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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

MARCH 2, 1998: 

AFTERGLOW. Somewhere there must be a great script for Afterglow, because short stretches of brilliant dialogue show up in this otherwise intensely mediocre and cowardly film. The plot concerns a middle-aged marred man (Nick Nolte, whose new hair piece is apparently from outer space) having an affair with a young married woman (Lara Flynn Boyle, who looks so good she figures she doesn't have to do anything besides pout and flounce). Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, their spouses carry on a parallel affair, in a story that is apparently inspired by some odd hybrid of Days of our Lives and Three's Company. Gee, I wonder if the two couples will run into each other at the bar they both frequent, and I wonder if Nolte and wife Julie Christie will ever find their long-lost daughter, and I wonder if there isn't some chance that an adult drama can be produced without using the most familiar of story elements and the safest of endings? --DiGiovanna

THE BORROWERS. Set in an anachronistic city that's part '90s and part '40s, part Dickensian London and part Spielbergian America, The Borrowers is far more inventive and detailed than you'd expect from a movie that could be titled Honey, I Shrunk the Stereotypical Red-Haired Limeys. The dumb plot, which involves John Goodman as an obnoxiously evil real-estate lawyer who wants to destroy the home where the Borrowers hide out, can be overlooked when it leads to this many clever little-people-in-a-big-world scenes. Whether the Borrowers are in the refrigerator (with product placement galore, of course), sneaking among toy soldiers or hopping from bottle to bottle in a dairy factory, the special effects remain impeccable and there's always a palpable sense of danger. I actually worried the Borrowers might be squished at any moment. Kids really seemed to enjoy themselves, too--especially the girl who held up her teddy bear throughout so it could see the movie. When interviewed, the teddy bear said, "That was terrific! I very much liked it!" in a cutesy voice that became muffled as it was put away in a small, pink backpack. --Woodruff

KUNDUN. The most annoying thing about the Tibet vogue that has swept Hollywood is that the actors and trendies who have hopped on this bandwagon are under the impression that Lhasa was some kind of delightful Shangri-La prior to the coming of the Chinese. In fact, it was run by a brutally oppressive and corrupt theocratic regime. Somehow, director Scorcese had the courage to at least hint at the atrocious state of affairs in Tibet under monastic rule. Further, his cast is made up exclusively of Tibetan, Chinese and Indian actors, despite what I'm sure was an overwhelming urge to call up Keanu Reeves to play the role of the Dalai Lama. The Himalayan landscapes (mimed by Moroccan mountains) are hard to shoot poorly, and Scorcese makes good use of Tibetan sand painting as a transitional device. Oddly, in spite of his dedication to authenticity in every other area, he largely eschews the rich musical tradition of Tibet in favor of a limp soundtrack by experimentalist-turned-new-age-shlockmeister Philip Glass. All of Glass' noodling drones turn the atmosphere to overly reverential mush, and the film often takes on the emotionally manipulative mode of a television movie of the week. Nonetheless, it's beautiful to look at and takes enough risks to make the viewer wish that other films would be this daring, and that this one had been a little more so. --DiGiovanna

PALMETTO. Oklahoma authorities recently made themselves look stupid when they outlawed Volker Schlöndorff's 1979 film The Tin Drum for what they construed as child pornography. They would have looked smarter if they'd instead outlawed this Schlöndorff film for mediocrity. It's a neo-noir about a Florida schlub (Woody Harrelson, in full density mode) who gets caught up in a poorly planned fake-kidnapping scheme. Despite a humid, tropical setting and some steamy scenes, the film has the dramatic resonance of a TV special--when it's hot, it's not that hot and when it's cool, it's not that cool. Worse yet, the casting's all mixed up: Gina Gershon plays the nice, dependable girlfriend while Elisabeth Shue plays the crazed, pointy-bra-wearing femme fatale. You keep waiting for the devilish-looking Gershon to do something nasty, and hoping the white-bread Shue will stop embarrassing herself by trying to mimic Gershon. Playing against type is one thing; playing against type ineffectually or without an (intentionally) humorous payoff is another. --Woodruff

SPHERE. What if your deepest fears came to life? Would they all involve snakes and tentacled sea creatures? Glazed donuts, perhaps? If you're prone to hazy Freudian interpretations, Sphere has a kind of goofy camp appeal, but as a thriller it's only average. A group of scientists descend to the bottom of the ocean, where they greet an alien entity that looks just like giant, gold marble. But it shows them the depths of themselves, you see. And then all their deepest fears, desires etc., come to life, and all of these things conveniently involve sea creatures. It's probably for the best: Why waste a good underwater set? Dustin Hoffman plays a cuddly psychologist; Sharon Stone plays an independent but sensitive marine biologist; Samuel L. Jackson plays a brilliant, weird mathematician. Remember: even if Sphere were based on Michael Crichton's very best novel, it would still be based on a Michael Crichton novel. --Richter

THE SWEET HEREAFTER. Kurt Vonnegut once described the literature of a race of beings who were not bounded by time. Their books were essentially read all at once, and contained a series of unordered sentences that, when taken as a whole, produced a still image of ideas, emotions, and histories. Atom Egoyan has directed films that work in much the same way, weaving their stories back and forth across time until the mystery of the characters' actions and reactions becomes clear in the light of devastating, defining or punctative events. In Sweet Hereafter, Anthony Hopkins stars as a lawyer out to use a small-town tragedy for personal gain, and his overly mannered performance is the film's weakest link. Otherwise, all the actors, many from Egoyan's usual troupe, play their parts with a stiff naturalism that perfectly complements the horrific central event that practically disanimates an entire community. Two stories of the worst possibilities in father-daughter relations further accentuate the bland unpleasantness of quotidian existence, and as each thread of the tale is slowly unwound, a final image of pointless hope and senseless loss is formed. Definitely one of the bleakest, most despairing, and best films of last year. --DiGiovanna

WASHINGTON SQUARE. In biographies written before 1990, Jennifer Jason Leigh claims to have been born in 1958. Recently, she's changed that to 1962. In either case, she definitely looks a bit odd playing a 20-year-old opposite the youthful Ben Chaplin. Even stranger is the fact that she's been cast as the ugly girl; after all, she was voted one of America's 10 most beautiful women by Harper's Bazaar. Still, this film captures the stiffness, self-importance, and general boredom of Henry James' prose. --DiGiovanna

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