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Austin Chronicle Film Reviews



D: Peter Cattaneo; with Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Hugo Speer, Paul Barber, Steve Huison. (R, 90 min.)

SEPTEMBER 15, 1997:  Bountiful laughs and a subtle dose of consciousness-raising coexist easily in Peter Cattaneo's comedy about laid-off English steelworkers whose financial desperation leads them to form a Chippendales-knockoff strip act. The title translates roughly to "full frontal nudity," which is the hook these out-of-shape, rhythmically impaired males hope will inspire the womenfolk of Sheffield to show up for "Hot Steel"'s one-night-only gig. The ringleader of the group is Gaz (Carlyle, who played the hell-raising Begbie in Trainspotting), a divorced dad looking for a quick score to pay off his delinquent child support. The way he figures it, if a bunch of arse-wiggling "poofs" can drive women into frothing ecstasy and earn 10,000 pounds in a single night, why not a virile crew of steel-driving roughnecks straight outta the mills? As it turns out, the men of Hot Steel are far from cocky about how they'll look strutting around in red silk g-strings. Pudding-bellied Dave (Addy) is insecure about his weight and afraid his recent impotency will drive his wife to another man. Horse (Barber) lacks the anatomical bounty his nickname suggests and resorts in desperation to a mail-order enlargement device. Lomper (Huison) and Guy (Speer) both have the muscular definition of Gumbys ­ though Guy at least fills out his bikini pouch impressively. As showtime nears, their performance anxiety grows geometrically, with some threatening to bail on their comrades and all recognizing for the first time how women must feel about having their bodies casually critiqued by men. Granted, this all sounds pretty broad, but the actual effect is far more tender and affecting than you'd expect. Once you've bought into the improbable premise, the particulars of the story ­ the ridiculous early practices (a videotape of Flashdance serves as a technical reference), their children's embarrassment, the community's amusement and titillation ­ all develop quite plausibly. This film bears some resemblance in setting and structure to the recent Brassed Off!, but any social-protest content in Cattaneo's movie is strictly implicit. He's much more interested in illuminating individual personality quirks than the pressing economic issues of the day. These modest ambitions, along with a generally predictable story, will keep the The Full Monty from ever attaining the critical regard of other English social comedies like I'm All Right, Jack, or even My Beautiful Laundrette. But by all means, see this movie anyway, because it's a rare comedy indeed that generates such a steady flow of hilarious scenes (including one in which the lads start unconsciously twitching and undulating to Donna Summer's "Hot Stuff" as they're standing in line to collect their dole) from such simple, sweet-natured premises. The Full Monty is feel-good comedy with none of the pejorative hints of innocuous blandness that term so often implies. (9/12/97)

3.0 stars (R.S.)

Arbor, Lakehills, Village

New Review


D: Marcos Zurinaga; with Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos, Esai Morales, Giancarlo Giannini, Jeroen Krabbe, Miguel Ferrer. (R, 109 min.)

This will serve for many as their introduction to the work and short, tragic life of Spanish poet and playwright Garcia Lorca, who was summarily executed under less-than-clear circumstances in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. Although the film was originally intended as a vehicle for Raul Julia (and is dedicated to the late actor), Garcia stepped in to play the part of the beloved artist when Julia passed away. The film is presented as a series of flashbacks focusing on Lorca's life and the turbulent effects he had on the Spanish-speaking world (and indeed the literary world at large) and those around him. As a boy, Ricardo Fernandez (Morales) met the poet backstage at the premiere of his expressionist masterpiece Yerma in 1936. Since then, Ricardo has been haunted by the magical work of the man and the bitter legacy left after his death. Ricardo has since moved to Puerto Rico with his father (Eusebio Lazaro), but in 1954 he returns to his hometown of Granada to unearth the mystery of who killed Lorca, obsessively tracking down every lead and ignoring the blatant fact that pursuing such avenues could very well get him killed in Franco's modern Spain. Lorca may be long gone, but his enemies ­ and those who still fear the revolutionary tenor of his work ­ are not. Along his search for truth, Ricardo meets up with all manner of weasels, including the disheveled cabbie Centeno (Giannini), who may or may not be tailing him for the government, and the wealthy Colonel Aguirre (Krabbe), with whose daughter he manages to fall in love. Granadine offical Robert Lozano (Olmos) apparently does everything in his power to put an end to Ricardo's relentless search, even going so far as to have him beaten and left for dead. Like any good obsessive worth his salt, however, Ricardo refuses to give in to the mounting pressures around him, even though it may destroy not only himself but many, many others as well. Zurinaga does an admirable job attempting to tie together all the loose ends that surrounded, and continue to surround, the death of Lorca, but his film, for all of its winning performances and beautiful camerawork, feels oveloaded and ponderous. It's as if, in trying to bring this wondrous Spanish poet to the screen, much of the simple essence of the man has been left behind. To be sure, Garcia makes an engaging Lorca ­ the film opens with an epic reading of his masterwork "The Goring and the Death," about the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War; it's a relentlessly touching scene ­ but somewhere along the line, Zurinaga loses sight of his goal and lets the film ramble on, nearly as obsessive as its protagonist. You're never quite sure why Lorca died, or exactly what solid threat he posed to Franco and his minions. Truth, justice, and poetry make for odd bedfellows during a revolution, but even stranger ones in the retelling. (9/12/97)

2.5 stars (M.S.)



D: Felix Enriquez Alcala; with Steven Seagal, Marg Helgenberger, Harry Dean Stanton, Kris Kristofferson. (R, 107 min.)

Steven Seagal strikes me as the least interesting Zen Buddhist, environmental activist, country music-playing martial arts movie star imaginable. But my opinion is clearly in the minority, and this latest entry in the ponytailed face-crusher's curriculum vitae will surely pack 'em in with the same brutal efficiency as previous hits such as Under Siege, Hard to Kill, and On Deadly Ground. This time around, Seagal is Jack Taggart, an Environmental Protection Agency marshal sent to investigate reports of illegal toxic waste dumping near a remote Kentucky coal mining town. Despite his cover identity as an itinerant carpenter, he stands out glaringly in the tiny village (that wardrobe of foppish Adam Ant fringed leather outfits, perhaps?) and is soon being menaced by goons who work for villainous polluter Orin Hanner (Kristofferson). These thugs, needless to say, are pulverized as effortlessly as so many Easter chicks. This is a problem I've always had with Seagal's martial arts sequences; there's seldom a nanosecond of suspense, and the fight choreography has all the sophistication of Seventies drive-in fare such as Billy Jack and Walking Tall. Of course, some narrative spackling paste is needed to fill in the gaps between the beatdown sequences, and this thankless role is handled by Helgenberger, who plays a beekeeping spinster romanced by Taggart. Kristofferson continues his recent trend of sinister power broker roles with a cartoonishly amusing turn as Hanner. Other singers-turned-actors, including Randy Travis and Travis Tritt, appear in cameo roles. Stanton, meanwhile, makes what I'm fairly certain is his onscreen singing debut, and Seagal extends the artistic cross-training theme by jamming with a country band. What we're talking about here is strictly novelty value, though, and for me that's about all this movie has going for it. I still consider the whispery-voiced, beetle-browed Seagal a complete cypher and perhaps the most baffling box office draw in film history. Fire Down Below offers the grimacing hulk little support with a hopelessly implausible plot and odd production touches such as a musical score which occasionally juxtaposes Mississippi Delta blues with Kentucky mountain scenes. There's also a curiously high incidence of anal penetration jokes for such a bull-necked macho action flick. But enough; for the faithful, my scornful nattering will be as locust chirps in the remote distance. All I can realistically hope is that I'll never turn on the radio and hear Seagal and Merle Haggard dueting on "The Fighting Side of Me." (9/12/97)

1.5 stars (R.S.)

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


D: David Fincher; with Michael Douglas, Sean Penn, James Rebhorn, Deborah Kara Unger, Peter Donat, Carroll Baker, Armin Mueller-Stahl. (R, 128 min.)

Shadows, fluorescent lighting, and David Fincher. The unholy trio. Fincher's first outing since the wildly popular Seven has echoes of everything from the cult TV show The Prisoner to various nods to Hitchcock, though it's certainly Fincher's game all the way. It also has wild plot holes and requires an almost inhuman suspension of disbelief, but it's still a fun ride up to a point. Douglas is Nicholas Van Orton, a wealthy and ruthless San Francisco investment banker who is given a mysterious birthday gift by his black sheep brother Conrad (Penn). The gift in question is a ticket to a game created by a highbrow executive entertainment firm called Consumer Recreation Services. And the game in question? Well, no one seems to know. According to CRS pitchman Feingold (Rebhorn), Van Orton will not know when or where the game begins, or even what the objective is, or even if there is an objective. After undergoing rigorous psychiatric and physical testing, Van Orton nonetheless agrees, and the game, so to speak, is afoot. Van Orton soon finds his privacy intruded upon, his house broken into, his life repeatedly threatened, and his world literally turned upside down, and the hell of it all is that it looks as though he's being taken for a very dangerous ride. Is the game some high-priced scam to separate him from his money? Is his brother in on it? Are people actually being killed all around him? Are his life and mental well-being suddenly up for grabs to the highest bidder? Van Orton hasn't a clue, and neither does the audience. Fincher wisely keeps everyone and everything in the dark about what the real machinations here are, and though that may annoy some of the more literal-minded members of the viewing public, it does make for a terrific emotional roller coaster. The Game gives Douglas a much-needed venue to run the gamut of his acting abilities, everything from the vicious Wall Street-smarts of Gordon Gekko to the frantic panic of Basic Instinct is rehashed, and Douglas is clearly having a ball. Likewise his supporting cast, including Crash's Unger as a mysterious blond (everyone in The Game is mysterious, come to think of it) and Donat as Van Orton's lawyer. It's all a bit much after awhile, and how much you enjoy The Game will depend on how much you enjoy shoddy, creaking carnival rides and Halloween haunted houses. There's no explanation ­ certainly not a very satisfying one, at any rate ­ given for the rules, or non-rules, of the game, and I have the feeling that a slightly more upbeat ending has been tacked on at short notice, but the effortless ease with which Fincher creates palpable disquiet and overwhelming anxiety is genuinely fun to watch. It's not for everyone and it doesn't make much sense when you stop to think about it, but it's still a lot more fun than Parcheesi. (9/12/97)

2.5 stars (M.S.)

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


D: Shusuke Kaneko; with Tsuyoshi Ihara, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani, Akira Onodera. (Not Rated, 90 min.)

After a lengthy, 26-year rest, Japan's other giant radioactive reptile is back, and none too soon. Gamera, the 60-meter flying turtle with elephantine tusks and fiery breath returns riding the coattails of Godzilla, who himself (or, really, herself) has been enjoying a resurgence of late. Plotwise, this new, improved version of every Japanese schoolkid's favorite airborne saurian remains much the same as when Daiei Studios introduced him in 1966. This time out, Gamera comes to light when a mysterious drifting atoll is spotted moving through the South Pacific. A transport ship carrying a load of weapons-grade plutonium has already run aground on the perapatetic land mass, and when lowly insurance inspector Naoya (Nakayama) and naval officer Yoshinari (Shinobu) invesigate, they discover a bizarre metal plate bearing an inscription in an unknown language. Before a rough translation can be made, the atoll comes to life and leaves the pair drifting at sea. Meanwhile, reports of giant birds beging to filter in from a nearby island, where a research team has suddenly, inexplicably gone missing. To make a long and excessively convoluted story shorter, the island, it turns out, is the top of Gamera's shell, and the birds are the offspring of his ancient nemesis Gyaos, a giant bird-like creature with a striking resemblance to Rodan. Both creatures, according to the arcane inscription, are from outer space, and though it's hard to appreciate it at first, the saber-toothed Gamera is here to save mankind. That should be obvious from anyone who caught the exploits of the über-turtle the first time around, when his adventures quickly moved from the sublime to the ridiculous in a misguided effort to allow him to keep pace with the ever-sillier Godzilla. Effects master Tomoo Haraguchi has left Gamera pretty much as before ­ he spits fireballs instead of shooting outright flames, but his basic design remains unchanged. Also as usual, there's precious little character arc for Gamera to follow, so the filmmakers instead have him trounce Gyaos and a few city blocks, neither of which is too convincing. Gamera always struck me as the poor man's Godzilla, and the impression is only solidified with this new outing, which is by turns cheesy and downright ridiculous. Not that it isn't any fun ­ it is ­ but I still think every Gamera film should come stickered "Suitable for ages 8 and up." (9/12/97)

1.5 stars (M.S.)

Texas Union


D: Various. (Not Rated, 99 min.)

Another day, another animation festival from those wacky guys at S&M. As always, it's a mixed bag, with various styles and sensibilities represented, from the sublime to the superfluous, and from the goofy to the really goofy. Stiffy", by Canadian Brian McPhail, is a simple claymation look at a lonely little lad who receives that most treasured of birthday gifts, a dog. Unfortunately, the shipper has neglected to drill the prerequisite air holes in the pooch's packing crate, and the gift arrives post mortem, which sets things up for an extended riff on the joys of dead dog ownership. Nicely done, and grotesque to boot. Who could ask for anything more? I could, and was richly rewarded by Hilary, a brief work from Brit Anthony Hodgson that combines the sensiblilities of Franz Kafka with some engagingly rudimentary puppet work to tell the tale of a young girl and her father and a very, very surreal bedtime story. Full of barely repressed menace and plenty of dark corners, Hilary puts you in mind of some of Henry Selick's work (The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach), though it's much more challenging. The Devil Went Down to Georgia is actually a music video for one of Les Claypool's Primus offshoots, but as such it's a keeper. Classic claymation, it features the best devil this side of Tim Curry's in Legend, and though it seems a tad too slick for its own good at times, it's still a remarkable achievment. Which brings me to the most remarkable achievement of all, the Oscar-winning A Close Shave from Brit Nick Park and his Aardman Animation team. Another in the ongoing Wallace and Gromit series, this much-balleyhooed outing has the cheese-addled (and rather dull) window washer Wallace and his trusty canine companion Gromit stumble onto a mysterious sheep rustling ring. On top of that, Wallace falls in love with the wrong girl, and Gromit gets to fly a plane in some truly amazing animation from this wildly popular animation studio. Park and his crew can do more with a raised clay eyebrow than any human actor, and the amount of care taken to bring Wallace and Gromit to life remains astonishing. Like Wallace's beloved Wendsleydale, Park's work only gets better with time. Other notables include Political Correction by Steven Fonti, a parody of the old Schoolhouse Rock Saturday morning show that takes a stand for political correctness, and Trainspotter, a take on Trainspotting sans junk from Jeff Newitt. It's a better lineup than you might expect from the long-running Spike and Mike team, with nary a clinker in sight, and emcompassing a vast range of styles and themes. True to their word, Spike & Mike continue to offer up the finest animation around. (9/12/97)

3.0 stars (M.S.)


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