Article: 19960301021

Title: Movies

19960301021
00071149
200050_19960301_071149.xml
Movies
0032-1478
Playboy
HMH Publishing Co., Inc.
Review-Films
17
17,20
review
Director Terry Gilliam, the former Monty Python troupe member, states unequivocally: "I'm not drawn to straightforward stories." True to his word in 12 Monkeys (Universal), the man who made Brazil and The Fisher King vaults over the top with another visually smashing futuristic drama. Bruce Willis plays a time traveler from Philadelphia in the year 2035, when 99 percent of the world's population has been eradicated for reasons not altogether clear. Beamed back to 1996 to see if the human race can be saved, Willis encounters a helpful psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe), a Nobel Prize -- winning scientist (Christopher Plummer) and the scientist's son (Brad Pitt), the last a crazed animal activist whose terrorist chums may have unleashed a deadly virus that could wipe out civilization. The plot by screenwriters Janet and David Peoples is circuitous, but Gilliam and his crew lead audiences on an eye-filling trip through time. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]
Bruce Williamson
17
20

Director Terry Gilliam, the former Monty Python troupe member, states unequivocally: "I'm not drawn to straightforward stories." True to his word in 12 Monkeys (Universal), the man who made Brazil and The Fisher King vaults over the top with another visually smashing futuristic drama. Bruce Willis plays a time traveler from Philadelphia in the year 2035, when 99 percent of the world's population has been eradicated for reasons not altogether clear. Beamed back to 1996 to see if the human race can be saved, Willis encounters a helpful psychiatrist (Madeleine Stowe), a Nobel Prize -- winning scientist (Christopher Plummer) and the scientist's son (Brad Pitt), the last a crazed animal activist whose terrorist chums may have unleashed a deadly virus that could wipe out civilization. The plot by screenwriters Janet and David Peoples is circuitous, but Gilliam and his crew lead audiences on an eye-filling trip through time. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

Six English actors trying to slap together a production of Hamlet out in the boondocks make A Midwinter's Tale (Sony Classics) a frothy comedy for showbiz insiders. Obviously taking a holiday from more serious pursuits on and off camera, writer-director Kenneth Branagh has Michael Maloney as his leading man. Maloney rehearses as the tortured Dane while his pushy agent (Joan Collins, clearly having a good time) schemes behind the scenes to find him a better job in Hollywood. Meanwhile, all of the ambitious hams -- especially John Sessions as a gay guy playing Queen Gertrude and Julia Sawalha as a shortsighted Ophelia -- do their damnedest to transform the Shakespeare tragedy into Branagh's high-camp valentine. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

With Persuasion in theaters and Pride and Prejudice as a British miniseries on TV, Sense and Sensibility (Columbia) may well be the pacesetter for Jane Austen novels on-screen. Actress Emma Thompson debuts as a writer with this adaptation and also stars in this elegant romantic comedy under Oscar-nominated director Ang Lee (best known for such hits as The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman). Lee's subtle approach to relationships and Thompson's auspicious debut at writing combine to make Sense and Sensibility a delectable period romance about three sisters: pragmatic Elinor (Thompson), impulsive and passionate Marianne (Kate Winslet) and the younger tomboy Margaret (Emilie François). Along with their mother, the three are left nearly penniless when their father's estate goes to his greedy son from an earlier marriage. More generous relatives help the two older sisters in their search for husbands. The top candidates are Edward (Hugh Grant) as Elinor's evidently unavailable prospect and Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon, an adoring neighbor who cannot woo Marianne from her mad desire for a rakish suitor named Willoughby (Greg Wise). Filled with deep sighs, girlish desperation and deliciously atmospheric views of an era when marrying well was a young woman's highest hope, Sense and Sensibility is a triumphant treat for lovers of not-so-plain Jane. [rating]4 bunnies[/rating]

The principals of the ménage-à-trois established in French Twist (Miramax) are portrayed by Victoria Abril (see Off Camera) as Loli, a happy-go-lucky housewife and former Spanish dancer; Alain Charbat as her philandering husband; and Josiane Balasko, as a lesbian who makes a move on Loli after her van breaks down. Only after she learns of her husband's habit of humping his female clients does Loli decide to boost her own self-esteem via a fling with gay Marijo. Her live-in lesbian turns out to be wonderful with the children, and all's well until the errant male begins to understand that his wife's girlfriend is a rival. Balasko, who also wrote the screenplay and directs, plays it butch but brings a light touch to her subject. Her audacious script, infused with joie de vivre by all the actors, finally suggests that three in a bed may be too small a number. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

Shakespeare on film looks close and personal in director Oliver Parker's bristling Othello (Castle Rock). While much of the dialogue has been trimmed, what remains is a sexy digested version with a lot of body heat. Laurence Fishburne, seething with murderous jealousy in the title role, heads an international cast opposite Kenneth Branagh as the duplicitous Iago, who torments his black master until the Moor is driven to kill his devoted wife, Desdemona (Swissborn Irene Jacob). Parker's take feels Americanized, emphasizing the 16th century racism that made the proud conquering hero an easy target after he had wooed and won a beautiful white noblewoman. Talking heads seem to confide the dark deeds afoot as if they were on TV, but this risky tactic pays off by turning Othello into a contemporary figure of fear and loathing. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

The ghost of Shakespeare may shudder at Ian McKellen's Richard III (United Artists), directed by Richard Loncraine, who collaborated with McKellen on the adaptation. This is aesthetic stunt work: Richard III in modern dress and then some. Set in London in the Thirties, the movie looks more like Nazi Germany. Although he surrounds himself with a spectacular array of talent -- including Maggie Smith, Nigel Hawthorne, Annette Bening and John Wood -- McKellen's snarling Richard is pure ham. One of his celebrated soliloquies begins over the microphone at a state dinner and winds up while he's relieving himself at a urinal. He subsequently kills off all competition for the throne amid a flurry of tanks, planes and ticker tape. The climactic background music is Al Jolson singing I'm Sitting on Top of the World. If this view of an enduring classic intrigues you, welcome to it. [rating]2 bunnies[/rating]

All the emotional stops are wide open in Mr. Holland's Opus (Hollywood Pictures), starring Richard Dreyfuss as a high school music teacher in Portland, Oregon. Through decades of highs, lows and heartbreaks, Dreyfuss' Glenn Holland wants to be a great composer but winds up instead being merely an inspiration to generations of his students. Paradoxically, he and his steadfast wife (warmly portrayed by Glenne Headly) also have a son who is born nearly deaf. Years go by -- from Vietnam to the present -- while Mr. Holland improves with age to become ever more crusty, kind and lovable. Thanks in large part to Dreyfuss' restrained and perfectly modulated performance, Mr. Holland's Opus recalls Robert Donat's Oscar-winning role in that classic 1939 tearjerker, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Schmaltz done this well goes straight to the top of its class. [rating]2-1/2 bunnies[/rating]

As director, writer and co-producer of Dead Man Walking (Gramercy Pictures), Tim Robbins gave the role of a lifetime to Susan Sarandon, his offscreen paramour. Sarandon brings electrifying conviction to her portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean, a Louisiana nun who wrote the best-seller about her relationship with a convict on death row. The somewhat fictional screen version casts Sean Penn in a matching tour de force as the condemned man. Penn's one-on-one confrontations with Sarandon are wrenchingly honest. There is an almost evangelical fervor in their scenes together, culminating in a dynamic climax that underscores the gross inhumanity of capital punishment. Still, Robbins' film is less a one-sided polemic than a message about the futility of hate. Grueling but hypnotic, Dead Man exudes praiseworthy qualities throughout. [rating]4 bunnies[/rating]

In Unforgettable (MGM), a svelte neurobiologist experimenting with memory-retrieval drugs meets a forensic pathologist who would like to find out who murdered his wife. Ray Liotta is the widowed doctor, Linda Fiorentino the biologist whose secret formula can recreate events. It's not an easy plot, nor is it very credible. Fiorentino fared far better with director John Dahl when they made The Last Seduction. [rating]2 bunnies[/rating]

The best news about director Oliver Stone's long-winded Nixon (Hollywood Pictures) is a remarkable performance by Joan Allen as Pat Nixon, a first lady more feisty and upfront than anyone remembers. Otherwise, Stone does his usual stunt of history-by-innuendo, citing exhaustive research in collaboration with two writers. In the title role, Anthony Hopkins doesn't look the part but plays it with bravura as a deceitful, insecure rascal -- until the climactic about-face when the film recaps the disgraced ex-president's accomplishments as an elder statesman. It's all here -- more than three hours of newsreels, trick photography, speculative fantasy and flashbacks, including his Whittier boyhood and his Watergate fumble. Among the movie's secondary diversions are Paul Sorvino as Kissinger and Bob Hoskins as J. Edgar Hoover, closeted but coyly cruising every man who catches his eye. [rating]3 bunnies[/rating]

A time traveler makes tracks, single women seek prospects and jealous mates get even.

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Stowe and Willis up to Monkeys' business.
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