Jerry Maguire [A]
(1996, Cameron Crowe). Viewed March 18, 2000 on DVD.

I've seen this three times now, and it's a film that improves with repeat viewing. There's so much fine dialogue that every viewing uncovers a new gem, and the film's length more and more seems like an asset. In a film whose message is the difficulty in trying to discover what it means to be ethical in both your job (especially one as shark-infested as sports agenting) and life, the length seems necessary; 100 minutes seems too short and tidy to encapsulate the struggle.

Orphans [B+]
(2000, Peter Mullan). Viewed March 18, 2000 at the State.

Peter Mullan shows himself to be a master of mercurial tone shifts in his debut; the film veers from black comedy[1] to absurdism to gut-churning suspense so quickly that a theater with headrests is recommended in order to avoid whiplash. As can be expected from an actor-turned-director, the acting is superb. Douglas Henshall, in particular, is a standout. The only major complaint is not all of the subplots are equally interesting; in particular, the one involving Rosemary, the handicapped sister, is an extraneous waste of time.

Skin of Man, Heart of Beast [no grade]
(1999, Helene Angel). Viewed March 18, 2000 at the Walter Reade.

First, an explanation for the "no grade". Due to a screwup with the subtitled print, the FS of LC had to show an unsubtitled print and supplied a "simultaneous translation" for the dialogue. This involves a little FM radio with earphone that you use to listen to a live translation of the film's dialogue from someone in the projection booth. After trying this out for 5 minutes, I couldn't take it (I simply can't listen to two things at once) and opted to see the film sans any understanding of the film's dialogue. And I can't in good consciensce give a grade to a film I essentially only saw half off. Surprisingly enough, I wasn't bored. Angel proves to be a gifted storyteller visually, and the broad strokes of her prodigal son narrative were easy enough to follow. Interesting experiment, and I hope some distributor gets this film so I can finally understand what was being said.

Erin Brockovich [B]
(2000, Steven Soderbergh) Viewed March 19, 2000 at Lincoln Square.

A so-so real-life legal drama lifted by Steven Soderbergh's direction and constrained by the need to be a Julia Roberts star vehicle. Julia Roberts is a decent actress[2], but I've never understood her appeal as a movie star; her "charisma" is lost on me. Here, she plays a character who is both admirable and, on a personal level, distinctly unlikable. (She plays one of those people for whom "free-spirited independent"[3] is a euphemism for "asshole"). But since this is a Julia Roberts film, several scenes where she's at her nastiest are palyed as stand-up-and-cheer moments. Outside of this limiting external factor, Erin is about as good as these legal dramas get -- the production design has a working-class grit that rarely shows up in Hollywood films, and the film thankfully avoids having a big courtroom scene at the end.

Les Vacances (short) [B]
(1998, Emmanuelle Bercot)
Le Puce (medium) [B]
(1999, Emmanuelle Bercot). Both viewed March 19, 2000 at Walter Reade.

Thankfully, Bercot doesn't share Catherine Breillat's tendencies for philosophical noodling; her style is more kin to the naturalism of Zoncka or the Dardennes sans the miserablism. Not much to say about either, Les Vacances is a little snippet of a mother-daughter relationship, and La Puce is a non-judgmental look at a teenager's losing her virginity to a much older man.

The Abyss [A original version; B+ "Special Edition"]
(1989, James Cameron) Viewed March 23, 2000 on DVD.

As you can see by the above grade, I'm in the minority about the restoration of the no-nuke subplot to what had been Cameron's best film. It's as subtle as a sledgehammer to the cranium, and obliterates what had been a carefully controlled claustrophobic tone. Not to mention it's hard to view an alien race as more benign and wiser than us, when they engage in the same tactics us humans do; the tidal wave sequence is, after all, one rather MAD threat. *These* are our moral superiors? Luckily, the DVD contains both versions; my recommendation is to watch the SE until after the scene where Bud, Hippie, and One Night engage in a sing-along (the one scene from the SE I wish Cameron hadn't cut originally) and then switch to the original version.

Hudson Hawk [B]
(1990, Michael Lehmann) Viewed March 24, 2000 on DVD.

There's a fine line between high silliness and high stupidity, and Hawk manages to keep on the silly side most of the time, unlike something like Batman and Robin which pretty much parks its ass on the stupid side from the get-go. Highlights: Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard redefining scenery-chewing as the avaricious Mayflowers, James Coburn and his candy-bar-coded CIA squad, and Willis wisecracking as the only sane man amidst total anarchy. When I think about it, it seems to have a lot in common with The Fifth Element..

[1]One of the final scenes involves a supporting character managing to off himself in one of the stupidest, most intensely painful, and most unexpected ways I've ever seen in a movie.

[2]I think her best performance, believe it or not, is in Mary Reilly. True, her attempts at an Irish accent are mediocre, at best, but people pay far too much attention to accents when judging a performance, anyway. Ignoring that, it's a superbly controlled physical performance, one where she sheds all her movie-star aura, and just sinks into the character.

[3]I should add that my judgments about Brockovich are with regards to her portrayal on the screen; I've never even heard of or seen the real Erin Brockovich before the film started and I certainly don't assume that the two Brockoviches are congruent.