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Tucson Weekly Film Clips

AUGUST 11, 1997: 

AIR FORCE ONE. A high-octane blend of action and patriotism fuel this predictable, average action flick. Harrison Ford plays one really worried looking Commander-in-Chief, scheming with all his nation-building smarts to save his family and staff from the clutches of savage terrorists. They don't believe in the sanctity of human life! They speak English with Russian accents! There are problems with fuel, problems with parachutes, guns, explosions--you know the drill. Gary Oldman, as the rat-like terrorist leader, is actually sort of charming; but Air Force One lacks the ingenuity and humor that sometimes make this kind of movie fun. Or, imagine Speed in the air, with Keanu Reeves as President. --Richter

BRASSED OFF! This goofy, affable, golden-retriever of a movie trots along offering modest pleasures and no real surprises. The time is the 1980s; the place a coal-mining town in England where Margaret Thatcher's policies are forcing the closure of the pit that supports an entire community. And with it will go the brass band that's offered a small slice of glory and culture to men who spend most of their lives underground. To top it all off, a girl wants to join the band! Underground heartthrob Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting) portrays an angry young trumpet player with his usual flair, and Pete Postlethwaite does a fine job as the single-minded, ailing band leader; but Tara Fitzgerald is flimsy and annoying as the city-girl horn player Gloria. Plus, you could toss a tuba through the holes in the plot. Why doesn't the band ever turn the pages of the sheet music on the stands in front of them? --Richter

CONTACT. Jodie Foster plays an emotionally crippled scientist intent on visiting space aliens in this very long, sentimental, but nonetheless moving science fiction film. Despite that annoying, over-earnest quality Foster brings to all her roles as an adult, she's very good as the driven Ellie Arroway, a researcher so focused on seeking solace in the skies that she forgets to notice how many people on earth love her. Matthew McConaughey plays her nemesis/boyfriend, a hunky, non-denominational preacher who's somehow secured the position of saving the soul of a nation. There's some silly confusion between God and aliens, and Ellie has an annoying habit of looking at her boyfriend whenever anyone asks her a question, like maybe he's going to answer for her? Please. Nonetheless, the script, based on a story by Carl Sagan, manages to link the themes of scientific curiosity and spiritual longing despite some weak sections, and the special effects are nothing short of wonderful. --Richter

GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE. A recent New Yorker cartoon depicts a man watching a program that's "Rated 'P' for 'poop'." The cartoonist must have just seen George of the Jungle, a work that comes closer to the cinematic equivalent of "Pull my finger!" than anything since Blazing Saddles. In this kids' movie with inappropriate adult tendencies, villains are regularly foiled by armpit odor, elephant urine, ape farts and big piles of, yes, poop. I never saw the '70s cartoon upon which the movie is based, but I'd bet a year's supply of Nice 'n Soft that excretory processes didn't receive such focus. I'd also bet two coconuts and a banana that George's efforts to have sex with his high-society love interest weren't a major plot point, either. Though Brendan Fraser and Leslie Mann make attractive, unpretentious leads for a Tarzan story (the former looking like he just completed a vigorous muscle-building-and-body-oiling program), and George of the Jungle's production values are uncommonly high for a slapstick picture, I left the theater wondering whether all of Hollywood was collectively regressing to their Freudian Anal Stage. (Adding insult to injury, a preview for Flubber showed a scene in which the springy substance flies into a man's mouth and explodes out of his butt.) Naturally, kids in the audience loved it. --Woodruff

MEN IN BLACK. Watching this movie is like having a bizarre, detailed series of dreams just prior to dawn. You wake up amused at the scope and silliness of your imagination--then later you realize you can barely remember any of it. That's a good thing because Men in Black doesn't have much in the way of substance, such as characterization or story. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (of the Addams Family pictures), the film is designed to dazzle you quickly and let you get back to your life (unlike The Fifth Element). Its special effects stay on the screen only long enough to impress, the performances are punchy, and key events are delivered in quick, jab-like brush strokes. Playing a super-competent but hopelessly opaque agent, Tommy Lee Jones works hard and fast, while buddy/partner Will Smith supplies his stock charisma (thankfully with much less cheesiness than in Independence Day) as the confused, personable newcomer. Their efforts to track down a mean, war-mongering alien in New York aren't nearly as fun as the movie's overall vision of a reality where extraterrestrials come and go freely, under our noses, while jaded government agents keep them in check, and universe-sized creatures play marbles with the cosmos. It's a slick, light-spirited summer product, the kind so confident it glibly announces its intentions for a sequel at the end. --Woodruff

OPERATION CONDOR. Jackie Chan, the bouncy, cartoon-like genius of Hong Kong action flicks, is back to defend the honor of the free world. He's been sent on a mission by the United Nations to uncover a cleverly guarded cache of Nazi gold. No, it's not in a numbered Swiss bank account, it's in the middle of the Sudan (I think), surrounded by angry natives, foxy young girls and bad-tempered henchmen. Every few minutes Chan must fight these fellows; he's quite good-natured about this, and though violence abounds no one seems to ever really get hurt. The dialogue is badly dubbed into English but the stunts are terrific, though after a while the shotgun karate kicks get a little mind-numbing. But isn't that what it's all about? --Richter

NOTHING TO LOSE. I had a dream I was trying to write this thing here but I couldn't remember the name of the movie...A swirling mass of trite phrases...orange, manta ray, a dwarf.... I believed the title might be the vaguely homoerotic The Bigger The Bucks; then I was convinced it was Nobody's Business, which I believe to be the name of some other movie (in real life). Bland, empty, meaningless wordplays arose and fell away in my tormented head; scenes from 20 different buddy movies blended together and recombined: A married man kisses a girl in an elevator while he is being lobotomized. Alas, nothing that interesting: It's just your standard black guy/white guy buddy movie, with Tim Robbins as an advertising executive out-of-control. Strange coincidences that somehow aren't that strange and sugar-coated family scenes add up to something so bland and forgettable that really, I am awake now and I can't remember the title. I'm going to go look it up. --Richter

SPAWN. A film based on Todd McFarlane's big, dumb comic book is (surprise!) a big, dumb comic-book movie. The plot involves a government agent (Michael Jai White) who gets double-crossed by his boss (Martin Sheen) and sent to hell, where Satan makes a deal with him: He can return to earth only if he leads the minions of hell against the gates of heaven. Well, whatever. The effects (other than the computer animated representation of Satan, who looks like the warrior princess from the first Mortal Kombat game) are pretty; the sets at times more than perfunctory; the acting, atrocious across the board (with the exception of John Leguizamo, who at least enjoys himself as an evil demon clown). But it's the script that deserves the full brunt of criticism: Dull, clunky and uninspired, it drags the characters around so predictably and without effect that it'll leave even hardcore Spawn-ites unenthused. Avoid this shrieking mess at all costs. Summer, please be over soon. --Marchant

ULEE'S GOLD. This sweet, slow-paced movie about a beekeeper who holds his family together through a period of chaos is uneven but ultimately rewarding. Peter Fonda plays Ulee, an emotionally withdrawn man who must muster all his resources to save his family from mayhem, dissolution, and The Law. Some of the supporting characters aren't quite as well drawn as Ulee, but the story is mostly about him anyway. This quiet movie harbors big themes about the value of labor, the redemptive power of nature, and the daily task of giving love, but doesn't hit you over the head with them. And the bees are cool. --Richter


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