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Reviews from Mix Mag (Mixer)


In 1992-93, I somehow got involved with a new start-up magazine about the music business. Called MixMag (and later renamed Mixer),the magazine featured a one-page movie review column (the “why” was never explained to me). The youngish editor was very enthusiastic about everything and for some reason thought I had a lot of ins with publicists in the movie business (at the time I was doing a lot of freelance writing for Video magazine, Empire, V, Entertainment Weekly, and Diversion). He was constantly pressing me to get reviews of the latest movies, but it was difficult getting invited to screeners for movies three months (the magazine’s lead time) before release. Nonetheless, I managed to review a number of current films before we parted ways.


DANTE'S PEAK Dante's Peak is not about the artistic heights of the famous poet but about a Washington volcano that threatens to explode. The first of two volcano flicks set for 1997, the movie concerns the efforts of vulcanologist Harry Dalton (Pierce Brosnan) to convince his superiors and the local townspeople of a tourist-rich town that their long-dormant volcano is about to awake with a bang. It then follows Dalton's attempts to rescue the pretty mayor (Linda Hamilton) and her children from the catastrophe that no one but our hero (and the audience) saw coming. It's a simple story, easily executed-a formulaic throwback to disaster epics of the '50s and '70s (why do these sort of pictures seem to erupt every 20 years?). Brosnan, the current James Bond, is smooth, handsome, and appropriately steely in the situations that might even make 007 nervous, such as traveling on a lake as it turns to acid, driving on a road as it becomes molten lava, and hiding in a mine shaft as the ceiling collapses. Hamilton. the spunky love interest, has it worse, and she's merely required to look concerned-quite a comedown from her tough-as-nails character in Terminator 2. In the end, people die, the volcano runs amuck, and there's not a surprise anywhere. Nonetheless, if you put your brain under your seat, Dante's Peak can be diverting entertainment, with a touch of romance, a few thrills, and certainly a good share of mayhem. In fact, if you enjoy watching random acts of destruction, you'll have a grand old time here: signs, trucks, roads, buildings all come tumbling down in the greatest cataclysm since Independence Day (or at least Earthquake). In fact, it all probably will not to be matched ever-or at least until the next disaster picture, coming up in a few months. It's called Volcano. Gee, I wonder how that'll turn out?


LAST DAYS OF DISCO (Castle Rock)  This self-consciously clever comedy focuses on the lives of a group of shallow twenty-somethings in the early '80s during the last days of the disco craze. Director-writer Whit Stillman is certainly a clever fellow: his arch dialogue is as sharp as it was In his previous curios. Metropolitan and Barce/ona. Bon mots fly from the mouths of characters as thouqh they were all faux Oscar Wildes but never has so much been said by so few characters to such little effect The protagonists are a cross-section of types: two Hampshire College graduates and would-be book editors (Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale) who spend their nights at the disco: an ad man (Mackenzie Astin) looking for success; a lawyer (Matt Keeslar) looking for love; a socialist editor (Matthew Ross) trying to understand women; and a club bouncer (Chns Eiqernan) who says he's gay as a way to avord commitment. Although they're supposed to be different people. they all seem to be variations of the director-writer, since thev all share the same glib. Self-analytic chatter. That's nothing new In each of his movies. Stillman has shown himself to be a kind of WASP Woody Allenn, reworking Similar Ideas as he focuses on the foibles of yuppies With nothing on their minds but appearance. Filled with great disco tunes. The Last Dovs of Disco is witty Without being wonderful an intellectual exercise that lacks passion or surprise What can you say about a movie in which the high point is a biting analysis of Lady and the Tramp as a case of gender stereotyping.


MY GIANT (Castle Rock)  Billy Crystal is the perfect Academy Awards presentation host charming. urbane. witty. spontaneously funny. with a perfect sense of timing Unfortunately Crystal's movie personas usually lack all those charismatic qualities. His role in My Giant is a perfect example as Sammy a second-rate talent agent more devoted to his success than to his wife and son. Crystal is unfunny. predictable. and dull. So is the movie. written by David Seltzer from a story by Crystal and Seltzer. We've seen it all before: hard-luck case Sammy accidentally finds a freakishly tall man named Max (Gheorghe Muresan). in a Rumanian monastery. He then brings the sweetly innocent "giant" to Hollywood to star in a movie. Along the way. Sammy initiates his discovery in the ways of the world. uncovering his own humanity in the process. Ho-hum. Young children or undemanding adults may find some of the broader humor engaging. but for the rest of us. My Giant is a tired affair. which no amount of manic energy from the ever-exuberant Crystal can conceal.


THE REAL BLONDE (Paramount)  As he did in the satiric. low-budget Waiting for Oblivion. writer-director Tom DiCillo brilliantly skewers the obsessions. neuroses. and self-centered ness of actors and other media. while also presenting a funny. sad. and maddeningly real portrait of men and women trying to connect. The story focuses on Joe (Matthew Modine). a struggling actor with no career but a lot of attitude. and his girlfriend Mary (Catherine Keener). a makeup artist who has a hidden hostility towards men. Crossing in and out of their lives are a soap opera actor (Maxwell Caulfield). an air head model (Bridgette Wilson). a tough-talking talent scout (Kathleen Turner). an exploitative photographer (Marlo Thomas). and a horny shrink (Buck Henry). DiCillo has a keen understanding of his character's needs. frustrations. and fantasies. Indeed. as the soap star searches for his ideal. a real blonde. DiCillo makes it clear that the world is not about seeking perfection but settling for imperfection. He is savvy enough to know that you can't always get what you want but should just look out for what you need.


THE SPANISH PRISONER (Sony Pictures)  This movie isn't a tale of foreign intrigue but an Intricate David Mamet shell game As writer and director. Mamet has concocted a fascinating puzzle harkening back to the best paranoid thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock. The story focuses o an inventor named Joe Ross (Campbell Scott). who's c ,a ted a product (never specified) which will earn his company millions. Through a completely believable happenstance. Ross hooks up With a high-powered millionaire named Julian (Steve Martin). who mayor may not be all that he seems. Soon. the Inventor (an ordinary. trusting "Joe" with a chip on his shoulder) IS caught up in a nightmarish web of deceit. double-cross. and murder From beginning to end. the movie is refreshingly anti-Hollywood no shootouts or sentimental love stories for Mamet; the world he creates In The Spamsh Prisoner is one any of us can enter by trusting too much and thinking too little. Featuring terse dialogue. tightly controlled performances. and many moments of meaningful silence (all Mamet trademarks). The Spanish Prisoner is a wonderful. thought-provoking eversion an ominously entertaining con game by a master in the art of deception.


THE TRUMAN SHOW (Paramount)  Hyped as the 'movie of the decade." The Truman Show is a satire of that very kind of hype-and the public's obsession of It. Jim Carrey piays Truman Burbank. a 3D-year-old insurance salesman who lives in a picture-perfect house In a picture-perfect small town. with a picture-perfect wife, mother. and neighbors But then, strange things begin I opening: Truman hears his route being described on the car radio; the rain durinq a storm falls only on him. Passersby seem to be spying on him He's not crazy however. Simply the unwitting star of his own 3D-year-old television program. The Truman Show Broadcast 24/7 and photographed by 5.000 hidden cameras, Truman's life IS a lie. The town IS a set and his friends. family, and colleagues are all actors Taking the Idea of television as life and Tv executives as gods. the movie makes all the obvious pornts about the publlc's obsession with media in an idea at least as old as modern science-fiction Itself If the Idea Isn't new, the execuno» IS superb, offering a welkonstructed nl ;htmare that only cops out in a sappy and unlikely Hollywood ending The storv would also have done better with Sl neone other than Carrey His notorious over-the-top mugging is more or less held in check-but that means he needs to act. And as an actor, Carrey is a good tacial contortionist. The Truman Show is not the decade's great movie but at least it’s atternptinq to offer a message about the intrusion of the rnedla in our lives. Now if only those ubiquitous Truman Show advertisements would disappear.


TWILIGHT (Paramount)  T'wilight collects a classy collection of actors in a story that could have been much better. With the talents of Paul Newman. Gene Hackman. Susan Sarandon. Stockard Channing. and James Garner' on screen and writer/director Robert Benton (Nobody's Foo!) off. this film noir should be dynamite Instead. it is a retread of every nard-boiled detective cliche imaginable with a particular emphasis on the Raymond Chandler school of philosophical hard knocks. Newman plays an ex-private eye named Harry Ross who. like Chandler's Philip Marlowe. has his own shaky moral code: help your friends and do what you think is just. the law be damned. Like Marlowe. Ross is betrayed. beaten up. and abused by those closest to him. but unlike Chandler. the mystery and its resolution is boring and predictable. All that sustains the tepid tale is the evocative photography the moody Elmer Bernstein score. and the seasoned actors who are all in their own twilight years. Newman's .sad-eved performance gives the movie a particular poignancy. but not enough to make you forget The Big Sleep or even Newman's own Harper.


WAITING FOR GUFFMAN This Is Spinal Tap was an irreveren t mock documentary about a terrible British rock 'n' roll band. Now one of the participants of that 1984 cult epic, Christopher Guest, has directed his own mockumentary. A cruelly amusing look at a group of no-talents putting on a talent show in the fictional town of Blaine, Missouri, Waiting for Guffman is viciously funny. Guest has an eye for the absurd and has peopled his saga with a cast of grotesques that would have made Fellini proud: a cross-eyed dentist named Dr. Pearl (Eugene Levy), prone to bad Johnny Carson impressions; an egomaniacal travel agent-actor (Fred Willard) and his wife (Catherine O'Hara); a Dairy Queen counter girl who sings like a screeching cat (Parker Posey); a monosyllabic auto mechanic (Matt Keeslar), and, a retired taxidermist (Lewis Arquette). The movie concerns the preparation, staging, and aftermath of "Red, White, and Blaine," a musical revue commemorating 150 years of the town, known as "The Stool Capital of the World." Directed and choreographed by transplanted "artiste" Corky St. Clair (Guest), "Red, White, and Blaine" is a tribute to kitsch, the banal, and the kind of terrible show achingly typical of small towns and high schools, in which no one has a clue as to how bad it is. The subject is an easy target-Letterman-style smug humor-but it is done with great skill in the casting, writing (by Guest and Levy), and performances (many of which apparently involved some improvisation). There are gems in the dialogue ("He's trying to get me to change my instincts," says one of the performers in an earnest moment, "or at least ignore them"), lyrics ("Hock your jewels/Use the money for stools"), and ideas (one character markets My Dinner With Andre action figures and Remains Of The Day lunch boxes). Waiting For Guffman is a vicious ode to an American phenomenon: performers with a dream who 'f{ave no idea how bad they really are.


WHEN WE WERE KINGS After 22 years in limbo, director Leon Gast's When We Were Kings is here and is well worth the wait. In 1974, Gast was part of an entourage that took off for Zaire to witness a monumental moment in boxing history: the attempt by 32-year-old I Muhammad Ali to regain his World Champion title from 24-year-old Joe Foreman. The odds were against Ali, but using bravado, skill, and a wily strategy, he scored an incredible upset-aiJ recorded on film. When We Were Kings is more than just a boxing documentary: it is the story of Ali, part-braggart, part-humanitarian, and all-hero. Using archival footage from the early '60s, the movie traces Ali's ;rse to fame as Cassius Clay, his conversion to the Muslim religion, his loss of his boxing title because of his refusal to serve in the military, and his comeback as a fighter in the early '70s. The meat of the story, however, is the fight in Zaire. During a six-week delay caused by an injury to Foreman during training, Ali and Gast's crew became intimate as the boxer offered opinions, jokes, poems, and political analyses-all rare for a sports figure, and certainly for a black one (Foreman's laconic remarks, also captured on film, are more typical). Gast intercuts the story with recent interview footage (shot by Taylor Hackford) of Norman Mailer, George Plympton (who were both there), and Spike Lee, among others, who otter perspective on the fight. All of it is as illuminating as it is fascinating. The film also includes songs from a concert that took place in honor of the event, with sweltering numbers by James Brown and B.B. King, and recent songs shot specifically for the movie by The Fugees, Brian McKnight and Diana King, and Zelma Davis. When We Were Kings may not give boxing a good name among those who hate it, but it will certainly remind everyone that Ali was one of the most original personalities of his generation. Maybe not a king, but certainly a hero.