1996 COLUMBIA PICTURES BY TAKASHI SEIDA
Fly Away Home
stars Academy Award-winner Anna Paquin as Amy Alden, a young girl
who discovers the responsibilities that go along with rescuing
some goose eggs.
FLY AWAY HOME
(A-2, PG): This is director Carroll Ballard's girl-and-her-geese
film, to form a superb triptych with his boy-and-his-horse epic
The Black Stallion and man-bonds-with-wolf adventure Never
Cry Wolf. Sheer beauty makes up for any lack of credibility.
After her mother is killed in a car
crash, 13-year-old Amy (Anna Paquin) goes to rural Ontario to
live with her estranged father (Jeff Daniels). He's soaring around
the countryside in a one-man homemade glider and battling the
developers encroaching on a nearby wilderness area. The two are
brought together when Amy rescues a clutch of wild goose eggs,
and Dad helps her to teach the goslings how to be genuine Canada
Part of being a goose, of course, involves
flying south for the winter, and the characters are soon caught
up in training the birds to follow two motorized, goose-shaped
versions of Dad's planes to North Carolina. The climax is the
trip itself-a mix of beauty, comedy and suspense-as the fragile
little gaggle encounters everything from American fighter jets
to Baltimore skyscrapers.
This is definitely a conservationist's
movie: The bad guys have goose-wing clippers and bulldozers. There's
a high cuteness factor: The goslings are adorable and young Paquin,
coiffed in a variety of Mom's retro hats, isn't far behind. But
cameraman Caleb Deschanel wash us in irresistible images. Family
values flourish; well-crafted entertainment for kids, moms and
(A-3, R): Sports-movie specialist Ron Shelton (Bull Durham,
White Men Can't Jump) focuses here on golf, with this romantic
comedy about a talented dropout who tries to win the U.S. Open.
Kevin Costner's Roy McAvoy is an instructor
on west Texas's seediest driving range. He wastes his talent
gambling and drinking with his buddies, and sharing a dusty motor
home with his caddy and pal (Cheech Marin's best part ever). Then
Molly (Rene Russo), a classy lady going with his obnoxious former
teammate David (Don Johnson), comes in for lessons. Roy reforms,
gets into serious practice and manages to qualify for the tournament.
The dialogue is fresh in this lightweight
fantasy, an updated Tracy-Hepburn
banter-fest played out on the rolling fairways of several elegant
country clubs. About par for Shelton's nicely laid-out course;
flawed by needless adult situations; O.K. for adults, but not
THE SPITFIRE GRILL
(A-2, PG-13): A female ex-con comes to a small town in Maine to
repair her life and ends up restoring the damaged soul of the
town. An offbeat idea by writer-director Lee David Slotoff (who
created the MacGyver TV series), it was produced by a Catholic
charity (Mississippi's Sacred Heart League) because of its "Judeo-Christian
values," which beats writing letters to the editor complaining
about moral decline.
This is not an explicitly religious
movie, although a church is an important venue in the story. It's
a moral parable about damaged people and how compassion heals
and brings them together.
The main focus is on the friendship
that develops among three women: Percy (Allison Elliott), a young
ex-con drawn to the town to escape her past; Hannah (Ellen Burstyn),
a widow who runs the town's only restaurant and the nurturing
center of its community life; and cook-waitress Shelby (Marcia
a kind young mother belittled and
dominated by her husband, Nahum (Will Patton).
When the grill must finally be sold,
the women run a national essay contest. People send in a small
donation and explain why they'd like to own the grill. Some essays
are crazy or funny, but many reveal the longing for a place to
start over and rebuild lives.
Beyond that, the suspense hangs mainly
on Nahum's suspicions that Percy is still a criminal and plans
to rob them, and on the shadowy hermit who lives in the woods
and whom Percy befriends. All is resolved in a tragic event that
ultimately brings the community together.
is earnest and occasionally moving, but never totally convincing.
Characters and plot devices seem overly forced and literary, and
until the final moments, we never see enough of the Vermont hills
used as locales. Satisfactory for youth and adults.
(A-3, PG-13) takes advantage of Robin Williams's special childlike
qualities to tell a fairy tale about a boy whose "inner clock
runs fast" and whose body ages four times faster than normal.
At age 10, Jack seems to be 40 and has to function in the incongruous
world of children. In Big, Tom Hanks was a man-child in
the incomprehensible world of adults.
The movie is an artful way of getting
at the awful sadness of the life of a doomed child. Exuberant
fun in its best moments, Jack unfortunately lacks the inventiveness
that might make it soar. In the major sequences, Jack is initiated
into a treehouse club (yuck!) and vamped by one of the mothers
who thinks he's an assistant principal.
exemplifies Hollywood optimism, in which the "monster"
comes to be loved for his gentle goodness. Joyful but a bit
earthbound; O.K. for kids, but parents should be there to help
(A-2, PG) is a charming little movie about the need for magic
and imagination in life. Seven-year-old Albert (Haley Joel Osment)
is orphaned when his single mom, a Vegas dancer, is killed in
a crash. The boy goes to Newark to live with his mother's childhood
Harriet (Whoopi Goldberg), who is kind but absorbed in her business.
Albert invents an imaginary playmate named Bogus, a delightful
Frenchman (Gerard Depardieu) who gets him through the hard times.
Harriet just needs to recover her spirit
of play and her way of seeing as a child-she needs to "see"
Bogus. A gift of fun from Albert's dancer mother, Bogus is also
a sign of some benign power in life-a guardian angel, if you will.
But chiefly, he's the playmate many of us create as kids when
we need someone. The film, directed by veteran Norman Jewison
(Moonstruck), is a tribute to such a playmate. Imperfect
but creative, well-mounted fantasy; satisfactory for kids and
(CBS, Wednesdays): Rhea Perlman has a raspy charm that served
her well on Cheers. In this show she's Pearl, a rough-edged
grandma-widow who goes back to college. While apparently inspired
by the bright play-movie Educating Rita, it seems stuck
on the sour sarcasm of an arrogant humanities professor (Malcolm
This detestable fellow, who never seems
to leave his classroom desk even when class is over, keeps sabotaging
his students with factual questions (rarely asked in good college
classes) and slicing up the kids, who have a deer-in-the-headlights
look. If Pearl digs him back occasionally, it's never enough.
Carol Kane, who would be funny reading a grocery list, helps out
as Pearl's ditsy sister-in-law. Typical 1990's putdown comedy
with no place to go.
(ABC, Fridays): High school was never like this: Beverly Hills,
fashion-plate girls, bright colors, endless cell phones. The opening
episode plot-no kidding-is about getting dates for the big dance,
with heroine Cher (Rachel Blanchard) having a temp job as school
gossip columnist. Awesome! Fantasy is the point. This is funny/satirical/not-so-noisy
as most shows.
Will most 10-year-olds take this straight?
Stacey Dash (best friend) and Wallace Shawn (nice but nerdy teacher)
add quality from the cast of the hit movie. Mucho fun, but
how long can you spoof the insipid?
(CBS, Mondays): Cos may have found the character he's been looking
for: older, flintier, downsized after 30 years, a little bitter
but always big-hearted, into more physical, blue-collar fun. Each
episode offers vintage Cos, like the routine where he's trying
to talk his own brand of Spanish-English to a Hispanic mechanic,
or (a bit more slapstick) teaching magic to zany Madeline Kahn
and getting Kool-Aid dumped down his pants before he explains
the trick. He can also go for the heart, as when he gets the plastic
wallet at retirement instead of the $400 leather version. At his
best, Bill is us. Verdict: Cos rides again.
(NBC, Saturdays): One third of NBC's bizarre drama night, this
is about Jarod (Michael T. Weiss) who was stolen as a child from
his parents by a C.I.A.-type organization and given powers to
take on any conceivable occupational role. He does odd jobs doing
good while trying to find out about his past. Agents from the
sinister "Centre," including beauteous Andrea Parker,
pursue him to bring him back.
The series has slick production values,
moves fast, but is obtuse and pointless. Actor and good-guy hero
Weiss has a light-up smile, but only one other expression. Not
much hope, all ye who enter here.
(PBS miniseries): Ken Burns, with director Stephen Ives, provided
another monumental slice of U.S. history, from the conquistadores
to the struggles for water rights in the Los Angeles basin. Burns
specializes in the details and personal stories that at best get
a line in the textbooks-the supply
of drama (and humanity) overwhelms.
There is so much hardship, violence,
treachery, cruelty-especially to "others" (blacks, Native
Americans, Mexicans, Asians). Christians should have known better.
The gorgeous tracking images of landscapes at the start of each
episode are backed by haunting chant. (The beauty of the land
is also inexhaustible.) The Native Americans hold the high moral
ground in our mythology, gaining a strange sort of final victory.
Other images that linger include the
cowboys, the poignant buffalo, Uriah and Mattie raising kids on
the prairie, the building of the railroad, the gold
lust that swamped the Spaniards in
California and the Lakota in the Black Hills, the hardy homesteaders
standing proudly in front of their baked-sod
cabins. The final night featured the uplifting "love"
story of Wyoming ranchers John and Ethel Love, who took everything
the West had to give with cheer and spunk for 37 years. "What
has happened in the past," a Lakota man says, "will
never leave us....We have to deal with it."
Historian N. Scott Momaday gave a heart-cracking
final anecdote about the noblest Westerner of all, Chief Joseph
of the Nez Perce. The idea is that, despite everything, the heritage
of the West is its promise of hope. There's the irony of Buffalo
Bill and the staged Indian attacks of the Wild West shows, with
Sitting Bull signing autographs, planting forever in popular culture
the myth that the immigrants were the victims and not the conquerors.
The West was magnificent, hard to forget. History, unlike
art, seldom has happy endings, which is why we cherish them.