You are hereMagazines 1990-1999 / Movie Reviews: Mixer

Movie Reviews: Mixer

July 1998



The winner of the 1998 Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and a Directors’ Fortnight selection at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, Slam offers the affecting story of Raymond Joshua (Saul Williams), a rapper/poet in Washington, D.C. Arrested on a petty drug charge, Ray is caught in the wheels of a system that cares little for justice and more for repression. In prison, Joshua hooks up witgh Lauren Bell (Sonja John), a writing teacher who sees in the young poet a true talent. One could say the same thing about co-writer/director Marc Levin, who with his use of hand-held cameras, naturalistic acting, and funky street dialect, gives his story a documentary feel. But at times he also uses a colorful impressionistic style to capture how Joshua reflects on his experiences and translates them into poetry. Inspired by the real experiences of a 17-year-old imprisoned gradditi artists Bonz Malone, Levin’s movie is a passionate plea for understanding, showing how a cruel system turns a blind eye to those who could be its most committed, constructive, and insightful citizens if given a chance. As Ray Joshua, Williams is affecting and believable as both a poet and a leader and he makes the whole constrfuction work. There have been movies about oppression and the black experience before, but none quite as unusual as this one.

January 1999

Rating: 5
This lightweight comedy, written by and starring Daphna Kastner, is about a woman coming to terms with love and sexuality in oh-so-macho Spain. Kastner plays a youngish intellectual, unlucky in love and sex, who suffers from what might be termed “parental abandonment syndrome.” More specifically, she blames her missing father for her anger towards men and her inability to sustain and consummate a relationship. The problem faced by Zoe (Kastner) is that she always picks the wrong guys: intellectual snobs (Martin Donovan), semi-fey momma’s boys (Danny Huston), or sexually crude studs (Antonio Castro). Naturally, the true love of her life must be the macho but sensitive Antonio (Toni Canto) because, in true romantic comedy style, she bickers with him at their first meeting. The plot-line and much of the writing in Spanish Fly are perfunctory, but the beautiful Spanish scenery and the sweet performances by Canto and Kastner ultimately overcome any weaknesses in the script. And, of course, it’s always nice when true love wins out.

(Fox Searchlight)
Rating: 5
Irish blarney at its best, with a delightful cast of old codgers out to pull off the scam of a lifetime. An inveterate lottery player, senior citizen Jackie O'Shea (Ian Bannen) discovers that one of the 52 residents of his tiny Irish village has won a gigantic lottery. He quickly uncovers the lucky man: Ned Devine, an elderly fellow who lives alone and who also happens to be dead, killed by the shock of winning (“They say money changes you,” observes Jackie’s practical wife, adding that it has certainly changed Ned). The farcical funnies follow, as Jackie and his pal Michael Sullivan (David Kelly) attempt to pass Michael off as Ned. The thin story is played out like an Irish tall tale, with a good number of twists and turns (will the lottery man discover the truth? will the townspeople join in the lie?) and amusing visuals (ever seen a naked septuagenarian on a motorcycle?) Although Waking Ned Devine is lightweight stuff, it is charmingly brought off by Bannen and Kelly, an Irish Laurel and Hardy.

Rating: 5
The early 1970s was the last big era of paranoia in movies: The Conversation, The Parallax View, and Three Days of the Condor all posited grim worlds in which Big Brother was not only watching, but was out to get you – and did. Flash-forward to the 1990s: paranoia is in vogue again, thanks to TV's X-Files. The latest evidence of the retro trend is Enemy of the State, a paranoid thriller about a government using cameras, satellites, and recording devices to both pry into and destroy people’s lives. Will Smith plays a labor lawyer who is inadvertently drawn into an electronic web of deceit and murder, while Gene Hackman (the electronic spymaster of The Conversation) is the man who can save him. The story, fast-paced and complicated, is filled with fancy visuals, breakneck chases – and all the cliches of the genre, albeit jazzed up with fancy imagery and pump-up-the-volume energy. Smith and Hackman are an engaging team, and the ending – unlike the downbeat finales of this movie’s ‘70s predecessors – is unbelievably happy.

(Sony Pictures Classics)
Rating: 8
Central Station is a wonderfully acted Brazilian fairy tale about how an orphaned boy, Jose (Vincinius de Oliveira), touches and then transforms a nasty old woman (Fernanda Montenegro) into a near-saint. Set in Rio and the surrounding countryside, the movie charts as unlikely a partnership as you’re ever going to see. Dora is a bitter woman who writes letters for illiterates. Although she promises to mail the finished work immediately, she instead keeps the postage money and destroys the letters. Jose is a sharp-tongued boy whose mother hires Dora to write a note to her reclaim her estranged husband. When the woman is killed by a bus, however, a series of believable plot contrivances find Dora and Jose setting off on a bittersweet, funny, and heartfelt quest for the boy's father. Avoiding cliches and emphasizing realistic characters, Central Station is a brilliantly depicted journey of spiritual awakening as Dora realizes that she needs Jose as much he needs a father – and that the old woman and child are more alike than either realized. Not to be missed.

February 1999

Rating: 7
Rushmore is a quirky comedy about a 15-year-old go-getter named Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). The teenager loves extracurricular school activities: he is the editor of the Rushmore school newspaper and yearbook; founder of the debate team, the dodge ball society, and the Max Fischer Players; and president of the French club, German club, chess club, and almost everything else. He also finds time to write and stage oddball plays about the Vietnam War, police informants, and gangsters. Problem is, Max has no time left for studying. played Schwartzman’s would-be-genius is a fast-talking con artist: an adult salesman in a teenaged nerd’s body. When he is kicked out of Rushmore, however, Max applies his skills on a sweet kindergarten teacher (Olivia Williams) who is more interested in Max's millionaire patron and gopher Herman Blume (Bill Murray), than Max. And so the battle begins. Director/writer Wes Anderson’s oddball movie amusingly depicts the birth of a hustler, dreamer, and all-around smarmy guy. With any luck, he’ll probably be working in Hollywood in a few years.

(Cowboy International)
Rating: 6
How’s this for a story? Some intrepid explorers head for the jungles of India (!) to trap the Mighty Peking Man (PM, for short), an ugly-as-sin giant gorilla who turns up after an earthquake. The leader of the expedition is well-known adventurer Johnny Feng (Danny Lee), who is distraught because he just discovered his girlfriend in bed with his brother (“It’s not what you think!” cries out the naked girlfriend). Feng and his pals have no idea how to capture the PM except “to use our intelligence” – but once a tiger has ripped off the leg of a porter, and one of the expedition leaders slips and fatally falls off a mountain, everyone deserts Johnny in the night. His doom seems to be sealed when he comes up against the PM. He is rescued by Samantha (Evelyne Kraft), a platinum blonde white woman who wears an animal-skin bra that covers only one of her breasts. This lady Tarzan speaks pigeon English and has the power to control the PM. With her help, Johnny takes the ape back to civilization, where he hopes to make millions exhibiting the PM. Instead (surprise!) the monster goes on a rampage. There have been bad movies, but none quite in the league of the Hong Kong import Mighty Peking Man (why the ape is called “Man” let alone named after a city in China is never explained). Don’t miss it.

Rating: 7
Cross Rocky with Hoosiers, toss in one of the sexy hunks from TV’s Dawson’s Creek, and what do you have? A surprisingly affecting drama about coming-of-age in a small town in Texas. For 22 years. the West Canaan High School football team has won the district championship. That’s thanks to the no-holds-barred, win-at-all-costs approach of the tough-as-nails coach Bud Kilmer (Jon Voight), a man who’d make a Nazi look good. His antagonist in the quest for the 23rd championship is Jon Moxon (James Van Der Beek), who prefers reading Kurt Vonnegut to tackling people. Nonetheless, “Mox” also happens to have a good throwing arm, a good mind, and plenty of moxie. Of course, he ends up as a star quarterback. He is then faced with a series of dilemmas that come with the turf – does he cheat on his girlfriend with the school’s sexpot? does he quarterback his own way or the coach’s? – culminating in the big question: should he stand up to the unethical Kilmer and prove that it’s not whether you win but how you play the game? Varsity Blues is no Last Picture Show, but it is still a well-done drama that offers a message not often heard these days: integrity counts.