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Movie Review Journal: E

Director: James Lapine. Cast: Susan Sarandon, Stephen Dorff.
Well-make interpretation of Anne Tyler novel about (typically) a woman searchig for identity in the oddest ways. Charlotte Emery (Sarandon), on route to walking out on her controlling, stuffy husband, is abducted by a bankrobber named Jake (Dorff). From hostage, she becomes advisor, confidante, and lover, as an unlikely relationship develops as they take off on the lam from the police and responsibility. Tyler characters start off as passive victims and eventually evolve into fully rounded characters. Sarandon and Dorff are wonderful as the mismatched pair, and screenwriter Steven Rogers has just about captured Tyler's comic tone. 1/4/02

Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Isabel Jean, Franklin Dyall, Ian Hunter.
Before Alfred Hitchcock was "Hitchcock," he was a journeyman director, handling melodramas like this one, based on a popular Noel Coward play. The sensational (for 1927) plot involved a woman with a secret in her past – in this case that she was a divorcee whose husband had been a drunkard and whose lover killed himself. Her new husband doesn't know that – but drops her when he does. "Shoot, there's nothing left to kill," the heroine says to a group of photographers after her second divorce. There is little of the experimentation Hitch tried in some of his other silents, although the storyline does feature his patented strong-willed moms (as in Notorious and, of course, Psycho), as well assome howlers among the title cards ("Something's happened, John! But whatever it is, you must stand by Larita!") as well as some Cowardesque quips ("Now that you've quite exhausted your venom, I will go to my room"). You can see where Hitch developed his later technique: he cuts from one scene to another by using the same gesture (a man kissing a woman on the hand) and offers many plot points simply through visuals. "An interesting scene in this picture," noted Hitchcock in 1967, "is when John is proposing marriage to Larita, and instead of giving him an answer, she says, 'I'll call you from my house around midnight.' Next, we show a little watch indicating it is midnight; it's the wrist watch of a switchboard operator who is reading a book. A small light goes on on the board. She puts the plug in and is about to go back to her reading but automatically listens into the earphones. Then, she puts the book down, obviously fascinated by the phone conversation. In other words, I never show either of the two people. You follow what is happening by watching the switchboard operator." Seen on tape on October 13/14, 1990.

Director: Alexander Payne. Cast: Matthew Broderick, Reese Wither-spoon.
Black comedy about Tracy Flick (Witherspoon), a high school junior determined to be elected class president. Standing in her way is Jim McAllister (Broderick), a popular teacher with sexual hang-ups (he is attacted to the prissy Flick, who brought down another teacher, his best friend, in a sex scandal). Flick is a wound-up, neurotic go-getter, a young Liddy Dole: scary and pathetic at the same time. Scary because she is the one who succeeds, pathetic because winning means so much to her, appearance and surface mean more than contnt. McAllister is brought down when he tries to stop her, and is life is wrecked. He, like all the characters, operates in a state of continuous denial, as demonstrated by the very funny voice-and flashbacks. The movie wickedly skewers high school, morals, the midwest, and the games – both sexual and otherwise – that people play to get ahead. 3/29/00

ELECTRA (1999)
Director: Michael Cacoyannis. Cast: Irene Papas.
An effective retelling of the Euripides tragedy about Electra (Papas), daughter of the slain Agamemnon seeks vengeance against her mother and the usurper to her father's throne. Stylized, with a lot of striking photography and a powerful performance by Papas. Cacoyannis wrote the script and went o to direct Zorba the Greek. 4/21, 4/23, 4/24/04.

Director: Buster Keaton. Cast: Buster, Joe, Myra, and Louise Keaton.
Wacky attack on modern gadgets, showing how they can go wrong. Keaton loved gadgets himself, and here he creates a house of the future: toy trains deliver food on the table, an escalator takes tenants upstairs, a pool can be emptied and re-filled at the touch of a lever, books remove themselves from the shelf. Of course, everything goes wrong when Keaton’s rival re-wires the house and the escalator goes too fast (or the wrong way), a Murphy bed closes into the wall with an occupant in it, and a wall panel comes down from the wall and brains someone. It’s all absurd, but done at a quick tempo, so one gag flows seamlessly into the other. Not much story, though; it’s all on the level of a high-tech cartoon. Seen: March 29, 1995.

EMMA (1996)
Director: Diarmuid Lawrence. Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Mark Strong.
Faithful if somewhat bland TV-movie interpretation of wonderful Jane Austen novel. Beckinsale (who appears in the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility) is fine as the smug Emma Wodehouse who thinks she knows everything but knows nothing. Script has some regrettable lapses in which it underlines points it wants to make by having Emma fantasize about marriages she is trying to arrange. 7/24/04

Director: Neil Jordan. Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Julianne Moore, Stephen Rea.
Fairly faithful rendition of the Graham Greene novel about a forbidden love affair and its aftermath. The bizarre triangle is not with Bendrix (Fiennes), Sarah (Moore), and her husband (Rea), but Bendrix, Sarah – and God. The movie has faithfully recreated the paradox of faith, of loving something you never see, and talking about that in terms of love – loving a person you swear never to see, and successfully piles up Greene's coincidences and paradoxes: is it God's work or happenstance? Jordan, unfortunately, weighs the deck too early in favor of the former choice, taking the tale into the realm of the supernatural too early. There are some moving passages – especially when Sarah says that love continues even when you're not there – and only a few missteps. The reunion of Sarah and Bendrix is a mistake and makes her death seem like God's punishment for her breaking her promise, something Greene never intended. But the overall message – along with a lot of the great Greene writing – remains. God is unknowbable and he works his way in spite of your best efforts to fight him. 12/18/99

Director: Tony Scott. Cast: Will Smith, Gene Hackman, Jon Voight.
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 worlds in which Big Brother was not only watching, but was out to get the protagonists, as well. The movies were about a grim world and usually ended up with the hero losing to the forces of evil. Flash-forward to the 1990s: paranoia is in vogue again, thanks to TV's X-Files and its brethren, and the latest evidence of the retro trend is Enemy of the State, a paranoid thriller about a government run amuck, using cameras, satellites, and recording to not only pry into your life, but destroy it, as well. Will Smith plays the labor lawyer who is inadvertently drawn into an electronic web of deceit and murder, and Gene Hackman (the electronic spymaster of The Conversation) is the man who can save him. The story is fast-paced and complicatedm full of fancy visuals, breakneck chases, and engaging characters. It includes all the cliches of the genre, but jazzes them up with fancy imagery and pump-up-the-volume energy. Smith and Hackman are good, and the ending – unlike the downbeat finales of this movie's '70s predecessors – is unbelieavably happy. But the movie at least tries to say something about government intrusion in everyone's lives. 11/28/98, 4/21/99.

Director: Christopher Monger. Cast: Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, Colm Meany.
Charming story, set in WWI Wales about local pride and what people can do if they band together. The tale is simple: a South Wales village is visited by two Englishmen on a surveying team. Their job: put mountains on the maps; hills don't count. The village is known for its mountain but the team ultimately determines it is a hill not a mountain. The movie depicts how the villagers successfully changed that verdict, in a lovely series of vignettes involving farce, romance, and sly wit. The cast is excellent, the romance delightful, and the movie's point, that anything is possible if you believe, inspiring. 5/26/95.

Director: Robert Clouse. Cast: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly.
Great score, terrific kung fu stunts, fairly dreadful movie. Lee is a great athlete and a middling actor. He brings very little humor to the role of a kung-fu detective, but a great deal of physical energy. His ballet of violence is remarkable. The plot is roadshow James Bond crossed with Shaft, about a deadly organization trafficking in crime and drugs from an island base off Hong Kong. Lalo Schifrin's soundtrack is the best thing about this low-budget flick. I remembered very little from 25 years ago, when I first saw it. No wonder. 7/30/98

Director: Jon Amiel. Cast: Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
Over-complicated caper movie, with Connery fine if overage as the retired thief who comes out of retirement for the job of the century (quite literarally; it has to do with the millenium and banks). There's illogical twist after illogical twist, and the story isn't helped by Connery's love interest (Zeta-Jones), who is supposedly a cool insurance investigator and/or master thief, but comes across more like a hysterical teenager – crying, pouting, screaming, and acting out in ways that make you wonder why the Connery character has any interest in here at all. Then, again, you wonder why about a lot of things in this over-plotted, lushly photographed mess. And the story is just about money. Not about skill, or love, or anything important. It's about rich people becoming richer. It would be objectionable if it had any weight to it. 7/17/99

Director: Michael Gondry. Cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst.
Brilliant exploration of relationships, via the twisted, non-linear mind of screenwriter Chalie Kaufman. Coming out of a bad breakup, the hero (Carrey) of this bittersweet tale fidns taht his ex (Winslet) has had her memories of him, both good and bad, erased. He does the same. But it's not easy. The movie explores the nature of relationships, that people are imperfect, and that you must accept their foibles with their virtues. Carrey has never been better, as a tortured, shy average joe. Moving. 3/28/04

Director: William K. Howard. Cast: William Powell, Myrna Loy, Una Merkel, Rosalind Russell.
Engrossing but predictable potboiler, the sort of melodrama that Powell and Loy mocked so well in many of their other films, including The Thin Man, made in the same year. The soap opera plot finds Powell as a dedicated, hard-working lawyer, John Prentice, who neglects his wife, Evelyn. When she thinks he's having an affair, she puts herself in a compromising position with another man – who ends up dead. She thinks she killed him, but any fool could see that isn't the case. John defends another woman accused of the crime – and uses the most unorthodox strategy to get her off. A curiosity. 8/2/02

Director: Peter Yates. Cast: William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, James Woods, Christopher Plummer.
Quirky, improable thriller about a janitor (Hurt!) who gets involved in a murder investigation because of his obsession with a TV newswoman (Weaver). The story moves at such a brisk pace, hiding the holes, and the characters are rich, realistic, and unusual for a thriller. The resolution involves horses and murderous Jews – certainly a twist on the thriller cliches. 4/8/00

Director: William Friedkin. Cast: Max Von Sydow, Ellen Burstyn, Jason Miller.
Scary, thoughtful horror movie that is fairly tame – gore-wise – compared to '90s horror flicks. The well-known story follows the posession of a young girl by Satan and the attempts by those around her to understand and then cope. It's all done in a fairly realistic style, with an emphasis on character over horror – making the horror, when it comes, more horrifying. Jason Miller is the priest who has lost his faith and must regain it to defeat the devil; Max Von Sydow is the true believer. Ellen Burstyn, widely praised for her role, overacts terribly. The effects are amazingly well-done, and the story ends on a somber note – the devil is down but not out. 3/1/99.