Weekly Wire
The Boston Phoenix Film Reviews

OCTOBER 20, 1997: 

The House of Yes

Adapted from the Wendy MacLeod play, Mark Waters's The House of Yes is a house of cards -- a flimsy structure of forced whimsy, contrived absurdity, and hit-and-miss outrageousness held together by two shrewd and powerful performances. One is from the ubiquitous Parker Posey, who turns in her best work to date in her most over-the-top role as Jackie-O, the privileged, psychopathic daughter of the serenely twisted Mrs. Pascal -- who's played with equal brilliance by Geneviève Bujold.

It seems that long ago, on the day John Kennedy was assassinated, Mr. Pascal mysteriously disappeared and Jackie-O developed a fetishistic fascination with Camelot, especially the late president's widow, whom she dresses up as. She also developed an unusually intense affection for her twin brother, Marty (a bumptious Josh Hamilton). Her host of symptoms, barely controlled by chemicals, erupt when Marty visits the family manse at the height of a hurricane with his new, blue-collar fiancée Lesly (a horsy Tori Spelling) in tow. The family dysfunctions mount with the storm, and what begins as promising farce collapses into nonsense. Fortunately, all the best lines belong to Posey and Bujold, who deliver them with, respectively, acid hysteria and regal malevolence, providing the stabilizing eye for this histrionic hurricane. At the Kendall Square.

-- Peter Keough

Fast, Cheap, & Out of Control

Despite its gag-like title and its riddle-like premise -- what do a topiary gardener, a robot engineer, a mole-rat expert and a lion tamer have in common? -- Errol Moris's exhilarating and original new Fast, Cheap & Out of Control says a lot more about the human place in the universe than his ponderous A Brief History of Time. Interweaving and paralleling the lives, work obsessions and eccentricities of his four unlikely subjects (much credit is due his editors, especially Karen Schmeer), Morris has achieved the cinematic equivalent of a Bach fugue, delightful in its wit and intricacies and, in the end, spiritually elevating.

Any one of the four alone would have made a fascinating film. Rodney Brooks, the MIT-based robot designer, exudes sheer exuberance in just being able to put gadgets together and get them to move, and his cute six-legged creations mirror his delight in their cartoon-character antics (a paper he co-wrote proposing to explore space with thousands of inexpensive robots gives the film its title). Equally childlike is Ray Mendez, who makes environments to study the mole rat, a hairless burrow-dwelling rodent that may be the only mammal with antlike social behavior.

Sadder are the older George Mendonça, who tends a garden filled with animal-shaped topiary, and retired trainer Dave Hoover, who reminisces about his favorite lions, now toothless and with cloudy eyes -- neither foresees his life's work surviving him. The arcana of their trades are rapturously photographed as the film dances from machines that look like insects to animals that act like them, from topiary shaped into beasts to beasts shaped into a kind of topiary. In its search for the nature and likely survival of humanity, Fast Cheap & Out of Control revels in that essence of what it is to be human -- a sense of play. At the Kendall Square.

-- Peter Keough


RocketMan poses two important questions: Is there life on Mars? And what happens if you fart in a spacesuit? Whereas the first remains a mystery, anyone who's seen the previews knows that Harland Williams answers the latter in RocketMan's defining scene. Williams plays Fred Randall, a goofball computer-guy turned astronaut for the first Mars mission. At first the crew resent Randall's bungling (he serves hemorrhoid cream for dinner!), but eventually they learn to love him when he shows heart, befriends the obligatory chimp, and saves the day in heartwarming Disney fashion. This could have been Williams's Ace Ventura, but the film's five good jokes are spread out over its 90 minutes, and Williams lacks the charisma to jump-start his career, or even carry his own vehicle. Instead, he hams up the dork role, mugs relentlessly, sings campy songs, and makes off-color Chinese jokes. RocketMan doesn't stink, it just runs out of gas. At the Copley Place, the Fresh Pond, and the Chestnut Hill and in the suburbs.

-- Dan Tobin

Most Wanted

In Living Color's Keenen Ivory Wayans stars, writes, and produces in this thunderous action thriller. The good news is that Wayans infuses the potentially dry formulaic plot with his comedic wit. The bad news is that Most Wanted is a by-the-numbers production that perpetuates its momentum with a convoluted conspiracy thread.

Like Nick Cage's convict in Con Air, Wayans plays a serviceman who is given a stiff sentence for a self-defense killing. He's plucked from death row by a profiteering general (Jon Voight adding to his current resume of campy, over-the-top villains) running a covert assassin squad. For reasons darker and more surreptitious than those behind Whitewater, Wayans's first assignment goes afoul and he winds up getting framed for sniping off the First Lady. Jill Hennessy tags along in her wonder bra as Wayans's reluctant accomplice in his quest to prove his innocence; Eric Roberts and Paul Sorvino are purely garnish as CIA heavies. Besides Voight, the other real pleasure comes from the pedestrian chase along the LA freeway -- it's a delightfully bizarre mix of signature elements from Invasion of the Body Snatchers and To Live and Die in L.A. At the Copley Place, the Fresh Pond, and the Allston and in the suburbs.

-- Tom Meek

Weekly Wire Suggested Links

  • Off Camera - A full length review of The House of Yes from this week's NewCityNews
  • Least Appreciated - A full length review of Most Wanted from this week's Weekly Alibi

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