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We are falling way behind in these reviews. In brief:

What Happened Was: D - (Hint: Nothing. For 138 minutes nothing happened.)
Roman Holiday: B (I know it's an old movie but I just around to seeing it.)
The Secret About Cats and Dogs: B+.
Toy Story: A-
The Usual Suspects: B+
Hackers: C+
The Web: (I was in conspiratorialist mood): B-
(Names in RED indicate new reviews)

Tokyo Bowl

This was the 'other' sushi bar in Clear Lake, near NASA in Houston for the longest time. However, with the demise of Miyakas and their legendary sushi buffet and happy hour, Tokyo Bowl emerges as the winner. It rightfully can claim this title on the merits, too. Jay, the sushi-master, has a different twist on sushi. He ad libs with the Texas Roll and a few others, but if you doubt your strength for spicy rolls, pass on these. Jay gets chatty during slow periods. This is where astronauts eat sushi.

Closing Time

by Joseph Heller, the genius who wrote Catch 22. Although there are rare moments that Mr. Heller reclaims the wit and charm of Catch 22, its a poor sequel and I found trudging through the book (and it was nothing short of trudging) not worth the time.

Evita

Rarely has such a good musical been so badly mauled. The stage production was a success even in live theater terms. After it premiered in 1978, it ran constantly for the next 12 years although by then it was relegated to city theater groups, Broadway having little use for it. I last saw it in Houston in 1989 as a Theater Under the Stars production although it was done indoors, not outside as the name might make you believe. So to move it to the popular movie houses, they hired Madonna, the talented singer Antonio Bandaras and the car spokesman Jonathan Pryce. Do you see where I am going with this? It is beautifully filmed and very well choreographed but the production is still an opera (all of it sung) and the latter two could not sing to save their acting careers. True, Bandaras is seen enough without his shirt on to swoon the women in the audience. They spend most of the script trying to emote in the places real singers could sail through.

I was disappointed in the libretto. They changed a fair amount for reasons I could not always understand. Two songs are new. I liked "The lady knows what she wants." "You must love me" is a cheap addition for Madonna. Speaking of whom, I liked her in the role. She is a good singer and she had so few places to act in this movie I could almost forget she made "Shanghai Surprise." Ironically, if they had cast real singers in the roles, like Patti LaPonte (the original Evita) and Mandy Pantakin (yes, he was the original 'Che'), the movie might be limited to art theaters and fall by the wayside like the movie version of "Carmen." If you did not see the stage production, see this movie, although do not expect to love it.

Anne Frank Remembered

Outstanding documentary on the girl, the times and her demise. Heard but never seen, Kenneth Branagh narrates us through her world. The film is directed mostly by interviews with surviving childhood friends and other people that knew her. Most astonishing were the assistants that provided food and help while the family was in hiding, including Meip. Otto Frank, the father and now deceased, was included in interviews given in 1979. A wonderfully moving film, do not think of it as a documentary. See it.

Restoration

A Morton Downey Jr. movie about the rise, fall from grace and the restoration of a young man. Set in Charles II's England, the Restoration (get it? clever?), he plays a bawdy doctor interested in no one but himself, which endears him to his patients. However, we get the feeling the state of the healing arts back then was so primitive, most of them died because of the doctors - the lucky ones got to die of natural causes. So low does Morton get, that he actually questions the usefulness of blood letting and leeches. After that revelation, he, as well as the audience, is ready set for his voyage of self discovery A good one it is. Rising above his own level, he sees the world in grownups light. Above average fare.

Meg Ryan makes a brief appearance. She is the catalyst for the change. Falling back briefly to his old style, he impregnates this patient but soon accepts the responsibility of his actions. He even understands those responsibilities. Sam Neil, most known for his role in Jurassic Park, but also known for the title role in 'Life of Riley, Master Spy' and the quirky painter in Sirens (reviewed below), is Charles II and plays it with the wit and charm you expect from him in roles other than Jurassic Park. Hugh Grant is the painter that narcs on Morton. Hugh occasionally takes unattractive parts and plays them well (see 'An awfully Big Adventure' below). Walk, you don't have to run to see this movie.

The Heidi Chronicles

Based on Wendy Wasserstein's play by the same name, the movie covers 30 years of Heidi Hollands life: from her graduation from High School in 1965 to the end of journey of discovery in 1995. While wanting only her individuality and her destiny, she is pigeon holed by everyone meeting and is torn apart by the various movement over the years. While resisting, she just does not know what is being fought. We see her at a Macarthy For President rally saying stuff like "Everyone has to live according to themselves," and yet she gets cast into movements. First with politics then feminists and finally with her career itself. All of these attempted to place labels on her; she allows it but never really buys into it. Finally she calls it quits and starts her life in earnest at 46. She reaches enlightenment after two hours of the movie; something I wanted her to do in the first twenty minutes.

Othello

Lawrence Fishburne is Othello, make no mistake about that. From the poster, his eyes burn into you. This man must be capable of great anger and hatred one thinks, standing in the movie line. And in spite of his appearance, he is a gentle giant: a deliberate and thoughtful man. Fishburne's Othello screen presence commands respect, from both his friends and detractors. In the first act alone, he prevents a fight, gets admonished by the city vicar, and is sent to battle as the city-state general. We see him as a tender lover, strict commander, and wise general. Nothing contradicted here, just well-versed and talented.

It is Kenneth Branagh's Iago that poisons the great man. While Branagh is not the powerful presence that Henry V or Much Ado About Nothing was, you expect and get that same wonderful acting. Through masterful manipulation, Iago drives Fishburne over the edge of reason: a testament to Iagos skill. Yet as Othello moves past the precipice of sanity, he does so in a deliberate manner. While he erroneously reasons that he must kill his wife Desdemona, he gives her every chance to explain and redeem herself; hardly the acts of a madman. Even so, he kills her; OK, the act of a madman.

Though lacking reason, he still has his dignity and submits with grace to the law. He knew what he has done and what must now happen; something that would better serve Iago.

The screenplay truncates the play significantly. A three hour stage version must be palatable to moviegoers; an act for which I cannot fault the producers. What gets distilled is the conflict on Othello, the center of the play. By removing the battle scenes and the military aspects, we get a better vision of Othello and the tragedy. If you are a Shakespeare purist, go see the play. It you like Othello, see Othello.

An Awfully Big Adventure

'An Awfully Big Adventure' is an awfully big mess. It's one of those English movies where the accents are so thick, the dialog is decipherable unless you're English or actually used to that style. After that, you have to understand why things are going on. Between the two, the point of the movie, if there is one, is lost anyway. Hugh Grant plays a theater director in post war England and the plot revolves around him and newcomer, Georgina Cates. Cates' 16 year-old character is in love with Grant but she just doesn't understand how complex that emotion can be. Hugh Grant departs from his normal pretty-boy role and plays a manipulative, self-center SOB that abuses everyone around him. He also snarls enough to make you think it's a Stallion movie. He is truly an unattractive character both morally and physically. Georgina Cates is superb. Playing the naive youth, she experiences real world emotions but, amazingly, remains unaffected. Part denial and part naivetÚ.

Alan Rickman, the evil terrorist in both Die Hard and Robin Hood, has a notable performance. Cast as the savior of the acting troop as Peter Pan's Dr. Hook. Ironically, this gentle man does to Cates what Dr. Hook tries to do to the children in the play. I'll let you figure that one out. Also, Les Miserables fans will recognize the Master of the House, Uncle Vernon, as the original Thenardier.

Babe

For those you who thought this is a silly, children's movie (a talking pig?); that it wasn't worth the six or seven dollars to see it; that Arnold the Pig is still the greatest talking pig in the media spotlight, take heart, because so did I. That's one reason I saw it at the Dollar Cinema. But I changed my mind after seeing it. It was a wonderful story, beautifully crafted, funny and sad. Not sad like Charlottes Web. It's a story of runt pig that is spared cannery row and is sold as a carnival amusement. After coming into the possession of a kindly farmer, the pig sees life in its glory and its reality too. He is told he will be eaten, that's what pig do. The duck, comic relief really (who can take a duck seriously) is so alarmed by the fact that he too will be eaten tries to become a rooster and crows in the morning. The pig, seeing logic when it's presented to him, albeit as little sense as a duck can make, wants to become a sheep dog and herd the other animals. It's not the control he wants, but he understands the function of animals and wants to make a contribution - other than as a dinner, of course.

The special effects were outstanding. They weren't so lavish to overwhelm the viewer, but subtle enough that they fit right in. If animals could speak, this is how their mouths would move, or how they would leap into the back of trucks or how pigs could herd sheep. Swallow your pride and see this movie. It's up for several Academy's and rightly so.

Nina Takes a Lover

Great movie. Laura San Giacomo (in photo) has an outstanding performance as the title character torn between two men who aren't that different. A beautifully filmed, delicately told story of a women tempted with an affair to spice up what she thinks is a dull life. While her husband travels, she meets a man in the park during lunch. The other stories in the movie are loosely rolled together by the reporter trying to write an article about infidelity. The contrasts and similarities are presented by the diverse and often depraved supporting cast. The story is not vulgar and expect no nudity from the star: the story is well above those cheap plot devices. Nina has an interesting story that should be told.

Jefferson in Paris

Merchant Ivory, the independent film company known for their stylistic films such as 'Howards End' and 'A Room with a View', lets the viewers down in this slow-moving, un-insightful and uninspired yarn. The powerful cast includes Nick Nolte as the American prodigy and James Earl Jones as his alleged, illegitimate son, who we only we briefly and years later. The film is appropriately named since it takes place in France before his presidency. However, it never really takes off. Historically, Jefferson was not known as a talker and casting Nick Nolte is good since that gravelly voice is irritating so we don't want to hear him anyway. As the film bounces from one potential lover to the next, we are lost in a sea of apathy. Ironically, the best story doesn't really happen at all and then, only at the end. That's the controversial one of his slave girl that everyone is going to this movie to see. The question is never answered if he did or did not. The question is not really even asked. Clearly, though, the most compelling scene is right at the end when he negotiates with his two slaves for their freedom.

Mighty Aphrodite

Woody Allen's new movie proving that after 'Bullets over Broadway' he can still write like the good old days. An outstanding movie with Allen as the (his) typical neurotic New Yorker married to Helena Bonham Carter. Finding out that their adopted son is gifted, Allen sets out to find the real mother. That mother turns out to be a well meaning but very dense prostitute and second-rate porn actress. Shocked at what he finds, he's determined to understand what he just learned.

Mira Sovina has a brilliant comic role as the prostitute. I want to see her in other movies for sure. Helena Bonham Carter departs from her usual 19th century period films to play the uncaring wife; Woody Allen is of course Woody Allen, a consistent actor, doesn't let us down, although he is predictable. The film lists a long cast including F. Murray Abraham, David Odgen Spiers, Peter Weller and Olympia Dukakais among others but their roles are nothing more than long cameos.

The Secret of Roan Inish

The John Sayles film stitches together several folktales into a coherent story. It follows Fiona, a seven year old girl that goes to live with her grandparents after her mother dies. Told from the girl's perceptive, she learns the tales surrounding the family isle of Roan Inish and the mysterious disappearance of her brother by mystical forces. The dialect is old Irish and is hard to understand. The grandfather, while dragging on his Popeye pipe, says things like 'the sea gives and the sea takes way,' ''what the sea demands, the sea must have.' and the ever insightful 'he defied the sea by wanting to survive.' 'Daft' is used twice. I would tell you the secret of Roan Inish but it'd sound trite out of context. Bob says check it out.

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

A quirky and odd film I find hard to categorize. If you ever fantasized about Uma Thurman with really long thumbs, see this movie. Even if you haven't done that fantasy yet, this is still a good movie. It's not hard to follow where the movie takes you, it's just hard to understand why it's taking you there. Uma Thurman plays a hitchhiker whose magically long thumbs can take her anywhere. While without a home, she's not homeless - it's anywhere she is at for the moment and it appears to make no difference. Her world is a mixed up one - there are few men in it, the women play all different roles; those of teachers, lovers, cowboys and of course cowgirls. John Hurt, one of the few males in the movie, plays 'the Countess.' We are never sure if it is suppose to be a man playing the role of a women or if the movie wants us to believe it really should be a women. It's hard to image a women as ugly as John Hurt is possible. That's part of the ambivalence.

There are twists along her path. She gets cast as a dancer in a movie some Germans are making about the rare whooping cranes breeding on John Hurts farm. While in custom, ironically, her life takes on meaning. She even encounters love - twice. The first is by the lead cowgirl (played by Rain Phoenix, the sister to the late River Phoenix) and later that night by an odd mountain hermit/wise man known only as 'the Chink.' But once out of her costume, meaning is lost. She likes her life having meaning, and sets out to find it again.

I never read the book by Tom Robbins but people tell me it's far better than the movie. Even so, check this out - it has its own merits.

Unstrung Heroes

Another coming of age story set in the 1960s was about to make me puke - especially knowing that all copies of 'Porky's' haven't been destroyed. However, 'Unstrung Heroes' is a touching, compelling story of a boy coming not into sexual manhood but his emotional one. He learns the bittersweet truth that adults are people with weaknesses and strengths. He doesn't lose respect for anyone, he simply starts seeing them differently - maybe even admires them. In one example, he secretly films his parents during a touching embrace, not because of any naughty or indecent purpose as a lesser movie might have, but because he knows there is significance to that act, although he doesn't know what that significance is.

Michael Richards at first plays a Kramer-isc character that comes on way too strong. Oh-great-he's-still-playing-that-character-how-versatile-an-actor impulse hit me initially. But the uncle's role is the driver of the movie and the devise for which the boy to learn. The kid starts in the child-like world of the uncle and gets moved into the adult world the uncle is really in, we just don't see it at the beginning.

I say check it out.

Father of the Bride

Cute movie. I like Steve Martin. I liked him more for not making sequels.

The Lion King

It was my overt masculinity and sensuality like a coiled jungle cat ready to pounce that made me not watch this movie before. I thought it was a kids movie and that it was somehow beneath me. Well, it was a kids movie but I loved it. The wit and charm would be missed on the younger ones but they story was as mature as I wanted. While predictable (it is a cartoon), I was involved with the characters, the plot moved and they did not resort to too many cliches or obvious gags. I liked all the characters; Mufasa, the proud lion king with a commanding voice like Darth Vadar, Simba, the lovable prince, Scar, the bad brother who acts in his own self interest and even the hyenas were likable - remorseless but with a hint of naughtiness. I just want to know what kind of animal the wart hog's friend was.

I say check it out.

Shallow Grave

If you want to see a thoroughly depressing, pointless movie with death, deceit, betrayal and Scottish accents, get this one. Its a story of three friends who bumble across a suitcase of money. The only hitch is they have to dispose of the owners body; untraceable at that. I will forego the middle hour but lets just say the pressure gets to them. It's not that I am against movies with death, deceit, betrayal and Scottish accents but this one is pretty strong with no point.

I say check it out when you almost nothing better to do.

Immortal Beloved

The only thing immortal about this movie is how long it seems to ooze on for. This is a really bad attempt at a period piece. The dialog is trivial if not completely predicable, forced and quite trite. Ironically, during one scene of a young Beethoven plays for a Count, the Count comments that he's no Mozart; quite right, and this is no 'Amadeus'.

My favorite kind of movie is the flashback. Here, Beethoven's manager spends the movie figuring out who the mysterious 'immortal beloved' is, to which Beethoven bequeathed everything. But it just so poorly written I didn't even care who got what. I was even hoping the characters would kill themselves just to get out of this movie. Beethoven's nephew tried it but failed, he endured for three more scenes, two of which had Gary Oldman in it.

To be fair, Gary Oldman did a good job as the cantankerous Beethoven. I liked most of the material with him in it, too bad there wasn't more it. The scene where he plays the piano for the first time is actually touching.

Some nudity, gratuitous at least; no profanity; one rape scene (French people are involved) and two child suffer through poorly choreographed deaths (again, French types are involved).

As an interesting footnote, Mozart and Beethoven had the same piano teacher, although at much different times: Saleari, Mozart's rival in 'Amedeus.' History vindicated Saleari of any complicity with Mozart's death, although it makes for good drama (and apparently good opera too. Verdi has a piece about this: Mozart und Saleari). Beethoven outlived Saleari but refer to him as 'beloved teacher' and 'master.'

Ed Wood

A delightful, offbeat film. Johnny Depp, one of my favorite actors, played the title role of the 1950s film director of low budget and now classically bad movies. 'Glenn or Glenda,' one of the earliest gender bending films was just too bad to be taken seriously. 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' is a sci-fi classic.

Ratings Overall: A
Nudity: F
Violence (on the 'Joe Bob DriveIn Throwup Scale'): 0 (unless you count the mechanical octopus trying to eat Martin Landau, in which case it would still be '0')

Little Budda

 

Even with Bridget Fonda, save your money.

As a side note, we lived not too far from the Seattle house this movie was shot at. It's on Queen Anne Hill overlooking Elliot Bay. The house is everything it seems to be in the movie although they minimized how small the actual lot was.

What's eating Gilbert Grape?

Another Johnny Depp movie, this time much more somber and sober than his other movies. Akin to Edward Sciccorhands, he plays an unhappy character tied down in small town. His brother, a mentally slow child, is his responsibility, but not at all a burden. The rest of the family tolerates each other until their chance to leave. The movie is about responsibility and family values in the strictest sense. I felt like I should have cried but the movie never let me have the chance.

Forget Paris

Forget 'Forget Paris.' A romantic comedy about two people so selfish and self-centered that's it's surprising they took time out from themselves to meet another person. I like both Billy Crystal and Debra Winger but the lack of commitment, energy or real concern for each other, I wish they would have forgotten the whole thing.

Sirens

Elle MacPhearson. 'Nuff said. Truthfully, even if she had clothes on, this would still be a wonderful and quirky movie.

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