(There are seven film critiques on this page, the first one an Irish comedy.)
THE CLOSER YOU GET (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
(Scottish director Aileen Ritchie, Italian producer Uberto Pasolini, British writer William Ivory)
‘Tis one of the mysteries of life that the daft men livin’ on the craggy Donegal coast are ignorin’ the women in their midst. Maybe it’s the Irish potatoes or maybe it’s the warm beer, but they go advertisin’ in the Miami Herald for young marriageable companions who are “fit and sporty.” Meanwhile, the village’s comely lasses are so angry they’re kickin’ the soccer ball around as if it were the men’s bollocks.
Sure, and it’s every day the men are hopin’ and prayin’ that the fun-lovin’, sophisticated Americans will show up in time for the annual dance. The kindly priest holds a meetin’ to remind them to window shop rather than go buyin’ the first suit they see. Kieran O’Donnell (Ian Hart), the butcher, bleaches his hair blonde, and another hopeful recipient of western charm orders books from Amsterdam in order to be a right fit companion. Never mind that the village postmistress gets a gleam in her eye and puts the kettle on whenever she she spies an intriguing postage stamp.
‘Tis a fine movie, and a rollickin’ good time you’ll have with beautiful scenery and foot-tappin’ music to boot. Sure, and the men sometimes act like idjuts — but don’t we all?
(PG:13: A wee bit of naughty but admirably restrained dialogue and a Playboy foldout of a naked arse.)
WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM? (Columbia Pictures)
This should strike terror in the hearts of women everywhere. It’s the mating call of an alien who literally wants your baby. He’ll (noisily) impregnate you, hover over you during a brief three-month gestation, and, after the baby is born, blithely transport himself back to his own planet. Your baby will disappear, too.
Director Mike Nichols’ spoof on alien-to-earthling relationships has a few hilarious, original touches, but disappointingly delivers mostly tired, crass jokes about sex and adulterous relationships. Maybe it was unrealistic to hope that Gary Shandling, who plays alien #H1449-6, would star in something radically different from his own off-color program (HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show”).
The premise of this movie — a planet of four million men without reproductive organs who must mate to save their race — could have been a refreshing twist on the hackneyed all-women-all-one-planet plots that some boring movies are made of. Instead, What Planet Are You From? is so infused with vulgar references to the female anatomy that the former films brighten rather than pale by comparison. Admittedly, though, the early scenes are hilarious; alien men in bluish-gray Nehru-type suits solemnly observing holograms of earth women during seminars geared to teach them how to recognize and woo females.
Gary Shandling is at the top os his class. Renamed “Harold Anderson from Seattle,” he’s sent to Arizona with his leader’s warning that “the domination of the universe is in your hands.” Inspirational music plays in the background as he earnestly, almost pathologically, compliments earth women on their hair, shoes, and perfume. It rapidly goes downhill from there. Employed as a loan officer, his boss and a married co-employee readily brag about their affairs with a female employee; Harold visits a topless bar; there’s an AA meeting where sexually repressed, co-dependent women can easily be picked up, etc.,
Annette Bening, as the prospective mother of an alien, is one of the few women who doesn’t perform naked, but otherwise dummies-down her talents for this role. Ben Kingsley, as the alien planet’s stern leader, very effectively appears and disappears via commercial airplanes’ claustrophobic bathrooms. The last 30 minutes of the film are surprisingly sweet and viewer-worthy, a tongue-in-cheek portrayal of the challenging dynamics between married couples.
You would have thought that the film’s open subject matter would have allowed riotously funny material as depicted in another sci-fi flick. In Space Truckers, a badly injured scientist (Charles Dance) rebuilt his own body and developed a “low-amp electrical wang-pulse” that substituted for “reproductive sequences.” It was visually brilliant yet non-prurient. There’s a lot of “hummming” going on in Mike Nichols’ new film — and also the sound of viewers yawning.
(Rated R: pervasive vulgar dialogue; profanity; prolonged female nudity; brief male nudity)
THE BOILER ROOM
You can’t run and you can’t hide. The impeccably-dressed young white guys riding the phones in the telemarketing “boiler room” want your money — and they want it now. Testosterone-happy bigwigs (Ben Affleck, Nicky Katt, Vin Diesel) from the fly-by-night J.T. Marlin brokerage house lure 19-year-old Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) into its folds with grandiose promises of stinking-rich commissions and all the material trappings a greedy Gen X’er could want. Seth becomes a stockbroker and is in hog heaven as he places hundreds of cold calls a day to suckers with promising bank accounts. Now that he’s doing something legit — as opposed to running an illegal gambling casino out of his apartment — his father, a judge, is talking to him again. Neither Seth nor his father know that the financial sharks at J.T. Marlin deliberately buy high and sell low, wiping out innocent investors’ savings. Will Seth become a victor — or a victim — of the feeding frenzy? A disturbing, fast-paced film with rap music as background to the pervasive F-based profanity, ethnic and sexual slurs.
(Rated R: pervasive profanity; ethnic & sexual slurs)
MY DOG SKIP (Warner Brothers)
A flawless family film that speaks to each viewer’s heart, whether child or adult. Frankie Muniz stars as young Willie Morris who grows up “scared and shy” during the lazy, hazy 1940s in Yazoo, Mississippi. His father, a man of few words, who lost a leg serving in the Spanish Civil War, bars young Willie from receiving a dog on his ninth birthday. When Willie’s dream becomes a reality and “Skip” is allowed into the household, everyday life takes on new dimensions. His interaction with neighborhood bullies, who eventually learn to respect their skinny neighbor, and with a pretty schoolmate named Rivers Applewhite, are precious — if not ageless — childhood mementos. (“Show and Tell” day at Willie’s school will make you fall off your chair in laughter.) Kevin Bacon and Diane Lane, as Willie’s parents, give understated, excellent performances. This biography of award-winning author Willie Morris is unabashedly sentimental and almost seamless offering. It evokes poignant memories of a time when films such as this were commonplace rather than the exception.
(Rated PG: brief name-calling; implied violence toward dog)
You know a film with big names is in trouble when a canine gets the most laughs. Meg Ryan, Lisa Kudrow and Diane Keaton star as sisters from a highly dysfunctional family. Walter Matthau plays their uncouth, aging father who’s admitted to a hospital against his will. The three sisters, two of them with high profile careers, discuss his latest aberrations through the ever-present but obnoxious use of cell phones. Viewers breathe a sigh of relief when a Saint Bernard chews up one of Meg’s phones. The family flashbacks are intriguing and Meg and Lisa believably regress in age; probably the movie’s best scenes.
(Rated PG-13: coarse comments; some profanity)
THE TIGGER MOVIE
In this animated, first feature-length Winnie the Pooh film, Tigger bounces into viewers’ hearts while on his quest to research his Family Tree. His trademark cheek-to-jowl grin, though, turns to doom-and-gloom when he can’t find anyone to bounce, bounce bounce with him. Winnie the Pooh and all the other animals who inhabit the Hundred Acre Wood are busily making preparations for the impending harsh winter, and the always obliging Roo just can’t seem to master the super-dooper-whooper bounce that Tigger finds so satisfying. Tigger schemes and dreams of the family he’s never known, composes a letter to them, and then begins preparations for The Most Tiggerest Family Reunion Of All. A charming film with a new, multi-dimensional Tigger; his friends go more than the second mile to make him feel as if he’s not the “onliest one.”
BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (Trimark Pictures)
An offbeat British film with a powerful social commentary contained within the context of numerous, interconnecting characters and subplots. An award winner at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival…but not for viewers with short attention spans.
Contemporary London, overrun by immigrants and rebellious youth, resembles a war zone. A Serb attacks a Croat on a bus and they end up in the same hospital room with a Welsh man who has “burned 20 English holiday cottages to the ground.” A recent East European immigrant who’s just received the magical booklet which entitles him to be on the dole (government assistance) begins to date a woman from an upper class, politically-connected family. A doctor separated from his wife allows a Bosnian woman, her husband and their formerly unwanted new baby, to live in his house. An unemployed, drug-addicted youth who hangs out with Fascist-type thugs is mistakenly transported while semi-conscious to war-torn Bosnia — and later hailed as a hero for supplying the Red Cross with badly needed anesthetic — heroin. And so on.
The challenging cinematic odds and ends of Beautiful People only come together during the last third of the film, and then everything makes a strange, even gratifying sort of sense. The underlying premise is that immigrant-laden communities are rich ores of discovery and, indeed, everyday Britishers are denying themselves lives of joyful self-fulfillment by being exclusive. Subtle, dry humor punctuates the most outrageous scenes and the film’s ending is a torturously humorous testament to the unexpected. A compelling, ethnically diverse musical soundtrack.
(Rating: language; brief violence; war scenes w/dismembered body parts.)
(All film critiques on this page were written by C.E. Chambers and published by “The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition,” Volume 23, Number 1206, February 29, 2000.)