Films Review January

54 (R)

The day the music died wasn’t when Buddy Holly’s plane crashed, but when nightclub entrepreneur Steve Rubell was arrested for income tax evasion. Rubell was the co-owner of the notorious night club Studio 54 that became the “in” place to be for celebrities both famous and infamous.


vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)When Rubell was forced to close down Studio 54, it also signaled an end to the lifestyle and music that helped shape a decade. Disco was dead, and before the 1980’s were over, so was Rubell. Writer-Director Mark Christopher’s attempt to pump some life back into the era fails miserably. As a writer, Christopher short changes his characters, who become nothing more than types. Ryan Phillippe is the cute young thing who escapes his meager lifestyle by becoming a bartender, Salma Hayek the coat check clerk who wants to be a Disco Diva, and Mike Myers as Rubell, all feathers and frills and no heart. The soundtrack kicks ass, but the rest of the film is a drag. (Miramax)

DANCE WITH ME (PG-13)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)The sort of film that went out of style…wait a minute…was this kind of crap ever in style? Oh yeah, I guess if you count “Dirty Dancing.” Let’s not and say we did, because “Dance with Me” is so banal that comparing it to the Patrick Swayze film would almost be sacrilege. Chayanne (I’m not sure who he is, but I hear he’s big in the Latin music scene) stars as a young Cuban man looking for his father in America. With all the wide eyed innocence of Natalie Wood in “West Side Story,” this doe in the headlights is blinded by love when he meets a professional dancer (I’m sure she’s a rocket scientist by day) played by Vanessa Williams. Now I really like Vanessa Williams, so I’m still watching despite my urge to fast forward to the end of the tape. Unless she an win the big dance contest, her life will be relegated to teaching dance instead of being a professional. What’s the difference? Two fans and a pasty? Gosh, will she win the big dance contest. Will the Latin hunk teach her some new salsa moves you can’t learn at Taco Bell? Who cares? (Columbia TriStar)

HENRY FOOL (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Hal Hartley’s absurd dark comedy stars Thomas Jay Ryan as a demented drifter named Henry who enters the life of garbage collector Simon Grim (James Urbaniak) and turns his world upside down. Like all Hartley films (“Amateur,” “Flirt,”) “Henry Fool” is character and dialogue driven. Simon leads a complacent life with his down in the dumps mother (Maria Porter) and slutty sister (Parker Posey, always a delight), so the arrival of Henry is a welcome change. Hartley plays out their relationship with intelligence and more than a dash of black comedy. Some of the situations are necessarily uncomfortable, but go a long way in establishing the motivations of the characters. There are many levels to “Henry Fool,” and fans of the director will delight in his smart, witty dialogue and assured handling of a talented cast. (Columbia TriStar)

HI LIFE (NR)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Eric Stoltz heads up an interesting cast in director Roger Hedden’s little slice-of-life comedy. Stoltz plays a gambler who needs money to pay off his bookie (Charles Durning) or face the consequences. He turns to his girlfriend (Moira Kelly) for help, suggesting that she ask her brother (Campbell Scott) for the money, telling him it’s to pay for an abortion. As that little lie grows, so do the complications in Stoltz’s life, and before the end of the film, it all comes crashing down on top of him in an avalanche of sharp dialogue and amusing situations. Nothing groundbreaking, but Hedden does manage to capture the hustle and bustle of New York and it’s inhabitants. Daryl Hannah and Peter Reigert are also on hand. (Sterling)

PI (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)I’ve never been a big fan of mathematics. I hated it in high school, and hated it even more in college. I don’t mind the basics, mind you, but never in my life have I had to square root anything. Never. Now there’s some wasted brain cells that could have been used for better things like memorizing all of the lyrics to the “Josie and the Pussycats” cartoon. So it was with great trepidation that I sat through writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s bleak thriller “Pi.” Economically shot in grainy, over-exposed black and white, “Pi” is one of those notable first efforts that impresses film festival audiences more than the mainstream. For one thing, Aronofsky’s film is way too smart for the average Joe, who will be turned off by the film’s slow pace and student film origins. Sean Gullette is quite good as the mathematician who is on the verge of discovering the key to “Pi,” and how it correlates with the New York Stock Market. When word of his discovery reaches outside his heavily guarded apartment, Max Cohen (Gullette) is approached by a mysterious Wall Street firm and a Jewish Kabbalah who seek the answer for their own purposes. Cohen begins to go mad when his life is torn in two, leading to unsettling consequences. “Pi” isn’t a bad film, especially for a debut from an exciting new talent. (Artisan)

P.U.N.K.S. (PG)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Harmless family fun as preteen Drew (Tim Redwine) and his friends steal an invention that transforms 90 pound weaklings into those guys who kick sand at the 90 pound weaklings. This allows them to get revenge on the local bullies and help save the world. Yeah, right, but it’s a kids flick, and they’ll enjoy the madcap romp. Henry Winkler stars as the evil industrialist whose invention sets the plot into motion, while the film co-stars Cathy Moriarty, who was featured in director Sean McNamara’s “Casper Meets Wendy.” Okay special effects and a general sense of fun help establish this outing as something both kids and non-discerning adults will enjoy. (A-PIX)

TRUMAN SHOW, THE (PG)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)“The Truman Show” answers that nagging question we ask ourselves when we’re alone in a room and still feel like someone is watching us. What if your life was a television show and you didn’t even know it? That’s the premise of Peter Weir’s wonderfully engaging comedy-drama starring Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, a man who doesn’t realize that his entire existence is a television show being broadcast to the masses. Set inside an enormous sound stage, Truman’s world is Norman Rockwell perfect. He has a great job, a great wife (Laura Linney), great neighbors. Heck, everything is just perfect in Truman’s world. Then it happens. Little by little, Truman begins to suspect that all isn’t right in his little corner of the world. He’s nearly struck by a flood light that falls from the sky out of nowhere. His friends and associates seem to follow the same routine every day. His attempts to leave town are always thwarted by some disaster or emergency. He doesn’t understand that he was picked as an infant to star in his own show, watched over and directed by father figure Christof (Ed Harris). Now Truman has decided to cancel his own show and find the girl of his dreams, much to the dismay of his mentor. Sharp, intelligent dialogue and superb performances distinguish “The Truman Show” as one of the best films of1998. (Paramount)

WILDE (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Stephen Fry is absolutely brilliant as 19th century author/playwright Oscar Wilde, whose latent homosexuality ruined his marriage and family and cast him in an unpopular light. As a married man with two sons, Wilde was a celebrated writer. As he began to experiment with his blossoming sexual identity, Victorian England turned the other cheek. Director Brian Gilbert does a splendid job of capturing the time and place. However, it’s the performers who bring this period piece to life. Fry, so excellent in “Peter’s Friends” and “Jeeves and Wooster,” does a masterful job of playing someone who is forced to peel away the layers one by one until there’s nothing left but the naked truth. Jude Law fulfills all the prerequisites of a young male lover, while Vanessa Redgrave and Jennifer Ehle fill out of the cast nicely as the women in Wilde’s life. A bit long in the tooth, “Wilde” is nonetheless engaging in every aspect. (Columbia TriStar)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

BUDDY/SLAPPY & THE STINKERS PROMOTION (PG/Columbia TriStar)

CURSE OF INFERNO (R/Orion)

DARK SIDE OF THE SUN (R/Fox)

FREERIDERS (NR/Miramax)

ONLY LOVE (NR/Artisan)

OUR FRIEND, MARTIN (NR/Fox)

PROTECTOR (NR/Sterling)



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