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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

JULY 28, 1997: 

BRASSED OFF! This goofy, affable, golden-retriever of a movie trots along offering modest pleasures and no real surprises. The time is the 1980s; the place a coal-mining town in England where Margaret Thatcher's policies are forcing the closure of the pit that supports an entire community. And with it will go the brass band that's offered a small slice of glory and culture to men who spend most of their lives underground. To top it all off, a girl wants to join the band! Underground heartthrob Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) portrays an angry young trumpet player with his usual flair, and Pete Postlethwaite does a fine job as the single-minded, ailing band leader; but Tara Fitzgerald is flimsy and annoying as the city-girl horn player Gloria. Plus, you could toss a tuba through the holes in the plot. Why doesn't the band ever turn the pages of the sheet music on the stands in front of them? --Richter

CONTACT. Jodie Foster plays an emotionally crippled scientist intent on visiting space aliens in this very long, sentimental, but nonetheless moving science fiction film. Despite that annoying, over-earnest quality Foster brings to all her roles as an adult, she's very good as the driven Ellie Arroway, a researcher so focused on seeking solace in the skies that she forgets to notice how many people on earth love her. Matthew McConaughey plays her nemesis/boyfriend, a hunky, non-denominational preacher who's somehow secured the position of saving the soul of a nation. There's some silly confusion between God and aliens, and Ellie has an annoying habit of looking at her boyfriend whenever anyone asks her a question, like maybe he's going to answer for her? Please. Nonetheless, the script, based on a story by Carl Sagan, manages to link the themes of scientific curiosity and spiritual longing despite some weak sections, and the special effects are nothing short of wonderful. --Richter

FACE/OFF. Hong Kong action guru John Woo's latest Hollywood product, a homoerotically violent take on Freaky Friday, will likely convert a lot of viewers from saying "Woo who?" to "Woo hoo!" Basically, good guy John Travolta has his face switched with evil nemesis Nicolas Cage so he can get crucial information; then Cage (now Travolta) gets loose, puts Travolta (now Cage) in prison and takes over his life (not to mention his wife). The grotesque and technically dazzling face-switching scene alone is worth the admission price, and it gives Woo his best-ever excuse for two men to obsess over each other. This time he throws family values into the mix, creating audacious contrasts between bursts of sexily edited slo-mo violence and bluntly sincere dialogue relating to Travolta's dead son. I loved watching Cage and Travolta try to out-ham and out-earnest each other; they're perfect sparring partners. But when Woo recycled the two best scenes from his most successful Hong Kong films, The Killer and Hard Boiled, it became apparent he'd lost a certain zany quality; and somewhere around the 1,000th gunshot he starts riding a fine line between "the poetry of violence" (as inspired by Sam Peckinpah) and hyperkinetic mush (as inspired by music videos). Sympathetic supporting performances by Joan Allen and Gina Gershon can't mask the cartoonishness of Woo's dramatic style; his attempts to make the audience care are such wholesome failures they become another part of the spectacle. In other words, resolve to take Face/Off only at face value and you'll probably have a good time. --Woodruff

GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. A recent New Yorker cartoon depicts a man watching a program that's "Rated 'P' for 'poop'." The cartoonist must have just seen George of the Jungle, a work that comes closer to the cinematic equivalent of "Pull my finger!" than anything since Blazing Saddles. In this kids' movie with inappropriate adult tendencies, villains are regularly foiled by armpit odor, elephant urine, ape farts and big piles of, yes, poop. I never saw the '70s cartoon upon which the movie is based, but I'd bet a year's supply of Nice 'n Soft that excretory processes didn't receive such focus. I'd also bet two coconuts and a banana that George's efforts to have sex with his high-society love interest weren't a major plot point, either. Though Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann make attractive, unpretentious leads for a Tarzan story (the former looking like he just completed a vigorous muscle-building-and-body-oiling program), and George of the Jungle's production values are uncommonly high for a slapstick picture, I left the theater wondering whether all of Hollywood was collectively regressing to their Freudian Anal Stage. (Adding insult to injury, a preview for Flubber showed a scene in which the springy substance flies into a man's mouth and explodes out of his butt.) Naturally, kids in the audience loved it. --Woodruff

HOLLOW REED. A somber British drama that deals with the difficult themes of child abuse, divorce, and the cavalier treatment of homosexuals by the legal system. Not surprisingly, at times Hollow Reed veers into movie-of-the-week territory; but more surprisingly, usually it doesn't. Strong performances from Martin Donovan, Joely Richardson and Sam Bould (as their young son) help make this story of a divorced couple whose son begins to turn up with an uncanny number of injuries both tense and believable. --Richter

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