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Review of the day for the week of January 18, 1999.

Monday:
For the Boys

For the Boys
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Bette Midler stars in the funny comedy For the Boys. The movie begins with her character Dixie as an older lady, refusing to attend an awards dinner with her old show-biz partner, Eddie Sparks. She recounts the story of how she made it "big" to a young agent sent to talk her into attending the show.

During the war, a lot of entertainers got their big break performing in USO tours. In the beginning, Dixie and Eddie did not agree about their show - after their first show together, he chewed her out and tried to fire her. Later, however, they become a great comedy team and eventually had their own TV show. Meanwhile, Dixie's son skipped out of school frequently, and Dixie resented that Eddie became a father figure to him (her husband was killed in the war). Later on, Dixie's uncle is labeled a communist and is fired from his job as a script-writer, which angers Dixie because he helped her get started.

For the Boys is nicely performed and amusing, yet has some very serious moments too. It's interesting the way the story keeps jumping from past to present and so on, and the end is creative.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Tuesday:
Coalminer's Daughter

Coalminer's Daughter
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I'm not big on the stories of country singers' lives, but Coal Miner's Daughter had, if nothing else, some comic value. Most of it was in the vein of "I can't believe someone could be that stupid" or "What a hick", but it was funny, nonetheless.

Loretta Lynn, a coalminer's daughter grew up in Tennesee and apparently derived all her musical training from singing along with the radio. (Only country singers can get away with that.) At thirteen, she married a guy she'd known all of a month. And here's the kicker: their whirlwind romance didn't end in a whirlwind divorce, as you would expect. (Honestly, this true story is harder to believe than some fictional stories!)

Several years later, her husband convinces shy Loretta to sing at a club, and soon she's making records and visiting radio stations. Here's the funny part: in several scenes, clueless Loretta says some idiotic things during live radio interviews. For example, she talks about "getting horny" in one interview, later claiming that she didn't know what that meant. The understandably horrified look on the deejay's face was hilarious. And you have to remember that this was in the fifties, when radio regulations were even stricter than they are today. (Of course today, most interviews are pre-taped to avoid scenes like this.)

Once her career really gets going though, the comic value quickly wears off. When the story became serious, I lost interest fast. And it's pretty obvious that she's going to become famous so, there really aren't any surprises, and all the intimate details about her life aren't fascinating enough to hold much interest. Also, anyone who watches this movie has to be able to stomach quite a lot of country music, much of which is the oh-so-twangy old-fashioned kind.

My Rating = Two Stars

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Wednesday:
In Dreams

In Dreams
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Recently, I read a book about dreams - supposedly, dreams are the vehicle your subconscious uses to tell you things. So if you dream about dogs, you feel that someone is being disloyal to you. If you dream about butterflies, you feel happy and prosperous. If you dream about crazed psycho killers coming after you - to the point that you slit your own wrists- you belong in the loony bin.

Actually, that last example didn't come out of a book - I simply came to that assumption while watching In Dreams, in which Annette Benning stars as Claire Cooper, a woman who has some serious nightmares. In her precognitive dreams, she sees psycho killer Vivian Thompson (Robert Downey Jr.) murdering children - including her own daughter. (Why is it that Vivian is the name stuck on all characters of less than honorable reputation? First, Julia Roberts played a hooker named Vivian in Pretty Woman; now Robert Downey Jr. is a killer named Vivian. How could my parents have done this to me?) Eventually, she does indeed end up in the funny farm - although her dreams of deadly premonitions are not only real, but extremely accurate.

The best way to describe In Dreams would be to say that it's a very weird movie. In some ways, it is not particularly well - scripted - some of the scenes are terribly overdone. On the other hand, it is fast paced and was strangely captivating, for a movie that was so loosely plotted. The acting was terrific, and if nothing else, In Dreams was certainly intense. It starts out subtly spooky, a wonderful way to build suspense in films, but then it rapidly segues into a downward spiral of blood, gore, and deep psychological probing. As I was waiting in the insufferably long bathroom line after seeing In Dreams, I heard a woman remark that the movie was "a wild ride". Not a bad way of putting it.

My Rating = Three Stars

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Thursday:
Virus

Virus
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I've noticed that all horror/sci-fi/thriller movies have basically the same host of characters. There are two or three people - human sacrifices, if you will - who are the first to get bumped off by whoever or whatever is after everyone; these poor losers only serve the purpose of pointing out the problem, whatever that may be. Then there's always at least one easily - idolized martyr - the unlucky hero who gets to die saving everyone else. And of course, there are the real heroes - the lucky few who survive. And someone always - I repeat, always- saves the day, so you have your perfect little sadistically happy ending.

Now that I've got the formula figured out, not much surprises me. Virus is no exception.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays Kelly Foster, a ship navigator who accompanies her wrecked ship's crew and captain onto a deserted Russian ship, which comes complete with satellite dishes and every other high tech gadget that you can imagine. It appears that the ship was receiving a satellite transmission from the MIR space station when an evil, electrical based "life form" - that's an alternative way of saying "space alien"- invaded. After destroying the space station, the life form transmitted itself down to the Russian ship via satellite. (And I thought trash TV was the worst thing satellite could beam down to Earth!)

Although I liked Foster's tough, no-nonsense personality, I didn't care for anything else in this senseless film. Although the acting was fine, the roles didn't offer much room for Oscar winning performances. Unfortunately, most sci-fi thrillers fit the aforementioned plot description, and Virus falls right into that category with a thud. (Which is not to say that ALL sci-fi thrillers end up this way - the Alien movies and Contact are rare exceptions.) Virus is only good for a few shocks, although I saw those coming.

My Rating = Two Stars

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Friday:
The Thin Red Line

The Thin Red Line
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Do you know what really annoys me? When movie previews state, "starring big-stars so-and-so and so-and-so", then deliver a movie which features those actors in such small cameo roles that if you blink, you might just miss them entirely.

Such is the problem with The Thin Red Line, an intolerably boring, three-hour World War II rip-off of Saving Private Ryan. I thought I was going to see John Travolta and George Clooney in big roles. Instead, they appeared for five minutes each. An unfamiliar actor that I didn't recognize (Adrien Brody) portrayed the main character, Cpl. Fife a woeful, overly philosophical World War II soldier who faithfully writes long, "What is this world coming to?" type letters to his beloved wife. She eventually writes back to inform him that she's fallen in love with another man and wants a divorce. Boy, did I see that coming. Rule of thumb for movie characters: if you truly love someone, if you're really devoted to them heart and soul, it's guaranteed that they're going find someone else and dump you when you least expect it.

And as I mentioned earlier, The Thin Red Line is a very dull version of Saving Private Ryan. The action lacks interest, and this movie is way too heavy on the philosophy. The same message - let's have world peace, let's not kill each other, duh!- could have been delivered in much less time and a lot fewer words.

My Rating = Two Stars

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