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Starting today, I will only be doing one movie per day. There will be a new film review every day of the week, Monday-Sunday. They will not always be in theaters or on video. Some films I'll be reviewing, you can only catch on cable or network TV, since those particular films may not have been as yet released on video. Anyway, I'm hoping this change is a good change. The reviews will not be much different than the old ones in the sense that I will be as diligent and deliberate as in the past. The content, of course, will always be new. Now, on with the show!!!

Monday:
Dragonheart (1996)

Dragonheart
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One of the many special effects filled films of this summer, this story takes place in a medieval kingdom, ruled by a cruel and cold-hearted king (David Thewlis of Naked). Two forces of good, a Knight of the old code (Dennis Quaid) and a compassionate dragon (voice of Sean Connery) are the only ones who can lead a rebellion against the tyrant. However, Quaid has trouble trusting the dragon. The reason is told early in the film. When Thewlis was young, Quaid was his teacher. One day, Thewlis was gravely injured and only a dragon's strong heart could save him. So Draco, the Connery-voiced dragon, gave the young king half his heart. It made Thewlis stronger and he recovered quite quickly. But, alas, he also grew evil and remorseless. Unfortunately, Quaid feels his that the kingdom's misery is due to the Dragon and the alliance between the two is an uneasy one.

The story attempts to be a cross between Braveheart and Willow, but it turns out to be nothing like either of them. Quaid is also no Mel Gibson. He doesn't seem to be having any fun with his role, unlike Connery, who has plenty of good humor about voicing a dragon. But, there is another shortcoming. When Connery speaks, it seems like it's James Bond portraying a dragon, instead of Connery simply playing a dragon. It also gets really confusing when it turns from a grim war story to grim fairy tale and ends up as a piece of fluff, with Connery playing Draco a la Puff the Magic Dragon. The special effects are quite good, but not extraordinary. It's all been done before and it has too many similarities to Dragonslayer. One of the few good points of this long, dull fantasy is Thewlis' truly evil performance as the tyrant king. Besides the dragon, he's almost worth the price of admission.

My Rating = Two Stars

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Tuesday:
Home For The Holidays (1995)

Home For The Holidays
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This is probably one of the biggest wastes of an ensemble cast since The Hotel New Hampshire. It stars Holly Hunter as a woman dreading her return home for Thanksgiving to visit her dysfunctional family.

You know, it's kind of scary to see all these actors hidden talents unleashed onto an unknowing audience. Especially Robert Downey Jr.!!! What was he on during the filming? Glue?! Such veterans as Charles Durning, Anne Bancroft and Geraldine Chaplin can't save this from being a complete turkey (no pun intended). Also, these type of films are REALLY helping out Steve Guttenburg's career. Jodie Foster directed this, though I can't believe she followed up Little Man Tate with this bomb, which should have been titled "What the Hell is Going on Here!!!".

My Rating = One Star

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Wednesday:
The Cable Guy (1996)

Cable Guy, The
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Well, star Jim Carrey and director Ben Stiller (Reality Bites) promised us a much darker formula for Carrey's cometic talents. It's darker all right, but not much funnier and becoming pretty much the same old same old Carrey-style stuff. Carrey portrays a psychopathic cable installer (a character Carrey was paid $20 million to play), who just wants a friend. He believes he's found it in the form of nebbish Matthew Broderick, for whom Carrey has just installed free cable. Carrey becomes an annoying pest and when Broderick asks him to please leave him alone, the Cable Guy turns REALLY nasty.

As I said once in an old review, the "Jim Carrey formula" has just begun to wear thin. Plus, I never thought much of Stiller's cometic or directorial talents either. The plot is about as thin as any Jim Carrey film I've ever seen. He does have a couple of funny bits, but you have to wait a LOOONNNGGGG time for them to come around. You may even have left the theater by then or perhaps fallen asleep. Broderick, who's comedy is usually so restrained, cannot step out of the gigantic shadow of Carrey's physical comedy. The thing I liked least about this film is the dark aspects of it all. Instead of becoming a hysterical black comedy, it becomes a sadistic and then a repulsive black comedy. Are you having fun yet?! I didn't think so.

My Rating = Two Stars

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Thursday:
Get Shorty (1995)

Get Shorty
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Based on Elmore Leonard's best-selling comic novel, John Travolta portrays Chili Palmer, the ultimate lone shark. He's got a thing for movies and it seems like it's a dream come true when he's sent to Hollywood. He goes to LA to collect a debt from B-movie producer, Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), but gets embroiled in the dog-eat-dog world of Hollywood. Travolta has this great idea for a movie, which is similar to what's going on in his life at the moment and he wants Hackman to produce it. Of course, Hackman's got a few problems of his own. Mainly the local crime boss (Delroy Lindo), who is also attempting to collect a major debt from Hackman. In the mean time, Travolta falls in love with Hackman's leading lady, the cynical Karen Flores (Rene Russo). In the midst of all these goings on, Travolta is attempting to get Russo's ex-husband, egomaniacal actor Martin Weir (Danny DeVito), interested in his pet project. But Miami crime boss Ray Bones (Dennis Farina) has a old score to settle with Travolta and he too shows up in LA After that, the plot thickens at an extremely fast rate.

No one has ever been able to capture Leonard's work on film, as well as director Barry Sonnenfield (Addams Family) captures it here. The film is able to transfer the great plot twists, cool characters and sharp dialogue from the book to the movie without missing a beat. Travolta's Chili Palmer has been compared to Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction as if Travolta was playing the same guy. I don't think so. Travolta's Palmer seems much more cool, calm, composed and smarter. The supporting cast is just as good. Hackman portrays Zimm as a neurotic coward. It's something he's never done before. Russo is just as magnificent as the level-headed Flores and DeVito is in the role he was born to play.

The best (and funniest) performance comes from Farina, who's dumb mobster character is humiliated time and time again by Travolta's quick wits. Don't forget to check out Lindo's role either. His mob boss is the exact opposite of Farina's. Lindo is Al Pacino to Farina's James Caan. As I've said, no one has ever been able to make Leonard's novels filmable. But with the great screenplay, performances, directing, and set design, it all comes together quite excellently.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Friday:
Backtrack (1989)

Backtrack
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One of Dennis Hopper's usual weird directorial outings, this one involves the relationship between an eccentric hit-man (Hopper) and a murder eyewitness (Jodie Foster), who he's supposed to kill. At the start of the movie, Foster witnesses the murder of a mafia big shot, who is done in by his rival (Joe Pesci in an uncredited performance). Foster takes it on the lam from both the mafia hit-men and the FBI, who need her to identify Pesci.

Sounds good and suspenseful at first, but mostly it's just long and dull. Hopper is not one of the greatest directors either. His films (save Easy Rider) are usually uneven and the scripts are full of plot holes. This one is no exception. The supporting players, Pesci, Fred Ward as the head FBI agent in charge, Dean Stockwell as Pesci's mafia lawyer and John Turturro as Hopper's jumpy partner, make you wish for the good old days of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. The two performances that lift this out of the gutter are Jodie Foster's and Vincent Prices'. Foster helps, because she brings an intelligence to her role, (as she always does) that none of the others seem to grasp within their characters. Price helps, because his mafia don depiction is just as delightfully ghoulish as many of his past character portrayals. The version I've reviewed is Hopper's "Directors' Cut" video edition. I understand that a different variation was released in Europe. Either way, I just can't seem to see what Hopper intended us as his audience to see.

My Rating = Two Stars

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Saturday:
Flash Gordon (1980)

Flash Gordon
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For the life of me, I can't understand why, I just can't help liking this film version of the popular Alex Raymond comic strip. The plot is basically the same as the old comic strip. Our towering hero Flash (Sam Jones), must save the world from the evil Emperor Ming the Merciless (played with gusto by Max Von Sydow). With the help of reporter Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) and Dr. Zarkov (Topol), as well as various creatures and peoples of Ming's world, Jones just might be the savior of the universe.

Take a wild guess at what happens. True, this is no Star Wars, but it isn't intended to be. It stays true to the campiness of the comic strip and the low budget aspects of the old serials from the 30's. The makers of the film turn it into something fun and humorous. I'll admit, Jones and Anderson weren't my choices for the lead characters, but the supporting cast is excellent, especially Ornella Muti as the seductive Princess Aura and Brian Blessed as the always tough (and always humorous) Prince Vultan.

The great rock score from Queen helps a bit, as does the costume design and art direction. It's not a perfect sci-fi tale, but it's certainly good fun!

My Rating = Three Stars

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Sunday:
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Leaving Las Vegas
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One of the most critically acclaimed films of 1995, it features an Oscar-winning performance by Nicolas Cage as an Alcoholic writer, who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. There, he meets and falls in love with a prostitute (Elizabeth Shue, in an Oscar-nominated performance), who learns how to feel deeply for this lonely depressed man. She too eventually falls in love with him and together they make the perfect Vegas couple. They are two lost souls in search of meaning within their lives.

The performances by Cage and Shue (two of my favorite actors) are superb. Completely different from what they've done before, Cage adds stunning realism to his part, as does Shue, who's character is far from the stereotypical hooker with a heart of gold. The direction by Mike Figgis is quite good too. The script needed some drastic work though. Most of the supporting characters end up being sleazy cliches of Las Vegas inhabitants and it's too depressing at times to tolerate. But, if you're a big fan of Cage and Shue, then this is the perfect film for you.

My Rating = Three Stars

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