JACK - TIN CUP - MATILDA
ESCAPE FROM L.A. - EMMA - HOUSE ARREST

JACK

Francis Ford Coppola brings us the fantasy "Jack" in which a fictional and mysterious condition causes the child of Brian and Karen Powell (Brian Kerwin and Diane Lane) to physically age four times faster than normal. Overprotective Mom Karen shields Jack (Robin Williams) from everyday life and tries to be his playmate, but the neighborhood kids believe he's a freak and taunt him from the street below his bedroom window. Jack's tutor, played by Bill Cosby, knows that Jack is frustrated and encourages his parents to send him to school with the other 10-year olds.

Laura LAURA:
While "Jack" isn't all that original, it does have a different spin from all those "small child in adult body" comedies we had a run of in the mid-80's -- Jack isn't trying to pass as a 40-year old. He simply IS a 10-year old with an advanced aging condition. "Jack" is a fantasy with a message -- that life is fleeting and we should make the most of it while we can. This theme is symbolized, rather obviously, throughout the film by Jack's observation of the life cycle of a butterfly.

Francis Ford Coppola seems an odd choice to direct this material (his only previous "comedy" outing was "Peggy Sue Got Married" which also dealt with age switching) and while it certainly doesn't rate with his great films, it doesn't exactly land among his duds either.

Robin Williams mostly works as the title character -- he only occasionally reacts in a manner unbefitting a 10-year old. His casting seems more than a bit obvious, though, as does Bill Cosby's as his tutor and the only adult who can fit in with Jack's new circle of school chums. Robin Williams has said that this is the last childlike role he'll take on. Good news, say I, not to slight Williams' performance here.

The performance that impressed me the most in "Jack" is Diane Lane's as Jack's mom. I had had high hopes for Diane Lane after her early childhood roles, but she never lived up to them. In "Jack," she makes you feel the struggle between wanting to protect a different and fragile child and letting him go for his own needs while losing her playmate. She's maybe even Best Supporting Actress nominee caliber here.

While "Jack" has some truly funny and truly touching scenes, it's brought down too frequently by the standard type of stuff Hollywood can't seem to get away from - the costume party that could have only been imagined by a Hollywood costume designer, the gag about a grown man sitting at a child's too small schooldroom desk that's never remedied. At least the filmmakers had the good sense not to end the film with the expected death scene.

On the whole, not as cornball as I might have expected. However, in achieving that much, it hurt all the more when it stumbled.

B-

Robin ROBIN:
If I didn't know that "Jack" was directed by that American film icon, Francis Coppola, I would have assumed that it was the work of some bright kid who's given his/her first directing job.

It's obvious that Coppola is just the hired gun in this effort. There is little of his talent and signature touches up on the screen. I'd rather watch a film where he cares, which he evidently doesn't with "Jack."

Robin Williams' "Jack" is a bit of an enigma. Williams plays Jack as a whimsical and melancholy character, overall, which plays false. Where he works best are those scenes where he gets to act like a ten-year-old - almost manically active with more to say than his mouth can get out. When he's in this mode, he really is like a ten-year-old and a joy to watch.

Of the supporting cast, Diane Lane has the opportunity to make her mother character a fully three-dimensional figure, exhibiting all the fears and joys as she watches her not-so-little boy go out into the cold, cruel world. She really is Jack's mentor, protector, and best friend. It's the best thing she's done in years.

Bill Cosby lends his experience and calm to his role as Jack's tutor, but doesn't really flesh out his character of Mr. Woodruff.

Fran Drescher, as the mom to Jack's friend Louie, give a sweet, though brassy, performance. She's not as broadly comic, well, mostly, as she is in her TV show, "The Nanny."

Brian Kerwin, as Jack's dad, and the kids in the cast are adequate, if a bit generic.

"Jack" gave me about 35% of what I expected from such huge talents as Coppola and Williams.

You've probably already heard the comparisons to Tom Hank's "Big." "Big" is the far better film.

I can only muster up a C for "Jack."


TIN CUP

"Tin Cup" is the latest sports film by writer-director Ron Shelton and his reunion with Kevin Costner, following up on their earlier, successful "Bull Durham."

Costner plays Roy "Tin Cup" McAvoy, a driving range pro in the middle of nowhere, West Texas. Roy is comfortable with his failed life and is content to spend his time on the driving range, drinking beer, with best buddy Romeo Posar, played by Cheech Marin.

Roy is comfortable, that is, until he becomes smitten with Dr. Molly Griswald, a beautiful psychologist who comes to Roy for golf lessons.

Roy, in love with Molly, sets out to qualify for the US Open, hoping to prove to himself, and Molly, that he is still capable of heroic achievements.

Robin ROBIN:
I think Ron Shelton is planning on having "Tin Cup" do for golf what "Bull Durham" did for minor league baseball and "White Men Can't Jump" did for pick-up basketball.

Unfortunately, golf is, except for the golfers out there, an extremely boring game and subject, and "Tin Cup" does not do a heck of a lot to change my perception of the game.

At 2 hours 13 minutes running time, "Tin Cup" is easily 30 minutes too long. It takes a good 100 minutes to get to the film's point. During that 100 minutes, I started to lose interest in the movie and its characters. I nearly lost consiousness, too.

Fortunately, for me, the last 30 or 40 minutes takes place during the US Open, so there was more acivity and stuff to keep my attention.

Kevin Costner has ambitions of being the everyman character that Harrison Ford does so well. I don't identify with Tin Cup, or Costner, one bit.

Rene Russo, besides having a bad hair day and lousy costuming, makes a valiant attempt at injecting some awkwardly amusing charm into her character, but Molly is never really given a chance to be more than the love interest for Costner.

Cheech Marin, as Costner's sidekick, is suitably amusing, but not outstanding.

Don Johnson, as Tin Cup's adversary, doesn't have the chance to be more than a two dimensional figure. There's no real conflict between him and Costner, and no spark between him and Russo.

Production values are of good quality, but not outstanding.

As I said, lose about 30 minutes and there may be a stronger film in there.

If "Tin Cup" is supposed to be a metaphor of life, life must be awfully boring.

I give it a C+


MATILDA

In the second Roald Dahl children's story to hit the big screen this year, Mara Wilson is Matilda Wormwood, an exceptional little girl born to the loathsome Harry and Zinnia Wormwood (Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman). Harry's an uneducated used car salesman who specializes in every illegality possible in his profession and Zinnia's a tarted up airhead who eats dinner in front of the TV with him every night watching crass gameshows. They distrust Matilda's love of reading to the point of keeping her out of school until Harry sells a car to the principal of Crushem Hall, a Nazish former Olympian shotputter with an overzealousness for discipline.

Laura LAURA:
'Matilda is just about what you'd expect from Danny DeVito directing a Roald Dahl story -- dark whimsy overcoated with a gross exuberance.

Mara Wilson assuredly holds down the title role. Embeth Davidtz ("Schindler's List") is all glowing purity as Miss Honey, Matilda's kind and encouraging teacher with a secret past. Devito and Perlman are serviceball. Pee Wee Herman and Tracey Walter ("Repo Man") are truly wasted as a pair of FBI agents -- inspired casting cast adrift.

The real star of the show is British stage actress Pam Ferris as Miss Trunchbull! She's a real ogre and a great kid's villain, although a sequence where she's trying to sniff out Miss Honey and Matilda runs a bit too long.

"Matilda" is fun. It promotes reading, individualism, and the concept that being an adult doesn't mean being right. It just never flew quite as high as I'd hoped it would, however. For a girls' movie, I'd have to say I preferred "Harriet, the Spy" and for a Dahl adaptation, "James and the Giant Peach."

B

Robin ROBIN:
I think "Matilda" is my favorite kids' film so far this year, and one of my favorites of the year, in general.

Danny DeVito has done an exceptionally deft job in conveying the intellectualism of Roald Dahl's subversively funny writing up onto the screen.

The story couples its inherently high level of intelligence with the excellent performance by Mara Wilson. This little girl has shed her precocious manner ("Mrs. Doubtfire," the remake of "Miracle on 34th Street") and replaced it with a degree of professionalism many adult stars lack. She has the talent to display expressions of whimsy, anger, happiness, and others, that you believe. Will she be the new Jody Foster? Too soon to tell, but you never know.

Casting British actress, Pam Ferris, in the role of Miss Trunchbull, the wicked principal of Crunchem Hall, borders on genius. Her philosophy, "My idea of the perfect school is one with no children at all!" put her in the realm of all time bad guys in movies. She is compared to Cruela DeVille in "101 Dalmatians." I, personally, am more inclined to compare her to Toecutter in "The Road Warrior." She's so bad she's good.

DeVito is also very clever in portraying Matilda's less-than-brilliant parents. DeVito, as Harry, is the epitome of the sleazy used car salesman. Rhea Perlman pulls out the stops in her small role as Matilda's bingo-playing, gum-chewing, Home-Shopping-Channel-aholic mother, Zenia.

Embeth Davidtz is sweet as can be as the warm and loving teacher, Miss Honey. You really root for her and Matilda to get together in the end.

The moral of the story is off-beat, but very appropriate, for the 90's: A single, intelligent and loving parent is far better than two stupid, mean and selfish parents any day.

The only false note was the plot handling of the FBI agents staking out Harry's illegal car parts scam. Paul Ruebens and Tracy Walter are two character actors that could have had more fun with their part in the film. DeVito just didn't follow through as he might have.

"Matilda" is such an intelligent rendering of the story about a gifted child that her telekinetic powers, fully introduced quite late in the film, are almost superfluous except for the visual effects and to tie up plot threads at the end. Otherwise, Matilda's gift of intelligence could have sufficed to overcome her problems.

"Matilda" is my favorite kid film, this year. Hell, it's one of my favorite films of the year.

I give "Matilda" an A-


ESCAPE FROM L.A.

It's 16 years since he rescued the president in "Escape From New York." Now, Snake Plissken is back, helping yet another president, in John Carpenter's "Escape From L.A."

The big one finally hits the west coast, breaking Los Angeles off from the rest of the country, making it the perfect place for the moral right, led by the President-for-life (Cliff Robertson), to designate as a prison for all the nation's undesirables -- like cigarette-smokers, meat-eaters and other nefarious criminals.

Snake's job, this time, is to recover a special code box that controls a secret satellite system capable of plunging the entire earth into the dark ages. He is also under orders to kill the thief who stole the box -- the President's own daughter!

Robin ROBIN:
I think I know what intent Carpenter and Russell have with this sequel: They're hoping to capitalize on the film's campy, cartoonish quality. Unfortunately, the original "Escape From New York" is not all that great a concept anchor to begin with.

There's a vaguely laid out plot setting -- the country has swung so far to the moral right that any person who deviates from that moral path will end up incarcerated for life in L.A., and the president has appointed himself to office for life. OK, I can live with that.

What follows -- Snake goes into harm's way to retrieve the secret box, which, of course, is operated by a common looking remote control. He's infected with the Plutoxin-7 virus and has 7.5 hours to accomplish his mission -- is plainly a rehash of the original, with a sprinkling of "Roadwarrior, Beyond the Thunderdome" thrown into the mix along the way.

Some effort was put into the camp aspect of the film, with Peter Fonda as a zonked out surfer dude (in one of the worst blue screen jobs I've seen), and Bruce Campbell almost unidentifiable as the demented Surgeon General of Malibu. Pam Grier is also pretty good as the manly woman, Hershey.

Valeria Golino is totally wasted in a cameo role that had little to do with the story. Except she gets killed saving Snake.

Carpenter and Russell had very good intentions with "Escape, the sequel," but the results don't meet the intent. Too bad.

I can't really recommend going to see "Escape From L.A." at the theatre. Better would be to wait 'til it comes out on video and rent it together with the original. On two-for-one night.

"Escape" gets just a C.


EMMA

"Emma" is the fourth Jane Austen film to arrive in about a year and the second based on Austen's "Emma" -- last year's "Clueless" was loosely based on the same work. This rendition is a more precise adaptation written for the screen and directed by Douglas McGrath. Gwyneth Paltrow is the title character and she's, well, kind of clueless. She fancies herself a matchmaker, but her instincts are all wrong. Her first major attempt is to fix up Harriet, played by Toni Collette, with Alan Cumming's vicor, Mr. Elton, but he has higher asperations. It isn't until Harriet believes herself attached to Emma's brother-in-law Mr. Knightley, played by Jeremy Northam, that Emma realizes what a botch she's made of her own affairs.

Laura LAURA:
Gwyneth Paltrow is simply luminous in the title role. I've been waiting through the girlfriend and wife roles for her to deliver on the promise she showed in the mediocre "Flesh and Bone" and this is it! Casting all around is very tasty indeed with Jeremy Northam ("The Net") playing the patient Mr. Knightley, Toni Collette ('Muriel's Wedding') as the too easily led Harriett, Alan Cumming ("Circle of Friends") as the social climbing Mr. Elton, Juliet Stevenson ("Truly, Madly, Deeply") as his self-congratulatory, snobbish wife and Sophie Thompson ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Persuasion") as the garrulous Miss Bates. It was also odd seeing Ewan McGregor, fresh from  "Trainspotting," almost unrecognizable in this period piece.

This "Emma" is light, airy and modern -- surely Austen's funniest work. Austen had said that "Emma" was her attempt to create a heroine that no one would like but her, and in that she failed. While Emma has many more faults than other Austen heroines, she's so genuinely well meaning you can't help but be charmed by her.

Except for a proclivity for some annoying camera movement, first time director Douglas McGrath can stand proudly with the other Austen adaptations -- while maybe not as shaded as "Sense and Sensibility," "Emma" is certainly more fun than the dour "Persuasion."

B+


HOUSE ARREST

"House Arrest" stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Pollack as Janet and Kevin Beindorf, a couple celebrating their 18th anniversary while planning getting separated.

The only trouble is their kids, Grover and Stacey (Kyle Howard and Amy Sakesitz), won't allow it and lock the unsuspecting parents in the basement until they come to their senses.

Complicating matters are some other neighborhood kids who think Grover has such a good idea, they bring their parents over to dump them in the basement, too, but, as punishment for their failings.

Robin ROBIN:
In "House Arrest", not much happens that isn't extremely predictable and cliched. From the very beginning, you can tell just about all that's going to happen by the end of the film:

- Grover ends up with happy, well-adjusted parents (AND he gets himself a babe in the process - this is a new feature in young team movies, of late).

- His parents rekindle their love for each other, bringing their lives back to order.

- The other kids/parents all get their life messes cleaned up (with one couple ending up in divorce, but this is looked upon as a positive element - especially for this couple).

- Everyone lives happily ever after.

Actually, as I think about it, nothing much happens during the movie except for the parents making multiple attempts to escape and the kids foiling them every step. In a sentence, that's the story.

I was watching some of the featurette stuff we get for many films. To hear the cast and crew talk, you'd think this is something significant.

It's not, and I've spent too much time on this, already.

"House Arrest" musters no more than a D+ from me. I thought that might be a bit harsh, but, on consideration, it's not.


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