Films Review June

HI-LO COUNTRY, THE (R)

Set in New Mexico just after the end of World War II, director Stephen Frears’ western is pleasant mix of drama and romance. Although it is never entirely successful in its delivery, “The Hi-Lo Country” emerges as an excellent platform for such artists as Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup and Patricia Arquette to stretch their collective acting muscle.


vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)All are fine in this beautiful shot piece of nostalgia about two friends who both fall in love with the same married woman. Harrelson is sincere as Bog Boy Matson, the one man you believe can tame what is left of the old west. Crudup, so effective in “Without Limits,” shines Pete Calder, the film’s narrator, a man just home from the war who wants to raise cattle. Pete looks up to Matson with the kind of awe reserved for heroes, but that shine wears away when both men find themselves attracted to Mona (Arquette). Even though Mona is married, both Matson and Pete are willing to take a chance. It is obvious that Mona has a thing for Matson, even though she flirts with Pete. It’s the chemistry between the three leads (and a familiar cast of supporting players) that make “The Hi-Lo Country” work. However, the screenplay by Walon Green does little to advance their cause, while Frears’ direction is tight yet not fool proof. Thee are moments that betray the overall look and feel of the film, but luckily we’re in such good company we allow them to slip by. The rest is worthy of a look. (Polygram)

LANSKY (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Director John McNaughton (“Wild Things”) and writer David Mamet (“The Spanish Prisoner”) do an outstanding job of bringing the life of gangster Meyer Lansky to the small screen in this HBO movie. Richard Dreyfuss is exceptional as Lansky, who comes off more as a businessman and gambler rather than a gangster. The film uses Lansky’s retreat to Israel to seek political asylum as a springboard to examine his life, including friendships with such noted gangsters as Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel. While not nearly as lush or extreme as “Bugsy,” the film manages to capture the time and place with perfection, while the acting is always above board. Interesting supporting cast includes Ileanna Douglas, Eric Roberts and Anthony LaPaglia. (HBO)

RUSHMORE (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Even though “Rushmore” is set in the present, the film has the feel of old school. Set in an elite boys academy in Texas, “Rushmore” is filled with remembrances of things gone by. The soundtrack is lined with songs from the 1960’s British Invasion, while the look and feel of the Academy, it’s students and the small town it’s located in all recall a quieter, simpler time. This simplicity works in the film’s favor, allowing writer-director Wes Anderson and co-writer Owen Wilson’s fascinating characters to stand out. Like their previous effort, the quirky yet ultimately winning “Bottle Rocket,” Anderson and Wilson understand the importance of strong character over action and antics. Click here for complete review. (Disney)

SPIKE & MIKE’S FESTIVAL OF ANIMATION-SICK & TWISTED VOL. 5 (NR)

Anyone who has ever gone off to college or lives in a college town has probably had the privilege of catching an animation festival. I caught my first animation festival at a midnight show in a small, art house theater in Key West. There was a tremendous storm brewing outside, yet in the comfort of the theater we enjoyed some of the most madcap and stylized animation I have ever seen. The animation festival is alive and well today thanks to Spike and Mike. You may not know their names, but their animation festivals are among the most eagerly anticipated in the country. Even though half of the groundbreaking duo is no longer with us, their animation festivals continue to enlighten and entertain at local theaters and midnight shows. Mellow Manor Productions, Inc., the company that compiles the festivals, now makes them available on video, and the results are just as satisfying and shocking as they were in theaters. The label releases both Spike & Mike’s “Classic Animation Festival” and “Sick & Twisted Festival of Animation” on video, and if you are a fan of animation or just someone looking for something a little off the beaten path, by all means drop on over to their web site to order the collections. Mellow Manor sent over the latest editions of both festivals, and as usual, the time spent was well worth it. “Spike & Mike’s Festival of Animation-Sick & Twisted 5” is a real scream, literally. Remember, the content of this collection is vulgar and rude, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Who says that animation is just for children? Spike and Mike take up the cause and run with it. Volume 5 for “Sick & Twisted” contains 15 animated shorts, and runs a cool 55 minutes. That’s almost an entire hour of sick and depraved animation. While all compilations are usually hit and miss, most of the animated titles here hit their mark. Some are a little more offensive than others (the final film, “Sloaches Fun House,” is indeed some of the most disturbing Clay animation you will ever see), the overall effect is one of good natured fun. None of this is meant to be taken seriously, although I imagine that if it landed in the hands of a 13 year old boy there would be some hell to pay. For starters, you get the infamous “Bambi Meets Godzilla” short by Marv Newland, a 2-minute piece of crude animation that has become a classic in its own right. There’s also an animated version of the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by Mike Johnson that is absolutely stunning. “Jurassic Fart” is a favorite of mine, proving that size isn’t everything, while “Horndog” had me on the floor laughing so hard. Needless to say we won’t be having Turkey this coming Thanksgiving. Some of the entries pay tribute to Japanese animation (“The Booby Trap” is absolutely hilarious, while “Karate Dick Boys” is not for the weak of mind), while others take bodily fluids to their limits. One of my favorites is also one of the most politically incorrect films in the collection. It’s called “Sick & Twisted Special Games,” and turns the “Special Olympics” on its ear. It would be useless trying to run down all of the films and their content, plus it would ruin a lot of the surprise. Needless to say, “Sick & Twisted” is one of five volumes in the collection, so please make sure you drop by MMP’s website by clicking here for info on the rest of the titles. You can also reach them by phone to place an order by calling (800) 45-SPIKE. (MMP, Inc.)

SPIKE & MIKE’S CLASSIC FESTIVAL OF ANIMATION (NR)

The “Classic Festival of Animation” is for those who want something a little more mainstream, like the clips they saw on the Oscar telecast. The goods news is that volume five includes several award winners, including Christophe and Wolfgang Lauenstein’s Oscar-winning “Balance,” a black and white tale about how maintaining balance in one’s life is equal to his survival. There is also Newland’s 1969 “Bambi Meets Godzilla” (plus Eric Fernandes’ sequel, “Son of Bambi Meets Godzilla”), a hilarious Swedish morality tale in “Hand in Hand,” Mike Johnson’s exquisitely animated “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” and Silke Parzich’s inventive “Fruhling,” which features a thousand green forks, twelve chairs and table doing their best to celebrate the rite of Spring. Volume 5 features ten animated films, and runs 58 minutes. Needless to say, “Classic Festival of Animation” is one of five volumes in the collection, so please make sure you drop by MMP’s website by clicking here for info on the rest of the titles. You can also reach them by phone to place an order by calling (800) 45-SPIKE. (MMP, Inc.)

STILL CRAZY (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Brian Gibson’s affectionate comedy tries hard to be as irreverent as “This is Spinal Tap,” but doesn’t reach the bar. Instead, it’s a winsome little comedy about a popular 1970’s British rock and roll band named the Strange Fruit who decide to get back together after 20 years of separation. It’s a sturdy premise, one played out to its full benefit by an engaging cast. Stephen Rea, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall and Hans Mathson are excellent as the former members, who try to put aside their differences and various economical hardships in order to ride the nostalgia wave. While it is never as funny nor as biting as “Spinal Tap,” the film does contain some hilarious moments. The songs, which include contributions by Mick Jones (Foreigner) and Jeff Lynne (Electric Light Orchestra), are a wonderful surprise, a catchy mix of spoof and honest rock and roll. (Columbia-TriStar)

THIN RED LINE, THE (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)War may be hell, but could it be any more tedious than writer-director Terrence Malick’s remake of “The Thin Red Line”? Bloated and pretentious, “The Thin Red Line” is a wonderful two hour movie trapped inside a three hour marathon of confusing imagery and self-indulgent direction. I was watching the DVD of “The Best of Times” the other night. That’s the small town football comedy with Robin Williams and Kurt Russell. One of the running gags of the film is how time has been kind to quarterback Russell’s winning record. It was only three touchdowns, but twenty years later the total had risen to seven. Time has obviously been kind to director Malick. He’s revered in Hollywood for being a genius, even though he’s only made two films, and that was two decades ago. While “Days of Heaven” and “Badlands” were pretty to look at, they weren’t very substantial. Perhaps that’s why Malick slipped away into a self-imposed J.D. Salinger-like existence for two decades. It must be hard to be called a genius when you’re only marginally talented. Click here for complete review. (Fox)

VARSITY BLUES (R)

vidcass1.gif (2845 bytes)Here’s a bright idea. Make a movie about high school football starring teenage and prison shower heartthrob James Van Der Beek (of “Melrose Creek,” or “Dawson’s Place,” or something like that). Then get MTV, the cable shrine for 14-year old Spice Girl fans on Prozac, to produce it. Top it off by rating the damn thing “R” so that all seven people who have an interest in seeing the film can’t get in without their parent. Are times so jaded that Hollywood can’t make a high school film without littering it with more boobs than in Congress and more dirty words than in a Dennis Miller rant? What ever happened to the good old days when Hollywood could get away with making something upbeat (albeit sappy) like “One on One.” Click here for complete review. (Paramount)

ALSO NEW THIS WEEK:

CAPTURED (R/Avalanche)

GOLF BALLS (R/PAC Films)

KID WITH THE X-RAY EYES (PG/New Horizons)

SORCERESS II: THE TEMPTRESS (Unrated/New Horizons)

TALE OF TILLIE’S DRAGON (NR/Monarch)



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