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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

MAY 22, 2000: 

GLADIATOR. Sort of a historical variant on the old Marvel Comics What If stories--you know, like "What if Spiderman had been Emperor of Rome?" or "What if the Hulk had fought in the ancient gladiator arenas?" Russell Crowe stars as Maximus, Roman legionnaire who falls out of favor with the mad emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Maximus is sold into slavery and eventually becomes more popular than the emperor when he starts winning big in the gladiator fights. Worth seeing for the massive battle sequences and great photography, but, despite some pretensions, Gladiator is only about as deep as any other swords-and-sandals epic. --James DiGiovanna

RETURN TO ME. I loved the short-lived sitcom The Bonnie Hunt Show, which years ago was written by and starred the flaxen-haired Second City comedienne as an intrepid TV interviewer. It was charming, witty, good-natured and believable, and I was apparently the only person in the country besides producer David Letterman who watched it. Return to Me, co-written and directed by Hunt and set in her old stomping grounds of Chi-town, brings that gift of good character to the screen with a star-studded cast: David Duchovny, Minnie Driver, David Alan Grier, James Belushi, Hunt herself and Carroll O'Connor (who, far from his Archie Bunker persona, plays a grandfather who sounds like an Irish Winnie-the-Pooh). Unlike your typical romantic comedy about obsession and low self-esteem, this love story is saturated with sweet relationships. It's as if the writers were assigned a list of all things universally heartwarming--big dogs, little kids, Italian restaurants, wisecracking old men, great apes that speak sign-language, a life-saving heart-transplant, etc. etc.--and told to spin a story out of them. In lesser hands, it would be a ghastly mess, but the writing sparkles and the chemistry hums like a Sinatra tune in spring. You'd need a heart full of vipers and mustard gas to resist its feel-good vibe. --Mari Wadsworth

VIRGIN SUICIDES. They say good books make bad movies (just check out all those crappy Jesus flicks), but in this case it turns out not to be true. Sophia Coppola's adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides Virgin Suicides is both cinematic and true to the novel. It's not without problems (notably some of the worst wigs ever) but this odd story of a house full of beautiful teenage girls, and the boys who obsess over them, is moody, eerie and beautifully photographed. Well scripted voice-over narration by Giovanni Ribisi, and overall good casting help to make this one of the most interesting first films of recent memory. --James DiGiovanna

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