This Week at the Movies
Aisle Seat Update by Andy Dursin
You know Halloween is just around the corner when we get a pair of major studio productions with supernatural elements in each. I would say, just from my own biased movie-going expertise, that the “must-see” is THE DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, which offers Keanu Reeves in a supposedly believable performance, a naked Charlize Theron, plenty of special effects at the finale, and Al Pacino as Old Scratch himself. We’ll see if Al makes us forget our memories of Walter Huston from DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER, but he looks he’s having fun in the trailer. Director Taylor Hackford and screenwriter Tony Gilroy are coming off their triumph on DOLORES CLAIBORNE, so this seems to have a lot going for it all around. Hackford, by the way, always seems to go beyond the two-hour limit in every film he’s made; this one is no exception, clocking in at 144 minutes!
The other choice this week is Kevin Williamson’s “Scream” follow-up, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, which dusts off one of those old “let’s cover up an accident and don’t tell anyone about it” plots and mixes it up with slasher-style mayhem. Sarah Michelle Gellar and Jennifer Love Hewitt star in this one, along with two guys nobody has ever heard of before, but who cares? Could be entertaining, but I’ll take Pacino over this if given the choice, despite having Buffy herself up on the big-screen.
*THIS WEEK ON TV
In case you missed it, ARMY OF DARKNESS was broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel last weekend, restoring virtually all of the footage contained in the expanded Japanese laserdisc, as well as entirely NEW scenes exclusive to this TV cut! If you didn’t set your VCRs, don’t worry–you get another chance when USA rebroadcasts this version on the weekend of October 24th. Meanwhile, Sci-Fi this week airs a pair of Universal genre films that were also altered (with different footage) for their television airings–John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS (10/18, 7pm) and William Friedkin’s THE GUARDIAN (10/19, 12:30am), the latter so changed that Friedkin had his name removed from the credits (thus, it becomes the “Allan Smithee Cut”!).
Also this week, your cable/satelittle movie channels offer some extremely good and diverse choices. If you missed AMC’s Fifth Annual Film Preservation Festival, be sure to catch their restored version of Hitchcock’s SPELLBOUND (12:30am, 10/16, AMC), with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. Other intriguing choices include a rare pay-cable showing of RAGGEDY MAN (6:15pm, 10/18, Encore); a probably-letterboxed airing of THE LION IN WINTER (3am, 10/19, TCM), and widescreen versions of IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (8pm, 10/20, TCM) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (11:30pm, 10/20, TCM).
NOTE: All times are EST, and the day listed begins at midnight (thus, if the day is 10/16, you’ll have to set your timers on 10/15 for the overnight).
We’re going to try and update this column every Monday/Tuesday to set the table, so to speak, for your movie-going and TV-viewing enjoyment each week. Feel free to email me if you scan the listings yourself and see anything intriguing coming up in a few weeks, or if you have any questions or comments. Thanks!
SEVEN YEARS IN TIBET (***1/2): Critics have missed the boat a few times this year, and at least in my eye, the majority of them have done it again with Jean-Jacques Annaud’s sumptuous travelogue of an Austrian mountain climber’s real-life relationship with the Dalai Lama during the 1940s. Brad Pitt has been lambasted for some of his past performances, but he’s surprisingly good here as a man searching for spiritual guidance after escaping from a British P.O.W. camp, only to have his wife divorce him and son grow up with another father while he attempts to enter Tibet during WWII. Pitt is low-key, believable, and uses a great deal of restraint as the former Gold medalist Heinrich Harrer, while Annaud’s usual specialty in bringing foriegn cultures to life on the big-screen is on full display here–it’s like watching a National Geographic special in its depiction of the Tibetan people and their culture, while breathtaking cinematography captures the Himalayas like few films have ever done before. Some critics (and certain FSM editors!) were bored by the picture, but I was thoroughly captived by all of it, with the sequences between Pitt and the Dali Lama being subtly poignant, never once reverting to Hollywood melodramatic cliches. If the film is “emotionally aloof,” it’s probably because the movie is done with taste and a sense of realism, in keeping with the true-life story it cinematically recreates. It’s all perfectly punctuated by a restrained, sublime John Williams score that really soars over the finale. Great entertainment all around. [PG-13]
THE PEACEMAKER (***1/2): Forget about the hype surrounding Dreamworks, and how their first movie should be a Really Important Film and not just another peice of fluff “escapist” moviemaking. Mimi Leder, who helmed many of E.R’s finest hours, makes her feature directorial debut with this taut, exciting, well-scripted globe-trotting adventure that makes the last few James Bond movies look like “Our Man Flint” by comparison. George Clooney and Nicole Kidman are both believable as they attempt to track down missing nuclear warheads, in a plot that constantly moves from start to finish–pausing only to establish the various locations our characters find themselves in. If you can keep up with the plot, this is great fun, and certainly better than many of this past summer’s ersatz “thrillers.” (And nowhere near as insulting to the audience as AIR FORCE ONE). Even Hans Zimmer’s (for him) subdued score is effective, and when was the last time you could say that? [R]
THE EDGE (***): Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in a wilderness adventure scripted by David Mamet? Sounds like an intriguing possibility for success, but the end results in the finished film by Lee Tamahouri are often uneven. While the “outdoor action” sequences, with Hopkins and Baldwin being hunted down by Bart the Bear, provide edge-of-your-seat excitement, the movie’s annoying subplot–with Baldwin’s fashion photographer fooling around with Hopkins’ wife–gets in the way of the fun. Eventually, the movie turns tiresome and predictable at the end, especially after Bart departs, and character psycho-melodrama sets in. The big problem is that Baldwin’s character is hard to believe, something further compounded by the fact that Baldwin is such a strong, charismatic screen presence, it’s impossible to believe him as a wishy-washy con artist. The settings are phenomenal, though, and Hopkins is superb as always, but somehow the movie never really connects in the manner it intends to. Jerry Goldsmith’s standard but somewhat redundant score doesn’t do as much as it should, either; Tamahouri’s last film, the deadly disappointing MULHOLLAND FALLS, featured a similarly redundant score from Dave Grusin, leading one to believe that the filmmaker should take some classes in learning how to utilize music in his films–not to simply recycle the main theme over and over again. But still, an interesting movie that’s worth a look–and be sure to catch my next-door neighbor, Mark Kiely, as a mechanic who speaks to Hopkins at the start of the film! [R]
IN & OUT (**1/2): Kevin Kline can’t figure out that he’s gay, even after decades teaching high school, until former student-turned-superstar Matt Dillon drops the big bomb on Oscar night. That’s the unlikely premise of Paul Rudnick’s often unbelievable and only intermittently funny comic-drama of what it means to “come out.” Despite a solid supporting cast consisting of Dillon, Joan Cusack (marvelous as Kline’s long-suffering girlfriend), and Bob Newhart (hilarious as Kline’s school principal), Rudnick and director Frank Oz too often opt for cheap laughs and crass Hollywood stereotypes. The story is set in one of those small-town nirvanas that only exist in the movies, populated by one-dimensional stock characters, while the “serious” ending is an absolute insult to the audience with its Mr.Chips/Mr.Holland earnestness. But the biggest problem is Rudnick’s script, which thinks it’s knocking down stereotypes when, ultimately, all it does is reinforce them; Cusack’s scenes are the only ones that ring true with real life. Meanwhile, Tom Selleck is acres out of his league as a gay tabloid TV reporter, and Wilford Brimley turns up for no discernable reason as Kline’s dad. Marc Shaiman also deserves a demerit for his aggravating music score, which strains for frantic energy as if it were underscoring a “Tom & Jerry” short. [PG-13]
L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (****): Hands down the best movie of 1997 so far. It’s been a while since a film, its characters, and settings have been so vividly realized; as the three cops battling (and possibly taking part in) police corruption, Kevin Spacey and Australians Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe are all sensational. So are Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, and James Cromwell in outstanding character parts. The dialogue is riveting, the photography and production design expertly evocative of the ’50s, and Curtis Hanson’s direction never once dumbs down to its audience. Hard to believe that this came from the same man who brought us THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE and THE RIVER WILD, but Hanson has certainly atoned for all his past cinematic sins (and then some) with this smashing movie. Worth several viewings just to take it all in, and complimented by a marvelous collection of oldies (plus a serviceable Jerry Goldsmith score). [R]
Andy Dursin’s Aisle Seat can be found as a special section of FSM. This is his second update. Go here for the first one, transmitted directly from his planet, and write him with your comments: firstname.lastname@example.org.