Films Review July

8mm (R)

Oh, the horror! The inhumanity! The drudgery of having to sit through another neo-noir thriller that barely has time to get on its feet before it stumbles under the weight of a top-heavy performance by Nicolas Cage, seamy direction by Joel Schumacher, and a patchwork script by that guy who wrote “Seven.”


vidcass.gif (2845 bytes) “8mm” is a nifty title for a film that’s not nearly as clever. Instead, much of what appears on the screen in “8mm” has been lifted from much better films. It’s like the celluloid version of that good luck wedding poem, something borrowed, something blue, something old, and not much that’s new. I remember back in the middle 1970’s there was a big uproar over a film called “Snuff.” It was supposed to be a legitimate “snuff” movie, a film where the performer is actually killed on screen. I remember all the hoopla as the film garnered a notorious “X” rating, and faced protestors as it played in local theaters. As it turned out, the film was nothing more than a imported Mexican action film with some fake butchery added on to the finale. It was all hype. Click here for complete review. (Columbia-TriStar)

BABY GENIUSES (PG)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Even though younger children will absolutely adore this sell-through release from Columbia-TriStar Home Video, as an adult, I found it kind of creepy. The premise is sort of cute, but the execution left me with this odd feeling. Perhaps it was the sight (thanks to computer generated effects) of infants talking and acting like adults. Numerous effects were utilized to create this illusion, and some of them left the children looking like little robots. Then again, is that a bad thing? Kathleen Turner and Christopher Lloyd seem to have a good time playing the adult heavies. She’s Dr. Elena Kinder, he’s her partner in crime, Dr. Heap, and together they are about to unlock the mystery of baby talk. That’s right, the gibberish babies exchange among themselves. Kinder and Heap believe that the gibberish is actually intelligent conversation, but in a special baby language. Funny thing is, they’re right, but their test subjects are not about to let the cat out of the bag. Most of the film’s humor comes when the babies get together and hash out life’s problems. There is a modicum of suspense and danger, but the emphasis is on the kids, who are all adorable. Not really my cup of tea, but kids will lap it up over and over again. (Columbia-TriStar)

BLAST FROM THE PAST (PG-13)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)1962 was a tumultuous year, even without the Cuban missile crisis. The Cold War was in full freeze, and paranoia run rampant. Paranoia can cause people to do strange things. The thought of a Russian missile attack convinced many Americans to build bomb shelters. For most, these shelters were nothing more than a small underground bunker, if that. It’s different for Calvin Webber (Christopher Walken) and his very pregnant wife Helen (Sissy Spacek). Aware that his family might have to survive in their shelter for more than 30 years, Calvin has built an underground habitat that is not only self-sustaining, but comes with all of the luxuries of home. That’s a good thing. Especially the night Calvin and Helen hear about the Cuban missile crisis. After escorting out the guests from their Los Angeles home, Calvin and Helen retreat to the shelter and lock themselves in. Click here for complete review. (New Line)

GENERAL, THE (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Director John Boorman interjects fact and legend into this whimsical account of the legendary Irish mobster Martin Cahill, who in real life was assassinated in 1994. Shot in stark black and white (but colorized for video), the film is the perfect blend of drama and comedy without tipping the scales either way. Boorman does an exceptional job of creating time and place, while his screenplay is filled with engaging dialogue and interesting characters. Brendan Gleeson is absolutely dynamic as Cahill, whose attempts to become a Robin Hood-like criminal are thwarted by an Irish policeman (Jon Voight) determined to bring Cahill down. What holds the film together are the performances, especially those of Gleeson and Voight, whose little cat and mouse game is the heart of the film. In between, director Boorman fins plenty to entertain us with, including a colorful supporting cast and some magnificent scenery. (Columbia-TriStar)

HUNTER’S MOON, THE (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Obviously passing time until “Boogie Nights 2” comes along, Burt Reynolds stars as a mountain man whose tight control over his daughter causes problems for her latest suitor. Keith Carradine plays Turner, a W.W.I veteran who is still haunted by the senseless carnage of the war. When Turner meets and falls in love with Flo (played by Hayley Du Mond), little does her realize that in order to win Flo’s heart, he has to go through her daddy. Enter Clayton Samuels (Reynolds), a rough and tough mountain man who would rather skin someone alive rather than lose his little girl. What follows is a tedious barrage of brutal exchanges, none of which are exciting or interesting enough to warrant more than a cursory look. Both Reynolds and Carradine act as though they’re working for rent money. (Monarch)

NOAH’S ARK (NR)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Hallmark Home Entertainment makes their recent mini-series available on video and DVD, both priced at sell-through for $19.98. Jon Voight and Mary Steenburgen star in this revisionist version of the famous flood and the one man assigned to save two of each species from oblivion. Featuring handsome production design and an engaging cast, the mini-series took some flack for playing loosey-goosey with its source material. Regardless of the controversy or the film’s lighthearted spirit, “Noah’s Ark” remains engaging viewing. (Artisan)

OCTOBER SKY (PG)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Inspired, sentimental true story about a young man who dared to dream, only to have his dream come true. Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding as Homer Hickman, a high school student whose predestined life takes a dramatic turn when he sees the Sputnik satellite pass over his West Virginia home. Like his father (Chris Cooper), Homer is expected to work in the coal mines when he graduates high school. Thanks to his new found interest in rockets and with the help of a physics teacher (Laura Dern), Homer and his friends succeed in their endeavor. Unfortunately, Homer’s father feels that his son is wasting his time, and disapproves. Going against his father’s wishes, Homer continues his pursuit, and ends up winning first place at the National Science Fair. Director Joe Johnston does an exceptional job of making all of this matter with resorting to cliches. The screenplay by Lewis Colick is engaging without having to resort to manipulation. You care about these characters whether or not they succeed. Dern is outstanding as the science teacher who sees a spark in young Homer and can’t help up ignite it. Even though it failed to reach the stars in theaters, “October Sky” should blast off on video. (Universal)

PAYBACK (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Hubba, hubba, hubba. That’s the catch phrase that runs through “Payback,” a verbal throwback to a simpler place and time. There’s nothing simple about “Payback,” and all of the characters seem to running out of or are on borrowed time. Based on the 1967 John Boorman film “Point Blank” starring Lee Marvin, which was itself based on Richard Stark’s novel “The Hunter,” “Payback” is one vicious action film, a giddy combination of non-stop violence and film noir. There are no good guys in “Payback.” Just varying levels of bad guys. The hookers don’t have hearts of gold, and the hero is so hell bent on getting his money back from the mob that he’s willing to kill any one who gets in his way. “Payback” begins with one of those classic film noir moments. Set to the jazzy, guitar driven strains of Chris Boardman’s score and captured by Ericson Core’s cobalt blue cinematography, the film begins with a back room doctor removing three bullets from the back of a man. It’s a nasty little moment in a film filled with many nasty little moments. The guy on the table is Porter. He’s a professional thief who happened to get involved with a double-crossing partner who set him up and then left him for dead. While not nearly as hard driven nor as hard boiled as the Boorman film, Helgeland’s debut behind the camera is a tight-fisted exercise in wall-to-wall violence and star power. Click here for complete review. (Paramount)

REACH THE ROCK (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Here is a film that snuck in under the radar when no one was looking, and after a brief theatrical life on a handful of screens, arrives on video with little fanfare. “Reach The Rock” is a well-written drama about how two different people deal with their fears of being trapped in their small town. Alessandro Nivola is excellent as wayward Robin Fleming, who ends up in jail after breaking some windows. Robin is watched over by presiding officer Quinn (William Sadler), who believes Robin is responsible for the death of his nephew several years earlier. The evening is spent with the two men treating each other to mind games, but when all of the cards are laid out on the table, a confrontation is inevitable. The film is basically a two-character piece, but thanks to a screenplay by John Hughes, the dialogue sparkles. Both Nivola and Sadler are excellent as they verbally dance around each other. The film also has its lighter moments, proving that Hughes still knows how to mix message and mirth, while director William Ryan makes it all matter without showing off. (Universal)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

AN AMERICAN AFFAIR (NR/York Home Video)

FINDING LOVE AGAIN (NR/Artistic License, Inc.)

JAMES DEAN: LIVE FAST, LIVE YOUNG (NR/York Home Video)

ROAD ENDS (R/PM)

STRANGER IN THE KINGDOM, A (R/A-PIX)

UNDERCURRENT (R/Avalanche)



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