LIFE - GOODBYE LOVER - NEVER BEEN KISSED
THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS - LOST & FOUND
THE SCHOOL OF FLESH - COOKIE'S FORTUNE

LIFE
New York City, 1932. Penny ante con artist Rayford Gibson (Eddie Murphy) is up to his old tricks, hustling in a speakeasy, when he picks the pocket of stolid young bookkeeper Claude Banks (Martin Lawrence). This random meeting plunges the pair into a bootlegging scam, a crooked card game resulting in the loss of Ray's father's precious silver pocket watch, and the brutal beating, to death, of card sharp Winston Hancock (Clarence Williams III) by crooked cops. Ray and Claude stumble upon the newly deceased Winston and are framed for his death, ending them in a maximum security prison in Mississippi, with no hope of parole, in director Ted Demme's prison comedy, "Life."

Robin's Review of 'Life'
Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence reunite for the first time since their 1993 Hudlin brothers comedy, "Boomerang." In that unimpressive return, by Murphy, after a two year hiatus, Lawrence was only a secondary comic character. In "Life," the two are both top billed, but, in reality, Eddie is the owner of this film.

Murphy, who is an old hand at using makeup as a tool in his comedic craft (see his other collaborations with master makeup artist Rick Baker - "Coming to America" and "The Nutty Professor"), does the best job in giving a convincing performance as his character, Ray, ages over the years. Murphy has developed his acting skills and is most convincing as the aging Ray. Murphy also provides his patented machine-gun-rapid line delivery, with ample use of "mother******" and nearly every other four letter expletive available. The actor is as comfortable in a role as I have ever seen him.

Martin Lawrence doesn't have the comedic range of Murphy and his character, Claude, takes a back seat to Murphy's Ray. Lawrence shows his sit-com imprint as he gives a two dimensional performance opposite the more able Murphy.

The supporting cast is a rich ensemble of talented actors playing the poor, illiterate inmates whose poverty put them into prison and indentured them for life. Obba Babatunde (TV's "Miss Evers Boys") plays the films narrator, Willie Long, and witness to the lives of his two friends. A bevy of other black actors - Bernie Mac ("Booty Call"), Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. (Little Richard in "Why Do Fools Fall In Love"), Bokeem Woodbine ("The Big Hit"), Barry Shabaka Henley ("How Stella Got Her Groove Back"), and Guy Torry ("American History X") - play the inmates and lifelong friends of Ray and Claude. Veteran Ned Beatty and actor/director Nick Cassavettes ("Unhook the Stars") add substance as the warden who realizes Ray's and Claude's innocence and the jailer who guarded the prisoner. 70's pop icons Rick James and Clarence Williams III add to the character equation in small roles.

The story, by Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone ("Destiny Turns On the Radio"), uses idea bits of other prison films, such as "The Longest Yard," "Brubaker," and "The Great Escape," to effectively portrays the harsh reality and segregation in the southern prison system of the '30s. Surprisingly, considering the subject matter of two men unjustly accused of a heinous crime, forced into hard labor, and a lifetime of escape attempts, I expected a link to a great prison/escape film, the 1973 Steve McQueen/Dustin Hoffman starrer, "Papillon." In "Life," the writers spend their efforts on the characters and dialog and keep the continuous jailbreak attempts as secondary plot lines.

The production is Hollywood-first-rate from its period feel and look, costume and set. The production design, by Dan Bishop ("Lone Star"), has a dramatic quality in its reality driven scenery, placing the action, except for beginning, almost totally within the open confines of a maximum security prison in Depression era Mississippi - not a fun place to be and the filmmakers do not sugar coat it for the sake of comedy. Other tech aspects, including photography (Geoffrey Simpson, "Shine") and prison-garb costuming (Lucy Corrigan, "Beautiful Girls"), all work to give "Life" a solid, even feel.

"Life" has enough dramatics interspersed with the comical, bawdy humor to maintain the varied nature of the story. It spans many years and does its best to show the transitions that took place for the black race over time as well as events that impacted us all, like the Vietnam War, man's landing on the moon, Martin Luther King and the advent of desegregation.

For fans of Murphy and Lawrence, "Life" is worth living. I give it a B.

Laura's review of 'Life'
Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence are reteamed to much better effect than their last outing ("Boomerang") in "Life," a comedic prison buddy flick which plays like "Cool Hand Luke" crossed with "The Sunshine Boys" and injected with a dash of "Harlem Nights."

The film begins in the present day as an old timer prison inmate regales two younger grave-digging inmates with the story of the men who are about to rejoin the earth, Murphy's Rayford Gibson and Lawrence's Claude Banks. Petty con man Ray and the conservative and responsible Claude are thrown together when they both end up beholden to a bootlegger (rocker Rick James as Spanky). In order to pay off their debt, they agree to make a trip to Mississippi on a liquor run. Instead they're framed for murder by a corrupt sheriff and given a life sentence.

This labor camp prison without walls or fences (you're shot if you step over an imaginary 'gun line') features the usual assortment of prison types, softened for comedic warmth. There's Jangle Leg (Bernie Mac, "Booty Call"), who's admonished not to 'pitch woo' while on the job, Biscuit (Miguel A. Nunez Jr., "Why Do Fools Fall in Love"), his feminine counterpart, and Goldmouth (Michael "Bear" Taliferro, "Armageddon'), the big bully who melds into a nice guy. Later years bring 'Can't Get Right' (Bokeem Woodbine, "The Big Hit"), a baseball ace Ray and Claude believe may be their ticket out. Conjugal visits, baseball games and escape attempts (one played for pathos) dot the years going by.

Once they hit their later years (outstanding makeup supplied by Rick Baker, "The Nutty Professor"), Ray and Claude are given cushier lives by kindly warden Wilkins (Ned Beatty) where Claude, as a butler can lord it over Ray ('Hey, yard boy!').

Murphy is in fine, irreverent, in-your-face form ("Life" is not for the kiddy audiences Murphy's recently developed as he lets the language fly in this one), although he doesn't develop his character very finely, going from young loudmouth to aged crank. Lawrence is perhaps more sympathetic, although he's mostly relegated to being Murphy's straight man. Support is fine, particularly from the marvelous Ned Beatty, who's warmth and humanity helps maintain interest when the film's begun to drag in its middle section.

"Life's" main problem is in its pacing, with the early years taking up the film's bulk only to have rapid montage editing (historical events are rushed by to indicate the passage of time) spring the film forward decades. Frankly, Murphy and Lawrence are funnier in their senior incarnations, where they're given less screen time. A more gradual walk through time would have made the film more satisfying.

B-


GOODBYE LOVER
Sandra Dunmore (Patricia Arquette) is a slinky, churchgoing realtor indulging in a kinky affair with Ben (Don Johnson), a high powered public relations executive. Her husband, Ben's younger brother Jake (Dermot Mulroney), is an alcoholic who only keeps his job because of his brother. Peggy Blaine (Mary-Louise Parker) is their seemingly virginal coworker who's intertwined in all of their lives. When the first one of them turns up dead, Detective Pompano (Ellen Degeneres) smells a rat in "Goodbye Lover."

Laura's review of 'Goodbye Lover'
While "Goodbye Lover" is a lot more fun that its two year release delay would indicate, it ultimately can't sustain the excitement of its double and triple-crosses. Director Roland Joffe ("The Scarlet Letter," "The Killing Fields") has assembled a fine cast and gives his film a bright, retro LA look, but screenwriters Ron Peer, Joel Cohen and Alec Sokolow have merely watered down terrain covered by the Coen Brothers in "Blood Simple."

Patricia Arquette replays the femme fatale character of "Lost Highway" with a lot more zing. Her voracious sexual appetite and greed are humorously bounced off of her volunteer church work and love for "The Sound of Music" soundtrack. She recites along with her self-help audio tapes (right down to the reader's vocal inflections) while driving to a tryst with Ben in the church organ loft.

Don Johnson is duplicitously slimy as Ben, caught in his sister-in-law's snare while ostensibly yearning for a settled family life. He shows responsibility and concern for his younger brother, even while he cheats with his brother's wife. Mulroney is a bit opaque as Jake. He doesn't succeed in fleshing out the character enough to make sense of his actions. Mary Louise Parker is a fresh and funny Peggy. She surrounds herself with music boxes and teddy bears, creating a strong image before the plot reveals her true nature. Ellen Degeneres is highly amusing as the detective who delights in torturing her non-comprehending partner with her venom-dripping tongue. When she fails to be taken in by Sandra's attempt to appear distraught, Sandra tells her she doesn't appreciate her attitude. 'Nobody does,' deadpans Degeneres.

Rocco brings some sweetness to the tart goings-on and an uncredited Vincent Gallo appears as a killer for hire. A number of other character actors appear as little more than credit draws, although Andre Gregory has fun with a double entendre laden eulogy. Barry Newman suffers through a subplot about a scandalous politician that goes nowhere and seems tacked on.

While "Goodbye Lover" provides some lightweight entertainment, it fades away with a terminal lack of inspiration involving a serial killer unveiled and an unbelievable character twist.

C

Robin's Review of 'Goodbye Lover'
"Goodbye Lover" is a kitchy, colorful film noir that answers the question: "Whodunit?" with the simple answer: everyone. In this entertaining comic thriller, director Roland Jaffe ("The Killing Fields") answers the query quite simply: Everyone!

The screenplay, by Ron Peer and Joel Cohen & Alec Sokolow ("Toy Story"), is a roller coaster ride of deception, betrayal, sex and murder as the enigmatic Sandra Dunsmore (Patricia Arquette, "True Romance"), her drunkard husband Jake (Dermot Mulroney "My Best Friend's Wedding"), her clandestine lover and brother-in-law Ben (Don Johnson), his co-worker and potential lover Peggy Blaine (Mary-Louise Parker, "Portrait of a Lady") all plot and connive against each other for millions under the watchful eye of tough, suspicious, smart-ass street cop Rita Pompano (Ellen DeGeneres, "EDtv").

The substantial principle cast have fun with their twisted characters. Arquette gets the most mileage out of her Sandra as she mixes ruthlessness and little girl enthusiasm for getting all the toys she wants, regardless of the cost. Mulroney and Johnson are definitely second bananas to Arquette, with DeGeneres giving the film's other strong performance. Parker is more subtle as the apparent naif who hides a heart as black as Sandra's.

The supporting cast is peppered with veteran actors such as Andre Gregory and John Neville to help flesh out the background scenery. Ray McKinnon stands out as Rita's innocent partner, giving the role much more than just a cliched sidekick performance.

The campy noir story and performances by the key players, under Roland Joffe's ("The Killing Fields") direction, are nicely complemented by the striking set design by feature newcomer Stewart Starkin. The architectural chic use of lots of glass, mirrors, angles and reflections helps give the film the visual edge equal to the quirky tale. Costuming by Theadora Van Runkle ("Bonnie and Clyde") focuses on Patricia Arquette, utilizing the actress's va-va-voom body to create a look that is straight out of the noir films it so ably emulates. The colorful look of the film is tempered by the moody photography by Dante Spinotti ("Heat").

"Goodbye Lover" is good fun with lots of twists and turns as the nature of the whodunit plays its self out to its humorous ending which twists away on its own direction. The distributors issued a special request to not reveal the story's ending, so I won't. I give it a B.


NEVER BEEN KISSED

Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) is the youngest copy editor at the Chicago Sun Times, but it is not enough for the ambitious young lady. She just knows she's got what it takes to be a hard-hitting street reporter. But, her boss, Gus (John C. Reilly), doesn't see the potential and keeps her at the copy desk until his boss, Mr. Rigfort (Garry Marshall) selects Josie to go undercover as a high school student and dig up the dirt on today's youth. She doesn't realize that this is her second chance to be cool in school in "Never Been Kissed."

Robin's Review of 'Never Been Kissed'
In a surprisingly solid and entertaining teen flick, director Raja Gosnell ("Home Alone III") and screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein have created a film vehicle that complements its star, Drew Barrymore, and gives her the best on-screen opportunity she has had since "The Wedding Singer" with Adam Sandler.

Barrymore is willing and able to play the ugly duckling character who becomes a swan and does an excellent job in portraying the awkward/cute klutziness as Josie valiantly tries to fit in with the class leaders. The clumsy aspect of her character stems from the trauma of her first pass through high school when she was taunted by all for her geekiness and given the nickname Josie Grossie. Barrymore gives a sweet and likable performance and proves she has the talent to carry a film.

The cast supporting Barrymore is made up of a talented pool of actors, some known to the viewer, with most not. The "names" in the cast are second tier character actors like John C. Reilly ("Boogie Nights") and David Arquette ("Ravenous"). LeeLee Sobieski ("Deep Impactt"), a visual clone of a young Helen Hunt, plays the leader of the class nerds and the first one to befriend Josie. Michael Varton, as Sam Coulson, the sensitive high school teacher and hunk who becomes a center of newsworthy scandal, comes across with more depth than the one-dimensional character.

The strong suite, besides the first-rate cast, is the crisp, thoughtful script by Kohn and Silverstein. Besides the main story of Josie trying to do her undercover reporter job, there are other story lines and many teen issues handled, too. Josie's not-such-a-stranger-in-a-strange-land is helped on her mission by her brother, Rob (Arquette), in gaining cool status in school. Rob's desire to play baseball, on a winning team, is one of the several story lines that plays in parallel with the main tale and is nicely finished by the end. Teen issues of snobbery, cliques, sex, popularity versus friendship and other youthful problems are all handled neatly. The controversy over student/teacher romance is another thread that follows through to completion.

"Never Been Kissed" is one of the best teen flicks out so far this year. Although it has a female lead, this is not just a chick flick and holds strong appeal as a date movie. There is enough varied and intelligent humor and pretty girls to hold the attention of any but the most jaded macho man.

I give "Never Been Kisses" an enthusiastic B+.

Laura's review of 'Never Been Kissed'
After the smallest misstep with "Home Fries," Drew Barrymore is back in "Ever After" form with "Never Been Kissed," which she also produced. Josie Gellar ('Imagine being named after a guitar playing pussycat.') is the youngest copywriter at the Chicago Sun Times. She's a plain, serious young woman who constantly corrects peoples' grammar, gets no respect from her hustling hotshot male assistant, spends her time making needlepoint pillows and dreams of becoming a reporter. Her boss Gus (John C. Reilly, "Boogie Nights") and best friend Anita (Molly Shannon of TV's "Saturday Night Live") don't encourage her to follow her dream, believing she's too shy and retiring to be a journalist. The big boss Rigfort (Garry Marshall (TV's "Murphy Brown"), in another endearingly loony, hair-trigger boss performance), however, suddenly assigns her to go undercover at a city high school, and Josie's ready to attack the job with gusto.

She convinces older brother Rob (David Arquette, "Scream"), who works at a tropical-island themed packing company, to trade his broken down jalopy for her Buick LeSabre, but he reminds her what her own high school days were really like. Josie was an overweight, brace-wearing, nerdy outcast nicknamed 'Grossie Josie' (which we learn was a nickname he, being popular, bestowed upon her).

Her first day as a seventeen-year old senior is disastrous. Josie's attempted to make herself over, but she's out of touch and her white jeans and matching feather boa are greeted with derision by the popular kids. Her assessment of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" (which deals with love while disguising one's identity) impresses hip young teacher Sam (Michael Vartan), though. She also finds a real friend in Aldys (Leelee Sobieski, "Deep Impact," looking startling like Helen Hunt), a brainy kid who welcomes Josie and draws her into intellectual school clubs.

Josie is clearly falling into her old ways and not uncovering the juicy stories Gus expects, so he outfits her with a miniature camera in order to find what he thinks will sell papers. Her newspaper colleagues quickly fall into watching her exploits, particularly her flirtatious relationship with teacher Sam, as if she were her own soap opera. Her brother Rob also enrolls in an effort to boost her cool quotient by spreading the type of rumors that will gain her attention from the in crowd. All these threads come together as Josie finds herself the Prom Queen and date of the coolest guy in school as she's faced with not only losing her only true friend but being told that the inappropriate relationship with her teacher is the story she must turn in.

Drew Barrymore sparkles as a romantic, klutzy comedian, particularly in a club scene where she obliviously bucks tradition at the gate by declaring herself under drinking age and then jumps the stage to perform an outrageously geeky dance after unwittingly ingesting a hash brownie ('I made friends with a whole table of Rastafarri!' she later informs Rob on the phone while indulging a serious case of the munchies). She pratfalls, she giggles, and she's fearless about making herself look unattractive. The whole package is delightful (even though I expected her to lose a glass slipper as she runs out of her prom in her Shakespeare-inspired gown).

David Arquette is amusing as the ironic loser who gets to relive his high school popularity and date a sixteen year old gymnast. Leelee Sobieski again impresses as the serious minded Aldys, who barely manages to hide hurt feelings while being called an 'alpo' even as her blossoming beauty brains and beauty belie the teenage putdown. Michael Vartan is a nice romantic foil as the conflicted teacher. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon provide effective adult counterparts to Josie's undercover world.

Director Raja Gosnell keeps everything moving along nicely and does a surprisingly effective job considering her previous credit was "Home Alone 3." The screenplay, by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, has all the right, if tried and true, elements, including the inevitable, belief suspending, romantic climax.

"Never Been Kissed" is a crossover between a teen flick and an adult romantic comedy and it's a surefire crowd pleaser.

B+


THE DREAMLIFE OF ANGELS
Dark-haired, pixish Isa (Elodie Bouchez, "Wild Reeds") is a free spirit who arrives in Lilles with her possessions in a knapsack only to find that the friend she intended to stay with has moved away. A chance encounter gains her a sewing job at a garment factory where she meets the blonde, standoffish, rebellious Marie (Natacha Regnier). Isa asks Marie for a place to stay and bunks in at the apartment the equally rootless Marie is only tending for its absent owner. The two fall into an intense friendship that will lead them each on journeys fate seems to have already dictated.

Laura's review of 'The Dreamlife Of Angels'
This French film, which its stars shared the Best Actress award for at Cannes last year, is a remarkable first feature by director and cowriter (with Roger Bohbot) Erick Zonca. Its every day observations of the friendship between two twenty-year-old working class women contain a richness of psychology, spirituality, symbolism and duality that rarely is found in Hollywood productions. It's a film that will encourage many interpretations in its viewers.

The title, for example, could refer to its to protagonists. However, a significant subplot, about the young girl, Sandrine, who lies in a coma after a terrible car accident (she lived with her mother, who died after the accident, in the apartment Marie tends) is perhaps a more literal reference. Sandrine is also significant in establishing the extreme differences between Isa and Marie. Isa finds the young girl's diary and is moved by it so much that she begins to visit the young girl and read to her. Marie's made no effort to learn about the women whose misfortune has provided her accommodation. Isa, with her dark appearance, is light, warm and compassionate. The fair Marie is dark, cold and disturbingly troubled for reasons that are only hinted at. Isa seems to be an elixir that awakens a joie de vivre in Marie, but it proves to be short lived. The men that become part of their lives eventually cause a rift between Isa and Marie.

Lacking money, the two attempt to talk their way into a rock concert with bouncers Charly (Patrick Mercado) and Fredo (Jo Prestia). Isa starts with charm, Marie ends with insults. They hook up later in a bar and the sweetly charming Charly, whom Marie insulted, is drawn to Marie. Fredo's attentions to Isa are met only with friendship. The two men also work for Chriss (Gregoire Colin, "Before the Rain"), the arrogant son of a wealthy man who owns several high class clubs and restaurants. Chriss is attracted to Marie, who responds overwhelmingly. Isa despairs as she knows Chriss will only use her friend whereas the far less attractive (and eventually, spurned) Charly could have given Marie everything she needed.

Elodie Bouchez is a natural screen wonder as Isa. With her spiky hair, overly large teeth and makeup-effect scar that slashes across one of her prominent eyebrows like an exclamation point, Bouchez enables Isa's compassion. In her earliest scenes, she makes up 'greeting cards' out of colored paper and cut out art reproductions which she sells on the street for 'charity.' It's entirely believable that people would not only buy them, but feel good about it. Natacha Regnier is equally good as the far less sympathetic Marie. She seems to hide, almost shrink from, her natural beauty. Without knowing why, one responds to her emotional scarring, particularly in her sex scenes with Colin in which she manages to seem wanton and virginally terrified at the same time. Zonca gives the two a marvelous scene which underscores their opposing personalites when they apply for waitress jobs at a Hollywood-themed restaurant. Isa throws herself into a hilarious impersonation of Madonna performing 'Like a Virgin.' Marie first declares she's only there because of her friend before doing a perfunctory Lauren Bacall-smoking-a-cigarette bit (cigarette smoking is prominent in this film).

Colin is a terrific Chriss, a man most women would immediately categorize as a jerk (to be polite), yet showing a patrician appeal. (It is of note that Isa and Marie first jokingly attempt to pick him up in a shopping mall, with Isa introducing Marie as a friend who's 'obviously not from the same class.') Patrick Mercado is also notable as the overweight, gruff, but decent Charly. He's a teddy bear. Prestia doesn't make much of an impression.

The film is shot documentary style, with hand held cameras following the two women around. Zonca fumbles a bit in his denouement, first with a stumblingly handled coda to Sandrine's fate, then with an overly expected climax played out in amateurish fashion. Still, he leaves the viewer with a marvelous tracking shot of women at work in a factory that's implications are strangely hopeful. He's a filmmaker to watch and his "The Dreamlife of Angels" is food for the film-lover's soul.

A-

Robin's Review of The Dreamlife Of Angels''
"The Dreamlife of Angels" is an ambitious first feature effort by writer/director Erick Zonca (with co-writer Roger Bohbot) that tells a quiet, personal story of Isa (Elodie Bouchez), a waiflike 21-year-old who is on her own with no place to go. Isa arrives in the industrial French city of Lille hoping to crash, for a while, with a friend. Unfortunately for Isa, her friend is gone and she has no place to go. The fortuitous meeting with the owner of a clothing factory gives Isa a chance for a job. Her fortune doesn't last as her lack of skill becomes obvious and she is fired. This prompts another worker, Marie (Natacha Regnier), to agree to let Isa stay with her.

The roommates, it turns out, are "house-sitting" an apartment owned by a mother and daughter who are hospitalized and in a coma after a tragic car accident. Marie treats the places as her own, caring little for the previous inhabitants. Isa, on the other hand, is moved by the journal kept by the daughter and not only reads it all, she begins to add to it as she bonds with the coma victim. Isa eventually starts to spend time with the comatose young woman, bonding further with her.

Isa is a resourceful, if pathetic, girl who, initially, seems to be a victim, but turns out to be one who is really a survivor. Bouchez is stunning in her portrayal of the young Isa. She takes the outwardly helpless young woman and shows her to be a pillar of strength and resourcefulness. At one point, out of work with no place to go, she reverts to making her own Christmas cards and selling them in the street. Isa is beholden to no one and will take to her own resources in a minute, if pressed. 23 year old Bouchez makes quite an interesting international splash with her odd looks (she's not "pretty") and strong acting ability.

Marie, as played by Regnier, is a more enigmatic character who, beneath the surface, has a volatility that threatens to ignite throughout the film. This suspicion, formed early in the film, is fulfilled with its violent ending - though the handling of Marie's final story is too obvious and would have benefited from a more experienced hand at the helm of "The Dreamlife of Angels."

The supporting characters are two dimensional at best, but the performances by the actors helps flesh things out a bit. The sleazy, handsome club owner, Chriss (Gregoire Colin), is viewed as a real manipulative bastard from the start. His selfishness is obvious, so Marie's succumbing to his "charms" is forced. Nightclub bouncer and biker, Charly (Patrick Mercado), who cares for Marie, is a bear of an man and comes across as a likable guy who has an honest affection for Marie, even if it's not reciprocated.

Director/writer Zonca shows a solid understanding of mise-en-scene but has the habit of putting his entire vision on the screen as if each second of cinema HAS to be used. This results in indulgences of long, quiet shots of the principles that go on far too long. One scene, where Isa sits, in reflection of events, with a single lighted candle has the one, static camera shot continue for so long that I begged for something to happen - have Isa smoke a cigarette, blow out the candle, anything! There is too much of the auteur in the film's direction.

"The Dreamlife of Angels" has one extraordinary performance by Bouchez and a fine supporting performance by Regnier as Marie. The two women were honored at the Cannes Film Festival last for their performances and it is deserved praise. The film is a step below the performances of the principles.

I give "The Dreamlife of Angels" a B, but want to make note the A-level acting.


LOST & FOUND
Dylan Ramsey (David Spade) is satisfied with his LA bachelor life until Lila Dubois (Sophie Marceau, "Braveheart"), a gorgeous, cello-playing, French woman totally out of Dylan's reach, moves into the apartment next door. Nothing Dylan does can divert Lila's attention to himself, so he kidnaps the love of her life, Jack, in order to play the hero when he helps her find him. Dylan ends up with more than he bargained for when Jack (a Cairn terrier) swallows his best friend's engagement ring and Lila's jealous ex-boyfriend Rene enters the picture and complicates things more in "Lost & Found."

Robin's Review of 'Lost & Found'
This is David Spade's first solo starring effort since his success on TV's "Just Shoot Me" and the death of Chris Farley. Spade is a funny guy and has developed a signature drollness that holds him in good stead in a buddy film, but the actor doesn't have the charisma to carry a film alone. At least, not this film. His patented sarcasm and glib commentary are sporadically funny, but the movie does not know which way to go.

"Lost & Found" tries to be a slapstick comedy and a boy-gets-girl romance and doesn't succeed in either realm. The laughs, numerous if only chuckles in the beginning, become forced as the romantic triangle kicks in and the who-gets-the-girl question arises. Unfortunately, there is no real belief that it's all going to end up in a happy ending. It does, but it is definitely a tack on ending that is solely used to tie it all up.

Sophie Marceau ("Braveheart") looks luminous thanks to the very flattering photography by Paul Elliot (HBO's "Truman"), but is little more than the lovely object of the film's affection. The rest of the supporting cast is peppered with many cameo performances, including vaudevillians Rose Marie ("The Dick Van Dyke Show") and Phil Leeds, Martin Sheen as a banker and John Lovitz as a self-professed "dog whisperer" who sets Dylan straight.

The filmmakers, especially Spade, try very hard, but the cliched material, trite premise and lack of focus in the story all work against them. "Lost & Found" would be better lost at the theaters and found in the bargain video bin. I give it a C-.

Laura's review of 'Lost & Found'
David Spade is hot on television right now with "Just Shoot Me," which showcases his belittling, sarcastic persona. His attempt to translate this success into big screen, leading man status is pretty much a major dud.

You know you're in trouble right away when Spade stages a breakup scene (with a cowgirl outfitted stripper) before the credits run which doesn't even pull a smile, let alone a laugh.

The story (which Spade cowrote with J.B. Cook and Marc Meeks) is a pretty lame warmover. Guy attracted to girl, guy kidnaps girl's dog in order to return it in hero mode, dog eats best friend's diamond ring, so must stay with guy until ring passes (a marvelous opportunity for a gross out scene that's DOA). Toss in an obnoxious ex-boyfriend (Rene, Patrick Bruel) and a worshipful employee (Wally, Artie Lange who's an obvious reference to the late Spade costar, Chris Farley) plus a bunch of strip poker playing sentagenarians (Rose Marie, Marla Gibbs) and all you get are some pitiful "There's Something About Mary" ripoffs. In fact, the abuse taken by Lila's terrier in "Lost and Found" is more cringe-inducing than laugh generating.

Jon Lovitz is pulled in for a cameo as a 'dog whisperer' that goes nowhere but downhill (his scene ends with him wrestling nephew Wally - what hijinks!) Martin Sheen is also on hand as a millionaire Spade is trying to get a business loan from.

"Lost and Found" has one sweet scene, where Spade softens his character and actually does something nice for someone - he blindfolds Lila and brings her and her cello to a huge, open air concert arena to encourage her to overcome her stage fright. Marceau looks gorgeous, but is so serious it's difficult to see why Dylan's so enraptured by anything other than her looks.

D+


THE SCHOOL OF FLESH
Director Benoit Jacquot ("A Single Girl") provides a nice counterpart to such Hollywood films as "Six Days, Seven Nights" and "A Perfect Murder" by giving us the story of a middle aged woman, Dominique (Isabelle Huppert), who falls for a man, Quentin (Vincent Martinez), half her age.

When Dominique and a friend visit a mostly-gay nightclub, her eyes lock with Quentin's. Quentin's dangerously handsome and Dominique is made aware up front by Chris (Vincent Lindon), a transvestite who works there, that Quentin swings both ways for money, but advises her to have a little fun. The doomed relationship that ensues is characterized by power shifts gained by money and emotional neediness.

Laura's review of 'The School Of Flesh'
Firstly, I'd like to chastise whoever decided to release "The School of Flesh" with a literal translation of its title "L'Ecole de la Chair," which sounds nowhere as appealing as it ddoes in its original language This is a typically French film, where characters are observed as they slowly make their way through life facing realistic obstacles and banalities.

Huppert is terrific as the confident career woman whose vulnerability is exposed, but does not cause her destruction, by her physical, yet maternal, attraction to Quentin. Without even seeming to change expression, Huppert is capable of projecting complex emotions over the landscape of her beautiful, palely freckled face.

Martinez is well cast as the object of many's desires. His cool defensive, almost cruel, initial mask is slowly lowered to reveal a young man who cares deeply for his working class mother and his younger brother. He's drawn to Dominique, but his attraction to her doesn't keep him from dallying elsewhere. This is a man who wants things his way regardless of the feelings he trods upon, even though he's still able to empathize with them.

The immediate and easy friendship Dominique falls into with Chris is one of the film's biggest charms. Vincent Landon is fey, coy, jealous and a supportive friend who can also become vindictive - a beautifully complex character. Veteran Swiss actress Marthe Keller ("Bobby Deerfield") is Dominique's wealthy client/friend Madame Thorpe whose young daughter Marine (Roxane Mesquida) becomes a pawn between Dominique and Quentin.

The film is adapted from a novel by Yukio Mishima by Jacques Fieschi, who won the French Oscar equivalent for his terrific tale of an older man yearning for a young woman in "Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud." While this screenplay presents a story as old as human nature, its particularly European sensibility and the strength of its female protagonist makes it worth a look.

B

Robin's Review of 'School Of Flesh'
"School of Flesh" takes the conventional story of a May/September romance and puts a fresh, French spin on the subject as director Benoit Jacquot ("A Single Girl") and writer Jacques Fieschi adapt the novel of Japanese literary and social legend Yukio Mishima.

Starring the exotically beautiful Isabelle Huppert as the September side of the relationship, the story begins with the middle-aged, but still striking looking Dominique at her peak. She has money, looks, charm and notices, one day, the handsome, pouty face of Quentin (Vincent Martinez) behind the bar at a mostly gay-clientele nightspot.

The sullen Vincent fascinates the older woman as Dominique becomes his "sugar daddy," giving the boy an allowance, nice clothes and a place to live. In turn, he provides youth, beauty and excitement for the older woman. The initial desire between the two is enough to overcome the differences of age, income and environment - at first. As time passes, these differences become acute and eventually destroy what Dominique and Quentin had, if only for a while.

Huppert captivates the screen with her almost haunting, ethereal beauty. She plays Dominique very close, giving the character an enigmatic air that is hard for the viewer to penetrate. Dominique is not cold, but there is a layer of protection that she never lets down, making it hard to sympathize with her.

Vincent Martinez, as Quentin, is a better looking version of American actor Vincent Gallo. He is convincing as the object of Dominique's attentions and is effective opposite the seasoned Huppert.

The supporting cast is pretty lifeless, overall, with the exception of Vincent Lindon as Chris, the "hostess" of the club where Dominique first spots Quentin. Chris becomes Dominique's muse in her pursuit of Quentin. Lindon reminds me of Michel Serrault ("La Cage Aux Folles") in his flamboyant, transvestite performance.

Ultimately, "School of Flesh," for all its physical contact between the principles, is a clinically passionless look at a summer/fall romance that slowly falls apart. I give it a C+.


COOKIE'S FORTUNE
In the days leading up to Easter in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the estranged nieces of wealthy matriarch 'Cookie' Orcutt (Patricia Neal) are frantically preparing for the church pageant production of Oscar Wilde's 'Salome.' Camille (Glenn Close) is the bossy producer/director who's even claimed a co-writing credit. Her cowed sister Cora (Julianne Moore) is the play's star and mother of Cookie's beloved grand-niece Emma (Liv Tyler). Camille heartily disapproves of Emma who's just arrived back in town to work for the smitten catfish supplier Manny (Lyle Lovett) and resume her passionate relationship with the simple sheriff's deputy Jason (Chris O'Donnell). When Camille arrives at Cookie's house to reclaim a fruit salad bowl, she's horrified to find that Cookie's committed suicide. Camille stages a robbery/murder to save the family name which lands Cookie's beloved friend and caretaker Willis (Charles S. Dutton) in jail as the only suspect.

Laura's review of 'Cookie's Fortune'
"Cookie's Fortune" is a delightful and assured work from American master Robert Altman ("Nashville," "The Player"). Working from a script by Anne Rapp, Altman and his team have created a beautifully quirky snapshot of a small Southern town.

The film's many aspects resonate wonderfully off each other, from the play 'Salome,' where class prejudices and the madness of suicide feature prominently to the oddities of genteel Southern life among the haves (Cookie) who use their wealth to indulge eccentricities and have-nots (Camille) who hide themselves behind pretentious ideals. Willis, a man who loves Wild Turkey and Theo's blues club, cannot possibly be guilty according to police lieutenant Lester Boyle (Ned Beatty), because he fishes with him. Holly Springs is a place where historic plaques abound (even the local liquor store displays one that reads 'In 1897, nothing happened on this site') and police crime scene tape is considered a nuisance to be ignored.

Small details are so artfully rendered - a gun cabinet door that won't stay shut, the one-upmanship tally between Cookie and Willis, Emma's always inevitable parking tickets (she holds the Holly Springs record at 234 unpaid), Willis' knowledge of Greek mythology helping Cookie complete her crossword puzzle, the ongoing Scrabble game in Willis' open cell, Emma and Jason's hidden couplings behind a soda machine - that you know you're in the hands of a master filmmaker.

The cast is terrific. Even actors such as Tyler and O'Donnell create characters who can stand up to the likes of Neal and Close. Particularly noteworthy among this stellar group is Donald Moffat as the town's only lawyer who knows all its sordid secrets and takes witty glee in revealing them in the film's climax at the police station still rigged out in his 'Salome' garb. Lesser characters such as police officer Wanda (Niecy Nash), who has a crush on the big city investigator (Courtney B. Vance, not knowing what to make of the lunacy) are as fully fleshed out as the leads.

Production design by Stephen Altman was apparently delivered by the real town of Holly Springs, although his interior work and attention to detail is notable. Costume design by Dona Granata is note perfect from Cookie's penchant for Mississippi State sweatshirts paired with lavender sneakers and gaudy jewelry to Camille's flowing chiffon skirts and floral platform wedges. A Delta Blues score was provided by Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics.

What can you say about a film that features Glenn Close having a meltdown while performing the dance of the seven veils with a roll of toilet paper? Only good things - "Cookie's Fortune" is the first film of 1999 to rate an A.

Robin's Review of 'Cookie's Fortune'
When a master film maker gets his experimenting and self-indulgences out of the way, a film like "Cookie's Fortune" can be the delightful and enthralling result. With a huge cast (10 principle characters), the film should have an ensemble feel, but we are talking about Robert Altman here. The American master takes each of his characters, so nicely drawn in the screenplay by Anne Rapp and performed by the talented actors, and allows us to get to know each one of them. The subtle deftness of the direction is less flashy than his "The Player" and less complex than the experimental "Short Cuts," but shows a continuation of Altman's honing of his craft.

The wonderful, varied cast provide very real performances of the characters populating a small southern town. Patricia Neal returns to the screen as the title character, Cookie, and gives a moving, emotional performance as the lonely family matriarch who has never gotten over the loss of her beloved husband. Glenn Close is positively outrageous (in a good way) as Cookie's conniving, control freak niece, Carmella, whose greed and bossiness are ultimately her downfall. Julianne Moore as Carmella's vacuous sister, Cora, has far more on the ball than anyone realizes. Liv Tyler, as Emma, rounds out this little family as the wayward, "disgraceful" (Carmella's assessment) daughter of Cora.

Charles S. Dutton is Willis Richland, lifelong friend and companion to Cookie after Buck's death. Willis and Cookie are as close as two people can be in a platonic friendship. Sheriff Lester (Ned Beatty) can gauge the honesty of a man if he "fished with him." Chris O'Donnell is a without-a-clue deputy who is alphabet challenged, but has the hots for scofflaw Emma. Donald Moffat is the town's only working lawyer and is privy to virtually every secret and skeleton in every closet. Lyle Lovett is catfish-shack owner Manny who has an unrequited lust for Emma and is mainly concerned with her getting undressed in the dark.

This rich profusion of characters is ably aided by the equally rich and intriguing story by Anne Rapp. The main tale of an old widow, missing her husband and ready to join him before her time, is simple, sweet and nostalgic, with an endearing performance by Neal. Cookie's relationship with Willis is fully developed, with the relationship between the two real and touching in their mutual caring.

The terrific thing about the screenplay is it takes the above premise and twists it into a wild and wacky tale with Carmella running the townfolk ragged as she declares Cookie's suicide a murder - because a suicide in the family would be disgraceful! - then proceeds to move herself into the house that she made a crime scene. Close cloaks herself in Carmella and works hard to get the audience to loath her.

Production design by Stephen Altman ("Near Dark"), from the small-town setting to the yellow-taped "crime" scene to the homey little town jail, all lend to overall quality of the film. Photography by Toyomichi Kurita ("Afterglow") beautifully captures the expressiveness of the talented cast, allowing the visual imagery to act in perfect unison with the actors and story.

There's more to discuss and describe, but it's easier to just say that "Cookie's Fortune" is the perfect melding of story, characters, actors and behind the camera talent, all under the expert control of Altman. It's the best thing from the heart and mind of the great American director since "The Player" and may well be his top work. I give "Cookie's Fortune" a solid A.


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