Saturday, December 5, 2009



Tin Cup (1996) [R] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli for

Saying that Tin Cup may be the best-ever golf motion picture isn’t exactly high praise, considering the competition (Caddyshack, Happy Gilmore), but it’s true nonetheless. In fact, as sports movies go (regardless of the sport), this one turns in a respectable showing, injecting some intelligence and maturity into a story that easily could have succumbed to a flood of struggling underdog clichés. That's not to say that elements of the formula aren’t here, but they rarely threaten to overwhelm Tin Cup’s better aspects.

When it comes to making sports movies, no one has shown more aptitude than Ron Shelton, whose writing and directing credits include films about baseball (Bull Durham, Cobb), basketball (Blue Chips, White Men Can't Jump), football (The Best of Times), boxing (The Great White Hype), and now golf. Shelton has structured Tin Cup a little like Bull Durham, interweaving an adult romance with the story of a man struggling to find self-respect through the sport he loves. However, while romantic subplots are frequently used as side dishes for motion picture athletic contests, Shelton keeps the two disparate elements of his movie on equal footing, which lends a sense of balance to the finished product.

One of the most laudable characteristics of Tin Cup is that the script never condescends to either of the main characters. These aren’t two mismatched caricatures engaging in a series of familiar romantic moves. Crisp, thoughtful dialogue replaces the empty banter we’ve become accustomed to in screen love stories. There’s a believability and depth to both Kevin Costner’s Roy Tin Cup McAvoy and Rene Russo’s Molly Griswold, and the understated manner in which they relate to each other is a welcome change of pace during this season of loud, ostentatious explosions. And, while the chemistry between Costner and Russo doesn’t sizzle, they work together in a comfortable, relaxed manner. As Roy puts it, they fit like a pair of old shoes.

The story centers on the title character, an aging club pro who lives in a Winnebago in the lonely west Texas town of Salome. He spends his day in the company of his best friend, Romeo (Cheech Marin), working for $7 an hour at a deserted driving range. Once upon a time, Roy had a bright golfing future ahead of him, but he blew his cool on the links, went for the trick shot instead of the smart one, and failed to qualify for the tour. Since then, he has been hiding out in obscurity, picking up cash where he can, and watching bitterly as his old college partner, David Simms (Don Johnson), a rich, happy, soulless man, rises through the PGA ranks.

One day, Roy’s marginal existence is turned upside down by the arrival of a woman psychologist named Molly Griswold. She wants to take golf lessons to impress her boyfriend. To the men of Salome, the concept of a female doctor is a revelation, and, in one of the film’s more slyly amusing scenes, they watch eagerly as Roy teaches her the basics of hitting a golf ball, wondering how such a pretty girl can have such an ugly swing. It doesn’t take long for Roy to fall in love with Molly, so it comes as a blow when she reveals that her boyfriend is none other than David Simms. Roy then decides that a grand gesture is needed to win her -- something like qualifying for the U.S. Open and beating David in front of a national TV audience.

Although this may sound like a very familiar, traditional sports movie, don’t worry -- Shelton applies enough tweaks and twists to the formulaic story to keep us interested and a little unsure of the outcome. The experience is akin to following an often-traveled road then suddenly taking a detour onto a parallel, but nevertheless different, course. Tin Cup isn’t concerned with blazing new trails – that’s beyond its scope or ambition. Instead, it’s content to offer a pleasantly likable, gently comic two hours of simple life lessons, with golf as the obvious metaphor.

As the saying goes, you don’t have to appreciate the sport to enjoy the movie. Undoubtedly, however, the film makers are hoping that the burgeoning popularity of golf will help at the box office. This is the first such movie to boast cameos by top-notch players, including Corey Pavin, Fred Couples, and Lee Janzen. Still, Tin Cup has a broad enough appeal that intimate knowledge of the joys and frustrations of playing 18 holes isn’t necessary. This movie ranks as better-than-par entertainment.

Labels: comedy, drama, romance, sport

Stealing Beauty (1996) [R] ***

A film review by James Berardinelli, for

What do you call a character study with shallow, sketchily-drawn characters, but a gorgeous setting? A scenery study, perhaps. Or an atmosphere study. Either would be appropriate for Stealing Beauty, a stylish, sensual motion picture that's hollow where it should have a heart. This film is aesthetically pleasing but not emotionally satisfying. It's occasionally erotic but rarely dynamic. While these aren't unforgivable traits, I somehow expected more from a Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris) film.

The central theme of the movie is the attempt of the lead character, Lucy Harmon (Liv Tyler), to lose her virginity. At age 19, she's never slept with a man -- a revelation that causes a great stir among the residents of the Tuscany villa where she is spending the summer. Everyone is sympathetic to her situation, and they begin to consider who might best be able to accommodate her.

There is no shortage of candidates. Stealing Beauty presents them one-by-one, then dismisses them in the same manner. There's Richard (D.W. Moffett) the American boyfriend of Miranda (Rachel Weisz) the jewelry-maker daughter of Lucy's hostess, Diana (Sinead Cusack). There's Diana's son, Christopher (Joseph Fiennes), or one of his friends, including Nicolo (Roberto Zibetti), with whom Lucy shared her first kiss four long years ago on her last visit to Italy. Then there's Nicolo's shy, sensitive friend Osvaldo Donati (Ignazio Oliva), who turns away from the sight of an exposed female breast. And, it doesn't take a genius to weed through the choices to determine who will get the opportunity to deflower Lucy.

As the story, such as it is, develops, a mystery subplot is introduced: who is Lucy's real father? There are three apparent possibilities: Alex Barnes (Jeremy Irons), a dying writer; Ian Grayson (Donal McCann), the sculptor husband of Lucy's hostess; and Carlo Lisca (Carlo Cecchi), a mysterious ex-military man. We know the truth long before Lucy does, but Stealing Beauty is never surprise-oriented. 

Despite all the screen time accorded to Tyler, her character shows little development. Events seem to swirl around her, only briefly touching her shallow emotional center. Fundamentally, she's no different at the end than at the beginning (except that her hymen is no longer intact). Several of the supporting characters show greater depth. Most notable of these is Jeremy Irons' terminally ill author, who becomes Lucy's confidante and vicariously lives out his last days through her.

There's very little comic relief in this too-serious film, which makes for a rather grim movie-going experience. Stealing Beauty is long, but doesn't really go anywhere. It is most remarkable for its excellent sense of time and place. The Italian countryside becomes as vital a supporting character as Alex, and when Lucy dives into a swimming pool, you can almost feel the cool, clear water. Stealing Beauty functions as a two-hour, surrogate holiday -- diverting and visually captivating, but far from a cinematic landmark. [Berardinelli's rating: ** 1/2 out of 4]

Labels: drama, romance

Independence Day (1996) [PG-13] ****

Independence Day, along with Godzilla and The Day After Tomorrow are big-budget, special-effects-laden action/sci-fi/thrillers written and directed by Roland Emmerich. All three films contain a similar plot structure: (1) the Earth and all of humanity are threatened with extinction by an alien intelligence, our own shortsightedness, or both; (2) a single scientist clearly understands the threat and uses his knowledge to help neutralize it; (3) humankind recognizes the threat in time and acts to prevent its own extinction. Emmerich has successfully used this formula in the three films to rescue humanity from being exterminated by: an alien invasion, a huge, prehistoric sea creature and catastrophic abrupt climate change.

The alien invasion story in Independence Day is exciting entertainment with a great screenplay, thrilling soundtrack, amazing special effects and an outstanding cast, including Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Mary McDonnell, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia and Viveca A. Fox. However the film also contains a subtle message that we should not ignore. In a pivotal scene the U.S. President, played by Bill Pullman, describes his experience of thought transference from the captured alien: I saw... its thoughts. I saw what they're planning to do. They're like locusts. They're moving from planet to planet... their whole civilization. After they've consumed every natural resource they move on... and we're next.

Emmerich's point is that this is what the developed nations of Earth are doing. We're using the tools of globalization - multinational corporations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization - to drill, deforest and strip mine the remaining natural resources of the world to feed the voracious appetite of our consumer culture. In a very real sense we are the aliens, and we are destroying our own world. 

Labels: action, adventure, alien-invasion, father-daughter, father-son, flying, mother-son, sci-fi, thriller, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 59/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=63, viewers=70)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Twister (1996) [PG-13] ****

Dr. Jo Harding (Helen Hunt) has been obsessed with tornadoes ever since she was a child and saw her father sucked out of the family storm shelter by a deadly twister. Now she leads a rag-tag team of researchers who've developed an instrument pack that can place hundreds of tiny airborne sensors within the tornado's funnel, to report velocity, barometric pressure, etc. The team hopes that the knowledge they gain will help them build a better early warning system, to save more lives.

On the day Jo plans to deploy the pack, her husband Bill (Bill Paxton) shows up with his new fiancée Melissa (Jami Gertz), expecting Jo to have signed their divorce papers. Melissa is a reproductive (sex) therapist who thinks chasing tornadoes is just a metaphor, and is she in for a surprise! Bill is also in for a surprise as another team led by Dr. Jonas Miller (Cary Elwes) has developed a similar instrument pack, and now the race is on to see who can gain first glory by defying danger, placing their instrument pack in the tornado's path and then getting safely out of the way.

This is a great action adventure thriller, and the special effects showing tornadoes and their destructive power are very realistic. There are several scenes inside the National Severe Storms Laboratory and of the various instruments used to track storms. There's great chemistry between Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton as they come to understand how similar they really are, both professionally and personally. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Jami Gertz as an intuitive, emotional therapist who realizes that she can't compete with the adrenalin rush of chasing real tornadoes; Lois Smith as Jo's Aunt Meg, who survives a direct tornado strike on her home; and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Dusty, a slightly unhinged member of Jo's team who idolizes Bill, but whose tornado-chasing stories terrify Melissa. Twister was co-written by Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), and was directed by Jan de Bont (Speed, Speed 2: Cruise Control). The soundtrack is incredible, including tracks by Van HalenEric Clapton and Deep PurpleTwister will suck you in! 

Labels: action, adventure, disaster, drama, thriller, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 68/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=60, viewers=64)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Phenomenon (1996) [PG] ***

George Malley (John Travolta) has lived his whole life in a small California town, and now, at thirty-seven, he owns an auto service station. George is a little slow, intellectually, but his friends all love him... including his farmer friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker) and Doc Brunder (Robert Duvall).

Every year they all gather at the local pub to celebrate George's birthday, and this year, when George steps outside for some fresh air, he's dazzled by a brilliant white light and falls unconscious. When he wakes and returns to the party, George discovers that he's smart enough to beat Doc at chess. Over the next week, George discovers that he has a new thirst for knowledge... he's reading two books a day. Also, he has renewed energy and needs very little sleep.

Something happened to George when he experienced the white light, and now he has the intellectual capacity of a genius. But he doesn't become concerned until he discovers that he's developed telekinesis - the ability to move objects with his mind. Did George have an encounter with an alien intelligence, or is there another possibility, perhaps a more tragic one? While Doc searches for the answer, George's supernormal mental capacity allows him to perceive ultra low frequency compression waves and predict a local earthquake. It also enables him to decipher a military communications code, and the FBI is now investigating him for espionage. And, at the same time, George finds himself falling in love with Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick), a divorced mother of two pre-teen children, who's been burned before by love and is very cautious.

This is a wonderful film, straight out of the human potential movement, that explores what our lives might be like if we could somehow develop our full mental potential, rather than just the ten percent we typically use. The screenplay is inspired with some memorable dialogue. Casting, direction and soundtrack are excellent. If you enjoyed Starman and Michael - the latter also starring John Travolta - then you probably will really enjoy Phenomenon.

Labels: drama, fantasy, mother-daughter, mother-son, romance, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 41/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=59, viewers=60)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Bed of Roses (1996) [PG] ****

Lewis was a promising young investment banker at Goldman Sachs, married and blissfully in love. Then one night his pregnant wife went into premature labor and he lost everything in one moment. Utterly despondent, he cashed out and quit. Eventually, he bought a flower shop and started delivering flowers, because he enjoyed seeing the happy smiles on people's faces. Then, late one night while out for a walk, Lewis looked up, and saw Lisa standing at her apartment window, crying. Innocently curious, he found out who she was and where she worked. Lisa, by coincidence, was also an investment banker, but unlike Lewis who had a large loving family, Lisa had been a foundling, raised by foster parents who were now gone. Lisa's only real girlfriend is Kim, a compassionate elementary school teacher; her current boyfriend, Danny, is the romantic equivalent of a nightlight. Captivated by Lisa, Lewis delivers a lovely bouquet of flowers to her, claiming they're an anonymous gift, but Lisa is skeptical; she tracks Lewis down at his florist shop and discovers the truth.

This is a warm, tender, truly memorable love story about two people who are afraid to reach out and take a chance on love because they've been scarred by personal loss in the past. Christian Slater and Mary Stuart Masterson are wonderful in their roles as Lewis and Lisa, two people who wake up to love and realize they've been sleepwalking through life. Pamela Segall provides light humor as Kim, and Josh Brolin is romantically clueless as Danny. The soundtrack is terrific, and the DVD includes Jann Arden's music video Insensitive. If you enjoyed Sabrina (1995), When Harry Met Sally...While You Were Sleeping or Lucky Seven, I predict you will really enjoy Bed of Roses. 

Labels: christmas, drama, romance
Internet Movie Database 
Tomatometer (critics=20, viewers=67)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Beautiful Girls (1996) [R] ****

It’s the dead of winter, and NYC- based jazz pianist Willie Conway (Timothy Hutton) arrives home in Knights Ridge, Massachusetts for his tenth high school reunion. The reunion is really just an excuse to see his old friends – none of whom left town after graduation – and to get away from his current life. He’s barely scraping by playing piano, and he’s not sure if he’s ready to take a job as an office equipment salesman, or to marry his girlfriend Tracy (Annabeth Gish), who’s an attractive, successful lawyer.

Most of Willie’s high school friends have blue-collar jobs, and their best days were long ago. Only Michael (Noah Emmerich) is happily married with a wife Sarah (Anne Bobby) and daughter. Paul (Michael Rapaport) rents a room in Willie’s dad’s home; his room is decorated with semi-nude supermodels and he has a very sexist attitude toward women. He wants his waitress ex-girlfriend Jan (Martha Plimpton) back only because he knows that she’s moved on. Tommy (Matt Dillon) drives a snowplow truck. His steady, patient girlfriend Sharon (Mira Sorvino) knows he’s sleeping with his now-married, former high school sweetheart Darian (Lauren Holly), while Gina (Rosie O'Donnell) and Sarah try to convince Sharon it’s time to dump Tommy. And to complicate matters, Andera (Uma Thurman), the lovely niece of a local tavern owner arrives from Chicago, and, at the same time, Willie finds himself growing fascinated by his next-door neighbor, 13-year-old Marty (Natalie Portman), who is observant and wise far beyond her years.

This character-driven romantic comedy-drama was written by Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Gone in Sixty Seconds) and directed by the late Ted Demme (Blow). While costumes, sets and production values are mediocre, the cast is incredible and some of the dialogue is quite memorable. In one of the film’s highlights, Gina (O'Donnell), who fancies herself a feminist counselor, delivers a diatribe against men’s magazines, and the way they present unrealistic images of women. In another scene, as Marty (Portman) compares herself with Tracy (Gish), she poignantly observes to Willie: Two words not in her vocabulary... lunch money.

If Beautiful Girls feels dated, it is probably because so many of the cast members have gone on to illustrious film careers and they now appear so much older. On the other hand, if you’d like to watch the luminous Natalie Portman in an early film role, and you don’t care for the violence of Léon: The Professional (1994) or Heat (1995), Beautiful Girls is the film to see.

Labels: comedy, drama, romance

Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 64/100
Tomatometer (critics=78, viewers=81)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fly Away Home (1996) [PG] ****

Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) is a sweet, normal thirteen-year-old girl, living with her divorced mother in Auckland, New Zealand. Then tragedy strikes in the form of a fatal auto accident.

When Amy awakens in the hospital, she finds only her dad Tom (Jeff Daniels) at her bedside. One month later the two of them arrive at Tom's rural Ontario, Canada home, which Amy had left with her mother ten years earlier. It's springtime and Tom is consumed with his work as an inventor-sculptor and with his hobby as a glider pilot. Amy is lonely, withdrawn, grieving for her lost mother, and resentful of her dad's close friendship with his girlfriend Susan (Dana Delany).

Then a developer's bulldozer destroys the nearby wetlands home of a flock of nesting Canada Geese. Amy finds sixteen eggs, and suddenly she has a purpose in life. She carries the eggs home and builds a makeshift nest. In time the eggs hatch and the goslings imprint on Amy as their mother. They follow her everywhere. Caring for her sixteen baby geese gives Amy a positive new outlook. Then she and Tom learn that the geese are migratory, but need to be shown the way south for the winter... and Tom proposes a novel solution to the problem.

The story of how he teaches Amy to fly an ultralight that looks like an enormous Canada Goose, and how Amy teaches the geese to follow her, forms the core of this incredibly inspirational, uplifting, heart-warming family drama. Screenplay, direction, acting, editing, sets, costumes and soundtrack are all excellent. Jeff Daniels and Anna Paquin are especially believable as a father and daughter, estranged by divorce and ten years of separation, who find one another again through a shared goal. If you have preteen or teen-aged children at home, or if you just like a good family drama with a happy ending, don't miss Fly Away Home.

Labels: adventure, drama, family, father-daughter, flying, teenager
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=72, viewers=62)

Fly Away Home - 10,000 Miles - by Mary Chapin Carpenter

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wish Upon a Star (1996) [PG] **

13 Going on 30 meets 10 Things I Hate About You in this story of two teenaged sisters, the younger of whom secretly wishes she could be her older sister. When she gets her wish, it's quite a shock at first, but gradually the two girls each learn how difficult it is to walk in another person's shoes, even if that person is her sister. Katherine Heigl plays Alexia, a high school senior, and Danielle Harris plays Hayley, her sophomore sister.

Both girls have the acting talent to give thoughtful, impassioned performances. Unfortunately, while the film's concept is intriguing, the unfocused screenplay by Jessica Barondes (her first writing credit) and casual direction by Blair Treu (her second directing credit) just do not deliver, and it is only in the final ten minutes of the film that it lives up to its full potential, and gets its message across. As a note, Jessica Barondes' third screenwriting credit is for Lucky Seven, a delightful romantic comedy starring Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Patrick Dempsey. Wish Upon a Star will no doubt be appreciated by teenage girls and their mothers, and by fans of Katherine Heigl who are curious about how talented an actress she was in 1996, when she was only eighteen.

Labels: comedy, family, fantasy

Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=NA, viewers=74)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

To Gillian on her 37th Birthday (1996) [PG-13] ***

David (Peter Gallagher) is a literature professor. He's been living on Nantucket Island with his sixteen year old daughter Rachel (Claire Danes) since his wife Gillian (Michelle Pfeiffer) died tragically on her birthday, exactly two years earlier, when she fell from the mast of their sailboat. Since then, David's dealt with his grief by becoming a recluse; he continues to have night beach walks and conversations with his dead wife, and has grown distant from Rachel.

Now it's the end of the summer, and David's preparing to celebrate Gillian's 37th birthday. Rachel is back after having spent the summer on the mainland with her Aunt Esther (Kathy Baker) and Uncle Paul (Bruce Altman). And this weekend, Esther and Paul arrive on the island to be with David and Rachel on Gillian's Day - and Esther has brought a female friend Kevin (Wendy Crewson) as a surprise date for David. While the fantasy-world time David spends with Gillian is blissful and soft-focused, the real-world time he spends with her older sister Esther is harsh and painful. Esther wants David to get a grip on reality, and while her female friend Kevin represents the carrot, Esther also has a stick; she's prepared to take legal action to get custody of Rachel. The contrast between tall, gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer and short, homely Kathy Baker could not be greater, so it's easy to sympathize with David and demonize Esther. However, the situation is not black and white, and Esther can make a strong case, as the viewer will discover.

The fundamental question is: what's best for Rachel? The screenplay was written by David E. Kelley (Michelle Pfeiffer's real-life husband), from a stage play, and it's an exercise in exploring human desires for love and companionship, and how we satisfy those desires. While the script, direction and acting are all excellent, this is an unusual romantic drama, and it will be best appreciated by fans of the cast members, especially Peter Gallagher and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Labels: drama, father-daughter, romance, teenager
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=47, viewers=60)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

That Thing You Do! (1996) [PG] ****

It's 1964 in Erie, PA, and Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott), back home after military service in West Germany, is attempting to adjust to his new life as an appliance salesman in his parents' retail store, while developing his budding skills as a drummer. His friends include singer/guitarist Leonard Haise (Steve Zahn) and songwriter/singer/guitarist James Mattingly II (Johnathon Schaech) who have formed a band and are playing James' compositions. When the band's drummer breaks his arm, Guy is invited to join the band for a competition, and when Guy's up-tempo arrangement of James' song That Thing You Do! helps the band win the competition, the band comes to the attention of local talent scout Phil Horace (Chris Ellis).

As the song's success grows, Phil turns the group over to Mr. White (Tom Hanks) and Playtone Records, and as the song climbs the charts, the group, now called The Wonders and including James' girlfriend Faye (Liv Tyler) as costume mistress, finds themselves in Los Angeles, enjoying the glitz and glamour of the film, TV and music industries, where the realities of the music business inevitably take their toll on the group. This is a wonderfully creative and refreshing film about being young and in a band in the Sixties. The casting is perfect, the screenplay is tight and innovative, Hanks' direction is sensitive, and the music is original and sparkling, with just the right hint of the Beatles. If you're from the Sixties, you will definitely not want to miss That Thing You Do!

Labels: comedy, drama, father-son, music, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 71/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=71, viewers=64)
Blu-ray Extended





How to Make an American Quilt (1995) [PG-13] ****

In a rural California farm town, Finn (Winona Ryder), a young graduate student, has come to spend the summer with her grandmother Hyacinth (Ellen Burstyn), her great aunt Glady Jo (Anne Bancroft) and the other members of their quilting circle - Anna (Maya Angelou), Emma (Jean Simmons), Sophia (Lois Smith), Marianna (Alfre Woodard) and Constance (Kate Nelligan).

Finn works on her thesis on women's handicrafts, while the women create her wedding quilt, using the theme Where Love Resides. As they stitch the panels of the quilt, Finn learns about their lives and loves, their joys and sorrows, how their experiences over the past fifty years have changed and enriched them, and she observes how their memories form the pattern and fabric of the quilt. Finn learns that we are all physical and emotional beings, and that sometimes our passions cause us to plunge into an adventure without considering the consequences, just as a young girl might dive off a rock ledge into a lake and into her lover's arms, or she might welcome a lover with outstretched arms while lying on an artist's couch or in a bath of warm, soapy water or on the warm, rich earth of a fruit orchard. In deciding whether to commit to her friend and fiance Sam (Dermot Mulroney) or her summer fling Leon (Johnathon Schaech), Finn draws on the lifelong experience of the members of the quilting circle, and relives with them their own youthful experiences.

The screenplay, direction, casting, editing, cinematography, soundtrack, everything about this sublime, character-driven drama is perfect. Kate Capshaw is delightful as Finn's mother, and the supporting cast portraying the women, and their men, as youths is excellent, especially Joanna Going as young Emma, and Samantha Mathis as young Sophia. If you enjoy female-centered, multi-generational dramas that are rich in character development, you won't want to miss How to Make an American Quilt. 

Labels: comedy, drama, mother-daughter, romance     
Internet Movie Database    
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=58, viewers=64)

Jack & Sarah (1995) [PG] ***

Jack (Richard E. Grant) is a British attorney and a widower, who is grieving for his wife while trying to raise Sarah, his baby daughter. Needing help, he hires an expatriate American girl named Amy (Samantha Mathis) as a live-in nanny, and after a year discovers that he has fallen in love with her. Richard E. Grant does an excellent job as Jack, and Samantha Mathis is touching and believable as Amy.
The challenge in this film is to transform the energy from tragic to romantic without losing the viewer, who might otherwise sympathize with Jack's deceased wife. 

Grant and Mathis play their roles seriously which feels right. The supporting cast, led by Judi Dench, provides comic relief and supports the developing relationship between Jack and Amy, although Jack's drunken friend William is a bit over the top. The romance between Jack and Amy blossoms as they parent baby Sarah together, about which they have some differing views.

It's ironic that child rearing is at the center of marriages, although most couples get married with no idea of how to raise children, or even if they will do it well together. It's also ironic that, while romantic passion produces children, the time, money and energy children require often destroys that same romantic passion. In Jack & Sarah the process is reversed - Jack and Amy start with child rearing and then fall in love, although without much heat and passion. If you are looking for a low-key, modern British romance, and you enjoyed P.S. I Love You, this film might satisfy you. On the other hand, if you want something faster-paced, with more romantic tension and more comedy, I would suggest Bridget Jones's Diary, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill, or The Wedding Date

Labels: comedy, drama, romance   
Internet Movie Database   
Tomatometer (critics=75, viewers=73)

A Walk in the Clouds (1995) [PG-13] ***

Returning home to San Francisco in 1945, after having fought in the Pacific for four years during WWII, Paul Sutton (Keanu Reeves) discovers he has nothing in common with Betty (Debra Messing), the girl he married just before shipping out. And so he leaves for Sacramento to fulfill commitments he has made to his new employer, a chocolate manufacturer.

On the train he meets Victoria Aragon (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) who is returning to her ancestral home and vineyard in the Napa Valley, after having been seduced and abandoned by her college professor, whose baby she is carrying. Fearing the wrath of her strict, traditional father Alberto (Giancarlo Giannini), Victoria accepts Paul's offer to stay overnight at her home, and be introduced as her husband to her family. But neither Paul nor Victoria anticipate that they will fall in love with each other, or that her grandfather Don Pedro (Anthony Quinn) will play Cupid with such compassion, tenderness and wisdom.

Featuring the beautiful scenery of the California wine country, the earthy eroticism of the grape harvest, and a lush, Golden Globe-winning musical score, this is a reasonably satisfying romantic drama despite Reeves' rather cool, unemotional performance, minimal romantic chemistry between the leads, an uninspired screenplay and some overacting, especially by Giannini. Although critics were luke-warm to this film, it has earned praise from viewers, so if you are a fan of romantic dramas starring Keanu Reeves, this one is not to be missed. For a cross-cultural romantic comedy on a similar theme, I recommend Fools Rush In with Salma Hayek and Matthew Perry. 

Labels: drama, father-daughter, romance, winemaking
Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=55, viewers=66)

Before Sunrise (1995) [R] ****

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) are in their early twenties, traveling west across Europe on a train. Celine is French; she's returning home to Paris from a visit with her grandmother in Budapest. Jesse's an American; he flew to Madrid to be with his girlfriend, but she dumped him, so he's been bumming around Europe. Now he's heading to Vienna where his flight to America leaves in the morning. They start talking the way strangers do - about life and death, dreams and aspirations, their relationships with their parents.

Soon, the train arrives in Vienna. Jesse invites Celine to get off, and spend the hours until his flight leaves with him. He suggests that they should get to know one another, so years later when Celine is bored with her husband, she won't look back and wonder if Jesse was the one she should have married. Celine is willing, so they get off together, and begin their tour of Vienna. They talk about sexual awakening, about past loves, about breaking up with someone, and being dumped. They talk about how men feel about women, and how women feel about men; about how their parents related to each other, whether they stayed together or divorced, and why? And as they talk, each one begins to form an opinion about the other. Celine wonders if it's true that everything we do in life is to be loved a bit more. Being European, she has integrated love and sex, so when she puts her arms around Jesse's neck, draws him to her and softly kisses him, there's the feeling that while they're the same age, Celine is much older, wiser and more mature.

What happens to Jesse and Celine? Do they fall in love? Do they make love? Do they promise to stay in contact? Do they plan a reunion? It's a great story and it will take you back to your own twenties, when you were young and vibrant and life was full of possibilities. And, yes, they made a sequel, nine years later, titled Before Sunset.  

Labels: drama, romance     
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 77/100
Tomatometer (critics=100, viewers=93)

Forget Paris (1995) [PG-13] ***

A film review by Hal Hinson, Washington Post, May 19, 1995.

Forget Paris, the shamelessly schmaltzy new film from writer-producer-director-star Billy Crystal, is a by-the-numbers '90s romantic comedy straight from the boilerplate. With its wall-to-wall soundtrack of classic jazz ballads, its geographic reference points, its flimsy musical-comedy plot with the undercurrent of fatigue, longing and worldliness about men and women, it's the last word in Hollywood's soft-sell summer model. At this point, all these yuppie date movies are starting to blur together into one big wet epic - While You Were Sleeping in Seattle, Harry Met Sally, French-Kissed and Forgot Paris.

The picture - which opens in a Manhattan bar where Andy (Joe Mantegna) has assembled his closest buds to meet his fiancée (Cynthia Stevenson) - is presented as one of those great stories told among old friends. In this case, the heroes are Mickey and Ellen (Crystal and Debra Winger), and the story is about their meeting.

Some years back, Mickey's father died. His last request was to be buried in France alongside his buddies who died during World War II. Though he and his father didn't have much of a relationship, Mickey decides to honor his request and takes a leave from his job as a National Basketball Association referee. But on the flight over, the airline loses the coffin.

After several days' delay, Ellen enters as the airline's customer relations representative to save the day. After some obligatory banter, Ellen becomes Mickey's guide through a greatest-hits collection of Parisian stuff.

Almost instantly, Ellen and the little referee are madly in love, strolling arm and arm through the streets, nuzzling one another in cafes and, in general, having the most divinely romantic time of their lives.

The problem, of course, is that their time together in Paris was so special, so magical, so dazzling that their life after she follows him back to America seems dim by comparison. Their friends say, Forget Paris - meaning, live in the real world with the rest of us. But, then, Ellen and Mickey don't live in the real world; they live in a '90s romantic comedy.

On most of the big points - such as romantic chemistry between Crystal and Winger, direction and the jokes - the film deserves no better than a pass. Though the pictures give lip service to serious issues, whenever the material comes close to an actual human moment - as opposed to some confected revelation or bogus Hollywood moment - Crystal backs down, preferring to dodge the issue with cute quips.

The scenes dealing with Mickey's life as a referee are easily the picture's best - especially those moments when Crystal is actually on the court with the players. Crystal has said that he wanted these sequences to function as a sort of mini-documentary about refereeing, and if it falls short of that mark, it does so by inches. But then what documentary could give you the pleasure of seeing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's slouchy delivery in his brief cameo - Mickey ejects him from his farewell game in Detroit - or the sublime delight of seeing ex-Piston Bill Laimbeer get T'ed-up again, just for old time's sake?

Crystal is actually at his best in these scenes too. Free of the pressure to be a leading man and seduce every member of the audience, seat by seat, row by row, his face relaxes, the camera finds its proper place and the movie falls into a nice rhythm. However, in his scenes with Winger - who looks smashing and slightly bemused - the camera always seems to zoom in too close and too often. Crystal's always selling, always pitching, and always dying for us to find him adorable. If he'd relax, we might have room to, but he crowds us out, doing our reacting for us.

Ultimately, it's the same old story - the clown wants to win the girl. But Crystal passes for a romantic the way Bob Hope did, which is not very well. As an actor and a director, Crystal is so eager to please that, if he were the host at a party, he'd meet his guests at the car with their drinks. And if desperation looks bad on a comic, it looks even worse on a leading man.

Labels: comedy, Paris, romance, sport

Sense and Sensibility (1995) [PG] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli, for

It's a curious thing that the best 1995 adaptation of a Jane Austen book happens to be of her worst novel. Sense and Sensibility was the author's first published work and, as is often the case with early writing efforts, displays an undeniable shallowness: themes are half-developed, characterization is uneven, and plotting follows a predictable straight-forwardness. Austen's later books, including Persuasion, which was developed into a wonderfully sumptuous film earlier this year, and Emma, which received unusual treatment in Clueless, plumb the human soul far more deeply, creating characters and situations of greater versatility and vitality.

That's more in the nature of literary criticism than a film review, however. Sense and Sensibility is a wonderful motion picture, even given the weaknesses of the source material. Emma Thompson's screenplay has remained faithful to the events and spirit of the book, while somehow managing to plug a few holes and infuse the tale with more light humor than is evident in Austen's original text. The resulting product is a little too long (one-hundred thirty-five minutes), but still represents a fine time at the movies, especially for those with a bent towards historical romantic melodramas.

As mentioned above, the story isn't all that complex or surprising, and those unfamiliar with Austen's work won't be left in the dark. We're introduced to the three Dashwood sisters: Elinor (Emma Thompson), the eldest -- a old maid past marriageable age who keeps her emotions bottled up in favor of a constant show of public decorum; Marianne (Kate Winslet), the middle child, who is Elinor's opposite in temperament and attitude; and Margaret (Emilie Francois), an eleven-year old who seems to be following in Marianne's uninhibited footsteps. The girls live with their mother (Gemma Jones) in a small country cottage to which they are exiled after their half-brother inherits their father's estate and decides there's not enough room for everyone.

During the course of Sense and Sensibility, three men come in and out of the Dashwood home: Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), a charming, if somewhat inept, young gentleman who captures Elinor's heart; Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman), a gallant neighbor who is hopelessly smitten by Marianne; and the dashing Willoughby (Greg Wise), who is the living embodiment of Marianne's every fantasy. The story of who ends up with whom, and how they get that way, is told with deft skill and a pleasantly humorous romantic touch.

As is so often the case in British productions, acting is more important than the script or the impressive production values. Emma Thompson's Elinor can join the actresses' characters from Howards End, The Remains of the Day, and this year's Carrington as examples of top-notch, finely-nuanced performances. Here, perhaps borrowing a leaf from Anthony Hopkins, she develops a poignant portrait of a woman who must conceal a broken heart beneath a proper, civilized exterior. Thompson, who has never before played a character suffering from this kind of repression, proves she's as good at this as she is being the free spirit.

Kate Winslet, who received her first international exposure through Heavenly Creatures, fits perfectly into the period setting, recalling a younger Helena Bonham Carter. Her youth and energy are perfect for the overly-emotional Marianne. Winslet isn't as accomplished as Thompson at capturing the camera's attention, but rarely is she completely eclipsed, either. She interacts effectively with her co-star as Marianne and Elinor learn from each other when it's best to temper emotions and when it's best to let them go.

As expected, the supporting cast is excellent. Emilie Francois is a marvelous find as little Margaret. Hugh Grant brings his usual boyish charm to Edward, and Alan Rickman (Die Hard), too often pigeonholed into villainous roles, shows for the first time since Truly, Madly, Deeply that he's very much at home in a romantic part. Greg Wise is suitably roguish, and veterans Gemma Jones (Feast of July), Harriet Walter (Harriet Vane in TV's Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries), and Robert Hardy (Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein) give personality to characters with less screen exposure.

The novel's flaws guarantee that Sense and Sensibility cannot be a perfect motion picture, but it would be difficult, I think, to do much better with the material than Emma Thompson and director Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman) have here. With more Jane Austen on the way (versions of Pride and Prejudice and Emma), it's still too early to say which adaptation will stand out as the best, but Sense and Sensibility makes a strong case.

Labels: drama, family, romance

The American President (1995) [PG-13] *****

President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) is a liberal Democrat from Wisconsin. He's starting the last year of his first term in office, so he's basically running for reelection. He's a widower - his wife died of cancer during the campaign - and he has a twelve-year-old daughter. Both he and his Chief of Staff, A.J. MacInerney (Martin Sheen) fear that his narrow victory was the result of a sympathy vote, and that he will have an uphill struggle to get reelected.

Now Pres. Shepherd is trying to get a watered-down crime bill passed in Congress, while the environmental lobby wants him to support a tough bill calling for a twenty-percent reduction in greenhouse gases. The bill is championed by the Global Defense Council, and the GDC's chief Leo Solomon (John Mahoney) has hired a political operative by the name of Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Bening), to lobby the White House. However, when Pres. Shepherd meets Sydney he falls for her, and they begin a passionate romance, which gives right-wing, family-values conservatives like Senator Bob Rumson (Richard Dreyfuss) an election-year opportunity. As the President's public support erodes, he must acknowledge that his romance with Sydney is damaging him politically, while the political deals he must make to get his crime bill passed could destroy the romance.

The screenplay was written by Aaron Sorkin (West Wing TV series, Charlie Wilson's War) and excellently directed by Rob Reiner. Douglas and Bening have great chemistry, and the supporting cast is outstanding, including Michael J. Fox, Anna Devere Smith, Samantha Mathis, David Paymer, Joshua Malina and Shawna Waldron. The film was nominated for five Golden Globes, and Marc Shaiman's musical score was nominated for an Oscar. If you enjoy politically-themed romantic comedy-dramas like Dave with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, or Speechless with Michael Keaton and Geena Davis, then you won't want to miss The American President.

Labels: comedy, drama, politics, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 67/100
Tomatometer (critics=90, viewers=77)

Don Juan DeMarco (1995) [PG-13] *****

This movie is for every woman who knows that somewhere out there is a man who could truly love her for her perfect inner beauty, and for every man who feels he could be that lover. Johnny Depp is magnificent as Don Juan DeMarco, the greatest lover the world has ever known. And Marlon Brando is superb as his friend and confidant Don Octavio DeFlores.

The music is inspiring, including Bryan AdamsHave You Ever Really Loved A Woman? And the screenwriting is sublime, including Don Juan's thought-provoking speech to Don Octavio: There are only four questions of value in life: What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same... only Love.

Watch this wonderful film with someone you love.

Labels: comedy, drama, fantasy, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 63/100
Tomatometer (critics=74, viewers=69)

Bryan Adams - Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?
Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman (Live at Slane Castle)
Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? (music video)

Leonard Cohen - I'm Your Man (featuring Johnny Depp)

Sabrina (1995) [PG] *****

This is a wonderful romance with a great screenplay, great casting, and a beautiful soundtrack. It's the Cinderella story of Sabrina Fairchild (Julia Ormond), the chauffeur's daughter for a wealthy Long Island family named Larrabee.

Ever since she was a little girl, Sabrina had been in love with the handsome younger son, playboy David Larrabee (Greg Kinnear) and had suffered the heartache of unrequited love, since he was totally oblivious to her existence. When Sabrina returns from a year in Paris, transformed by the experience, she is older, wiser, and in many ways more mature than the perfect, but unchanged David. He sees Sabrina as a new playmate, although he is engaged to be married to Elizabeth Tyson (Lauren Holly). David's older brother Linus (Harrison Ford), is a driven businessman in the midst of a mid-life crisis.

Linus sees Sabrina as a threat to the marriage, and thus to the corporate merger he is engineering with Elizabeth's father Patrick Tyson (Richard Crenna). Linus concocts a scheme to get Sabrina out of the way, but along the way he realizes that he is love with her, and that his life is in need of radical transformation. He admits, with some bitterness: I do what my father did. He did what his father did. I never chose. Finally, Linus recognizes that Sabrina, alone, is the savior who can help him grow and experience love. Linus pleads with her: Save me Sabrina fair, you're the only one who can.

This beautiful film will resonate with anyone who has ever experienced love as the catalyst for personal growth and transformation. Watch it with someone you love.

Labels: comedy, drama, Paris, romance
Internet Movie Database
Tomatometer (critics=65, viewers=64)

While You Were Sleeping (1995) [PG] ****

It's Christmas Day and Lucy Moderatz (Sandra Bullock) is at work in her transit railway toll booth. And who should dash past her booth but Peter Callahan (Peter Gallagher) the handsome stranger whom she has watched every day for months, but has never met. Standing on the nearly deserted platform, Peter is accosted by some young punks, pushed onto the tracks and knocked unconscious.

Ignoring the danger, Lucy jumps down onto the tracks and pulls him out of the path of an oncoming express train. Later in the hospital, amidst the confusion, a nurse tells Peter's family that not only did Lucy save Peter's life, but that she is his fiancee. In their gratitude to Lucy for giving them back their son, Peter's family takes her into their hearts and into their home. Lucy, who had lost her own family years earlier, finds herself with a whole new family including parents, a sister, and a future brother-in-law. As the days go by, Lucy wants to tell them the truth about her relationship with Peter, but she doesn't want to risk losing her new family. In addition, while Peter lies in a coma in the hospital, Lucy finds herself falling in love with his brother Jack (Bill Pullman).

Despite an improbable setup, While You Were Sleeping is one of the best-written, best-acted, most heart-warming holiday season romantic comedies ever created. Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman have terrific romantic chemistry, and the supporting cast is excellent, especially Peter Boyle, Jack Warden, Michael Rispoli and Glynis Johns. If you enjoyed Bed of Roses, Fools Rush In, Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail, I predict you will really enjoy While You Were Sleeping. And if you like Sandra Bullock, I can highly recommend The Lake House.

Labels: christmas, comedy, father-son, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 67/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=65, viewers=64)

Apollo 13 (1995) [PG] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli.

For those too young to recall the tragic events of November 22, 1963 [the assassination of JFK], one of the most stark and enduring images of a lifetime came on a frigid afternoon in January 1986 when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up while skyrocketing heavenward. By that time, shuttle flights had become routine, and few gave much thought to the possibility of something going wrong. After the accident, NASA was forced to re-evaluate its plans while everyone who had watched considered their own mortality. Not since April of 1970 and Apollo 13 had the United States' space program encountered this kind of disaster -- except in that case, no lives were lost.

The Apollo program was first announced in 1961. The climax came on July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong stepped out of Apollo 11's lunar module and issued his famous quote. Nine months later, with astronauts Jim Lovell (Tom Hanks), Fred Haise (Bill Paxton), and Jack Swigert (Kevin Bacon) aboard, Apollo 13 left the launch pad. Since moon shots were now regarded as commonplace, none of the three networks chose to air Lovell's first broadcast to Earth, preferring instead the likes of I Dream of Jeannie (which, ironically, featured a strong fictional image of NASA). However, when an explosion left the crew with a dwindling oxygen supply and failing power, television took notice, as did the entire world. This is the story told by Ron Howard (Parenthood, Far and Away) in Apollo 13, his best movie to date.

Perhaps the most impressive feat of this film is sustaining white-knuckle tension even though the chain of events is well-known. The conclusion of the mission is a matter of recent historical record, yet recalling how it ends does nothing to lessen the excitement or dampen the emotional impact of several key moments. Such deft film making is a prime reason why Apollo 13 is an unqualified success.

It's not the only reason, however. During the 140-minute running time, we are essentially given three stories: the astronauts' struggle to stay alive, the controlled chaos at NASA as experts are forced to come up with unexpected solutions, and the trauma faced by the families of the men whose lives are in danger. With inserts of news footage from the time (much of which features Walter Cronkite), Apollo 13 attains a level of verisimilitude few current features can match.

Scientifically, Apollo 13 is accurate, even though at times things seem more like science fiction. Additionally, with a script that relies on Lovell's account, this movie takes fewer liberties with the facts than many other productions based on true events. Apollo 13 has tremendous appeal because the story is only 25 years removed from the nightly news, and many of the details still linger.

The effective, understated special effects never upstage any of the fine performances. All three actors playing the astronauts -- Hanks, Paxton, and Bacon -- have gotten under their characters' skins. Ed Harris exudes a palpable intensity in a supporting performance as Mission Controller Gene Kranz, the coordinator of the teamwork that goes into saving the space craft. Gary Sinise, reunited here with Forrest Gump co-star Tom Hanks, plays Ken Mattingly, the member of Lovell's team who, after being refused medical clearance to fly, plays a crucial role in the rescue.

Howard has a firm grasp on what he's attempting. The little details are all right. Among its many successes, Apollo 13 offers the simple wonder of taking the audience to a strange place. Many movies these days are content to tell a story mechanically, without actually transporting the viewer somewhere else. Not so here. We are with Lovell, Haise, and Swigert through every harrowing mile of their journey, and when Lovell dreams of setting foot on the moon, we understand his loss.

The villain here is the vastness of space -- an antagonist that refuses direct confrontation. There isn't a traditional bad guy to be found, but Apollo 13 needs no such useless embellishment. The basic human drama of the situation raises the heartbeat far more than all the explosions of Die Hard with a Vengeance or the contrived submarine warfare of Crimson Tide. Reality has a taste the likes of which fiction can rarely match. Those who recall that week in April 1970 will enjoy seeing the full story unfold; those who are too young to remember will get a feeling not only of what the individuals endured, but how the country as a whole reacted. While the events of this motion picture may depict NASA's finest hour, the release of Apollo 13 represents Ron Howard's.

Labels: drama, history
Tomatometer (critics=95, viewers=86)