SHINE - MICHAEL - THE EVENING STAR - EVITA
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA
"Shine" is the incredible story of Australian pianist David Helfgott, a man pushed by his father and his love of music to excel, then held back by that same man when his success results in scholarships to study in America, then London's Royal Academy of Music. Armin Mueller-Stahl is the Holocaust-scarred Peter Helfgott whose pain at having seen his family destroyed causes him to react with abusive behavior when his own son wishes to leave the family nest. David is played from his teen years until his breakdown in his twenties by Noah Taylor ("Flirting") and in his forties, when he's saved by the love of Gillian (Lynn Redgrave) by Geoffrey Rush.
"Shine" is the best feature film I've seen so far this year (although I'm still totally enamored of the documentary "Paradise Lost" in my number 1 slot). Scott Hicks, an Australian director more known for his documenaries, has done a masterful job presenting Jan Sardi's screenplay about the life of a tortured pianist to the screen. He's assembled his film as a three movement concerto, first taking his time to establish the very young David Helfgott and David's family background, then going into overdrive as David Helfgott as a young man suffers through the conflict of how his success and the pursuit of his dreams tears him away from his family and finally slowing the pace again as the older David is brought back into real life from an institution by the love of several women.
Armin Mueller-Stahl is Peter Helfgott, the sterm family patriarch who urges his son to excellence, only to become abusive when his son yearns to take advantage of a scholarship to London's Royal Academy of Music leaving his family behind. Mueller-Stahl manages to walk a fine line and remains sympathetic as a Holocaust survivor who's seen his family destroyed and will go to all lengths to keep his own family intact even as he destroys his own son's sanity in the process. Hicks underscores Peter's character strongly visually - when David does leave, Peter burns his scrapbooks chronicalling David's success and we see the flames in Peter's glasses echo the Holocaust. Peter's wife is first presented silent and in shadow, where she remains for the most part due to the power of his conviction.
Geoffrey Rush is astounding as the eldest of the three David Helfgott portrayers. The strange rhythms of his language (both verbal and body) are right on target - he's still communicating at a very intellectual level - one just has to adjust to where he's coming from. He works well with Lynn Redgrave to adjust the hyper quality down a knotch at a time. Rush also learned how to key the piano (although it's the real Helfgott we're hearing on the soundtrack) correctly so that a double wouldn't have to be used! That's applying oneself for a role.
Noah Taylor is also fine as the troubled younger man whose attempt at independence results in an emotional breakdown because of guilt. His intensity and nerdiness gradually drop away as he becomes accustomed to college life under the tutilage of John Geilgud.
Lynn Redgraves comes into the film very late but still manages to make a strong impression as the woman whose curiousity and concern allow her to see beyond David's strangeness. Her Gillian is a strong woman who delights in life's pleasures.
British actress Goggie Withers adds a nice grace note as the younger David's friend who supports his decision to break away from his father.
"Shine" has a masterfully complementary score that accentuates the story and the classical highlights of the film. The scene where David plays Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 3" is simply one of the most powerfully editted sequences I've seen in a film this year.
Laura and I saw "Shine" a few weeks ago, so I have had the opportunity to ponder this film and the rest of the movies we've seen this year. We still have a number of films to see before the year's end, but, even so, I declare "Shine" to be the best film of the year!
Start with a fascinating true story of the live of pianist David Helfgott. Add an intelligent screenplay by director Scott Hicks and terrific performances by Geoffrey Rush as the elder David, Noah Taylor as David the younger, and especially Armin Mueller-Stahl as David's father - my hands down choice for best supporting actor for 1996; a bevy of strong supporting characters, the likes of Lynn Redgrave and Sir John Gielgud; and the best classical music I have seen/heard in a film, ever.
What you get is a powerful character study of a musical genius nearly destroyed by the good intentions and misguided love of his father.
Following the life of Helfgott as a young piano prodigy up through the emotional break with his beloved father, his fall into madness from guilt over the break, to his recovery and subsequent return to music, "Shine" is an extraordinary example of top notch filmmaking.
Praising the three who played Helfgott at various stages is easy. The threes, Alex Rafalowcz, Taylor and Rush are beautifully cast as the genius at the various life stagess. The transition from one to the next is seamless because it feels like the same person. Geoffrey Rush, especially, stands out as the elder Helfgot. He is on screen for only 20-30 minutes of the film, but makes such a strong impression, his performance feels like a starring role.
Armin Mueller-Stahl is, in a film steeped in brilliance, the best thing in this movie, and that's saying something. As Peter Helfgott, David's father, he displays such a range of emotion - love, jealousy, pettiness, selfishness and confusion - so effectively, that I can't think of a better performance this year. You, the viewer, end up both feeling sorry for and loathing the man at the same time. This is no small feat for an actor. Mueller-Stahl pulls it off brilliantly.
The musical selections, especially Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 as the film's focal point, are magnificent. The Rach piece, played as David falls into madness, is the singularly most stunning visual and audio music experience that I have had watching a film. The music is played by Helfgott himself, but the actors are the ones who appear to be playing. It is as beautiful a crafting of movie magic as I have ever seen.
For award purposes, "Shine" deserves, right now, best picture, direction, screesnplay, supporting actor and, maybe, best actor for Geoffrey Rush. High praise for a film, but deservedly so.
After much thinking, I have to agree with Laura and give "Shine" an A+, my first for 1996! Would I say it's worth it? Yeah.
Nora Ephron, who showed mixed talents in "Mixed Nuts" and "Sleepless in Seattle," takes advantage of the rejuvenated career of John Travolta in "Michael" the story of the earthly visit by the archangel and his 'discovery' by the tabloid press.
Also starring William Hurt, Andie MacDowell and Robert Pastorelli as the reporters for the Weekly World News-like Daily Mirror, "Michael" is a not-so- heavenly story of the journey by the four principals from the Milk Bottle Motel in Stubbs, Iowa, to the glass and glitter of Chicago.
Along the way, Michael performs miracles, both minor and major.
As you can tell from her filmography, Nora Ephron has proven herself to be a hit-or-miss director. Fortunately, mainly on the strength of Travolta's on-screen charm and humor, "Michael" is a good-natured, rambling little film that has its heart in the right place, even though its point is muddled.
Travolta, who must have jumped at the chance to do a film where he, mainly, gets to smoke buts and grin a lot, brings such a relaxed quality to the screen that you can't help but like him.
Andie MacDowell gives her second best performance, yet - her best being "Unstrung Heroes" - and shows no small talent as a county & western singer.
William Hurt is adequate.
Robert Pastorelli does yeoman's work as a second-banana character, lending some light humor to the light screenplay.
Speaking of screenplay, aside from the not-so-original concept of an angel come to earth, the story is a cliched road/buddy film, with a cute dog who is the focus of some cheap sentimentality. Cheap enough to hurt the otherwise entertaining little story.
I'm still not a Nora Ephron fan, but had a pleasant little meandering visit with "Michael" and give it a C+.
Yet another unoriginal piece of product from Nora Ephron and the Hollywood machine, "Michael" still manages to charm due to Travolta's star wattage as an angel who drinks, smokes, has sex, likes a rumble and piles obscene amounts of sugar and salt on everything he eats (which strangely does not seem to include meat - maybe a non-vegetarian angel was just pushing things too far :-).
Of the supporting cast, Robert Pastorelli ("Murphy Brown's" Eldon) is the most appealing as a tabloid journalist who manages to keep his job because his boss (Bob Hoskins) loves Pastorelli's dog Sparky.
William Hurt and Andie MacDowell are both serviceable as the bruised characters gently nudged to try love again by Michael. In fact, MacDowell has one of her most appealing roles in "Michael" (although she shone brightest in "Unstrung Heroes"), and even trots out quite a lovely singing voice.
Jean Stapleton is whimsical as the Iowa motel owner who harbors the angel. Bob Hoskins is gruffly clueless as the editor of the Daily Mirror. And there's a delightful turn by an actress whom I am unable to name from the information given in the press kit as a pie-serving waitress who gives in to Michael's charms. Terri Garr also makes a surprise appearance as a judge whose verdict is swayed by Michael in a most unusual way. There is some clever dialogue to bolster the stale story line, particularly Michael's witticisms.
However, we get to see yet another dog saved (is this becoming a trend or what?) and I'm afraid Ephron's just another safe Hollywood hitmaker.
THE EVENING STAR
"The Evening Star" is the sequel to "Terms of Endearment" starts 15 years after Aurora Greenaway (Shirley MacLaine, who won the Best Actress Oscar for the previous film), lost her daughter Emma to cancer and was left to raise 3 grandchildren. 18-year old Melanie's (Juliette Lewis) battles with Aurora echo Aurora's love-hate relationship with Emma; while older brother Tommy glowers in jail on a drug charge and Teddy happily drives a tow truck and lives with a woman Aurora despises and his illegitimate son. Faithful housekeeper Rosie (Marion Ross) silently observes and supports Aurora as Aurora juggles lovers old and new, jealously wars with Emma's best friend Patsy (Miranda Richardson) and prepares for the departure of Melanie with her two-timing boyfriend Bruce.
"The Evening Star" is far too episodic compared to the better-strutured first film which concentrated on the mother-daughter relationship between Aurora and Emma. In this one, we get Aurora's relationship with each of her grandchildren, her relationships with past lovers, her relationship with her new lover, her relationship with her deceased daughter's best friend, her relationship with her friend/housekeeper and her relationship with her great-grandchildren. Sheesh!
MacLaine's still in fine form as Aurora, but we've been watching her do shadings of this character too many times in the interim (like "Madame Sousaztka" or Tess in "Guarding Tess") to find any freshness here.
Marion Ross may receive a Best Supporting Actress nomination and she's fine, especially in the scene where she tells Aurora why she's leaving her employ. But the standout performances for me were Miranda Richardson's hilarious and complex Patsy and Donald Moffat's sweetly affecting performance as retired General Hector Scott. Ben Johnson also had his last performance as Aurora's neighbor who gives Rosie her last hurrah. I normally love Juliette Lewis' performances, but here she never seems to rise above sitcom level acting - loud and obvious.
When Jack Nicholson finally makes his appearance, looking Aurora up after all these years and now a family man, I was relieved mainly because I thought I could now see the end of "The Evening Star" in sight. But no, it continues to meander on far too long past its logical conclusion.
Some silliness along the way also doesn't help. Bill Paxton as Aurora's shrink-lover with a mother fixation doesn't really go anywhere in the story. Juliette Lewis suddenly becomes a TV star on the west coast (after her first and only audition). We also get three deaths for the price of one in this sequel, which considering the hankie quotient of the first movie may not have been the wisest choice.
"The Evening Star" is mostly just plain irrelevant, but some fine performances raise it slightly over it's storyline.
Aside from giving Shirley MacLaine a chance to mug up to the camera, I don't see the point of "The Evening Star." Anything that may have been compelling in "Terms of Endearmeant" is lost in this charmless and stilted effort.
Writer/director Robert Harking renders a flat story with caricatures rather than characters taking up screen time. With the exceptions of Marion Ross, who is quite wonderful as Aurora's housekeeper and friend, and Donald Moffat as Aurora's former lover and friend, I didn't give a hoot about any of the other "people" in the movie. Aurora's grandchildren should poster children for birth control. Bill Paxton, as her much younger lover, is two dimensional, at best.
Also of note is Miranda Richardson, a fine actress, wasted heres, although she tries to lend what depth and humor she can to the film.
The story is episodic in nature, woodenly moving from one incident to the next, with the only interesting thing, for me, being to guess as to when Nicholson will make his cameo. I figured his arrival would signal the end of the movie - boy, was I wrong.
Thinking about the original, I realize how shallow a cast and character- writing effort was made or "The Evening Star." No one delves below the surface of their characters. It ends up as a hodge-podge of stories about people you don't care about. And, they all live happily ever after. Sort of. I was going to talk about this more, but why bother?
I don't like "The Evening Star" and I don't know why it was made. Aside from its ties to "Terms," there is nothing about this movie that recommends it. Shirley MacLaine, as Aurora, is less likeable than in the first. With the exceptions noted above, no one else is likeable much either.
Save your money, or go see "Shine."
I give "The Evening Star" a D (for DUD).
"Evita" is the long awaited movie version of the 70's Andrew Lloyd Webber musical starring Madonna as Eva Peron, a small time actress who slept her way to the top by finally seducing Juan Peron, the dictator of Argentina, played here by British star of stage and screen, Jonathan Pryce. Once established as Argentina's first lady, Eva Peron became a self-serving champion of the downtrodden masses before succumbing to cancer at the age of 33.
Directed by Alan Parker, "Evita" is narrated by Antonio Banderas as cynical everyman Che.
"Evita", the movie, has been a long time coming to the big screen, and has made its journey amidst much controversy, especially the one in casting Madonna as Eva Peron.
Well, after years in the making, "Evita" has finally made it and it is not shabby!
Alan Parker brings us a lavish screen production of the 1979 stage play, with brilliant costume (88 costume changes for Madonna), art direction, photography and music.
The music is mostly effective, keeping the songs in sync with the period feel of the film. A couple of electric rock numbers are out of place with the period and would have best been dropped. Two of the numbers - "Look Out, Buenos Aires", a flashy and colorful piece, and, what Laura calls "So Sad When A Love Affair Dies", which chronicles Eva's efforts to sleep her way to the top - are good examples of how the music fits the film.
Madonna, as Eva Peron, does a first rate job with the songs, but isnt an experienced enough actor to use non-lyric expressions to convey emotions. It makes me wonder what would have happened if Meryll Streep, a much more accomplished actor, were cast as Eva. Madonna is not that impressive as an actor, despite her entreaties for Academy recognition.
Antonio Banderas, on the other hand, impressed the hell out of me. He has a natural singing voice, with a slight gravelly quality, that lends to his role as the everyman narrator, Che. His presence as both actor and character help to make him the best thing in "Evita".
Jonathan Pryce, as Juan Peron, does not really have much to do but be a figurehead character. His singing is fine.
My problem with the film, and the thing that hampers it from being better, is that there is little attempt to educate the viewer about the Argentine politics of the period and Eva's place in that world. There's more shadow than substance to the story. Mainly, the film tells me that Eva Peron was little more than a conniving opportunist - not the image I would expect the filmmakers want to put forth.
A particularly favorite lyric from one of the film's songs, which sums up Eva Peron, is "The people, they need to adore me. So, Christian Dior me." It gave me a hearty chuckle.
I think its funny that I rate "Evita" the same as I do "Beavis and Butt-head Do America". I give "Evita" a B.
Alan Parker has co-produced, co-written (with Oliver Stone) and directed a lavish musical film version of the smash stage musical "Evita." The 15 history of this coming to the screen approaches the story of the casting for "Gone With the Wind," with the likes of Meryl Streep vying for the role of Evita and directors such as Ken Russell, Francis Coppola, Michael Cimino and Oliver Stone attached to the project. Parker ignored the play's screenplay and went back to the original concept album's score and lyrics (which preceded the actual stage production) along with historical research in order to write his film's screenplay.
The film looks great. It was shot on location in Argentina, England and Hungary. The "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" scene was filmed at the actual balcony of the Casa Rosada, where Eva Peron addressed the people. The art direction and costume very successfully evoke the 1920s and 1940s periods that the film takes place during. Cinematographer Darius Khondji ("Seven," "Delicatessen," "The City of Lost Children") also lends an appropriate period glow to the film.
"Evita" is told entirely by musical numbers (with the exception of a very few spoken lines by minor characters). Madonna (who passionately fought for this role) does a fine job - at times I even forgot it was Madonna I was watching, although not entirely. She's publically stated that she expects an Oscar nomination for this role. While she's good (surprisingly so in a few scenes, such as her death bed scene), I don't think she's quite up to the competition this year.
The big surprise for me is Antonio Banderas as Che - he sings with conviction and provides many of the film's laughs with his sly asides and wry commentary. Jonathan Pryce (English stage and screen star and Lexus pitchman) doesn't fair as well as Juan Peron - his character is never fully realized and I never understood his motivations. At one point in the film, we're given the indication that by the time he marries Eva, the romance has been entirely replaced by politics. Later, he stands up for her against political adversaries. How did he feel about her? This film remains vague on that subject.
There are some terrific musical numbers, smartly choreographed. A lot of history is covered as Eva begins sleeping her way to the top, dumping each lover with the refrain "isn't it sad when a love affair dies" while Che steps in and informs the dumpee that he's been had in particularly colorful ways. The seduction duet between Madonna and Jonathan Pryce ("I Could Be Good for You") is very effective and one of Pryce's best scenes. The rousing "New Argentina," a number which was cut from the stage production, attempts to fill in some of the political history of the time. As Madonna remakes herself as the first lady she sings "the people adore me, so Christian Dior me!" as we're presented with a montage of costume and makeup tryouts. There's also a nice fantasy sequence where Madonna tangos with Banderas as she counters his everyman's accusations of how she's ultimately let her people down.
"Evita" isn't entirely successful, however. It's opening sequence, where we're presented with Eva's funeral cut back and forth with the 7-year old Eva attempting to attend her father's funeral (she was illegitimate and refused entry) is a bit confused. The film also gets very repititve in its last half hour - a judicious trimming of 10-15 minutes would have tightened the film considerably. The film also fails in its depth. As I already mentioned, Juan Peron isn't well fleshed out and we're never entirely sure of Eva's sincerity either - the filmmakers show both angles but never attempt to come to a conclusion.
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA
"Beavis and Butt-Head do America" is MTV's second foray into feature films with their dynamic idiotic adolescent duo who we're used to seeing commenting on music videos. None of that here as the film begins with the theft of their beloved TV. As they search for a replacement, they're mistaken for the hitmen sent to 'do' somebody's wife in Las Vegas. Thinking that they're being paid to score for the first time with the buxom blonde, they excitedly take off only to end up as dupes in a plot to steal a germ-warfare device, become named the most dangerous men in America and wreck havoc with nuns and senior citizens across the U.S.A.
While I've only caught Beavis and Butt-head on MTV a few times and was barely just slightly amused, I must admit that "Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" made me laugh (in fact, I'm still giggling)!
The animation for the feature length film is a cut above what's used on TV - in fact, it reminded me of Ralph Bashki's animation ("Fritz the Cat", "American Pop").
What's appealing about the film isn't stylistic tough - it's the dumber than a plug humor. Beavis and Butt-Head are intellectually stunted adolescents who look for sexual innuendo in everything that's said (i.e., translating 'entertain us' into "He said 'anus'." heh-heh-heh. Just imagine Butt-Head's delight when a commercial jetliner pilot tells him to 'get out of his cockpit'!
Beavis had me in stitches when, after consuming a vast and varied amount of pills from a senior citizen's handbag, he freaks, wears his t-shirt over his head and jammers "I am Cornholio - give me teepee for my bunghole." Silly? Vastly. Funny? Well, at least I though so...
Besides this idiocy we also get our two lads mistakenly thinking church confessional stalls are porto-potties (with hilarious results), an FBI agent (voiced by Robert Stack) with a penchant for full cavity searches and a couple of old-timers with a camper who never avoid crossing paths with their nemeses.
It should be noted that Beavis and Butt-Head are all about sex and drugs and rock and roll and, while there is no animated nudity or bad language used, they may not be suitable for small children.
"Beavis and Butt-Head Do America" is good dumb fun and a movie that definitely does not suck.
"Beavis and Butt-head Do America" creator, Mike Judge, may not have aimed very high with the brand of humor used in this film, but he sure succeeds in hitting his comic target a very high percentage of the time.
The humor put forth in "B&BDA" consists almost entirely of body parts (mostly female), being naked (all female), sluts (the female kind), boobs (guess which gender), poop, anti-authority, and TV. You can see that this is not the kind of film intended to appeal to the art-house crowd.
BUT, if theres a side of you which appreciates extraordinarily low-brow humor, done successfully to excess some of the time, then "Beavis and Butt-head Do America" will attract you.
I have only seen a few minutes of the MTV series, but what I saw turned me off from seeing the movie. Biting the bullet, I went, I saw, I laughed.
The B&B characters are so clueless that Mike Judge is able to draw two completely different worlds - our normal world, and the one lived in by our duo. Judge parallels these worlds well, with collisions - all B&B instigated - of these worlds taking place all along the way.
Beavis and Butt-head, in their overwhelming desire to score, succeed in breaking the Hoover Dam, blacking out Las Vegas, causing a massive traffic accident on the Washington D.C. beltway, taking over the US Senate PA system, and forcing the Strategic Air Command to go to DEFCOM 4. All this in 80 minutes!
Technically, the animation is of surprisingly high quality - beyond B&B, that is. Mike Judge populates his story with a number of colorful characters, such as Dallas and Buddy (voiced by Demi Moore and Bruce Willis), a couple of gun-runners; a lunatic ATF agent (Robert Stack) who demands that everyone, victims included, be given a full body cavity search; and, a nice old couple, whose camper B&B commandeer from time to time for privacy when the urge to whack off comes upon them.
The repetitive nature of B&Bs low-grade humor works pretty well here, especially when Beavis gets jeeped up on caffeine stimulants and sugar, turning in to his alter ego, Cornholio. Judges pushed Cornholios hijinks far past the point of good taste, but still gets consistent laughs.
The music video numbers, from Isaac Hayes' rewriting the "Theme to Shaft" for our boys, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers "Love Rollercoaster", are a good melding of music and animation. Very entertaining.
"Beavis and Butt-head Do America" is a solid, comic film, filled with humor and wittiness at a gutter level rarely achieved in film.
No sequel, please, but, I still give "Beavis and Butt-head Do America" a B.
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