MARS ATTACKS - RIDICULE - THE PREACHER'S WIFE - DAYLIGHT
MOTHER - JERRY MAGUIRE - BREAKING THE WAVES

MARS ATTACKS

Director Tim Burton, who brought us such celluloid treasures as "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands," now steps into the extravaganza spotlight with his science fiction spoof, "Mars Attacks!"

Starring just about everyone in Hollywood from Jack Nicholson to Natalie Portman, "Mars Attacks!" is base on the Topps trading card series of the same name from the early 60's.

Burton, using the card series for his basic story, pays homage to the grade B alien invasion films of the 50's, but, with a major difference - a $70 million budget lavishly spent on the truly spectacular special F/X!

Robin ROBIN:
While "Mars Attacks!" is not the out-and-out hoot that I had high hopes for, it IS a high calibre homage, by Burton, to those campy sci-fi alien invasion classics we grew to love in the 50's and after.

(I watched a marvelously bad example of the genre, recently, call "Robot Monster." It is so jaw-dropping bad that I found it impossible not to watch. I understand and embrace the decades-long affection we have for this kind of film and why Burton would want to do such a project.)

"Mars Attacks!" does capture the campiness of the originals pretty well. The quality of the cast is many notches above thos in the films "Mars Attacks!" spoofs, but, they get down and dirty, anayway, and have a hell of a good time with their roles - particulary Annette Bening as the ditzy, new-age, 12-stepper, Barbara Land, who believes in the ggodness of Martian-kind, and Jim Brown as an ex-boxer-turned-Las-Vegas-casino-greeter, who goes one-on-one with a Martian leader, and WINS!

Glenn Close give an amusing, but brief, turn as the First Lady. Everyone else appears to be there for the fun of it.

But, the real star of of "Mars Attacks!," and the thing that dulls the camp edge Burton strives for, are the collection of absolutely fabulous special F/X. They are so seamless and eye-popping outstanding that the rest of the film takes a back seat. The homage that Burton intended is lost on the razzle dazzle of the effects. The studio, to say the least, overdid it by giving Burton way too much money. I would rather he had a smaller budget and used that brilliant imagination that has brought Burton so far.

Prior to the appearance of the Martians, the movie builds slowly for the first 30 minutes. But, once the bug-eyed, big-brained, little green men arrive on screen, you can expect a wild and wooly rollercoaster ride that lasts right up to the end.

The evil aliens are great and their presence represents some of the best melding of live action and animation to date.

This may not be the best or funniest effort by Burton. It is his biggest, and a lot of fun, too.

"Mars Attacks!" isn't great, but good, and I give it a B.

Laura LAURA:
"Mars Attacks" is a big goofy spoof of 1950's B Sci-fi movies given the megabudget treatment by quirky, childlike director Tim Burton ("Ed Wood," "Batman," "Edward Scissorhands"). Burton also handily manages to skewer some of this past summer's blockbuster films such as "Independence Day" and "Twister" and wastes no time doing it - when a couple of farmers think they smell barbeque, the approaching glow on the horizon turns out to be a stampeding herd of cattle fully ablaze!

It looks like everyone in Hollywood wanted to be part of the fun. "Mars Attacks" stars Jack Nicholson in dual roles of the President of the United States and a sleazy Las Vegas hotel developer, Glenn Close as the Nancy Reganish first lady, Annette Bening as a new age flake, Pierce Brosnan as a clueless scientist, Danny DeVito as an obnoxious gambler, Martin Short as the on-the-make President's press secretary, Sarah Jessica Parker as a ditzy talk show host, Michael J. Fox as her journalist boyfriend, Rod Steiger as a Dr. Strangelovish general, Lukas Haas as a doughnut shop worker (and savior of the human race), Sylvia Sidney as his grandmother, Natalie Portman as the President's daughter, Jim Brown as an ex pro fighter, Pam Grier as his ex-wife, Lisa Marie as a Martian woman and Tom Jones as himself. This isn't a film about great acting, it's more a chance to watch a huge cast having a great time, but there are a few standouts. Annette Bening is particularly amusing as the new age wacko who believes the Martians are coming to save earth. Pierce Brosnan is perfect as the alien life specialist - he does a terrific parody of his own image. Glenn Close has perfect timing in her second comedy outing of the season.

Technically, "Mars Attacks" is first rate, boasting top notch special effects (the Martians were entirely computer generated). Tim Burton's regular scorer, Danny Elfman, offers suitably retro music. Costume designer Colleen Atwood produces eye-popping outfits and production designer Wynn Thomas provides the perfect locales for the action to take place.

Screenwriter Jonathon Gems has written a script that keeps things moving along at a brisk pace accented by weird bursts of humor (a Martian ship zaps the Washington Monument and then nudges it in several directions in order to get it to land on a boy scout troop) and a truly bizarrely satisfying method of defeating the Martians (let's just say that it involves yodelling).

This is a good bit of fun, but I wonder if it was sound filmmaking judgement. Tim Burton was able to run free in a $70 million dollar playground which had another $30 million of marketting dollars thrown at it, but I suspect "Mars Attacks" will draw mostly the core cult audience of "Ed Wood."

B


RIDICULE

Director Patrice Leconte's ("Monsieur Hire") "Ridicule" is France's submission to the Academy for this year's Best Foreign Language Film. It stars stage actor Charles Berling as Gregoire Poncludon de Malavoy, a country engineer who travels to Versailles to get funding to save the local peasants from fatal fevers by draining swampy mosquito infested land. He's taken under the wing of the Marquis de Bellegarde (Jean Rochefort) and given instruction on how to play the evil-intentioned wits who make up the court of Louis XVI. Ponceludon is also torn between Mathilde, the ravishing daughter of Bellegarde (Judith Godreche), who's engaged to a much older man in order to fund her research, and the worldly Madame de Blayac (Fanny Ardant), who pulls puppet strings and manipulates favor at court.

Laura LAURA:
"Ricidule" is a lush costume drama where the main character must navigate through the shark-infested waters of Louis XVI's court 6 years before the inevitable revolution. This is a very smart drama with a great central conflict (the lure and dazzle of the court and its denizens vs. the simplicity and beauty of Mathilde and the country) and an unfortunately unsatisfying conclusion. Ponceludon eventually 'wins', although not in the manner he had been striving for.  I wondered what took him so long to make his final point that "children will die tomorrow because you ridiculed me today." Of course then we wouldn't have been able to enjoy all the nefarious scheming along the way!

Jean Rochefort is marvelous as the Marquis who's not able to keep his wits about him as he had in his youth. In fact, he keeps a notebook where he writes down the great barbs and comments that make their utterer the talk of the court until the next great one comes along. Bernard Giraudeau is gleefully wicked as 'wit of the moment' Abbot de Vilecourt and lover of Madame de Blayac - he's like a malicious child whose actions cause tragedy. Charles Berling, in his screen debut, is sympathetic as the simple man who gets in over his head but manages to remain uncorrupted. Urbain Cancelier is wonderfully cast as a Louis XVI who constantly seeks entertainment but provides none. He reminded me of Jon Lovitz' emperor in "Mom and Dad Save the World."

"Ricidule" is solid, intelligent adult entertainment, a good, but not great, film.

B


THE PREACHER'S WIFE

Penny Marshall updates the 1947 holiday film, "The Bishop's Wife," which starred Loretta Young, Cary Grant and David Niven, with her latest effort, "The Preacher's Wife," starring Whitney Houston, Denzel Washington and Courtney B. Vance.

The Reverend Henry Biggs, played by Vance, is the pastor of a small, urban church which has seen better days. Henry, living in the shadow of the church's former pastor, the father of his beautiful wife Julia, played by Houston, has doubts about his ability to save his little parish from its downward spiral. Finally, in desparation, Henry asks the big guy himself, God, to lend a hand.

Help does arrive in the guise of Dudley, played by Washington, an all too down-to-earth angel sent to assist the skeptical preacher in turning things around for the church and community.

Robin ROBIN:
I have a very strong affinity to the original film, "The Bishop's Wife," mainly because of a decades-long crush on Loretta Young as the luminous Julia. Young gave a deeply charming performance, exuding warmth, love and beauty, making the film a poarticular holiday favorite of mine.

Penny Marshall, with "The Preacher's Wife," does a competent job in remaking and updating the original film, catching the spirit of "The Bishop's Wife," if not the more palpable magic of the first.

Whitney Houston, not a particular favorite of mine, is far more self assure than her earlier outings, dominating the screen when singing, especially the gospel tunes. Her acting is still stilted, but getting better. The many songs she sings takes attention from her developing acting skills.

Dudley, the angel, as played by Cary Grant, always struck me as a vacuous, if suave, character, in the film for the face. Denzel Washington lends the character the necessary charm and wit, with a hint of randiness, that it needs.

Courney Vance, of the principle cast, fares best ast the beleaguered preacher, Henry, who is trying to hold his church and his marriage together, while also trying to cope with the dealings of the ubiquitous Dudley. Where David Niven played Henry as a straight-laced prig, Vance gives the Reverend more dimension and nuance.

There are some theological problems about Dudley's origins that go against the teachings of Christianity, but, what the hell, we'll let it slip by.

"The Preacher's Wife" is a kind-hearted holiday flick with lots of gospel music and decent performances, and a fair rtelling of the original.

I give "The Preacher's Wife" a B- (I give "The Bishop's Wife" a B)

Laura LAURA:
Director Penny Marshall and screenwriter Allan Scott have done a fine job of updating "The Bishop's Wife" for the 90s with "The Preacher's Wife." Whitney Houston stars as Julia Biggs, the wife of Reverend Henry Biggs (Courtney B. Vance), a man trying, but failing, to walk in the footsteps of Julia's inspiring father and keep his poor New York City parish from going under. Their son Jeremiah (Justin Pierre Edmund) is about to lose his best friend Hakim to child welfare, the church boiler is near collapse, a young parishioner is falsely accused of a crime and developer Joe Hamilton (Gregory Hines) has purchased the church's mortgage with pricey condominiums in mind.

Denzel Washington is Dudley, the angel who's been waiting to be sent to earth to good deeds and eat pizza. While Washington doesn't quite embody the charm of the original's Cary Grant, he comes fairly close. At least the women, including Julia's mom Marguerite (Jennifer Lewis), don't find him too tough to take even though Reverend Biggs views him with suspicion.

"The Preacher's Wife" is obviously a Whitney Houston showcase, though. She's the church's choir leader, giving way for ample opportunity to let her belt out a few numbers. I usually find her singing grating, but here, singing mostly Gospel numbers, she's just fine. This is her most natural and relaxed performance. You believe she's as good hearted as she's supposed to be, even if she indulges in a little 'window shopping' with Dudley.

The real standouts in the cast are Jennifer Lewis, a still beautiful and devillish older woman with a solid moral core and Courtney B. Vance's beleagered Henry (he's beginning to show a real chameleon-like acting ability - his character here is SO different from those of "Dangerous Minds," "The Last Supper" and "Panther"). Also amusing in a supporting role is "Waiting to Exhale"'s Loretta Devine as Bigg's single mother church secretary.

I have a couple of complaints with "The Preacher's Wife." For one thing, Whitney's wardrobe is largely inappropriate. During the skating sequence she's wearing a hat that looks like an expensive designer number. In fact, the struggling family seems to lack for nothing - Jeremiah's bedroom is strewn with toys. The costumes used for the church's nativity play look Hollywood professional as well. Also, the running time is padded out to a full two numbers because of all the musical numbers, not all of which are necessary.

Overall, though, "The Preacher's Wife" is a fine holiday family film.

B


DAYLIGHT

Speeding jewel thieves weave through a Manhattan-New Jersey tunnel during rush hour and crash into trucks carrying explosive material setting off a devastating fireball which seals off both ends of the tunnel. Sylvester Stallone is Kit Latura (who comes up with these names, anyway?), the scandal-plagued former head of Emergency Medical Services, who's now a cab driver with fares who just escape entering the tunnel. Of course, he's the only one crazy enough to go into the tunnel through an elaborate venting system to save the motley group of survivors underground.

Laura LAURA:
Can you say "The Poseidon Adventure"? The title of this film even evokes the theme song of its predecessor ("It's Got to Be the Morning After"). Poor Claire Bloom's got the Shelley Winters role, too.

"Daylight" isn't a bad film, it's just an unnecessary one. While you're watching it, it's entertaining enough (except for a few groaners, like when non-native New Yorker Amy Brenneman encounters cockroaches the size of soap bars and finds rats in her undies drawer or when the same character grabs hold of a live hunk of cable with her Reeboks to save an idiot). It IS entirely unoriginal with stunts pulled from "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Die Hard III" and a troubled main character courtesy of "Cliffhanger." We also get Sage Stallone (oh boy). The ensemble group of survivors are very cliched (the nice black cop, a dysfunctional family, an older couple, the hot shot, etc.) and not very well fleshed out.

The film was mostly shot on soundstages in Rome and the filmmakers have done a nice job presenting the inner workings of a collapsing underwater tunnel. The action sequences, with most stunts done by Stallone, are solid, but lack sizzle - they're slowed down by the water everyone's sloshing through.

Ho hum. Wait for it to show up on cable - there are too many better films out right now.

C+

Robin ROBIN:
Geez! Do you think that screenwriter, Leslie Bowem, maybe, at some point, just might have watched "The Poseidon Adventure" on or two times?

This is a classic Hollywood example of a film utterly lacking in originality, a problem pervading most of the Hollywood prooduct these days. The screenplay for "Daylight" is so painfully, almost scene by scene, derivative of "The Poseidon Adventure." I don't call this homage, just copying.

There is a dog in "Daylight." Somethingg makes me thing there probably was one in the first film. If not, it is the only note of cliches originality in the film.

Stallone, as Kit Latura (who picks his names, I wonder), is, at best, a tentative hero. He vacillates so much with his indecision through the film that I wanted to shake him and say, "Get ahold of yourself, Kit!." Stallone has to rethink what he's doing. After "Rocky" and "First Blood," he hasn't showed any flair for real acting.

Supporting cast is not notable and pretty unremarkable all around. They're bacground meat for Kit Latura to save. Poor Claire Bloom is subjected to the indignity of being forced to reprise the Shelly Winters role, right down to the death scene. She may have died of boredom.

"Daylight" has been out for a while, so, it may be to late to save you from it. If not, the STOP! Don't go see "Daylight." Rent "The Poseidon Adventure."

I haven't seen the latter for decades, now. I'll see if I can break that record and avoind "Daylight." I give it a C-.


MOTHER

In Albert Brooks' latest film, "Mother," science fiction writer John Henderson (Brooks), suffering from two failed marriages and a severe case of writer's block, decides to confront his demons - one of whom may be his mother!

John sets out to find his true self and disprove the old adage, "You can't go home, again," when he decides to move back home with his mother, Beatrice, played by Debbie Reynolds. John feels his mother is the key to what went wrong with his life and career.

What John discovers is unexpected by both him and Beatrice.

Robin ROBIN:
Aside from a wonderful performance by Debbie Reynolds in the title role, I didn't find the premise of "Mother" to be particularly compelling. Brooks' character John is very flat, with little development over the course of the film. He starts as a schlemeil, he ends as a schlemiel with a date.

Debbie Reynolds, on the other hand, is the saving grace of the film and give a terrific performance and a decent character study of Beatrice. She displays the kind of logic and sense that only a mother can show. That's the strength of her performance - she reps all moms to some degree. Reynolds als develops Beatrice all through the movie, so, by the end, she is a complete different person, in your eye, than at the start. This is mainly through the strength of the actor. I look forward to her getting notice.

This is the least manic of Brooks' films, seeming that he has some sort of internal ax to grind than audience entertainment as the goal of the film.

I can't recommend seeing "Mother" at the theater, unless you take your mother! Otherwise, leave it for video rental or cable.

I give "Mother" a C+, and loved Debbie.

Laura LAURA:
Debbie Reynolds makes an amazingly impressive comeback after 27 years as the title character of Albert Brooks' thoroughly amusing and easily-identified-with "Mother."

Albert Brooks is John Henderson, the older of Beatrice's two sons. His brother Jeff (Rob Morrow) is unusually close to his mother and John feels he's much less liked. After his second divorce, Sci-fi writer John decides to go live with Mom for a while to discover if the basis their relationship is why he can't connect with women. The mother he discovers is an eye-opener!

Brooks not only stars, but also wrote and directed. His screenplay is thoughtful, poignant and funny and his direction compliments the production. Brooks' adventures with Mom include a visit to her 'food museum' where ice crystals 'protect' the shebert and cheese comes in frozen 3 lb. blocks, grocery shopping with strongly conflicting economical philosophies and having Mom tell complete strangers his life story everywhere they go.

Debbie Reynolds' performance is Oscar nomination calibre. She manages to appear rather clueless when she, in fact, is independent, modern and artistic - the wonderful thing about the subtlety of her acting is that you completely accept the her hidden capabilities and talents as they're revealed. Brooks is fine as the slightly pathetic John. Rob Morrow gives his best big screen performance as the whiny mummy's boy who's initially presented as a successful sports agent and eventually revealed as a selfish, needy child.

Go see "Mother" and I suspect you'll see something of yourself.

B+


JERRY MAGUIRE

Tom Cruise is Jerry Maguire, a hot shot sports agent with 72 clients who's yanked back to humanity by the son of a hockey player suffering his 4th concussion. Jerry writes a mission statement for his company, SMI, recommending providing more care for client's welfare by serving fewer clients and bringing in less money. This action, while secretly admired by many, promptly gets him fired. One accountant, single mom Dorothy Boyd played by newcomer Rene Zellweger, is inspired to follow him. Only one client, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Rod Tidwell, a second tier wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, remains.

Laura LAURA:
Simply put, "Jerry Maguire" is the best commercial Hollywood film I've seen so far this year. Cameron Crowe has written and directed a story that operates on many levels and rings 100% true on every one of them.

"Jerry Maguire" is a romance, the story of a man going to the bottom from the top professionally and back again, the story of a man finding himself, a view into the building of a friendship and those friends teaching each other life lessons and the story of a single mom following her heart while raising a son. It IS a comedy, but it's a comedy based on real human emotion.

Tom Cruise gives his best performance to date here - he hasn't been this appealing since "Risky Business" broke him into our consciousness. I haven't seen all his competition yet, but I hope he gets Academy recognition for this role - he really deserves it. He's sexy, charming, frustrated, caring, conflicted, passionate and honorable. Rene Zellweger is a find as Dorothy, the woman who believes she's 'taken advantage' of Maguire at his low point. The two have real chemistry together. Bonnie Hunt is fun as Laurel, Dorothy's sister, who provides unwished for practical advice all the while knowing that love is blind. Cuba Gooding Jr. matches Cruise toe-to-toe as the washed up footballer needing an attitude adjustment. Regina King is wonderful as his loving (pregnant) wife Marcy - the two have a great marriage and it shows (glows?). Newcomer Jonathan Lipnicki as Ray Boyd, Dorothy's son, is quirkily adorable, although also responsible for one of the film's few shortfallings. It's so obvious that Lipnicki adores Tom Cruise that he's clearly not acting and it draws one out of the film.

Technically, this is a quality production all around. I particularly liked the soundtrack, which uses snippets of many varied songs to good effect. When Cruise cruises the radio dial trying to find something to match his mood and settles in with and bellows along with "Free Falling," it's infectious!

Cuba Gooding Jr.'s motto is 'Show me the money!'. Well, I've been shown - I've seen "Jerry Maguire."

A

Robin ROBIN:
It stuns me that I'm saying that "Jerry Maguire" is the best thing to come out of Hollywood (with the exception of my personal favorite "The Hunchback of Notre Dame") in 1996. There. I said that about a film starrung Tom Cruise.

Cameron Crowe has written a first-class screenplay and couple it with a professional and talented cast and crew. His "Jerry Maguire" is an old-fashioned romantic and sports comedy, with a multi-threaded story that dovetails nicely in its several directions, coming nicely together in the end. I haven't seen this kind of crafting, except from the independent film arena, in a long, long time. Especially from Hollywood.

Tom Cruise give his best performance, yet, as the sports agent who develops a conscience and heart. Jerry Maguire learns the qualities of loyalty, integrity, friendship and love and Cruise does an admirable job of portraying this man. Both Maguire and Cruise are charmers.

Cuba Gooding JR., as pro footbal jock, Rod Tidwell, is funny and flashy and is a major contributor to the humor and quality of "Jerry Maguire." When he gets, finally, what he wants, you feel good for him and his wife, played strongly and effectively by Regina King.

Newcomers Renee Zellweger and Jonathan Lipnicki as Cruise' romantic interest, Dorothy and her little boy, Ray, are solid, if not exceptional. Crowe uses little Jonathan Lipnicki to very good advantage, while avoiding overwhelming you with overt cuteness. (For example, one of the lines to come from the moppet is, "Do you know the human head weighs eight pounds?" Not typical cute kid dialog.

The rest of the cast, led by Bonnie Hunt, do a good job of keeping the background characters full and three dimensional. Like real people.

My only complaint is that, toward the end, as Jerry and Dorothy face their romantic crisis, things drag a little. Fortunately, it picks itself up quickly and finishes with a flourish.

"Jerry Maguire" is my first place recommendation for your holiday movie going.

A-


BREAKING THE WAVES

"Breaking the Waves" is Danish writer/director Lars von Trier's odd fable about a simple Scottish woman who marries a Swedish oil rig worker and tries to save him after he's paralyzed in a work accident by sleeping with other men and telling him about it, at his request. It was recently awarded Best Actress and Best Director by the New York Film Critics.

Laura LAURA:
"Breaking the Waves" is a truly unique film - it's concept and execution are completely original, but once the story gets going everything that happens is just what I expected.

Stage actress Emily Watson plays Bess in a star-making turn. She's a saintlike naif with big emotions and strong love and lust for her husband. Yet an other Oscar calibre performance (it's that time of year). Stellan Skarsgard is Jan, Bess' husband who looks upon her with bemusement, adoration and concern. Katrin Cartlidge is the dour Dodo, Bess' best friend who has suffered through the death of her husband with Bess' help and who now stands by Bess as she suffers the decline of her man and the community turns against her. Sandra Voe ("Local Hero") is Bess' mother, a woman who cares for daughter but is too caught up in the Calvinist church to turn against it in defense of her daughter.

"Breaking the Waves" is divided into 8 chapters, beginning with "Bess Gets Married." Each chapter begins with a static shot of the Scottish coastal scenery and a different classic rock tune ("Life on Mars" anyone?). von Trier seems to be regressing in the technical aspects of his style. His first internationally released film, "Zentropa," was sharp black and white with splashes of red. His television miniseries "The Kingdom," was shot on video and transferred to film, giving it a grainy quality. "Breaking the Waves" mostly employs hand held camera that frequently (and annoyingly) goes out of focus - a strange choice for a production this ambitious.

Bess runs to embrace her final destiny and joyously sacrifice all for the love of her husband and we witness what can only be described as a miracle. von Trier rapturously provides a second miracle at the conclusion of his oddly affecting film.

I was hoping for that "Breaking the Waves" would be what I call a 'movie rush' film (the last one I experienced was "Red" in 1995), but it didn't quite achieve that masterpiece level for me - the technical glitches and predictability of the story held it back. But "Breaking the Waves" is anything but unoriginal and features a truly noteworthy character and performance in Emily Watson's Bess.

B+


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