DESPERATE MEASURES - KUNDUN - OSCAR AND LUCINDA
SWEPT FROM THE SEA - AFTERGLOW - PHANTOMS

DESPERATE MEASURES

Andy Garcia is Frank Connor, a San Francisco policer officer faced with losing his little boy if a compatible bone marrow donor can't be found. Peter McCabe (Michael Keaton) turns out to be a perfect match. He's also a homicidal sociopath serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison. Connor takes responsibility for transporting McCabe to the hospital for the surgery to take place, but McCabe ends up escaping and the hospital turns into a war zone. Now Connor's has a different agenda than his fellow officers because if McCabe is killed, his bone marrow becomes useless.

Laura LAURA:
Barbet Schroeder used to make interesting film choices to direct with the likes of "Barfly" and "Reversal of Fortune." Then he stumbled with "Before and After" (one of Meryl Streep's few bad films). He hasn't managed to right himself with "Desperate Measures," a ludicrously silly, totally formulaic psycho on the loose action flick.

Michael Keaton gives an amusing performance as Peter McCabe, the killer who agrees to donote his bone marrow in order to stage an escape. He gives the character more shading than it deserves. Marcia Gay Harden is also good as Samantha Hawkins, the Connor boy's doctor. Unfortunately her doctor is painted as a super woman that stretches credibility. She's a specialist who ends up becoming a combat doctor and an action hero who shows no sign of tiring after twenty-four straight hours of battle. Her only weakness is a fear of heights which she overcomes to rush blood plasma across the top of an enclosed hospital bridge while a police helicopter swoops down over her. Andy Garcia just flips back and forth between showing his overwhelming love for his little boy and his relentlessness in capturing McCable alive. Erik King, as the young Connor, is saintly, wiser than most of the adults, and, of course, cute. Brian Cox, so good in "The Boxer," is wasted as Connor's police captain.

Technically the film is OK, with a couple of exceptional moments. The film opens with Connor and his partner breaking into the FBI at night to scan records to find a donor. The scene is well lit, with a flashlight reflecting off glass and a computer monitor creating an eerie gloom. The film also features a climatic car chase that's staged with some imagination.

David Klass, who also wrote the screenplay for "Kiss the Girls," just provides more evidence that he's a ham fisted hack. The story caused me to roll my eyes more than I have since the last hour of "The Postman." Klass would have us believe that a sneer from McCable could send two trained German Shepherd police dogs whimpering and that shooting someone through a ceiling would immediately produce gushing streams of blood to flow through the bullet holes in the ceiling tiles.

I give "Desperate Measures" a C.

Robin ROBIN:
"Desperate Measures" is a generic psycho thriller that benefits greatly from the campy dramatic performance by Michael Keaton as sociopath, Peter McCabe. Director Barbet Schroeder has done better with his other efforts, such as the Academy Award winner, "Reversal of Fortune," but he does a fair job of entertaining the audience with "...Measures."

Andy Garcia as detective Frank Connor is a true stalwart who loves his son, Matt, so much, he will go to any lengths to save the leukemia-wracked boy. Following a tireless effort by Frank to locate a suitable bone marrow donor, the list narrows to one - prison lifer Pete McCabe. What follows is a cat-and-mouse game as each man goes to the desperate measures necessary to attain their very different goals. But, then, Pete will also go to Desperate measures. The film is, ultimately, a battle of wills between two extraordinarily strong-willed men.

Keaton gives a real stretch as McCabe, departing from his usual comic persona and delivering a solid dramatic performance. He's best at comedy, but acquits himself well here. Keaton is lean and mean, here, and looks like he could spit nails.

Andy Garcia is saddled with the thankless role of the earnest widower dad who just wants to save his boy and will do anything to succeed. Garcia is a capable actor and does as good a job as he can, but thankless is still thankless.

Support is best given by Marcia Gay Harden as Dr. Samantha Hawkins, young Matt's physician. She is dedicated to helping the boy, going to her own desperate measures to protect and save him. She would also do a M.A.S.H. unit proud with the way she patches up gunshot wounds.

British actor Brian Cox, who gave a notable, multi-layered performance as a local IRA leader in "The Boxer," plays the gruff boss of cop Connor. Cox's American accent is minimally OK in his mediocre debut into American film. The rest of the cast are mere background.

The story, by David Klass ("Kiss the Girls"), is a modestly interesting yarn peopled by competent actors giving solid, not remarkable, perfs. The pace of the film is even as it gets past the explanation of the why and gets right down to the what in short order. The what is the chase necessitated because old Pete won't give up. He'll go to any length to get free, even dislocating his thumb at will to aid in his escape. And, that's gotta hurt.

Technically, "Desperate Measures" is straightforward. Director Schroeder utilizes the talents of lenser Luciano Tovoli, who provides moody, brooding photography, and production designer Geoffrey Kirkland ("The Right Stuff"), to provide a visually interesting backdrop to the story.

"Desperate Measures" is generic, but the crafting behind the camera and a good performance by Keaton get it a B-.


KUNDUN

In Tibetan, the word "kundun" means "presence" and, to a degree, this concept is attained in director Martin Scorcese's dramatic depiction of the young life, ending in exile from Tibet, of the 14th Incarnation of the Buddha of Compassion, the Dalai Lama, in "Kundun."

Robin ROBIN:
"Kundun" delves into the heart of the life of the 14th Dalai Lama where "Seven Years In Tibet" only scratched the surface of the holy child/man and the events going on around him. "Seven Years..." did play up the invasion by the Chinese with more flair, but "Kundun" portrays the mysticism of the hereditary incarnation of Buddha more effectively.

Martin Scorcese has made a meditative, low key historical drama about a truly mystical figure of our modern history, departing from his usual, violence-prone flicks. Virtually every film of the American master contains themes and scenes of violence as a part of his cinematic fabric. Even Scorcese's other homage to a prominent holy figure in "The Last Temptation of Christ" ends in a crucifixion. Any violence in "Kundun" is portrayed solely as the product of the Chinese incursion into the tiny country of Tibet. No Tibetan performs any act of violence in "Kundun." I think Martin Scorcese has reached a level in his career. Changes are in the making for America's pre-eminent filmmaker.

Matte shots of the Dalai Lama palace in Lhasa arehinese "liberation" is heavy-handed, if accurate.

The usually pretentious new age music of Philip Glass fits oddly well with the tone and the mood of the film itself.

"Kundun" presents an honest and heartfelt homage to its leader and prophet. The dedication and artistry of the production earn "Kundun" a B+.

Laura LAURA:
Great American director Martin Scorsese tackles the story of the current Dalai Lama from his recognition as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha at age two in 1937 through his exile from Tibet after the invastion of the Chinese at the age of 24 in 1959. Scorsese's work is one of mysticism and contemplation highlighted by stunning cinematography by Roger Deakins and an appropriately otherwordly score by Philip Glass.

Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalia Lama, is played by the precocious Tenzin Yeshi Paichang at the age two, an indulged child who demands his father's place at the dinner table. We learn from his mother (Tencho Gyalpo, the real woman's granddaughter) that when he was born, a crow landed on the roof just as it had for the Buddha. A travelling monk, searching for the new Dalai Lama to the distant border of China, sees something in Tenzin and tests him. To the monk's joy, Tenzin is able to consistently choose the belongings of the 13th Dalai Lama as his own possesions and the entire family is brought to Lhasa.

The 5 year old Tenzin (Tulku Jamyang Kunga Tenzin) begins his instruction with the monks while retaining an independent spirit and delighting in the spectacle of his older brother having to bow before him. He's mostly separated from his family, though, and in one of the film's many great images, we see the young Tenzin's tiny face gazing out a high window of the great walled palace as the camera pulls back to show us the majesty of the Potala against the Himalayas.

Gyurme Tethong plays the Dalai Lama at 12 year olds, when he begins to learn the ways of the outside world, especially the threat from the Chinese. Tethong is a bit severe in the role, especially after the delightful children, and also looks the least like the other three actors.

Truly affecting is Tenzin Thuthob Tsarong as the adult Dalai Lama. One empathizes with the plight of the young man who's expected to lead his country through its biggest challenge at such a young age. Tsarong is able to embody the spirituality of the man and his anguish at having to decide to leave Tibet and his people in order to attempt to save it. When he reaches the border in a state of exhaustion, he looks back only to be faced with a vision of his guards' slaughtered corpses slung over the backs of their horses. Earlier, in a scene reminiscent of "Gone With the Wind," he stands, arms outstretched, amid the dead bodies of hundreds of red robed monks spiralling out around him.

The Chinese are presented as evil incarnate. Stories reach the Dalai Lama of young children being forced to pick up rifles and shoot their own parents. When he meets with Chairman Mao (Chinese American actor Robert Lin in more of a parody than a performance), he at first contemplates the possible wisdom of the man's words until Mao informs him that 'Tibet has been poisoned by religion.'

"Kundun" is a film of great beauty and startling images, if not quite passion. If one is willing to apply some thought during the leisurely pacing, however, one can't fail to be moved.

B+


OSCAR AND LUCINDA

Independent young Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett of "Paradise Road") is shocked to learn that her home has been sold upon her mother's death and so pulls up her bootstraps and prepares to know the ways of the world. She travels to Sydney and meets up with a glass expert, Reverand Dennis Hasset (Ciaran Hinds of "Persuasion") and offers to buy the Prince Rupert Glassworks in partnership with him. She also develops a passion for gambling, which in Victorian times, spell the end for Hasset who's transferred to a remote outback parish.

Meanwhile Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes), trained as an Anglican minister at Oxford, has also found a passion for gambling which he rationalizes by giving his proceeds to the poor. Desperately afraid of drowning, he nonetheless boards the Leviathan for Australia, where he meets Lucinda under somewhat comical circumstances and the two soon discover the mutual love of the wager.

Laura LAURA:
Australian director Gillian Armstrong ("My Brilliant Career," "Little Women") has taken Laura Jones' adapted screenplay from Peter Carey's novel and given us a most luminous and quirky love story which somehow plays like a cross of "Edward Scissorhands" and "Fitzcaraldo."

Ralph Fiennes creates his most unique screen character with Oscar, an unnaturally pale, red haired, geeky misfit whose purity of heart shines from his eyes. He's physically weak, full of strange ticks, but positively endearing.

Cate Blanchett is like a young version of Judy Davis without the neuroticism. Her face also glows with ambition, passion, and unrecognized by him, love for Oscar.

When Oscar is run out of his new Australian parish (for of all things, being caught alone with Lucinda playing cards), he shows up at her doorstop when he has nowhere else to turn. Initially Oscar avoids Lucinda until she confronts him and learns that he's anguished over the temptation he believes her to be (for gambling, mind you), so the two make a pact to give up horses and cards. Even so, her housekeeper leaves in disgust at the turn of events and the two maintain a somewhat childlike and totally unconventional household. Oscar believes that Lucinda loves Reverand Hasset (we're privy to his stroking Hasset's letters to Lucinda which she keeps on her mantlepiece), and so, in a truly selfless gesture, he proposes building a glass church which he will take charge of transporting to Hasset's remote outpost.

It's here that the film mirrors "Fitzcaraldo's" insanely foolhardy adventure. By the time Oscar reaches his destination with his broken, but still somehow miraculous cargo, he's witnessed the slaughter of Aboriginies and killed a man (aided by the ever loyal Percy (Bille Brown), who's also come to love the beatific Oscar).

The film constantly touches on its symbolic use of glass and water imagery, spectacularly so at the film's tragic and haunting climax. Oscar-nominated Thomas Newman's score stayed with me long after the film had ended. Fiennes, however, is the soul of the film and should be high on the list of consideration for Best Actor nominee.

A-


SWEPT FROM THE SEA

"Swept from the Sea," adapted from the Joseph Conrad's novel attempt at high romance, "Amy Foster," stars Rachel Weisz as Amy and Vincent Perez as Russian emigrant, Yanko, of the film's title. Co-starring Ian McKellen, Joss Ackland and Kathy Bates, the story begins with Amy telling her young son how his father came to them as the only survivor of a ship wrecked while on its way to America.

Amy is considered a simpleton, because of her incestuous birth, by the townsfolk who believe her silence since youth is a true sign of her imbecility. One night, during a violent storm (this film is chock full of violent storms), she discovers Yanko.

Robin ROBIN:
You can tell that the flood of holiday blockbusters and Oscar-contending features has just about trickled out, leaving a vacuum in the local cineplexes that is being filled by the mediocre mid-winter releases. "Swept from the Sea" is typical of the caliber of films we get this time of year. It's not a bad film, it just lacks passion and intrigue. This is due, I think, to the adapted subject matter from Joseph Conrad. His forte is not passionate romance and it shows in the stilted nature of story.

Vincent Perez gives an uneven performance as Yanko. Sometimes he is dead on in his characterization as the stranger in a strange land, with other times appearing merely confused. Rachel Weisz gives a performance that can best be described as blank.

Ian McKellen, as the town doctor and narrator of the tale, gives the most complex perf of the film as an old widower who's life is infused by the arrival of the deceptively intelligent Yanko. McKellen's openly gay lifestyle will undoubtedly color audience perception of the doctor's affection for Yanko and his jealousy of Amy. I think Conrad meant it as a heterosexual relationship.

Kathy Bates seems to be making a career as a period piece, kindhearted dowager who cares for the young leads (see "Titanic"). Joss Ackland is merely okay.

Beautiful locations and fluid lensing make "Swept..." a nice looking film. Otherwise it is only a little above average. I give it a C+.

Laura LAURA:
Director Beeban Kidron ("To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar") has come forth with a mixed bag with "Swept From the Sea," adapted from the Joseph Conrad short story "Amy Foster." This effort may have seemed more worthwhile had it been broadcast on "Masterpiece Theater" than on the big screen.

Not that some of the location photography isn't sweeping in its beauty, encompassing the harsh living conditions of Cornwall, where the sea crashes against imposing cliffs and lives are lost when ships are dashed against the rocks. The reason "Swept From the Sea" doesn't really work is that its ensemble cast doesn't mesh as well as it should and sometimes the story's melodramatics slip over the edge into silliness.

"Swept From the Sea" is essentially a story of intolerance. The only survivor of a shipwreck, Russian Yanko (Vincent Perez of "The Crow: City of Angels" and "Indochine", alternately savagely sexy and overly melodramatic) is viewed by the suspicous locals as a beast, except for the beautiful Amy Foster (Rachel Weisz), herself viewed with suspicion due to her scandalous birth and odd ways (she calls the sea her home and barely speaks). The kindness Amy shows Yanko results in his undying love for her. His origins unknown at first, Yanko is essentially kept as a slave by Mr. Swaffer (Joss Acklund) until the visiting Dr. Kennedy (Ian McKellan) realizes Yanko is speaking Russian after a display of his chess playing talents.

Yanko begins to court Amy to the town's dismay (one wonders why they'd care if these two outcasts came together) and Mr. Swaffer, at the urging of his romantic spinster sister (Kathy Bates, playing Cupid again after "Titanic"), repays Yanko for his labors with a small cottage and an acre of land. Yanko and Amy wed, and the romance gets truly silly as the two are seen on their wedding night waist high in tidal cave water.

Of course, everything ends suitably tragically, and with the relevation that Dr. Kennedy had his own romantic notions of Yanko. The whole thing seems very "Wuthering Heights" for the preteen set.

C-


AFTERGLOW

In Alan Rudolph's "Afterglow," a younger and an older couple unknowingly trade partners. Julie Christie is Phyllis Mann, a former B-movie actress who has refused her husband sex since an undisclosed argument 8 years previously. They're companionable and she generally turns a blind eye to his dalliances. Nick Nolte is Lucky Mann, a general contractor who gets lots of referrals from his female clients. Lara Flynn Boyle is Marianne Byron, a young wife desperate for a child which her selfish executive husband Jeffrey (Jonny Lee Miller of "Trainspotting") won't provide her. When Lucky and Marianne begin a heated affair, Phyllis and Jeffrey both turn up at the Ritz bar to spy on them, but end up forming their own bond.

Laura LAURA:
Director Alan Rudolph, a protege of Robert Altman's (who produced here), has had a long career making unusual films. "Afterglow" is one of his most accomplished and satisfying, standing alongside, if not slightly over, "Choose Me" and "Mrs. Parker and the Viscious Circle." (Rudolph also served once as a hired gun on Demi Moore's highly underrated "Mortal Thoughts.")

"Afterglow" manages to be totally engrossing due entirely to the performances of its two older stars. Julie Christie is both maddening and heartbreaking as Phyllis who lives in the past within a haze of gin and cigarette smoke. She yearns for their former days when the penultimate was sharing a Boston cream pie and a six pack. Nick Nolte is thoroughly comfortable in his own skin as the charming and sexy Lucky. He loves Phyllis, but cheats on her at every opportunity mostly because he can. They're both true screen pros and they have marvelous chemistry together.

Lara Flynn Boyle is pretty but rather lightweight as Marianne, who comments to a friend when she sees a sexy slip in a store window "I'll buy it. I'm ovulating." Jonny Lee Miller is just plain weird as Jeffrey Byron, an up and coming executive who likes to balance on the ledge outside of his office. We're never given any indication as to why he treats his wife so miserably. He shows an early indication of being attracted to older women, yet later an undue amount of screen time is given to his colleague coming 'out' to him. Is this supposed to mean something?

When the four cross paths, the young actors are just instruments for Phyllis and Lucky to uncover the mystery in their past that has led to their present odd and unsatisfying present. Eventually we learn that the lack of a child has hurt both unions, although in entirely different ways. Rudolph neatly mirrors events, duality at play at every turn. (After Lucky and Marianne have a very passionate tryst, we see her simpering in her indoor pool sipping wine and then cut to Lucky lolling in a bubblebath swigging Geritol!)

Rudolph also nicely establishes a sense of place, setting his story in Montreal, a city not often used in film. Jeffrey and Marianne live in an odd, modern apartment building that looks like a bunch of kids' blocks heaped in a pile while Lucky and Phyllis live in a traditional suburban house.

The film has humor, intelligence, sexiness, rage and loss. Most amazingly, "Afterglow" combines elements of all in its' final, gloriously gutwrenching images.

B+


PHANTOMS

"Phantoms," is the sophomore effort by director Joe Chappelle ("Thieves Quartet") and screen adaptation by Dean Koontz, of his own novel, and stars Peter O'Toole Rose McGowan, Joanna Going, Liev Schreiber and Ben Affleck as the only survivors in Snowfield, Colorado, population 700, where all the town's inhabitants have died in a variety of violent ways. O'Toole as Dr. Timothy Flyte, and the rest are summoned to the town by the Ancient Enemy, an malignant power responsible for such events as the mysterious end of the Mayan culture and the disappearance of the inhabitants of the Roanoke, Virginia colony.

Robin ROBIN:
As a film producer/writer, Dean Koontz had best stick to his day job. "Phantoms" is nonsensical mishmash of horror films, with blatant exploitation of such films as "The Exorcist," "The Shining," "Poltergeist," "Alien," "The Night of the Living Dead," "Outbreak," and "Night of the Comet." It fails to even come close to any of these films, even "...Comet." There is no sense to the story with a silly plot having its characters go through the typical horror paces. There are a few jump out of the dark moments, but they're mostly cheap clics you have seenh hundreds of times before.

Acting is lame all around even by horror movie standards. Peter O'Toole must need the bucks. Ben Affleck, I understand, made this before his breakout films, "Chasing Amy" and "Good Will Hunting." Ben, put this one behind you and don't look back. Joanna Going and Rose McGowan, as sisters coming back to Snowfield, are well cast looks-wise, but that' about it. Liev Schreiber of all the cast, has the meatiest role and performance as the deputy taken over by the Ancient Enemy. He, at least, gets to chew scenery.

The only positive aspect of the entire production of "Phantoms" is the extremely crisp and stylish nighttime photography by lenser Richard Clabaugh. The quality of the cinematography is far superior to the rest of the film. F/X are nothing special.

I give "Phantoms" a D, and rate it that high solely because of the artistic photography.

Laura LAURA:
I avoided reading Dean Koontz for years, thinking of him as a second-rate Stephen King. There have been few King screen adaptations that have been good. While I've since found a couple of Koontz books to be not half bad, this first adapatation of one of his novels for the big screen is indeed second-rate King - and of King's worst.

"Phantoms" starts with two sisters (Joanna Going and Rose McGowan) driving into the small town of Snowfield, only to find it deserted. Soon they've found a couple of dead bodies and cars that won't start. By the time they make their third grisly discovery (and the plot hasn't really even revved up yet), I knew I was in for trouble when the sight of two heads suddenly plunging onto two pies baking in an oven induced laughs rather than anything resembling horror.

Ben Affleck (who shot this film before the release of "Chasing Amy" let alone "Good Will Hunting" in his defense) is the stony faced sheriff with a past (he mistakenly shot a kid when in the FBI - quite a history for such a young guy). Liev Schrieber is his snivelling deputy who shows his penchant for being a bad guy far too early to make sense (although he does manage to give a *little* comic relief in the process).

They all end up holed up on an old hotel where refrains of Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" refuses to stop playing (nyuk-yuk). After they get their last radio call out of the town mentioning a name found painted in blood in a locked, windowless room, we cut to the named man - Peter O'Toole (!), a former academic disgraced for his theories on the "Ancient Enemy," a force he believes responsible for all the lost civilizations of man through the ages. He's brought in with a swat team in an armorred lab station so they can all fight the great evil (which turns out to be an oil slick that assumes the knowledge of its victims).

The scariest aspect of "Phantoms" - it sets itself up for a sequel.

D-


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