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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

JANUARY 25, 1999: 

DANCING AT LUGHNASA. None of our reviewers can stand to even be in the same multiplex as a Meryl Streep film, so we didn't check this one out first hand. We understand it's set in 1930s Ireland and involves Streep playing one of a group of unmarried sisters awaiting the return of their brother from Africa. I'm guessing that other critics will use the words "poignant" and "affecting" in their reviews, and that Streep will add a fanciful brogue to her catalogue of incompetently executed accents. I get the creeps just thinking about it.

HURLYBURLY. It's a common refrain of first-year film school students that film is a "visual medium." They say this whenever a talky picture comes their way as a means of dismissing it without too much thought. What's missing from this little axiom is that ever since the 1920s, film has also been an auditory medium...you can verify this by going to just about any movie and listening for noises, sounds and sweet airs. Hurlyburly is definitely not a visual film; its 122 minutes are filled with almost endless chatter, delivered at cocaine-frenzied pace by Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri and Garry Shandling. Needless to say, with a cast like that the performances are fabulous, and the David Rabe-penned dialogue is up to the challenge these actors lay down. Hurlyburly tells the story of four misogynistic, drug-addicted, Hollywood players who lapse into rapid-fire philosophizing between snorts of blow and meaningless sexual encounters with underage runaways. Penn and Spacey are roommates and a kind of post-ethical odd couple, with Spacey's cold demeanor and imperturbable impeccability igniting Penn's hysterical bundle of male emotions. If verbal acrobatics and Actor's Studio performances are your cup of tea, Hurlyburly is probably your best bet amongst the current crop of movies. On the other hand, if you're looking for a slow-moving meditation on the imagery of early spring, you'd best shop elsewhere. --DiGiovanna

PATCH ADAMS. A heartily insulting moving that, strangely, also occasionally works. Robin Williams stars in the allegedly true story of Hunter "Patch" Adams, an early '70s medical student whose experiments in humor therapy almost got him kicked out of school. Tom "Ace Ventura" Shadyac's direction is baldly manipulative and simplistic, and the music couldn't be more syrupy and trivializing. Yet for every embarrassing moment in the movie, there are a few saving graces. When Williams sneaks into a hospital ward to do zany clown antics for cute chemo-kids, it's creepy--who the hell does he think he is? But the movie rarely plays down the negative reactions of his peers and mentors; with the exception of one straw man (the humorless dean), it acknowledges that their suspicions are valid. This effectively mitigates the New Agey message, as does the fact (assuming the screenplay isn't lying) that when not compassionately horsing around, Adams consistently got high A's in his classes. Patch Adams is flaky, but it's a flakiness that doesn't crumble, and it's further aided by some swift dialogue at key moments (which Williams delivers well) and solid supporting performances. Especially good is Philip Seymour Hoffman--remember him as the fat guy with a crush on Mark Wahlberg in Boogie Nights? Here he's a hoity-toity, upper-crust med student, and his performance is spot-on. Those with a strong gag reflex rightfully won't like Patch Adams, but they may need a smaller sick bag than expected. --Woodruff

PLAYING BY HEART. Going to the movies is, to some extent, a way to rent some feelings for 110 minutes. With action films, you get exactly what you pay for, and all the feelings are returned, intact, when the credits roll. Other films, like "feel-good" movies, sometimes leave an audience buoyed for a few hours or even the rest of the day. Then there are the deeply disturbing movies--films like Happiness, Eraserhead, or the almost impossibly painful Happy Games--that can leave a viewer sickened and edgy for days or weeks. If you pro-rate your $7.50 admission fee over the time it takes to recover from one of these films, they wind up being your best emotion-rental value, but they often involve getting far more than you bargained for. Thus, the best mid-range value in feelings for sale is probably the tear-jerker, as it has a very strong pay-out during the time it's being watched, and then, if well done, produces a pleasant, post-cathartic feeling as the audience departs for the parking lot. With that in mind, Playing by Heart is well worth the money. A five-hanky film, it's only rarely maudlin, and is well written and well paced. A Robert Altman-style narrative weaves together the romantic tribulations of three sisters (Gillian Anderson, Angelina Jolie and Madeleine Stowe) and their mother and father (Gena Rowlands and Sean Connery) over the course of a series of evenings in Los Angeles. While all the actors do smashingly well (except for Ryan Phillippe, who's so beautiful that he's got an excuse for just standing around and pouting), there are stand-out performances by Jolie as a manic hipster with great fashion sense, and Dennis Quaid as a depressed guy who pretends to be a lot of different depressed guys. Also starring Ellen Burstyn, Jay Mohr, Anthony Edwards and Nastassja Kinski, with cinematography by the over-talented Vilmos Zsigmond (Deer Hunter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies). --DiGiovanna

VIRUS. If you count a couple of TV movies, Virus is Donald Sutherland's 99th film. Sutherland is renowned for making quick cash by appearing in awful films that, in the old days, wound up on the unreleased shelves of the studio's cold storage facility. Nowadays they'd go straight to video. If you read a list of all his movies, you'd probably only recognize the titles of 10 percent of them. Nonetheless, he's managed to show up in such acclaimed and important films as M.A.S.H., Johnny Got His Gun, Little Murders and Klute. What's up with that? In Virus, he plays an evil ship's captain who can't decide whether or not he has an Irish accent, so he teams up with a robot monster from outer space to put the kibosh on Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin, and four other people of varying degrees of stardom. Reasonably entertaining, but the comic book was better. --DiGiovanna

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