THE WATERBOY - I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER
VELVET GOLDMINE - THE SIEGE
THE CELEBRATION - MEET JOE BLACK


THE WATERBOY

Bobby Boucher (Adam Sandler) is an uneducated Cajun with a passion for delivering quality H2O for a college team that only makes fun of him and a coach who eventually fires him. Despondent Bobby offers his services free of charge to Coach Klein (Henry Winkler) of the totally hapless Mad Dogs, a team so pathetic they have to share athletic cups. When Klein encourages Bobby to stick up for himself, his tackling of a player so impresses the Coach, he takes on the herculean task of convincing Bobby's overprotective Mama Boucher (Kathy Bates, "Misery") to let him play football.

Laura LAURA:
After the box office and creative success of "The Wedding Singer," Sandler scores again with "The Waterboy," mixing his wild man sports persona of "Happy Gilmore" with the sweet romantic of "Wedding Singer." His new comedy may be formulaic, but the well chosen cast and silly humor provide all the spice needed to make this an appetizing outing.

Sandler, thrusting out his chin to affect his goofy voice, is an endearing innocent with a girlfriend, Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk, "The Craft"), who has trouble staying out of jail and who's sexual advances he doesn't comprehend. Mama disapproves of Vicki, as well as anything that might part her from her beloved, 32 year old baby boy. Henry Winkler is a natural as Coach Klein, who's never recovered from the nervous breakdown he suffered when Red Beaulieu (Bobby's former boss) stole his plays to get the coaching job they both covetted. Sandler and Winkler's characters prove mutually beneficial to each other in the confidence department. Klein's 'visualization technique,' where he gets Bobby to picture his tormentors in order to turn on his field ferocity, is used by Bobby at the climatic big game where Klein must face Beaulieu and 'visualizes' a cooing infant.

The cast also features Blake Clark as Klein's assistant coach, Farmer Fran, who speaks hilariously unintelligible Cajun, Clint Howard and Rob Schneider as vocal fans and cameos by Brent Musburger, Bill Cower and Jimmy Johnson. Paul "The Giant" Wight plays Captain Insano, Bobby's favorite wrestler and inspiration.

The film has some great sight gags, such as Bobby commuting through traffic on his riding lawn mower and the Mad Dogs' cheerleading squad drinking boubon with the team's mascot. Mama Boucher serves snake for dinner, catches dessert with a bug zapper and tries to dissuade Vicki from her son by describing his Deputy Dawg pajamas. When Mama finally comes around, she takes her son to his big game on a fan boat - right into the stadium.

Sandler is again working with his college pals, Frank Coraci, director ("The Wedding Singer") and co-writer Tim Herlihy ("Happy Gilmore," "The Wedding Singer") and this team is becoming a well oiled machine. Stunt coordinator Allan Graf, who worked on "Jerry Maguire" and "The Program," keeps the many football action scenes realistic by using former NFLers, college ball players and the Canadian Football League. Fast pacing keeps this 90 minute flick moving along nicely.

"The Waterboy" sure isn't literary, nor does it aim for anything highbrow, but it sure fits the bill in the yucks department.

B

Robin ROBIN:
Adam Sandler's films have been pretty much for fans of the comic/actor/singer/ song-writer's particular brand of humor. His previous efforts, such as "Happy Gilmore" and "Bulletproof" (with Damon Wayans), were comedies of the lowest common denominator with their caustic, almost nasty, humor. Then, last year's "The Wedding Singer" brought forth a milder, more likable and charming Sandler in the role of a romantic lead and it worked! (With lots of help from his CO-star Drew Barrymore.)

Now, Sandler takes to the screen once again, this time with "The Waterboy," a goofy, funny little ditty that gives the comedian another chance to solidify his appeal to others than just his fans. Bobby Boucher is a 31-year-old, bayou country boy who was raised, in the isolation of the swamps, by his over-protective Mama (Oscar-winner Kathy Bates). Mama doesn't trust anyone, especially school and girls, since they are all instruments of the devil. Bobby's only solace, since a child, has been his job as the waterboy for the local, winning, college football team - a job he has held for 18 years.

Bobby's career comes to an abrupt end when he is fired by Coach Red Beaulieu (Jerry Reed), a hateful man who has tormented poor Bobby for years, even encouraging his players to abuse the waterboy, too. Coach Red has also discouraged Bobby from expressing any anger to the abuse since it might upset his winning team. The oppressed Bobby enters a serious funk as he searches to find someone, anyone, who will let him ply his beloved trade. His savior takes the unlikely form of Coach Klein (Henry Winkler), the incompetent head coach of one of the worst teams in college football history, the SCLSU Mud Dogs.

Coach Klein encourages Bobby to let out his deep-seated frustrations and act upon them. The football field is a catalyst for the aging water bearer, who turns out to be one heck of a tackler. Bobby has to hide his new fame and education from Mama, but this proves difficult with the arrival of Vicki Vallencourt (Fairuza Balk), who he has secretly admired since a boy. The sexy Vicki helps Bobby find his true self and make the Mud Dogs winners.

If any of this sounds like formula comedy, it is. "The Waterboy" is not high concept and doesn't try to be. The humor is visual and slapstick. The football scenes, with Bobby's decimation of the Mud Dog's opponents, are fast, well-choreographed and funny. When Bobby's Mama is in the picture, the tone turns more acrimonious as she'll say or do anything to keep her boy all to herself. Mama and Vicki going head to head is amusing in a catfight kind of way.

Sandler is charming as the simple, not simple-minded, Bobby. The comic seems to have learned his lessons from "The Wedding Singer" and gives another likable, nice guy performance. Bobby knows his H2O and water plays an important role in the film and saves the day in the end.

The team of veteran actors supporting Sandler is first rate. Bates shows her range and ability and makes Mama Boucher a person, not a caricature (and, she serves up a mean baked snake). Henry Winkler does a surprising turn as the insecure Coach Klein with a funny, stammering perf. Jerry Reed has himself a good old time as redneck Coach Red. Fairuza Balk is funny, sexy and relaxed in a rare comic role. Blake Clark ("Fatal Instinct") is unintelligibly amusing as the Cajun-muttering assistant coach, Farmer Fran.

Production credits are adequate, with the action scenes on the football field nicely handled. The teams are made up of former pro and college players so the plays look good and believable. Mama's home on the edge of the swamp is a campy affair with its moody isolation and is the most notable art design in the film.

"The Waterboy" isn't going to garner any Oscar noms, but it will make some good cash. It's a piece of comic fluff that has lots of laughs and appeals to the kid in us all. Sandler does a good follow up to his wedding singer performance, though the aim is considerably more juvenile, and that ain't bad.

I give "The Waterboy" a B.


I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER

Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) survived a harrowing experience a year ago in "I Know What You Did Last Summer." Now, she's left her fishing village home to attend college in Boston and try to forget the painful memories of the brutal murders of her friends. But, her grades are slipping, her relationship with boyfriend Ray (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) has hit the skids and she is still haunted by the face of the killer, Ben Willis (Muse Watson), and his victims.

Enter Julie's new best friend and roommate Karla (Brandy), who wins an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. Things are starting to look up for the tormented young woman as she, Karla and her boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer), and classmate Will Benson (Matthew Settle), head off to the islands. Their arrival, at the start of hurricane season, is met by a new string of murders by the mysterious fisherman, placing all in mortal danger in "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer."

Robin ROBIN:
A more appropriate title would be "Who Cares What You Did Last Summer," as director Danny Cannon and screenwriter Trey Callaway exercise every horror movie cliche that has been done since "Halloween" first hit the screens in 1978. Cheap fake-outs (though, instead of a cat jumping at you from the dark, it's a rat - big deal), a steadily mounting body count, a faceless, lumbering killer (this guy is so slow you could crawl on hands and knees and still get away from him) are thrown at you for about 90 minutes, with no originality whatsoever.

The good looking cast, led by Hewitt and Brandy, go through the motions 'til the predictable ending. Needless to say, the final coda of the film sets it up for the inevitable sequel. Mehki Phifer ("Clockers") gets off some of the funnier lines. Matthew Settle (he's the ringer, by the way) seems to be posing for a Tom Cruise look-alike contest.

"I Still Know What You Did Last Summer" is strictly for the non-discerning fans of the genre. Laura made me watch the original recently just so I would review this sorry sequel. Thanks a bunch, Laura.

I give ISKWYDLS a D+


VELVET GOLDMINE

Writer-director Todd Haynes ("Poison," "Safe") brings his self-professed 'valentine' to the glam rock scene created by Brian Ferry, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed with "Velvet Goldmine."

In a bleak 1984 NYC, journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale, "The Portrait of a Lady") is tasked with discovering 'whatever happened to Brian Slade,' a Bowiesque pop star who disappeared from the scene ten years prior when a publicity stunt (his faked assassination on stage) backfired with his fans. With a tip of the hat to "Citizen Kane," Stuart travels to London to interview Slade's first manager Cecil and Slade's ex-wife, the disillusioned Mandy (Toni Collette, "Muriel's Wedding"). Stuart is also reliving his own glam past, most poignantly when he crosses paths with the ruined Curt Wild (Ewan McGregor), the Iggy Pop-like American rocker who was Slade's inspiration and lover.

Laura LAURA:
"Velvet Goldmine" is, unfortunately, an interesting failure. While it has much to offer, its druggy pacing and flat performance by pivot man Bale keep it from delivering on its ambitions.

Haynes has created a film that recalls not only the structure of the aforementioned "Citizen Kane," complete with a Rosebud-like mysterious green amulet, but "Performance," "A Clockwork Orange," and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." The film feels like it was made during these times without being as memorable as any of those films.

He begins his story with Oscar Wilde as a child, receiving the amulet from the sky before declaring "When I grow up, I want to be a pop star." A century later, Jack Fairy (Micko Westmoreland) sports the bauble and struts the mascaraed androgynous look which draws the attention of Slade, who seduces him and steals the amulet.

Johathan Rhys-Meyers ("The Governess") is a cipher as Slade, as the character is intended. He looks the part and does his own singing, but he's no substitute for David Bowie, who he's most obviously meant to evoke. Toni Collette is oddly cast as Mandy, the American who becomes a club-scene diva affecting a British accent while channeling Liza Minelli. Her present-day (1984) disillusionment at being shut out of the outrageously decadent lifestyle she helped create is a nice study in contrasts. (In one scene, Mandy discovers Slade in bed with Wild,
paralelling Angela Bowie's account of a similar incident involving Bowie and Mick Jagger.)

Ewan McGregor gives a knockout perfomance as Curt Wild. His body and stage antics are that of Iggy Pop while his face eerily resembles Kurt Cobain's. McGregor sings his own tunes and gyrates naked on the stage while showering himself with glitter. The man could have a second career as a rock star - he's mesmerizing.

British standup Eddie Izzard ("The Avengers") is devilish as Jerry Divine, the man who steals Slade from his first manager and makes him a star. Izzard plays the part like a circus promoter, out to dazzle and cash in before the next big thing comes along. Also noteworthy is Emily Woof ("The Full Monty") as Shannon, a meek, unhip young girl who applies for a clerk's job only to be thrust into costume design. Her transformation into a backstabbing scenester who maintains her success into the film's present day seems all too depressingly true.

The music is a mixture of original songs of the period (although Bowie himself declined participation), covers and new songs written for the film which mesh together well with a leaning toward Roxy Music's sound. Makeup and costumes are fabulous.

"Velvet Goldmine" can only be recommended to genre fans, however, as its dramatic arc is practically nonexistent.

C+


THE SIEGE

In 1993, the United States lost its geopolitical virginity when Islamic terrorists detonated a car bomb in the garage of the World Trade Center. Now, terrorism in New York City is becoming a daily occurrence and it is the assignment of FBI Special Agent Tony "Hub" Hubbard and his team to put a stop to the wanton mass murders. But, is the price of security too high when the Constitution and the rights of the people are at stake? This is just one of the questions asked in Ed Zwick's latest film, "The Siege," starring Denzel Washington, Annette Bening, Tony Shalhoub and Bruce Willis.

Robin ROBIN:
The ads for "The Siege" give the impression that this is just another loud, brash, big-budget actioner with lots of military might on display. Instead, director Zwick and co-writers Lawrence Wright and Menno Meyjes give us an original and intense psychological thriller that plays a complex cat and mouse game as Agent Hubbard (Washington), his partner Frank Haddad (Shalhoub) and CIA spook Sharon Bridger (Bening) feverishly try to ferret out the lead terrorist cell in the city and put a stop to the horror.

Zwick and company have taken a lot of heat over their depiction of the Arab community and the incarceration of its members in internment camps. Some have accused the filmmakers of racist behavior in singling out the Arab peoples as being responsible for world terrorism. I think these accusations are misplaced. On the contrary, this depiction of innocent Arabs being rounded up and interned under martial law seems a direct reference to a similar period in American history - the confinement of thousands of loyal Japanese-American in "relocation centers" in World War II. Zwick et al make a hard-line statement about the mistreatment and suffering of the many because of the violent actions of the few. If anything, especially with Shalhoub's character adding ethnic depth to the story, the film is anti-anti-Arab and pro-Constitution.

Denzel Washington is solid as Agent Hub, giving a convincing performance of a man torn between his duty to uphold the latest law of the land and his loyalty to the rights of the American people and the Constitution. Bening does an admirable job as the CIA operative who has in-depth knowledge of the terrorists and their inner structure, which can help the FBI, but also has divided personal loyalties and passions. She gives strength and dimension to a role that, normally, would be given to a male star. Bruce Willis is merely adequate as the enigmatic General Devereaux, who outwardly questions the governments repression, but really embraces the chance to use his military power to control the city.

Tony Shalhoub shines out as Hub's partner, Frank. He is given all the quips and funny lines to deliver, providing the needed comic relief for the film. He also gets the chance to plunge into dramatic depths as his own son is interned and Frank has to question the justice of his government's actions. With this film, "Big Night" and "Men in Black," Shalhoub is developing into a fine character actor.

As one would expect of an Ed Zwick film, the technical aspects are first rate. The production design, in particular, by Lilly Kilvert ("City of Angels") is outstanding. The bus bombings, the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, the military invasion of the city are all handled deftly and intelligently. Photography by Roger Deakins ("Courage Under Fire") fits the tone of the film completely.

"The Siege" is an exciting, dynamic film that delves deeply into the nature of terrorism and its potential affect on the American people in a manner not seen films like "Seven Days in May." I give it a B+.


THE CELEBRATION (FESTEN)

We can already sense trouble before the children of Helge Klingenfeldt arrive at his country estate hotel to celebrate his sixtieth birthday. Michael (Thomas Bo Larsen) throws his wife and children out of the car when he encounters older brother Christian (Ulrich Thomsen) on the road and makes them walk the remaining way in order to have a private visit. When they do arrive, along with their sister Helene (Paprika Steen), Michael discovers there's no room booked for him and Helene is unnerved to discover she's been placed in the room where her sister, Christian's twin, recently committed suicide. "The Celebration" at last descends into the depths of hell when Christian reveals a horrific family secret while ostensibly toasting his father.

Laura LAURA:
"The Celebration" is the winner of the Special Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Directed and cowritten (with Mogens Rukov) by Thomas Vinterberg, the film was made under the rules of Dogme 95, a decree (or big joke) made by four Danish directors (including Lars von Triers) to forego movie trickery by only shooting on location with available props and natural lighting. Both Vinterberg and von Triers apparently don't believe they need to adhere to the rule that the director will not be creditted on their films, however.

The film was shot by Cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle using a hand held palm sized video camera, giving the film a sense of urgency as well as the documentation of a family event. This technique doesn't work as well on the big screen as it does on the small, but the film is overall more even in tone than, say, von Triers' "Breaking the Waves."

The story is as rivetting as watching a car accident take place. Michael is an out of control jerk who rages against everyone and everything. Christian is but a shadow of a man, haunted by the incest that drove his twin sister to suicide. Helene is the most well adjusted, thumbing her nose at her parents wishes for a more conventional lifestyle and career - she even invites her black boyfriend to the large family gathering where Michael mistakes him for a musician and proceeds to lead the family in a robust singalong of a racist song. Patriarch Helge is an arrogant man who slyly belittles his children until he's eventually brought down by them in front of his extended family. Mother Elsa (Birthe Neuman) is an icily complicit matriarch who simply ignores what she doesn't wish to acknowledge with a turn of her patrician head.

That not one of these characters is likeable allows the audience to recognize the underlying black comedy of the tale. Kim (Bjarne Henrickson), the hotel's head chef and Christian's boyhood friend, and the rest of the staff, are the likeable 'downstairs' element contrasted against the insanity of the presumably more cultured 'upstairs' crew. Kim orchestrates the goings on by having the chambermaids (who both are carrying on with the Klingenfeldt brothers) steal all the guests' car keys to prevent them from leaving as he subtly goads Christian to more and more outrageous acts. The suicide note which her sister has led Helene to via a childhood game and which Helene hides, is found by chambermaid Pia (Trine Dyrholm), and promptly placed into the action to substantiate Christian's claims.

"The Celebration" is bracingly original and features an outstanding performance by Thomas Bo Larsen. Dogme 95 may be an elaborate joke, but it's provided an unusual outline to spur its devotees to a fresh approach to filmmaking.

B

Robin ROBIN:
Director and co-writer Thomas Vinterberg, with his Dogme 95 film (I'll leave Laura to explain just what Dogme 95 actually is), brings a unique, extremely dark, black comedy about one of the most dysfunctional family gatherings that I have seen since Jody Foster's "Home for the Holidays." Fortunately, "The Celebration" is an intelligent, quirky film that uses many experimental techniques to foster the film's "purity of story."

It's Danish patriarch Helge Klingenfeldt's 60th birthday and his family and friends have gathered around him to celebrate the occasion. Included among the revelers are Helge's three living children, Christian, Michael and Helene. Missing is Christian's twin sister, Linda, who committed suicide a scant two months before in an upstairs room. The story focuses on each of the Klingenfeldt children, especially Christian, who has some deep-seated issues involving him, his dead sister and their father.

The film unfolds around Christian's sudden accusations of the sexual abuse of Christian and Linda at the hands of his father when they were young. The elder son's revelations strike like a hammer as he toasts his father for the abuse and, later, murder. This goes on while number two son Michael, an abusive, philandering drunkard, proceeds to get wasted and rude. Sister Helene drops another bomb when she invites her black, American boyfriend to join the festivities with her racist family. This gang makes my family seem almost normal.

Shot in hand-held palm-corder and transferred to 35 mm film stock, "The Celebration" is too video-looking for the big screen, especially since only available light was used to tape. It is much easier on the eye when seen on a TV screen, which is where it may have some distribution legs.

"The Celebration" is not for those who are uncomfortable with stories of family angst and controversy. It is a deftly handled work by Vinterberg and company. I give it a B-.


MEET JOE BLACK

Based on a character in the 1921 stage play that inspired the 1934 fantasy flick, "Death Takes a Holiday," "Meet Joe Black" stars Brad Pitt as the title character, who also happens to be Death, and Sir Anthony Hopkins as billionaire Bill Parrish, the object of the Grim Reaper's attentions. Directed by Martin Brest ("Scent of a Woman"), the film tells the story of how Death decides to live among mere mortals to learn something about the people whose lives he ultimately reaps. Along the way, Joe also falls for Susan (Claire Forlani), the beautiful physician-daughter of the wealthy magnate.

Robin ROBIN:
Boring.

In good conscience, I could actually consider leaving this a one word review, but feel that I need to explain myself a little bit. "Meet Joe Black" is a film of utter excess. It is all flash and looks with extremely little by way of story. At 180 minutes run time, it is well more than twice as long as the Frederick March original film. Unfortunately, the three hours should have been cut by well over an hour and still would have been a bore.

The look of the film is, to give it credit, spectacular. The technical credits deserve mention - I'll get to the writing and direction in a moment. Emmanuel Lubezki ("The Little Princess") provides strikingly beautiful photography all around, especially for Forlani, who is lighted with elegance. Set design by Dante Ferretti ("Kundun") shows the film's big budget to good effect, depicting the life of a billionaire as not shabby, indeed.

The script, with four writers credited (Ron Osborne, Jeff Reno, Kevin Wade and Bo Goldman) has the feel of a work done by a committee. Any life the story may have had was sucked out of by this team of hacks. For instance, in the '34 film, while Death is on holiday, no lives are lost throughout the world, lending a surrealistic feel to the film. In "Meet Joe Black," the writers don't even have Death stop his grim tasks while on vacation. Instead, he "multi-tasks." In a three hour film about Death, one would think there would be time to show the affect of his absence on the world. Not so, here.

Director Martin Brest's interpretation of the script leaves one heck of a lot to be desired, too. Brest takes most of the film's scenes between the principles and drags them all beyond the point of interest. A typical scene goes something like this:

Joe Black and Bill Parrish (camera cuts back and forth between the two in close-up):

Bill: "What do you mean?" (gazes into Joe's eyes)

Joe: (gazes into Bill's eyes)

Bill: (gazes into Joe's eyes)

Joe: (gazes into Bill's eyes)

Bill: (gazes into Joe's eyes)

Joe : (gazes into Bill's eyes)

Bill: (gazes into Joe's eyes)

Joe: Yes. (still gazing into Bill's eyes)

I am not kidding. And there are lots of scenes that go just this way. Thinking about it, they could have cut 1 " hours out of this and had a better film. More is most definitely less here.

Acting is OK. Hopkins gives a yeoman's effort but has little to work with. Pitt has virtually nothing to do but look in wonder at all the earthly delights with which he is confronted. Joe Black's emotional development focuses mainly on peanut butter and sex - though not at the same time. Forlani is lovely to look at but does not, yet, have the talent to stand up to Hopkins or, even, Pitt. Marcia Gay Harden and Jeffrey Tambor, as Bill's elder daughter and son-in-law are serviceable, but without note. Jake Weber ("Dangerous Beauty") is inconsequential as the "bad guy" of the film.

Go see another movie or play a game of miniature golf. Either is better than seeing "Meet Joe Black" and I give it a D+ (tech credits alone raise it from a D.)


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