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4 items from 1997


Film review: 'The Brave'

12 May 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Johnny Depp outfits "Faust" in American Indian garb in "The Brave", a Competition entrant so grave and monotonous that only festival cineastes are likely to stay awake throughout.

In this latest example of a movie star dabbling in the auteur, narrative pacing and story structure are scattered to the winds, while showy textures are overused throughout. In short, this "Brave" is all feathery headdress and little else. Well, save for yet another sedentary oddity from Marlon Brando, who plays "Tu-Ra-Lu-Ra-Lu-Ra" on the harmonica for a few bars.

In this contemporary retelling, Depp stars as Raphael, an American Indian who has done time in the joint as well as suffered with alcoholism. Literally throwing the bottle away one day, he decides to turn over a new leaf, to seek out a job and provide for his wife (Elpidia Carrillo) and two young children. Leaving his ramshackle shanty, Raphael takes the bus into town and learns of work in a warehouse. Descending into the bowels of this stony fortress, he meets his future employer, wheelchair-bound loony Mr. McCarthy (Marlon Brando), who explains the nature of the job: For $50,000 in cash, the "worker" will endure an electric chair, tortured as close to death as possible. In essence, anyone who accepts that agreement is not likely to survive.

Raphael makes his pact and heads for home, whereupon he promptly begins to make amends to his family for all his bad ways. Unfortunately, these apologetic scenes are stretched out in redundant detail as the "good" father spends time with each respective member of his family. For good measure, he buys all sorts of stuff, from electric lights to a wide screen, causing his wife and neighbors to fear that he has gone back to his old ways. Other than these reparations, little else propels the drama, with essentially the same scene played over and over again with each respective character. In between, innumerable shots of Raphael walking across the desertscape or, equally as exciting, waiting for the bus, provide punctuation.

The projector malfunctioned during the press screening, causing a couple minutes of darkness. If a marketing firm had wired the audience, it is unlikely they would have discovered any discernible pulse-rate difference during the blackout than when the film was actually proceeding.

While one usually has to attend an Eric Rohmer retrospective to experience such tedium, Depp seems to have learned from other greats as well. Not since the early, nastiest days of Bunuel have group and crowd compositions featured such an assortment of deranged and deformed-looking individuals, as if a festival of cretins was up and running.

Technically, one marvels at cinematographer Vilko Filac's luminous skyscapes, but unfortunately Depp's over-reliance on such imagery lessens the impact. Iggy Pop's score brings an apt, hollowed-out texture to the proceedings.

THE BRAVE

In Competition

Majestic Films

And Jeremy Thomas present

An Acappella Pictures Production

A film by Johnny Depp

Producers Charles Evans Jr., Carroll Kemp

Director Johnny Depp

Screenwriters Paul McCudden,

Johnny Depp, D.P. Depp

Based on the novel by Gregory McDonald

Exec producer Jeremy Thomas

Dir. of photography Vilko Filac

Production designer Miljen Kljakovic

Editor Pasquale Buba

Music Iggy Pop

Costume designer Lindy Hemming

Cast:

Raphael Johnny Depp

Mr. McCatrthy Marlon Brando

Larry Marshall Bell

Rita Elpidia Carrillo

Father Stratton Clarence Williams III

Frankie Cody Lightning

Lou Jr. Max Perlich

Lou Sr. Frederic Forrest

Running time --123 minutes

No MPAA rating

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REVIEWS IN REVIEW:

25 February 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

DONNIE BRASCO

Sony Pictures Releasing

Being a wiseguy is not all fun and games -- offing people, squiring dames, wearing loud suits. Down in the grimy trenches it's actually unglamorous, and this well-wrought Mandalay Entertainment presentation captures the grunty insides of the Mob world.

Featuring splendidly muted performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, this decidedly nonglam glimpse inside Mobdom should hold its own in intelligent neighborhoods of discerning viewers.

Roiling with some well-rolled paradox and goombah-gutted irony, "Donnie Brasco" is a complex portrait of honor as well as a kind and sympathetic depiction of a man who is truly at the end of his rope. While his performance is not heaped with the bantam-sized swagger of other roles, Pacino nails down probably one of his most gifted portrayals. We feel for his character, a man who realizes that his number has come up (HR 2/21-23).

Duane Byrge

CONVERSATION WITH THE BEAST

Santa Monica Pictures

The screenwriting debut of German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl is inauspicious, but he has directed one of the most courageous and interesting films of recent times.

"Conversation With the Beast", is about a man in present-day Berlin who claims to be Adolf Hitler and convinces an American historian -- who is Jewish -- to interview him. Hitler has miraculously survived the end of the war, possibly through dark magical powers he claims to have. Now more than 100 years old, he wants the world to know he is still around.

Mueller-Stahl as a director is surprisingly adept, and the camera work by Gerard Vandenberg is excellent, though the entire film is held in depressingly dark tones. The only thing not up to par, sadly, is Mueller-Stahl's script (HR 2/20).

Eric Hansen

BOOTY CALL

Sony Pictures Releasing

In the hallowed tradition of quest movies comes "Booty Call". While Indiana Jones may have quested for the Lost Ark and Jason quested for the Golden Fleece, Bunz and Rushon quest for a latex condom. Given the fine and foxy ladies they're on a mission for, modern-day urban audiences might consider Bunz and Rushon's quest much more important than the mere retrieval of religious arcana.

Unabashedly crude and lewd, "Booty Call" is, especially in its first 45 minutes, a hoot. A strong dose of sexual slapstick lathered up with safe-sex strictures, "Booty" sashays as a first-rate farce (HR 2/24).

Duane Byrge

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

20th Century Fox

Episode five of the "Star Wars" saga, "The Empire Strikes Back", is unquestionably the best installment of Fox's science fiction trilogy. Director Irvin Kershner's 1980 sequel to George Lucas' 1977 boxoffice powerhouse is beautifully crafted, intelligently scripted and holds up very well.

Indeed, there were not many missteps in its original incarnation. Although there are no major new scenes, "Empire" nonetheless benefits from minor additions and tinkering by Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic (new views of Cloud City are breathtaking), as well as the improved and remastered soundtrack (HR 2/21-23).

David Hunter

Other reviews

Also reviewed last week were the films "Twin Town" (HR 2/19), "He Liu" (2/20), "L'Appartement" (2/20), "The Whales" (2/21-23), "Lucie Aubrac" (2/24) and "Der Unfisch" (2/24).

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Film review: 'Donnie Brasco'

21 February 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Being a wiseguy is not all fun and games -- offing people, squiring dames, wearing loud suits. Down in the grimy trenches it's actually unglamorous, and this well-wrought Mandalay Entertainment presentation captures the grunty insides of the Mob world.

Featuring splendidly muted performances from Al Pacino and Johnny Depp, "Donnie Brasco" should shake down some sizable initial loot. Admittedly, this decidedly nonglam glimpse inside Mobdom is not an overtly commercial vehicle, but it should nevertheless hold its own in intelligent neighborhoods of discerning viewers.

Depp is featured in the titular role of FBI agent Joe Piscone, a k a Donnie Brasco to the mobsters. The FBI's infiltration of the Mafia in the 1970s was one of the bureau's greatest anti-organized-crime triumphs, and this shrewdly balanced film takes us into two very different worlds. It presents us with two divergent lead characters: suburban family-man agent Brasco and, on the mean-streets side, family man Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino).

Screenwriter Paul Attanasio's adaptation of Joseph D. Pistone's book is a crisply colorful portrait of the underside of the underworld. Day-to-day life for Lefty is that of loud desperation. Like a gray suit in a corporate world, Lefty feels the heel of the organization's chain of command and, like today's white-collar midmanagement, he fears the up-and-comers. In short, although he's distinguished himself as a hit man (26 notches to his belt), he knows he'll never rise any higher. In short, he's vulnerable, and when young and ambitious Donnie befriends him as a "jewel man," he's more than eager to groom him as his protege. Most poignantly, a bond develops between the two men, and the ambitious FBI agent comes to see things in more than black-and-white, good-and-evil terms.

Roiling with some well-rolled paradox and goombah-gutted irony, "Donnie Brasco" is a complex portrait of honor as well as a kind and sympathetic depiction of a man who is truly at the end of his rope. While his performance is not heaped with the bantam-sized swagger of other roles, Pacino nails down probably one of his most gifted portrayals. We feel for his character, a man who realizes that his number has come up. Similarly, Depp's portrayal is rich, clueing us to his character's nearly debilitating dualities. In a supporting role, Michael Madsen is, once again, terrifically terrifying as a sadistic henchman, while Bruno Kirby's scaredy-guy performance as a rank-and-file nickel-and-dimer drills home the mundane reality of toiling for the crime bosses.

Well-produced, with a well-chosen cadre of technical talent, "Donnie Brasco" is a bit of a stylistic departure for director Mike Newell ("Four Weddings and a Funeral", "Enchanted April"), but his perceptive, robust direction makes us feel he is actually of that world. Special praise to cinematographer Peter Sova for the aptly grimy hues and to composer Patrick Doyle for the film's sorrowful score, a perfect texture for the hard psychological scars that the men of this world wear.

DONNIE BRASCO

Sony Pictures Releasing

TriStar Pictures

Mandalay Entertainment presents

a Baltimore Pictures/Mark Johnson production

A Mike Newell Film

Producers Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson,

Louis DiGaimo, Gail Mutrux

Director Mike Newell

Screenwriter Paul Attanasio

Based on the book by Joseph D. Pistone,

with Richard Woodley

Executive producers Patrick McCormick,

Alan Greenspan

Director of photography Peter Sova

Production designer Donald Graham Burt

Editor Jon Gregory

Costume designers Aude Bronson-Howard,

David Robinson

Executive producers Budd Carr, Allan Mason

Music Patrick Doyle

Casting Louis DiGiaimo, Brett Goldstein

Sound mixer Tod Maitland

Color/stereo

Cast:

Lefty Al Pacino

Donnie Johnny Depp

Sonny Michael Madsen

Nicky Bruno Kirby

Paulie James Russo

Maggie Anne Heche

Tim Curley Zeljko Ivanek

Running time -- 121 minutes

MPAA rating: R

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Film review: 'Touch'

10 February 1997 | The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News | See recent The Hollywood Reporter - Movie News news »

Considered a departure for crime novelist Elmore Leonard when the book was released in 1987, "Touch", a biting satire about a modern-day healer, reaches out to the big screen this weekend thanks to the writing and directing efforts of Paul Schrader.

Something of an off-kilter "A Face in the Crowd", the well-cast picture certainly has its intermittently entertaining moments. However, it's essentially one meandering quirk-a-thon -- a character-driven vehicle that could use a boost in the drive department.

MGM would like to hope it has another "Get Shorty" on its hands, but it would truly take a miracle for "Touch" to do more than marginal business.

Skeet Ulrich, an on-the-fast-track young actor ("Scream", "Albino Alligator") poised to become the next Johnny Depp, is the would-be saint in question, Juvenal. Abandoning his life as a Franciscan monk in the jungles of Brazil in favor of counseling alcoholics at a Los Angeles rehab center, Juvenal has something of a quiet knack for healing, including restoring outpatient Virginia Worrel's (Conchata Ferrell) long lost eyesight.

His relative obscurity is about to come to an end courtesy of Bill Hill (the always dependable Christopher Walken), a slick wheeler-dealer and evangelist-turned-RV salesman who sees dollar signs dangling over Juvenal's stigmatized hands. Hill dispatches the spirited Lynn Faulkner (Bridget Fonda), a former baton twirler at his church now working as a record promoter, to check out his prospect.

Meanwhile, as Hill starts organizing the big media blitz, there's someone else who's eying Juvenal's saintly talents. August Murray (Tom Arnold), a religious zealot and leader of the fanatical Outrage group, views "The Miracle Worker of the Amazon" as just the ticket to turn his small but loyal band of ultraconservatives into a national movement. And he's less than thrilled that Juvenal and the comely Faulkner are becoming an item.

The picture boasts an Altman-sized cast also featuring Janeane Garofalo as a no-nonsense reporter; Gina Gershon as an obnoxious talk-show host; Lolita Davidovich as the topless-dancer mother of one of Juvenal's "healed" -- a young boy diagnosed with terminal cancer; and Paul Mazursky as Lynn's record-producing boss who needs to be convinced about signing Juvenal to a recording deal complete with Gregorian chants ("The Pope sold 2.5 million -- but he toured!").

All do fine work, but Schrader's talky production simply trots them out to do their thing without providing any real forward momentum.

Style-wise, "Touch" is right on the money courtesy of Ed Lachman's ("Desperately Seeking Susan") energetic cinematography, David Wasco's ("Pulp Fiction") "Pulp Fiction"-esque production design, Julie Weiss' ("12 Monkeys") retro modern costume design and a smart, humorous debut score by former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighter Dave Grohl.

TOUCH

MGM

United Artists

A Lumiere International presentation

A Lila Cazes production

A film by Paul Schrader

Director-screenwriter Paul Schrader

Producers Lila Cazes, Fida Attieh

Based on novel by Elmore Leonard

Director of photography Ed Lachman

Production designer David Wasco

Editor Carla Silverman

Costume designer Julie Weiss

Music David Grohl

Color/stereo

Cast:

Juvenal Skeet Ulrich

Lynn Bridget Fonda

Bill Hill Christopher Walken

August Murray Tom Arnold

Debra Lusanne Gina Gershon

Antoinette Lolita Davidovich

Artie Paul Mazursky

Kathy Worthington Janeane Garofalo

Running time -- 97 minutes

MPAA rating: R

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4 items from 1997


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