HALLOWEEN H20 - SNAKE EYES
BILLY'S HOLLYWOOD SCREEN KISS

YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS - BASEketball
EVER AFTER


HALLOWEEN H20

Twenty years ago, Michael Myers first came home in a bloody reign of terror in "Halloween" and traumatized his 17-year-old sister, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Now, Laurie has changed her name to Keri Tate and is hiding out as headmistress of a secluded private boarding school with her 17-year-old son John (Josh Hartnett). Lauri/Keri has suffered the nightmares of that fateful night ever since and now, twenty years later, must face it all over again in "Hallloween: H20."

Robin ROBIN:
The horror genre is not my forte in either taste or interest, but I have to admit, I enjoyed sitting through "Halloween: H20." Using Carpenter's original score and reprising the faceless and relentless monster of Michael Myers, director Steve Miner ("Forever Young") has brought back much of the terror of the original, levening in elements of humor and paying homage to the first, great indie horror movie, Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." The screenplay by Robert Zappia and Matt Geenberg captures the spirit of John Carpenter's work, but puts its own 90's spin on the story. In a clever bit of slight-of-hand, Miner and crew avoid having to explain why it took twenty years for MM to come back. From Laurie's viewpoint, the center of her lifelong terror has never left. This keeps us from wondering where the heck Mikey has been keeping his supernatural butt all these years. Once things start rolling, you don't care as belief is suspended and the cat and mouse story kicks into gear. All of Michael Myers' traits of unstoppabilty and sheer physical endurance are all here with our villain being stabbed, shot, smashed over the dead with a fire extinguisher, hit with a 5000 pound van and still, like a Timex watch, he just keeps on ticking. Expect the usual horror movie cliches like "let's go investigate the noise in the spooky house without turning on any lights" and "let's split up and go search, alone, for the psycho butcher killer."

Jamie Lee Curtis restates her original performance in a way that makes sense. Her Laurie/Keri has been suffering for two decades with the nightmare of the events so long ago. Michael is in her dreams and in the shadows of every waking hour of every day. He is the Frankenstein monster that she must destroy or be destroyed herself. Besides the beast, Laurie is also in a fight against the bottle, which she secretly depends upon for solace from the nightmares. Curtis gives a solid perf in what could have been merely parody.

The supporting cast is populated with the inevitable victims, but the caliber is a cut above the usual fodder for such films. Adam Arkin and LL Cool J lead the second tier characters (the stars are Laurie and MM, after all) into the mayhem. Janet Leigh, as the school's administrator, is game as the deliverer of the homage to the famous Hitchock film, down to the car driven by Leigh in "Psycho."

Production design by John Willet ("The Firm") and photography by Daryn Okada ("Anna Karenina") skillfully keep the mood of Carpenter's original. The almost total nighttime look and feel of the film is handled with a crisp clarity that helps the film maintain its edginess.

The less-than-90-minute run time is a definite plus in this day of Hollywood movies, no matter the subject, with times of two hours and more.

Not a bad little bit of summer movie entertainment for the fans of the series and the genre. I give "Halloween: H20" a B-.


SNAKE EYES

Rick Santoro (Nicolas Cage) is in high spirits. He's got a first rate seat to the world heavyweight championship fight compliments of visiting best friend Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), who's exhibitting his own show of bravado protecting the accompanying U.S. Secretary of Defense. Santoro makes much of the fact that as a cop, he owns his home town of Atlantic City, screaming out to the champ Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw) like his best buddy and shaking down low lifes for betting capital.

When the champ goes down during the fight, shots ring out, the Defense Secretary's been hit, 14,000 fight fans panic, and Santoro's faced with piecing together the strange course of events, sifting through Rashomon-like testimony, and covering up his friend's security breach.

Laura LAURA:
The Brian DePalma of "Blow Out," "Dressed to Kill," and "Body Double" is back with "Snake Eyes." This is classic DePalma, featuring bravura camerawork by Stephen H. Burum, a woman disguised in a blonde wig, split screens and Hitchcockian undertones including a striking score by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The twenty minute opening steadicam shot is a marvel. We follow Cage, acting in his most exhuberant, near the edge of over-the-top style, as he makes his way through all the public and private spaces of an Atlantic City fight arena. His character, we learn, isn't exactly a good guy - he has a wife and a mistress, is on the take and wears extremely loud clothes (costume designer Odette Gadoury pairs a shiny rayon and silk suit of orangy brown with a brown and saffron yellow Hawaiian shirt).

The assassination of the Defense Secretary appears to be tied to two mysterious woman, a suspicious redhead that Dunne follows right before the critical moment and the disguised woman (Carla Gugino, formerly of TV's "Spin City") who takes his seat and addresses the Secretary moments before he's shot. The third potential link and key witness is the champ himself (Stan Shaw, "The Great Santini"), whose fall provided a path for the bullet.

With the aid of the hotel's security cameras (very effectively employed by DePalma), Santoro discovers that the 'knockout punch' never even hit it's intended target. An interesting confession from Tyler and a search for the mystery woman lead Santoro to not only the truth of the situation, but his own ultimate moral conundrum.

"Snake Eyes" is technically masterful filmmaking that's fun to watch, even as the script bogs down in the film's second half. The bad guy is all too easy to spot and once he's revealed the story just goes through it's paces (although there is an amusing coda that punches things back up again). An oncoming hurricane subplot seems tacked on.

Nonetheless, "Snake Eyes" is an entertainly thriller featuring one of our greatest actors. It's also great to see the real DePalma back returned from the insipid direction of "Mission Impossible" and "Bonfire of the Vanities."

B

Robin ROBIN:
Atlantic City detective Rick Santoro is on top of the world! Everyone loves Rick and, to quote the cop, "It's fight night!" at the Atlantic City Boxing Arena. He has a ringside seat at the championship heavy-weight fight as the guest of the Secretary of Defense, thanks to the Secretary's head of security, Navy Commander Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise), Rick's best friend from the 'hood. Director Brian De Palma introduces us to Rick in a dizzying SteadiCam sequence that lasts a full 20 minutes and follows him through the arena, up stairs, down elevators, through security checks, even shaking down a low life scum (Luiz Guzzman) for some bettin' money along the way. This is a tour de force example of hyper-kinetic visuals that sets the pace for the rest of the film.

The screenplay, by De Palma and David Koepp ("Jurassic Park" "Lost World"), is not equal to the visual energy displayed by cinematographer Stephen H. Burum and production designer Anne Pritchard. After the first 20 minutes, the film immediately gets down to cases with the assassination of the Secretary of Defense. Here's the problem: as Rick Santoro delves into the mystery surrounding the murder attempt, he is presented with the testimony of three witnesses - the boxer, the commander and the whistle-blower who has evidence of a cover-up involving a faulty hi-tech weapons system. This "Roshomon" style technique starts intriguingly with champ Lincoln Tyler (Stan Shaw) telling of his involvement in what is, in fact, a major conspiracy. Unfortunately, De Palma does not stick with this idea. By the time he gets to the commander's story, you've already figured out the plot, so his "telling" has no impact or surprise.

Nic Cage has a good time in the role of mildly corrupt cop Rick. He'll take favors from his "friends" in return for looking the other way when appropriate. As Santoro uncovers the conspiracy, with the help of beautiful Fed employee Julia Costello (Carla Gugino), he is faced with a level of political corruption on a scale he has never seen before.

Gary Sinise is merely OK as Rick's best friend and erstwhile conspirator Kevin Dunne. He looks the part of the spit-and-polish military man and starts out with what seems to be real affection for Rick. As the story unfolds, Sinise's Dunne takes on less and less credibility as his bad guy persona takes over.

Stan Shaw, as heavyweight champ Tyler, is a Sonny Liston clone - a fighter who throws the fight at the crucial moment. When he is used, later, as a thug to beat up Rick, I gave up on this character, too. Carla Gugino (TV's "Spin City") is a real looker as the near-sighted whistle blower and is solid opposite Cage. John Heard, as the Howard Hughes-like billionaire, living off of lucrative government contracts, is wasted in the role of head conspirator.

I give De Palma and company credit for not succumbing to the usual bloat we see in big budget Hollywood films. "Snake Eyes" is tightly edited, paced well and staffed with experienced actors. Story, as is the case in Hollywood of late, does not cleanly or credibly tell the tale. It is a hell of a lot better than "Armageddon" and I give it a B-.


BILLY'S HOLLYWOOD SCREEN KISS

Writer-director Tommy O'Haver makes his feature film debut with "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" starring newcomers Sean B. Hayes as Billy Collier, a gay Everyman looking for love, and Brad Rowe as Gabriel, a straight but very confused young man. Billy is a photographer tasked with recreating famous movie kisses using an all-male/drag cast. His offer to use Gabriel as the handsome leading man in the re-creation of the famous beach scene in "From Here to Eternity" is just the hook Billy needs to find out if he has a chance with good-looking Gabriel.

Robin ROBIN:
O'Haver has succeeded in making a modern, gay-oriented film that has a wholesome quality and heralds back to the comedy/drama/suspense/romance/musicals of the 50's. (The director cites William Wyler's 1949 work, "The Heiress," starring Olivia de Havilland, as his inspiration for "Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss.") This is a light-hearted little romance where sex is merely alluded to and the "kiss" is the main attraction of the film.

In what I can only call the most sparkling debut performance, Sean B. Hayes lights up the screen as the always ebullient Billy, smitten both by Gabriel's extreme good looks and the challenge of "turning" the naive young man from his straight ways. Hayes is the heart of the film and gives Billy an exuberance that is almost palpable, pulling you right along with him on his quest - it doesn't matter if you are gay or straight. Billy is a nice, likable guy

Brad Rowe, as Gabriel, is a cross between Rob Lowe at his best looking and a handsome Brad Pitt. Gabriel is a confused young man who, though uncomfortable with the trappings of gay life, is perfectly at ease around Billy. This leaves the door open for the love-starred photographer to exploit the possibility of getting Gabriel into bed. Rowe, despite his good looks, is little more than an object of desire and does not have the screen presence and charisma of Hayes.

Richard Ganoung ("Parting Glances") plays Billy's patron and long-time secret admirer, Perry, and stands out as the younger man's personal philosopher and friend. Meredith Scott Lynn plays Billy's friend Georgiana, AKA George, who shows that straight folk can have screwed up relationships, too. Paul Bartel ("Eating Raoul") gives a complex performance as the extravagant, successful photographer Rex Webster who also has an eye for the winsome young Gabriel.

A hit at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, "Billy's" is structured in creative ways that belie its shoestring budget and minimal shoot schedule. O'Haver uses Billy's Polaroid photos to create flash back images of Billy's life, showing, at an early age, the boy as a possessor of what he and his friends call "the show tune gene" that will guide his life and sexual preference. Billy shoots his Polaroids throughout, allowing us to use his camera lens as a portal into the LA gay life-style. This life, though more flamboyant than, say, rural America, is still a life, with the same concerns as the straight community - companionship, friendship, work, creative needs and love.

Set design by Franco-Giacomo Carbone utilizes bright colors throughout the film and, combined with an old-style Panavision camera equipped with Cinemascope lenses, gives the look and feel of the those colorful and gaudy films of Hollywood's Golden Age. The dream sequences, mostly in black and white, feature an off-kilter trio of transvestites called The Queens, lip-synching to Nina Simone's "Love Me Or Leave Me" and Petula Clark's "This Is My Song" - which, days later, is still running through my head.

"Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss" (by the way, there is a kiss, but not what you would expect) is an affectionate creation and an entertaining debut for both the director and the film's star, Hayes. This has potential to get mainstream attention on its charms alone. I give "Billy's" a B.


YOUR FRIENDS & NEIGHBORS

Writer/Director Neil Labute, who startled filmgoers last year with his nasty "In the Company of Men," returns with "Your Friends & Neighbors." Three women and three men, played by Amy Brenneman ("Heat"), Catherine Keener ("Out of Sight"), Natassja Kinski, Ben Stiller, Jason Patric and Aaron Eckhart ("In the Company of Men"), all vaguely unhappy with their love lives, couple and recouple only to remain vaguely unhappy.

Laura LAURA:
"Your Friends & Neighbors" isn't a black comedy - it's a bleak comedy, where the only laughter produced is the nervous kind. It plays like an NC-17 Woody Allen film that's heavy on the intellectualism.

Aaron Eckhart's character (the characters are never once referred to by name) is married to Amy Brenneman's character, yet proclaims that he's his own best sexual partner ('the fireworks don't really start until she heads to the bathroom for a shower'). He's a lumpen everyman who graces his wife with gifts, most oddly an antique watch that doesn't work. Brenneman jumps at the chance to begin an affair with her husband's best friend, Ben Stiller's delusionally romantic drama teacher (and the most Woody-Allenish of the ensemble).

Stiller's long term live-in partner is the emotionally frigid Catherine Keener, an advertising writer who's turned off by talking during sex (of course, Stiller never shuts up). She, in turn, is attracted to a sweetly naive artist's assistant played by Natassja Kinski. Kinski's the film's yardstick, as each member of the cast drops in at the art gallery where she works and has the exact same conversation with her with varying results.

The tour de force performance comes from Jason Patric, a morally corrupt ladykiller who's so chilling he reminded me of "American Psycho's" yuppie serial killer. In the film's best and creepiest scene, the three men are in a steam room and he asks for a truthful telling of each of their best f*&*. When it's his turn, he recounts the gang rape of a senior high school boy that he participated in and has twisted into a moment of love. He believes his story's been beat, though, when Stiller says his was Eckhart's wife! In the film's only truly funny scene, Patric pokes a pencil up the nose of a medical model fetus as he chats on the phone, removes it and tosses it from hand to hand, and finally punts it across the room ("South Park's" 'Kick the baby!').

The film closes showing each character with a new partner (Patric's is most ironic and harkens back to those steam room confessions), yet still unhappy for the same reasons they left their previous one. While none of the characters are particularly likeable, they'll keep you watching them.

B-


BASEketball

David Zucker (of Zucker, Abraham, Zucker fame) attempts to capitalize on the past glories of "Airplane!" and "Naked Gun" with "BASEketball," starring TV's "South Park" impresarios Trey Parker and Matt Stone as Joe Cooper and Doug Remer. Coop and Remer live on their memories as high school goof-offs until they invent a new game, combining the shooting skills of basketball with the inactivity of baseball - the perfect game for the pair of waste-oids. Surprising everyone, BASEketball grows from a driveway pick-up game to a big-league event, propelling its inventors to stardom, with all its problems and pleasures.

Robin ROBIN:
For Zucker and company, they should thank their stars that Parker and Stone came into this project. Without the two wacky "South Park " alumni, "BASEketball" would have been an even more painful an experience than it is. I'm guessing that this dud would have had troubles being released at theaters without Parker and Stone. With the duo, and a ready made audience with "South Park" fans, the film stands a chance of some low to moderate success.

Don't be fooled, though, "BASEketball" is a major league turkey with little real humor. One of the "rules" of the game allows the defense to psyche out the shooter and anything goes. This potential comic vein is mined with tweezers as many gross-out opportunities are missed. (The best one has Coop drinking from a bag contain Marlon Brando's liposuction - Yuck! Another has Remer spraying his opponent with breast milk. Also yuck! Most of the other attempts are pretty lame.)

Much of he dialog between Coop and Remer is taken directly from their characters in "South Park," with "dude," "kickass" and "gawddammit" prevailing. One entire conversation goes something like:

Coop: "Dude!" Remer: "Dude?" Coop: "Dude." Remer: "Dude! Dude." Coop: "Dude?" Remer: "Dude."

With writing like this, can an Academy Award be far behind?

"BASEketball" barely rates to be released direct to video, never mind on the big-screen. Parker and Stone help make matters nearly tolerable, but this is not what I look for in a goofy comedy. Former Zucker cohort, Jim Abrahams, does a better job with "Mafia!"

I give "BASEketball" a C-.

Laura LAURA:
Writer/producer/director David Zucker ("Airplane!," "The Naked Gun") nails a few base hits, but mostly dribbles and fouls with "BASEketball." Zucker should thank his lucky stars for getting 'South Park' creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, to star in his film before their animated series became the smash hit it is today. Parker and Stone (although mostly Parker) are responsible for elevating this sorry mess above a total strikeout.

To be just, Zucker provides a truly funny opening sequence. In documentary-like fashion, we're given the history of sports, from the early, idealist days, to the present, ruined by greed, showmanship expansionism ('The New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah, where they don't allow music.') and corporate sponsorship (the Maxi Tampon Stadium).

The film is truly lowbrow, deriving yucks from an eight year old liver transplant patient downing tequila shots to a blind kid getting knocked out by a baseketball. Most of the humor is derived from the 'psych-outs' allowed in this new 'sport' to distract the opposing team's shots. Parker's are funniest as he 'makes a face' straight out of "Beetlejuice," performs as a mime and energetically chomps on a wad of tin foil. Parker and Stone throw in lots of patented 'South Park' dialogue, such as 'Dude!,' 'Sweet,' and 'Kickass!.' We even hear the voices of Cartman, Mr. Garrison and Stan escape from their mouths. In the film's climatic scene, Parker and Stone's makeup kiss, featuring plenty of tongue, deserves an MTV nomination next year for 'Best Screen Kiss.'

There are far too many dead stretches, however, such as lame attempts at double entendres when the talentless Jenny McCarthy literally 'nails the carpet' or the Beers team's fans performing the ritualistic glug, glug cheer.

Production credits are cheesy. This film looks like it was shot in a High School gym dressed with cardboard props.

"BASEketball" is an uneven affair that will provide some laughs for an audience that's not expecting too much.

C-


EVER AFTER

Cowriter/director Andy Tennant ("Fools Rush In") turns the Cinderella fable on its head in "Ever After." Drew Barrymore stars as Danielle, a fiercely independent and well read young woman relegated to servant status by her stepmother, the Baroness Rodmilla (Anjelica Huston) after her beloved father dies. Disguising herself as a courtier in order to free a servant sold by her stepmother, Danielle piques the interest of Prince Henry (Dougray Scott), who she promptly takes down notch. Henry, trying to escape the marriage arranged by his father, the King of France, pursues the mysterious young woman while Rodmilla arranges to place her elder daughter Marguerite in the prince's path.

Laura LAURA:
"Ever After" is a great blend of romance, intrigue, comedy, adventure and politics! Danielle is a striking role model, placing her primary concern for the peasants and bountiful earth of her home, almost incidentally falling in love with a Prince who has much to learn from her - she gives him focus.

The script injects modern sensibilities into the 1500s. This is a story where a woman comes to the rescue of a man and is welcomed into the camp of a band of gypsy thieves after amusing the leader with her pluck. This is a place where Leonardo da Vinci is an old scamp of a matchmaker while he produces masterful paintings and whimsical inventions and is depended upon by the prince to 'talk his father into the 16th century.' This is a time where creating a University for the common man is a radical idea.

Drew Barrymore is delightful as Danielle, straightforward yet provocative, beautiful even when her face is smeared with the ashes from the fireplace. She taunts the Prince by quoting Thomas Moore and advising him that the peasants he brushes off as 'rustics' are the salt of his earth. Henry is well played by Welsh actor Dougray Scott. He's baffled by the young woman who's always slipping away from him when the rest of single womanhood simpers around him. The great Anjelica Huston is the perfect stepmother, never playing the stereotypical evil of the fairy tale. She's almost touching when she wistfully tells Danielle that she can almost see her father staring from Danielle's eyes. Never fear, though, as she promptly cuts the sentiment by informing Danielle that's its probably due to her 'masculine' features.

I've long wondered what happened to Melanie Lynskey (the better of the two leads in "Heavenly Creatures") and was pleased to find her here as the younger of Danielle's two stepsisters. She's the woman in the middle, sympathetic to Danielle's plight as she perceives her own place with her mother and older sister to be a skant step above Danielle's. Megan Dodds is Marguerite, the pretty but spoiled and scheming elder sister. The cast also includes Jeroen Krabbe as Danielle's father, Judy Parfitt ("Dolores Claiborne") as the wise Queen, Richard O'Brien ("The Rocky Horror Picture Show") as the evil, lecherous Pierre Le Pieu and Patrick Godfrey as Leonardo da Vinci, Danielle's 'fairy godmother.'

Cinematography by Andrew Dunn ("The Crucible," "Hush") is a hit and miss affair. Some gorgeous shots are captured (the Prince and a thief slide down a hill and plunge into a lake followed by a swirl of autumn leaves; the Prince twirls Danielle, shod in one muck encrusted coarse shoe and a bejeweled glass slipper, around a courtyard), yet often the colors seem too desaturated when they should be rich. The French Dordogne region is the perfect setting for this production's location shooting.

Costume design by Jenny Beavan (Oscar winner for "A Room With a View") is stellar, featuring gowns found in Paris, Madrid, London and Rome, as well as the drabber garb of the lower classes. The spectacular slippers were created by Salvatore Ferragamo.

"Ever After" only falters with it's closing revenge - it's hard to imagine the sweet and just Danielle would be so harsh, but Rodmilla and Marguerite do deserve their fate. This is no fairy tale, but an intelligent reinterpretation of a classic fable.

B+


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