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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

JULY 20, 1998: 

DON'T LOOK BACK. One of the best documentaries ever made, D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back follows 23-year-old Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of England. Pennebaker helped invent the unobtrusive, cinema verité style that's become the common visual grammar of documentaries, but when this film was released in 1967 it was daring and new. Toting a 16mm black-and-white news camera, Pennebaker trails Dylan backstage, at concerts, through parties. Dylan eyes the camera with a suspicion the MTV generation can only regard with overwhelming nostalgia. The famous opening sequence alone is a study in self-conscious cool, as Dylan stands in an alley, flipping through a stack of cards printed with (some of) the lyrics to Subterranean Homesick Blues, blatantly looking off camera for instructions, with an expression on his face that says when is this going to be over? (A rabbinical Allen Ginsberg lurks in the background.) This is the only part of the film that's staged; the rest has a spontaneous feel, though Dylan continues to be a bit of a cipher, alternately generous and mean-spirited as he enthusiastically plays bits of songs he loves for friends, then enthusiastically makes fun of people less smart or less cool than he is. Pennebaker takes it all in without being overwhelmed by judgment or reverence. The result is an astonishing, potent portrait of the artist as a young man. --Richter


HANGING GARDEN. The word "haunting" seems to have been invented to describe this film about a deeply unhappy family who live on a hill in a lovely house surrounded by a wonderful garden. But surely this is a post-fall garden, as nothing really good seems to grow between any of the family members. There's William, the prodigal (and gay) son returning for the first time in 10 years to attend his sister's wedding; his mother Iris, who has decorated the house all in purple and named her tomboy daughter Violet; and Poppy, the alcoholic patriarch who has made damn sure that no one in his family is any less unhappy than he is. During a long weekend, family secrets are revealed, new alliances are forged, etc., but somehow this film manages not to be clichéd, probably because of the unsentimental, quiet portrait of just how unhappy an unhappy family can be. We haven't seen a childhood this bad on film since Welcome to the Dollhouse. But unlike Welcome to the Dollhouse, Hanging Garden allows its characters to escape their horrible past, or at least try to. --Richter


LETHAL WEAPON 4. The idealized masculinity initially presented in the first Lethal Weapon is finally called into question in the fourth installment in the series. This makes for an overall engaging action film, especially as the genre tends most often to present clichéd, unsympathetic, hypermasculine fighting machines. The former polarization of the nihilistic Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) collapses into the middle, resulting in numerous references to the aging bodies of the characters (and, by extension, the actors) and their inability to live up to former expectations of themselves. This reconfiguration of masculinity is perhaps an attempt to update a series which began over a decade ago, though it still offers a rather narrow definition of manhood. The story itself is standard cop-chase-villain fare, largely an excuse to showcase the fine-tuned banter of Riggs and Murtaugh. Rene Russo and Joe Pesci return in supporting roles; and though the addition of Chris Rock is an obvious attempt to attract younger viewers, he's nevertheless enjoyable as Murtaugh's son-in-law. The generic convention of foreign adversaries is forced and outright offensive at times, as the jokes often poke fun at the ethnicity of the Chinese bad guys (to wit, the tired "flied lice" dig). Though we can expect to find such stereotypes in other incarnations of the genre, it appears that this film closes the book on the series as the lethal weapon of the title, Riggs, concludes his inner struggle by becoming a family man. --Higgins


SMALL SOLDIERS. Director Joe Dante and a team of five writers have given the Child's Play concept a military spin: Now instead of an evil spirit inside a plastic moppet, a super-destructive munitions chip has been mistakenly installed in the latest line of military action figures. The result is a bunch of wisecracking, pop-culture-quoting commandos who proceed to tear up part of a suburban neighborhood. Their mission: to destroy a similarly intelligent set of pacifist dolls, the leader of whose whiskered face literally implies "underdog." The movie contains loads of talent, including the late Phil Hartman and vocalizations by the primary leads from both The Dirty Dozen and This Is Spinal Tap. Copious special effects blend seamlessly with the live action, and the ideas are overflowing--the creators have even thrown in the kitchen sink (complete with garbage disposal). But unlike Dante's similar Gremlins movies, the anarchy becomes too chaotic for its own good. The satiric sensibility has no focus, and the human characters have less personality than the dolls. Though there are clever minds behind the screenplay, the hypocrisy is overwhelming: a mind-numbingly violent criticism of military figures? Which, by the way, are for sale at your local toy store? Talk about self-contradiction. Twelve-year-old boys will love it; everyone else can expect a headache. --Woodruff


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