JANUARY 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 1


FEATURE | A Simple Plan
The Prince of Egypt

LAST | Psycho | American History X


Short Takes
Grading from A-F

Dreamworks attempts to dethrone the mighty Disney animation team with this musical version of Moses and the Ten Commandments. Oddly enough, the stone tablets appear only in the closing scene of the film and play an entirely insignificant role. Rather than portray the religious implications of the Jews flight from Egypt -- Moses confronting the paganists has been ignored -- this "animation for adults" comes close to clothing Moses in the garb of a fantastic magician. And a hollow, dull one at that. Moses loses all of his earlier abundance of personality and charm once he encounters God. For too much of the film the story lags behind Dreamworks' fantasticly rendered animation.

The "new" Psycho is a classic exercise in form without substance, in getting lost in a gifted director's footsteps. Rather than reworking a story and visuals into a modern statement of what is happening in today's world, Gus van Sant is blinded by the stature of a great director he can only be a fan of and admits by his approach that he has nothing new to say. (more)

This extremely disturbing yet powerful look at white supremacy rides the fine line between a point well-taken and overbearance. On one hand the film, starring Edward Norton and Edward Furlong, accomplishes its goal of casting hate groups in a revolting, dangerous light. On the other, it provides little hope for change and glosses over and stereotypes most of its minority characters. Norton is excellent, if almost unrecognizable from his "Primal Fear" role.

Originally, the formula seemed like a good one: combine the directing talents of Bryan Singer (Usual Suspects) with a screenplay based on a short story by Stephen King (Shawshank Redemption). Unfortunately, the mix blow up in their faces. Or more aptly, fizzled weakly.

Billed as an edge of the seat horror story, the picture moved forward timidly, save for one five minute scene. Once again, King is victimized by a too glossed-over version of an intriguing story with definite cinematic potential. The potential for horror, both physical and mental, was bubbling somewhere beneath the surface, but was never completely brought to the forefront. Fans of the horror genre won't be losing any sleep over this one. B-

- Kevin Ridolfi, Rob Gallo



A Simple Plan

Rating: B
Starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton, Bridget Fonda, Brent Briscoe, Chelcie Ross. Directed by Sam Raimi. Based on the novel by Scott B. Smith. Rated R. Running time: 121.


It seemed that after director Sam Raimi's "Quick and the Dead", a film with a strong cast (Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman) that mostly consisted of wide angle shots of blowing dust storms and squinting people, that Raimi himself had reached a crisis stage, after a series of successful horror films ("Evil Dead", "Evil Dead 2", "Army of Darkness", "Darkman"). Indeed, Raimi transitioned very successfully into producing the popular television series "Hercules" and "Xena", seeming to move on.

Directors' careers are interesting to watch to see how success or failure influences their future choices and whether they can continue to tell riveting stories. Does a director, once success is achieved, begin building barriers, playing it safe, staying in their genre of success, or do they try new things, reinvent themselves?

Some have an unusually prolific and creative period, such as Friedkin ("French Connection", "The Exorcist"), but then go fallow, sometimes permanently ("Jade"). Spielberg manages to be both a cash cow and profound filmmaker, overcoming the setback of "1941" many years ago to achieve phenomenal critical and financial success. John Carpenter has stuck to his guns in the surreal/horror/suspense arena making some early strong films ("Dark Star", "Assault on Precinct 13", "Halloween") but eventually the spark was more or less gone. Take a look at "Big Trouble in Little China".

Sam Raimi now finds himself with the unique opportunity to breathe life into his movie directing career. And he makes the most of it.

"A Simple Plan", the first film directed by Raimi since "Quick and the Dead", succeeds as a portrait of a group of people leading lives of quiet desperation who believe that discovering $4.4 million in a crashed airplane in the dead of a Midwest winter will transform and improve their lives. Bill Paxton ("Mighty Joe Young", "Twister") and Billy Bob Thornton ("Sling Blade", "Armageddon") play brothers who, along with a friend (Brent Briscoe) discover a crashed plane containing a gym bag full of $100 bills. Paxton is the restrained member of the group, suggesting a cautious plan to keep a low profile until they can enjoy their lucky bounty. The rest of the film is how this seemingly simple plan is too far beyond anyone's ability or capacity to follow.

Most significant in this film is the relationship between the two brothers played by Paxton (the younger, more successful family man) and Thornton (the older, dim witted, inappropriate miscreant). The film nicely uses the introduction of sudden wealth as a way to reveal the deep rifts in their relationship. In one excellent scene, Paxton works with Thornton to secretly tape a discussion about their criminal deeds with their third partner (Brent Briscoe) to protect themselves. Thornton is a kindred spirit to Briscoe rather than his brother and manages to facilitate the discussion while at the same time expressing deep anger toward Paxton. Also of interest is the involvement of Paxton's wife, played by Bridget Fonda ("Single White Female", "Jackie Brown". Her ability to plan is vastly superior to her husband's and she manages to be very influential on Paxton's actions, even supplying advice while breast feeding their newborn child.

There is a tendency to compare this film to "Fargo" made by the Coen brothers. Both take place in a snow blind landscape with quirky violent behavior. Actually, the connections are somewhat deeper. Raimi acted in "Miller's Crossing" and cowrote the screenplay for "The Hudsucker Proxy" and served as 2nd unit director, both films made by the Coens. You sense that the Coens are in a world of their own and are happy to stay there. Raimi's jack of all trades approach comes across well in "A Simple Plan". The film, based on the novel by Scott B. Smith, is well integrated, establishing a milieu and a pace that is believable without being showy. Contrast with the Coen brothers 90 minute surreal dreams that are always visual feasts if not always particularly clear - can anyone explain the significance of the flaming art deco hallway in "Barton Fink"?

There is no doubt of the maturity in Raimi's work here. He began with outrageous horror films that were both funny and frightening. Way out of control. In "Army of Darkness" the protagonist roams a strange medieval world in a '73 Olds for heaven's sake. That outrageousness contributed to an uneven pace in his earlier films. In "A Simple Plan" the pace is controlled and tragic events unfold with a twisting slowness that is highly effective. On top of the revitalized directing job, Billy Bob Thornton should get a supporting actor nomination for his work in this film.

TIM CLIFTON is Renaissance Online Magazine's staff movie reviewer.

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