FEBRUARY 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 2


FEATURES | In Dreams
The Thin Red Line
Life Is Beautiful
A Bug's Life
You've Got Mail

LAST | A Simple Plan | The Prince of Egypt


Short Takes
Grading from A-F

In what easily could have turned into the second fiddle to last year's Saving Private Ryan, director and screen writer Terrence Malick avoids all traces of Speilberg's hit and instead shows the more thoughtful - almost poetic - and symbolic sides of war. Based on the novel by James Jones, the story follows an army company's landing at Guadalcanal, introduction to battle and the departure of those fortunate enough to have survived. Rather than concentrate on the brutal, enormous body count of the battles, Malick projects the thoughts inside the soldier's heads - each a mini movie in itself - to make his point. His main tool in depicting the horrors of war is to set it in contrast with the beautiful island environment, while framing the protagonist Private Witt (Jim Caviezel) as someone who realizes exactly what they are destroying and how war actually crushes the human spirit - something that lives on in the form of the peaceful island natives. To lend further emphasis, the battle scenes, when they do occur, rival most of the scenes from "Private Ryan." This is a war movie that breeds further contemplation and introspection, gone are the days of John Wayne happily saving the day without ill effect.

This small budget Italian film has been playing to rave reviews, and now I know why. Roberto Benigni gives the acting performance of the year, with apologies to Tom Hanks, in this film, which he also wrote and directed. It is a movie that is hard to classify, but is probably best described as a comedy/social commentary. The movie tells the tale of Guido, a Jew in Italy who along with his wife and child is sent to a concentration camp. Guido uses humor to prevent his child from knowing the horrible truth about the reasons for their trip to the concentration camp. One thing is certain: you will be hearing a lot about this film come Oscar time. Go see it, you won't even notice that the subtitles are there.

This computer animated Disney film from Pixar Studios takes animation to new heights. If you thought "Toy Story" was amazing, A Bug's Life makes the technology in Toy Story appear dated. This great story, filled with humor throughout, will have you laughing whether you are 3 or 33. Pay attention to the credits or you may not realize who some of those voices were (i.e. Dave Foley, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, David Hyde Pierce, Dennis Leary), and stay until the end of the credits to see the hilarious outtakes which are guaranteed to keep you laughing on the way home.

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in a romantic comedy, what could be better, right? To an extent. The movie plays like a Sleepless in Seattle II, which is not bad in some respects, but doesn't really break new ground. You've Got Mail gives Hanks and Ryan more screen time together than Sleepless did, but the story itself just isn't as compelling. Another difference, the supporting cast isn't as good. You will want to kill Parker Posey, who plays Hanks' girlfriend, by the end of the movie. Despite the flaws you still leave the theatre feeling good, and after all isn't that what these movies should be about?

- Kevin Ridolfi, Rob Gallo



In Dreams

Rating: C
Starring Annette Bening, Aidan Quinn, Robert Downey, Jr Written by Bruce Robinson and Neil Jordan. Directed by Neil Jordan. Rated R. Running time: 120.


"In Dreams" is only a semi successful portrait of a tormented woman played by Annette Bening ("Bugsy", "The American President"), who is plagued by dreams of murders committed by a psycho (Robert Downey, Jr.). Neil Jordan ("The Crying Game", "The Butcher Boy", "Interview with the Vampire", "Michael Collins"), the director, has been down this road before, in certain variations and with varying success.

The dilemma posed with this type of film is that it really has to be exceptional, because, like it or not, this type of story has been seized by television's grinding mill and comes out in shows such as "Millennium" (what is it with Friday night television, anyway, the darkest most bizarre shows are on that night), "Profiler", and "X-Files". And some of this competition is quite formidable. "X-Files" is a slick, intelligent show that often turns ideas on their head and uses this plot conceit in a number of shows.

So, then, the challenge for a theatrical film is to make a riveting, arresting story that is overwhelming. "In Dreams" is visually engaging but sometimes it seems that the director is trying too hard. For example, there is a city drowned in a flood, and the scenes here are well done. But rather than being pulled in by the images, I'm thinking: "Wow. What logistics that must have taken. Must be a huge tank!" Indeed, the production crew used the production location for "Titanic". These scenes, while certainly well done, just don't pull the viewer in, but rather, leave one simply marveling at the production feat.

In addition, there are numerous childhood references to fairy tales, which only means that the images will be about as subtle as a Mac truck. Bening is an author of child tales which becomes a theme in the film (much like Jordan's early directorial effort "In the Company of Wolves"). And although this seems fine at first, it only becomes an excuse to use strange imagery that is convenient to the plot. Thus, this becomes a psychologist's little toy - identify the imagery and symbols, all the wonderful Jungian references. Unfortunately, a psychological film has to operate on a less obvious level to be successful. Just take a look at "Rosemary's Baby" or "Revulsion" for examples of films that work in subtle and disturbing ways that get under the skin.

Yet, Neil Jordan's forte is in psychological studies that highlight the tension between individuals and heightens suspense as he accomplished superlatively with "The Crying Game" and "The Butcher Boy". But whenever Jordan chooses stories that are patently bizarre such as "Interview with the Vampire" and "In Dreams", he is less successful. The problem is that Jordan falls into plot conventions in these types of movies. "Interview with the Vampire" was, surprisingly, a boring vampire film despite strong performances. "In Dreams" falls into the same trap. Jordan is, frankly, too intelligent for this type of material and a conventional treatment of an "unconventional" story only highlights the shortcomings. Perhaps part of the problem is in trying to make a mainstream film that will be acceptable to a wide audience. Therefore, blatant statements must be made, painted in neon and splashed across the screen so that everyone understands. Why not take it a tiny step further and print subtitles?

Story aside, the cast in this film is strong. Bening accomplishes a haunted quality that is believable and Robert Downey ("Chaplin", "Heart and Souls", "Restoration") is disturbing in his small role. But the cast is not the problem here, it's the story and execution. Jordan knows how to accomplish more with less, but supernatural stories tend to pull him off his strong capabilities and the result is overdone and uninteresting. If Jordan ever manages to translate the power of "The Crying Game" or "The Butcher Boy" to a supernatural story, however, he will make a classic. Unfortunately, "In Dreams" falls completely short of the mark.

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

The Thin Red Line
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