Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club (A) brilliantly explores the relationships between Chinese mothers and their Americanized daughters and tells universal truths about what parents and offspring can learn from one another. Four interlocking stories are deftly balanced, and overlapping flashbacks work surprisingly well to build to a crescendo of heartbreak and release. It’s a highly recommended ensemble drama with standout performances by Ming-Na Wen, Tamlyn Tomita and Vivian Wu.
If Basic Instinct and Body of Evidence weren’t laughably bad on their own terms, Carl Reiner’s Fatal Instinct (F) attempts to spoof this mini-genre and finds itself going commando in the laughs department. The presence of Sean Young, one of my least favorite performers, helps further sink an enterprise that seems to have been conceived by a bunch of third-graders.
Director Henry Selick does the heavy lifting in a Claymation-inspired motion capture musical holiday extravaganza Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (B) based on the Beetlejuice/Edward Scissorhands wunderkind’s whimsical mash-up of a night when a cast of ghouls, goblins and Jack Skellington take over Christmas duties. Buoyed by Oingo Boingo front man Danny Elfman’s playfully sinister ditties and a bleak comedic vibe that shows the darker side of holiday glee, it’s a wickedly enchanting, splendidly demented fable for all seasons. Like much of Burton’s fare, a triumph of production design over storytelling – but, oh, what beautiful visuals!
Mel Gibson’s directorial debut, The Man Without a Face (C+) features the Aussie actor as a deformed teacher who befriends a young loner played by Nick Stahl. Plot lines are predictable as the community citizenry misunderstands the innocent relationship, and Gibson films his deformed self with a strange vanity that still doesn’t make hm look too bad. The director doesn’t really forge much of a standout style on this one except for his “fear of the other.”
Though too complex at first, Ron Underwood’s Heart and Souls (B) generates a compelling story about completing unresolved lives. Robert Downney Jr. and Alfre Woodard are standouts in this feel-good comedy sleeper.
Agnieszka Holland’s literary adaptation The Secret Garden (B) is an elegantly photographed film that captures the beauty and wonder of a timeless tale of a little girl who brings joy into the home of a lonely man and a garden previously haunted by love and loss. Though it’s a bit slow paced, it has fine performances and is worthwhile family entertainment.
Director Peter Weir has a talent for dreamy out-of-body moments of passion ranging from wartime friendship and tragedy (Galipoli), primieval joy for the arts (Dead Poets Society) and the purest of love forbidden by tradition (Witness). Weir’s compendium of human epiphanies has a new entry, Fearless (A-), a spiritual drama about the ways two different individuals, played by Jeff Bridges and Rosie Perez in career-high performances, react in the aftermath of a tragic plane crash. An incredible odyssey into self-discovery, uncompromising in its starkness as well as its message of redemption, it’s a powerful find of a movie with rejuvenating effect.
Keep your distance from Rowdy Herrington’s Striking Distance (D+), a bloated, boring, self-conscious action flick about a burned-out Pittsburgh cop (Bruce Willis) on the two-year trail of a serial killer. Willis seems to be sleepwalking through this one. Some of the stunts are original; but for the most part, you’ve seen it all before.
Philip Kaufman’s very boring Rising Sun (D) is a slow-paced mystery set in a high-tech world lacking humor and emotion. As detectives investigating the brutal murder of a woman found in the boardroom of a Japanese-owned company in Los Angeles, Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes deliver tired lines with very little charisma.
Related link: One of my jobs in the 1990’s was developing the in-store magazine and Website for a video rental chain called MOOVIES. Here’s one of the few remaining sidebars: A run-down of Sean Connery’s movies: Link here.
Director Brian Gibson’s biopic about Tina and Ike Turner, What’s Love Got To Do With It (B+) is a well-choreographed musical drama, vividly realized with color and energy. While the intense focus on Ike’s abuse of Tina overshadow the more joyful moments of her life and career and weigh the film down, Angela Bassett’s performance as the sassy singer transforms the formula TV plot into a winning film. Laurence Fishburne is powerful and menacing in a rather thankless role. It’s definitely a story worth telling and ultimately a triumphant tale.
Andrew Davis’ The Fugitive (A+), based on the classic TV series of the same name, completely delivers on its intriguing cat-and-mouse premise and is a chase from start to finish. Harrison Ford proves he still has the chops to be an absorbing action hero, and Tommy Lee Jones injects solid comic relief as his tenacious foil.
Whether the evil Monstro stalked an innocent puppet boy and his loving father or Orca, the Killer Whale devoured the career of Bo Derek, whales as a species have had a rough image to shake in the cinema. After Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home helped prove whales are the saviors of civilization, now “Save the Whales” enthusiasts can take even more comfort in Simon Wincer’s charming boy-meets-and-befriends-whale-tale Free Willy (B). Newcomer Jason James Richter plays an abandoned boy who connects with a sea park trainer (Lori Petty), and soon he bonds with sea creatures in a way that helps him re-establish a peace with the world. He encounters and finds a deep friendship with killer whale Willy of the film’s title, and what separates the film from being a complete facsimile of E.T. is its focus on finding responsibility. It’s a touching and tender family film and recommended.