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Review of the day for the week of August 26, 1996.

Monday:
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

Born on the Fourth of July
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Of all of Oliver Stone's film work, this is without a doubt his masterpiece. It tells the true story of Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise), who was paralyzed from the waist down. The story follows Kovic's struggle with his physical and mental anguish, through those turbulent and painful years in America.

Oliver Stone and Tom Cruise reached their peaks with this touching story, that (like most Stone films) recreates the 1960's and 1970's Vietnam war era in America better than any film has done in the past. Cruise gives his most metamorphic performance to date, as he changes from a cocky naive teenager, to a gung-ho soldier, to an embittered vet and finally, to a famed anti-war protester. He does it so brilliantly that you can honestly feel his pain and endurance. Stone also gives us some of the most grim images of paraplegic rehabilitation ever portrayed on screen. The script, written by Stone and the real life Ron Kovic, is most excellent, as is the beautiful cinematography by regular Stone cameraman, Robert Richardson. This is one of the superior anti-war films in cinema history, reminding us unremittingly about the insanity behind the Vietnam War and all wars in general.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Tuesday:
Dazed and Confused (1993)

Dazed and Confused
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One of many "youth" films from director Richard Linklater (Slacker), this is one of his funniest and most poignant films so far. It follows the lives of various groups of teenagers, during the last day of school in 1976, as they roam around their hometown. We hear their personal philosophies about life, work, love and especially their futures. Among the characters, there is Randall "Pink" Floyd (Jason London), a young football player, pressured into choosing between being drug-free or being a team player. Then there is Mitch (Wiley Wiggins), an upcoming high school freshman, who is spending the day running away from the abusive local high-school hazing team, while attempting to hang out with older kids like London and London's buds.

I'd have to say that I've never really liked the so-called "teen" films of the past few decades. They've never portrayed teenagers in a really interesting or positive way. Some of the characters in those films you can relate to, but most are just mindless stereotypes that seem completely alien to me. With Dazed and Confused, it's the other way around. There are a couple of cliches, like the class stoner (a very funny Rory Cochrane), but most of them seem like living breathing human beings, rather than a bunch of made-up dummies. Most of the cast (Wiggins, Cochrane, London) are excellent. The dialogue is superb. This isn't a great film for people who look back on the 70's as a nostalgic time, but then this is more honest then the usual dippy teen fare (Clueless, Beverly Hills, 90210) that's come out for the moment!

My Rating = Four Stars

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Wednesday:
Passion Fish (1992)

One of the many great film works of director John Sayles (Matewan), this incredibly original story introduces us to a soap opera actress (Mary McDonnell), who has recently been paralyzed in a car accident. She moves back to her Louisiana family home, where she becomes a self-proclaimed "Bitch on Wheels", and where she can be miserable to her hearts content. Then, after a string of nurses, her latest one (Alfre Woodard) stands up to her and refuses to put up with McDonnell's stubbornness towards recovering.

Like all Sayles films, this one has perfect dialogue, acting, directing, editing and atmosphere. McDonnell and Woodard give their best performances to date, as they play off each other quite beautifully. It's not Sayles' greatest work, but it's very near the top of the list.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Thursday:
Before Sunrise (1995)

Before Sunrise
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The most recent film from Richard Linklater (Slacker), where the plot revolves around two young twenty-somethings (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy), who meet on a train in Europe and strike up a conversation. They talk for awhile and find that they have a lot in common. When the train reaches Vienna, they both decide to leave the train together for a walk around the city. Along the way, they fall in love with each other, and discuss various topics such as love, death and how they have dealt with their family, friends and past lovers.

Like a lot of Linklater's work, this isn't for everyone's taste, mostly because it's all talk. However, like My Dinner with Andre, the talk is interesting, witty with intelligent conversation. The two leads are most excellent. This is one of the few romance films of the 1990's, that never uses the same old cloying formula for romance films (like the recent Bed of Roses and Only You), and is completely original in telling its story. A fun sleeper that you should see with someone you love or care about.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Friday:
Paris, Texas (1984)

Paris, Texas
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One of German director Wim Wenders' many great movies, this won the coveted Palme d'Or award at Cannes. It involves a drifter (Harry Dean Stanton), who has been lost in the wilderness of Texas for four years. He has lost all memory of his former life. Then, he comes to a small town in the desert, where Stanton's brother (Dean Stockwell) finds him. Stockwell returns to his home in LA with his long lost brother in tow. Stanton is meanwhile beginning to remember who he is and what he has done in the past. He knows he must search for his wife and son. He finds his son (Hunter Carson) in the custody of Stockwell and his wife (Aurore Clement). He finds his wife (Nastassja Kinski) in a sleazy strip joint in Houston. However, despite these problems, he attempts to reconcile with Carson and Kinski and bring them together again.

A most compelling drama, with some of the most amazing work ever done by filmaker Wenders, screenwriter Sam Shepard and the cast, such as Stockwell and Stanton. Kinski comes off amazingly fine and young Carson gives one of the best juvenile performances to date. The cinematography, capturing the desolation of the American southwest, is simply breathtaking. It's a tad slow, but it is something you should not miss.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Saturday:
Wings of Desire (1988)

Wings of Desire
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Director Wim Wenders' masterpiece follows the day to day life of two angels (Bruno Ganz and Otto Sander) in Berlin, who wander the streets invisible to humans, while being very influential in their mortal lives. Both Ganz and Sander ponder over what it's like to be human, but when Ganz falls in love with a French trapeze artist (Solveig Dommartin), he becomes enthralled with the idea of becoming human.

This is a beautiful poetic film, with exquisite cinematography in both black-and-white and color. The performances by Ganz, Sander and Dommartin are amazing. The best performance, however, comes from Peter Falk, as an American actor in Berlin, who knows of the angel's existence and befriends Ganz, when Ganz becomes human. Wenders has dedicated this film to famed directors (and "Fallen Angels") Yasujiro Ozu, Andrei Tarkovsky and Francois Truffaut. It's an affectionate homage to these directors and the art of filmaking. You could say it's Wenders' 8 1/2.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Sunday:
Faraway, So Close! (1993)

The sequel to Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire, this one follows the adventures of angel Otto Sander (Cassiel from the first film), who becomes mortal like his fallen pal Bruno Ganz. Unlike Ganz, who became mortal after falling in love with trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin), Sander becomes human because he feels he can help humanity. He gets into a bit of trouble at first, thanks to the help of Emit Flesti (Willem Dafoe), an angel supervisor who gets Sander thrown in jail on his first day as a human. Ganz and Dommartin come to the rescue and help Sander adjust to the human world. After Sander gets himself established in society, he starts helping out the people he once observed as an angel. His main task is to help a gangster (Horst Buchholz) go straight. This is not such an easy thing, since Buchholz seems like an unredeemable asshole.

Though not the perfect Wim Wenders' movie, it certainly has a good cast, who do their very best. Peter Falk returns as the slightly eccentric actor, who helped out Ganz in the first movie, and who now helps Sander out this time. Sander is perfectly cast in a Stranger-in-a-Strange-Land type of character. The story is a bit lightweight, and much zanier than the first film, but with such an appealing cast, there are plenty of fine moments. It's a good, but not great companion piece to Wings of Desire.

My Rating = Three Stars

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