EYES WIDE SHUT
THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
LAKE PLACID - SUMMER OF SAM
AMERICAN PIE - RUN LOLA RUN


EYES WIDE SHUT

Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) and his art-exhibitor wife Alice (Nicole Kidman) attend a glitzy Christmas part where each partakes of some harmless flirtation. When Alice begins to question her husband's motivation behind his fidelity, he's confused. He's thrown for a complete loop when she reveals a fantasy involving a young naval officer they once encountered. Unable to rid himself of images of his wife making love to another man, Harford embarks on a sexual odyssey on an evening in New York City in master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick's final film, "Eyes Wide Shut."

Laura's review of 'Eyes Wide Shut':
The first image in Kubrick's provocative film is of Nicole Kidman shedding a slinky black dress, revealing her bare backside. The last sound in the film is Kidman uttering that most famous of four letter words. It's unfortunate that Kidman largely only appears at the beginning and end of Kubrick's film, because every frame she's in is masterful. Kidman's Alice Harford is a mesmerizing character as she searches for the true meaning of, and difference between, love and lust.

Tom Cruise, who appears in every scene in the film, presents more of his movie star than actor persona as Bill Harford. He's largely an observer. Every time he tries to initiate action (an attempt to engage a prostitute, a visit to a secret orgy), something happens to cause it to go awry. Bill Harford is largely rendered impotent and Cruise's performance, which consists of repeating other characters' lines and watching other characters lives, does little to spark it from somnambulism. Of course, that could be Kubrick's intention, as his film, adapted from the Arthur Schnitzler Traumnovelle (Dream Story) by himself and Frederic Raphael, has a dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, quality.

Kubrick's always been a visual master and he doesn't disappoint with his spectacular looking film. Cinematography by Larry Smith paints everything in a hazy lights. In one spectacular shot, while Alice challenges Bill wearing nothing but her white underwear, Kidman's framed in front of a bluely cast bathroom, while she glows golden. Costume also adds to the dreamlike, and oddly retro, look of the film. When Bill crashes an orgy whose attendees are all masked, it recalls the Twilight Zone episode where greedy heirs retain horrific masks profiling their worst traits. The score, by Jocelyn Pook, features a plaintive and somewhat disturbing piano.

The film wraps on an unfortunately overexplanative note as Victor Ziegler (Sydney Pollack), the man who gave the opening party, explains to Bill what's happened to him and the mysterious woman who may have lost her life protecting Harfords. But Kubrick bounces back deliriously, focussing again on the fabulous Kidman.

Kubrick has delivered his most personal, if not his greatest, film as his final work.

B+

Robin's review of 'Eyes Wide Shut':
Director Stanley Kubrick's final work is upon us after existing for nearly two years under a shroud of secrecy. In a tale of jealousy and obsession, Tom Cruise stars, with real-life wife Nicole Kidman, as a doctor who explores the carnal excess and depravity of New York's sex underground. As eagerly anticipated by film-philes as "The Phantom Menace" for "Star Wars" fans, get ready, movie-lovers, for "Eyes Wide Shut."

"Eyes Wide Shut" isn't a masterpiece, but it is quite obviously the work of a master filmmaker. You can see glimmers of the styles Kubrick developed and used in other works through the film. The opening party scene has the look and tone of the ballroom episode in "The Shining." Also, the role of Dr. Bill holds much akin to the character, Joker (Matthew Modine), in "Full Metal Jacket" - both men are observers of, not participants in, life. For Joker, it's in heat of battle in Vietnam and for Dr. Bill it's the sex scene of Greenwich Village. "Eyes" is a senior work by a great artist.

The opening party scene is the catalyst that launches the story for "Eyes." Invited to the annual event by the good doctor's wealthy acquaintance, Victor Zeigler (Sidney Pollack), Bill and wife Alice (Kidman) part ways, mingling with other guests. The doctor meets a pair of gorgeous models and blatantly flirts with them. Meanwhile, Alice is asked to dance by a suave, charming older man with an accent. Bill is seriously tempted by the offer made by the girls, but is interrupted by an urgent request from his host. Alice is quite literally swept off her feet by the handsome stranger, especially after a couple of glasses of champagne, but does not succumb to his charms. Alice sees, while dancing with the nameless man, Bill strolling away, arm in arm, with the two beauties.

The incident doesn't sit well with Alice as her true feelings boil to the surface when she confronts Bill with his suspected deed. He, of course, rightfully denies any complicity with the models, but only because of the circumstances. Alice blows her top, frustrated with the sexual double standards of men and Bill's lack of any show of jealousy. His patronizing demeanor finally forces Alice to tell him of a longtime memory of an attraction to a young naval officer while the couple was on vacation, years before. Alice confesses that, if given the chance, she would have dumped Bill and their future for just one night with the handsome officer. Emasculated by the confession, Bill is driven to seek out sex in all the wrong places, ultimately ending in the middle of an exclusive, members-only floating sex club. Unfortunately for the hapless physician, he never finds what he really had all along.

Kubrick, in his later films, has become more and more self-indulgent in his work, getting away from the sparse economy of his early efforts - except for the epic "Spartacus," Kubrick's early greatest films were only around 90 minutes long. Over the last couple of decades, his works have taken on a more rambling nature in both content and length. Kubrick's lyrical opus, "Eyes," uses long, pregnant pauses in the dialogue and a rambling style as we follow Dr. Bill as he plumbs the depths of his own sexual psyche.

The story focuses on Dr. Bill and his confused sexuality. Tom Cruise, a movie star not an "actor," is bland in his depiction of an observer traveling a strange land. Cruise is OK, but Kubrick never gets any depth of character from him. Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, as the doctor's incredibly complex, sexy and sensual wife, gives an Oscar worthy supporting performance. She is riveting to watch in her all too brief screen time.

As one expects, the technical acumen of all the players behind the camera is of the highest caliber. The production design, by Les Tomkins and Roy Walker, gives a classy retro feel to the Greenwich Village locale and an interesting ambiguity of period. The lush photography by Larry Smith gives the film a visual richness that complements Kubrick's languid story-telling. The secret sex club scene - with Bill wandering through and watching the orgy participants - is marred by the MPAA threat to rate the film NC-17, prompting the survivors of Kubrick to succumb to a shoddy cover-up of some questionably graphic sex. I don't think Kubrick would have gone along with this politically motivated censorship.

For film-lovers, "Eyes Wide Shut" is a must-see movie. It's the last work we'll ever see by a filmmaker who gave us so much in the dozen films he created over nearly five decades of filmmaking. It's not his greatest work - I strongly recommend the outstanding war drama, "Paths of Glory," and the brilliantly black comedy, "Dr. Strangelove: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." It is a fine craftwork by one of cinema's great artists and I give it a B+.


THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT

On October 21, 1994, Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael Williams hiked into Maryland's Black Hills Forest to shoot a documentary film on a local legend, "The Blair Witch." They were never heard from again. This very low-budget horror film, which one producer claims cost the amount of a Ford Taurus, was a huge hit at this year's Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals and purports to be the footage shot by the threesome, found one year year after their disappearance.

Laura's review of 'The Blair Witch Project':
Forget the current revival of humor-laden teen horror flicks spawned by the success of "Scream." "The Blair Witch Project" may be the most original, creepiest horror film of the past two decades.

Playing themselves, the film's three stars were trained in camera work and sent into the woods to improvise their experiences in real time with no communication with the filmmakers other than notes and an ever-dwindling food supply sent in baskets marked by an orange flag. What happens to the threesome happened to the actors, evoking the most realistic expressions of exhaustion, frustration, and ultimately, intense fear.

The film begins merrily, as director Heather gathers her crew of two and begins to interview locals (planted actors and real townspeople) about her subject matter - a witch who's haunted the area from the 1700's to the present day. They hear several different tales. A girl who disappeared in the woods returned speaking gibberish. A hermit living in a remote house killed small children in the 1940s. A search party of five men discovered tortured, killed and bound together on a rock disappeared hours later when their discoverer returned with help. One resident, whom the townspeople call Crazy Mary Brown, recounts the story of an old woman, covered with black fur 'like a horse's', who she encountered in the woods one day.

The three then drive into the forest to locate the scenes of these stories, leaving their car by the roadside. They'll never find it again. With camping gear, provisions, a map and a compass, they hike into the woods on a beautiful day. Initially things go well, yet it seems strange that Heather's approximations as to how long it will take to get to their destinations are increasingly off, causing Mike, the last-minute addition to the crew, to question her ability to read a map. The cracks in the group dynamic have begun.

They're looking to film two sites, an old cemetary and Coffin Rock, where the five men were found. They find them eventually, and they find things stranger, like piles of stones and creepy wooden talismen hanging from trees. Far away from anything, with no one knowing their whereabouts, they become lost and disoriented, and must camp for more nights than the one they were planning on. The setting of the sun brings the sounds of footsteps and weird noises and the dawn reveals man-made leavings of a symbolic nature around their campsite. Then Joshua goes missing and the two survivors begin to lose their minds - until the film's conclusion where they only think they've found him.

Writers/directors/editors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez have done an ace job of creating something horrific from little more than their imaginations and the 16 mm film and video shot by their actors. Their 'method filmmaking' results in a startlingly realistic portrait of the psychology of fear. The actors never appear to be acting, drawing the viewer into their nail-biting experience. When, near the end, Heather shoots close-up video of herself in the darkness apologizing to their loved ones for the tragedy she has wraught, it recalls the famous, closeup scream sequence from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." In fact, the film recalls that earlier low-budget horror masterpiece frequently, although the horror in this film is never seen.

Geez, Robin's not home and I'm creeping myself out just writing this! It should be noted that the filmmakers have created a website as a companion piece to the film, with the mythology, Heather's diary, the police investigation into the protagonists' disappearance and updates on the case. Check out The Blair Witch Project web site.

A-


LAKE PLACID

Black Lake is a placid, remote body of water right near the Maine coast and the last place you'd expect to find a monster lurking. But, Sheriff Hank Keough (Brendan Gleeson, "The General") has witnessed the gruesome killing of a diver in the lake by an unknown wild creature. The only clue is a fragment of tooth found on the remains of the victim. This brings New York City paleontologist Kelly Scott (Bridget Fonda, "Single White Female") on the scene to help the sheriff and Maine Fish and Game Warden Jack Wells figure out what the heck is skulking about in director Steve Miner latest flick, "Lake Placid."

Robin's review of 'Lake Placid':
Hey, it's summer, it's hot and we don't want to think too much, now, do we? If that's the case, then "Lake Placid" should provide exactly what your heat-soaked brain needs - mindless fun and funky entertainment. Reminiscent of "Jaws" and virtually every other water-born monster movie from "The Creature of the Black Lagoon" to "Piranha," "Lake Placid" makes not bones about what it rips off. It just keeps you amused from start to finish, for it's brief runtime (under 90 minutes), with it's various cultural conflicts, mutual hate and attraction, witty banter and, especially, the outstanding crocodile F/X by master Stan Winston ("Jurassic Park").

The lead characters are played with humor and with the actors' tongues firmly tucked in their cheeks. Bill Pullman ("Zero Effect"), as Game Warden Wells, plays the straight man for the most part. He's the relative voice of reason of the principles and is concerned for the creature, his colleagues and the environment. Bridget Fonda has fun with her fish-out-of-water portrayal as New York city-slicker Kelly Scott, whose boss/lover dumped her for another woman and shipped her to the wilds of Maine to get rid of her. Fonda is feisty in her portrayal of the city girl among the country bumpkins.

Brendan Gleeson, as Sheriff Keough, and Oliver Platt, as the courageous crocodile hunter Hector Cyr, provide the bulk of the film's comic relief as the pair immediately butt heads upon meeting. Cyr, the wealthy intellectual, does not hold fools well and sees the chief as a prime example. The sheriff, amusingly played with a twinkle in his eye by Gleeson, sees the outsiders, especially Cyr, as an intrusion into his jurisdiction. It doesn't matter if he doesn't know what to do about his local carnivore. The adversarial banter and, sometimes, blows that come between the two adds to the film's fun level. Betty White also enlivens her small role as the giant croc's friend, Mrs. Bickerman.

Production values are of the meat-and-potatoes variety, though at a highly competent level. The cinematography, by Daryn Okada ("Halloween: H2O"), is serviceable and helps convey both the peacefulness of Black Lake and the "Jaws"-like images of the giant reptile watching the tasty human morsels from beneath the lake. The best tech value by far is the wonderfully graphic effect that brings the 30-foot reptile monster to life. (There's a scene involving a rather large bear and the croc that is abrupt, visually shocking and funny all at once.) Stan Winston is a proven master to his art and he seamlessly, and believably, makes his massive crocodile one of the main characters of the flick.

"Lake Placid" won't become one of the seminal monster movies of the decade, or even this month. It is a hoot, though. The short, efficient runtime, solid look and the good sense of humor of all involved make this flick decent, mindless summer fun. I give it a B-.

Laura's review of 'Lake Placid':
Written and produced by the profilic David E. Kelly (TV's "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice") and directed by Steve Miner ("Friday the 13th"), "Lake Placid" owes a lot to "Jaws." This movie, however, never takes itself seriously. Unlike "Anaconda," which entertained via its camp aspect, "Lake Placid" features funny performances, amusing dialogue and top notch special effects.

The cast seems rather high calibre for such a goofy effort but they obviously had a great time making this flick. Bridget Fonda embodies the typical condescending New Yorker with a distate for the great outdoors and actually gets to spout the line 'I keep having heads thrown at me!' Bill Pullman is the steady and level-headed Jack who becomes the romantic interest for Kelly. Oliver Platt turns in yet another enjoyable performance as the gonzo crocodile worshipper who loves a party and taunting the sherriff. When Kelly stumbles upon a regurgitated human toe on the lake's shore, Hector holds it up to Keough and asks 'Is this the man who was killed?' 'He seemed taller,' responds the sherriff. Brendon Gleeson is fun as the object of everyone's derision who comes through in the film's climax to save Cyr. Betty White turns in another of her trademark dottie seniors as Mrs. Bickerman, the lake's sole inhabitant who claims to have killed her husband ('I hit him on the head with a skillet and buried him under the bulkhead. Dig him up if you don't believe me, Sherlock') She professes no knowledge of anything unusual living in the lake.

Amidst the hilarity, the film delivers a few suspenseful moments as well. A deputy leaning over a boat's side is decapitated in view of everyone, yet his attacker is not seen. In a jolting and funny scene, a huge brown bear charges Kelly only to be snatched away in the jaws of the finally seen thirty foot Asian croc. The climax is a beaut, mixing nail biting and laughs. Tech credits are fine, although the film has a muddy color quality. Special effects by Stan Winston belie the film's budget.

"Lake Placid" makes for a perfect summer drive-in movie. It's a trifle, but a fun lark. B


SUMMER OF SAM

The summer of 1977 in New York City featured the Yankees winning the World Series with Reggie Jackson hitting 3 homers in one game, temperatures in the 100 degree range for days on end and a serial killer known as Son of Sam. Producer/cowriter/director Spike Lee examines the effects of these events on a Bronx neighborhood with an ensemble cast featuring John Leguizamo, Adrien Brody ("The Thin Red Line"), Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Espisito (TV's "Spin City"), Bebe Neuwirth, Anthony LaPaglia, Michael Badalucco ("You've Got Mail") and John Turturro as the voice of Harvey, the black dog, in "Summer of Sam."

Laura's review of 'Summer Of Sam':
Spike Lee's film begins chillingly. As Abba's "Fernando" ('There was something in the air...') blares on the soundtrack, we see Berkowitz in his madman's apartment violently trying to escape the sound of a barking dog. Newlyweds Vinny (Leguizamo) and Dionna (Sorvino) handsomely strut into a neighborhood disco where they rule the dance floor. When Dionna's cousin wishes to go home, Vinny insists on taking her while leaving Dionna to enjoy herself. This serial cheater has ulterior motives and we observe his rutting in a parked car from the point of view of a shadowy stranger. Later, when Vinny and Dionna are on their way home, Dionna is suspicious of the length of time Vinny was away from the club, but that's all forgotten as they come across the police barricade around a car parked on the same street Vinny left earlier.

The film then branches out to introduce Vinny's circle of pals. There's Joey T (Michael Rispoli, "Rounders"), the eldest, divorced member of the group who deals drugs to the locals. Woodstock (Saverio Guerra, TV's "Becker") is his best customer and is frequently seen nodding out. Most notable is Ritchie (Adrien Brody), who's returned to the neighborhood with a punk hairdo and fake Cockney accent. Local wild girl Ruby (Jennifer Esposito) is immediately attracted to him and Vinny continues to befriend him, but the others no longer accept him and eventually will suspect him of being none other than the notorious Sam.

Screenwriters Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli (both of HBO's "The Sopranos" and both with small roles here), along with Lee, have created a mural that's perhaps too far reaching. While some aspects of their story work astoundingly well (the Son of Sam himself, Vinny's descent into sexual obsession while keeping his wife at arm's length in a misguided macho effort to maintain her 'purity,' the clash between disco and punk), others are weak enough to seriously flaw the film, particularly the leadenly foreshadowed climax and Lee's obvious influence in injecting racial strife, which seems out of place and unnecessary here.

The cast is quite good. Leguizamo shines as a counterpoint to Berkowitz' madness. His conflicted Catholic guilt is overcome by booze, drugs and availability of women. He really hits rock bottom when his friends convince him to doubt Ritchie, ironically, when a local gay man reveals that Ritchie dances in a gay club and makes pornos. Mira Sorvino has finally obtained another role she can shine in as the innocent who genuinely wants to please her husband, even submitting to a visit to the infamous Plato's Retreat during an evening that will prove the couple's undoing. Brody is interesting, if a bit enigmatic, as Ritchie - we never really understand why he does what he does. Mike Starr embodies his character of Eddie, a former recording crooner who's married Ritchie's mother Helen (Patti LuPone) and wants Ritchie out of the house. Esposito is sympathetic and strong as Ruby. Spike miscasts himself in a recurring cameo as a television news reporter.

Technical credits are top notch with cinematography by Ellen Kuras, production design by Therese DePrez, editting by Barry Alexander Brown and costume by Ruth E. Carter. Yet, while the film presents some scenes of great power, it ultimately leaves its audience with the disappointment of what might have been.

B

Robin's review of 'Summer Of Sam':
Remember the time terror gripped the Hub in the early 60's when the Boston Strangler stalked the city? Probably not. Panic and paranoia reigned as woman shut themselves in, living in fear and afraid to answer the doorbell. In the steaming summer of 1977, an even more heinous killer invaded New York City as the Son of Sam took over the headlines and drove the entire city into a fog of mistrust and fear. Spike Lee recreates the events of the time and the terror that strangled one Bronx neighborhood in "Summer of Sam."

Spike Lee has proved himself to be an eclectic filmmaker, but not one who always hits the mark. His best film, "Do the Right Thing," dealt with race, bigotry and sweltering summer heat in a little piece of the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn. Since then, he has made big films, like "Macolm X," and little, experimental films like "Get On the Bus." With "Summer of Sam," the director crosses his self-imposed racial barriers and tells the story of a Bronx neighborhood where David Berkowitz practiced his near-demonic killing spree two decades ago. The result is a mixed bag of a film that depicts, graphically, the Son of Sam plying his deadly trade while the key players cope with their own problems of infidelity, sexual perversion, vigilantism and hate for those things not understood or accepted.

The Son of Sam part of Lee's film, co-written by the director, Victor Colicchio and Michael Imperioli, is intriguing in its random violence where circumstance - being in the wrong place at the wrong time - is the difference between life and sudden, violent and bloody death. This Lee captures well, with Son of Sam finding victims readily at hand, even with the entire city being aware of the danger lurking its streets. Berkowitz's torment by a black dog named Harvey are shown in tight, maniacally frenetic scenes of violence, punctuated with the man succumbing to this demon call and, calmly, distributing mayhem from the barrel of his .44 Magnum. Lee follows Berkowitz only in a spotty manner, though, as he unevenly shows the killer's progress, taunting the police with his letters, and the media blitz it generated.

The bulk of the film focuses on Vincenzo (John Leguizamo), a philandering hairdresser who cheats, brazenly, on his loyal and loving wife, Dionna (Mira Sorvino). Vinny claims he has a sex disorder, coupled with rampant abuse of drugs and alcohol. He feels he can't have sex with his wife in any way but the "normal" way, driving him to look for love in all the wrong places, including Dionna's cousin. This part of the film, which is fully half, is a letdown. Vinny is not a likable guy, so you don't feel any sympathy for the chump. Sorvino is tentative, at best, as the pretty, confused Dionna. She does look good in her disco outfits and blonde wig.

The other "personal" story involves Vinny's friend, Richie, a punk rocker who has come back to the 'hood without a penny, spiked hair, a faux British accent and an antagonistic attitude toward his old cronies. The guys see Richie's differences as a danger and obvious proof that he is the 44-Caliber Killer. This part gives an interesting view of the clash of tradition and rebellion in the 70's, but also telegraphs the film's finale right from the start. I won't give it away, but I was not surprised. Adrian Brody (nearly missed in "The Thin Red Line") gets a chance to act as he makes Richie a stranger on his own turf, cast with suspicion by those who can't accept that he is different.

The friends from the 'hood, the guys who grew up with Vinny and Richie, are a Greek chorus conglomeration who seem to travel in a pack as they discuss the killings, calmly at first, but with an increasing tension. The guys, led by Michael Rispoli ("Rounders"), represent the temperament of the machismo male population of the city. Their impotence at protecting themselves and, especially, their women from the mad killer builds relentlessly until taking the law into their own hands becomes the only way they can stop the killing. Lee effectively uses this chorus to capture the mob mentality that arose at the time. However, he doesn't develop any of the characters beyond their two-dimensions.

The screenplay focuses on Vinny and his sex problems too much as, in what feel like a series of vignettes, he goes from one tawdry affair to the next, while bopping around town with his wife to a string of period landmarks, like CBGB's, Studio 54 and the notorious sex club, Plato's Retreat. The sex in the film is frequent and gratuitous, mainly with Vinny boffing anything in a skirt. This, and Vincenzo's spiral down into a life of drugs and drink, is the weakest story and consumes the most time. Vinny is not a sympathetic person, so you never care about him. Dionna is too vapid, as played by Sorvino, to elicit much empathy, either.

The supporting cast is peppered with a number of interesting, but not substantially developed, characters. Ben Gazarra lends a godfather-like air to his local mob boss, Luigi, who eventually offers a reward on the Son of Sam's head. Anthony LaPaglia is almost unrecognized as the beefy cop, Detective Lou Petrocelli, who is spearheading the hunt for the killer. Bebe Neuwirth (remember Lillith on TV's "Cheers"?) proves her versatility as a character actor as Gloria, Vinny's boss and regular sex partner. Jennifer Esposito (TV's "Spin City"), as the loose Ruby who falls in with punker Richie, starts off with some presence, but gets lost in the muddled story. Lee makes an appearance as TV reporter, John Jeffries, and should have had the sense to cast someone else in the role. He's that bad.

Tech stuff is OK as Lee and production designer Therese DePrez ("Arlington Road") get the period feel of the late 70's. That those years were such an unrelentingly bland period of American pop culture (the high points were the disco and punk scenes) does not help the viewer form any kind of nostalgia for the time. Costumer Ruth E. Carter ("Malcolm X") does a nice job with the flashy disco fashions, especially for Sorvino. Photography, by Ellen Kuras ("Swoon"), suits Lee and does not abusively use the director's usually annoying dolly shot.

While "Summer of Sam" is not a problem at 136 minutes, some judicious editing, especially of Vinny's plight, would have benefited the film immensely. Lee does capture the terror a serial killer can wreak upon the community, but his concentration on the weak characters hurts in the long run. I give it a C+.


AMERICAN PIE

When you're 18 years old, on the verge of highschool graduation and about to enter the adult world, losing one's virginity can be a major obstacle and trauma in life. Four soon-to-be-graduates - Oz, Kevin, Jim and Finch - cope with their lack of sexual experience by forming a pact where each will help the others attain their libidinous goal, but, no hookers. This is the meat, no pun intended, of the new teen comedy, "American Pie."

Robin's review of 'American Pie':
"American Pie" is the 90's version of the 1982 teen hit, "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," but lacks several of the key elements that made the latter flick such a seminally influential film for it's viewing generation. "Fast Times"" had the advantage of original source material by Cameron Crowe ("Jerry Maguire"), sharp directing by Amy Heckerling ("Clueless"), a cast of promising young actors (including Jennifer Jason Leigh), AND the over-the-top, great performance by Sean Penn as the film's highlight, the spaced-out surfer dude, Spicoli.

"American Pie" covers the same ground as "Fast Times"" - teen sex and losing one's virginity. The older film concentrates on the feminine side of coming-of-age and the first sexual experience. "American Pie" takes the low-road and focuses on the plight of four guys who make a pact to lose their cherry before graduation day. The scope of the film includes bawdy sex humor, fart jokes, bathroom humor and the requisite gross outs (though one gross gag, involving a glass of beer and, um, male secretions is carried through well enough and does trigger the expected gag-reflex from the viewer).

The titillating sexual humor and innuendo is nothing original or new, except for a sexy scene that uses the Internet for titillating electronic voyeurism. Also, the uniting of the titular pie and one of the four boys is handled amusingly, with veteran comic actor Eugene Levy ("Waiting for Guffman") providing a fatherly dignity to the scene that could have been only grossly amusing.

The misogynist cast is peopled by young male actors who seem to have been chosen for their resemblance to other, established thesps. Oz (Chris Klein, "Election"), the lacrosse jock, resembles Keanu Reeves; Jim (Jason Biggs), the sad sack member of the quartet, looks like an Adam Sandler clone; Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), the only one with a steady girlfriend and best chance of scoring, bears a strong resemblance to Matthew Modine; and, Paul Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), the bland sophisticato of the group, reminds of James Spader in his early years. The ladies in the flick are secondary objects of desire, with the sole exception of the under-utilized Natasha Lyonne ("The Slums of Beverly Hills") as, Jessica, the knowing muse for both guys and gals. Eugene Levy, as Jim's dad, lends a bemused understanding to his paternal role as he sincerely tries to explain the facts of life (with visual assistance in the form of "Hustler" magazine) to his already well-versed son.

Tech credits, from the script by Adam Herz to the camera work by Richard Crudo to the direction by helmer Paul Weitz, are adequate for a teen comedy. The writing is aimed at the lowest common denominators for its audience, mainly 14 to 20 year old males. The screening audience, definitely on the younger side, laughed at all the appropriate times, showing that bathroom humor and gross-outs still have a place in American comedy. More mature audiences, beware, 'cause this ain't your film.

"American Pie" hits its male target demographic and works fine on that level. For the rest of us? I give it a C+.


RUN LOLA RUN

Lola (Franka Potente) has a big problem. Her boyfriend Manni's just called from a Berlin pay phone to tell her that if he doesn't get 100,000 DM in twenty minutes, the drug dealer he was to deliver the money to will kill him. The ever resourceful Lola hits the pavement running and almost gets her love out of his jam. When she doesn't succeed the first time, writer/director Tom Tykwer rewinds to that fateful phone call and gives her another chance, and another....

Laura's review of 'Run Lola Run':
A hit at this year's Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals, the German film "Run Lola Run" is a treat for the eye, largely due to the filmmakers' pop visual and aural sensisibilities and the amazing presence of its star, Potente.

Tykwer combines different film stocks, video, animation and still photography to create a full-speed-ahead entertainment for the MTV generation. When Lola rushes past her mother on her way out of the house, we can see a cartoon Lola rushing down a spiral staircase on Mom's TV. As Lola sprints past the same bystanders on the streets on each of her journeys, we see that the slightest deviations have given each of them a different outcome in life. A surly woman pushing a baby carriage is seen first to lose her child to social workers only to kidnap another and end up in jail - all in a montage of photographs which occupy about 5 seconds of screen time. A later jostle with the same woman reveals that she wins the lottery.

Lola causes a man driving out of a parking garage various mishaps and navigates a phalanx of nuns differently each time she encounters them. She most seriously impacts her father, a bank manager having an affair with a colleague, who reacts differently each time Lola barges in.

Potente demands to be watched, with her varieted punk red mop, belly tatoo, and constantly pumping arms and legs. She has an odd quality, and a beauty in her determinedness. She also lends her vocal talents to the electronic song used repeatedly on the film's soundtrack.

While Lola's first two trips end in tragedy, her third is a triumphant happy ending. If you're searching for meaning in this flick, you may come up empty-handed. "Run Lola Run" is about exploring the medium of film more than the depths of its characters.

B


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