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Review of the day for the week of December 30, 1996.

Monday:
A League of Their Own (1992)

League of Their Own, A
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A most entertaining comedy, this tells the story of the Women's Baseball League. The league was set up during WWII, a time when most of baseball's greatest players went off to fight in Europe and in the Pacific. Among the great female players that came out of the league were Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), her kid sister Kit (Lori Petty), Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and Doris Murphy (Rosie O'Donnell). Coaching the women was the job of former baseball player Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a recovering alcoholic who seemed to be a better drinker than a coach.

A very funny story from beginning to end, it's a perfect showcase for the acting-comic talents of Davis, O'Donnell and especially Hanks. Even Madonna, normally unreliable as an actor, is fine. Especially during the baseball sequences! The major problem is the overly melodramatic subplot involving the relationship between Davis and Petty. It does not move you and will not interest you in the least. On the upside, it doesn't draw your attention away from the comedy and sports scenes. The best thing about this is how it opens up a rarely talked about part of history. Thank the sure-footed direction by Penny Marshall, the lightning-paced script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel and especially the performers for that.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Tuesday:
Change of Habit (1969)

Change of Habit
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Elvis "The King" Presley's last feature film as an actor doesn't allow him to bow out with dignity. Heck, Manson was retired with more dignity than Elvis is here. It's not that Presley himself is bad. He still has a interesting screen presence (the thing that drew such huge crowds to his movies), but the story that goes along with this is even more hokey and unbelievable than most of his previous pictures. Mary Tyler Moore plays a nun, who must choose between the handsome Doctor Presley (?!) and her church.

I can understand why Presley wanted to retire from films after this one. Throughout the movie, he seems embarrassed at his performance and Moore looks like she wishes she were in any other film but this particular one, with the exception being her scenes with Elvis, of course. The songs ("Rubberneckin'" and the title song) are annoying and just add insult to injury in Presley's dreadful final years as a rock star. Even dedicated Presley fans wouldn't put this in their top 100, let alone in their top five.

My Rating = Two Stars

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Wednesday:
Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth
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An imaginative fantasy from Jim Henson and Co., Jennifer Connelly stars as a teenage girl, whose young brother has been kidnapped by the Goblin King (David Bowie). To save him, she must work her way through a tricky labyrinth that eventually leads to Bowie's castle. She seems to be receiving help from some of the various creatures (and some impressive muppets from Henson's group) of the huge maze, but like the magical labyrinth and the castle at the center, nothing is what it seems.

Henson really outdid himself with this one. Bowie offers both an awesome performance and an impressive music score. Connelly is equally good in her role, but it's the outstanding muppets that both kids and adults will enjoy the most. This should be very big with any muppet fan.

My Rating = Four Stars

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Thursday:
The Wiz (1978)

The Wiz
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Based on the stage musical, a black version of The Wizard of Oz, Diana Ross plays Dorothy, still following the Yellow Brick Road to the Emerald city. With her by her side (as always) are the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), the Tin Woodman (Nipsey Russell) and the Cowardly Lion (Ted Ross).

Not as memorable as the acclaimed Judy Garland version, but certainly a lot more hip. It's got great musical numbers, a well-organized score from master composer Quincy Jones and some good performances from Jackson, Russell and Ross (Ted that is). The major nadirs are the disappointing ending and the whiny performance by Ross (Diana that is). But I think you can manage to get through those two roadblocks to enjoy a fine musical.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Friday:
Dick Tracy (1990)

Dick Tracy
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The faithful adaptation of Chester Gould's square-jawed, comic book detective, this film perfectly casts Warren Beatty in the title role. He's after "Big Boy" Caprice (Al Pacino) and his grotesque gang of villains. With the help of his faithful sidekick Kid (Charlie Korsmo) and of his love Tess Truehart (Glenne Headly), he's ready to put a stop to Pacino's crimes and put him behind bars.

I know the story is simplistic to the hilt, but there are so many good things about this (action, colorful cinematography, outstanding make-up), that you forget about such details. The actors fit well into their roles, including Pacino, in a performance that's equal to Jack Nicholson's in Batman. Madonna vamps it up as she's never done before as femme fatale, Breathless Mahoney, who has her eye set on seducing Beatty (a real life lover at the time). Beatty needs her simply as a key to stopping Pacino and his criminal underworld. This is for people who enjoyed the comics of the past and for people who want to get into them now.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Saturday:
Striptease (1996)

Striptease
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A truly stupid comedy, this was meant to spoof films like Showgirls, but ended up being just as sleazy as that film. Demi Moore stars as stripper Erin Grant (a role she received $12 million for), who gets caught up in some unusual circumstances in an attempt to win custody of her child (real-life daughter Rumer Willis) from her low-life ex-husband (Robert Patrick). Among the various characters involved in the plot are a homicide detective (Armand Assante), an over-protective bouncer (Ving Rhames) and a dumb-as-dirt congressman (Burt Reynolds).

Well, it's fair to say that Hell has finally frozen over, when films like this are considered entertaining. Moore tries hard acting wise, I'll give her that, but she isn't exactly striking a blow for women's lib. Then there is Reynolds, whose "comeback" role this was supposed to be, gives his most ludicrous performance to date. The humor in this wouldn't even be considered funny by the Beavis and Butt-Head crowd which this film is obviously geared to. Is their anything good about this? The plot! Surprised are you?! You see, the plot had potential of being a good movie, something like Elmore Leonard's pulp fiction novel (and recent movie), Get Shorty. But the filmakers screwed up royal on that point too. After you've seen the first two minutes of this film, you really don't need to stay to see the end.

My Rating = One Star

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Sunday:
Saturday Night Fever (1977)

Saturday Night Fever
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The film that helped make John Travolta a household name and introduced the dance craze known as Disco, this is a lot more than most people make it out to be. But I'll get to that in a minute. First the plot: Travolta portrays young Tony Manero, a Brooklyn youth who feels like his life is going nowhere fast. He finds refuge from the rat race at the Disco 2001 club, where he dances the night away and is the king of Saturday night. But for the other six days of the week, he has to deal with the stress at both the workplace and the homefront. In addition, he's going through the first stages of angst-ridden young love, when he meets the attractive Stephanie (Karen Goren), who might also be a way out from his depressing Brooklyn life.

When most people hear the title of this movie, they simply think "It's just a lame Disco film". Because of the pulsating music from the Bee Gees, people tend to forget that that's only part of the story. Director John Badham shows a film that has more in common with Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets than with movie musicals of the past. It's a thoughtful look at Brooklyn life and it offers a tragically realistic performance from Travolta, who gives one of the best debuts in screen history. There is an excellent climatic dance contest, that would be thrown away by today's audiences as too predictable, if I left the description at that. The reason it's so good is that Travolta, at this climatic point in the film, doesn't give a crap about winning. In fact, he never felt he was good enough to win in the first place. He doesn't care, because it doesn't change his sad existence in Brooklyn one bit. That's what makes the scene different from other scenes of its type, a sc ene (as I said before) that would be predictable in someone else's hands. So when and if you ever see this, don't keep thinking, "Disco sucks". Instead think that you might actually have an interestingly good time with this film experience.

My Rating = Four Stars

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