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, 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, music, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 71/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=71, viewers=64)
Blu-ray Extended


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)

French Kiss (1995) [PG-13] ***

A film review by Roger Ebert, May 5, 1995.

Some may question the casting of Kevin Kline as a Frenchman in French Kiss, but not I. Few French actors would have been capable of playing such a romantic wimp, and few French men, for that matter, would likely be interested in Meg Ryan's act as a neurotic woman who has been dumped by her fiance in favor of a French goddess. The characters in this movie may look like adults, but they think like teenagers.

The story: Kate (Meg Ryan) is engaged to Charlie (Timothy Hutton), but he has cold feet about marriage. He flies to Paris for a medical convention.

Kate can't go along because she is so afraid of flying she flunked out of trauma school. A few days later, Charlie calls Kate and tells her (in a singularly unconvincing and badly written scene) that he cannot marry her because he has found the woman of his dreams.

Kate now overcomes her fears and flies off to France to win Charlie back. On the plane she meets Luc (Kevin Kline), an unshaven French jewel thief who hides a diamond bracelet [and a young grape vine] in her luggage and then must follow her halfway across France in order to get it back. As an excuse he pretends to help her win her man back - but along the way, of course, they fall in love, and we have to wait until they figure that out.

Doris Day could have made this movie. She probably did. And she would have brought to it the same qualities Ryan brings: spunk and vulnerability and charm. Only the charisma of Ryan and Kline make some of the scenes work at all, and as for the relationship between Hutton and the goddess (Susan Anbeh), it's all but inexplicable. No French woman with money, breeding, world-class model looks and big hair is much interested in marrying an American doctor, especially one with no conversation.

Yet the movie is not without its charms. It takes place mostly in Paris and Cannes, two of the most photogenic cities on earth, and Owen Roizman's cinematography makes love to the locations.

Ryan does a breathtaking job with the age-old transformation scene, turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly by ditching her sweats and putting on one of those French designer dresses that look like sexual gift wrapping. And Kline manages a plausible French accent, although his word order is usually English, a giveaway. (The movie provides yet another example of the Kevin Kline Mustache Principle, which observes that Kline always wears facial hair when playing goofballs such as this, but shaves for serious roles.) The movie wants to have some fun with nationalities. It gives us a snotty French hotel clerk and an insouciant French cop, and when Ryan has trouble with her passport (she is not quite either Canadian or American), she has to deal with Canadian and U.S. consular officials. All of those scenes could have been pushed a little further, I think, except that the movie is so firmly aimed at romance that director Lawrence Kasdan and his writer, Adam Brooks, hold back on the comic freedoms of supporting characters.

And the underlying problems remain. Kline's Frenchman is somehow not worldly enough, and Ryan's heroine never convinces us she ever loved her fiance in the first place. Hutton and Anbeh have thankless roles; once the movie gets to France, their basic purpose is to be glimpsed from afar by Ryan. A movie about this kind of material either should be about people who feel true passion or should commit itself as a comedy. Compromise is pointless. [Ebert’s rating: ** out of 4]

Labels: comedy, drama, Paris, romance, winemaking

GoldenEye (1995) [PG-13] ****

A film review by James Berardinelli for

Like everything else, James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) has had to change for the nineties. The venerable 007, coming off a long hiatus, has taken on his sixth face (the other five being Sean Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Timothy Dalton), changed his mode of transport from an Aston Martin to a BMW, and now answers to a female M (played dryly by Judi Dench). Bond's attitudes towards women have been modified -- although not greatly. Also, there's more action in GoldenEye than in previous 007 entries -- enough to keep a ninety-minute film moving at a frantic pace. Unfortunately, this movie isn't ninety-minutes long -- it's one-hundred thirty, which means that fully one-quarter of GoldenEye is momentum-killing padding.

Despite the mostly-cosmetic alterations, the majority of fans won't be disappointed by Pierce Brosnan's debut as their favorite spy. His Bond still quips at danger, takes his vodka martinis shaken, not stirred, enjoys gadgets and toys, and introduces himself as Bond, James Bond. Moneypenny (Samantha Bond) and Q (played yet again by a visibly aged Desmond Llewelyn) remain in the supporting cast, and the familiar musical theme can be detected occasionally infiltrating Eric Serra's upbeat, modern score. For those who like opening credits, the trademark surrealism, complete with hammer & sickle, guns, and women, is fully in evidence.

As for the leading man, he's a decided improvement over his immediate predecessor. Brosnan has a flair for wit to go along with his natural charm; Dalton was stoic and sober. Of course, the newest Bond doesn't come close to Sean Connery's definitive portrayal, but he lacks the fatuousness that marred Roger Moore's tenure. Brosnan's approach has invigorated 007 enough to overcome a movie that seemingly never wants to end.

The story is standard fare, mixing and matching clichés of the genre. The Russian mafia obtains a space-based weapons system called GoldenEye that works by exploding a nuclear device in orbit, then crippling a ground location with the resulting electromagnetic pulse. It's up to Bond to save London from a vengeance-crazed megalomaniac. Along the way, he encounters such diverse characters as a beautiful computer programmer (Izabella Scorupco), a wildly psychotic computer programmer (Alan Cumming), a former partner (Sean Bean), a wisecracking CIA agent (Joe Don Baker), an ex-KGB officer with a score to settle (Robbie Coltrane), a psychotic woman who likes squeezing men to death between her legs (Famke Janssen) and her Russian general partner-in-crime (John Gottfried). Brosnan is supported by an interesting troupe of actors, but the spotlight is always on him.

GoldenEye keeps Bond's comic book-like stunts at an appropriately absurd level. Even given that we're in a reality where spies are more like Superman than Bernard Samson (Len Deighton's popular MI6 agent), suspension of disbelief occasionally becomes a challenge, especially with visual effects that could be charitably called subpar. Some such liabilities, however, can be forgiven in the name of fun. And, with its mixture of humor, interesting locales, high-speed chases, explosions, and action, GoldenEye possesses that quality. It is perhaps the best entry in the series since The Spy Who Loved Me, and, while that's not saying much, this updated Bond should be able to stand toe-to-toe with today's crop of heroes. [Berardinelli’s rating: *** out of 4]

The car driven by Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) is a Ferrari F355 GTS

Labels: action, adventure, Ferrari, spy, thriller

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, 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, 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.

Blogger's comment on October 31, 2017: Pres. Andrew Shepherd was a progressive liberal. Two of his major domestic issues were climate change and gun control. Since the film was released in 1995, U.S. population increased from 264 million to 326 million, atmospheric carbon dioxide from 365 ppm to 405 ppm and we've had over 700 thousand gun-related deaths. Progress? Really?

Labels: comedy, drama, politics, romance
Internet Movie Database 6.8/10
Metacritic 67/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=69, viewers=66)

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.

David's Ferrari is a 1993 348 Spider

Labels: comedy, drama, Ferrari, 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, romance
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 67/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=65, viewers=64)

Toy Story (1995) [G] *****

A film review by James Berardinelli, for

Ever wonder how toys apparently get from one place to another with no human help? Toy Story, Disney's first feature-length foray into computer animation, postulates that they do it all by themselves. Toys have their own magical world which comes to life any time the lights are out or people aren't around. Any who doubt this should take a look at Toy Story. You'll never again feel quite the same way about Mr. Potato Head, Monkeys in a Barrel, or Slinkies.

Of course, the visual aspect is the centerpiece of Toy Story. The computer-generated effects are a marvel. Rich in unexpected detail (the grain of a wood floor, fingerprints and chipped paint on a door, reflections in polished surfaces, and so on...), this colorful and brilliantly-rendered aspect of the film would alone be worth the price of admission. It's something of a bonus that the characters, dialogue, and story provide entertainment value of their own.

Toy Story is a buddy movie/adventure tale with an understated lesson about the value of friendship. Parents might also be able to use some of what transpires to encourage their offspring to put away toys after playtime. While the screenplay isn't a marvel of originality, it is capable of holding the attention - light, undemanding fun that never gets too immature or syrupy. There's also quite a bit of intelligent wit that will go above the heads of younger viewers - that stuff's for Mom and Dad.

The two main characters are toys: cowboy Woody (voice of Tom Hanks), the old-time favorite, and space ranger Buzz Lightyear (voice of Tim Allen), the battery-operated newcomer. The supporting cast includes a dinosaur (voice of Wallace Shawn), Mr. Potato Head (voice of Don Rickles), a piggy bank (voice of John Ratzenberger), a slinkie (voice of Jim Varney), Little Bo Peep (voice of Annie Potts), and an army of tiny plastic soldiers who scout out the new arrivals on birthdays and Christmas. The humans who appear in Toy Story are intentionally rendered to look artificial. In this movie, people are unreal; all the vividness and multi-dimensionality is saved for the toys. But that's a typical convention of animation.

Toy Story opens with Buzz's arrival. Woody is upset that this high-tech neophyte has usurped his rightful place on the bedspread and in his six-year old owner's play time. The disgruntled cowboy comes up with a plan to eliminate Buzz, but it backfires, and soon the two rivals are out in the real world, forced to help each other in their struggle to escape the clutches of a toy-torturing juvenile delinquent.

How does Toy Story compare to Disney's more conventional animated features? They're really very different types of productions. This film is less artistic and more technologically impressive. Despite a few Randy Newman songs, it's not really a musical. Of course, the target audience is the same, and everything from Disney embraces family values, but it's difficult - and unfair - to make an effective contrast of the two film making styles.

The one big negative about Toy Story involves Disney's over - commercialization. Already, Woody and Buzz dolls line store shelves. Burger King is coming out with figurines. It won't be long before the movie is drowned in hype. So, from the perspective of pure entertainment, it's a good idea to see Toy Story before the deluge of promotions becomes so excessive that it turns off every adult. Frankly, the movie deserves a less ignominious fate than the marketing overkill which will surely overcome it. [Berardinelli’s rating: *** ½ out of 4]

Labels: adventure, animation, comedy, family, fantasy