Films Review July

70’S, THE (NR)

If you thought the real Seventies sucked, then prepare for more of the same. I really liked the television mini-series “The 60s.” It worked for me, even if some of the dialogue and acting was borderline at best. Still, there was a ring of authenticity in the first film that was rather nostalgic. “The 70’s” doesn’t have the same energy or intelligence. It’s like a pop-up book of the most important events of the decade, thin and flimsy. The characters are all types, with little to distinguish them except their personal crusades. It’s also insulting that they expect us to believe that the lead characters just happened to be at or around every important benchmark of the 1970s. Like the Church Lady would say, “How Convenient.” (Trimark)


Frank McCourt’s touching, Pulitzer-prize winning biography makes for an equally touching film experience. Director Alan Parker stays true to McCourt’s story, creating a feeling of hope amidst a time of despair. The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Emily Watson as Frank’s courageous mother Angela, trying desperately to get her family through the Irish famine of the 1930’s, and dealing with an alcoholic husband who would rather spend time at the pub than with his family. Robert Carlyle is painfully honest as Malachy Sr., a man who finds no sin in drinking away what little money the family has. The young actors playing the McCourt children are heartbreakers, inspiring hope and tears as they struggle through a dismal existence. “Angela’s Ashes” isn’t a cheery movie, as it deals with serious issues like alcoholism, death and poverty. Yet it is a hopeful movie, one filled with powerful performances that reach out and grab your heart. (Paramount)


Co-writer/star Craig Ferguson is the main draw for the playful spoof about a Scottish hairdresser who comes to America to participate in the Golden Scissors Awards. Ferguson is extremely engaging as Crawford Mackenzie, a man willing to suffer almost any humiliation in his quest to become the world’s best hairdresser. MacKenzie heads to Los Angeles believing that his invitation means that he’ll be participating in the competition. It doesn’t, and he goes through great lengths to square off against a pompous Hollywood hairdresser, well played by David Rasche. All of this is captured by a documentary crew hired to follow him around, capturing poor Mackenzie at his very worst. Director Kevin Allen and Ferguson make a wonderful team, playing off each other’s strengths. This is a great little send-up that disappeared in theater faster than lightning. Catch it now on video. (Warner)


As a 42 year-old male, I find myself knowing more about author Jacqueline Susann than I have a right to. Perhaps it’s because my mother used to read all of her novels, or maybe I saw an A&E Biography. I don’t know, but I do know enough that Susann would have both loved and hated the film “Isn’t She Great.” Susann would have loved “Isn’t She Great” because it is as trashy and flamboyant as her novels. She would have hated the film because it turns her life into a colorful three-ring circus filled with Borscht Belt performers. I know that Susann had a colorful life, but she also has an extremely tough life, and even though writer Paul Rudnick tries to reconcile the two into a manageable screenplay, he fails miserably. The script’s broad strokes make it virtually impossible for the actors to embrace the small, intimate moments. Click title for complete review. (Universal)


After watching “The Ninth Gate,” maybe it’s a good thing that director Roman Polanski isn’t allowed back into the country. What a mess of a movie. Johnny Depp plays an authority on rare books who is hired to track down and verify the existence of three books. No big deal, except that the books are the work of the Devil, and when they are brought together they will unleash a living hell, or something like that. Depp is fine as Dean Corso, the ultimate authority whose curiosity gets the best of him and leads him on a journey filled with mystery and intrigue. Or at least it’s supposed to. Half the time the film is a nod to classic Hitchcock thrillers, those wonderful films about an ordinary man who finds himself surrounded by extraordinary events. The other half the film feels like a silly travelogue with goofy music. I don’t know what the director of “Chinatown” and “Rosemary’s Baby” was thinking when he cut the film, but little here makes sense, especially the finale. Since it’s one of those arty European horror films, maybe it’s not supposed to make sense. (Artisan)


Handsome production values provide director Ang Lee with an authentic backdrop for this personal yet epic Civil War tale of two best friends fighting to save their way of life. Skeet Ulrich and Tobey Maguire are good as Jack Chiles and Jake Roedel, two pro-Confederate supporters who become Bushwhackers after Union Jayhawkers kill Chile’s father. Joining up with other Confederate Bushwhackers, including leader Black John (James Caviezel) and former slave Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), the men do their best to foil the Confederate war machine. After a punishing series of battles, the men use winter to disband into smaller groups and protect the surrounding areas. It’s there where Jack and Jake meet the lovely Sue Lee Shelly (singer Jewel), a widow who begins a romance with Jack. When the fighting continues after the snow melt, Jack and Jake find themselves battling personal demons and conflicts within their camp. Told with conviction and a sense of time and place, “Ride with the Devil” is a sweeping romantic adventure that should appeal to fans of such fare. (Universal)


Bittersweet comedy about an Australian family dealing with the impending death of their terminally ill mother. Jeanie Drynan is winning as mother Patsy, who understands where she’s headed and draws comfort and security from her family. That means a family reunion of sorts, one that will lead to an examination of family values and unconditional love. While her husband Vic (Linal Haft) works through his own pain, Patsy welcomes the return of her three daughters and an exiled son. Their arrival is filled with all sorts of dramatic and humorous encounters and discussions, all directed with a sense of vitality by director Christina Andreef. Alice Talbot, Sacha Horler and Genvieve Lemon are absolutely delicious as the three daughters who use their down time to go on a group diet, while brother Bo (Russell Dykestra) contemplates his past mistakes so his father will let him in the house. Wry and occasionally witty, “Soft Fruit” is one of those darling Australian imports that just seems to work its magic over the viewer. Adult audiences will appreciate the filmmaker’s ability to create a film capable of evoking laughs and tears without manipulation. (Fox)


Familiar faces flesh out this tricky suspense thriller about two college students who decide to scam the mob. Brad Rowe (“The 70’s”) and Seth Green (“Austin Powers”) are quite good as two private college students who see opportunity knocking and try to answer it. Instead of being met with riches beyond their dreams, the two students find themselves trapped in a web of intrigue. Rowe plays Erik, a farm hand making ends meet after the death of his parents. When his best friend’s father gets him into the prestigious Stonebrook College, Erik can’t believe his good luck. Green plays Erik’s roommate Cornelius, a computer geek who knows his way around a database. That knowledge comes in handy when Erik faces a financial crisis and must leave school. Using his computer skills, Cornelius fixes the problem. Then the two decide to go for a bigger pie and scam the mob. Delivered with adequate suspense and decent performances, “Stonebrook” is a pleasant diversion. (MGM)


Amusing debut from writer-director Scott Sanders, who does an excellent job of creating offbeat characters and situations. This crime drama reminded me a lot of Elmore Leonard, especially “Get Shorty.” The dialogue is rich and funny, the characters interesting and dangerous, and the situations straight out of pulp fiction (not the movie). Alec Baldwin is wonderfully engaging as Mackin, a professional thief who lives a quiet life. When he’s double-crossed by a gangster named Pointy Williams (Michael Jai White), Mackin begins a campaign of revenge that escalates into a war, attracting the attention of a local Detroit police officer (Rebecca DeMornay). Baldwin and White make the duel a lot of fun. (USA)


Bruce Willis and Matthew Perry are engaging in “The Whole Nine Yards.” Willis plays former mob hit man Jimmy Tudeski, who has the unfortunate luck to move next door to henpecked husband/dentist Oz Oseransky (Perry), who immediately recognizes his new neighbor. Oz’s life is already a living nightmare. He’s stuck in a loveless marriage to an ungrateful French Canadian white trash wife (Rosanna Arquette), living with his ungrateful mother-in-law, and working off a debt left to him by his former father-in-law and partner. Like Jimmy, all Oz wants is some peace and quiet. Writer Mitchell Kapner creates some hilarious complications when Oz’s wife seeks out Jimmy to kill her husband, helping seal his fate by sending Oz to Chicago to rat out Jimmy and collect a finder’s fee. It’s not long before the mob heads up to Canada to kill Jimmy, who has met some unusual allies, including Oz’s dental assistant, played with comic flair by Amanda Peet. Click on title for complete review. (Warner)



BECAUSE OF YOU (R/New Horizons)




FLASH (NR/Walt Disney)

PUPS (R/Monarch)


THROW DOWN (NR/Maverick)

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