THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS - BOGUS
PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS
BULLETPROOF - GRACE OF MY HEART

THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS

Seeing as how 'the Crow" was my #2 film for 1994, I approached the sequel with trepidation. On the one hand, the sequel is directed by first-time feature director Tim Pope, a director I've admired for his visually arresting music videos for The Cure and David Bowie. Casting the godfather of punk, Iggy Pop, as one of the bad guys also sounded like an interesting angle. On the other hand, how could any filmmaker inject freshness into the gothic story of a wronged man brought back from death to avenge the crimes against him? Could French actor Vincent Perez ("Indochine") follow Brandon Lee and not suffer from the comparison? How would Sarah played by Mia Kirschner ("Exotica") be worked into the story as an adult? Based on the best-selling novel by Joyce Carol Oates, "Foxfire" is the story of four young women drawn together when a young, James Dean-like female drifter comes walking into town one day.

Their encounter with this enigmatic young woman sets off a chaotic series of events that, first, empowers them all, then, transforms them forever.

Making her directorial debut, Annette Haywood-Carter introduces an ensemble cast of newcomers, led by Hedy Burress, from TV's "Boston Common," and Angelina Jolie as the mysterious drifter, Legs Sadovsky.

Laura LAURA:
I've got two words for this sequel -- totally irrelevant. I believe this is the first time I've been aware of Miramax grabbing for cash rather than quality.

Vincent Perez may have the right look, especially after his character Ashe is painted by grown up tatto artist Sarah, but his delivery is flat and it's no surprise that he just doesn't have the moves Brandon Lee had. Mia Kirschner is walking art direction and nothing else -- what we find out about Sarah is that she's grown up to be the penultimate goth chick complete with angel wings tattooed onto her shoulderblades. Richard Brooks as Judah, another drug dealing bad guy, isn't worthy to clean Michael Wincott's boots and Iggy Pop is utterly lifeless as his henchman -- he does get the best death scene, though. The only acting in this film that had any charisma was by Ian Dury as Sarah's tattoo shop partner, Noah.

The story is simply a retread of the original with all the life sucked out of it and the loss of a son replacing the loss of a fiance. Substitute LA for Detroit, the Day of the Dead for Halloween, a watery grave for a regular one, one Asian chick for another, keep one by-now-very-old-cat Gabriel and delete the cop and you've got the sequel -- we"re talking plug and play screenwriting here. This film has the added detraction that I doubt it can really stand on its own - there seems to be too much of an assumption that the viewer has seen the first film.

On the plus side, I have to admit that the film does look good and there's a few (but far too few) nice touches of visual wit (like a dog wearing a Day of the Dead mask). The film is awash in muted yellows and reds and had a baroque feel to it, particularly in the film's climax. The score by the original's Graeme Revelle makes one yearn for the first film when a refrain is borrowed from it. The soundtrack won't be sticking around on the charts too long.

D+

Robin ROBIN:
Aside from really well done photography and art direction, 'the Crow: City of Angels" does nothing more than retread the ground already covered by the original. And, it doesn't even come up to the same level as most of the elements of the first, except for the above.

Vincent Perez is not Brandon Lee. Any of the humor that Lee brought to the original roll is missing in the sequel.

Richard Brooks, as the nefarious and evil head bad guy, Judah Earl, does not even come close to Michael Wincott's terrifically debauched badguy from the first film.

Mia Kirshner is cinemagraphic eye candy. Her connection, as Sarah, to the original is poorly stated and doesn't do anything to shed light on the mystery of the Crow. The first film could afford the ambiguity. This one should have made some attempt at answers.

Iggy Pop sucks as Judah's head henchman. He's not just bad, he's horrid.

I highly recommend watching the original, instead of this dud. (I did a few hours after seeing the sequel. Good move, Robin.) it's a better film, more entertaining, better acted and written -- just a better film.

"The Crow: City of Angels," only because of it's superior cinematography, gets a D+.


BOGUS

In director/producer Norman Jewison's latest film, "Bogus," seven-year-old Albert's (Haley Joel Osment) life of glitter and glamour, magic and fantasy in Las Vegas comes to, literally, a crashing end when his mother, Lorraine (Nancy Travis), dies in a tragic auto accident.

Lorraine's wish, in the event of her death, is that her childhood best friend and foster sister, Harriet (Whoopi Goldberg), a workaholic single lady, take custody of young Albert, transplanting him to the not-so-glamorous locale of Newark NJ.

Albert's means of coping with his disastrous new life takes the form of a giant, but gentle, bear of a Frenchman, the imaginary, the magical, Bogus, played by that giant, gentle, bear of a Frenchman, Gerard Depardieu.

Robin ROBIN:
For about 85%, "Bogus" is a sweet, warm-hearted bit of sentimental fluff by a master filmmaker with first tier writer and cast.

Unfortunately, most of the effort is put toward the development of Albert and Harriet's each coping with their own dilemma, not to the resolution of their problems or to the development of the expected enmity between the two.

The resolution of the story -- following a completely senseless dance number between Harriet and Bogus which, I suppose, represents Harriet getting in touch with her child side, but, instead, brings the whole movie to a screeching halt - is handled in such a perfunctory manner that the movie was over and I was on the street before I knew what happened.

Basically, 100 minutes were spent showing what a tough time each has, with Bogus telling them each they"re OK, then: fantasy sequence with Albert (which kind of works), fantasy sequence with Harriet (which, as I said, doesn't work), they all live happily ever after. The last bit took about 5 minutes.

The 100 minutes, to Jewison's credit, is a rich combination of production elements, showing the glitter and glamour of Las Vegas in a little boy's eyes, to the drab reality, for Albert, of Newark, both physically and emotionally contrasting Vegas.

Whoopi is fine as the unexpected mom, but nothing to get too excited about. She's competent. That's it.

Gerard Depardieu plays a big, lovable, caring, imaginary friend, with cinematographer David Watkin using the camera to accentuate Depardieu's already enormous size. He is more of a device than a character, but, his scenes with Haley Joel Osment are really very sweet and touching.

Speaking of Osment. This little seven-year-old showed some suprisingly emotional acting, especially when he is venting his frustrations over the loss of his mom and Las Vegas family, his drab surroundings, his disaffection for his new guardian. When he expresses anger, he really looks pissed.

I think if Norman Jewison and screenwriter Alvin Sargent had spent their efforts on creating a full, believable conciliation between Albert and Harriet, instead of the meaningless dance number and trite ending, there may have been a superior film here. It, mostly, was, but, ultimately, misses the mark.

I liked it better than another great filmmaker's latest work, Francis Coppola's "Jack."

I give "Bogus" a B-.

Laura LAURA:
"Bogus" is an awfully tempting film title to throw at any critic or reviewer -- it just cries out for snappy remark to be made at its expense. "Bogus" isn't, however -- it's just not terribly good either.

Director Norman Jewison makes far too big a production out of his simple story of a small boy who loses his circus-performer mother and must go to live with restaurant supply company owning stranger, played by Whoopi Goldberg. Gerard Depardieu is on hand as the make believe title character who hangs around long enough to make sure Whoopi relearns the importance of magic and imagination. The two are fine in their individual roles, although somewhat awkward together. Haley Joe Osment, from TV's "The Jeff Foxworthy Show" is a natural as the child who finds it normal to own a baseball signed by Liza Minelli.

Whoopi's understandably at odds with suddenly taking care of a little boy used to Las Vegas show biz in Hoboken while running a less than glamourous business, but she makes so many bogus moves that one grows impatient with the character, particularly when she has no time to watch a simple little magic trick the boy is going out of his way to show her. When her transformation finally does come, the film's run time has been all used up so everything seems too abrupt after the long slow build. Throw in a couple of totally out of place large-scale song and dance fantasy production numbers and the filmmakers are really trying the audience's patience.

Nice small appearances by Nancy Travis as the doomed Mom and Andrea Martin as Whoopi's secretary help, but all in all this wasn't a very memorable film.

C+


PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS

On May 6, 1993 the mutilated bodies of 8 year old Steve Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore were found alongside a creek in Arkansas. As the small town of West Memphis screamed for justice, 16-year-old Jessie Lloyd Misskelley, who has an IQ of 72, confessed to police that he, 17 year old Jason Baldwin and 18-year-old Damien Echols had committed the crime. Although that confession was later retracted, the town was convinced that the three were Satan worshippers who had been in need of a sacrifice. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who previously brought us the documentary "Brother's Keeper" had unprecedented access to the proceedings of a trial where not a shred of physical evidence against the accused resulted in three convictions.

Laura LAURA:
"Paradise Lost" is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. At a 2 1/2 hour running time, I've watched this in its entirety five times - it's that gripping. This is a document of how human hate, prejudice and the desire for vengeance can override the intent of our trial system.

The filmmakers have access to film of the bodies at the crime scene, the parents of the victims, the parents of the accused, the accused, the local church services, the local police, the jail and the trial itself. If we didn't know we were watching true events unfold, the story might be accused of being too fantastical, at least in the United States.

I think one of the reasons I found myself so engrossed by this documentary is that I found it difficult not to emphathize with the eldest and most eloquent of the accused, Damien Echols. To wear black, have an interest in Wicca (white magic or witchcraft) and listen to Metallica appear to be his only crimes and yet Echols almost seems to take a perverse pleasure in how his "otherness" has cast him as the ultimate bogeyman.

One can understand the anguish of the victims" parents and yet the intensity of the hate from a few of them gives one pause. There are even unsettling questions about John Mark Byers, who made the present of knife with indeterminate blood stains to the film crew, yet initially testifies that he had never used the knife in a way that would have caused blood to be on it.

The documentary never convinces us that these three did not commit the crime. However, with the exception of a highly questionable confession, we"re never convinced - let alone reasonable doubt - that they did it either.

Metallica allowed the use of their music gratis for this film and it's oddly effective against the Arkansas small town backdrop. The documentary is also superbly paced and editted.

My first of 1996 - A+.

Robin ROBIN:
It's been a very slow year for top notch films. There have only been a handful, such as "Lone Star," "Fargo" and 'the Hunchback of Notre Dame," that I found deserving of an A. I'm even less inclined to be that praiseworthy of a documentary, so I was surprised to find myself so enthralled by "Paradise Lost." Despite Laura's fanatical overexuberance about it. (I think she's watched it at least six times, so far. Maybe more.)

Other documentaries, like 'the Thin Blue Line" or "Roger and Me," tend to have a self-serving agenda with the filmmaker's wearing their viewpoint on their sleeves for all to see.

In "Paradise Lost," the makers honestly and, pretty much unbiasedly, show the process of justice that led to the conviction of three young men. In this straightforward depiction of the investigation and trial, we are presented with the finality of conviction, including the death penalty.

Incredibly, without pretense, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky ("Brother's Keeper") spin their tale allowing the viewer to realize, in his own time, that the trial and conviction is based on two things: the accused looked "weird" and the evidence is totally circumstantial.

As we watched this film when first shown on HBO, my jaw dropped when I realized I was seeing a document about three boys convicted for a capital crime with absolutely no real evidence.

Politics and hate were the only motivating factors for this community's drive to punish someone for the heinous crimes against the three little boys. Yes, emotions run high, but there was no evidence.

I don't recall feeling so strongly about an injustice in ???

"Paradise Lost" is one of the finest documentaries I have seen in years.

It deserves a well earned A.


BULLETPROOF

Damon Wayans and Adam Sandler star in director Ernest Dickerson's latest film, the action-comedy, "Bulletproof."

Sandler's Archie Moses is a car thief and supervisor for a major league drug dealer played by James Caan. For the past year, Archie and his partner, Rock Keats (Damon Wayans), have been stealing cars and becoming the best of friends.

The only problem is, Rock is an undercover cop with the mission of arresting Caan's drug kingpin Frank Colton, but, during the big bust, is shot by Archie in a near fatal accident.

The story turns as the one-time friends, each feeling betrayed by the other, must travel across country to testify against Colton.

Robin ROBIN:
"Bulletproof" makes no pretense of trying to be more than it is -- an action comedy. And, it does that well enough, what with Wayans and Sandler, two very likable actors/comedians, as the focal characters of the story.

What I find refreshing in this little exercise is the nature of the buddy relationship between Moses and Carter. The friendship is established from the start, but only you, the viewer, knows that they are both victims of circumstance, so you're rooting for them to find each other by the end.

There is the element of love between friends put forth here that easily transcends the typical buddy flick, even the best of them, like "Lethal Weapon."

Of the two leads, Sandler, hands down, has the best of the movie. He gets the lion's share of the laughs and gag lines. His Whitney Houston takeoff singing the theme from 'the Bodyguard" is a truly funny moment. I've seen the piece at least a half a dozen times and I laugh each time. it's almost eerie how well he parodies.

Wayans plays the straight man here, so he tends to be the tougher, less funny, of the two. He still pulls off some good zingers early on, but for most of the film, he's Sandler's foil. The two play well together.

Supporting cast is OK, but both James Farentino and James Caan give or have little more than cameo appearances. Their characters lend little to the story itself, except as plot devices.

"Bulletproof" is a very likable little buddy film with some nice twists of character development and two leads you want to see be friends again by the end.

An entertaining little ditty that I enjoyed watching.

I give it a B-.

Laura LAURA:
"Bulletproof" may be just another mismatched buddy picture, and not one of the calibre of "Lethal Weapon," but it has its own small charms and one unusual difference -- this one's almost a romance!

The main character conflict between Damon Wayans" Jack Keats and Adam Sandler's Archie Moses is the belief that each has betrayed the other and the tremendous hurt caused by that betrayal. You see, Keats really DOES betray Moses, but he just doing his job as an undercover cop. However after a year of teaming in petty crime with Moses to get at James Caan's bigger crook, Keats has grown awfully fond of Moses. And Moses didn't really mean to shoot Keats in the head in the big shakedown, it really WAS an accident.

I've been waiting for Adam Sandler to pull through with a decent role -- I really think the guy's funny -- but although I thought "Happy Gilmore" was a guilty pleasure, everything else he's been in until now has been junk. "Bulletproof" gives him a chance to shine. His rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" is a small comic masterpiece, especially when he ends it by telling Wayans that "You"ll always be my bodyguard."

Wayans spends most of the film being pissed off, but you can tell that underneath it all he still cares. He squirms with discomfort when Sandler forces him to talk to Sandler's mom on the phone and is positively liberated when he finds he can believe in Sandler again.

The supporting cast, including Caan and James Farantino, is largely wasted with the exception of Mark Roberts who plays Charlie, owner of the Hunting Cap Lodge where Keats and Moses must stay before being picked up by the cops.

"Bulletproof" is an amusing trifle.

B-


GRACE OF MY HEART

Independent filmmaker Alison Anders ("Gas Food Lodging," "Mi Vida Loca") has long been fascinated with New York's Brill Building - the place where a hive of songwriters shaped the music of the 1960s and 70s before it became commonplace for performers to write their own material. She's concocted a fictional story based on real life characers that spans two decades and is centered around Denise Waverly, played by Ileana Douglas, an early singer/songwriter who must pay her dues by working for manager Joel Miller (John Turturro) and enduring relationships with another songwriter, a music critic and a performing/producing genius before she's given a shot at performing her own material.

Laura LAURA:
The main problem with "Grace of My Heart" is that some of the main characters are so transparently based on real people, I wish Anders had either written a true life account or developed a more pure work of fiction. I had problems watching a film that would have me believe that Carole King had married Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys. She also could have been a little more careful with her research details -- John Lennon hadn't written "I Am the Walrus" in 1964, nor were people listening to walkmans in that year.

Ileana Douglas is an actress I've been interested in in supporting roles, usually in Scorcese films (he's her former real life partner and executive produced here) but particularly as Matt Dillon's sister in last year's 'to Die For." She has one truly great scene in this film when she's singing her first single, "God Give Me Strength," in the studio for producer Jay Phillips, played by Matt Dillon. She's also effective in the early parts of the story, but her performance becomes more and more washed out as the film loses its way at the mid point.

John Turturro is fun to watch and benefits from a well written and sympathetic character - he's the one guy Denise can always count on and who I believe the title song was meant to have been written for. Eric Stoltz gives an energized performance as the coattail riding songwriter who's Denise's first husband. Bruce Davison is touching as the married music critic who loves Denise but must leave her. The usually terrific Matt Dillon just about drags the entire film down as the crazy genius who marries Denise and then commits suicide (which Anders" follows with a shameless "A Star Is Born" funeral scene ripoff).

The soundtrack is chockablock with original material here from such artists as Jill Sobule and -- get this -- a cowriting credit by Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach! While the music does a fine job of conveying the times, the film itself eventually ends up seeming simply superficial and overlong.

C-

Robin ROBIN:
"Grace of My Heart" spans a period of twelve years and, for me, I felt like I was living through every one of them. Not a pretty picture.

Aside from initial titillation when a male group sings Dorothy's "big song" (there was honest energy in this scene), "Grace of My Heart" is, ultimately, a boring piece of film.

What amazes me is that the basis of "Grace of My Heart" is the music I grew up with, music I really like, and it had no spark, no pizzazz, no life! Instead of using many of the originals of the period (there were some), we get collaborations, such as Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach creating imitation 50's and 60's music.

With Martin Scorcese as executive producer, a man known for his rich use of period music in his films, I would have expected the music to be outstanding, and it's not.

Without the music to anchor the film, the rest of it falls by the wayside.

Illeana Douglas, a proven support/character actor, just doesn't have the wherewithal to carry a film on her own. At least, not yet.

With support from the likes of Matt Dillon, Eric Stoltz and John Turturo (who is, by far, the best thing in the movie), I would have expected, at least, a serviceable piece of work. Unfortunately, writer Allison Anders could not fill the screen with a story commensurate with the skill of her cast.

Director Allison Anders did not elicit anything special from her talented cast, either.

I won't even get into the supposed parallel between "Grace of My Heart" main character and the life of singer/songwriter Carol King.

I give "Grace of My Heart" a very tepid C-.


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