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Review of the day for the week of February 3, 1997.

Monday:
Evita (1996)

Evita
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Evita-based on the musical by acclaimed songsmith Andrew Lloyd Webber-follows the story of Eva Peron (Madonna), popular Argentina first lady. She grew from a poor Argentine girl, to a popular actress, to the wife of Juan Peron (Jonathan Pryce), Argentina's dictator. Much of Juan's success in office was thanks to Eva (Evita as the people called her), who was one of Argentina's most popular figures ever. She died at the age of 33. And so the myth about her life would gather, until Webber found interest and made a musical about her life in 1979. Antonio Banderas serves as the narrator-part time player in the story of Evita's troubled life.

This is a fine musical adaptation, that benefits from a great score and songs from Webber and Tim Rice, a lavish production and three impressive performances by Madonna, Pryce and Banderas. Madonna is well cast, in this tailor-made role. One cannot help but see the parallels between Madonna and Evita's two time separated lives. Banderas proves that not only can he act, he can sing beautifully as well. And Pryce, who usually gets the role of milquetoast in his films, is quietly dignified in his role as Juan Peron. The only reason why this is not the perfect musical is because it drags in certain spots and doesn't completely hold your attention some of the time. Most of it is very entertaining, and this is definitely for fans of Madonna and Webber.

My Rating = Three Stars

Rent


Tuesday:
Ferngully...The Last Rainforest (1992)

Ferngully...The Last Rainforest
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This animated film is full of stuff that's perfect for kids, but it doesn't have much to interest adults. This Disney wannabe is about a mystical rainforest full of fairies, who attempt to protect their home from destructive human machinery and the sinister demon Hexxus (voice of Tim Curry). Among the various creatures that attempt to put a stop to it, there are the fairies Crysta (Samantha Mathis) and Pips (Christian Slater), Zak (Jonathan Ward) a human that was shrunk by fairy magic, and a whacked-out bat named Batty Koda (Robin Williams).

The film has fine animation and some good vocal performances from Williams and Curry, but the ecological message is laid on way too thick. The characters Crysta and Zak are very one-dimensional characters, that don't have much charisma. If you're a lover of animation, you might like some of the landscapes the animators created, but other than that I think you should look somewhere else for an entertaining animated film.

My Rating = Two Stars

Rent


Wednesday:
Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

Ghosts of Mississippi
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One of the highly anticipated films of the winter season (and a major front runner for the Oscars this year), the story is about the attempt to convict the killer of civil rights activist Medger Evers, nearly thirty years after the fact. The prosecuting attorney (Alec Baldwin) and Evers' widow Myrlie (Whoopi Goldberg) are the major players in the re-opening of the case against white supremacist Byron de la Beckwith (James Woods). The thing is that much of the evidence from the original trials in the 1960's have disappeared in the 1990's. These facts give the smug Woods a reason to dare the opposition to just try and convict him of something that happened back in 1963.

The film is good, but not great. It's hampered by the fact that it's overlong, which, in turn, aren't helped by the dull courtroom scenes. But that's in the last 20 minutes. Much of the rest of the film is extremely well done, with a very suspenseful story (even for the ones who know how it turned out in real life) and three powerful performances by Goldberg, Baldwin and especially Woods as the hateful Beckwith. It's better than most of the dreck that has come out in the winter of 96/97.

My Rating = Three Stars

Rent


Thursday:
Hamlet (1996)

Hamlet
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Kenneth Branagh takes on the Bard once again, with this brilliant interpretation of Shakespeare's classic tragedy. The settings have been changed from the claustrophobic atmosphere of the Middle Ages, to the grand gothic of the 19th-century Victorian age. Branagh makes another fine turn as actor-director. Although he's great in the lead role of the melancholy Dane, it's the supporting players that really shine brightly. Julie Christie as Gertrude (in her best performance since McCabe and Mrs. Miller) is splendid and does not overact as outrageously as Glenn Close did in the 1990 version. Kate Winslet (Sense and Sensibility) makes an enthralling Ophelia. And Derek Jacobi is a marvel to behold as Claudius.

Among the lesser players, Richard Briers as Polonius adds a touch of humor to an originally glum character (as previous performers have interpreted him). Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Richard Attenborough make brief (but welcome) cameos, while Gerard Depardieu and Jack Lemmon's roles are mercifully brief. The movie's visuals are the most astounding parts of the film. With the fabulous Blenheim Palace being used as Elsinore Castle, and with superb cinematography (filmed in rarely used 70 mm). Though not the best of the film adaptations of the Bard, this one comes very close to being the greatest.

My Rating = Four Stars

Rent


Friday:
The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996)

People vs. Larry Flynt, The
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"All I'm guilty of is bad taste!" - Woody Harrelson as Hustler Publisher Larry Flynt.

Rightfully considered one of the best films of 1996, this biopic follows the rise, fall and rise again of millionaire Hustler publisher and self-proclaimed "scumbag" Larry Flynt (Woody Harrelson). We follow Flynt from his days as the owner of a strip joint in the early 1970's, to his landmark case before the Supreme court over censorship in 1987. The film delves into his relationships with his stripper wife Althea (rock star, Courteney Love), who died of AIDS in 1987 and his lawyer Alec (Edward Norton from Primal Fear). We also watch as he survived all opposition, inconveniences and disabilities to become the leading figure against censorship of any kind. He promotes his beliefs in his typical far-out way, whether throwing oranges at judges or satirizing Jerry Falwell in explicit Hustler fashion.

Without the film's cast, screenwriters and Milos Forman's sure-footed direction, this film would have been as bad as Showgirls and Striptease. Instead, it becomes a wry satiric look at America's view of "Family Values" and the fight against censorship. This film couldn't have come out at a better time, what with all the hoopla over internet "porn" and people crying out for protection of their children from "indecent" entertainment. Flynt was the type of guy whose basic message was, "If a scumbag like me doesn't get any rights under the first amendment, next thing you know you'll all have your rights taken away". The acting is superb, with a dynamite performance by Harrelson (who pulls off the difficult task of making you despise Flynt, but at the same time root for him all the way) and excellent support from a cast lead by Love, giving her all as Althea Flynt.

Love-who gives a firebrand performance that Madonna only dreams about having as an actress-seems perfectly natural in her role. Norton, the subtlest of any of the actors in the picture, pulls off a whammy as Flynt's brutally honest and patient best friend (the only true friend that Flynt has it seems). The film made me come out seeing Flynt in a new light. Personally, I had nothing against him except for the fact that he was a jerk. But I sort of like him now, mainly for the fact that nobody is as outspoken about the rights of the first amendment as he is. And the amazing part is that, even after being shot and paralyzed, even after opponents like Charles Keating and Jerry Falwell almost had him thrown in jail for life, even after the tragic death of his wife, he still kept coming back ten times more powerful than the last time. He's basically a human version of the Energizer bunny.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Saturday:
Radio Flyer (1992)

Radio Flyer
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A major lesson in what to do wrong on a children's film, the story involves two young brothers (Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello), who try to survive life with their abusive stepfather. Their solution to this problem is probably going to keep them in therapy for the next few years. The way out seems through a fantasy, which involves their Radio Flyer wagon. It's an idea that will certainly get them killed. Oh well. Some people think suicide is the way out of a family crisis such as this one.

The film tries hard to be upbeat, but most of the time it's an incoherent, depressing mess. Mazzello and Wood are alright, but they don't seem up to the challenge of playing abused youngsters. And the fantasy is so ludicrous, it's indescribable! The script seems like something Spielberg thought about filming, and then decided to throw away into the shredder, never to be seen or heard from again. No matter how hard the filmakers try, it's an idea that just doesn't seem to gel on screen.

My Rating = One Star

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Sunday:
Rover Dangerfield (1991)

Rover Dangerfield
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Comedian Rodney Dangerfield provides the voice of Rover, a wisecracking dog who lives in Vegas, but is then booted into the countryside to fend for himself. What happens to him on his adventures in the country turn into a predictable cartoon fable. He ends up on a farm and learns to live the hard life of a country dog. He does add a few city dog touches to his boring surroundings.

The idea seems good for awhile, but even Dangerfield starts to wear down. The humor and the animation walk an unsteady line between the kiddie appeal of Don Bluth and Disney work, and the adult work of Ralph Bakshi and Japanese Anime. In other words, it can't decide what it wants to be. The really little ones might enjoy it, but they might also puzzle over some of the humor. The adults won't get much of anything out of it, save a few of Dangerfield's wiseacre jokes. In this case, you'd be much better off with Disney.

My Rating = Two Stars

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