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#133 March 5, 1998
M O V I E S
(An Alan Smithee Film--) Burn Hollywood Burn (R) BUY THE:Poster!
The wildly overpaid screenwriter Joe Eszterhas has written so many
masturbatory fantasies for the movies that it was only a matter of time
before he himself jacked off onscreen. And that's exactly what he does in
his absolutely atrocious "inside Hollywood satire," which cannot even
decide what its title is. Originally billed simply as An Alan Smithee
Film, its "official" title is An Alan Smithee Film Burn Hollywood
However, in the opening titles, the "An Alan Smithee Film" appears more as
a possessory credit and Burn Hollywood Burn is given the showcase title
treatment, not to mention that numerous sources refer to it as simply Burn
Hollywood Burn. However, a dash (--) curiously appears after "Film," so
I'll call this self-indulgent waste of celluloid is (An Alan Smithee
Film--) Burn Hollywood Burn.
As far as I'm concerned, Eszterhas is a comic genius. It takes a certain
gift to not only pen the notorious laff riot Showgirls but to also liken
the lapdancing extravaganza as "a religious experience." But his comedic
talent only shines through when he's blissfully, hilariously unaware--that
is, when he's dead serious. Burn Hollywood Burn is written and
as a comedy, and this sorry excuse for a satire just proves the opposite
point: "funny" Eszterhas is not only unfunny, but excruciatingly so.
"Structured" (using that term very loosely) as a mockumentary in three
haphazardly labeled acts (titled "Missionary Position," "Whips and Chains,"
and "Doggie Style"--are we laughing yet?), the film details the disastrous
making of the most expensive film in Hollywood history, the (fictional)
action extravaganza Trio, starring Sylvester Stallone, Whoopi
Jackie Chan (all of whom appear in cameos--and undoubtedly regret it). The
film's unctious producer (Ryan O'Neal) wrests control of the final edit
from its director (Eric Idle), who wants his name removed from the project.
The problem is, his name is Alan Smithee, and Alan Smithee is the
Directors Guild-required pseudonym used for the director's credit whenever
the true helmer wants his name removed. Apparently at a loss for options,
Alan steals the only existing negative. What does he do with it? Three
guesses (if you need a hint, read the movie's title again).
That's it. There's barely enough plot to fill the worst of Saturday Night
Live sketches, let alone this movie's running time, which, at 83 minutes,
is overlong by at least 82. But plot, or, for that matter, characters or
witty dialogue, is of little concern to Eszterhas. Burn Hollywood Burn
only exists to serve Eszterhas's own personal agenda, badmouthing just
about everyone in the business (it's hard to tell who are his friends and
who are his enemies--or is it that he just has no friends?). While this is
certainly fun for Eszterhas, it is a torturous bore for the
audience--unless there are some people who delight in the figurative sight
of a shaggy, oversexed middle-aged man pleasuring himself. I'm all for
wicked, mean-spirited humor--when it's funny. But nothing in Burn
Hollywood Burn reaches even the snicker level. His idea of a running gag
is identifying all the women as a "feminist" in the docu-style on-screen
labels and repetitive jabs at former Creative Artists Agency head Michael
Ovitz. And while I have never minded the inclusion of outtakes during a
film's end credits, the blooper reel that closes Burn Hollywood Burn
pointless and unamusing that I am seriously reconsidering my position on
(An Alan Smithee Film--) Burn Hollywood Burn is now truly an Alan
film after director Arthur Hiller had his name removed. The scariest part
of this story is that his original version of the film tested worse
this final edit cobbled together by Eszterhas himself. Eszterhas has joked
that this Burn Hollywood Burn is "the most expensive home movie ever
and like all of his intentially humorous comments, it comes off as far from
a joke. Burn Hollywood Burn plays just as he facetiously said--as an
extended home movie that may be fun for its makers, "stars," and their
friends and family to watch, but a leaden bore to anyone outside the
circle. Burn, Eszterhas, burn.
U.S. Marshals (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
Sequels to popular action films are difficult to pull off as they are, and
the odds are further stacked against them when (1) the original hero is
nowhere to be found, and (2) the original was embraced by critics. This
fact--and the failure of last year's tangentially related, critically
lambasted sequel to Speed--makes
the effectiveness of U.S. Marshals all the
more surprising. An ostensible sequel to the Best Picture-nominated The
Fugitive, the new film spins off Dr. Richard Kimble's determined
federal cop Samuel Gerard, in an entertaining adventure that could very
well lead to a successful franchise.
Tommy Lee Jones, who won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his
performance in The Fugitive,
once again plays Gerard, reinhabiting the role
with the same infectious gusto and zeal he brought to the original. Once
again, Gerard, this time reluctantly teamed with government special agent
Royce (Robert Downey Jr.), is chasing after a fugitive, an assassin (Wesley
Snipes) known at various points as either Mark Roberts, Mark Warren, or
Mark Sheridan. Sheridan (as which I will refer to him) had been imprisoned
for the murder of two government agents, and, with the help of his dutiful
girlfriend Marie (Irène Jacob), he attempts to elude the ever-focused
Gerard and--yes--clear his name.
Director Stuart Baird and screenwriter John Pogue follow The Fugitive's
rough outline fairly closely, and a couple of scenes are direct analogues
to ones in the original. In a spectacular scene, Sheridan makes his escape
after a plane crash, much like the original film's signature train wreck;
and one memorably outlandish stunt echoes Kimble's daring leap from a dam.
As a whole, though, the new film does not nearly measure up to the
original. Snipes, as usual, is charismatic and plays his role well, but
his character is not as fascinating and complex as Harrison Ford's Kimble.
Sheridan has none of the emotional baggage that shaded Kimble; he simply
wants, as he calls it, "righteousness." Kimble, on the other hand, was
continually racked with guilt over his wife's death. The emotional angle
between Sheridan and Marie is a big zero; Snipes and Jacob muster little
chemistry, but that is due in part to the fact that they do not share too
On its own terms, though, the diverting U.S. Marshals makes for a
promising "pilot" for a potential Gerard series. Jones is obviously
energized by the more physical role Gerard plays in this installment, and
while his pacing is not as tightly wound as that of Andrew Davis, the
original's helmer, Baird crafts some suspenseful and exciting chase scenes
without resorting to gratuitous bloodshed. A few climactic plot
developments are a bit contrived, but Baird and the able cast glide through
them with enough panache that they are not a problem. Slick, well-made,
and fun--The Fugitive was all
this and much more, but even without that
something extra, U.S. Marshals gets the job done.
Dark City (R) BUY THE:Poster!
For most of its running time, Alex Proyas's Dark City plays a
lot like its
trailer: visually spectacular and atmospheric... but wildly incoherent.
Rufus Sewell plays an amnesiac man searching for the keys to his past in
the titular metropolis, which happens to be overrun by the Strangers, a
ghostly, bald, supernaturally-powered alien race aided by a human scientist
(Kiefer Sutherland). Meanwhile, a serial killer preying on prostitutes is
pursued by a police detective (William Hurt), who aids Sewell's torch
singer wife (the underemployed Jennifer Connelly) in her search for her
Answers do come, as do a lot more questions, and, in time, Dark City
together--not so much as a straight-forward piece of storytelling but a
visionary slice of visceral experience. Proyas, an astoundingly
imaginative visual stylist, has created the awe-inspiring world to be
committed to film in recent years, a world that, thanks to a late-inning
plot revelation, evolves into something even more striking. I won't give
away any more of the story, but it involves the search for the human soul,
which lends this otherwise impressive film a dispiriting irony--for a film
about the nature of the human spirit, there is barely one in evidence
onscreen; the characters are all faceless ciphers (but, to be fair, that
could be intentional). So while the senses are more than satiated by Dark
City, the human connection it so ardently strives for never
No Looking Back (R) BUY THE:Poster!
After making his mark with a pair of light, amiable romantic comedies, the
Sundance Fest award-winning The Brothers McMullen and its
but less satisfying retread She's the One, it is only natural that
writer-director-actor Edward Burns would want to turn his attentions to
something more serious. He should stick to comedy. Lauren Holly stars as
Claudia, a small-town waitress whose seemingly ideal life with live-in love
Michael (Jon Bon Jovi) is upended with the return of ex-boyfriend Charlie
(Burns). The problem with the film is not that the story is familiar but
that its execution is so familiar, not to mention slow, with nary a
of the wit that sparked Burns's previous two efforts. The entire cast does
a respectable job, especially Bon Jovi, whose surefootedness is a bit of a
surprise, but it is hard to get involved in these people's lives when
there isn't much life to their story.
Palmetto (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Wrongly imprisoned ex-con (Woody Harrelson) gets seduced into an elaborate
faux-kidnapping-and-blackmail scheme by a femme fatale (Elisabeth Shue)
married to a wealthy older man. Sounds like promising, if rather
by-the-book, film noir, but the entire affair is done in by director Volker
Schlondorff's plodding sense of pace, a plot that takes one twist too many,
and the countercasting of Shue as seductress and Gina Gershon as
Harrelson's nice girlfriend. Perhaps this was an intentional casting
twist, but it doesn't quite work. Gershon is passable, if notably subdued,
but Shue, appearing uncomfortable and distracted and trying a bit too hard,
comes off as more camp than vamp.
Twilight (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Three, count 'em, three Academy Award winning thespians in prime
form--Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, and Gene Hackman--lead the cast of
Robert Benton's Twilight. While that would appear to be enough to
distinguish the film, Twilight is curiously missing the one element that
should be a mystery-thriller's stock-in-trade: the element of surprise.
But I suppose Twilight does hold some surprise in its lack thereof. The
story is not without promise. Burnt-out former cop, ex-private
investigator, and recovering alcoholic Harry Ross (Newman), has been in the
exclusive employ of married actors Jack and Catherine Ames (Hackman and
Sarandon) ever since rescuing their rebellious young daughter (Reese
Witherspoon, whose character's major contribution is appearing topless)
from an illicit Mexican getaway with an older lover (the ubiquitous Liev
Schreiber) years before. As the poster's tagline goes, "Some people can
buy their way out of anything. Except the past." This dark past starts to
come to light when the cancer-stricken Jack enlists Harry to drop off a
stash of money to a woman at a seedy apartment. Instead of finding the
woman, Harry finds a gravely wounded, gun-toting man, which leads to the
reopening of the mystery behind years-ago disappearance of Catherine's
Benton and co-scripter Richard Russo run into trouble once the set-up is
out of the way. While they infuse the proceedings with an appealing sense
of humor, and Newman's Harry is an unconventionally self-effacing hero, the
story's would-be twists are obvious and telegraphed, and to call its
resolution a "payoff" is to suggest a satisfaction that it does not
deliver. Benton and, surprisingly, cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski (who
created the gorgeous palette of Krzystof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy)
botch the atmosphere, which is much too light to create an appropriate aura
of mystery; only Elmer Bernstein's evocative score generates the right
effect. At the very least the top trifecta of Newman, Sarandon, and
Hackman turn in terrific work, but, again, where is the surprise in that?
It is nice to see three fine actors in the upper reaches of age headline a
major project from such a youth-obsessed industry. As refreshing as that
fact is, though, it is dispiriting that the film they are given to carry is
as unsatisfying as the dull (and dully titled) Twilight.
Mrs. Brown (PG) BUY THE:Poster!
Sometimes chaste passions are the grandest of them all, and that is
certainly the case in John Madden's moving study of the true-life
friendship between Queen Victoria (Dame Judi Dench, Golden Globe winner and
Oscar nominee for Best Actress) and her devoted servant, Scottish
highlander John Brown (Billy Connolly). Mired in an inconsolable rut of
grief since the passing of her beloved husband Prince Albert, Her Majesty
is only able to regain spiritual live after the arrival of Brown, a former
intimate of Albert's. Their closeness is looked at with disdain by her
family and members of Parliament, who scheme to wrest political power away
from the absent monarch. That side of the story is less than captivating;
what does captivate is the marvelous Dench, who is able to plumb depths of
emotion with single inflections and subtle gestures. She and Connolly
(best known to American audiences from his work on the lightweight TV
sitcom Head of the Class) make one of last year's most memorable screen
duos, crafting a highly resonant testament to the redemptive power of
love--one that transcends traditional romantic definitions.
Oscar and Lucinda (R) BUY THE:Poster!
| Book on Tape!
Gillian Armstrong's lush adaptation of Peter Carey's Victorian Era-set
novel, nominated for the Best Costume Design Academy Award, tells a most
unusual love story between two unconventional characters: British minister
Oscar Hopkins (Ralph Fiennes) and Australian heiress Lucinda Leplastrier
(Cate Blanchett), who have one thing in common--their wild, uncontrollable
passion for gambling. Naturally, the two eccentrics fall in love, and they
merge two of their more dissimilar obsessions--Oscar's with God and
Lucinda's with glass--to engage in a wager more risky than their love
affair: the building and transporting a church made of glass across
Australia's rough landscape.
Fiennes and Blanchett have a special magic and air of giddy humor about
them when they are together. But Armstrong and scripter Laura Jones take
much too long uniting these two perfectly matched misfits. The pair's
respective backstories are interesting enough, but they are rendered flat
once their fascinating relationship begins. Also, Fiennes's performance is
mannered to the point of annoyance in these early stages; the glowing
Blanchett, however, is a delight to watch from the get-go.
Ulee's Gold (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Peter Fonda's Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning portrayal of
Florida beekeeper Ulee Jackson is a masterpiece of restraint, confident and
finely etched, understated yet always in control. The same can be said, to
a lesser degree, about Victor Nuñez, who wrote and directed this thoughtful
drama about how the emotionally wounded Ulee tries to save his crumbling
family--granddaughters Casey (Jessica Biel) and Penny (Vanessa Zima),
incarcerated son Jimmy (Tom Wood), and his deeply troubled wife Helen
(Christine Dunford)--from destruction. Nunez resolution of Ulee's family's
dysfunction is a bit too pat, but Fonda shades his character with such a
densely layered world-weariness that even the happiest, cheeriest ending
would carry a complex emotional ambiguity. Leading the able supporting
cast is Patricia Richardson as the caring doctor next door, displaying a
dramatic range never hinted at in her ongoing work on the hit TV sitcom
The Real Blonde (R) BUY THE:Poster!
A woman's face, an arm, some pumped-up pectorals, blond hair, a man's sad
face, slender legs, a random hand here and there. As the opening credits
of Tom DiCillo's The Real Blonde unfold, these scattered, fractured
glimpses eventually come together to form the image of a bikini brief-clad
man on his knees clinging to a nurturing woman, his head concealing her
unclothed breasts. If only the rest of this formless, aimless ensemble
comedy assembled so coherently.
Joe (Matthew Modine) is a waiter/struggling actor too proud to take gigs
in commercials or soap operas. He's feeling somewhat dissatisfied with his
relationship with his live-in love, Mary (Catherine Keener), who holds some
subconscious hostility toward the male gender. Mary, a makeup artist,
regularly works on model Sahara (Bridgette Wilson), who is obsessed with
the underlying messages in Disney's The Little Mermaid. The bottle blonde
has a turbulent on-again, off-again relationship with Bob (Maxwell
Caulfield), a soap actor who yearns for the taste of a real blonde, which
he finds in co-star Kelly (Daryl Hannah). As the film unspools, a variety
of other characters pass through: fashion photographer Blair (Marlo
Thomas); Mary's shrink (Buck Henry) and self-defense instructor (Denis
Leary); Joe's casting agent (Kathleen Turner) and hardass boss (Christopher
Lloyd); and a mystery woman (Elizabeth Berkley) who keeps on crossing Joe's
Where exactly does all this go? That's a question best posed to
writer-director DiCillo, who doesn't appear to have the slightest clue
himself. His meandering, largely unfunny script and direction are like
hopelessly lost drivers, turning into dead-end narrative streets only to
reverse course and hit another creative cul-de-sac. And another. And
another. At one point Bob, frustrated with the soap scripts, complains to
the head writer (Jim Fyfe) that his and Kelly's characters keep on going in
circles, with no hint of development or growth. That is most certainly the
case here. Joe gets a job and ultimately botches things; he and Mary
bicker; they make up, only to have the pattern repeat itself. Unhappy with
his bottle blonde, Bob gets his real blonde but is unsatisfied; he returns
to the faux and is still unsatisfied. If there is a point to all of this,
DiCillo dances around it, spending his time on apparent digressions that,
as it turns out, aren't digressions at all.
The Real Blonde is not without some amusements. It does have the
occasional funny line and situation; Leary, Henry, Lloyd, Steve Buscemi,
and Dave Chappelle shine in their small roles; Keener is a likable,
refreshingly earthy lead; Berkley's appearance is mercifully brief (she
receives outrageously prominent billing and ad placement for a ten-minute
role); and there is the irony of having Caulfield play a wildly popular
soap star who makes the ratings skyrocket (last year, the actor was fired
from the daytime drama All My Children after a scant six months--due to
lack of viewer interest). But on the whole, The Real Blonde is a
frustrating sit that lives up to the stereotypes of its title--it may be
glossy on the surface, but there's nothing going on inside.
Senseless (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Marlon Wayans is a very talented physical comedian, and it is that gift
that brings Senseless moments of life. Alas, moments are simply that,
moments, which are not enough to lift this fantasy/comedy above its
Granted, that one joke is initially amusing. When Wayans's Darryl
Witherspoon, an economics major at Stratford University, hits some dire
financial straits, he becomes a guinea pig for a experimental drug that
heightens all five senses. After some initial side effects and problems
controlling his superhuman senses, Darryl learns to enjoy the benefits of
his abilities and uses them to land a position at a highly esteemed
At this point, the film sounds more like Senseful than Senseless, but
through some turns of the plot, Darryl finds himself only able to use four
of his five senses at once, essentially leaving him--yes--senseless. This
sets up some showcase moments for Wayans's gift for physical comedy,
especially when Darryl loses his sense of feeling and his body goes
completely, hilariously limp. But these gags, and the gag behind the
entire movie, quickly grows stale. Once Darryl is shown without the use of
all of the senses, instead of exploring any new comic territory, director
Penelope Spheeris and screenwriters Greg Erb and Craig Mazin take the easy
way out and simply recycle each form of senselessness. Wayans approaches
each go-round with gusto, but by this point he's simply treading water for
the rest of the film's unfunny duration.
Senseless would not be as problematic as it is if it didn't strive to be
anything more than a comic trifle. However, the raucous and often raunchy
comedy is wrapped in a blanket of bogus sincerity. Darryl goes through the
experiment in order to help his cash-strapped family, and this "serious"
angle seems to come from an entirely different movie. Unlike Wayans's last
starring vehicle, the surprisingly effective (and serious) The 6th Man, the
"emotional" content of Senseless is forced and unconvincing. Any attempt
at anything more substantial than broad comedy fizzles--Darryl's romance
with Janice (Tamara Taylor), a young woman who yearns for a man who is true
to himself, does not generate sparks of any kind.
Once his WB television sitcom The Wayans Bros. comes to an end, the
genuinely funny Marlon Wayans has a promising big-screen future ahead of
him. But if he continues to associate himself with projects as flat as
Senseless, his film career could go the way of his once-promising older
brother, Damon, who is now set to make his comeback--on television.
Sphere (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
| Book on Tape!
Barry Levinson's adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel Sphere has more in
common with the story's focal otherworldly orb than just its title. The
sphere is luminous and hauntingly beautiful on the surface, with its
interior kept alluringly, frustratingly unclear--much like the
superficially diverting but ultimately disappointing film itself.
A four-man team comprised of psychologist Norman Goodman (Dustin Hoffman),
biochemist Beth Halperin (Sharon Stone), mathematician Harry Adams (Samuel
L. Jackson), and astrophysicist Ted Fielding (Liev Schreiber) is recruited
by the government to investigate the wreckage of a crashed spacecraft at
the bottom of the ocean. Inside the spacecraft, the team discover a giant,
glowing, golden sphere of unknown origin. But soon after this discovery,
strange, life-threatening occurrences befall the team in their undersea
station, from the appearance of giant sea creatures to online contact with
a possibly extraterrestrial lifeform.
This is a solid jumping-off point for a intelligent, suspenseful sci-fi
thriller, and while there are some very effective moments, the murky script
by Stephen Hauser and Paul Attanasio keeps Sphere from taking on a defined
shape. Sphere does eventually offer answers to its mysteries, but the
information is often too unclearly stated and clumsily delivered. Tune out
for one second, and one crucial, isolated line of dialogue that reveals one
of the film's key mysteries is lost, the information never to be repeated
again. One more irksome miscalculation was the division of the action with
chapter title inserts, such as "The Surface," "The Deep," "The Spacecraft,"
and so on. I suppose the purpose was to underscore certain important parts
of each section, but the chapter divisions hamper the building of any
suspense, which is hard to sustain once an obtrusive title card appears.
But Levinson is able to overcome that start-and-stop rhythm and gradually
build tension, resulting in some memorable shock scenes. The film's final
act, where suspicion is hovers over all of the central characters, is
particularly tense and well-acted by the three above-the-title stars. It
is quite refreshing to see a science fiction film that relies more on wits
and psychological terror to drive its climax than visual effects (though
the effects are quite impressively handled).
Ultimately, Sphere ends up running out of gas before the film reaches the
end of its two-hour-plus running time. After the strong climax, the film
drags on for about another 15 minutes, blunting the impact of all that went
on before with a finale that, while well done technically, is on the
cornball side. Much like the mysterious object that lends the film its
title, Sphere offers its share of surface delights, but what exactly lies
underneath--if anything at all--is left up to question.
Afterglow (R) BUY THE:Poster!
Marianne (Lara Flynn Boyle) and Jeffrey (Jonny Lee Miller) are unhappily
married. She is desperate to have a baby and starving for sex; Jeffrey, an
uptight stock analyst, somehow can't work up the same passion for her as he
does for older women. Phyllis (Julie Christie) and Lucky (Nick Nolte) are
also unhappily married. The former film actress hasn't had much interest
in sex since her daughter ran away years ago, allowing verile handyman
Lucky to sow his wild oats with clients while at their homes. When
Marianne needs a handyman, it comes as no surprise whom she
(coincidentally) calls and what ensues.
Alan Rudolph's romantic roundelay sounds a lot more interesting than it
plays. The crisscrossing of affairs does not go in any particularly
surprising directions, and the story's ultimate resolution is far from
satisfying (actually, it's baffling). The performances are uneven, ranging
from shrill (Boyle) to adequate (Miller and Nolte) to very good (Christie).
But as effective as Christie is in bringing Phyllis's angst and
insecurities to life, her recent Best Actress Oscar nod was less than
deserved; it is solid work from a veteran who has made scarce onscreen
appearances in recent years, but not exactly what I would consider one of
the top five lead female performances of 1997.
The Apostle (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
On the other hand, Robert Duvall deserves his Best Actor nomination--and
the statuette itself--for his tour-de-force performance in this absorbing
drama, which he also wrote and directed. After sending his straying wife's
(Farrah Fawcett, maintaining her dignity for a change) boyfriend into a
coma with a baseball bat, devout Pentecostal preacher Sonny Dewey flees his
Texas hometown. Along the way undergoes a spiritual rebirth, christening
himself the Apostle E.F. and setting up a church in a small Louisiana town
as the law slowly but surely closes in on him.
For most of its running time, that is exactly what I thought about The
Apostle--slow, but sure (of hand). Duvall takes his time telling this very
simple story and exploring the contradictions of his fascinating character
(for someone so religious, Sonny can sin with the worst of them). But the
viewer's patience is richly rewarded with the film's final act, an extended
oratory that is shocking in its unbridled, electrifying energy and raw
emotion. This go-for-broke display of the writer-director's acting talents
could be seen as shameless showboating, but each move, each inflection of
the voice is so deeply felt that its undeniable power resonates long after
the film is over.
Deconstructing Harry (R) BUY THE:Poster!
In the annual Woody Allen project, the neurotic one stars as Harry Block,
a prickly, sex-obsessed writer whose successful professional life is in
direct contrast to his turbulent personal one, which he mines for maximum
literary potential. There is nothing new about a writer whose work
reflects his own life, and the story is more than slightly self-serving on
Allen's part, but the freshness of the film comes in his storytelling.
Harry's own story is accented by brief glimpses of the author's work
(brought to life by a stellar ensemble that includes Robin Williams, Demi
Moore, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus); through these vignettes one sees not so
much how his work reflects his life as how he manipulates his reality into
a more tolerable fantasy. There are a number of laughs to be had here, not
to mention a few knockout performances (Kirstie Alley, Judy Davis, and
newcomer Hazelle Goodman as a former wife, a former lover, and a
prostitute, respectively). Too bad it is difficult to really care about
what is going on since such a thoroughly unpleasant character is at the
Love and Death on Long Island (PG-13) BUY THE:Poster!
"Two-time Academy Award nominee John Hurt... Two-time Golden Globe
nominee Jason Priestley." This odd couple, as so trumpeted in the film's
trailer, sounds like a bad joke. But the oddball pairing works wonders in
writer-director Richard Kwietniowski's witty and warm adaptation of Gilbert
Adair's cult novel.
Hurt plays Giles De'Ath, a widowed British writer who leads such a
sheltered existence he has no familiarity with innovations of the 20th
Century. It's a preposterous conceit, but any difficulty swallowing that
idea disappears once the main thrust of the story is set up: after
inadvertently walking into a showing of the American teen sex romp Hotpants
College 2, Giles becomes hopelessly obsessed with its star, clean-cut
heartthrob Ronnie Bostock (Priestley)--so obsessed that he travels to
Ronnie's hometown of Chesterton, Long Island to try and insinuate himself
into the young man's life.
As a comedy, Love and Death... is hilarious; featured scenes from Ronnie's
not-so-impressive filmography are uproarious in their sheer ineptitude, and
Priestley, bravely sending up his vacuous teen idol image, is perfectly
cast. He and Hurt make a terrific, if wildly unlikely, team; Hurt, known
for gravely serious roles like The Elephant Man, shows that he has
impeccable comic timing. The biggest surprise of the film, though, is its
heart. Giles's fixation on Ronnie is quite often played for laughs, but it
is more than a mere joke; by the time the inevitable confession of love
comes, the depth of Giles's emotions is truly palpable--and heartbreaking.
Love and Death... won the Pierrots' Prize in Un Certain Regard at the 1997
Cannes Film Festival, and deservedly so; funny and unexpectedly touching,
it is a true discovery.