Films Review July

BEYOND SUSPICION (R)

Released theatrically under its original title “Auggie Rose,” “Beyond Suspicion” marks an auspicious debut for director Matthew Tabak, who has created a fascinating character study disguised as film noir.


Jeff Goldblum is excellent as John Nolan, a semi-successful life insurance salesman whose complacent life is interrupted by an act of violence. When a liquor store-deli clerk named Auggie Rose is killed in front of him, Nolan feels responsible. Suffering from personal guilt and anger that the police could care less because Rose was an ex-felon, Nolan takes it upon himself to learn more about Rose and give his life meaning. Nolan’s quest for redemption begins to take its toll, not only on him but the people in his life, including his lover of six years (Nancy Travis) and his concerned secretary (Paige Moss). Anne Heche is wonderful as Lucy, Rose’s pen pal whose arrival in town gives Nolan an opportunity to learn more about him. Tabak fills every frame with interesting characters and situations, and shows a real talent for creating mood and atmosphere. Anyone looking for a smart, engaging drama won’t have to look any further than “Beyond Suspicion.” (Fox)

DOWN TO EARTH (PG-13)

Chris Rock stars in this remake of “Heaven Can Wait,” which was a remake of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan.” Rock plays bicycle courier and aspiring comedian Lance Barton, whose big shot performing on the closing night bill of the famous Apollo Theater is cut short when he’s run over by a truck. In Heaven, Lance learns that his demise was a mistake and demands to be sent back to Earth. Since his body is no longer available, Lance is plunked down into the body of Charles Wellingston, a white ruthless businessman. It takes Lance a while to get used to the new gig (we see him as Rock, he sees himself as Rock, but the rest of the cast sees him as the rich white guy. Got it?) and turn Wellington’s life around. That includes wooing activist Sontee Jenkins (Regina King) and putting the kibosh on Wellington’s wife (Jennifer Coolidge) and personal assistant (Greg Germann) scheme to kill him. The plot is pretty much the same as the previous Beatty incarnation. Rock is hilarious as Barton, who has to learn to act like a rich old white man in order to keep up appearances. The rest of the cast is okay, but their characters aren’t nearly as well defined as Barton. Even though I’m a big fan of “Heaven Can Wait,” I truly enjoyed “Down to Earth” on its own level. (Paramount)

MALENA (R)

Despite its natural beauty, director Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Malena” never materializes into a film of passion. It features a winning performance from Monica Bellucci, who stars as an Italian school teacher who is also the object of desire for most of her small town’s male population. Nice work if you can get it. Set in 1940, “Malena” explores the devastation the war through the eyes of two people, young Renato (Giuseppe Sulfaro), who narrates the story, and Malena (Bellucci). After Malena’s husband is sent off to war, she loses her job due to local gossip. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Malena ends up dating German soldiers to make ends meet. While the rest of the town turns their back on Malena, Renato remains her knight in shining armor. Tornatore fills “Malena” with interesting and occasionally engaging moments, but not nearly enough to make the film special. It seems familiar and at times pedestrian, not the sort of film you would expect from the director of “The Legend of 1900.” Bellucci fills the frame with beauty and grace, while the rest of the cast do what they can to rise above the material. (Miramax)

MONKEYBONE (PG-13)

monkeybone photo.JPG (74403 bytes)My goodness, what a mess. “Monkeybone” is all over the place, a quasi-comedy animated mind trip that never seems to have both feet on the ground. Directed by Henry Selik, whose work on “A Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach” showed brilliance, struggles with this comic-book based comedy starring Brendan Fraser as a cartoonist whose simian creation “Monkeybone” begins to take over his life, literally. Just as he’s reaching a pinnacle in his career, cartoonist Stu Miley (Fraser) has a freak accident and ends up in a coma. Trapped between life and death, Stu finds himself at a carnival-like weigh station called Downtown. There Stu meets all sorts of crazy creatures, including a living version of his cartoon creation. Stu’s only hope to escape Downtown and return to the living world is steal an exit pass from none other than Death (Whoopi Goldberg). His life becomes even more complicated when “Monkeybone” steals his pass, and inhabits Stu’s body back in the real world. Weird stuff that gets even stranger when Stu is forced to inhabit the body of a dead gymnast (Chris Kattan) upon his return, adding to the film’s macabre cache of jokes. It’s sad to see such a good cast wasted on this experiment in wasting money. Bridget Fonda costars as Stu’s fiancee, who spends most of the film trying to keep Stu’s greedy sister (Megan Mullally) from pulling the cord. Great production values and acid-inspired scenic design can’t save “Monkeybone.” (Fox)

THINGS YOU CAN TELL JUST BY LOOKING AT HER (PG-13)

things you can tell photo.JPG (47259 bytes)There are chick flicks, and there are flicks with chicks, and “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her” is a little of both. That doesn’t mean men won’t appreciate this series of five vignettes about women trying to get on with their life. Dumped by MGM on cable before making it’s debut on video, this absolutely charming, witty and absorbing film features a stellar cast, smart writing and a sense of sisterhood that is contagious. The cast alone is worth a look, but once you find yourself committed, you will find a film that has a lot to say and does so without standing on a soapbox or shoving “Lifetime” cable pabulum down our throats. Glenn Close is featured as a middle-aged physician whose love life could use a check-up. Her pursuit of a colleague is getting her nowhere, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to hide her loneliness. Calista Flockhart plays a psychic whose female lover (Valeria Golino) is dying, knowing full well what the cards have in store for them. Kathy Baker really shines as a woman raising a teenage son who falls for the accountant across the street. The fact that the accountant (Danny Woodburn) is a dwarf doesn’t phase her. Then there’s Holly Hunter as a bank manager who learns that her married boyfriend (Gregory Hines) has left her with a deposit, and Amy Brenneman as a single police detective who doesn’t see as well as her blind sister (Cameron Diaz) when it comes to love. Director Rodrigo Garcia makes a stunning debut behind the camera and as the film’s writer. He creates believable characters that come to life with their wants and desires. He also gets fine-tuned performances from the entire cast. You walk away from this film feeling satisfied and emotionally fulfilled. (MGM)

THIRTEEN DAYS (PG-13)

Even though it deals with riveting subject matter, director Roger Donaldson’s film lacks the urgency required to make this must-see viewing. It’s also hard to get past star Kevin Costner’s mock Boston accent. Costner plays President Kennedy’s Special Assistant Kenneth P. O’Donnell, who advises him during the intense standoff between Cuba and the United States in 1962. That was the year that American surveillance planes discovered that Cuba was hosting Russian nuclear missiles pointed at the United States. Desperate to avoid a nuclear war that could cost 80 Million American lives, President John F. Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood), his brother Attorney General Bobby Kennedy (Steven Culp), O’Donnell and numerous military advisors work around the clock for “Thirteen Days” in order to stop Russia and Cuba at their own game. The history lesson that fuels writer David Self’s script doesn’t seem nearly as taut as the actual events, which must have been nerve racking. The performers show great conviction, and there are moments when “Thirteen Days” comes alive, but they’re not enough to save the film. (New Line)



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