Films review January

BUFFALO 66 (R)

Writer-Director Vincent Gallo’s dark comedy about a man trying to impress his dysfunctional family after his release from prison. Billy (Gallo) hasn’t told his parents (Anjelica Huston, Ben Gazzara) that he was in prison. Instead, he sent them letters saying that he’s working undercover for the government.


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To further impress his parents but to make matters worse, he said that he was married. So now Billy needs a bride, and finds one in tap-dance student Christina Ricci, whom he kidnaps and convinces to play along. Ricci is so good playing the dutiful wife that she begins to get under Billy’s skin. Filled with hilarious, almost absurd situations and a raw, penetrating style that puts the emphasis on the engaging characters and their insightful dialogue, “Buffalo 66” is an assured debut for Gallo behind the camera. (Universal)

CUBE (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)If you don’t like cube steak, then you’re going to hate the first five minutes of “Cube.” Hold on to your seats (and lunch) as a man wakes up in a strange cubicle, with exits on all four walls. He doesn’t know how he got there, but he does know if he’s going to survive, he’s going to have to find a way out. Sweat beading off his bald head, the man cautiously crawls through the hatch on the wall from one cubicle to another. Believing he’s safe, the man takes a step forward. Then he just stands there, powerless, as though some invisible force has stopped him. At first it appears as if the man is just stunned. Then his face starts bleeding. Little drops at first. Then the skin starts to peel off in perfect little chunks. Cut to his hand, where his fingers break away into perfect little chunks. Close-up on the head, where the guy’s skull separates into perfect little chunks, falling to the ground. Oh look, there on the floor, perfect little chunks I threw up watching this little exercise in human dismemberment. I didn’t really throw up. Actually, I thought it was pretty neat, a perfect start to a tidy little thriller from co-writer/director Vincenzo Natali. The guy ended up walking through an invisible mesh wire that works like those old Veg-A-Matics they used to sell at Thrifty for $19.95. Working on a tight budget, Natali and his crew do a bang-up job of creating suspense and tension in what is basically a one-room set. “Cube” isn’t a character study, although the characters are memorable. They don’t sit around hashing out life’s little foibles as if they just sat through a “Jerry Seinfeld” marathon. Instead, the motley group of strangers who find themselves trapped inside the “Cube” spend all of their time trying to find a way out. Like a great “Twilight Zone” episode, none of the characters know why they’re inside the “Cube.” All they know is that they will die if they stay put. They also know that some of the adjoining rooms are booby trapped to kill all intruders. At 90 minutes, the film maker’s have made the “Cube” as tight and efficient as they can. It’s not without flaws, but it is gripping entertainment. (Trimark)

EVIDENCE OF BLOOD (PG-13)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)“Passionfish” co-stars Mary McDonnell and David Strathairn reunite for this tidy little made-for- cable thriller. Strathairn is fine as Jackson Kinsley, a Pulitzer prize-winning true crime author who returns to his hometown, Sequoia, Georgia. Looking for a little R&R, Jackson uncovers a 40 year old mystery that the small town would rather forget, the murder of a teenage girl. Jackson teams up with the daughter (McDonnell) of the man convicted of the murder in order to learn the truth. Dalene Young’s screenplay, based on the book by Thomas H. Cook, is filled with plenty of twists and turns, plus lots of small town ambience. The cast is uniformly good, but it’s McDonnell and Strathairn who connect. Director Andrew Mondshein manages to create and maintain a decent level of suspense. (Orion)

KURT & COURTNEY (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield (“Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam”) turns his cameras on the tragic relationship between singers Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love, which ended with Cobain committing suicide. Not content with the official findings, Broomfield takes his cameras behind the scenes, where he tries to gather evidence that Love had a hand in Cobain’s death. This revelation pissed of Love so bad that she had the film banned from the Sundance Film Festival, and threatened to sue Broomfield if he ever released the film. Well, Broomfield did release the documentary, and much to no one’s surprise, it created quite a stir. Broomfield has a knack for finding and interviewing people who making engaging subjects. Even at it’s most preposterous, the film is still grounded by the fact that these are real people. Filled with interesting observations, insights and musical mementos of Cobain’s career, “Kurt & Courtney” is a must for fans of either or both. (BMG)

LITTLE CITY (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Amusing, complicated character study that proves San Francisco isn’t big enough to handle the loves and lives of six single people. Singer-turned-actor Jon Bon Jovi stars as Kevin, whose best friend is Adam (Josh Charles). Unbeknownst to Adam, his girlfriend Nina (Annabella Sciorra) is having an affair with Kevin. Hey, why not? He’s Jon Bon Jovi, for Christ’s sakes. Adam doesn’t have a good track record with women. His ex Kate (Joanna Going) is now shacking up with Ann (Jo Beth Williams), the woman who took Kate away from him. Ouch! Enter Rebecca (Penelope Ann Miller), whose brief attempt at lesbian love breaks up Kate and Ann. Now Adam has a thing for Rebecca, as does Kate, who is now a free agent. Kevin realizes that he’s in love with Nina, but may have missed his moment. And who says that New York is the city that never sleeps. Appealing cast and characters who have a lot to say about life and love. An unexpected delight. (Miramax)

LOVE AND DEATH ON LONG ISLAND (PG-13)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Writer-director Richard Kwietniowski’s delightfully spry little human comedy about a reclusive British novelist whose infatuation with the star of an American teen flick causes him to abandon his 19th century life in London and head for the United States. John Hurt is sensational as Giles De’Ath, a noted British novelist still mourning the recent death of his wife. Giles’ life changes when he accidentally sees the popular teen flick “Hotpants College 2.” He becomes mesmerized by the film’s good-looking young star Ronnie Bostock (Jason Priestly). Giles is so enamored by Bostock that he leaves his flat for America, where he goes in search of Ronnie. Giles settles in Long Island, where he becomes a fish out of water. Then he meets Ronnie, and the encounter changes both of their lives forever. Hurt excels at roles like Giles, whose every move is so calculated it almost hurts. Priestly does a fine job lampooning his teen star image, while Sheila Hancock is a delight as Giles’ maid. The movie within the movie, “Hotpants College 2” is a hilarious spoof of the genre. This little art house movie didn’t set any box office records, but it should do nicely on video where those with an appetite and appreciation for engaging character studies will savor the effort. (Universal)

MAFIA! (PG-13)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)This spoof of “The Godfather” and about two dozen other films is another laugh-a-minute comedy from director Jim Abrahams (“Airplane”). The jokes and references are sharp and frequent, while the parodies run the gamut from ingenious to banal. Most are in good fun, while the cast is up to speed. Jay Mohr (“Jerry Maguire”) is hilarious (and impressive as he keeps a straight face) as Anthony Cortino, who is about to inherit the family business from his father Vincenzo (Lloyd Bridges in his last role). The news doesn’t sit well with Anthony’s psychotic brother Joey (Billy Burke), who will do anything to be the new Godfather. Think Al Pacino-James Caan from “The Godfather,” and you have a good idea of the rivalry. Christina Applegate couldn’t be funnier in the Diane Keaton role, playing Anthony’s WASP bride. Like all comedies that deliver the jokes faster than a machine gun, it’s a hit and miss affair. Still, there are so many jokes (and outrageous, dead-on spoofs) that you won’t have a problem laughing. (Hollywood Pictures)

RETURN TO PARADISE (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)The only thing I can think of that would be more unpleasant than being imprisoned in a Malaysian prison would be watching Monica Lewinsky on the loose at the Home Town Buffet. You think prisons suck here. Check out the accommodations that await two American friends who are forced to make the decision of a lifetime. While on vacation in Malaysia, friends Sheriff (Vince Vaughn), Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix) and Tony (David Conrad) purchase some hashish. When Sheriff and Tony leave, Lewis stays behind, unaware that they tossed the remainder of their stash in the trash. When local law enforcement find the hashish, they charge Lewis with trafficking, which carries a death penalty. The Malaysian government will reduce the sentence if Sheriff and Tony agree to return and share the punishment. Tough call, especially since neither Sheriff or Tony even knew Lewis until they met in Malaysia, and both have lives back in the United States. It’s up to lawyer Beth Eastern (Anne Heche, naked once again) to convince the two men to do the right thing. While not nearly as riveting as “Midnight Express,” “Return to Paradise” is harrowing in its own right. (Polygram)

RUSH HOUR (PG-13)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Remember that rush you got the first time you saw Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte light up the screen in “48 Hrs.”? There was electricity on the screen and in the theater. That feeling returns when Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker team up in “Rush Hour,” a fast, funny, far out action-comedy that proves they still do make them like they used to. Directed with an adrenaline rush by Brett Ratner, “Rush Hour” is a perfect example of having all of the right elements come together to make magic. While the screenplay is pedestrian at best, it’s the delivery that sells this film. Chan and Tucker take old, tired dialogue and make it fresh and exciting. They instantly click during the film’s high-powered action sequences that literally explode across the screen. Tucker stars as LAPD detective James Carter, who teams up with Royal Hong Kong Police Detective Inspector Lee (Chan) to rescue the daughter of the Chinese Consul. What begins as a babysitting job for Carter turns into a demolition derby of fun and excitement when Lee decides to get involved. “Rush Hour” was a big hit in theaters, and will undoubtedly be one on video as well. (New Line)

SLUMS OF BEVERLY HILLS (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)“Slums of Beverly Hills” is one big grin, an awkwardly funny tale that proves that no matter how low you rate on the social scale, you can always depend on family. Even when I doubted writer- director Tamara Jenkins’ sincerity, I still found “Slums of Beverly Hills” entertaining and morbidly funny. How else do you describe a comedy with a preoccupation for teenage breasts, vibrators, dead cats and female plumbing? “Slums of Beverly Hills” is Jenkins’ first feature film, and she displays amazing skill with actors and engaging dialogue. Her clever script and stellar cast makes it easy for us to empathize with characters trying to make the best of a bad situation. Set in 1976, “Slums of Beverly Hills” evokes the period with small touches: classic rock songs, outrageous clothes, the occasional period automobile, plush orange carpet. Instead of pouring on layers of nostalgia, Jenkins focuses on the interesting characters. Alan Arkin is splendid as Murray Abramowitz, a man willing to do what ever it takes to get his kids a decent education. To Murray, a car salesman in a slump, that means living within the city limits of Beverly Hills. To his three kids, that means moving in the middle of the night when Murray can’t pay the rent. I couldn’t imagine “Slums of Beverly Hills” without the awesome Natasha Lyonne as his daughter Vivian. She’s truly amazing, a poor white trash Lolita who grows up in front of our eyes. Her wild mop of red hair and striking features ate the perfect accessories for the character that instantly grows on you. Vivian is the Marilyn of this “Munster” clan, the only sane person in the room. You want her to find happiness, but that’s not this movie. Filled with 1970’s ambience and music, “Slums of Beverly Hills” is funny and entertaining. Enough said. (Fox)

SMOKE SIGNALS (PG-13)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Widely acclaimed film festival favorite is a delightful blend of human comedy and sly observations. The first feature film to be directed, written by and starring Native Americans (they call themselves Indians in the film), “Smoke Signals” is a celebration of culture and tradition. Director Chris Eyre makes a stunning debut with this tale of two friends, Victor (Adam Beach) and Thomas (Evan Adams), who travel from their reservation in Idaho to Arizona to pick up Victor’s deceased father. Their trip is filled with comical moments and wonderfully engaging dialogue that sounds and feels like the real thing. “Smoke Signals” is more than just a road trip, it’s a journey of the heart and soul. Irene Bedard impresses as Suzy Song, a young woman who knew Victor’s father and holds the key to his future. Always light on its feet, “Smoke Signals” is entertaining and enlightening. (Miramax)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:BEST REVENGE, THE (NR/Aurora)

EXECUTIVE POWER (NR/Artisan)

FIREWORKS (NR/New Yorker Video)

FUTURE FEAR (R/New Horizons)

STALKED (NR/Aurora)



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