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DECEMBER 1, 1997: 

A Chorus Line

D: Richard Attenborough (1985) with Michael Douglas, Terence Mann, Audrey Landers, Alyson Reed, Nicole Fosse, Janet Jones

Sometimes the hits of Broadway should stay right where they are -- onstage. In making what used to be a time-honored tradition of stage-to-screen leaps, A Chorus Line trips and falls on its face in a woefully misguided adaptation. The thing is, the film isn't unwatchable, it's just flat. The story of a group of wannabe Broadway dancers trying their luck before a noted director (Michael Douglas) sets the scene for an ensemble cast tour de force with its audition-cum-confession; even when individual dancers command attention, the concept doesn't quite jell. (Line dancer Michelle Johnston would go on to reprise a similar character as choreographer in Showgirls.) A few of the well-choreographed numbers work -- Audrey Landers' sassy strut to "Dance: Ten, Looks: Three," and a tune written for the film, "Surprise, Surprise" -- but both the showstopping "What I Did for Love" and "One Singular Sensation" are tepid. A Chorus Line's most tender moment is the heartachingly lovely "At the Ballet," and you almost think it will be redeemed, but no. Maybe it's just too many personalities being projected willy-nilly in an attempt to create a well-rounded, multiethnic cast. Maybe it's too many of Michael Douglas' constipated expressions when a former flame (Alyson Reed) comes prancing into the audition demanding a shot at the spotlight. Somehow, A Chorus Line just never reaches the high-kick heights that it should. -- Margaret Moser

Men in Black

D: Barry Sonnenfeld (1997)

with Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino

At last, someone remembered how to make a good sci-fi movie! In a year of otherwise ho-hum fare, Men in Black has earned not only some critical respect, but will also win this year's contest as number one box office draw, edging out The Lost World. And the movie deserves both, for with its clever, funny script and dead-on acting by Smith and Jones, Men in Black gets it all just about right, succeeding at mixing the sci-fi and comedy genres where recent experiments like Mars Attacks! crashed and burned. Also noteworthy is Linda Fiorentino, who had practically vanished from the map in recent years, almost unbilled in a great supporting role. While the plotline about chasing an interstellar bug around New York is a little spare (clocking in at around 90 minutes) and devoid of much depth, it's so damn funny that you'll almost forget about all of that... another trick that recent offerings haven't pulled off either. So, is the success of Men In Black a fluke, the beginning of a franchise that will roll over and die like Batman's did? Who knows, and either way it goes, the original is a film that deserves to be seen.

-- Christopher Null

Men In Black


D: Michael Caton-Jones (1989)

with Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Bridget Fonda, John Hurt, Jeroen Krabbe, Ian McKellen, Britt Ekland, Roland Gift

In these days of Independence Day-like promotion of blockbuster films, it's easy to overlook the amazing grace of less-trumpted works like Scandal. A scrumptuous detailing of the scandalous affair that brought down England's Cabinet Minister John Profumo, in Scandal director Caton-Jones has faithfully recreated early Sixties swinging London, with its East End nightlife, ska clubs, and girls galore. Joanne Whalley-Kilmer and Bridget Fonda are impeccably cast as the lush, sensual Christine Keeler and the alluring Mandy Rice-Davies, two working class showgirls who find themselves as escorts and consorts to Russian attachés and drug drealers as well as members of Parliament. John Hurt portrays Dr. Stephen Ward, a London physician of little money but immense charm... and a knack for finding attractive girls to keep around for decoration and company. The parties seem to never end, but when they do, the fragile structure Ward built shatters, leaving him accused of treachery and abandoned by the high society that had once flocked to him. Casting is impeccable -- Ian McKellen's obsequious Minister of War John Profumo, Roland Gift's upstart lowlife, Jeroen Krabbe's moody Russian diplomat -- the settings evocative, and the costuming and make-up perfectly catching the overdone look of the times. (Bridget Fonda's Mandy Rice-Davies, decked out in a maribou pillbox hat, has a wickedly scene-stealing wave to the TV cameras as she exits the courtroom.) Better yet, the story carries its high standards all the way through to its sad, lonely ending. (Available in R and Unrated versions.)

-- Margaret Moser

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