Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Film Reviews

AUGUST 4, 1997: 

Film reviews are updated on Fridays. This section compiled by Marjorie Baumgarten (M.B.); with reviews by Hollis Chacona (H.C.), Steve Davis (S.D.), Robert Faires (R.F.), Marc Savlov (M.S.), Russell Smith (R.S.).

Ratings:
5 stars As perfect as a movie can be
4 stars Slightly flawed, but excellent nonetheless
3 stars Has its good points, and its bad points
2 stars Mediocre, but with one or two bright spots
1 stars Poor, without any saving graces
0 stars La Bomba


Recommended

IRMA VEP

D: Olivier Assayas; with Maggie Cheung, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Nathalie Richard, Bulle Ogier, Lou Castel, Dominique Fayasse. (Not Rated, 96 min.)

Bizarre and beautiful, this French take on the madness inherent in independent filmmaking rivals Tom DiCillo's Living in Oblivion as the most realistic depiction of the myriad trials and tribulations that accompany the creation of a new film. Irma Vep is also Hong Kong superstar Cheung's first film in two years (as well as her first foray into the international market) and she's luminously erotic here: reed-thin, encased in a shiny black latex catsuit, and possessed of a hitherto-unheard command of the English language. (She was raised in Kent, though this may come as a surprise to her longtime fans who know her only by her HK oeuvre.) Cheung, who plays herself, is called to Paris by the fictional Rene Vidal (Léaud), an embittered, confused director with the semi-salable idea of remaking Louis Feuillade's masterpiece of French silent cinema, the fantasy serial Les Vampires. Having seen Cheung in The Heroic Trio, of all things, he decides then and there that she is perfect for the part of Irma Vep (the name is an anagram), the mysterious leader of a group of high-profile cat burglars in turn-of-the-century Paris. Arriving in the City of Lights, the easygoing, enthusiastic actress finds herself embroiled in a series of behind-the-scenes dramas: The lesbian costumer (Richard) is infatuated with her; the director is inscrutable and nearing emotional collapse; and the production, such as it is, is behind schedule and rapidly degenerating. Entranced by her part as Irma Vep, Cheung goes along with the barely controlled lunacy around her, briefly succumbing to it in a fit of late-night hotel thievery, and gives the production her all, though it's not long before the production disintegrates entirely. Assayas' film recalls the glory days of the French New Wave in its camerawork and editing, which jump between fluid tracking shots and jerky, hand-held episodes. His story smacks of improvisational techniques in which the players are wound up and let loose to run on about nothing much in particular. Amazingly, the center holds, and Irma Vep ends up a knowing, and fairly lucid, portrait of the filmmaking experience, warts and all. One hilarious scene has Cheung being interviewed by a young man who repeatedly belittles his nation's cinematic prowess, prattling on and on about how audiences are far more interested in the "ballet of ultra-violence" of John Woo and directors such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cheung, hard-pressed to get a word in edgewise, refutes his claims, and the scene is one of the most telling moments in modern French movies. At least we know where Assayas stands. (8/1/97)

3.5 stars (M.S.)

Texas Union


New Review

AIR BUD

D: Charles Martin Smith; with Kevin Zegers, Bill Cobbs, Wendy Makkena. (PG, 98 min.)

A distinct canine motif runs through basketball history. Witness past and present NBA players Fred "Mad Dog" Carter, Tim Bassett, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson and Joe Wolf. Not to mention former UT Longhorn star Locksley Collie. So it was only a matter of time until our great cultural distillery, Hollywood, boiled this trend down to its essence with a movie about a hoopster who's a dog in fact as well as name. Given Disney's deranged conviction that it's feasible to make a film about a ballplaying dog which also functions as a tender, earnest story of adolescent self-discovery, the results are more enjoyable than one might expect. Director Charles Martin Smith, remembered most vividly for his role as Farley Mowat in 1983's Never Cry Wolf, is no hack. He lavishes far more craftsmanship than is typical in a humble summer low-budgeter of this ilk. There's some bright, imaginative shotmaking and fluid editing here, especially in scenes that require the pooch to bust his moves on the hardwood. The dog is a golden retriever named Buddy, who acquired his unique ability working for a loutish first owner as half of a novelty act called "A Clown and a Hound." He soon escapes and takes up with a lonely, basketball-loving youngster named Josh (Zegers), who dreams of playing on his middle school team. When Josh accidentally discovers Buddy's rare ability, he enlists the four-legged cager as a practice partner and soon makes both the team and the starting lineup. As the squad (appropriately called the Timberwolves) makes a state title run under the sage direction of their school janitor-turned-coach (winningly played by Bill Cobbs), Buddy functions as an inspirational mascot. Later, as we know from the previews, he gets a chance to break the sport's shameful, long-standing species barrier as a full member of the team. It probably goes without saying that the aspects of the story which aspire for emotional uplift could be replaced by full-screen captions reading "Mentally Insert Pro-Forma Sentimental Spew Here," but that hardly matters because the overriding concept here is watching loveable Buddy display his mad skillz on the floor. Scouting Bud's game, I give respect to his near-automatic shot, a sort of spot-up head-butt that he can stick from anywhere on the court. Lack of stature (he's maybe 18 inches from head to floor) and hands limit his effectiveness on the glass, but he runs the floor well and, good pack animal that he is, he thinks team first and personal stats last. Free throws? Automatic, especially in the clutch. As novelty hooks go, a canine hoop god is really pretty inspired, and the artfully staged basketball scenes are undeniably a hoot to watch. Limit your expectations to this modest level, and you should find Air Bud a tolerable family outing. (8/1/97)

2.0 stars (R.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Highland, Lake Creek, Movies 12


CHASING THE DREAM

D: Harry Lynch and Jeff Fraley. (Not Rated, 60 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. Local filmmakers Harry Lynch and Jeff Fraley take a documentary look at what drives men to become professional bull riders. In the course of the film, they talk with dozens of bull-riding champions and hopefuls, and present an insightful and entertaining portrait of modern cowboy culture. Action footage is combined with interviews that reveal the riders to be a diverse lot ­ from humble country-boy personalities to swaggering rodeo kings. Fraley also gets some first-hand experence when he enrolls in an amateur bull-riding school. Helping to shape the film are the contributions of editor Don Howard (whose similarly toned Letter from Waco won the best documentary award at this year's SXSW Film Fest) and music supervisor John Riedie. The soundtrack includes such artists as Don Walser, the Derailers, Jack Ingram, and Mary Cutrufello. (8/1/97)

(M.B.)

Dobie


GOOD BURGER

D: Brian Robbins; with Kel Mitchell, Kenan Thompson, Sinbad, Abe Vigoda, Shar Jackson, Dan Schneider, Jan Schwieterman, George Clinton. (PG, 103 min.)

Teen comics Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson break out from the kid pack with their first feature film Good Burger and in one broad stroke announce their comedy teamwork as a force to be reckoned with. The movie is an extension of a popular skit on Nickelodeon's all-kids sketch comedy show All That. Mitchell and Thompson's success on that show led to their own breakout show Kenan & Kel and this movie, which is presented by the new Nickelodeon Movies division. I suspect Mitchell and Thompson are going to be around for a good long while; their clowning talent is as apparent as their schtick is derivative. With time for development and advancement to the ripe old age of twentysomething and beyond, these teens might indeed become enduring comedy pillars. Mind you, I don't think they'll ever really "mature"; maturity would be antithetical to their act. Dumb fun is the name of their game: dumb fun and deft teamwork, the kind that recalls the likes of such teams as Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis. These are clearly the exalted levels of idiocy to which Mitchell and Thompson aspire. Admittedly, these are not humor models that appeal to all tastes, but it's impossible to deny their popularity and durability. Mitchell is the tall one with the gift for physical humor, the froggy vocal inflections, and the oblivious instinct for herding the duo into another fine mess after mess; Thompson is the one with the variable facial expressions and the grounded capability of advancing the plot. The point is to plop these guys in a situation and then let them run wild, thus it's of little consequence that Good Burger has a storyline that's negligible and an utterly plastic visual sensibility. What's said is not what counts: As the character of Ed, Thompson can extract big laughs just by saying, "Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger. Can I take your order?" It's all in the "how" not the "what" he says. Although you do have to wonder at times if Ed's semantic negotiations are the work of an utter imbecile or a wily deconstructionist. When the bully from the rival Mondo Burger outlet advises Ed that he had better watch his ass and Ed obediently circles backward like a dog chasing his tail, well... it's not quite "Who's on First" but it's definitely in a nearby ballpark. What this would-be Martin & Lewis now need to find is their Frank Tashlin, a comedic visual stylist who can up the package's ante. Good Burger wastes so many opportunities (why, for instance, bother to build Ed's Pee-wee's Playhouse-like bedroom set and never return to it after the opening sequence?) and its flat, minimalist TV aesthetic appears shallowly artificial when projected on the big screen. A well-chosen soundtrack backdrop adds some extra punch to the storyline, and the funk master George Clinton pops up to lead a chorus line of mental patients in a few verses of his tune "Knee Deep." Other cameos include Shaquille O'Neal as a perfunctory Good Burger shill and Robert Wuhl as an exasperated customer. Sinbad contributes a spirited performance as the teens' fashion-challenged teacher, the man who bears the brunt of their mayhem. Good Burger is not fully cooked but it provides a taste of things to come. (8/1/97)

2.5 stars (M.B.)

Arbor, Barton Creek, Lakeline, Lincoln, Movies 12, Riverside, Roundrock


187

D: Kevin Reynolds; with Samuel L. Jackson, John Heard, Kelly Rowan. (R, 121 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. Waterworld evacuee Kevin Reynolds brings things back down to scale in this drama about high-school teacher Samuel L. Jackson who is the victim of a brutal assault by a flunking gangbanger student and returns to the classroom as a drastically changed man and educator. The title 187 refers to the California state penal code for murder; the movie is written by Scott Yagemann, a seven-year veteran of the Los Angeles public school system. (Opens Wednesday, July 30) ()

(M.B.)

Great Hills, Highland, Lakeline, Movies 12, Riverside, Westgate


PICTURE PERFECT

D: Glenn Gordon Caron; with Jennifer Aniston, Jay Mohr, Kevin Bacon, Olympia Dukakis, Illeana Douglas, Kevin Dunn, Anne Twomey. (PG-13, 102 min.)

The Friends transition to the big screen continues unabated with this, the Aniston entry into the fray, and as might be expected, the blandest actress on NBC's hit show also gives the weakest star turn thus far (Lisa Kudrow is still in the running). Aniston's perky, lip-chewing angst is cute enough in prime time, but it's not enough to sustain a feature film, and so Picture Perfect ends up feeling like an over-long, over-nice, made-for-TV movie that goes nowhere quick. Aniston plays Kate, a young Madison Avenue ad exec with a stalled career and love life. Her boss (Dunn) fears Kate's single marital status makes her too risky to promote (lest she leave the company along with valuable clients), her mother (Dukakis) is aching for grandchildren, and her studly co-worker Sam (Bacon) won't give her the time of day because she's not married. Things take a turn for the better ­ and the ludicrous ­ when Kate's best friend and co-worker Darcy (Douglas) suddenly invents a fiancé for Kate in the form of Nick (Mohr), a stranger who Kate had the good fortune to be photographed with during a friend's wedding. Suddenly, Kate has a new job title, mom is exultant, and Sam can't take his hands off her. Things come to a head when the genial Nick starts showing up on the news after a daring Good Samaritan incident, and Kate finds herself in the position of having to create a relationship out of thin air overnight. It should come as no surprise to anyone that career-obsessed Kate and nice guy Nick eventually fall for each other, but Picture Perfect is so uninspired in its romantic tomfoolery that it's hard to care one way or another. Caron, the man behind Moonlighting and, more recently, Clean and Sober, has proven in the past that he possesses a knack for romantic foibles... but not this time out. Aniston's character is so baldly unappealing, so very dismissable, that, midway through, she begins to suck her co-stars into her less-than-interesting orbit. Bacon, Dukakis, and even Illeanna Douglas, who is usually electrifying even in the weakest of scripts, are all rendered benign and forgettable here. As for Mohr (Jerry Maguire), he plays the befuddled Nick with such a sorrowful air of gentle martyrdom that you just want to smack the guy. Granted, romantic comedies these days are apparently supposed to be light, fluffy things, but Picture Perfect takes it all one step too far, and the result is a vacuous feel-good movie that leaves you feeling nothing at all. (8/1/97)

1.5 stars (M.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lakeline, Movies 12, Roundrock, Westgate


RIPE

D: Mo Ogrodnik; with Monica Keena, Daisy Eagan, Gordon Currie, Ron Brice, Karen Lynn Gorney. (Not Rated, 93 min.)

When their parents die in a car accident that leaves the 14-year-old fraternal twin sisters ­ Violet (Keena) and Rosie (Eagan) ­ unbruised, the two decide to take off on their own and head, for some quixotic reason, to Kentucky. They just walk away from the crash in an attempt to "leave all that fucked-up shit behind." We never learn exactly what that shit was; the only clue comes in the opening prologue in which we see the girls at age six playing hide-and-seek with their father, who is chasing them with a shotgun while claiming to be an evil giant. The game seems to be both frightening and fun for the girls. About mom we know nothing. So, it's hide-and-seek and then car crash; next thing they do is take up temporary residence at the ramshackle military base where the rest of the movie unfolds and grows ever more preposterous with each passing sequence. They're given shelter for some inexplicable reason by the base's groundskeeper Pete (Currie), who passes the girls off as his nieces. This bastion of male camaraderie and power provides the backdrop for the girls' tumultuous passage through adolescent stirrings of sexuality and their inevitable need to separate from each other. Rosie's the tomboy who takes a shine to the military's discipline and ready firearms; Violet is a delectable young cupcake who finds herself intrigued by Pete's sexual attentions. Ripe comes on the heels of a series of independent films that tackle the subject of adolescent female sexuality (Manny & Lo, All Over Me, Girls Like Us). Although Ripe demonstrates many moments of evocative clarity (especially in the unaffected performances of the two leads), the movie ­ like its title ­ strings together too many empty provocations that promise much and deliver little. The movie is overly reliant on the heavy-handed symbolism of such things as full moons and the hermetic male atmosphere of the base. And this also has to be the loosest military outpost this side of anything commanded by Col. Henry Blake. The girls have unimpeded access as they wander about freely in skimpy shorts and tank tops. Unbelievabilities steadily accumulate and grow into an insurmountable pile that threatens to block out the things that are genuine or true in the story. And that's a shame, because there are many small moments in Ripe that capture the unique conflict of emotions that plague young girls trapped in those betwixt and between years. (8/1/97)

1.5 stars (M.B.)

Dobie


SCHIZOPOLIS

D: Steven Soderbergh; with Soderbergh, Betsy Brantley, David Jensen, Eddie Jemison, Scott Allen, Mike Malone, Katherine LaNasa. (Not Rated, 96 min.)

Who knew that deep inside the soul of Steven Soderbergh beat the heart of a great comic actor? In Schizopolis, we find Soderbergh working both sides of the camera as actor, writer, and director in the creation of this most personal of all his projects. Soderbergh has stated that the making of Schizopolis was a conscious act of catharsis, shot in the wake of his curiously passionless film noir update of The Underneath (which was filmed in Austin), is clearly something he made to please himself, and this movie shows no signs whatsoever of any tailoring to accommodate the needs or expectations of an audience. Yet that's not to say that Schizopolis fails to connect with viewers... it's just that audiences are going to have a hard time tidily summarizing what it is they just experienced (and I suspect the same holds true for Soderbergh himself). It's a fractured comic narrative with several different (though not necessarily separate) storylines. The first involves one of the characters played by Soderbergh, Fletcher Munson, an employee at some sort of vague but pervasive Scientology-like organization called Eventualism, led by elliptical self-help guru T. Azimuth Schwitters (Malone). Fletcher wrestles throughout the movie with a speech he's been assigned to write for Schwitters. At home, he and his wife (Brantley) exchange robotic verbal cues ("Generic greeting," he says as he comes in the door. "Generic greeting returned," she replies). Odd phone calls interrupt Fletcher at work and at home, and the Eventualists are all consumed with conspiratorial worries about a mole loose in the organization. And somewhere in another part of town, or another part of Fletcher's brain, an orange jump-suited and goggled exterminator (Jensen) is killing bugs and making love to the ladies (primarily with nonsensical wordplay). Then, while trying to unlock a car that's identical to his own, Fletcher notices a man who's physically identical to himself. The man is bachelor dentist Dr. Jeffrey Korchek (also played by Soderbergh) and Fletcher follows him home and assumes his identity. The wealthy Dr. Korchek is having an affair with Mrs. Fletcher Munson, who is later seen to be having a different affair with a foreign lover (also played by Soderbergh). Confused? Well, the movie does and doesn't make sense. Most often, the movie reveals itself in coy flashes of understanding. It's silly, funny, astute, and elliptical and it's a blast to see Soderbergh having so much fun with cinema again. He appears before a lectern at the beginning and end of this film without credits, assuring us that "no expense was incurred" in the making of this movie and that failure to understand it is the viewer's own fault. His deadpan comic timing is delightful and as an actor he's willing to try anything and demonstrates it as he makes a series of funny faces in the mirror and masturbates in a bathroom stall. I'm not sure I would want to try and convince anyone that Schizopolis represents Cinema Ground Zero (this is the kind of idiosyncratic filmmaking that's sure to drive many viewers around the bend), but it sure is wonderful to know that Soderbergh hasn't given up the search. (8/1/97)

3.0 stars (M.B.)

Dobie


SHALL WE DANCE?

D: Masayuki Suo; with Koji Yakusho, Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka, Eriko Watanabe, Akira Emoto. (PG, 136 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. A smash hit at the Japanese box office, this award-laden movie about an overworked accountant who finds passion in ballroom dancing has helped initiate the country's newfound ballroom dance craze. Shall We Dance? has also been wowing audiences stateside as well. ()

(M.B.)

Village


SPAWN

D: Mark Dippé; with Martin Sheen, John Leguizamo, Michael Jai White, D.B. Sweeney, Theresa Randle, Miko Hughes, Nicol Williamson. (PG-13, 93 min.)

Is there anything Todd McFarlane can't do? Since introducing his Spawn comic book character in 1992, McFarlane's nightmarish superhero from hell has branched out into a wildly successful, adult-themed HBO animated series and some really, really cool collectible action figures. And now, Spawn ­ the movie. McFarlane may be the Rupert Murdoch of comic book masterminds, marketing his immensely profitable dream one media niche at a time, but he stumbles with this cinematic adaptation. It's all one big blur: sound, fury, and Martin Sheen devouring scenery as if it were going out of style (and in Spawn, it's definitely not). White plays Al Simmons, a government assassin who, when his shady boss Jason Wynn (Sheen) pushes him into One Last Mission, develops a conscience about 30 seconds too late. That mission results in the entirely expected double-crossing of Simmons by Wynn, which is quickly followed by Simmons' death, his descent into a crazed CGI hell (courtesy of LucasFilm's Industrial Light & Magic), and his resurrection as a vengeful, all-powerful demon ­ the Spawn. Mentored by Excalibur's Williamson as the wise Cogliostro, Spawn opts to fight the good fight and takes off after his nemesis Clown (played by a thoroughly unrecognizable Leguizamo in the film's only solid role), an evil Gacy-type who expects Spawn to help him win an upcoming battle against Heaven's armies. For his part, Spawn is far more interested in reuniting with his wife (Randle) and turning Wynn into so much shish-kebob. Very interesting to look at, Spawn lacks the requisite backstory to make this anything more than an overblown Saturday-matinee freak show, but assuming that the mean age of the film's target audience is 14, that shouldn't affect its impending blockbuster status all that much. Fans of the Spawn comic will be thrilled, I think, to see their hellborn hero on the big screen, backed, as he is, by the cacophonous strains of Marilyn Manson, Henry Rollins, and many, many digitally enhanced fireballs. Those expecting the more nuanced set design and overall romance of Alex Proyas' lushly romantic and darkly violent The Crow will be sadly disappointed: Spawn lacks that film's pointed morality and haunting lyricism. Director Dippé instead drenches his palette in a shroud of bombast so thick you could bottle it and sell it as driveway sealant. Everything here, from the opening titles to the closing credits (themselves liberally filched from Seven), is too much. Restraint, it appears, is a concept Dippé and his crew have yet to fathom, and by the time Spawn's final mushroom-cloud explosion curls lazily back around itself, the urge to gobble a fistful of Tylenol is all but unavoidable. (8/1/97)

2.0 stars (M.S.)

Great Hills, Lakeline, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock, Westgate


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