out so far this year. This is a finely directed and acted film that also combines first rate technical detail to earn it high grades all around.
Denzel Washington gives as fine a performance as I have seen him give. Rather than brilliant, Washington provides a strong character study of a man being torn apart over his own guilt for his crew's death, while striving to bring the job assigned him to its thorough completion. His unwillingness to compromise himself also helps him to resolve his inner demons. He's solid and anchors the film quite well.
The surprising performance, however, is by Meg Ryan. She plays a tough, competent military professional, in a quite believable performance during the combat action which led to the Medal recommendation. I'm impressed with Ryan, yet again, in the followup to her terrific perf in "Restoration." She gives a little twist to each of the tellings of the Rashomon-like story
The rest of the cast, especially Matt Damon as one of Karen's crewmen, are strong, believable characters. Lou Diamond Phillips also gives one of his more nuanced performances.
The warfare scenes, both the night tank battle opening, and the Medal of Honor incident with Ryan, are praiseworthy. The tank battle uses both traditional action and high-tech warfare to show the confusion and violence of battle.
"Courage Under Fire" is a powerful, emotional film with strong story, acting and direction.
This is an intelligent summer film. Or is that an oxymoron?
I give it an A-
"Courage Under Fire" weaves two stories together just as two different slants can be implied by the film's title. In the more negative connotation of the title, Denzel Washington has to come grips with the fact that he ordered fire on one of his own tank crews commanded by one of his best friends. Washington's Colonel Serling is given a desk job at the Pentagon, who officially won't admit to the friendly fire, and Serling is asked to investigate the deceased Captain Karen Walden, played by Meg Ryan, for the first medal of honor to be given to a woman for courage in combat. Serling withdraws from his understanding Army wife, played by "I'll Fly Away's" Regina Taylor, and his family and begins to depend more and more on Scotch.
Serling's investigation turns into a "Rashomon"-like affair as he gets different versions of how Walden handled herself from every man under her command. All their accounts are sketchy regarding the final firing of a certain gun, although another unit, who were saved by Walden's stand, insist they heard gunfire far longer.
Washington gives a more layered performance than I'm used to seeing from him -- we can see the chinks in the armor here and I normally find him a little too reserved. Most surprising was Meg Ryan who not only managed to carve out a character from within brief flashback scenes, but who managed to put such subtle spins on line readings to seem the same and yet slightly different depending on who was recalling her story.
Seth Gilliam impresses the crew member who's become a physical wreck after the Walden incident and who finally comes clean with the true story. Lou Diamond Phillips is pretty intense, if a bit one note, as the sergeant most hostile to the idea of Walden's courage. Ironically he's first seen upbraiding a trainee for leaving a fellow soldier behind during an exercise.
Technically this is a first class film -- the battle scenes and locales (Texas) are particularly impressive. On the whole, though, there was a little something lacking from this film that I couldn't quite put my finger on. All in all, I think Colonel Serling sums it up best when he says "I just want someone to be a hero."
MAYBE, MAYBE NOT (DER BEWEGTE MANN)
Maybe, Maybe Not which we've been reading about under the German title of "Der Bewegte Mann," which means the "moved" (as in emotionally) man for quite a while as it is the highest grossing German film in German history. Axel has cheated on his girlfriend Doro once too often and has been thrown out of their apartment. He meets the gay Waltraud at a friend's house he's crashing in for the night -- Waltraud eagerly offers crash space to Axel as Axel's quite the looker. After Axel gets drunk at his first gay party, however, he's suspicious of Waltraud and asks to stay with Norbert instead. Norbert is also smitten with Axel, and he begins to act on it at the worst possible time -- when Axel's returned to Doro's apartment in an attempt to reconcile.
"Maybe, Maybe Not" is a good example that humor is probably not Germany's most notable export. While I can imagine this film being thought funny on its own turf, it doesn't travel well.
The major problem with "Maybe, Maybe Not" is that neither member of the divided couple is likeable. Til Schweiger, now being touted as the German Brad Pitt, is an opportunist pretty boy as Axel. I never understood why he supposedly so missed Doro, except for the fact that he had a more permanent place to live. Once they reconcile and get married, he finds an opportunity to cheat again in an elaborately farsical set piece and manages to hurt not only Doro, but the guy who's been his best friend -- Norbert.
Doro, played by Katja Riemann, only comes off as shrill and suspicious (not that one could entirely blame her).
Joachim Krol as Norbert is the most likeable character here -- he's got most of the funniest lines and is the only character who appears to have a sense of decency.
There IS some funny stuff here, but it's all jammed into the beginning of the film. Waltraud bates a hetero male discussion group with some funny results. Norbert opines that 'heteros should go gay and women into world politics - -it's the only way to save the planet.'
This farsical slapstick souflee never manages to rise very far and then deflates in its second half.
"Maybe ... Maybe Not" is not a "they all live happily ever after" film. Maybe just "ever after".
Aside from some funny gay-related jokes -- all of them quite benign -- the Germans don't have the sense of humor to pull off an effective sex farce.
The comic possibilites presented in the beginning don't go anywhere. Axel, played by German heart-throb Til Schweiger, who resembles a young Michael Rooker, is supposed to be such a stud and charismatic with women, but, has no one he can turn to after his girlfriend boots him out -- EVERYONE hates him because he's such a selfish jerk!
Axel's love interest, if you can call it that, played shrewishly by Katja Riemann, evokes no sympathy as the put upon girlfriend, then wife.
Pretty much all the characters are two-dimensional without much sympathy or empathy, so there's no anchor to hold the film and the farce together.
Joachim Krol, as the lusting Norbert, and Rufus Beck as cross-dressing Waltraub, do provide some comic relief,, but not enough to save the movie.
We don't get to see a lot of German cinema here in the U.S. Besides the tiny distribution for the immensely powerful German production, "Stalingrad," last year, there has not been a German film released in the U.S. for, literally, years.
I hope that "Maybe ... Maybe Not" is not a sample of present-day German cinema. It is the largest internationally grossing German film, according to "Variety," ever, so it may bode badly for us viewers.
It is a far cry from the best, or, even, good German movies I've seen. It certainly is not a good sex farce.
Aside from some of the funny gay-related humor -- mostly puns at heteros -- this is an extremely lame effort.
I give it a C-.
Since everyone and his family has already seen "Independence Day," if the box office take for this sucker is any indication, we're not going to do the usual review schtick.
Let me get my review out of the way: "Independence Day" is 20 or 30 minutes too long. Lose the lengthy personal scenes, like the whole First Lady bit, especially her death scene. (As a matter of fact, why rescue the First Lady only to kill her later? Huh? Dumb.) The plot drags when they're not fighting E.T. Some simple editing would have tightened the film up considerably.
Besides this? It needed more kick-alien-butt stuff, but "Independence Day" is mindless, fun entertainment and has genuine appeal.
Now, just why is "Independence Day" so outrageously popular?
I'm not overlooking the obviously simple, but brilliant, marketing and scheduling of the film on itsd holiday namesake - a pretty darn hard thing for Hollywood to pull off. I think its more what the movie represents, rather than what its doing on the screen.
"Independence Day" either pays homage to or rips off some of the best of the 50s-Hollywood-Cold-War-paranoia-science-fiction classics, such as "War of the Worlds," "The Day the Earth Stood Still," and "Dr. Strangelove," as well as the more modern "Star Wars" and "Close Encounters, "while utilizing the formula developed by the master of disaster films, Irwin Allen, in his Airport, "Earthquake," and "Towering Inferno" epics.
The why of the popularity of "Independence Day" lay, I think, in a desire for the filmgoer to get some relief and distraction from all the day-to-day anxieties many of us face -- things like social and economic pressures, AIDS, racism, terrorism, and crime. A film like this provides the release valve that the 90's audience needs, almost like the way the audiences of the 50's needed relief from thinking about the bomb.
In "Independence Day," all the day-to-day problems we face are put aside to allow us to face, and overcome, a far greater danger -- the invasion of earth by evil creatures from space. The everyman cast band together to fight for the very survival of mankind. We identify with these heroes, so their fight is ours.
The difference between "Independence Day" and the classics that I mention above is that these classics were originals, not derivative. That pretty much sums up the fabric of "Independence Day." It's an update of a genre, not an original. Its advantage is that it's the first of the bunch of alien invasion movies, like Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks," coming later this year.
It certainly has caught the hearts and minds of the filmgoing public.
Despite the shortcomings of the film, the feel-good-about-yourself aspect makes it a perfect example of a good, summer blockbuster -- no brain, no pain, but a heck of a lot of fun.
I give "Independence Day" a solid B+.
I have little to say on this subject -- mostly when people ask me about it all I can say is "It's fun, but it's dumb." I think Robin may be overanalyzing a bit - this really is just another space western, although it's a bit more blatantly pro-USA than most. In fact, it seems like the rest of the world knows how to do little else but sit around and wait for us Americans to figure out what to do -- there's not even a scene of world leaders conferring!
"Independence Day" is a film in 3 acts and the first 2 are the best. In Act 1, the aliens arrive. The filmmakers have learned from "Close Encounters" that if you put something REALLY BIG in the sky, it's pretty awe-inspiring. In Act 2, the aliens attack. What can I say -- lots of special effects including some pretty impressive fire-storms sweeping through NYC and L.A. In Act 3, we fight back and the film gets silly -- still enjoyable maybe, but silly. The method Jeff Goldblum's character comes up with to destroy the aliens, while a nice tongue in cheek tip-of-the-hat to "War of the Worlds", is unnecessarily ridiculous (I'm sure MY laptop would be perfectly compatible with Venutians'). But then again, this is what makes "Independence Day" so much fun -- no matter how ludicrous and coincidental the plot gets, it never takes itself seriously.
"The Frighteners" is New Zealand director Peter Jackson's big budget studio followup to his independent films "Dead Alive" and "Heavenly Creatures." Michael J. Fox is Michael Bannister, a true psychic investigator who's also a scam artist in that he's enlisted the aid of the dead -- notably Cyrus, Stuart and John Astin's Judge -- to scare up his business.
The marketing material for "The Frighteners" would lead one to believe that the film is a special effects comedy with a dash of gore, but it's more than that -- unfortunately way too much more. Peter Jackson apparently had too many ideas for one film but used them all anyway to the detriment of the viewer. That's not to say that this is a bad film -- there are some fine moments -- but it's uneven and some of the plot devices just don't make sense.
The story veers from Frank's scams to the continuing story of how heart attack deaths have claimed over 20 people in the small town of Fairwater. Thrown into the mix is the town scandal from 1964 when a Charlie Starkweather wanna be, played by Gary's son Jake Busey, massacred 12 people in the town's hospital along with his 15 year old girlfriend, Patricia Bradley, played in present day by Dee Wallace Stone. Patricia's out of jail and holed up in a creepy old house by her mother who believes she communes with the devil.
Michael J. Fox is fine as the basically good Frank who's wrestling with the death of his wife after an auto accident. Trini Alvarado is pretty as the love interest, if a bit earnest. John Astin has some fun as the old crumbling ghost who just wants to be laid to rest unless he can get the jump on an Egyptian mummy (nice teeth!). Troy Evans gives a nice performance as Sheriff Perry who manages to seem knowing and clueless at the same time. Jeffrey Combs of "Reanimator" fame goes over the top as FBI man Milton Dammers -- a character which should have been written out of the script in an earlier draft. The most unsettling performance is given by Nicola Cliff as the young Patricia Bradley, seen in flashbacks to the murder spree.
A fun-house creepy score by Danny Elfman, nice locations and production design and some truly good effects all help "The Frighteners," but Jackson needed a few more rounds of fine tuning on his story line to really make this work.
"Frighteners" is an unusual film in that it can't really be pigeon holed. The makers are calling it a mystery, horror, comedy, suspence thriller. It's all these things, yeah, but it does them in an unusual and transitionary way.
The film starts off as broad comedy, with Frank and his netherworld buddies doing a bit of free enterprise in drumming up their own business.
This changes drastically as the main story about a series of mysterious heart attacks in the town comes to the fore. The comedy literally disappears as the horror thriller kicks in for the final 1/2 of the film.
There's a lot of frenetic camera movement coupled with lots of equally frenetic action to sustain the film for its 105 minute, or so, run time.
Michael J. Fox is more comfortable than I've seen him in a while. I think he knew that he didn't have to carry the film, so he's more relaxed and natural, less uptight.
Supernatural supporting cast is good, led by John Astin as the ghostly judge and R. Lee Emery giving an ethereal version of his "Full Metal Jacket" D.I.
Outstanding in a rather ghoulish role is Jeffrey Combs as FBI Special Agent Milton Dammers. He's almost like a demented Van Helsing in his relentless, if ignorant, pursuit to uncover Frank's involvement in the murders. A really spooky character, who, I think, added to the film.
Jake Busey, son of Gary Busey, does the kind of bad guy role that has been bread and butter for Gary. He's not too bad. He needs more exposure.
Trini Alvarado is servicable, if a bit young, as the newcomer town doctor. The love interest is perfunctory and isn't realistic in its haste.
The F/X are OK. Some of the time the characters from one world didn't really look like they were talking to the members of the other.
Production values are solid, as you would, and should, expect out of executive producer Robert Zemekis. He carries a big stick in Hollywood, but he plays well in New Zealand, where "Frighteners" was made.
Peter Jackson has a terrific filmic sensibility combined with capable story telling and character development.
"Heavenly Creatures" is still my favorite, but, this takes second place.
I give it a B+.
"Multiplicity" is the latest film by director and sometimes actor Harold Ramis and stars Michael Keaton as an overworked construction contractor who just doesn't have time to get his job done AND be the husband/father that his family needs.
Enter the local genetics institute where, for only $1500, Keaton's strung out character, Doug Kinney, can get his very own clone, thus solving the problem of never having enough time for his family and job - -or does it?
Being touted, in some circles, as yet another so-called comeback film, this time for Michael Keaton, "Multiplicity" is a good example of well-meaning, but unimaginative, story telling.
Basically, the entire premise is based on the idea that everyone has had at one time or another, "I wish I could clone myself".
This version of that idea is mildly amusing, with a few fair laughs along the way. Nothing outrageously funny, though. It seems like a lot of opportunities were missed by the makers.
It's a suprisingly cheap looking film, considering the star power of Keaton and director Harold Ramis ("Stripes", "Ghostbusters", "Groundhog Day"). None of the traditional tech areas, like cinematography, editing or sound, stand out in any way.
The hi-tech F/X are fun to watch, but are not of exceptional quality. The filmmakers used dimmer lighting, it seemed, to mask any clone-effects deficiencies. Michael Keaton gives a distinct persona to each of his four characters, but, the clones on screen was done more crisply in the last year's French film, "The City of Lost Children."
As a matter of fact, Keaton gives the only real performance(s) in the film. I had to look at my notes to remember who costarred in this, that's how unremarkable the supporting cast is, especially Andie McDowell.
About the best I can say is that "Mulipicity" is mindless, harmless fun. I hope the genetics industry isn't accurately portrayed here - if it is, I think we're in deep trouble.
I can't really recommend spending good money to see this on a Saturday night. You'll feel cheated. This is a blip on the summer movie radar, so it won't be long to video. Wait, and rent it later.
I give "Multiplicity" a C+.
"Multiplicity" has a premise that most of us can relate to in the 90's -- there's not enough of us to spread around! However this movie just doesn't explore enough of the comic possibilities it sets up.
Michael Keaton has some fun playing four roles. The problem is that they're too broadly stereotyped. In fact, at first #2 is interesting. It's not until #3 (the nuturer played as exaggerately effeminate?) comes along that I noticed Keaton putting more of a macho spin on #2. Maybe that's the only way he could keep them distinct. Keaton goes wildest with #4, the copy of a copy who's clearly got problems.
Like "Maybe, Maybe Not" I didn't feel much empathy with the characters here, although Keaton's more likeable by far than the German film's protagonist. Andie MacDowell is very unsympathetic as a rather unsupportive wife -- yes she must be frustrated, but she doesn't seem to care how hard her husband's life is.
Slapstick is also overused for laughs when the script wasn't clever enough -- how often can someone banging his head be amusing?
Technically this film doesn't cut it either -- overlighting makes the techniques used to have multiple Keatons on screen obvious, unlike say "The Nutty Professor" which was far more seamless.
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