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Austin Chronicle Film Reviews

AUGUST 18, 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.).



Recommended

COP LAND

D: James Mangold; with Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Peter Berg, Janeane Garofalo, Robert Patrick, Michael Rapaport, Annabella Sciorra. (R, 105 min.)

Casting is everything, and the casting of Stallone - playing way against type - as the powerless hayseed sheriff in Cop Land is nothing short of inspired. His performance here singlehandedly eliminates any creeping notions that the revelatory actor/writer behind Rocky is a long gone, faded shadow. It's not, obviously, and Cop Land replaces unpleasant memories of cinematic and personal flubs like Oscar and Stop! or My Career Will Die! (which was, you may remember, retitled Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot! for domestic release) with newfound luster. All kidding aside, Stallone is dynamite, his readings clear and sharp and never unintentionally mumbled, his frame startlingly altered by the 40 extra pounds he gained for the role, and his acting dead-on. In this sophomore effort from Sundance wunderkind Mangold (Heavy), Stallone is Freddy Heflin, sheriff of Garrison, New Jersey, a tiny hamlet just a nightstick's throw from New York City. Garrison is a village populated almost entirely by NYPD cops and their families, and Heflin, a small-town stooge who became a local hero when he rescued a girl from drowning decades ago, has been Garrison's patsy for the last 10 years. Due to partial hearing loss incurred during that hour of glory, Heflin was 4-F for NYPD duty, though he still worships the officers that he purports to police. When a young hotshot officer, Murray "Superboy" Babitch (Rapaport), goes off one night and accidentally kills two joyriding black teens, his uncle, Ray Donlan (Keitel), the unofficial boss of "Cop Land," decides to fake his nephew's death and thereby avert an unavoidable public relations scandal. Hiding Babitch in Garrison, Donlan and his cronies dodge visits from Internal Affairs Detective Moe Tilden (DeNiro) and struggle to keep the scam under wraps. The less revealed about Cop Land's story here, the better, though it should be obvious that Mangold's take on the age-old question of "Who's policing the police?" is a fresh one. The whole notion of a sheriff with long-quashed dreams absentmindedly policing a town full of men he believes to be his superiors is novel in the extreme, and Mangold grabs the idea, runs with it, and never looks back. Cop Land is packed with bravura performances, from comedienne Garofalo's fresh-off-the-reality-boat deputy to Sciorra's embittered, battered officer's wife, and the range displayed is at times breathtaking. Fans of the Marty-esque Heavy might note in advance that Cop Land is at times a violent, bloody film, as befits its subject matter (and with DeNiro, Keitel, and Liotta on the bill, that should be pretty obvious to begin with), but the gore only parallels the spiraling levels of fear and betrayal inherent in the story. It's a powerful, tightly wound ball of confusion, greed, revenge, and redemption - an emotional sucker punch that'll have you looking in your rear-view for days afterward. (8/15/97)

4.0 stars (M.S.)

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



New Review

DEF JAM'S HOW TO BE A PLAYER

D: Lionel C. Martin; with Bill Bellamy, Natalie Desselle, Lark Voorhies, Mari Morrow, Pierre, Max Julien. (R, 90 8/15/97 min.)

From his ritual morning cologne spritz to the pelvic region to his shoeboxed archives of panties left by "house guests," everything about suave young Dray (MTV comic Bellamy) screams, "Mamas, lock up your daughters!" The brother is a playa, make no mistake about it, and in a running lecture to the audience and his awestruck buddies, he reveals the mack-iavellian strategies that allow him to keep numerous outrageously beautiful women drooling on his Timberland boots and oblivious to each others' existence. "A player never gets caught" is Dray's first principle, and his uncanny success at covering his doggish pawprints drives older sister Jenny (Desselle) into foaming apoplexy. Before long, Jenny - whose interest in Dray ranges from feminist revulsion to clinical interest (she's doing an anthropological study on the player lifestyle with little bro as the prime subject) - gets her fill of his smug perfidy and decides to run a sting on him. By inviting all of Dray's honeys to one party, she hopes to expose him for the "ho" he is and make him repent of his crimes against womankind. But rookie director Martin, like most chroniclers of sexual intrigue throughout history, actually harbors a certain affection for the scoundrely Casanova figure. And in this lascivious, distinctly guy-oriented (but not misogynistic) comedy, he even asserts that most women are not only hip to the player's ancient game, but secretly fascinated by his audacious artistry and stimulated by the challenge of domesticating him. Reinforcing this sense of tradition is an amusing cameo featuring Max Julien (star of Seventies blaxploitation classic The Mack) as an elderly smoothy from whom Dray learned his tricks. The droll, bawdy dialogue has a spontaneous street feel, with sly and engaging acting by the entire ensemble, especially Bellamy and Mari Morrow as Jenny's pal Katrina, who proves conclusively that women can also be serious players. Like other recent African-American romantic comedies (see also Booty Call, love jones and Sprung), Martin's film extends the venerable traditions of Elizabethan and French sex farce by reminding us that our moony ideals of romantic love are often little more than a thin veneer concealing the no-quarter sexual warfare that rages eternally between men and women. Not to over-intellectualize Player, which has too many stock characters and situations and gets more than its share of laughs from jokes about erections and booty smells. But in its unpretentious way, this is really a surprisingly sharp little movie with plenty of irreverent insight for those who'll let it penetrate their PC defenses. (8/15/97)

2.5 stars (R.S.)

Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Riverside, Westgate


EVENT HORIZON

D: Paul Anderson; with Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Jack Noseworthy. (R, 97 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. That Contact high you got this summer - making you feel all warm and fuzzy about our first close encounter with extraterrestrials - won't last long once you broach this Event Horizon. The contact that space jock Fishburne and his crew make when they recover a faster-than-light ship that's been missing for seven years is the kind that results in a blood on the tracks. A lotta blood. "Infinite terror"? Well, probably not, but maybe enough to last you through Labor Day. (8/15/97)

Arbor, Barton Creek, Highland, Lakeline, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock


FREE WILLY 3: THE RESCUE

D: Sam Pillsbury; with Vincent Berry, Jason James Richter, Patrick Kilpatrick, August Schellenberg. (PG, 86 min.)

Among the fictional cetacean set, Moby Dick still commands all the highbrow respect, but with two megahit movies to his credit, curly-finned screen idol Willy is definitely the whale who's gettin' paid these days. This third installment in the saga of the amiable, perpetually endangered giant orca figures to keep the lucrative franchise chugging along with more of the wholesome and edifying family drama that gave its predecessors their cineplex-packing power. This time around, Willy's human antagonists are the crew of an illegal whaling ship that services Asian black markets in defiance of international treaties. The captain (Kilpatrick) is really not a bad sort, but he's one of those guys - like tobacco farmers and elephant poachers - who sees his traditional livelihood as a birthright to be defended against all costs against meddling, sentimental enviro-wimps. But his efforts to pass the family harpoon along to 11-year-old son Max (Berry) meet resistance when the boy falls under the awesome mammals' mystical spell. Max soon begins colluding with a group of scientists, including Jesse (Richter, Willy's pal from FW I and II), who want to expose the clandestine whaling activities. As with most kid/animal movies, the whales' inherent appeal is exaggerated by anthropomorphizing them to an unrealistic degree, showing them frolicking like two-ton toddlers, munching oranges and breaching exuberantly in postcard-esque backlit scenes. (Scenes of Willy biting heads off seals might add balance and authenticity, but at the expense of box office appeal.) Still, the filmmakers do pass up some easy opportunities to stack the moral deck in favor of the whale-savers. In particular, they make an honest effort to at least understand why some humans can't or won't respect the whales' right to lead unmolested lives befitting creatures with no irreplaceable commodity value in our post-whale oil age. The human characters on both sides are believable, relatively well fleshed out, and interesting enough to sustain viewer attention in a story the outcome of which is 100 percent suspense-free. By the end of this exemplary family movie, Free Willy 3's two main objectives have been fully met: All the narrative elements are in place for a sequel, and enough goodwill has been sustained that we will welcome its inevitable arrival. (8/15/97)

3.0 stars (R.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lake Creek, Lakehills, Movies 12, Roundrock


MRS. BROWN

D: John Madden; with Judi Dench, Billy Connolly, Anthony Sher, Geoffrey Palmer. (PG, 103 min.)

With more fresh blood and less starch than we've come to expect from Brit costume drama, Mrs. Brown dramatizes the 20-year friendship between Queen Victoria (Dench) and a Scottish commoner named John Brown (Connolly), who managed the royal household after Prince Albert's death. Their tender, platonic love lifted the grieving dowager's spirits, but it also triggered one of the first tabloid scandals. Nowadays, of course, jaded tab readers require nothing less than photos of public livestock-shagging by the royal family to achieve full righteous dudgeon. But in the 1860s, all it took to inspire outrage and anxiety was for a mourning queen to retreat from public life for a few years with no deadline for return. Victoria's hiatus not only fanned rumors of illicit romance with the burly, rough-hewn highlander but gave anti-royalist forces an opening to push for abolition of the monarchy. This historical background is interesting, not only for its perspective on the oddly touching bond between the British and their crowned heads but also for its account of the origins of "personality journalism." However, the real core of Madden's film is the simple, emotionally rich story of improbable affection between two radically dissimilar human beings. Dench, three decades removed from her early, lithe temptress roles, is now 63 and endowed with all the physical and emotional gravitas needed to play the redoubtable Queen Mum. Even in her most vulnerable moments, she seems as impenetrable as a stainless steel slab. When the cocky, whiskey-guzzling Brown manages to breach her defenses with tenderness, anger or an impertinent joke (Connolly is a comedian by trade and filters a healthy dose of humor into his gruff character), we appreciate the skill - not to mention sheer balls - it takes to do so. "I'm not a subtle person," Victoria confides to Brown in one deeply affecting scene. "I act almost solely upon feelings." And so it is with Brown himself, a man who's as loyal as a bulldog to his queen but who lacks the wily subtlety it takes to prevail over his growing roster of powerful enemies. Brown, ironically, finds himself protected by a man who's the very soul of subtlety: Tory leader Benjamin Disraeli (Sher). Sher, who possesses some of Tim Roth's genius for pushing the boundaries of caricature, saves the story from over-earnestness and plays a key dramatic role in convincing Brown to steer the reluctant Victoria back into her public role - a move that threatens his personal bond with the queen even as it helps the institution she represents. Mrs. Brown isn't the kind of film that gets described as brilliant, innovative, or multilayered. Most of what it has to offer is right on the surface. But assuming that rich human insight, great production values, and topnotch acting still count for something, Mrs. Brown should have no trouble finding an appreciative audience. (8/15/97)

3.0 stars (R.S.)

Village


NOWHERE

D: Gregg Araki; with James Duval, Rachel True, Kathleen Robertson, Nathan Bexton, Guillermo Diaz, Jeremy Jordan, Alan Boyce, Christina Applegate, Jaason Simmons, Scott Caan. (R, 85 min.)

The third and final chapter in Araki's teen-angst-run-riot-in-L.A. triptych is as gorgeously messy as the first two opening salvos (Totally Fucked Up, The Doom Generation), but this time Araki employs a far broader and more complex character canvas than previously. Nowhere has already been pegged as "Beverly Hills 90210 on acid" by damn near everyone, and while that's as accurate an assessment as any you're likely to find, it's really more fun to think of it in terms of a millennial, latchkey Leave It to Beaver re-scripted by William Burroughs and Irvine Welsh. Disenfranchised teenagers hellbent on fun at any cost while society and their parents crumble slack-jawed around them. Araki favorite Duval is cast here as Dark, an 18-year-old college student with a deep, hopeless crush on his best friend Mel (True). It wouldn't be a Gregg Araki film without a few tangled lovelines, and so Mel is also bedding her acid-tongued girlfriend Lucifer (Robertson), Dark has feelings for Montgomery (Bexton), who lusts after Alyssa (Ladd), who craves Elvis (Thyme Lewis), and so on. Add to the mix Dark's recurring encounters with alien lizards, naïve goodgirl Egg's (Sarah Lassez) hideously out-of-control date rape with Aussie Baywatch hunk Simmons, and the promise of a huge blow-out party/drug 'n' gropefest at Gibby Haynes' house, and it all seems a bit much. Which it is, but then, so is the demographic that Araki's set his tale around. Nowhere's whirlwind pacing, stop/start editing, and monumentally oversaturated lighting can be annoying at times, then, without warning, you're treated to a composition of dangerous beauty. Araki situates himself on both sides of the conceptual coin. Sure, his apocalyptic, apoplectic vision is as spastically extreme as they come - viewers are guaranteed more surreal gore and headboard-shattering sex from this director than any other working today - but littered amongst the skewed camera angles and barrages of pouty-lipped, PVC-clad nubiles are a goodly number of actual messages for those who care to look (and with Araki's incessant in-your-face camerawork, you never have to look hard - signs and banners such as a bathroom towel labeled "hope" are plentiful). His message may be confusing at times, but unlike so many other directors mining the Hollywood hellfields today, at least he has one. (8/15/97)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Dobie


STEEL

D: Kenneth Johnson; with Shaquille O'Neal, Judd Nelson, Richard Roundtree. (PG-13, 105 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. Shaq is back, making his second run at the elusive hoop of big-screen stardom. In an attempt to make us all forget the painfully ineffectual comic Shaq of Kazaam (oh, that we could forget), the aggressive O'Neal takes on the role of a true action hero: DC Comics superdude Steel, a scientist who dons a suit of armor to take down evildoers. We're holding out hope that O'Neal's world-class scientist is more convincing than Elisabeth Shue's in The Saint, but we're afraid his alter ego is already a bust; the advance photos of him in full armor make him look about as imposingly heroic as Nipsey Russell's Tin Man in The Wiz. Clank! (8/15/97)

stars (R.F.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lakeline, Lincoln, Movies 12


VIVA EROTICA

D: Derek Yee; with Leslie Cheung, Hsu Chi, Karen Joy Morris. (Not Rated, 100 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. Living in Oblivion, Hong Kong style. This 1996 comedy follows a film director on the skids who's reduced to helming a "category three" sex film just to be able to work. But he can't resist trying to infuse his low-rent porno flick with the same mood lighting and kinetic visuals of his more artistic work. (8/15/97)

stars (R.F.)

Texas Union


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