JINGLE ALL THE WAY - THE ENGLISH PATIENT
STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT

JINGLE ALL THE WAY

"Jingle All The Way" stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as Howard Langston, a workaholic dad who despite his good intentions continually lets his family down with broken promises. When Howard's wife (Rita Wilson) asks him if he remembered to purchase a Turbo Man action figure for his son's Christmas, Howard is horrified to realize that he has forgotten and now must find the most popular toy of the year on Christmas Eve. To make matters worse, Howard's got a competitor - a bizarre postman played by Sinbad who's on the same quest.

Laura LAURA:
"Jingle All the Way" is a mean-spiritted and sadistic film. Why would Arnold Schwarzenegger, a purported family man, think this is suitable family holiday entertainment?

The film is also totally unoriginal and cliche addled. Cliche #1 - Arnold promises to be present when his son is presented with a karate belt award. He's hounded by both his wife from home and his secretary at the office, but of course stalls at work far too long. He's stopped by a cop for speeding and shows up at the event after everyone's gone home. Where have I seen this before (although isn't it usually the school play)?

The entire plot has been done to death on countless sitcoms' holiday shows, albeit usually without this much ill will. I'd also like to know just what Hollywood seems to have against the U.S. Postal Service this holiday season? First we get the truly abysmal "Dear God" and now we have a postman played by Sinbad who thinks nothing of tossing mail and packages in the air and making bomb threats. I also thought Sinbad was supposed to be a comedian. He didn't manage to elicit one laugh from me. The usually hilarious Phil Hartman is also wasted here as a divorced neighbor with the hots for Schwarzenegger's wife, played by Rita Wilson. Speaking of Rita Wilson, she's now managed to appear in two unfunny holiday films in a row, previously starring in "Mixed Nuts." Jim Belushi manages not to embarrass himself as an evil Santa and Martin Mull appears in the role of a disc jockey that might as well have been played by any unknown. Jake Lloyd, so appealing in "Unhook the Stars," is a cookie cutter kid here - stick to the indies, kid.

"Jingle All the Way" is an unrelenting, bash-you-over-the-head, chaotic, loud piece of tedium.

D-

ROBIN:
As the lead-off-the-season, big holiday film, "Jingle All The Way" should be a light-hearted romp through the trials and tribulations of the Christmas holiday season.

It isn't.

It IS a mean-spirited and sadistic display of all the things that are bad about the holidays - the selfishness, the stress, the anxiety of the holiday season are all displayed amply in "Jingle...." The bad stuff it hits right on the nailhead.

Unfortunately, none of the true meanings of Christmas - the holiday warmth and cheer, the giving to those close to us and to those who can't take care of themselves - are displayed by the filmmakers. Just the negative things you hate about the holidays.

Arnold, who has proven he can deliver funny lines, mainly in his action flicks, is totally wrong for the role of the beleaguered father. He is uptight and strained as he tries to pull off the manic physical humor. He looks as if he needs an AK-47. I wonder how someone like Jim Carey would have done in the role.

Sinbad "stars" as Arnold's nemesis. I have never been a fan of Sinbad. That hasn't changed a bit. His lunatic postman is an insult to the members of the US Postal Service and to everyone. The tone of his character is selfish, tossing aside packages and letters - yours, I presume - that he hasn't delivered. I deal a lot with the Post Office and I'm insulted by this major part of the film. Well, I guess for what he does, Sinbad isn't awful, just his character.

Other supporting cast is fair. Nothing really worth mentioning.

The script, by Randy Kornfield, contains nothing inventive or original, counting on "Home Alone"-type of venom to sustain the comedy. It fails worse than the awful "Mixed Nuts" of a couple of years ago.

The big, climactic end of the movie is fast and fun, but the cost of getting there ain't worth the time, effort, and, especially, the money.

I just wish that we had reviewed this film a couple of weeks ago when it first was released. It has already done much of its damage to your collective pocketbooks. I should have issued a warning on the last show.

In the end, I don't care if it's in focus and you can hear it.

I give "Jingle All The Way" a rare F.


THE ENGLISH PATIENT

Writer-director Anthony Minghella, who created the wonderful comedy-romance-ghost-story, "Truly, Madly, Deeply," a few years ago, tackles stronger stuff in his two and a half rambling epic adventure, "The English Patient," starring Oscar-nominee Ralph Fiennes, Juliet Binoche, Kristin Scott Thomas, Willem Dafoe, and Naveen Andrews.

Based on the Booker Prize-winning novel by Michael Ondaatje, Minghella tells the stories of four people, cast together in a ruined monastery at the end of the Second World War.

The focus of the film, the title character, played by Fiennes in both the pre-war flashbacks and in the film's present day of 1944, is the amnesic survivor of a plane shot down by Germans over the Sahara Desert, burned beyond recognition and dying.

Binoche is the patient's nurse, Hana, left behind to care for the man in his last days, helping him remember the love and lover he lost.

ROBIN:
Anthony Minghella takes a strong shot at bringing an extremely complex story to the screen, but, I'm afraid to say, he doesn't hit the mark with "The English Patient."

The problem is, for me, the length of the work. I mean this in two ways. The obvious one is that, at two and a half hours, it is just too darn long. There are few movies that can justify an extended run time and "The English Patient" isn't one of them.

The other time problem I had was during the run of the film. I kept checking my watch to see how much more I had to sit through.

The latter problem is caused by the film's overall length. The extended run time allows a degree of sloppiness in the pacing of the story that brings notice to itself, even though the individual stories are, of themselves, compelling. Minghella tried to hard to cover all the bases, but is, ultimately, too ambitious.

Ralph Fiennes is best as the patient. He is interesting and convincing as the burn victim seeking his past. He is less compelling, in the flashbacks, when you first meet him. He's a little stodgy, but I guess that's the character. He brings it up a notch as his relationship with Katherine (Kristen Scott Thomas) torches up, but this happens well into the film.

Kristen Scott Thomas, in a supporting character less defined than that of Juliet Binoche's Hana, is absolutely stunning. She carries herself incredibly well. In many scenes, she is the lone woman among several men, and pulls off being their equal, mentally, and, in the end, physically.

Binoche and her story is very nice, but weak in its telling and development. It feels like this is the part of the original story that wasn't fleshed out in the screen adaptation. Naveen Andrews, as the Sikh bomb expert and love interest for Binoche, is OK, but has little chance to flesh out his character.

Willem Dafoe's Caravaggio is enigmatic and a little out of place in the picture's scheme of things.

Technical aspects, especially the desert photography, are all first rate.

A more judicious use of editing, say, about 20 or so minutes, could have made this ambitious effort a little easier to take.

I give it a qualified B - it's a sweeping romance with many good aspects, but not enough to justify the time you spend watching. Too long to satisfy.

Laura LAURA:
"The English Patient" is an ambitious but flawed film which takes a complex story and downplays some major characters to disadvantage while beefing up less important aspects of the story resulting in a bloated 162 minute run time.

The central love story is framed by another story, that of a Canadian nurse, Hana (Juliette Binoche) during World War II caring for the critically burned title character in an abandoned Italian villa. Hana falls in love with Kip, a Sikh bomb expert. Kip is a compelling character played by newcomer Naveen Andrews. Unfortunately, we never get enough of Kip, although Andrews tantalizes us and draws us in during his brief screen time.

Willem Dafoe is Caravaggio, another Canadian who moves into the villa and is clearly there to unlock the final mystery of Count Almasy's story, but his character didn't interest me and too much time was lost to developing his background.

As for the central love story, we're not given enough information about the Clifton's marriage to explain Katherine's newlywed passion for another man.

Fiennes is well cast as the aristocratic and mysterious Almasy, as much of an enigma in the flashbacks as in the forefront with memory loss. Kristin Scott Thomas is gorgeous as the doomed Katherine and the two do manage to create some real cinematic heat between them. Naveen Andrews is a real find as Kip. Dafeo didn't do much for me. Colin Firth's Geoffrey Clifton is OK, but all I really know about him is that he loved his wife.

There is lush cinematography by John Seale. Memorable scenes such as a biplane shadowed against the swirling dunes of the desert and Kip hoisting Hana up to the rafters of a Church with a flare in order to see the artwork there help give "The English Patient" it's desired epic feel.

Director Anthony Minghella is shaping a strange career. I loved his first film, the small, immensely moving "Truly, Madly, Deeply," which he followed up with "Mr. Wonderful," a mainstream commercial bomb. Now an amazingly ambitious epic love story crossing time and continents during war! "The English Patient" has moments that will stay with me for a long time, but I would have been more satisfied if it had been structured and tightened more.

B


STAR TREK - FIRST CONTACT

In the eighth Star Trek film, the cast of "Generations" completely takes the helm of the Starship Enterprise. Captain Jean-Luc Picard must again face his most feared enemy - the Borg, led by Alice Krige's seductive Borg Queen. The Borg have a new plot to take over the universe - by going back in history and stopping Dr. Zefram Cochrane's first warp flight, they will prevent first contact and ultimately the birth of the United Federation.

Laura LAURA:
First off, I'm not a Trekkie, but I'm glad to report that you don't have to be one in order to follow "Star Trek First Contact." Still and all, nothing exactly original is presented here - we've seen the time travel angle used many times in Star Trek plots and the basic device of two action lines - one aboard the Enterprise and one on some planet or other (Earth here) is a well worn one.

I do have to give first time director Jonathon Frakes some credit - this outing is a little creepier than usual. The Borg are like space zombies and Alice Krige's an interesting villain with a terrific makeup job! Frakes watched the first two "Alien" films for inspiration and it shows.

Besides the regular cast and Krige, we have James Cromwell (the farmer in "Babe") as Cochran. Cromwell didn't impress me too much here, but he's serviceable. More interesting is Alfre Woodard as Lily, but she doesn't get nearly enough to do.

Some of the weirder things we get in this movie are Picard and Lily hiding from the Borg within a holographic novel, a first time journey onto the hull of the Enterprise and Data being seduced by skin grafts! The first seemed a bit silly, but the second built some nice tension and the Data plotline provided some nice psychological sparring.

I did notice, however, that none of the Enterprise crew showed much emotion when one of their own was lost in the battle with the Borg and I have to admit to feeling some of that same apathy. While I'd say this was somewhat entertaining and definitely one of the better efforts of the Trek flicks, I must admit this series has never floated my boat.

B-

ROBIN:
I'm glad to say that "Star Trek: First Contact" is one of the best of the Star Trek franchise bunch.

I know little of the "Next Generation," and beyond, TV shows, so my requirement going into "First Contact" is that it not be assumed by the filmmakers that I know what's going on walking in to this film.

Screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald Moore do a deft job of educating the uninitiated, while keeping the Trekkers entertained with the forward course of the story.

The story follows three different, but nicely intertwined, paths. One, making sure the historic event of the first warp driven flight takes place, saving the future for Federation-kind, is the main story.

Captain Picard's desire, even hunger, for revenge against the Borg, is another of the subplots. The direct and figurative comparisons to Captain Ahab and Moby Dick are apt and effective in getting to the heart of his story quickly.

Data's story, as he goes toe-to-toe with the Borg Queen, is also one of the more sexy non-sexy bits I've seen. Cyborg copulation taken to new heights. Note: nothing even remotely graphic, sexually, takes place.

Jonathan Frakes, in his feature film directorial debut, does an admirable job of intercutting these several stories together, putting to good use the crew of the Enterprise and the veteran talents of James Cromwell ("Babe"), as warp-drive inventor Zefram Cochrane, and Alfre Woodard ("Grand Canyon"), as his loyal assistant Lily. Woodard has several scenes, one on one, with Stewart, where she stands pretty tall against the Shakespearean-trained actor.

Special F/X, from the opening sequence in the heart of the Borg lair where Picard is captive, to the attack on the Borg ship, to the EVA walk outside the Enterprise, are state-of-the-art. Much tighter than a lot of the effects in "Independence Day."

This film is going to have lots of return viewers and will be one of the more successful of the franchise.

I also like the way they handle the First Contact of the title. Quietly amusing if you watch closely.

I give it a B.


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