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 clich├ęs. 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, flying, sci-fi, thriller, tragedy
Internet Movie Database
Metacritic 59/100
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=63, viewers=70)