Ralph Fiennes (left) and Kristin Scott
Thomas star in The English Patient, a haunting love story
that is set in North Africa and Italy before and during World
EVERYONE SAYS I LOVE YOU
(A-3, R): Woody Allen offers a light escape from winter troubles.
The tunes are vintage 1930's, the singing is improvised by non-singing
actors, the backup dancing is by pros, the orchestrations are
superb and most of the numbers range from pleasant fun to broad
The splendidly-used locations include
not only Manhattan (predictably), but also Venice and Paris. The
plot is gentle satire, with Woody's familiar affluent Park Avenue
neighbors enduring and sometimes enjoying the ups and downs of
romantic love from spring to Christmas.
Among them: Goldie Hawn and Alan Alda
as trendy liberal parents involved in stereotypical causes like
prison reform; Edward Norton and Drew Barrymore as engaged lovers;
Woody himself as Goldie's owlish ex-husband, unlucky in love,
now guiltily pursuing unhappily married neighbor Julia Roberts.
This moral comedy has singing and dancing
highlights, with some comic special effects. Love makes us a bit
foolish, especially in a world of fast-changing attachments more
suitable to teenagers. Recommended for mature viewers.
(A-3, R): A brash sports agent (Tom Cruise) saves his soul, vowing
to turn off the greed and treat his clients with respect. Then
he struggles to make a living in a corrupt world.
This upbeat romantic comedy by writer-director
Cameron Crowe (Say Anything) somehow combines deft insights
into our culture with broad entertainment likely to please a wide
audience. But don't expect the moral tone of The Sound
of Music. Cruise's Jerry has a womanizing past, and his relationship
with idealistic widow-single mom Renee Zellweger is quite explicit.
The characters are fleshed-out well
beyond average. Cuba Gooding, Jr., scintillates as Jerry's one
loyal client, a charismatic wide receiver who hasn't yet become
a star; Regina King is wonderful as his insightful wife; Bonnie
Hunt shines as Zellweger's sympathetic sister-in-law and Beau
Bridges chills as the unscrupulous dad of a top-draft-pick college
quarterback. Overlong but sharp comedy with moral bite; problem
sex situations and language; recommended for mature audiences.
THE ENGLISH PATIENT
(A-4, R): A mystery pilot, badly burned, is shot down in North
Africa during World War II. He suffers from amnesia but under
the care of a Canadian nurse in a bombed-out monastery in Italy,
he begins to remember. In flashbacks, we see a tragic love story.
The past story is a smoldering, adulterous
affair in the Egyptian desert and ancient archaeological caves
between the patient (Ralph Fiennes) and the wife (Kristin Scott
Thomas) of the expedition leader. Meanwhile, in the present, the
nurse (Juliette Binoche) falls in love with a demolition expert.
Another scarred victim (Willem Dafoe) looks for a man who betrayed
This gripping tale is full of atmospherics, period music and superb camera work by John Seale in
the desert, and exotic locales. All the great morally complex
themes--love, adultery, courage, war, nationality, friendship,
betrayal--are told in the grand style. Satisfactory for adults.
THE FLIX OF '96
(one more look back):
(of those reviewed here): Dead Man Walking, Anne Frank
Remembered, Lamerica, Lone Star, Big Night,
Michael Collins, Everyone Says I Love You, Jerry
Not Far Behind:
Sense and Sensibility, Fargo, The English Patient,
The Postman, Fly Away Home.
(with some reservations): Tin Cup, Leaving Las Vegas,
That Thing You Do!
The Year's Major Question:
Do cows moo as they fly over? (Twister)
The Internal Revenue Service Award
for Most Incomprehensible Logic and Prose in a Screenplay:
single moms, e.g., Kyra Sedgwick (Phenomenon), Elizabeth
Pena (Lone Star), Meg Ryan (Courage Under Fire),
Moira Kelly (Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story),
Renee Zellweger (Jerry Maguire) and many others.
Favorite Female Actors
(unlikely to be Oscar-nominated): Irma T. Hall, as the blind aunt
who reconciles feisty white and black half-brothers (Family
Thing); Anna Paquin, as the child Jane Eyre and as
the girl who saves the wild geese (Fly Away Home); Stockard
Channing, as the competitive news anchor (Up Close &
Personal) and as the mean, pitiless madame Mrs. Allworthy
in Moll Flanders; and Elizabeth Pena, as the struggling
history teacher, mom and star-crossed lover (Lone Star).
Favorite Male Actors
(unlikely to be Oscar-nominated): W. H. Macy, as the unwise principal
(Mr. Holland's Opus) and the scheming auto dealer who gets
things rolling (Fargo); Sam Neill, as the profligate but
shrewd King Charles II (Restoration); and 80-year-old amateur
Carmelo Di Mazzarelli as the mysterious Spiro, symbol of all the
20th century's displaced victims (Lamerica).
The Year's Better Metaphors for
Grace or God's Footsteps Award:
Love finds Ben and Sera, like a flower budding through a cracked
sidewalk, in Leaving Las Vegas; the imaginary friend--a
guardian angel figure, a symbol of something good for children
The Fred and Ginger Traveling Trophy
for Dancing by Non-dancers:
Gerard Depardieu and Whoopi Goldberg (Bogus), Woody Allen
and Goldie Hawn (Everyone Says I Love You).
Lines to Remember:
"If a sparrow dies in Central Park, I feel it." (Al
Pacino, as New York mayor, in City Hall)
"It's the best job in the world...everybody's
always happy to see you." (Flower deliveryman, in Bed
"In case you survive, no one will
believe what we've done to you." (Nazi guard to Jewish prisoner,
in Anne Frank Remembered)
"We got one, bay-bee!" (Dusty,
who suffers from Dick Vitale syndrome, in Twister)
"In Italy, is it true that everyone
has water and a telephone?" (Hopeful Albanian immigrant,
"To eat good food is to be close
to God." (Big Night)
"She died because of me, because
I loved her, because I had an East European name." (The
"A few words on a piece of paper
aren't worth dying for." (Michael Collins)
Doting Grandfather Award
(for best A-2 movies): My runaway favorites (for preteens) were
Bogus and Fly Away Home. For more mature young folks,
consider Sense and Sensibility, The Postman, Dragonheart,
The Phantom, Entertaining Angels: The Dorothy Day Story.
The Over-the-Rainbow Award for Best
Use of Music or Song:
the soft jazz in Leaving Las Vegas; the variety,
from Beatles to Beethoven to Gershwin, in Mr. Holland's Opus;
and the inspired use of "Be Not Afraid" in Dead Man
Among Many Contributors to Film
Culture Who Died in 1996:
Producers Ross Hunter, Pandro S. Berman; title artist Saul Bass;
French directors Rene Clement (Forbidden Games) and Marcel
Carne (Children of Paradise); cinematographer John Alton
(the American in Paris ballet); writers Liam O'Brien (Young
at Heart), Steve Tesich (Breaking Away) and Stirling
Silliphant (In the Heat of the Night); critic Walter Kerr;
actors Gene Kelly,
Martin Balsam, Haing S. Ngor, George Burns, Greer Garson, Ben
Johnson, John Abbott, Jo Van Fleet, Claudette Colbert, Joanne
Dru, Juliet Prowse, Dorothy
Lamour, Marcello Mastroianni.
Memorable Moments and Images:
The death scene (Dead Man Walking) in which Sister Helen
offers the intense Christian compassion that will be a convict's
last earthly image; at King Arthur's ancient Avalon, the hero-dragon
rededicates himself to earning his right to heaven (Dragonheart);
the hero's descent into New York's homeless underground (Extreme
Measures) is déjà-Dante all over again; the
hero's death (Michael Collins), intercut with his beloved's
shopping for a wedding gown as Sinead O'Connor sings a lament
for a lost love; the scene where the nurse (English Patient)
swings by a rope with a torch in the dark, gasping in delight
at ancient paintings of saints high on the walls of an Italian
THE NEW RATINGS GAME:
The industry's self-imposed ratings system (announced just before
Christmas) goes into effect this month.
Let's be clear. Like the almost 30-year-old
movie-rating system on which it's based, the TV system is advisory
for parents and designed only to protect children. Movies and
TV are unfettered for "adults," which means ages 17
Two categories will be applied only
to shows intended just for children: TV-Y (O.K. for all
kids) and TV-Y-7 (O.K. for ages 7 and up). That could help
you through the Saturday morning cartoons.
The other four resemble the movie categories:
TV-G (suitable for all viewers), TV-PG (warning
of a possible problem), TV-14 (unsuitable for viewers younger
than 14), TV-M (adults only).
The ratings assume that, as kids get
older, they're able to deal with more intense levels of sexuality
(both talk and behavior), violence and forbidden language.
Who will make these judgments? Yeah,
the networks, syndicators and cable operators. But there will
be pressure from competitors, advertisers, a ratings oversight
board, even the public through an 800 number for complaints. The
advertisers could be crucial, since they are precisely what makes
TV content different from movie content. Producers, in fact, fear
that the pressure will be to move in the direction of PG or audiences
for ads will be too small.
Most sitcoms would be TV-PG. (Don't
most movie parents consider PG an "innocent" rating?)
Thus, Cybill would be PG, with perhaps occasional episodes
at PG-14. (Give me a break; that's an adult series.) Also at PG-14
would be Melrose Place, NYPD Blue and The X-Files.
"Trash talk TV" (Jerry
Springer, Jenny Jones) will apparently be rated TV-14,
which implies that general sleaze is just fine for kids from 14
to 16. And that raises this issue: What would be TV-M? Theatrical
movies? Late-night talk? Soaps? You can bet there will be a lot
of TV-M during fringe "adult" hours.
Starting in 1998, parents will have
plenty of help enforcing this system when they buy TV's equipped
with the V-chip. (It will presumably block out any category that
can be devised.) President Clinton's opinion that the system is
better than the present haphazard "warnings" and deserves
a 10-month trial seems fair.
Responsible parents already know what
their children are watching, set limits and emphasize the positive.
Many of good will are going to be frustrated by the lack of precision
such as what kind of sexuality and violence are in a program?
Moreover, the movie example can be frightening, because few would
argue that movies have gotten notably "better" since
1968. With the new ratings, we'll close our eyes, hold hands
and go. For now we don't really have other options.