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Austin Chronicle Film Reviews

AUGUST 25, 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.).



D: Mike Leigh; with Katrin Cartlidge, Lynda Steadman, Kate Byars, Mark Benton, Andy Serkis, Joe Tucker. (R, 90 min.)

Time makes different people of us all. One day, our faces are fresh and unlined; the next, they bear the folds and creases added to them by Time. Time alters our dress, our manners, our tastes, often so dramatically that we are unrecognizable next to our younger selves. In this new film by writer-director Mike Leigh (Secrets and Lies), Time's alchemy is brought to bear on two old friends who reunite for a weekend in London. Six years have passed since the two, Annie and Hannah, last saw each other, but that time might have been an eon given the changes it's worked in the pair. Gone is Hannah's stringy, unkempt hair from their days at University, her racing, slashing speech, her seething rage. Gone is the bleached New Wave 'do Annie wore when they shared a dingy walkup over a Chinese takeout stand in the Eighties; gone are her anxious, darting eyes, her wrenching insecurity. In their place are the cultivated looks and poise of two successful working women of the Nineties. The film is their journey of discovery, the search for what is left of the young women who were friends six long years ago, for what, if anything, is left of their friendship. As he's done to great effect in previous films, Leigh takes a fragment of common experience and focuses his lens on it, shooting it in extreme close-up so that it may be seen for all its layers and textures and subtleties in the play of light and shadow. Here, friendship is shown as a complex bonding of personalities, a union cemented as much by the friends' differences as similarities, by betrayals as well as fidelity. We come to see this because Leigh allows us the time to study these women. His camera lingers over their faces, waiting for the full play of emotion to wash over them. And an abundance of feeling plays across the faces of his two leads; Cartlidge and Steadman bring to light every flicker of awkwardness, indecision, anger, regret, joy, admiration, and affection felt by Hannah and Annie. Cartlidge is a marvel as the quicksilver Hannah, her fury and wit unleashed with the vicious speed and bite of a whip. Steadman is more subdued, but when she shows us the elder Annie recalling the past, her countenance is a thing of wonder ­ a pool of serenity, over which pass ripples of compassion and tenderness. These actors ground the film and keep us in its corner, even when Hannah and Annie rather conveniently keep running into key figures from their past. It feels as though Leigh is forcing his hand with these coincidental meetings, and yet, obvious as they are, they reinforce the bonds between the two and how they've grown because of their friendship. In this, Career Girls offers a rare form of comfort, an assurance that we matter in the lives of others and that the difference we make can endure even the great changes wrought by Time. (8/22/97)

4.0 stars (R.F.)

New Review


D: Peter Chan Ho-San; with Maggie Cheung, Leon Lai, Shu Qi. (Not Rated, 98 min.)

Is there anything Maggie Cheung can't do? Her recent turn in Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep was a startling turnabout from the standard Golden Harvest and Hong Kong roles that fans have come to know her for. But even while trading body blows with Jackie Chan and the Heroic Trio, Cheung's formidable acting skills have consistently shone through. Comrades, Almost a Love Story is no exception, though viewers may want to bring their schmaltz meters and a spare hanky or two to this well-done and elegiacally engaging film. Cheung plays Qiao, a young mainlander who seeks her fortune in the immensely profitable world of Hong Kong circa 1986. Quite literally at the same time, the idealistic young Jun (Lai), decked out in his best Mao threads, pursues the same goal, albeit with the initial goal of one day sending for his girlfriend who has opted to remain behind in their village Tianjin. Soon after, the pair meet at the McDonald's where Qiao bides her time as a countergirl. Jun, eager to attain a decent job and work his way out of his Aunt Rosie's brothel, accepts Qiao's quietly offered help (he's stymied by the language difficulties between the mainland and the island), and before you can say "isosceles love triangle," the pair are spending all their time together, renting the occasional room in one of the city's many "love hotels" and heading toward what appears to be both economic and emotional bliss. As with seemingly all HK films of this stripe, however, it is not to be. Jun's girlfriend arrives, there is a marriage, the stock market collapses, and a pudgy, low-rent gangster vies for Qiao's attentions. Throughout it all (Chan's film spans a full decade), Jun and Qiao never officially fall for each other, though it's obvious from that first hesitant glance at McDonald's that their passion is the tragic heart of this epic tearjerker. Filled with achingly beautiful cinematography and some of the most godawfully sappy musical cues yet recorded, Comrades frequently veers from old-school Hollywood treacle to profoundly affecting modern romance in the space of a single scene. A moderately amusing subplot having to do with Aunt Rosie's long-ago love for William Holden at first seems little more than emotional window-dressing, but it turns out to pack a solid, eye-watering wallop in the third act. Also, Jun and Qiao's John Woo-esque habit of just missing each other by one, fateful moment is played straight time and again; it shouldn't work at all, but more often than not it does. Cheung proves once again that she is, far and away, the most gifted of all of the new breed of Asian actresses, revealing more in one achingly beautiful glance than most of her contemporaries ­ Asian, Anglo, or otherwise ­ can in a full two-hour film. This is some breathtaking work, and although Comrades 'plot may seem strained at times, it's more than worth a look, if only to reacquaint oneself with Cheung's profound style of acting. (8/22/97)

3.0 stars (M.S.)

Texas Union


D: Paul Anderson; with Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, Sean Pertwee. (R, 97 min.)

Event Horizon is an amusing foray into the cloudy realm of sci-fi/horror hybrids, if only because you can catch a glimpse of the occasional shamefaced parent leading a squalling and terrified tot out of the theatre and over to the slightly less gory Free Willy 3 that's unspooling next door. There were indeed several walkouts at the Event Horizon screening I attended, most of which were attributable to families who obviously had not a clue what they were letting themselves in for, though I suspect more than a few folks chose to exit thanks in part to Phillip Eisner's glaring over-reliance on horror show clichés and Fishburne's frightening and perpetually knitted brow. From its marketing-impaired title on down, Event Horizon is a steadily churning debacle that promises much more than it can deliver and ends up drowning in a crimson sea of gore and maddeningly out-of-place steals from other, better genre shockers. The Event Horizon of the title refers to a prototype starship that has been sent out to the distant edge of the galaxy and suddenly and unexpectedly returns one day after a seven-year break in communication. The Lewis & Clark, a search-and-rescue ship commanded by stern-faced Captain Miller (Fishburne), is sent to intercept the Event Horizon as it drifts past Neptune, and hopefully reveal the mystery of this interstellar Marie Celeste. Among the usual complement of cliché action figures onboard Miller's ship is Dr. William Weir (Neill), the architect of the Event Horizon and a fellow with piercing, squirrely eyes that seem to scream "Madman!" every time he blinks. You'd think by the year 2047 spaceship crews would be able to recognize trouble in their midst, but apparently that's not the case, and so when the Lewis & Clark finally docks beside the huge, cruciform body of the Event Horizon, it's quite clear already that there's trouble afoot. From this point on, director Anderson (Mortal Kombat) pours on the gore and tosses right out the pressure-lock what little logic the plot might have ever possessed. Any number of comparisons come to mind, but more than anything else Event Horizon will remind genre fans of Hellraiser II in outer space, from Anderson's admittedly rattling shock cuts to the huge, labyrinthine corridors of the marooned ship herself. Granted, when Anderson pillages, he only steals from the best, and so you'll find traces of The Shining, The Haunting, Aliens, and even The City of Lost Children cropping up all over the place. The only thing he's neglected to include, it seems, is a plot worth bothering with, a sad fact made all the more distressing by the filmmaker's obvious love for the genre. Like most of its characters, Event Horizon is a bloody mess, rife with powerhouse effects, but not much else. (8/22/97)

2.0 stars (M.S.)

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


D: Ridley Scott; with Demi Moore, Viggo Mortensen, Anne Bancroft, Jason Beghe, Daniel Von Bargen, Kevin Gage, David Vadim, Morris Chestnut, Josh Hopkins. (R, 120 min.)

Touted for months now as the template for the oft-asked question "Can Demi Moore carry a film on her own?", G.I. Jane proves that, yes, despite Hollywood's ­ and the American moviegoing public's ­ love-hate relationship with Moore the Superstar, she has the chops down cold. No matter that Scott's film is little more than a run-of-the-mill crowd-pleaser with a finale that's telegraphed almost from scene one. And no matter, either, that the film carries a muddled message regarding women and power and women in power. The number-one question on the suits' minds (certainly in the wake of the Striptease and The Scarlet Letter disasters) has been: Can she hold her own? She does, and admirably well, to boot. So what you have here is a bravura performance from Moore anchored in a rather slipshod story and a mediocre job on Scott's part, at best. Moore plays Lt. Jordan O'Neil, a Navy Intelligence officer who is offered the chance to shatter the gender wall and become the first female member of the Navy's elite SEALs covert operations unit. O'Neil jumps at the chance, although her boyfriend Royce, himself a ranking naval officer, urges her to reconsider. The voice of reason, he quickly and accurately points out that not only are the SEALs notoriously macho and unwilling to cut her any slack other than the politically mandated "gender-norming" (which takes into accounts various unavoidable aspects of feminine physiology), but that there may also be some sort of shady political machinations favoring her ultimate failure. Such machinations come shrouded in the guise of Senator Lillian DeHaven (Bancroft), who at first recruits O'Neil and then does her damnedest to get the lieutenant shitcanned once the tides turn against her. Scott's depiction of the unbelievably arduous SEAL training is painstaking; if nothing else, G.I. Jane gives your muscles a sympathetic workout. As O'Neil slowly but surely wins the grudging respect of her male teammates, she finds herself in direct conflict with the SEALs' Master Chief Urgayle (Mortensen), a gritty, stoic, soldier-of-fortune type given to quoting D.H. Lawrence and downing tumblers of Jack Daniels. It doesn't help matters that a Chrissie Hynde ballad pops up on the soundtrack every time O'Neil finds herself weathering some sort of emotional storm, and Scott's Haight-Ashbury editing techniques during a climactic, third-act battle sequence are so out of place here that you wonder if he's just discovered the power of the zoom or if James Cameron slipped the cinematographer some angel dust. As a vehicle for Moore's acting abilities (and Mortensen's, for that matter), G.I. Jane is terrific. But as the end-of-summer blockbuster it's doubtless intended to be, it's pretty much a washout. (8/22/97)

2.5 stars (M.S.)

Arbor, Highland, Lakehills, Lakeline, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Roundrock


D: Andy Cadiff; with Christopher McDonald, Janine Turner, Cameron Finley, Erik von Detten. (PG, 88 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. The Cleaver clan confronts the Nineties and emerges fairly intact; June Cleaver (Northern Exposure's Janine Turner) has traded in her pearls for jeans and a cookie business, but you can bet the family core values haven't changed a wink. Oh sure, Ritalin and modern psychiatry have made their presence felt in Mayfield, Ohio and the TV show's Barbara Billingsley and Ken Osmond pop up for reassuring cameos, but as long as they're still getting away with calling that poor kid "Beaver" you can be certain that life in Mayfield is still pretty benign. ()


Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Roundrock


D: Roger Christian; with Patrick Stewart, Vincent Kartheiser, Brenda Fricker, Brad Whitford, Matt Craven. (PG-13, 106 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. When an evil mastermind played by Patrick Stewart takes an entire upscale suburban high school hostage, he is forced to match wits with a 14-year-old "underachiever" hero playing hooky. Star Wars' Oscar-winning set decorator Roger Christian directs. ()


Great Hills, Highland, Lakeline, Westgate


D: Guillermo Del Toro; with Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Josh Brolin, Giancarlo Giannini, Alexander Goodwin, F. Murray Abraham, Charles S. Dutton. (R, 104 min.)

Bummer about those Big Apple subways. First giant alligators, then cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers, and now giant, man-eating roaches ­ with lungs, no less. Advance word on Mimic, the second feature from Mexican horror auteur Del Toro (Cronos), has been rife with interesting hype, and so it's a bit disconcerting to realize that the film is, in effect, a throwback to some of the classic B sci-fi pics of the Fifties. Specifically I'm thinking of Them and The Giant Mantis, and while those deliriously fun flicks remain high on my all-time list of guilty pleasures, Mimic is a decent enough updating of the shopworn "don't go in the basement" school of filmmaking, although I must admit I was expecting a little more from the man behind the inspired and wholly unique Cronos. Sorvino and Northam play Drs. Susan Tyler and Peter Mann, a husband-and-wife team of scientists working for the CDC who are called upon to halt an epidemic that threatens a full generation of children on Manhattan Island. Since the illness is transmitted through New York's notoriously hardy cockroach population, the pair decide to fight back by combining various DNA strands from other insects into a new breed that will kill off the offending crawlies. The plan works, the kids are saved, and no one much seems to care that (once again) the biological makeup of Mother Nature has been tampered with in hideous ways that are sure to result in doom ­ doom, I say ­ for all mankind. Three years later, the good doctors' mutant strain of bug (the aptly named "Judas Breed") has evolved at an alarming rate and grown to roughly the size of Hulk Hogan. There are thousands of them breeding in the abandoned subway lines beneath the city, huge roach-like creepies with the ability to mimic the outline of a shaggy vagrant and thus ensnare their human prey. Armed with nothing but the hard-won assistance of a grumpy Transit Authority cop (Dutton), Tyler and Mann descend into the subterranean netherworld to seek out proof of their folly while F. Murray Abraham furrows his craggy brow up above and spouts the occasional half-baked scientific explanation (the best since Joe Dante's Mant! parody within his film Matinee). Once below ground, it's suddenly all-out war, man, with Sorvino doing a credible impersonation of Sigourney Weaver in Alien. For all its Del Toro touches (Goodwin as a young autistic boy kidnapped by the bugs), Mimic is a surprisingly hollow thriller. Creature effects legend Rob Bottin's (The Howling) "insectoid" creations are terrific to watch; the film makes you itch all over and crave a steaming hot bubble bath, or a series of them, but there's not much more to it than that. Which, come to think of it, is the way a good B monster movie should be. (8/22/97)

2.5 stars (M.S.)

Great Hills, Lake Creek, Lincoln, Movies 12, Northcross, Riverside, Westgate


D: Brett Ratner; with Chris Tucker, Charlie Sheen, Heather Locklear, Paul Sorvino. (R, 95 min.)

Until Eddie Murphy pulled his career out of its long free fall with The Nutty Professor, Money Talks is the sort of fiery, catastrophic auguring-in he was headed for. Though patterned after Murphy's monster early hits, 48HRS. and Beverly Hills Cop, this dull, oppressively stupid action comedy has almost none of those movies' cocksure, macho wit and energy. Worse, it lacks even a utility-grade substitute for Murphy himself. Tucker, a pop-eyed nonentity who earned this shot at immortality with supporting roles in Dead Presidents and The Fifth Element, simply doesn't have the talent to anchor a film. Playing lead character Franklin Hatchett ­ a motor-mouthed street hustler who accidentally gets crossways with murderous jewel smugglers ­ as a garbled fax image of Murphy's Reggie Hammond and Axel Foley roles, he yammers, squeals, and mugs through an excruciating procession of loud, witless scenes. The resulting product is more likely to appeal to fans of Jimmie "J.J." Walker than Eddie Murphy. But the blame for Money Talks' wretchedness falls less on Tucker's shoulders than on the genius who decided he was worthy of a full-fledged star vehicle, then got the ill-begotten project bankrolled and persuaded a major studio to release it. The mass delusion extended to actors such as Sheen, Locklear, and Sorvino, who may not be superstars, but who one might have imagined to be financially secure enough to avoid the career-damaging effects of this cinematic pipe bomb. Sheen, who plays a prima donna TV investigative reporter trying to help Hatchett bust the smugglers and escape a wrongful murder rap, seems most aware of what he's gotten himself into. His trapped rat expression and rigid performance speak volumes about the special horror of contractual obligation to a doomed project. Director Ratner, who has only two other obscure features to his credit, dutifully consults the Richard Donner stylebook for his action stuff, including a D-Day-scaled final shootout at the L.A. Coliseum, but his handling of these obligatory scenes exhibits all the conviction and natural flair of an industrial robot performing "Cold Sweat." I believe it's safe to say that all involved in the making of Money Talks are now trying their best to pretend it never happened. In the spirit of compassion and fellow feeling, we should honor their wishes. (8/22/97)

1.0 stars (R.S.)

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


D: Keith Samples; with Greg Kinnear, Lauren Holly, Joan Cusack, Jay Thomas. (R, 99 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. Rysher Entertainment CEO Keith Samples turns his hand to writing and directing with this romantic comedy starring Greg Kinnear and Lauren Holly as a busy young married couple trying to mesh their careers with the practical complications of conceiving a baby. ()


Arbor, Lake Creek, Lakehills, Lincoln, Movies 12


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

This year's Shaquille O'Neal vanity acting project features the sky-blotting LA Lakers pivotman as the armored crimefighter of DC Comics fame. Shaq plays former army metal engineer John Henry Irons, and there's a certain felicity in this; as a 53% career free throw shooter, the big guy has certainly hammered plenty of steel in his day. But when all is said and done, this is about as good a movie as you'd expect given a marble-mouthed seven-foot jock in the lead role, the creator of TV's Incredible Hulk in the director's chair, and Judd Nelson as the chief claim to artistic credibility. The story focuses on a top-secret soundwave cannon, developed by Irons and his electronics whiz colleague, Sparks (Gish). A former army mate named Burke (Nelson) has managed to copy the weapon for marketing to criminal elements. As inventors of the fearsome gizmo, Irons and Sparks (the latter now paralyzed by an injury suffered while testing the sonic gun), feel duty-bound to stop him. True to the grand comix tradition, their moral compulsion leads them to not only oppose evil but create stylish costumes and a secret lair full of enigmatic flashing machinery. Shaq is the executive producer here, and I find it credible that Steel is a true reflection of his personal "vision": lots of Eighties and Nineties action clichés, some quintessential blaxploitation-flick chase scenes (pumping bass-and-horn music; bodies plunging off buildings into Dumpsters), and a little gravy for an old idol (Shaft's Roundtree guest-stars). There's nothing grossly nasty or offensive here. To the contrary, much of Steel has a disarming sweetness and ebullience that almost conceals the cloying, aspartame-like aftertaste. Of course, O'Neal can't act a lick and the story is senseless, but one feels inclined to let it slide because his persona is as ingratiating as it is calculated. Still, at the risk of sounding like George Will, the time has come to affirm the importance of standards. I fear that repeated exposure to movies like Steel, Kazaam, (Shaq's '96 flop) and Disney's upcoming, wretched-looking Flubber will give youngsters the idea that fobbing off this vacuous, desultory product as art is an honorable way to make a living. Steel's target audience of 12-year-old boys would be better off staying home and busying themselves at traditional, character-enriching activities: sniping at family pets with BB guns, playing Nintendo, and masturbating. Shaq, meanwhile should bag the movies and work diligently on those freebies. Knees bent, elbow steady, full follow-through... wish. (8/22/97)

1.0 stars (R.S.)

Barton Creek, Great Hills, Lakeline, Lincoln


D: Adrienne Shelly; with Shelly, Tim Guinee, Roger Rees, Louise Lasser. (Not Rated, 83 min.)

Not reviewed at press time. Frequent Hal Hartley actress Adrienne Shelly writes, directs, and stars in Sudden Manhattan , an off-beat comedy about a mid-twenties life crisis. ()


Texas Union


D: Cédric Klapisch; with Garance Clavel, Oliver Py, Zinedine Soualem, Renée Le Calm, Romain Duris. (Not Rated, 95 min.)

The Parisian neighborhood in the French film When the Cat's Away is one of graffitied walls, struggling artists, encroaching gentrification, and multicultural experiences ­ a Gallic East Village, if you will. At the film's center is Chloé, a twentysomething makeup artist who comes to realize how lonely she is when her beloved cat, Gris-Gris, disappears while in the care of the eccentric Madame Renée, the local kittysitter. The mobilization of Chloé's neighbors to find the lost pet, particularly the old ladies with nothing else to do, is both funny and sweet; the irony is that Chloé's loss is, in a fashion, their gain. While the narrative thread of the film is the search for the missing feline, the story is not a mystery full of clues, motives, and suspects, as you might expect. (The film's title suggests a light, romantic romp, like that of many French films of the 1970s.) Rather, it is one of a young woman's often frustrating self-examination, a process in which answers don't come easily. The aimless, loose structure of While the Cat's Away, however, stalls the film in its quest for resolution. What this movie sorely needs is some dramatic punch to fully keep your interest. As the film's heroine, Clavel ­ whose looks are a little bit Isabelle Adjani, a little bit Alanis Morrisette ­ steadily earns your empathy for the unconnected Chloé, although the meandering storyline will cause you to want to shake some sense into her occasionally. The supporting players, especially the très amusant (and non-professional actor) Le Calm as the dotty but determined Madame Renée, make for a colorful bunch of habitants in the new Paris. Even with their presence, however, While the Cat's Away makes for less than a whole impression, leaving you wanting something more. In other words, the cat's not the only thing missing here. (8/22/97)

2.5 stars (S.D.)


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