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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

DECEMBER 7, 1998: 

A BUG'S LIFE. Antz may've beat Pixar's computer animated insect-o-rama to the big screen, but A Bug's Life is the far superior of the two, both for enchanting animated life and a serviceable storyline. Where one hopes in vain for Antz' whiny, accidental hero (Woody Allen) to get irrevocably smashed, Bug's Flik (Dave Foley--whoever he is) is a far more dynamic instigator. Essentially a story about two engaging screw-ups--one a princess (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and the other an unsinkable everyman (Foley)--who make good in the end, the most engaging aspects here are the cinematic direction and the zippy one-liners (yes, they saved a few for the paying audiences). Celebrity voices are well-matched to their insectine counterparts, including Kevin Spacey as the evil grasshopper leader, Phyllis Diller as the queenly cut-up, and Denis Leary as a ladybug at odds with his feminine side. If you go, be sure to stay through the credits for the animated outtakes. --Wadsworth

ELIZABETH. Cate Blanchett plays the Virgin Queen, who ruled England during Shakespeare's time. She's a sassy wench, according to this version--a bejeweled rebel bucking the Catholic system and following the dictates of her royal heart in all things. It's ridiculous, but kind of fun. The court is perpetually bathed in inky gloom, and a series of stabbings, beheadings, stake-burnings and exotic poisonings make Elizabeth's castle look a lot riskier than any old sorority house in a horror movie. All pretensions to high art are abandoned early here anyway, so if it's lusty cads in short pants and fine ladies in satin gowns you want, this is your one-stop shopping place. If you're hoping for an intelligent story of any sort, however, browse elsewhere. --Richter

HAPPINESS. A funhouse view of varieties of suffering from Todd Solondz, creator of Welcome to the Dollhouse. A New Jersey family, featuring two miserable parents (Louise Lasser and Ben Gazzara) and three tortured grown daughters, put themselves and others through as much pure hell as possible. We witness a series of sex crimes, failed relationships, bitter rejections, and doomed quests for self as Solondz struggles to situate himself as the Hieronymus Bosch of our times. Happiness is a comedy, though a disturbing one, that exaggerates misery just enough so that some people--maybe a few--might laugh at it. In any case, it's a cheering antidote to the pat, happy endings of Hollywood movies, and this director has a real knack for capturing the nuance of suburban ugliness. Chairs that match the wallpaper! Endless cubicles of office space! The doings in Happiness are more exaggerated than in Welcome to the Dollhouse, and this film is less likely to evoke that complex, nauseating God-that-happened-to-me feeling of his earlier film. Nonetheless, it's an interesting, disturbing, and sometimes amusing tour of the downside of being alive. --Richter

HOME FRIES. Dark comedies aren't generally sweet, but cast a ringlet-adorned Drew Barrymore as a pregnant, small town drive-thru attendant, and you can skip those M&Ms at the concession stand. The enjoyably convoluted story centers around two families, the white trash, big-hearted Jacksons and the upper-class, insane Levers, and the adultery that brings them all together. Sally Jackson (Barrymore) dates the much older Henry Lever (Chris Ellis), but only until she discovers he's married. His wife (Catherine O'Hara) finds out about the affair and decides that one way to cure a cheating heart is to manipulate her sons, Dorian (Luke Wilson) and Angus (Jake Busey), into killing it. Dimwitted Angus suspects Sally knows of the murder, so Dorian goes undercover as a fry cook at the Burger-Matic where she works. In addition to lots of cute with a capital K between Dorian and Sally, Home Fries offers a cynical and funny look at the idealized bourgeois family, a great cast, and practical advise, such as, "a relaxed jaw means an open vagina." If that's not enough of a recommendation, at least go to see the ever-enchanting Shelley Duvall as Ma Jackson.

RINGMASTER. In the 1920s, Robert Musil wrote his magnum opus, The Man Without Qualities, in which he bemoaned the excessively refined culture of his age. He expressed the belief, prevalent amongst intellectuals of the time, that the mannered, overly civilized society of the modern world had robbed humanity of all possibility for genuine self-expression by virtue of its insistence on historical knowledge and schooled, aestheticist sensitivities. Musil was wrong. Jerry Springer has brought us living proof that humanity's most immediate and unmediated desires are still capable of unfettered expression; that mankind still has the capacity to push aside the constraining sublimations of culture in order to be, freely and without shame, that which, at basest heart, it truly is. To stress this point, here's the finest bit of dialogue from Ringmaster: Stepfather: "Do that other thing." Stepdaughter: "What thing?" Stepfather: "That thing your mother won't do." I thank God almighty that the nightmare world of literate, cultured, effete snobs that Musil imagined so brilliantly has not overwhelmed the world, and that there is still room for a TV show about men who love their girlfriends' pet goats. Pull up a 40-ouncer and slide into Ringmaster, where hope reigns supreme and foley artists have perfected the slurpy noises that accompany oral lovemaking. --DiGiovanna

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