TARZAN - AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME
THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER - BESIEGED
TWICE UPON A YESTERDAY


TARZAN

Inspired by the world famous and classic story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Walt Disney Pictures brings us the 48th movie adaptation of the extraordinary adventures of an orphaned boy raised by a family of gorillas in the jungles of Africa in "Tarzan." Tarzan grows into a strong and capable young man who earns a place in his adopted primate family. Life is idyllic until, one day, Tarzan meets other humans and feels an immediate bond - especially with the beautiful and courageous young woman, Jane Porter. Tarzan is torn between his two worlds and is betrayed by the great white hunter, Clayton, who has other plans for the Ape Man's simian family.

Robin's review of 'Tarzan':
In the face of the Lucas juggernaut recently released to theaters everywhere, Disney Pictures takes the middle road with its latest animation feature. Rather than try to go toe-to-toe with the space invader, long-time Disney collaborators Kevin Lima ("The Little Mermaid") and Chris Buck ("Pocahontas") take the well-known tale of the Tarzan the Ape Man and breath animated life into it. They provide a straightforward telling of the Tarzan yarn and use traditional cell animation, rather than over-the-top CGI, to form a beautifully crafted, well-paced and well-voiced feature that will easily become yet another Disney classic.

The vocal talents utilized in "Tarzan" does not include the usual list of name talents who have lent their voices to previous, recent Disney animated features. Glenn Close, as gorilla mamma Kala, and Rosie O'Donnell, voicing Tarzan's best ape friend Terk, are about it for "names." Fortunately, "name" is not the only thing that translates to talent as the rest of cast provide perfect vocal character to their roles. Minnie Driver ("Good Will Hunting") is the best as the strong-willed Jane. Driver shows terrific talent in putting tone and nuance into her character's voice, making Jane as real as any live action heroine.

Tony Goldwyn ("Ghost") is the voice of Tarzan and does a solid job. British actor Brian Blessed ("The Black Adder") provides just the right note as the bad guy with his thinly veiled charm and false care for the jungle's creatures. His Clayton, with his swarthy handsomeness and sinister agenda, is one of the most subtle, yet evil, bad guys to come out of the pens of Disney's animators. The rest of the cast is an assembly of character actors, including Oscar-nominated Nigel Hawthorne ("The Madness of King George"), as Jane's dotty dad; Lance Henriksen (TV's "Millennium"), as the ape clan's gruff gorilla patriarch, Kerchak; and Wayne Knight (TV's "Seinfeld" and "Third Rock From The Sun"), as Tarzan's neurotic pachyderm pal, Tantor. Vocal casting is aces all around.

As to the animation: Burroughs' himself, according to the press material, considered an animated version of his tale to more faithfully bring his hero to the screen, noting "the cartoon must be good. It must approximate Disney excellence." That was in 1936. Now, in 1999, Disney sets the standard again and recreates Burroughs' world in a brilliant display of the animation craft so carefully developed by the cartoon giant for these many years. The detail to each character is matched by the same attention to the background settings, making "Tarzan" a visual treat to watch on all levels.

The story is packed with many action sequences done in a frenetic, exciting style that keeps the eye in wonder and the mind sated with the experience. A note of warning: there is a chase sequence with a fierce band of baboons that is pretty scary. The battle between Tarzan and the bad guy, Clayton, is darkly done, too. These scenes may give parents pause before letting younger kids go see this flick. Older kids and adults will enjoy themselves from start to finish

By no stretch of the imagination will "Tarzan" (or any other movie) compete with "Star Wars" for summer box-office, but it WILL have shoulders to carry it to a long and profitable career, with a ready-made direct-to-video market from the potential sequels it could easily spawn. I give "Tarzan" an A.

Laura's review of 'Tarzan':
"Tarzan" once again proves why Disney Studios (and their acquisition Pixar) is the king of animation. This is a gorgeous looking film with all the requisite Disney touches - cute talking animals, a brainy and spunky heroine with a slapstickly rendered dad, evil villain and musical interludes galore.

Tarzan's story is very economically told with the fate of his shipwrecked parents attended to while the opening title credits and song (by Phil Collins - bland but unobtrusive) roll. Immediately after, we're given high drama, as bereft mother ape Kala (Glenn Close) saves the infant Tarzan from Sabor, a beautiful but lethal tiger. Kala's mate Kerchak (Lance Henrickson), leader of the ape tribe, rejects the human child but allows Kala to keep him. Tarzan grows with the apes, determined to prove his worth to Kerchak, and becomes a master of tree surfing and vine swinging (beautifully animated, particularly in a roller-coaster Tarzan POV sequence). The animators have also made the interesting choice to portray Tarzan as a mixture of man and beast in his physical characteristics, which works beautifully.

Minnie Driver has never been better than she is here voicing Jane, a young woman of Victorian times accompanied by her father and the treacherous Clayton is search of apes. Hers is one of the best vocal performances in a long line of star turns in Disney animation, creating character beneath Jane's rather bland appearance. Tarzan is nicely voiced by Bill Goldwyn. Rosie O'Donnell is amusing, if a little bit too obvious, as Tarzan's best ape friend Terk. Kerchak is given intimidating stature by Henrickson.

The romance provides for some pretty moments, such as when Tarzan brings Jane into the treetops to observe the environment of some beautiful parrots she's been trying to draw. Their fate is sealed twice, when Tarzan straightens the hand which he's trained into an apelike curl against Jane's smaller one, which carries his true genetical makeup. Nice touch.

Humor abounds, from young elephant Tantor being advised by his elders that piranha don't inhabit Africa to a cameo appearance by a silent Mrs. Potts, the teapot from "Beauty and the Beast." A musical number featuring wildlife creating a rousing tune from items found at a human camp will be enjoyed by the kids. However, "Tarzan" may be one of the scariest of Disney's catalogs, featurning vicious tiger attacks and the demise of the villain by hanging (!) against a gorgeously dark, stormy red sky. This is some pulse-racing stuff.

Disney is in love with Africa, with its wealth of landscape and animals, from "The Jungle Book" to "The Lion King" to this fine effort. They may have been able to economize on the research done to create last winter's live-action "Mighty Joe Young" as well.

While "Tarzan" lacks the sweep and majesty of some of Disney's efforts due to its enclosed landscapes, it's a testament to the beauty of its animation that awe can be inspired by the sight of the underside of a lifeboat and the reflection of water on a ship's hull.

A-


AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME

With his wife Vanessa disposed of before the opening credits roll, Austin Powers (Mike Myers) is once again a swinging single. Before he gets the chance to sow his wild oats, however, his arch nemesis Dr. Evil (Mike Myers) steals his 'mojo.' Austin returns to his beloved London 60's and teams up with Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham), an American cutie who's hot to trot when Austin's not, in order to once again defeat Evil in "Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me."


Laura's review of 'Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me':
The "Austin Powers" hype machine is so huge its managed to eclipse talk of "The Phantom Menace" within its first month. But while the original film was a laugh riot which arrived out of nowhere, its sequel is a crashingly unfunny bore.

Powers was funny because of the extremity of contrast between his 60's swinger sensibilities and the more sober 90's. Sending him back into the 60s negates the fish out of water aspect and the filmmakers fail to make hay with the possibilities of a mojo-less Austin surrounded by available beauties. There are about five funny bits in this film and three of those are variations from the first movie.

New characters are introduced to spice things up, but they fail miserably. Fat Bastard (Myers), Evil's disgustingly obese Scottish hit man, is groan, rather than laugh, inducing. I can enjoy low brow humor with the best of them, but this attempt at 'gross out' humor falls flat. Evil's clone Mini-Me (Verne J. Troyer) becomes Evil's pet, replacing the short-changed Mr. Bigglesworth who only appears in one scene. The dispatching of Vanessa is unappealingly uninspired. Kristen Johnston (TV's "Third Rock From the Sun") is funny in name only as Ivana Humpalot, although she brings mugging for the camera to a new level.

Most disappointing is Myers himself. Austin has no funny lines, ceding to Dr. Evil, who at least gets to attack a Klansman on "The Jerry Springer Show." The film's few pleasures come from minor characters. Seth Green returns as Scott Evil, who's constantly pointing out what a dolt his dad is, giving Myers the opportunity to shssh him in a couple of mildly amusing scenes. Rob Lowe is uncanny in his portrayal of Robert Wagner's Number Two thirty years younger. Mindy Sterling gets more screen time as Frau Farbissina, who's innately funny and is revealed to be more than just one of Evil's minions. Heather Graham is sexy and sweet as Shagwell, a more likeable character than Hurley's Vanessa. Cameos by Tim Robbins as the President of the United States, Clint Howard (Johnson!), Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson are well placed.

"Austin Powers The Spy Who Shagged Me" had me looking at my watch in desperation after only thirty minutes. I couldn't wait to get out of the theater with this flick. A good dose of the original is in order, hopefully for Myers as well before he pens the inevitable third installment.

C-


Robin's review of 'Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me':
It's been too long, baby, since the shagadelic exploits of that international man of mystery, Austin Powers (Mike Myers). This time, the evil Dr. Evil is out to destroy the ace British spy by traveling back in time to stealing his mojo in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me".

That's about it for the plot of this highly anticipated sequel to the popular original "Austin Power: International Man of Mystery." The first flick has a goofy charm as it spoofs the spoofs of the 60's James Bond movies with its kitchy costumes and sets, toilet humor, sexual innuendo, dental jokes, rapid fire gags, and general mirth. The whole fish-out-of-water scenario lent that film a freshness (along with the vulgarity) that had appeal to a broad audience range.

"Austin Powers 2" makes the mistake of most sequels: provide the same level of gags and hang some sort of story cloak upon this framework. This time around, Dr. Evil has his hands on a time machine which he uses to, once again, take over the world and ruin his arch nemesis, Austin Powers, by stealing his essence. This results in some moments of laughter, a few chuckles and a long monotonous middle where Austin goes back to his beloved 60's to save his mojo and fall for his CIA counterpart, Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham, "Boogie Nights").


Basically, the film breaks into two halves. One has Dr. Evil and his minions bent on taking over the world. This is the best part as the evil doctor goes back in time and meets a young Number Two (Rob Lowe in a surprisingly good impersonation of Robert Wagner, who also makes another appearance in the "future"), has a fling with Frau Farbissina (Mindy Sterling), tries to cope with his quasi-evil son Scott (Seth Green), grows to love his concentrated clone, Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), and hires the elephantine Scottish henchman, Fat Bastard (Myers). The whole Dr. Evil bit delivers virtually all the pic's laughs and gross-outs, some of which caused me to wince more than once.

The other half concentrates on Austin also going back in time to save his mojo and the world. He meets and falls for Felicity Shagwell, a CIA agent who admires and wants to emulate the master spy. While Heather Graham is absolutely adorable as the American agent (she has a red/white/blue Corvette Stingray that rivals Austin's "Shaguar"), and makes a sexy "Bond" girl, the whole romance between the two spooks falls completely flat. The middle of the film concentrates on this romance and had me checking the clock more than once.

The supporting cast is peppered with cameo roles that is fun to watch, particularly as various characters remark on the launch of Dr. Evil's phallus shaped spaceship. They pull this gag off twice and it amuses both times. Another amusing sequence with Dr. Evil and son Scott on the "Jerry Springer Show" (sons whose fathers want to take over the world) had me laugh out loud as the doctor goes one on one with a member of the Klu Klux Klan.

Sequels, except on very rare occasions (see "Babe: Pig In The City") tend to be lesser versions of their originals and "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" is no exception. For me, a major fan of the first, I am more than a little disappointed in Myers and company for cheaping out on the sequel. The guaranteed box-office (it made $54.7 million over its first weekend - a record for a comedy - and took over the number one spot from "Star Wars) has made the makers complacent and sure of their return. Unfortunately, it is we, the movie-going public, who are being cheated.

I give "Austin Powers 2" a disappointed C+.


THE GENERAL'S DAUGHTER

"Nobody asks, nobody tells," is the motto the US Army has adopted in recent years as a way to keep any dirty business buried. That is, until, at Fort MacCallum, Georgia, the soldier-daughter of a popular general is found brutally murdered on a base training field. The top agent for the Army's Criminal Investigations Division, warrant officer Paul Brenner (John Travolta), and fellow cop Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), are assigned to the case and given 36 hours to find the murderer of Captain Elisabeth Campbell. The investigation uncovers a scandal of immense proportions, one that could shake the very foundations of the Army's integrity and honor in "The General's Daughter."

Robin's review of 'The General's Daughter':
In the literature-to-film world, most films adapted from a literary source tend to be a shallow rendition of the original work. But, sometimes, very rarely, the imitator comes up with a translation that is superior to the rootstock. The best case in point is Steven Spielberg's seminal "Jaws," a film that blows away William Peter Blatty's novel in both story and content. To a lesser degree, "The General's Daughter" is another example of this rare film phenomenon.

The original novel, by the same name from the pen of author Nelson Demille, is the first of that author's work to be put up onto the big screen. The book has a tawdry sleaziness about it that focuses more on the kinky sexual titillation of the title character than on the whodunit murder mystery. The film, led by helmer Simon West ("Con Air"), takes the high road in concept and spends its efforts in delivering a taut, suspenseful murder thriller that uses the book's sexual nature as backdrop to the action. The resulting pic is the superior of the two story-tellings.

John Travolta, as W.O. Paul Brenner, lends effective nuance to the character so he comes across as both a loyal soldier in the US Army AND a tough cop for the CID. Brenner is a man used to having authority over all who fall under his investigation. His rank as a senior enlisted man takes a back seat to his role of detective. As such, he wields a very big stick of influence within the Army and fears no one, even three-star general "Fightin' Joe" Campbell (James Cromwell, "Babe"). Brenner is a strong, fully developed character that Travolta wears like a glove.

Madeleine Stowe, as fellow investigator and rape counselor Sarah Sunhill, is definitely second banana to Travolta, but still acquits herself well as a tough cop who is not easily deterred from performing her duties. Stowe manages to maintain an effective profile through the film (Sunhill and Brenner have a past together, adding a dimension of complexity to their characters' relations both emotionally and professionally).

The supporting cast is an embarrassment of acting riches with the likes of James Cromwell as the politically ambitious General Campbell; Timothy Hutton as Col. Phil Kent the post provost marshal and top cop; James Woods as the victim's boss, Col. Robert Moore; and, Clarence Williams III as the general's chief of staff, Col. George Fowler. Leslie Stefanson ("As Good As It Gets") provides a fresh face to the character of Captain Campbell. She is not in the picture very much, but gives presence and substance to the character of Elisabeth.

The film, at just over two hours, breaks into two logical halves. Part 1, the introduction of the characters and the crime committed, is the most exciting portion of the film. Starting with a bang up opening that has nothing to do with the story, except to introduce Paul Brenner, the film wastes no time in getting to the investigation, pulling the viewer in to the story. Part 2, as the conga line of suspects are introduced and discarded, gets muddled as the corruption and cover-up kick in. The suspect list goes to the very top and requires a good deal of sorting out who did what to whom and when.

"The General's Daughter" is a solid murder mystery and thriller that benefits from its stellar cast and the first-rate screenplay adaptation by unknown scripter Christopher Bertolini and Oscar-winning screenwriter William Goldman ("All The President's Men"). Technical aspects of the film, especially photography by Peter Menzies ("A Time To Kill") and production designer Dennis Washington ("No Way Out"), effectively convey the steamy atmosphere of a Georgia army base in the midst of summer. The depiction of the murder scene has a brutal stylishness that hits the pit of the stomach with a shock.

With the summer movie season upon us, the inclusion of an intelligent mystery/thriller into the film-going mix will help fill the void created by the lighter fair we typically see. I give "The General's Daughter" a B-.

Laura's review of 'The General's Daughter':
Adapted from bestselling author Nelson DeMille's book by Christopher Bertonlini and William Goldman, "The General's Daughter" is one of the rarities where the movie surpasses the book. While the screenwriters have taken the focus off the book's more tawdry aspects to concentrate on the thriller elements, they weren't successful in punching up the story's conclusion.

John Travolta is superb as Paul Brenner, the CID officer who happens to be at Fort MacCallum when the General's daughter, a PsychOps Captain, is found spreadeagled, staked down, and strangled, yet apparently not raped. Travolta's wry line readings ("My father was a drunk, a gambler and a womanizer - I worshipped him.") never seem like one-liners and he brings a strong 'don't mess with me' presence to the role. He's not about to bend under the Army's strong push to cover up the incident.

Brenner is assisted by Sarah Sunhill (Madeleine Stowe), a rape investigator who has a past with Brenner. When the two are quizzed by Colonel Robert Moore (James Woods) as to their presence in his deceased protogee's office, they suspect the man who clearly has something to hide. A subsequent (and illegal) visit to Captain Campbell's apartment leads to the discovery of an S&M chamber and explicit videos of Campbell and her masked partner which are promptly stolen - by Moore? James Woods is deliciously devious as Moore. When Brenner comes to question him, the two are clearly not engaged in a cat and mouse game, but a cat and cat encounter.

Moore is, of course, only the first of many suspects who Brenner and Sunhill encounter as they attempt to figure out what the motive was behind Campbell's slaying. Once this is discovered via a trip to Campbell's alma mater, West Point, the interest in who committed the murder wains and the film's final half hour is a let down as the filmmakers dizzingly point towards one suspect after another.

Support is lackluster. James Cromwell draws upon his turn as the corrupt police chief in "L.A. Confidential" to play General Campbell. Timothy Hutton elicits no interest whatsoever as Colonel Kent, Brenner's sponsor at the Fort. Clarence Williams III only becomes interesting in his final scene as the General's right hand man. Leslie Stefanson is solid as the film's conflicted victim and character actor Daniel van Bargen provides comic relief as the butt of Brenner's 'red necked sherriff' jokes.

The film looks great. Cinematographer Peter Menzies, Jr. ("The Year of Living Dangerously") uses an orange/yellow/red pallette which suggests the characters are in a symbolic hell, as well as visualizing the heat of the deep South. Music is effectively offbeat - praiseworthy for a big Hollywood production. Director Simon West ("Con Air") does a solid job before his material does him in.

"The General's Daughter" is flawed, but a lot better than I had anticipated, largely due to its production credits and stellar turns by Travolta and Woods.

B-


BESIEGED

World class director Bernardo Bertolucci presents an unusual love story with a tale of an expatriate African woman, Shandurai, (Thandie Newton, "Beloved") who's fled her country after her husband was unjustly imprisoned and the English composer Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis, "Naked") she keeps house for in a Roman villa. As Mr. Kinsky's obsession with Shandurai grows, his music, which she does not understand, takes on the African rhythms she responds to. When he declares his love, Shandurai challenges Kinsky to help her obtain her husband's freedom in "Besieged."

Laura's review of 'Besieged':
"Besieged" is a film elegant in its simplicity yet rich in its ability to move the viewer. Adapted from a short story by James Lasdun, by Bertolucci and his wife, Clare Peploe (who also produced), the film is essentially a two character piece where dialogue is minimal and observation is telling.

The film is a little difficult to follow at first. An African thumb piano player (who seems like a refugee from a Werner Herzog film), belts out a folk song as we observe Shandurai at her job helping disabled kids and Winston, her husband as we discover, teaching young children in a joyously puckish manner they obviously find delightful. He's arrested as she arrives on her bicycle, helpless and silently screaming. Suddenly she's alternately keeping house in another country or observed with a group of student doctors. Shandurai has apparently fled her unnamed African land for Rome, where she's studying to become a doctor and earning her board and livelihood by maintaining the large, antique filled, Roman home of a strange and reclusive British composer who gives the occasional piano lesson to pre-teens.

David Thewliss is Mr. Kinsky, who's shaken to his core by Shandurai's presence. His tentative gestures - an orchid left in her closet, for example - are treated hostilely, like invasions of privacy. When she finds a bejewelled silver ring the stakes are drawn. She demands to know why she should keep the gift and proclaims not to understand him or his music. He professes undying love and declares "I'll do anything!" in order that she might love him back. She spits back that he should get her husband out of prison, then. Kinsky quietly responds that he didn't realize she was married and withdraws.

A strange and beautiful love story unfolds at this point. Shandurai softens towards Kinsky as he withdraws from her, honoring her unsingle status. Large amounts of screen time are given to Shandurai's labors keeping Kinsky's beautiful things carefully dusted and scrubbed as they ironically begin to disappear, one by one. Kinsky's former observation of Shandurai shifts as she begins to note every aspect of his existence.

Truths are finally revealed at a fateful 'concert' Kinsky performs for his students. The strange man is delightfully adept at entertaining children and his gentleness is enormously appealing. But Shandurai receives an astonishing letter in the midst of his performance, one long hoped for that now throws her into confusion.

Newton and Thewliss are both marvelous in their roles, mysterious and expressive. The film is beautifully photographed by Fabio Cianchetti, presenting Rome within enclosed, intimate landscapes befitting the story. Music, by Alessio Vlad as well as works by Mozart, Bach, Chopin, Salif Keita, Papa Wemba and Ali Farka Toure, is both a third character in the film as well as a dual expression of the protagonists characters.

"Besieged" is a thinking audience's romance.

A-

Robin's review of 'Besieged':
Benardo Bertolucci, known for epic films, such as "The Last Emperor," also has a penchant for smaller, more lyrical pics, such as the visceral "Stealing Beauty," where looks ruled over substance. The result, for the latter, was a gorgeous looking film, but one that felt shallow and unsatisfying, with little by way of story. In "Besieged," the old master once again combines story and a beautiful look to give a nicely complete work.

"Besieged" is a very different and unusual film from Bertolucci about the human condition and the need, ultimately, for someone to hold on to. Early in the film, the reclusive Mr. Kinsky (David Thewlis) declares his love for African-born Shandurai (Thandie Newton) and would do anything for her. Her response is "then get my husband out of jail!" (Shandurai's husband was arrested in their home country for unstated political reasons.) His declaration and her response colors the whole fabric of the film and sets the wheels in motion to the final, ambiguous end.

The raw emotion and music of the film take the place of a more traditional narration. Much of the film is without spoken word. The ability of the two principles, Thandie Newton ("Beloved") and David Thewlis ("Naked"), to convey the inner feelings of the characters through facial expression and body language allows the makers to use the music of the film as its own words.

The music is an eclectic collection of a variety of sounds, ranging from traditional African folk music, to Latino, Afro-pop, classical and jazz. The music is used, at first, to show the cultural and emotional gulf between Shandurai and Mr. Kinsky. The young woman is steeped in the music of her homeland and is, seemingly, the diametrical opposite of Kinsky. His music is classical and is as far from Shandurai's music as can be. As the story progresses, the lines between their musical tastes starts to blur as Kinsky composes a piano piece for Shandurai that, while classical, incorporates her music, too. This elimination of the musical barriers between the two people parallels the breakdown of the social and emotional barriers keeping them apart.

The cast is minimal, with the one other notable character being the young woman's friend and fellow student, Agostino (Claudio Santamaria). As such, the interaction on the screen is between the two main characters. This allows a slow, steady build-up of the relationship as Shandurai copes with her life in limbo following the arrest of her husband while Kinsky deals with his self-imposed isolation. The two are like a pair of lonely ships at sea, both seeking solace and love, but not looking to each other.

"Besieged" is a deeply heartfelt, lyrical film that reps one of Bertolucci's most accessible of his later years. His characters, as portrayed by his stars, are real people with broad and subtle ranges of emotions and desires. The technical aspects of the film, particularly the beautiful, lush photography by Italian cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti and the production design by Gianni Silvestri ("Stealing Beauty"), complement the quality of acting and directing. In particular, a spiral staircase is used to convey both an interesting look and a nice visual symmetry to the film.

"Besieged" is one of the most accessible films to come from Bertolucci and shows the filmmakers deep understanding of his craft. I give it a B+.


TWICE UPON A YESTERDAY

"If only I knew then what I know now." Everyone has said this at one time or another and the wish never comes true. But, for aspiring young actor, Victor Bukowski (Douglas Henshall, "Angels & Insects"), there is magic about. After breaking up with his longtime, live-in girlfriend, Sylvia (Lena Headey, "Mrs. Dalloway"), Vic spends the following months hitting a personal low, lamenting his decision and wanting just one more chance to go back in time and make things right. Vic's wish comes true with the arrival of a pair of mystical garbagemen who have the power to change time in the romantic comedy, "Twice Upon A Yesterday."

Robin's review of 'Twice Upon A Yesterday':
First-time helmer Maria Ripoll and novelist/screenwriter Rafa Russo, both from Spain, join creative forces in their telling of a "what if" story, set in London and cast with a group of attractive young actors. Vic, the hero of the tale, is a pudgy-faced, but charismatic, actor whose philandering has finally caught up with him and causes him to lose Sylvia. The decision forces the thesp down a long road of regret which ends inside a trash bin following yet another drunken binge. Fortunately, or not, Don Miguel and Raphael, two very eccentric garbagemen, pull Vic from his resting spot and bring him to their home in the midst of the local dump. There, the pair of shaman deliver Vic back in time and give him the chance to do it all again.

The premise of the story combines a lot of different elements and influences that give it a familiarity and a derivative sense that brings to mind the similar theme presented in the Bill Murray film, "Groundhog Day," but without the manic spiral of that black comedy. In "Twice..."," the idea of "going back to do it all over" is more simply handled and keeps within the framing of the romances of the story. It is an intriguing concept that is handled in an intelligent and imaginative manner.

The principle characters - Vic, Sylvia, Dave (the other man in Sylvia's life), and Louise (the beautiful replacement for Sylvia) - are made up by relatively unknowns, but a talented crew nonetheless. Douglas Henshall, who made a splash as the incestuous brother in the loads-of-guilty-pleasure "Angels & Insects," is quite charming as the regretful Vic. His chubby face conveys his emotional states of pain and pleasure as he deals with his loss, then found, chance at happiness. Henshall has the charismatic force and thesping talent to carry the romantic lead in spite of his plain looks.

Lena Headey, as psychologist Sylvia Weld, has the tougher role of second banana to Vic, with her costar getting the meatier role. Headey does a fine job, though, developing her character in a three-dimensional woman with the same wants, needs and desires as her significant other. Vic, knowing what the past had wrought and what the future may bring, desperately tries to keep Sylvia for himself. His mystical revelation and understanding, though, changes Vic and makes him, in Sylvia's eyes, less than the man she once knew. The harder Vic works to keep Sylvia, the more he succeeds in driving her into the arms of the other man - Dave (Mark Strong).

The mature, together Dave is an appealing counterpoint, for Sylvia, from Vic, and Strong plays him as a solid object of attraction. He isn't given the chance, due to his limited on-screen time, to flesh out his character beyond the object level. Penelope Cruz ("Open Your Eyes), as the beautiful Louise, is the desirable rebound for Vic after things go wrong with Sylvia. Cruz, like Strong, is an object of desire, more than a character, but sure is good to look at. Eusebio Lazaro and Gustavo Salmeron play Don Miguel and Rafael, a pair of wizards straight out of the pages of "The Adventures of Don Quixote" who provide the film's magical catalyst early on (and make a nice reappearance in the flick's wrap-up).

The production is first-rate and belies a budget that American filmmakers would laugh at. The setting, the Notting Hill section of London (the second time this locale has been used in a film in the past few weeks), is atypical of London with the burg's equivalent of Mardi Gras as a backdrop for the romantic action. The home of Don Miguel and Raphael is a junkyard heap of thrown out appliances built up into a magical cathedral where Vic's second chance begins.

"Twice Upon A Yesterday" is a sweet-natured, slightly off-beat romantic comedy that blends its magical element into the mix nicely. A good date movie, guys. I give it a B.

Laura's review of 'Twice Upon A Yesterday':
In the continuing sweep of romantic comedies where a main character works in a book store (in Notting Hill no less!), "Twice Upon a Yesterday" is a delightful mix of British humor and Latin fantasy. Spanish feature debuters Maria Ripoll directed and Rafa Russo wrote the screenplay for this film which features a cast of British and Spanish actors.

Douglas Henshall ("Angels and Insects") stars as Victor Bukowski, a struggling actor who realizes he's made the biggest mistake of his life when his affair with an actress propells his beloved Sylvia (Lena Headey, "Remains of the Day") into the arms of David (Mark Strong). Victor gets drunk in a local pub and pours his heart out to the beautiful and understanding bartender Diane (Elizabeth McGovern). Attempting to throw himself into the garbage, Victor is befriended by two Hispanic garbagemen who spin an enchantment upon him that whisks him back to the disastrous Carnival Day when he lost his lady love. Given his second chance, Victor becomes the ideal mate only to see Sylvia gravitate into the arms of David once again. Desperate for love and understanding once more, David searches for Diane, only to encounter Louise (Penelope Cruz, "Open Your Eyes") under the bemused and watchful eye of the bar's mystical pianist (Dave Fishley).

Unlike last year's "Sliding Doors," where fate comes at random, "Twice Upon a Yesterday's" philosophy is kinder, suggesting that we make mistakes for a reason and that clouds do indeed come with a silver lining. A piece of advice given in Spanish by the guardian angels/trashmen is later translated for Victor by Louise - "Don't look for this years' birds in last year's nest," a quote from "Don Quixote."

Douglas Henshall exudes charm as the scruffy Victor, suggesting an impish, Scottish Kenneth Branaugh. You root for him to end up with the girl of his dreams even though he's made mistakes. Lena Headey evokes sympathy when Sylvia becomes disenchanted with David and comes to the same realization Victor had, once again too late. Penelope Cruz is soft and inviting as the aspiring author who yearns for Victor. Elizabeth McGovern is a strong presence as the elusive and mysterious Diane. Outstanding support is given by Neil Stuke ("Sliding Doors") as Victor's hilarious, chauvanistic best friend Freddy and Charlotte Coleman ("Four Weddings and a Funeral") as Sylvia's best friend Alison, who despises Victor. Dave Fishley leaves us wishing for more as the wise pianist who becomes Victor's Cupid.

The London area of Notting Hill is presented in a more realistic fashion than in its namesake film, seeming more of an ethnically mixed neighborhood than a tourist area. Production values of this small indie are top notch.

B


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