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JANUARY 26, 1998: 

OSCAR & LUCINDA

Fate, chance and gambling are at the center of Gillian Armstrong's elegant, moving adaptation of Peter Carey's richly detailed, Booker Prize-winning novel. Perhaps one of the best-looking movies eligible for this year's many movie industry awards, "Oscar and Lucinda," like "The Boxer," seems fated to be overlooked in the mad rush to commend "Titanic" for its craft and commercial cunning. It's a sad situation. Ralph Fiennes plays the nineteenth-century ancestor of a present-day narrator who is embellishing the tale of how one Oscar Hopkins came together to influence the narrator's lineage, as well as to share with Lucinda Leplastrier (Cate Blanchett) a few common interests, which include a love for gambling, a dream of building a glass church in the wilds of Australia north of Sydney, and a desire for each other they somehow repeatedly fail to consummate. Fiennes seems at first a red-haired scarecrow, but his shyness is less the story than the acute sensitivity he brings to his driven character, escaping from his devout childhood, and later, from being an Anglican minister. The loping digressions of the story are better enjoyed than described, and Armstrong is in control throughout. Her collaborators do mesmeric work as well: Thomas Newman's haunting score is both romantic and driven; Geoffrey Simpson's cinematography may be his best in a career filled with strong work; and costumes by Janet Patterson, on a par with her work for Jane Campion on "The Piano" and "The Portrait of a Lady." Panavision. (Ray Pride)


SPICE WORLD

It should have been worse. And goddammit if all five Spices don't have a more natural delivery than professional actor Keanu Reeves. From the opening credits, where the Spices' flaming silhouettes dance across the screen a la the Bond films (Roger Moore even plays a minor role as a label mogul), to the opening scene of them singing on stage dressed in virginal white ass-cheek-baring, cleavage-enhancing and navel-revealing Spicewear, it's clear that it's all about being a girl. And what do the girl-power media phenoms of the universe (we learn they're really big in Italy and with extraterrestials) actually do? Spice it up slumber party-style on their deluxe tour bus while cruising London of course. But even though these women hold hands and do team fashion shoots, moments of tension still arise over borrowed clothing. Dream sequences abound in this film -- the girls are so overworked they resort to their imaginations to spice up their lives. But all is not perfect in Spice World. A tabloid editor hellbent on breaking them up before their concert has set a photographer capable of squeezing through a toilet after them. Meanwhile American movie guys Mark McKinney and George Wendt pitch Spice Girl movie ideas (hence more dream sequences) to the Spices' nervous manager, who ultimately hears the very tale that unfolds before our eyes. Comic relief is provided by a self-important documentary filmmaker trying to capture the true essence of Spice. And a touch of Lifetime drama is supplied courtesy of a dear old pregnant friend whose baby they help deliver. At least the Spice Girls are willing to face up to the fact that they suck. After a run-through of a song for the concert, a crew member nonchalantly sums it up, "Absolutely perfect. Without actually being any good." The bland truth of the Spice Girls phenomenon. (Suzy Milenkovich)


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