MICKEY BLUE EYES - BOWFINGER
TWIN FALLS IDAHO - BROKEDOWN PALACE
TEACHING MRS. TINGLE - DETROIT ROCK CITY
MICKEY BLUE EYES
Michael Felgate (Hugh Grant, "Notting Hill") is an Englishman running a NYC auction house who's so in love with his girlfriend of three months, he's determined to marry her. But Gina (Jeanne Tripplehorn, "The Firm") panics when she sees the ring and flees. Michael goes to her father's restaurant, 'The La Tratorria,' to find her and meets her dad, Frank (James Caan), for the first time. A mutual admiration is quickly formed. When Michael later finds Gina at the family home, she explains her conundrum - her father is in the mob and anyone she becomes attached to ends up getting sucked into the lifestyle. Michael convinces her that won't be a problem with him, and the game's afoot in "Mickey Blue Eyes.""
Laura's review of 'Mickey Blue Eyes':
"Mickey Blue Eyes" is a fish-out-of-water mobster comedy that provides a perfect role for Hugh Grant's 'bumbling Englishman' comedic talents. Michael's welcomed with open arms at his and Gina's engagement party, hosted by Uncle Vito (Burt Young, "Rocky"), and the next day the delivery problems he's been having with a local trucking firm have been miraculously solved. But, in addition to the art pieces he's expected, is a hideous painting by Vito's son Johnny Graziosi (John Ventimiglia), which Vito insists Michael put up for auction with a minimum bid of $50,000 in a money laundering scheme.
Michael turns to Frank for help, keeping his problems from Gina, but Frank only pulls him in deeper. Soon he's dealing with the FBI and burying bodies. To extricate themselves from a compromising position, Frank suggests a steakhouse lunch with some local mobsters and gives Michael a crash course in mob-speak, which Grant hilariously attempts. Frank introduces him as Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes from Kansas City at the restaurant, but Michael can't even keep a gun in his pocket, let alone say 'fuggedaboudit.' Even worse, Michael's boss Philip Cromwell (James Fox) appears and almost blows his cover.
Meanwhile, Gina's discovered Michael's been lying to her and dumps him, but not before accidentally shooting Johnny Graziosi. Uncle Vito's out for blood and an elaborate scheme develops centering around Michael and Gina's restaged wedding where Frank has been charged with whacking Michael while the FBI hopes to nail Vito Graziosi.
Hugh Grant excels in this role, displaying a finer talent for slapstick and comedic line readings than in any of his previous roles. The mob is comprised of a fine cast of actors familiar from other gangster flicks. Standouts include Burt Young as Uncle Vito, James Caan in sweetly well-meaning mode, Joe Viterelli ("Analyze This") as Vinnie and Paul Lazar ("The Silence of the Lambs") as Gina's odd brother Ritchie. James Fox ("Performance") has some surprisingly funny turns as Grant's boss. Jeanne Tripplehorn is faced with playing the straightwoman and does as much as she can with the role. 'Kids in the Hall' alumnus Scott Thompson puts an offbeat spin on his FBI agent.
The film was produced by Grant's fiance Elizabeth Hurley and is briskly directed by Kelly Makin ("The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy"). Robert Kuhn's ("The Cure") screenplay provides some inventive lines for Grant in both his auctioneer and faux-mobster modes, while also making mob cliches seem fresh. Some clinkers , such as Gina's friend who's using photography as broken relationship therapy, exist merely to drive the plot along, but they're not dwelled upon.
"Mickey Blue Eyes" isn't the greatest comedy of the year, but it provides laughs more evenly and more frequently than most. If Grant can be this funny, hopefully he'll find a role that breaks his bridegroom streak and gives him new avenues to explore.
Robin's review of 'Mickey Blue Eyes':
"Mickey Blue Eyes" is charming, predictable and, oft times, funny little fish-out-of-water/married-to-the-mob flick that showcases the best of actor Hugh Grant. The screenplay, by Adam Scheinman and Robert Kuhn, is custom tailored for the amiable Grant and affords him the chance to prove he has star quality and a fine sense of comic timing and delivery. His Michael Felgate is an intelligent, sophisticated and urbane Englishman who manages a Sotheby-style auction house in New York City. He's madly in love with beautiful schoolteacher, Gina Vitale (Jeanne Tripplehorn), who promptly and mysteriously dumps him when he proposes marriage.
This proves to be the catalytic event that will dramatically change both of their lives. Michael seeks out Gina's dad, Frankie (James Caan), owner of the mobster hangout, The La Trattoria restaurant (yes, it translates to The The Trattoria), to fix things between the lovebirds. Instead of helping, Frank involves the hapless Michael in a money laundering scheme, accidental murder and impersonating a gangster, becoming, in the process, Kansas City Little Big Mickey Blue Eyes. The scenes where Michael tries to pull off an American accent as the mobster are some of the funniest moments in the film.
Director Kelly Makin ("The Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy") has fallen on a gold mine with the combo of Grant, a solid supporting cast and a nice, funny mob story with a heart. The use of mainly NYC locations is a plus, with Little Italy, The Village, Coney Island and the Upper East and West Sides making the city one of the characters in the film. Costume, by Ellen Mirojnick ("Face/Off"), is subtle and nicely handled with Hugh in hues of blue and Tripplehorn contrasting him nicely in a red theme wardrobe. It's a nice visual note on the cool demeanor of the Brit and the hot-blooded passion of Gina and her Italian-American heritage.
The support is led by Caan in his performance as the smooth-talking and always-conniving mobster, Frankie Vitale. "It'll be OK" are his watch words to Michael as the poor outsider is steadily dragged into "family" matters. Caan has a lot of fun with his more benign version of the role he originated as in "The Godfather," providing an underlying sense of humor to Frankie. Veteran goodfella Burt Young gives his Don Vito Graziosi the level of power (and humor) that befits the leader of a NY crime family. James Fox, as the owner of Michael's place of business, starts off as a background character, then fleshes out his staid Englishman, Phillip Cromwell, into an endearing little comic perf. The rest of the cast is fine, except for the under-utilized Joe Viterelli who made such a humorous splash in this year's other gangster comedy, "Analyze This."
I was entertained from the beginning to the end and had some good laughs, too. If you like Hugh Grant, you'll love "Mickey Blue Eyes." Fuhgedaboudit! I give it a B.
Bobby Bowfinger (Steve Martin) is a low-rent, on the skids filmmaker whose boat has not only NOT come in, it sank years ago. Bob's dream, at age 50, is to have a FedEx truck pull up to his door to deliver a package, maybe two. One day, his big, maybe last, chance arrives in the form of a science fiction screenplay named "Chubby Rain," written by his portly accountant, Afrim (Adam Alexi-Malle). Bowfinger, gathering together his oddball little troupe of regulars, has the brilliant idea of getting action superstar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) to play the lead in the film. This, of course, doesn't happen, so the director does the next best thing - shoot the film around the star without him knowing in the Frank Oz comedy, "Bowfinger."
Robin's review of 'Bowfinger':
Based on the original screenplay by Steve Martin, "Bowfinger" sets the premise that it takes all kinds of people to make movies. Martin's Bobby Bowfinger is definitely one of a kind in the business and will stop at nothing to make his dream of fame happen. But, Bobby can't do it alone, so he gathers together his loyal players and his life savings of $2148 to make the dream a reality. Even when superstar Ramsey soundly turns him down, Bobby is undeterred and plans his shoot around Kit, making sure the star never sees the camera. Of course, Bowfinger doesn't tell his crew that Kit is not really "in" the picture, convincing them that the great star is practicing a new acting "method."
Martin and helmer Oz have put together a complex comedy that is both subtle and outrageous. Bowfinger, by his very nature and occupation, is a con man. The difference is, Bobby has a heart, too, and he honestly cares for his rag-tag little troupe. His players are a motley collection of the dregs of low-budget filmmaking. Washed up diva Carol (Christine Baranski) clings to the hope that Bobby can make her a star. Daisy, straight from Ohio, gives herself a week to become an actress and promptly sleeps her way to the "top." Slater (Kohl Sudduth) thinks he's the next Tom Cruise and Afrim is counting on Bowfinger to make "Chubby Rain" a hit. Dave (Jamie Kennedy) is a gofer at one of the studios and is the source of all the equipment that Bowfinger "borrows" to shoot the film. The crew is rounded out by "the best that money can buy" - four illegal aliens dodging the INS at the Mexican border. Top perfs are given by all.
Eddie Murphy stands out in his dual roles of Kit and Jiff Ramsey. As Kit, Murphy pokes fun at himself and his star persona, while also casting a pointed barb at the Scientology movement and L. Ron Hubbard. (Terence Stamp fills out his small role as the leader of the Mind Head group seeking to control Kit and his fortune.) Kit is amusing, but brother Jiff is where Murphy excels. The goofy looking, shy and not-too-bright Jiff is the naif of the story and Murphy gives him an endearing and sweet nature. Unlike any other mega-star, Eddie Murphy has proven, time and time again, to be one of the best character actors in the business and that's high praise. Steve Martin is no slouch as Bowfinger, but gives the other actors, especially Murphy, the limelight much of the time.
Martin pays close attention to the comedic details of his script. The guerrilla filmmaking methods used to keep Kit unaware are a tour de force of imagination. One particularly funny bit of renegade filming has a dog wearing high-heels. I won't say more than that. The film takes great pains to capture the down and dirty style of filmmaking on a shoestring budget. The addition of the illegal aliens to the crew mix is also a detail that is carried through the film to a funny, and different, conclusion. The quartet of non-English speaking Mexicans add a quirky charm to the proceeds.
From the very start of "Bowfinger," you want Bobby and his nutty crew to be successful, which tells you that you are seeing a film with heart - goofy, yes, but with lots of heart. Martin, Murphy and Oz have put together the perfect elixir of summer entertainment. You'll laugh 'til you stop! I give "Bowfinger" a B+.
Laura's review of 'Bowfinger':
If Ed Wood were a businessman/producer instead of a self-proclaimed artist/director, his name would have been "Bowfinger." Writer/title character Steve Martin has created another film about the making of a movie that has several hilarious scenes, some fine performances, but somehow, seems a little warmed over.
"Bowfinger" plays best in its first half, when the titular conman is first gearing up for his magnum opus, "Chubby Rain." He borrows a Mercedes, clips on a fake ponytail, rips a phone handset off its (still dangling) cord and enters Le Dome to put on a show for a powerful studio executive (a wry cameo by Robert Downey Jr.). He gets greenlighted - but only if he can cast action superstar Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy). Meanwhile, we're introduced to Ramsey, a man so paranoid that he thinks the K in his script is a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan and a reference to Shakespeare is a hidden message to 'shake a spear.' He's so paralyzed and overprotected that he allows his life to be run by the leader (Terrence Stamp) of Mindhead (a satirical reference to Scientology whose members where pymarids on their heads), who gives him the mantra 'Keep It Together' and works to discourage Ramsey from fulfilling his desire to expose himself to the Laker Girls.
Bowfinger weasels himself into Ramsey's limo, but is promptly thrown out. He returns to his accountant/screenwriter, studio gofer/cinematographer and star Carol (the marvelous Christine Baranski) and tells them it's all a go. What he doesn't tell them is that he intends to shoot their star surreptitiously with the knowledge he can sell his film to third world countries. He travels to the Mexican border and assembles 'the best crew we can afford' as illegal aliens are being rounded up by the authorities. He charges $25 for auditions where he discovers just-off-the-bus-from-Ohio Daisy (Heather Graham). After several scenes are shot by having his cast accost Ramsey (the most hilarious involves Bowfinger's dog in high heels), Ramsey has a break down and retreats from LA. Bowfinger needs a look alike and discovers Jiff (also Eddie Murphy), a shy, simple fellow with braces and bad haircut who's soon racing across LA freeways and acting with a topless Daisy. The film eventually concludes with a direct parallel to Tim Burton's "Ed Wood" (maybe it was meant to be an homage, but it seems like Martin just ran out of ideas).
While Eddie Murphy's never been better in his dual role, Martin just acts frenzied. Bowfinger's dog Betsy (Mindy) fairs better portraying a female mutt that enjoys sprawling in the most unladylike positions. Baranski's a riot disdaining Ramsey's unprofessionalism at not wanting to meet his costars until Bowfinger explains that they're breaking new, cinema nouveau ground with their off beat filmmaking methods. Heather Graham has an offputting character to play - she learns that she can get more screen time by sleeping with everyone. It's a shallowly written and performed character. Terrence Stamp is droll as Mindhead's Terry Stricter. Adam Alexi-Malle is charming as Afrim, the accountant turned screenwriter, particularly when he devices a alien gross-out special effect for his own "Chubby Rain" cameo. The rest of the cast makes little impression.
While "Bowfinger" has many misses, when it's funny it's hilarious. For that reason and particularly Murphy's wonderful performance, I give it a B.
Blake and Francis Falls (Director/writers and real life twins Mark and Michael Polish) are conjoined twins who've travelled to LA with two goals for their 25th birthday - to celebrate by hiring a prostitute and to visit their birth mother (Lesley Ann Warren) who gave them up for adoption. When Penny (model Michele Hicks, in her screen debut) arrives, Mark is smitten, and for the first time, a rift develops between the two brothers.
Laura's review of 'Twin Falls Idaho':
The Polish brothers certainly came up with a unique and compelling idea for their film debut. Unfortunately, the film's conception was better than its execution.
"Twin Falls Idaho" does examine some interesting notions. The twins, who were adopted by a midget who ran a freak show, are freaks of nature. But there's a strange beauty in their condition that suggests that it's the 'normal' people they encounter who are the true freaks. (When they stop to rest on a park bench, a crowd gathers behind a barred fence, suggesting people at a zoo). Their dependency upon each other for life itself is stronger than the independence Penny is unsuccessfully striving for (she turned to prostitution to make money, but she's flat broke).
The film plays out its twin theme by attempting to show duality in other ways, yet it's not as successful as some of the great films that share this theme such as Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" or Altman's "Three Women." We come to learn that Penny, who initially runs from the Falls brothers before she becomes their champion and falls in love with Blake, suffers the same guilt, for having put her own handicapped child up for adoption, as their own mother. She takes them to a Halloween party, the one night, she observes, that they're normal. They're greated by their host who's costumed as half-man/half-women. They see a male/female pair of Siamese twins who are having an argument, so untie their costume bonds to split apart. Late in the film, when the brothers have been hospitalized due to Francis' failing heart, Penny's doctor observes her clutching a $2 bill. It's worth twice the value of two ones, he tells her, but tear it in half and it's worth nothing.
The Polish brothers do an physically phenomenal job of portraying brothers who share a torso and third leg. Costume design by Bic Owen also helps achieve the effect (he interestingly chooses different shirt and tie designs for brothers forced to share the same, dark suit). Mark Polish portrays the stronger Blake as a wide-eyed embodiment of the phrase 'still waters run deep.' Michael is the quieter and sickly Francis, who almost manages to make himself disappear by tucking his head behind Mark's. The two's silent whispering to one another suggests the closeness of a marriage.
Michele Hicks does a fine, if not particularly noteworthy, job as Penny. Patrick Bauchau ("The Rapture") is notable as Penny's doctor and friend, Miles - he certainly gets the best lines ('Relax, I'm no surgeon' he deadpans, when he first sees the brothers). A big surprise in a small role is former SNLer Garrett Morris as Jesus (his license plate reads 'Hey Zeus') as a divorce councelor who insists on bringing the young men to the hospital.
Production design by Warren Alan Young goes for the dreary, run down look of the Coen brothers' "Barton Fink" hotel. Score by Stuart Matthewman ("Indecent Proposal") is insipid.
"Twin Falls Idaho" is never boring, but it's a little too quiet and just trails off at its end. Hopefully experience will bring a little more spark to the Polish brothers' next effort.
Gabriel (Christian Campbell) has a problem. He's been picked up by a hot young go go boy on the Alice (Claire Danes) and Darlene have been best friends since they were kids. Now, they're graduating high school and, with Darlene soon going away to college, the two are about to part. The girls are given a trip to Hawaii as a graduation gift, but the adventurous Alice convinces her more timid friend to take a secret side trip to Bangkok, Thailand. Her assurances of "Don't worry. We'll have a great time!" have the same portent as saying "I'll be right back" in a horror movie as the girls get more than a vacation in director Jonathan Kaplan's film, "Brokedown Palace."
Robin's review of 'Brokedown Palace':
The stranger-in-a-strange-land premise of "Brokedown Palace" (the name refers to the less-than-fond description of the Thai prison housing the girls) is familiar territory. The tone of the film is derivative of a number of other films. "Palace" bears the closest resemblance to the 1978 Alan Parker film, "Midnight Express." The drug smuggling in a third world, militant country theme is markedly similar in its depiction of "the system." It also has a quality akin to Costa-Gavras's "Missing," as the girls and their council, Yankee Hank Greene (Bill Pullman), try to cope with the Thai bureaucracy. Shadows of the Richard Gere film, "Red Corner," are also evident in the film's shadings.
Claire Danes is most impressive in her portrayal of Alice. Alice Marano is a tough-minded, independent young woman who uses her best friend, Darlene, to blow off a mundane vacation in Hawaii and seek exotic adventure in Thailand. Alice stands up to her captors and rebels at every chance, even if it's not the smartest thing to do. Her independent spirit puts her at odds with Darlene when the mysterious Aussie Nick Parks (Daniel Lapaine) chooses the more tentative Darlene as his love interest. The jealousy sets Alice up for the biggest changes to her life as she learns the values of loyalty and friendship by the film's end.
Kate Beckinsale fares less well as the fainter-hearted Darlene Davis. Her character is the follower of the pair and is more psychologically impacted by the ordeals that the pair faces in prison. Darlene takes on a mood of resigned acceptance to their plight and loses hope as chances of hope fade. The lethargy that envelops Darlene makes her vacant and lost. Beckinsale, unfortunately for the actress, doesn't get the strongly written and defined character that Dane has in Alice.
Direction, by Kaplan, is straightforward and gets the job done efficiently and he effectively draws a notable performance from Danes. Production design by James Newport ("Fatal Beauty") provides a convincing feel to the re-creation of Thailand in general and the girl's prison in particular. Manila, in the Philippines, serves as a replacement for Bangkok, with a mental institution substituting as the locale of the prison.
Supporting cast is fair. Led by Bill Pullman ("Zero Effect") as Yankee Hank, the expatriate American lawyer who takes the girls' case, the characters are generally two-dimensional. One exception in the support is Jacqueline Kim ("Volcano"), who plays Hank's wife and partner in a small, but solidly done, role. The rest, especially Lou Diamond Phillips as an American DEA operative, are just fodder for the screen.
"Brokedown Palace" is a mildly entertaining drama whose main draw is the solid performance by Claire Danes. She and Beckinsale will pull in the teenage girl audience, with Dane providing, in the end, the stronger role model as she exonerates her screwed up past with an act of selfless honor in the end.
Beneath the whole intrigue of the smuggling, guilt and prison is a story of friendship, loyalty and sacrifice. I'm not sure of the plausibility of the story, but the values put forth here are worth a look for younger adults. I give "Brokedown Palace" a C+.
Laura's review of 'Brokedown Palace':
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan ("The Accused"), "Brokedown Palace" may suffer from comparisons to the recent flop "Return to Paradise" and the seminal Oliver Stone-penned "Midnight Express," yet while this film is structured around two young Americans incarcerated for drug smuggling in a foreign country, thematically it's very different.
This film is essentially a mystery and a character study of two best friends. Darlene Davis (Kate Beckinsale, "Cold Comfort Farm") hales from an upper middle class background and has a good girl reputation, while Alice Marano (Claire Danes, "The Mod Squad") lives with her barely-coping, widowed dad and has a wild and bad rep. The film's setup is marvelously structured. We see Yankee Hank (Bill Pullman, "Independence Day"), a somewhat seedy lawyer in Bangkok, open a package that contains a cassette tape hand-inscribed simply 'Alice Marano.' As he begins to listen, we hear Claire Danes' narrate the girls' story so far, as flashbacks visualize it. The girls are shown at their High School graduation and celebration as Alice explains 'We met as babies. We crawled toward each other across our lawns, or so my mother always told me.' Alice is familiar with plenty of guys and beer, while Darlene is more uptight, yet it's clear the two are close. Alice sees a Thai beer, hears of a friend's brother spending a whole summer there for $500, and decides that their planned trip to Hawaii is too mundane - Thailand is the place for their last adventure before college. Darlene knows her strict dad would never agree to this, but Alice convinces her that he doesn't need to know - after all, they'll only be gone for 10 days.
Thailand is wondrous, but Alice continues to pull Darlene into questionable pursuits by forgoing their $6 a night dump to crash a first class hotel's public area and attempt to charge poolside food and cocktails to a fictious room number. On the verge of being found out by staff, in swoops a charming and handsome Aussie, Nick Parks (Daniel Lapaine, "Muriel's Wedding") to rescue the damsels in distress. He seemingly prefers Darlene, which Alice is unprepared to deal with, and invites them both to spend the weekend in Hong Kong. When they arrive at the airport, they're arrested by tipped off Bangkok police, who find heroin in the backpack Alice was carrying, but Darlene packed.
Here lies the central mystery - did the now untraceable Aussie dupe them both, or was he in cahoots with one or the other, or was it a setup by their hotel porter and Bangkok customs officers who, we find out, receive a commision on every drug arrest made?
The arrest and subsequent imprisonment is horrifying - a true 'Oh shit' moment. The girls are separated and thrown into disgusting cells (Darlene tells a guard she needs to go to the bathroom and he points to a roach covered hole in the ground). The more savvy Alice refuses to cooperate, while Darlene is worked by the 'kindly' Chief Inspector, who yells at everyone for the abuse she's endured, takes her statement and has her sign it - in Thai. Darlene has signed a confession and the two go to trial - lose - and get 33 years.
It's at this point that we break from the taped narration/flashback. Screenwriter David Arata is to be commended for fashioning one of the most effective narratives ever used in film. Alice's rendition of the story is gripping and heartfelt - but is it the truth?
Darlene's stern father Doug (Tom Amandes) travels to Thailand where he visits his daughter amongst a crowd of prisoners across a distancing moat and assures her he'll get them both out and wishes to speak to Alice. When she appears, he vents a life-long hatred of the his daughter's best friend who he believes is responsible for anything that went wrong while she was present. It's a surreal moment.
The two endure unspeakable conditions, with Alice being singled out by a local prisoner who encourages her to do all the wrong things for her own entertainment. Enter Yankee Hank, who negotiates with Doug Davis, convincing him that the two need to go to trial together, with monetary gains his only inspiration. But Yankee Hank's 'firm' also consists of his Thai wife Yon (Jacqueline Kim, "Volcano"), who's more compassionate and more attuned to the corrupt ways of her own justice system.
Claire Danes gives a terrifically nuanced performance here - when she vehemently denies wrongdoing, you can almost believe her, but there's something lurking in the back of her facial expressions that shade everything she says - regret? There's a lot going on internally with this character - it's a very mature performance. Beckinsdale is more one note, but it's tougher to find nuances playing the 'good' character. Pullman gives a marvelous perf as the profit hungry lawyer, whose wife, and the intricacies of his clients' situation, eventually pulls him in emotionally (we can tell this is a rare occurrence with Yankee Hank). Kim is wonderfully assured as the lawyer partner with a higher respect for justice. Lou Diamond Phillips lends little as a corrupt U.S. official while John Doe (formerly of the band X) layers the background of his daughter Alice's life in one phone-call scene.
Kaplan, who directed Jodie Foster to her first Oscar, has fashioned an intriguing story here, although the finale, while powerful, isn't as an ambiguous as the filmmaker may have intended. Production credits are top notch.
Top student Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes, "Go" and TV's "Dawson's Creek") only needs to ace her final history project and exam in order to secure valedictorian honors and the scholarship that will enable her to go to college. But her history teacher is Mrs. Tingle (Helen Mirren, "Some Mother's Son"), a bitter woman who delights in failing her students, particularly the hard working ones. Luke (Barry Watson, TV's "7th Heaven") has long held a torch for Leigh Ann, and presents her with a copy of Tingle's history final after the spiteful teacher has trounced her worthy project, but Leigh Ann isn't a cheater - until Mrs. Tingle finds the two, along with Leigh Ann's best friend Jo Lynn (who happens to carry a torch for Luke), with the goods. In an attempt to make things right for Leigh Ann, the three confront Mrs. Tingle at her home, but things go seriously awry.
Laura's review of 'Teaching Mrs. Tingle':
Almost everyone surely has run into a situation at school or work where one hateful person proves the undoing of one's heartfelt best labors. Mrs. Tingle is that person in spades. Blood pressure rises at the injustice done until one is driven to contemplating the original title of this film, 'Killing Mrs. Tingle,' another PC change made to thwart attention from the Columbine tragedy earlier this year.
Leigh Ann is yet another teen parental figure, trying to shield her single, waitress mom (Lesley Ann Warren) from her troubles while battling evil forces. Her project, in true movie fashion, is a somewhat unbelievably complex effort. She's created a 352 day diary of a young girl falsely accused of witchcraft in 17th century Salem, based on a true account, that she's hand bound in leather and realistically aged. Leigh Ann has another adversary, however, the obnoxious, butt-kissing Trudie Tucker (Liz Stauber, "Can't Hardly Wait"), who's Mrs. Tingle's only pet student and the second highest grade averager at Grandsboro High. (Trudie's made a model of the Bastille and believes she's aced her course.)
"Teaching Mrs. Tingle" is the type of black comedy where an underdog finally declares 'Enough!' and takes dire actions only to get caught up in a situation that goes wildly out of control. Leigh Ann, Jo Lynn and Luke no sooner go to set things straight with Mrs. Tingle, when suddenly they've almost killed her (with a crossbow - another unlikely class project), and are forced to take her hostage in her own home. Mrs. Tingle proves to be not only a crafy adversary, but a woman with secrets (an affair with the married school coach, played by HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show's" Jeffrey Tambor), that at first seem their undoing, but later work in their favor.
Twists and turns abound, in true, 'this is only a movie' Hollywood fashion. Of course, the audience will know at the onset that Leigh Ann must win this battle.
It's fun to watch a great actress of Helen Mirren's calibre go to town as an almost Satanic teacher (many references to "The Exorcist" are in this flick). She not only chews the scenery, but anything else that gets in her path. Yet while she uses her wiles to manipulate the three students into a love triange, her motives are never fully drawn. Holmes is earnest as the righteous student. Watson is as good looking as he's been called upon to be. Coughlan gets to strut her stuff as an aspiring actress (her boredom watching over Tingle, who has no TV, causes her to do a Linda Blair impression that's a hoot).
Kevin Williamson, the hot writer of the "Scream" franchise and TV's "Dawson's Creek", making his directorial debut here, has fashioned a decent teen flick (although why don't the three principals' parents ever wonder where they are when they spend nights away from home?) with a lot of egotistical references about the pains of writing. According to press notes, he had a teacher like Mrs. Tingle. Williams also makes a lot of noise about the use of irony, a film screenplay staple that oddly is suffering backlash these days.
If Williamson's going to pat himself on the back in his own (and admittedly, first) screenplay, by having the final line be 'Great work of fiction!,' I'll have to take on Tingle's role and give him a C.
1978. Detroit. KISS. For Lex, Trip, Hawk and Jam - four teenaged rockers from Cincinatti - the members of the famous, controversial rock band are gods. When a KISS concert is scheduled for Detroit, the quartet will be there! Except for one thing. Jam's mother, Mrs. Bruce (Lin Shaye, the leather-skinned grandma in "There's Something About Mary"), is a righteous, religious fanatic who believes that KISS really means "Knights In Satan's Service" and burns the precious concert tickets before the boys' very eyes. This leads to a journey and a quest that changes the four, in a good way, in the coming of age comedy, "Detroit Rock City."
Robin's review of 'Detroit Rock City':
Director Adam Rifkin ("The Chase") takes the original screenplay by Carl V. DuPre ("Prophesy 3"), based on the author's experiences as a KISS-loving rock 'n' roll fan, and puts together a fast and funny ensemble comedy that concentrates on a special day-in-the-life of the quartet of questers. The four stalwart fans of the band, in their trek to Detroit to see their idols, come to face vicious beasts, a masked robber, seduction, parental pressure, and a journey that, in a day, shows the boys a few of life's answers.
The ensemble cast features four young actors who provide a mix of experience and newness. Edward Furlong ("Pecker") plays Hawk, the de facto leader of the little band of rockers who takes the reigns of command and decision even as the quest to see KISS goes totally wrong. Furlong, the most experienced of the foursome, is coming into his own as an actor. He lends a natural feel to his role of Hawk and, especially in a strip-club scene, shows a strong talent for comedy and slapstick. Sam Huntington ("Jungle2Jungle") plays Jam, the sensitive one on the team, whose chain-smoking, bible-thumping, KISS-hating mother (Shaye) drives the young man to rebel and find his true self. Giuseppe Andrews ("Independence Day"), as Lex, is the worry wart of the group whose main concern is that nothing happens to his mom's Volvo, which he surreptitiously "borrowed." Lex's obsession leads to his becoming a hero and saving Christine (Natasha Lyonne), a disco "Stella," threatened by thugs in a chop shop. Newcomer James De Bello lends a goofy, smart-ass, but not too bright, note to his character, Trip, the slacker of the gang. The four come across like the best buds they are supposed to be.
The story works best when the fearless quartet (the boys, not KISS) are together. There's a "Rock and Roll High School" quality to boys' trials as they figure out how to make the road trip to Detroit. Once on the road, they have a chance meeting with their disco equivalent - two couples, Stellas and Guidos in the rockers' vernacular, in a muscle car also heading to Motown to their own Mecca, a club called Disco Inferno. The meeting solidifies the boys' view that rock rules.
The clash of cultures between the rock heads and the disco ducks is amusing and rings true. The two music styles take on their own character as they rep two very different worlds (the film contains an eclectic collection of 70's vintage rock and disco tunes, in addition to the numerous KISS songs). When the setting moves from the road to the trials of getting tickets to see the beloved band, the boys divide up and head off, each on his own quest for a ticket to the show. This second act becomes an every-man-for-himself series of vignettes as it follows each of the guys on their separate, life-changing paths. The film is better with the boys all together.
"Detroit Rock City" is, all in all, a good-natured and good-hearted little film that does a solid job of recreating both the look and the mood of the time. While any big-name rock band would have worked, the theatrical outrageousness of KISS helps to make the band a true Holy Grail of a quest for our four heroes. The production design by Steve Hardie ("Denial") and costumes by Rosanna Norton ("Tron") are far superior to the other 70's period comedy out just now ("Dick") and captures the energy and fun of the big-event concerts of the time. I'm not a fan of KISS by any stretch of the imagination and I had a lot of fun with "Detroit Rock City." I give it a B.
Laura's review of 'Detroit Rock City':
"Detroit Rock City" is a goofy teenage road movie about four stoner kids in a basement band called Mystery who're on a quest to attend a Kiss concert in Detroit. They'll face the wrath of a bible-thumping mom (a hilariously twisted Lin Shaye, "There's Something About Mary"), a crazed high school hallway monitor called Elivs, a Catholic boarding school, macho disco guys, car thieves, armed robbery, band security and romance along the way.
Set in 1978, this is a film that achieves the look of films made in its time, with somewhat murky color, split screens and a low brow rock and roll soundtrack. These are GOOD things, as is the decision to present the adventures in comic book fashion.
Edward Furlong is the leader of the pack as Hawk. Furlong's getting farther and further away from his dour adolescent roles and becoming a truly likeable young actor. He's terrific when he gets drunk and struts his skinny bod in a male stripping contest to win the $100 he needs to pay a scalper. Sam Huntington is Jam (his 'band' name), the sweet kid who's constantly embarrassed by his hideous mother. Jam finds true love with Melanie Lynskey ("Heavenly Creatures") and gets to crash his mom's crusade outside of the concert hall by grabbing her bullhorn and proclaiming 'I just lost my virginity in a confessional!' James De Bello is the comic relief as Trip, the most spaced out member of the quartet. He strongly recalls the Jay character of Kevin Smith's ("Chasing Amy") comedies and uses a stretch action figure in some amazingingly original ways. He also manages to send a priest on his first trip via magic mushrooms. Giuseppe Andrews is Lex, the most weakly drawn of the foursome, who comes alive going against chop shoppers and saving Natascha Lyonne from their clutches.
Loaded with dead-on 70's references and scathing satire at the expense of the Catholic Church, "Detroit Rock City" rarely misses (it has brief flashes of crude toilet humor it could have done without). Amazingly it has a good-hearted nature and a feeling of euphoric triumph at, of all things, its Kiss concert finale.
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