Sat, 08 Apr 2000

Oscar-winning turn on screens here

JAKARTA (JP): Naughty angels, newborn psychics and gender confusion fills up our movie theaters. The following reviews and grades 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 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 can't stand him and his teenage daughter Janey thinks he is a loser. Feeling comatose 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 expertly developed, and the acting is superb. Graded A (RM)

Boys Don't Cry. Drama, 118 minutes; starring Hilary Swank, Chloe Sevigny, Peter Sarsgaard and Jeanetta Arnette. Directed by Kimberly Peirce.

It is a misguided assumption that Swank easily won an Oscar thanks to her gender-bending role. She practically slips under the skin of Brandon Teena, the real-life Nebraskan youngster who successfully convinces everybody, including herself, that she is a man. When her object of desire (Sevigny) falls for her, Teena becomes even more steadfast in denying her actual identity and follows her impulses instead, all the way to her tragic end. Director/cowriter Peirce manages to mold this fact-based story into a powerful human drama, even though we wish she had gone deeper into Teena's soul. Graded B+ (TN)

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 retarded, 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 whistle-blower 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)

The Prophecy II. Action-fantasy, 85 minutes; starring Christopher Walken, Russell Wong, Jennifer Beals and Eric Roberts. Directed by Greg Spence.

Imagine angels going really, really bad. This silly movie has Walken playing archangel Gabriel, who is overcome with worldly desires and has formed a band of renegade angels to battle the ones loyal to their Creator.

Now one of the good angels has impregnated a female human being (Beals) because their baby is believed to be the one who will put an end to the war. And Gabriel is out looking for this woman. All heaven breaks loose. Graded C- (TN)

Stir of Echoes. Supernatural thriller, 99 minutes; starring Kevin Bacon, Kathryn Erbe, Kevin Dunn and Illeana Douglas. Written and directed by David Koepp.

Completing Hollywood's 1999 trilogy of supernatural flicks, this movie is clearly riding on The Sixth Sense's coattails with its wide-eyed tyke who communicates with dead people. Only here the boy's father (Bacon), who recently acquires the gift himself thanks to a hypnosis session joins in the effort to decipher the messages of a teenage girl's ghost. Koepp's haunting visuals keep us thrilled throughout the film. But it all eventually leads to the unearthing of a predictable, unexciting murder secret. Graded C+ (TN)

Very Bad Things. Comedy/thriller,100 min; 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 cover-up, 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's 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)