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By Ray Pride, Ellen Fox

NOVEMBER 2, 1998: 

Modulations

Iara Lee, director of "Synthetic Pleasures" compiles a brisk overview of the history that led to contemporary electronic music and dance in an entertaining, rapidfire mix of interviews and performance. While those who know little of the history of music might be bewildered by the scope of Lee's survey, from musique concrete to John Cage to Kraftwerk, disco and contemporary practitioners, the result should spark curiosity in the intrigued viewer. 75m.(Ray Pride)



Soldier

Kurt Russell, star, has about three lines in "Soldier." But whatever outrageous fee he is being paid was far from wasted on pumping up his dinner plate-sized tits and - even more impressively - his ability to keep a straight face during this mediocre action tale about the forging of a disgruntled uber-soldier. Things look promising during childhood at the violence conditioning center, where the ruthless-to-be are forced to watch a pack of dogs maul a wild boar and where young Todd (played by Russell's son) unblinkingly bloodies a classmate. But once Todd is deemed outdated and dumped on Waste Disposal Planet Arcadia, the tale turns sluggish. Todd is immediately greeted by a snuggly bunch of wide-eyed ragamuffin fringe-kids and soon after, a song by Loreena McKennit hovers down. Aside from a few nice touches (the family that takes him in lives in a gutted Air Iceland plane), Arcadia is your standard Ye Olde Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland of the Three Suns. In the future, we've come to realize, every one will look like renaissance folk - tattered scarves, nubby sweaters, peasant skirts - all in hues of rust and brown and olive drab. Rather than developing any unique aspects of the Arcadian plight or Todd's emotional thaw, the film shorthands it. One glimpse at the breast of his female caretaker (her face wizened with Nordic age) is enough to bring him around. Russell simply lacks Schwarzenegger's facial deadpan to fill a straight face with feeling, and Todd's exile in a Gestapo longcoat only makes us yearn for the big, final fight. But when it comes, it's unremarkable except for the sound of its punches - which have the low, woofer-waffling thud of a heavy gray, foreign sedan door being shut, as opposed to, say, the cracks you hear in Westerns or the rich knocks of a "Die Hard" movie. (Ellen Fox)



Without Limits

The athlete's glory story - with its triangulated relationship between the sage-like but bruised coach, the worrisome girlfriend and the cocky, but golden, athlete (remember "Good Will Hunting"?) - is revived in the true tale of runner Steve Prefontaine, with mostly exhilarating results. Never have the seventies looked so good. Far from being exploited for nostalgia, the currents of the decade - not its shaggy mustaches and disillusionment, but its itchy-sweet physicality - are as much a part of the story as running. When coach Bill Bauerman (a canned but enjoyable Donald Sutherland) advises Pre to tuck his pelvis under as he runs, he leans in and whispers "like at the deepest moment of penetration." As Prefontaine, a renegade front-runner who chose to burn up his resources rather than taint his race with strategy, Billy Crudup is luminous. He's irresistible to every one except fawn-faced co-ed Mary, who, amid the sexually liberating seventies, clings to her own set of unpopular values about bodily integrity. Pre's hubris is his belief that winning is really only a matter of wanting it badly enough. The classical struggle of physical endurance to match those spiritual ideals culminates in the 1972 Berlin Olympics, where notorious events both on and off the track express the all too human extent of our limits. It's all very sentimental (obligatory trumpets, slow motion) but the intimate milieu in which the characters make their choices is still touching from way up here in the nineties, where sport is a commercial enterprise and sexuality potentially lethal. (Ellen Fox)


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