Sat, 01 Apr 2000

Diaz returns to local cinemas in black comedy

JAKARTA (JP): Cameron Diaz reenters our movie theater circuit with another one of her black comedies. The following reviews and evaluations are by Rayya Makarim (RM), Oren Murphy (OM) and Tam Notosusanto (TN).

American Beauty. Dark comedy, 120 minutes; starring Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch, Chris Cooper, Mena Suvari, Wes Bentley and Peter Gallagher. Directed by Sam Mendes.

Forty-two-year-old Lester Burnham is having a mid-life crisis. He hates his job, his wife cannot stand him and his teenage daughter Janey thinks he's a loser. Feeling numb for years, Lester undergoes a radical life change when he meets Janey's cheerleader friend, Angela. This story about dysfunctional families in demented suburbia is a perfect blend of powerful drama and black comedy. The characters are so expertly developed, and the acting is superb.

The movie won five Academy Awards, including for best picture, director Sam Mendes and actor Kevin Spacey. Graded A (RM)

The Beach. Drama, 119 minutes; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Virginie Ledoyen, Tilda Swinton and Robert Carlyle. Directed by Danny Boyle.

A young American backpacker, Richard (DiCaprio), heads to Thailand and hears of a mysterious beach undiscovered by the parasitic hoards of other tourists. He finds it and also discovers the cost of the pursuit of unadulterated pleasure. Boyle frequently diverges from Alex Garland's original storyline, but remains true to many of its themes. The film lacks the book's wit and freshness, but is worth a watch anyway. Graded B (OM)

The Green Mile. Supernatural fable/Prison drama, 185 minutes; starring Tom Hanks, David Morse, James Cromwell, Michael Clarke Duncan and Bonnie Hunt. Written and directed by Frank Darabont.

Darabont's Oscar-nominated second attempt to adapt a Stephen King prison story has Hanks leading a group of Depression-era Death Row prison guards whose new inmate is a mentally handicapped, towering black man (Duncan). It turns out this gentle giant has miraculous healing powers which some of them get a chance to benefit from. But nobody can seem to help him avoid the electric chair. Aside from some ghastly execution scenes, this is a poignant story with some biblical resonance, which is bolstered by a first-rate cast that includes a lovable, scene- stealing mouse. Graded B (TN)

The Insider. Drama, 160 minutes; starring Al Pacino, Russell Crowe, Diane Venora and Christopher Plummer. Directed by Michael Mann.

Tobacco company whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand (Crowe) teams up with CBS newsman Lowell Bergman (Pacino) to uncover the dishonest schemes of the tobacco industry. Not only are they hurdled by the big, bad conglomerates, but also by the 60 Minutes news show producers who suddenly freak out and refuse to air Wigand's interview. Miami Vice's Mann presents a riveting retelling of this true account, while Wigand's descent into near-madness as his life unravels is beautifully evoked by Crowe's subtle, Oscar- nominated performance. Graded B+ (TN)

Puisi Tak Terkuburkan. Drama, 90 minutes; starring Ibrahim Kadir, Berliana Febrianti, El Manik and Pitrajaya Burnama. Directed by Garin Nugroho.

Garin tackles the 1965 coup and the prison term suffered by Acehnese poet Ibrahim Kadir, but he does not come up with much. Nice cinematography is not enough to sustain a featherweight script, limp plot and monotonous pace. It is surprising that Ibrahim and his compelling story are so little explored.

However, as this is probably the only Indonesian feature film produced this year, you are obliged to see it. Graded C (OM)

Turbulence II: Fear of Flying. Disaster movie, 98 minutes; starring Craig Sheffer, Jennifer Beals, Tom Berenger and Jeffrey Nordling. Directed by David Mackay.

Yet another film you will never find among any airline's inflight movies. This Airport-meets-The Cassandra Crossing flick pits innocent passengers against sadistic hijackers who carry a load of lethal virus on board. And the passengers belong to a fear-of-flying group who take the flight as part of their therapy. The way this derivative, formulaic movie goes, you will not care about their plight after the first 30 minutes. The film is basically a graveyard for sinking careers belonging to Sheffer, Beals and especially Berenger, who is becoming a regular in the trash movie circuit. Graded C- (TN)

Very Bad Things. Comedy/thriller, 100 minutes; starring Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern and Jeanne Tripplehorn. Directed by Peter Berg.

A bachelor party in a Vegas hotel, complete with drugs, alcohol, gambling and sex, goes terribly wrong when a prostitute is accidentally killed while having wild sex. The coverup, planned by the five friends, gets increasingly complicated as the bodies start piling up. This nonsensical film with over-the-edge characters has some good film editing with some great music-video moments, but that is not enough to make us feel for any of the characters. They are created merely as devices to further the warped plot. Graded B (RM)

The Wings of the Dove. Period drama, 101 minutes; starring Helena Bonham Carter, Linus Roache, Alison Elliott and Charlotte Rampling. Directed by Iain Softley.

Adapted from a Henry James novel, this Oscar-nominated film tells of a woman (Bonham Carter) whose love for her working-class boyfriend (Roache) is forbidden by her family. When a terminally ill, American rich girl (Elliott)is enamored by the boyfriend, the woman comes up with a plan that is both vengeful and all-too- human. As we go through this exquisite film, we find how things are not simplistically black and white. And this is a film that benefits from a stellar cast, particularly from Bonham Carter's superbly nuanced performance. Graded A- (TN)