MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL
ANASTASIA (1997)
- BENT
THE RAINMAKER - ALIEN RESURRECTION


MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL

Director Clint Eastwood brings John Berendt's huge bestselling non-fiction story of a Savannah filled with eccentrics to the screen in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil." The adaptation by John Lee Hancock focusses on the murder of bisexual hustler Billy Hanson (Jude Law) by his lover, wealthy antiques dealer Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). Standing in for Berendt is John Cusack as John Kelso, the film's only fictional character, a New York writer in town to cover Williams' lavish annual Christmas party for Town and Country.

Laura LAURA:
"Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" has been one of the most highly anticipated films of the holiday season. Every aspect of the production was promising, from Eastwood's direction, to casting that includes the Oscar winning Spacey, Cusack, Jack Thompson, Irma P. Hall and the real female impersonating Lady Chablis, to a soundtrack featuring the likes of k.d. lang and Eastwood himself warbling Johnny Mercer tunes. The end result is a huge disappointment, flat where it should bubble, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" just lays there.

Cusack, usually so interesting to watch, shows only three forms of reaction thoughout the film - disbelief, humor and a touch of consternation at film's end. His Kelso never becomes a character, merely the literary device needed to introduce other characters. Kevin Spacey is OK as Jim Williams, but he only really comes alive in a couple of scenes - he's shrouded in a state of oily unrufflement. Alison Eastwood, as Kelso's love interest, isn't very interesting (nor can she sing in a role as a singer). Irma P. Hall as voodoo practioner Minerva mugs for the camera.

The little amount of spark provided in some scenes comes from Jack Thompson as Williams' lawyer and owner of the most famous animal in Georgia, University of Georgia's bulldog mascot Uga, which is odd as this character is a much more minor player in a book that's been stripped down for the screen. The Lady Chablis is great fun to watch, particularly when she crashes a debutante ball in slinky sequins, but her acting inexperience shows when she can't avoid looking into the camera at inappropriate times. Paul Hipp is great as Joe Odom, a fun 24 hour a day partying character who's given nowhere enough screen time.

Savannah itself, a major personality, is underutilized. First time director Kasi Lemmons did a much better job creating a languid, Spanish moss draped South than Eastwood does here, even though he has the advantage of such locations as the real Mercer house.

While the story's been stripped down, it still feels bloated. Some of the subplots of the book which were dropped, such as the political war over low income housing and Williams' relationship with neighbors outraged at his antics, but fawning for his invites, would have provided some much needed texture. Instead, local eccentrics such as the man who keeps horseflies moored to his person with bits of string, are given too much screen time and end up being overexposed.

C

Robin ROBIN:
Based on the non-fiction novel (yes, it',s a contradiction of terms, but, it describes the book best), "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" is directed Clint Eastwood, following his thoroughly mediocre effort from last year, "Absolute Power," from the adapted screenplay by John Lee Hancock.

The book, by John Berendt, is a deft, exciting telling of a true murder mystery, coupled with a intellectual travelogue into the heart and soul of Savannah, Georgia. The film lacks the depth and finesse of its source material, stripping away the complexity and excitement of the murder story, while ignoring the unique charms of the city.

Kevin Spacey as Jim Williams, the central figure in the murder, looks good in the role, but is nothing more than a two dimensional figure. He provides the necessary bland, sophisticated Southern gentleman aura to his character, but takes it no further than this aura. There is no real passion or emotion to his Jim Williams, but he looks darn good in a tuxedo smoking an expensive cigar.

John Cusack, as writer John Kelso, enters the quirky Savannah in puzzlement and wonder at the city and its bevy of colorful characters. This changes to wry amusement during the last half of the film. Cusack never gets beyond this, though, being little more than an observer to the action around him. He lacks his usual charm and persona.

The strength of "Midnight..." lay in several members of the supporting cast. The Lady Chablis, Paul Hipp, Irma P. Hall, Jack Thompson and Jude Law, all give strong, interesting performances. The Lady Chablis, playing herself (um, himself?), is, initially, out of place and stiff. But, as she gets into playing herself, she ends up being the best, most audacious character in the film. She comes across as just what she is, a woman trapped in a man's body, but, thanks to her regular hormone injections, she can cope with the inner conflicts quite well. Her real-life-feel stand-up routine is a funny bit, while her crashing a cotillion for young black women having their societal debut is wrought with tension as Chablis threatens Kelso with a major scandal. There is a caustic, but funny, edge as Chablis walks a very thin tightrope between having sport with Kelso and completely blowing the doors off the formal event. I knew how the scene played out and it still felt like she could go either way.

Jack Thompson, an Aussie, does a credible Southern drawl as Jim's attorney and colorful Georgia Bulls fan (and, proud owner of Uga, the mascot of the team), Sonny Seiler. Paul Hipp, in a small role as colorful Savannah local Joe Odom, gives a fascinating performance as a hustler who uses his charm to con people out of house, home and liquor (it's OK, though, Joe only scams those who can afford it), making me want to see more of him. Irma P. Hall, as voodoo priestess, Minerva, has fun with her witchly role, while Brit newcomer, Jude Law, in a very tiny role as murder victim, Billy Hanson, makes his own impact on the big screen. Eastwood's daughter, Alison Eastwood, is, physically, sexy enough, but impart any personality to her performance as the budding doesn't romantic interest of Kelso.

Too bad the main characters don'tgive the performances provided by the second tier characters.

The screenplay, by Hancock ("A Perfect World"), is an extraordinarily flat adaptation of remarkable literary work. It lacks the excitement of the book's murder intrigue and uses Savannah as little more than backdrop, failing to capture the warmth and character of the city as depicted so effortlessly in the book. The few glimpses given of the lovely Southern city are tantalizing, but unsatisfying in their brevity.

Eastwood's direction is as unremarkable as his effort in "Absolute Power." Maybe "Unforgiven" was his last hurrah.

Photography, by Jack N. Green ("The Bridges of Madison County"), is crystal clear throughout and, during several key scenes, exceptional.

The important aspects of "Midnight..," stars, screenplay and direction, are less than enthralling. Secondary and tech efforts are strong, but not enough to recommend the film, especially when compared to its source. I give it a C+.


ANASTASIA (1997)

Twentieth Century Fox makes its first foray into the Disney monopoly of feature animation with its telling of the myth, "Anastasia," the story of the Russian princess fabled to have survived the overthrow of the Romanov empire by the 1917 Communist Revolution. Directed by animation mavericks Don Bluth and Gary Goldman ("An American Tail"), the tale utilizes the vocal talents of Meg Ryan as the orphaned princess and John Cusack as Dimitri, the con-man who plans to use the young ragamuffin in a plot to bilk the exiled dowager empress of a finders fee of 10-million rubles for locating the long-missing Anastasia.

Robin ROBIN:
Bluth and Goldman have created a quality animation work, with some individual scenes bordering on the extraordinary, that does a solid job in telling the mythical adventure. The animation lends the film a hyper-realistic feel, especially during the spectacular ballroom sequences. These big production numbers hold more akin to such live action musicals as "Oliver!" than they do to anything that Disney has done in recent years. The use of Cinemascope brings out the grandeur of these opulent scenes, giving the film a more than just animated look.

The vocal acting jobs range from good to the merely OK. Meg Ryan puts spunk into her vocal portrayal of Anya/Anastasia, conveying both the dignity of her birth and upbringing and the self sufficiency she Ryan's own persona comes across strongly in the developed as an orphan. character, making Anastasia a good role model for the targeted audience.

John Cusack is generic as Dimitri, not lending any nuance to his straightforward characterization of con-man and love interest.

Rasputin, voiced by Christopher Lloyd, is a less-than-enthralling bad guy who offers little to the film. He sells his soul to the devil in order to put a curse on the Romanov family that leads to the Communist uprising (not, as one might guess, because of the centuries-long oppression, by the czar, of the teaming masses), resulting in the peasants storming the palace and setting the royal family on the run from the Bolsheviks. Rasputin, while exuberantly evil enough, has no dimension and really does little except occasionally lose body parts. The character could have been removed from the story without notice. His final demise, at the end of the film, did elicit such comments as "Whoa!" and "Cool!" from some of the youngsters in the audience, so Rasputin does lend something to the film.

Other vocal performances are solid, though, again, not remarkable. Angela Langsbury is, as you'd expect. professional and competent as the Dowager Empress Marie. Kelsey Grammer, as Dimitri's sidekick Vlademir, and Sophie, Bernadette Peters as the Dowager Empress's cousin and companion, give enthusiastic, if undistinguished, performances.

The one character that I enjoyed most, in a small role, is the furry familiar of Rasputin, a funny little albino bat named Bartok. Different from Disney bad guy sidekicks, Bartok has a change of heart during the story, rejecting evil for good. Hank Azaria's Hispanic-accented Bartok is one of the more endearing things in "Anastasia."

The music, by lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, is suited to the film, but does not have the songs that will make the pop music charts. The big numbers are almost lost to the attention span because of the stunning visuals of these scenes.

Animation is expert. Once Bluth, Goldman and their team of talented animators get a rhythm to their work, Disney will have a contender to the feature animation throne. Disney has experience going for it. Twentieth Century Fox just needs similar experience before it, too, will charm its There are several episodes of animation that rival Disney's viewers. best efforts - the aforementioned ballroom sequences are stunning, and the runaway train is brilliant, with exterior shots looking almost photographic.

The story, a collaborative effort by four writers, doesn't get beneath the surface levels of the legend, showing its screenplay-by-committee design.

"Anastasia" is a talented, competent effort that has some truly incredible moments, making it worthwhile family entertainment for the holidays. Disney's shoddy attempt to sabotage the release of "Anastasia" by extending the run of "Hercules" and re-releasing, just to theaters, "The Little Mermaid," may well fall flat, if the enthusiasm of the kids with whom I saw the film is any indication.

It's not "Beauty and The Beast," but "Anastasia" is a good start for Fox's new animation branch.

I give it a B.

Laura LAURA:
Twentieth Century Fox's first venture into the animation realm so jealously guarded by Disney (Disney's attempt to crush the competition by rereleasing "The Little Mermaid" and a double bill of "George of the Jungle" and "Hercules" during the same week frankly left a bad taste in my mouth) is a promising one. "Anastasia," however is one of those movies whose weaknesses somewhat blunt the effect of its strengths.

What "Anastasia" has going for it is outstanding animation - as good as anything found in say, "Beauty and the Beast." An early song and dance number, "There's a rumor in St. Petersburg," reminded me of Belle's opening number in her town square with its Broadway-like flair. A later sequence, where the heroine and her travelling companions escape from a train that's about to plummet off a destroyed bridge is breathtaking. The exterior shots of the train are so well rendered you'd almost think they were the real thing. A dream sequence (featuring evil butterflies no less!) was also interesting to watch.

"Anastasia" features some solid vocal performances. The plucky princess is not only voiced by Meg Ryan but projects some of her physical mannerisms as well. Angela Lansbury is note perfect as the Dowager Empress whose heart is breaking as one false granddaughter after another is presented to her. The film's humor is provided by three supporting characters. Hank Azaria is amusing as the bat Bartok, villain Rasputin's sidekick. His choice of a Puerto Rican accent in a Russian story is a bit weird but it works. Kelsey Grammar's Vladimir, a former court employee, is whimsical and touching. Bernadette Peters has loads of fun as Sophie, the flirtatious companion of the Empress. John Cusack is OK as Dimitri, the young con artist trying to get Anastasia back to her grandmother, although the character is too earnest.

Christopher Lloyd, however, brings nothing to Rasputin, whose come back from the dead to complete his curse upon the Romanovs by destroying the princess who got away. Disney animation always features great villains, but Fox's "Anastasia" suffers from a dull one. The fact that he has to keep reattaching body parts was a good idea badly realized. Rasputin does, at least, have a great death scene akin to the melting of the witch in "The Wizard of Oz."

The story, which would have us believe that Imperial Russia was brought down by a curse from the mad monk alone and provides no motivation whatsoever for Rasputin's rage, is too somber for family animation in my estimation. However, the children at the screening we attended were in rapt attention throughout, which surprised me. Maybe it's the adults who expect more humor when going to see this type of film.

Fox also has to work on their songs. There's absolutely nothing memorable about any of them.

For all its minuses, "Anastasia" is still a worthwhile holiday film. Hear, hear to competition!

B-


BENT

Adapted from his own play by Martin Sherman, "Bent" is, too my knowledge, the only Holocaust film which focusses on the plight of homosexuals during the Nazis' horrific rise to power. Clive Owen is Max, a raffish cad whose dalliance with an Aryan brownshirt results in the rounding up of him and his jealous, dependent lover Rudy (Brian Webber).

Max is given some advice by Horst (Canadian Lothaire Bluteau, "The Black Robe") on how to stay alive during their train journey to Dachau which results in his participation in Rudy's death. Horst, who initially rejects Max's attempts to unburdon his soul, eventually teaches Max not only how to survive, but how to truly love.

Laura LAURA:
"Bent" begins most promisingly, with Mick Jagger, in drag as Greta, being slowly lowered on a suspended swing while he/she croons "Streets of Berlin" over an al fresco nightclub peopled with the artistically decadent demi-monde of early 1930's Berlin. A group of glamourous androgynes revel in sheer enjoyment of life as the audience witness SS presenting pictures to Greta, who betrays with a nod of her head before torching her spectacular wardrobe and slipping into the mainstream as George, a reinvented family man.

Max and Rudy are now on the run. Max appeals to his closetted Uncle Freddie (Ian McKellan) for exit papers. When Freddie can only offer help to Max alone, we see that Max does have a heart - he refuses to leave unless he can accompany the weaker Rudy out of the country before returning to live a false lifestyle that would insure his family's approval.

Max and Rudy are rounded up by Nazis in the woods near where Rudy's been toiling as a field worker and the horrific train journey to Dachau is one of the most compelling parts of the film. Max is forced to particpate in the beating death of Rudy ("He's not my friend!") and then 'prove' his heterosexuality by bedding a pre-teen in front of jeering jackboots. Max thinks he's made a cunning deal by accepting the yellow star of a Jew over the pink triangle of a homosexual, but he's betrayed his very being. Max's chant of "This can't be happening." dissolves into "I'm a rotten person." and Owen projects the tortured soul of a man who's had to stare himself in the face.

When Max and the stranger (Horst) who's survival advice worked with far greater consequences than Max could ever have imagined arrive at Dachau, the film starts to lose its momentum just when it should be barrelling forward. Although this second part of the film effectively shows Max's redemption, its pacing becomes ponderous.

Max is assigned to moving rocks from one place to another. This is an effective symbolic visual, but it's essentially all we see of life in Dachau. Max bribes a guard to have Horst assigned to the same detail, and initially Horst, the seemingly stronger of the two in spirit, is angered. Gradually, however, Horst comes to love Max. The two are given a three minute 'break' every two hours in which they must simply stop what they are doing in place. During the first of these breaks, Horst 'makes love' to Max verbally in a strong scene where the two actually overcome the Nazis by achieving orgasm without ever touching one another - call it the forerunner of phone sex. The device is used a second time, when Max tries to 'warm' the steadily declining Horst, instead 'hurts' him, and, through Max's new found power of selfless love, turns the situation around. Unfortunately, the conclusion, where Max embraces his true self and revolts against the Nazi oppression, has been all too telegraphed to the audience.

"Bent" is an odd film which uses its early and latter sets in a manner remiscent of such films as Derek Jarman's "Edward II" and the early 80's Eastern European "Larks on a String," effective in those films, but stagey and unrealistic here. While the second half of the film lacks the power of the first, the subject is treated respectfully and emotionally enough to make "Bent" an interesting failure. I'd also note that the NC-17 rating slapped on "Bent" portrays yet another type of homosexual prejudice.

B-

Robin ROBIN:
Stage director Sean Mathias makes his feature film debut with "Bent," adapted by Martin Sherman from his 1979 award-winning play. in Germany during the Nazi rise to power, tells the story of Max, a homosexual thriving in decadent Berlin as the oppression of the fascists falls upon the perverts of the new German society.

Max, and his lover, are arrested for their crime and shipped off to a concentration camp. On the way, Max's lover, Rudy, is brutally beaten, finally to death, by the guards on board the train. Max vows to stay alive and, on the train, meets Horst, another homosexual on his way to the concentration camp. The two men draw together, first as friends, then as chaste lovers, in their fight for inner freedom as their oppressors try to break their spirit.

Watching "Bent," I was struck by the similarity between it and the 1965 Sidney Lumet film, "The Hill." In the older film, which takes place in a British military prison, the hill of the title is designed to break the spirit of the prisoners by making them walk up and down the hill until collapsing from exhaustion. In "Bent," the hill is replaced by an endless pile of rocks moved from one spot to another and back. The similarity of symbolism between "The Hill's" hill versus "Bent's" rock pile, is notable.

Clive Owen and Lothaire Bluteau are fine in the lead roles. Their unrequited attraction to each other is convincing, as they cope with their futile existence and form a bond of love.

The subject matter of the repression of free will and desire to conform to the dictate of society, is dated. The emergence of gay life as an acceptable lifestyle in our present society overshadows the emotional impact the original play must have had 18 years ago. Now, in the enlightened 90's, the tale is of more interest historically, depicting an aspect of Nazi brutality not seen before. Films about fascist Germany and concentration camps generally involve Jews, not gays.

The stylish nature of the production provides some visually interesting sets, such as the quarry where Max and Horst perform their unending toils. The stark bleakness of the setting is palpably felt, somewhat to the film's detriment, as the depressing air stays with you after it ends. This is not a fun movie.

The minimalist cast used for the bulk of the film - Max, Horst and the occasional camp guard/officer - is a disappointment following the nightlife opening in Berlin. This opening showcases a musical number, "The Streets of Berlin," sung by Mick Jagger, dressed in drag, that reps the best part of the movie. Jagger is so intriguing a presence, I was disappointed when he left the film in its first quarter. I wanted the camera to follow Greta/George and tell her/his story.

Once in the concentration camp, the talky nature and lack of action brings things to a sedate crawl. There is a passion between Max and Horst, but it is a passion I, personally, do not identify with, so I felt no real empathy for the characters.

"Bent" may have appeal to its target audience, but not beyond. I give "Bent" a C.


THE RAINMAKER

In Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker," Rudy Baylor,s "John Grisham (Matt Damon) is an ambitious young man, recently graduated from a small-time Tennessee law school, who wants to make a name for himself as a "rainmaker," a bright star in the legal world of Memphis. All he needs is a big case and a law firm to back him. He has the case: insurance conglomerate, Great Benefit, has repeatedly refused to honor its policy with leukemia victim, Donny Ray Black (Johnny Whitworth). Their stalling tactics - claim denied over and over and over - result in Donny Ray getting beyond hope of a cure. Rudy also finds his law firm, headed by colorful shyster, Bruiser Stone, who hires the novice attorney and turns him over to the care of Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito), a self-proclaimed paralawyer who has failed the bar six times, but has a street-wise sense of the internal workings of the law.

Rudy's case is brought to court and the young lawyer faces a Jack the Giant Killer-size battle as he, alone, is pitted against Great Benefit's phalanx of corporate attorneys, led by the ruthless legal titan, Leo F. Drummond, played with relish by Jon Voight.

Robin ROBIN:
Francis Coppola, who adapted the screenplay from John Grisham's best-selling novel, has crafted together a first-rate film experience that takes the multi-threaded story and couples it with an exemplary cast of seasoned veteran actors and a top-notch behind-the-lens team.

The story follows several different lines with Matt Damon's character, Rudy, at their center. The main story is the above-mentioned law suit against the insurance monster. This David versus Goliath tale takes a broad swath through the film as it deals with the ethics of the legal profession, the moral turpitude of the big insurance companies, and the rights of the individual. Rudy battles, in the courtroom arena, against the formidable powers of the Great Benefits, represented by Voight's Drummond, a man who wouldn't just take candy from a baby, he'd charge the little bugger for it. It's a satisfying yarn of the little guy being able to make a difference in the system and, if he's willing to take the risk, can actually bring down an evil giant. Rudy is the noble knight against the corporate dragon and his right makes might.

By itself, this central tale would have made a merely OK flick. The reason "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" works is due to the ancillary stories that wind around the core narrative. Rudy also gets involved in a potentially star-crossed romance with beautiful spousal abuse victim Kelly Riker (Claire Danes). Kelly is in a bad marriage where hubby Cliff (Andrew Shue) thinks that sweet talk begins and ends with the use of a baseball bat. Rudy falls for Kelly as she recovers from yet another romantic interlude with Cliff. The romance and resolution is handled with a slightly heavy hand, but its climactic confrontation among the three is terrifically exciting with fast paced violence and uncertainty until its off-screen finish. You won't be disappointed in the just ending of this story.

Other story threads, such as the one involving Miss Birdie (Teresa Wright), an elderly widow who Rudy volunteers to help with her estate planning. Throughout the film, the young lawyer oversees the old woman's holdings to ensure that she is cared for through the rest of her life. Wright is perfect as Miss Birdie, who cares for, and is cared for by, Rudy. It's a small, but complete, story, that is satisfying in its warmth and resolution.

The cast of characters populating "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" is, alone, worth the price of admission. Matt Damon, who's near term career exposure is assured with this film and the upcoming Gas Van Sant film, "Good Will Hunting," and Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," does a solid job in his first starring role. Rudy Baylor is a young man of integrity in a profession that lacks that quality. You root for Rudy all the way and are happy with the way his life turns out in career and romance.

Claire Danes has the tough job of spending much of the film battered and bruised. She doesn't play Kelly as a weak individual, but one who simply doesn't know what to do. If she allows the abuse, she is at least alive. If she runs, Cliff will surely kill her. Rudy offers her the only chance she will get and uses his moral strength to make the ultimate move. The final resolution of her "problem" with Cliff evokes an inner, righteous cheer.

Jon Voight, always the consummate villain when called upon, does not disappoint in his role as legal slime, Leo Drummond. If Hollywood ever decides to do a live action version of the old Jay Ward cartoon series, "Dudley Dooright of the Northwest Mounted Police," they need look no further in the casting of bad guy Snidely Whiplash. Voight is the man. Drummond is a lizard who will use any means to win the case for his corporate masters.

Danny DeVito, as Rudy's sidekick, Deck, gives one of his most convincing acting jobs. He is less the Louie, from "Taxi," character he usually imbues on his roles than I've seen. He is a working-class Sancho Panza who, with his street smarts, helps Rudy succeed in his overwhelming battle.

The rest of the cast are also first-rate. Mary Kay Place, as Donny Ray's angry mom, shows the resolve that Dot Black should have in her fight to see that her son's death be not in vain. Mickey Rourke, in an almost unrecognizable makeup job, does a fine job of portraying the unscrupulous ambulance-chasing Bruiser Stone, a man wrapped up in corruption and shady deals, showing the ugly underside of his profession. Danny Glover, as presiding Judge Tyrone Kipler, lends a nice, optimistic air to the courtroom proceedings. Virginia Madsen in a small, but pivotal role, as key witness Jacky Lemanczyk, gives depth to the character in her short time on screen.

Rank symbolism concerning the legal profession runs rampant through the film, with sharks and life's blood spilled on a contract used to show just how seamy the legal profession can be. These hit-you-over-the-head symbols can be forgiven in light of the rest of the film's high quality.

Behind-the-camera tech credits are all in top form, led by two time Academy Award winner, director of photography John Toll ("Legends of the Fall," "Braveheart"). The straightforward set design and costume keep things uncluttered, with the concentration on story and acting.

I found "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" a real surprise this holiday season. It's an intelligent film that doesn't cater to the usual eye-candy we face during the holiday season and is one of the best adaptations of a Grisham novel. I give it a B+.

Laura LAURA:
Francis Ford Coppola finally proves that he can indeed succeed as a director-for-hire with "John Grisham's The Rainmaker." He's assembled such a great cast that most of the work must have been done for him before he even shot a single frame.

I hope "The Rainmaker" turns out to be a bigger calling card for its star, Canterbridgian Matt Damon, than "A Time for Killing" was for the less talented Matthew McConaughey - Damon's note perfect as the unassuming, fresh-out-of-law school Rudy Baylor, who's saddled by a law breaking boss (Mickey Rourke in an entertainingly oily turn), a partner who's been unable to pass the bar exam after six tries (Danny Devito in a far better, more subtle performance than in "L.A. Confidential"), an attraction to a young battered wife (Claire Danes), and a case against an insurance company with a huge team of seasoned corporate lawyers led by that baddest of bad guys, Jon Voight. He's perfectly believable and manages to make fresh the cliched role of the underdog hero who overcomes incredible odds.

Besides the solid support by Danny Devito and Mickey Rourke, the film's also got Oscar nomination calibre Mary Kay Place as Dot Black, the mother of the young leukemia victim refused treatment by the Great Benefit insurance company, Danny Glover as liberal Judge Kipler, who amusingly coaches the novice Baylor during the trial, Virginia Madsen as the fired claim adjuster who suffers public humiliation in order to testity against her former employers, Teresa Wright ("Mrs. Miniver," "Shadow of a Doubt") as Rudy's dotty landlady, Miss Birdie and the where-did-they-FIND-this-guy Red West as the disturbed war veteran father of Donny Ray Black.

The script is wonderfully adapted from the Grisham novel by Coppola, who toughened things up a bit for Baylor in order to make the story play out more realistically and pleasingly punched up some of the dialogue. All other tech credits are solid as well - cinematography, art direction, editting, costume, score all done by a team of pros.

Although the story's entirely unoriginal and none of the story threads end in any other way than one is expecting, "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" (which should really be titled "Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker") is a solid and satisfying entertainment.

B


ALIEN RESURRECTION

It's 200 hundred years since Ripley plunged to her death and a fourth director (Jean-Pierre Jeunet of the marvelously creative French films "Delicatessen" and "City of Lost Children") brings the fourth installment of the Alien saga to the screen with "Alien Resurrection." The Government is conducting hush hush genetic experiements and have cloned Ripley from a frozen blood sample in order to harvest the alien foetus she was carrying. Dan Hedaya ("Clueless") is General Perez, in command of the spaceship Auriga and Brad Dourif ("One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") is the scientist messing around with nature.

A renegade crew led by Elgyn (Michael Wincott, "The Crow") and including mechanic Call (Winona Ryder) and Jeunet regulars Dominique Pinon as Vriess and Ron Perlman as Johner arrive with a horrific black market commodity - the kidnapped crew of a mining ship to be used as hosts for the aliens.

Laura LAURA:
"Alien Resurrection" is a feast for the eyes with cinematography by Darius Khondji ("Seven") and art direction by Nigel Phelps. Themes of motherhood and religion are carried over and there are darkly edged new twists to be found within Joss Whedon's ("Toy Story") script. The aliens themselves have never been presented as well. Ultimately, however, boredom overcomes as one realizes that at its core, "Alien Resurrection" is warmed over leftovers however piquant the new sauce.

Sigourney Weaver gives it her all, giving us a Ripley-who's-not-really-Ripley. With a tip of the hat to "The Fly," it seems that cloning hasn't been perfected in the far away future and Ripley's got a mix of alien genes along with her human ones. This Ripley's got super human strength, acidic blood and the ability to sink a 3 point basket over her shoulder (as does Weaver who really sunk the shot!). For some unexplained reason, she's also got black nail polish. Weaver's good - she's got physical ticks and a subtle smirk that leave us a bit uneasy and not sure who's side she's on.

Winona Ryder was supposed to create new interest in the series but she seems more like the crew's mascot than a character in the film - this just isn't her bag. Ron Perlman is terrific as the crusty Betty crew member with a yen but not the cojones for Ripley - he gets most of the good lines as well. In one of the film's best, and most horrific, scenes, Ripley discovers the lab where failed attempts at cloning her reside. After she torches the room in a multi-mercy killing, Perlman mutters "I don't get it - what a waste of ammunication - must be a chick thing." Dan Hedaya also adds some zest with his over the top and be damned performance as the corrupt General Perez, who salutes after throwing a grenade into an escaping space pod containing his own men. Leland Orser ("Independence Day," "Seven") and Kim Flowers also are notable as Purvis and Hillard, two other members of the Betty's crew. The rest of the cast are merely alien fodder.

I really enjoyed several aspects of "Alien Resurrection" like the cube of tequila that's liquified by a laser beam, the great opening credit sequence of alien goo containing a human eye, the great underwater sequence with spookily swimming aliens, the grey-green lighting used during Ripley's Caesarean and Ripley's symbolic abortion of the monster that contains too many of her own genes. However, the second half of the film is largely the same old outrunning the aliens, saving the earth stuff that's been the second half of all previous three films.

"Alien Resurrection" is like a Thanksgiving feast where the turkey's dry but the side dishes and condiments are scrumptious.

C+

Robin ROBIN:
OK. Enough of the damned aliens, already. This fourth installment in the "Alien" franchise is slightly more enthralling than its immediate predecessor, the lame "Alien 3," but is not even close to #2, never mind the original. I'm getting bored with sequelitis, but I have to admit, director Jeunet put some interesting spins on what is, basically, a monster chase flick.

Sigourney Weaver is totally buff in this rendition of her Lt. Ellen Ripley character, taking on a stark seriousness that Demi Moore could only dream of in "G.I.Jane." Any humor in Ripley is always tinged with a darkness that gives a cutting edge to the delivery of her lines. Weaver has shown herself to be up to the demands of being an action figure, and she is in her best form here.

Winona Ryder, a wonderful young actress, is simply out of her element in "Alien Resurrection." She is not convincing as Annalee Call, ostensibly the junior mechanic on board the smuggler ship, the Betty, but, in fact, a renegade android with the self-imposed mission to stop the government's secret alien breeding program. Ryder is not convincing as a tough guy, never mind a ruthless cyborg. Mostly, she looks like she needs a good cuddle and a cup of hot cocoa.

The rest of the supporting cast are a colorful, if underutilized, team of pros, with Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinion (both veterans of director Jeunet's "City of Lost Children") providing the most presence behind the stars. Dan Hedaya and Brad Dourif seem to have the most fun mugging up to the camera. Michael Wincott (top bad guy in "The Crow"), as the commander of the Betty, is wasted in a nothing role as one of the creatures' early victims.

The dialogue tends to the witty or terse. Tag lines for the film, like, "She'll breed. You'll die," are hip enough to be used as an advertising hook to grab audience attention.

Action is paced in a competent, if formulaic, fashion, with dark moody sets hiding evil aliens at every turn. One scene, shot entirely under water as the crew tries to escape from the monsters, is pretty darn gripping as the monsters pursue the their human targets in some very slick special F/X. The scene definitely owes a nod to "The Poseidon Adventure". The scene does go on far too long to be realistic, but is nervous fun to watch. Other action stuff we've seen before.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji ("City of Lost Children," "Seven") makes the best of the gloomy set utilizing red and blue overall lighting punctuated with fast, bright flashes of emergency beacons to lend an air of tension to the scenes.

Monster effects vary from the familiar, with the G.H. Geiger original still existing, in variation, to the silly with the Newborn - spawn of Ripley's spawn. It looks more like a gooey cattle skull, combining a human/alien form which looks little like either.

"Alien Resurrection" is slightly better than "Alien 3," but does not justify the continuation of the franchise. The end of the film, however, sets itself up for the nearly inevitable "Alien #5." I hope not, but think so. (I also keep hearing rumors of the fabled "Alien versus Predator" film being bandied about. Now, that could be fun.)

I only give "Alien Resurrection" a C+. 


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