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JUNE 1, 1998: 

The Full Monty

D: Peter Cattaneo (1997)
with: Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy
20th Century Foxlaserdisc

A film about unemployment that opens with a painfully boring short touting the wonders of Sheffield, England, sounds like about as much fun as a sharp stick in the eye, but The Full Monty distinguishes itself by managing to successfully wring humor from the oddest sources. A pair of best pals, also out-of-work steel workers, decide that the only way out of their current financial problems is to get together a bunch of local boys to perform a Chippendale-like strip routine. A group of men is soon formed, à la The Magnificent Seven, but difficulties threaten to thwart their plan at every turn. Although the film's plot progresses in a fairly straightforward manner, the story does manage a surprise or two along the way. The Full Monty's real strengths are its well-written characters and outstanding performances. Robert Carlyle and Mark Addy are particularly good as Gaz and Dave, best pals who prop each other up or goad each other along as needed. And that's the real joy of The Full Monty, seeing a group of fellows pool their resources and talents to accomplish something that no one of them could possibly have managed, or even dared to do, individually. The Full Monty is a film that couldn't have been produced, or even have made it to the screenplay stage, in Hollywood. Its box office success is no doubt completely baffling to domestic studio executives, who even now are probably planning a blockbuster American version with the male cast members of Friends and Seinfeld.

The laserdisc of The Full Monty is as stripped-down as the main characters in the movie's final scene. The film is letterboxed, but there are no trailers, special audio tracks, or making-of featurettes to be found. Still, in this particular case, the straightforward presentation seems appropriate. --Bud Simons

L.A. Confidential

D: Curtis Hanson (1997)
with Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito.

Despite what you may have heard, L.A. Confidential is not the best film in 20 years. It's not even the best film of last year, but if you limit your consideration to films in which Danny DeVito provides voice-over support, L.A. Confidential is certainly at the top of that list. The frequent comparisons to Chinatown are both obvious and appropriate, as L.A. Confidential owes a lot to that film. Both movies take place in the Los Angeles of yesteryear, feature multi-layered crime riddles, and have stars with questionable morals as ersatz heroes. And both are very good. While Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson's script isn't the tight masterpiece that Chinatown was, and Faye Dunaway wasn't half the cheeseball that Kim Basinger is as the femme fatale (I'll never figure out that Oscar), L.A. Confidential makes the audience do what few films of the Nineties have achieved: Think. And you'll have to. Director Hanson's convoluted plot ó tracing the rise, fall, and redemption of L.A. cops ó is all over the map until its handy, bloody, and downright goofy ending. Even then, you probably won't have all the details figured out. But at least it's fun to try.

--Christopher Null

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