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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

NOVEMBER 9, 1998: 

BELLY. In response to the assertion that Black English is drifting away from standard English, Linguist John McWhorter has recently tried to make the case that Black English is a fairly stable dialect that is about as close to Standard English today as it was 30, 50 or 100 years ago. Perhaps he could get a job subtitling Belly, a story of inter-state, international, inter-gang rivalries which is, at times, as visually engaging as it is hard to understand. This "gangsta" film is so artfully shot that you'll forget how hard the convoluted plot is to follow. It's first 45 minutes are dedicated to visual excess, with director Hype Williams employing a delicious palate of alternating monotone scenes. One of the most notable segments cuts back and forth between a blue-tinted boudoir and an all-in-yellow suburban living room to smashing effect. Oddly, all the half-toned shots, beautiful compositions and Fritz-Lang-on-Ecstasy lighting vanish about half-way through, and suddenly the story starts to make sense. Maybe it's an either-or thing, but both halves of the film work, first as psychedelic-noir eye-candy, then as a reasonably engaging story of gangsters searching for redemption. Starring Nas (who co-write the script with video director Hype Williams) as Sincere, and DMX as his gangsta pal Tommy. --DiGiovanna

A MERRY WAR. I say, if you must get out of your flat because there's nothing on the telly, perhaps you'd have a mind to pop out and watch something so very English as this slow-moving film. Sadly, itís a bit of a let down, entertainment-wise. Richard Grant plays a poet who writes ad copy, but quits to lead a life of starvation and artistic integrity. Helena Bonham Carter plays the woman who has no rational reason for putting up with his behaviour as he descends into drunken excess and poverty. Like all extremely English films, this one is set in the past, tries for a dry wit, and has an odd chastity about even its erotic scenes. If you like PBS, but would rather pay $7 to watch it, do go to A Merry War.--DiGiovanna

PRACTICAL MAGIC. Survey a bunch of witches about what they want most, and nine out of 10 will tell you good, old-fashioned love. The other 10 percent will insist that their true desire is a soundtrack that masquerades as a script. Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman) are sisters (but, really, aren't we all?) who are witchy and cursed--if they fall in love, their men will die. Sally resolves to beat it with normality (husband, kids, etc.), while Gillian accepts it and pursues a good time. This, of course, means that Gillian must be punished, so her boyfriend returns from the dead to torture her. Sally exorcises him, then falls in love with a cop (Aidan Quinn) and makes out. The more interesting story--the one of their aunts (Stockard Channing and Diane Wiest)--is unfortunately of lesser importance. But at least Wiest gets to utter the line, "There's a little witch in all of us." Gals, this is empowering stuff. --Higgins

THE SIEGE. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) has expressed grave fears about the potential effects of this film, which they believe could increase hatred and suspicion towards members of the Muslim and American-Arab communities. The Siege tells the story of a wave of terrorist bombings that occur in New York City. In response, the U.S. government declares martial law and imprisons all Arab men (which here seems to mean anyone of Persian, Middle Eastern or North African descent) between the ages of 14 and 30. The film does attempt to address the issue of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim prejudice in the United States; however, in its broad Hollywood way, it employs stereotypes, simplifications and sometimes offensive misrepresentations of Islam. Perhaps most egregious are the images of the terrorists (who are only referred to as "Muslims" and "Arabs," as though those terms could constitute a cohesive identity or a terrorist organization) performing ritual hand washing prior to their attacks: the film implies that this is something specifically done in preparation for acts of violence, when in fact this is a daily ritual that Muslims engage in prior to prayer. When the army places all of Brooklyn's young males of Arab descent in a camp, the scene shows an unrealistically homogenous crowd of people, all with the same pigmentation and clothing. The effort to mute this effect by casting Tony Shalhoub as one of the FBI agents in charge of the investigation is itself muted by having him play sidekick and second-fiddle to leading man Denzel Washington. Still, interesting issues are raised here: in several scenes, disembodied voices point out that this kind of government action would not be tolerated against Jewish or Black Americans; the army is definitely portrayed as villainous in their treatment of the Arabic prisoners; and there are (fairly awkward) assurances that "most" Arabs are decent, law-abiding citizens. The very fact that the film begins to question the prejudices against Arabs and Muslims shows a radical leap forward in Hollywood thinking. In spite of the very reasonable reservations of the ADC, the history of American cinema shows that clumsy first steps like The Siege are often signs of real progress.--DiGiovanna

TOUCH OF EVIL. Thirty years after its original release, this version of Orson Welles' film is re-edited according to changes the director requested after viewing the studio cut that significantly altered his vision. A beautifully shot film noir, the story follows the investigation of a car bombing in a small town on the Mexican border. Newlyweds Mike (Charlton Heston) and Susan Vargas (Janet Leigh) witness the explosion during their honeymoon, so Mike joins a nasty American police chief, Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles), in the investigation. In true noir style, Welles creates a claustrophobic world with a slippery definition of morality, where the cops are sometimes as corrupt as the criminals. Though the murder is solved by the end of the film, the most compelling question, why Heston is playing a Mexican, remains unanswered.
--Higgins

VAMPIRES. Please benefit from my suffering and don't waste two hours of your life hoping that director John Carpenter's (Halloween, Escape from New York) latest effort will be bad-good rather than bad-offensive. James Woods, showing his wood in particularly tight jeans, and Daniel Baldwin, struggling to stay awake, play vampire slayers who pursue the father of all vampires. Along the way they pick up Sheryl Lee so that Baldwin can take off her clothes, tie her up, call her a bitch, and eventually fall in love, and a priest, so Woods can talk about his penis. Interesting ideas, such as the mixing of the horror genre with the western and viewing vampirism as a virus, surface, but only for about 30 seconds. After that, it's back to Lee's rope burns. If you hate women, this film could be for you, but I still think you'll be tripped up by the bad dialogue, clichéd revenge plot, and hokey music. Oh, and there's some homophobic stuff thrown in for extra flavor. --Higgins


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