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BY Loretta G. Seyer
Joe Torre: Curveballs Along the Way
When Joe Torre (Paul Sorvino) returns to New York in 1995 to manage the Yankees, he's grateful just to remain in baseball. For 36 years, the Brooklyn-born Torre has participated in America's national pastime — first as a catcher and then as a manager. But his managing career hasn't been wildly successful; he's been fired from the Mets, the Braves and the Cardinals. Then Yankees' owner George Steinbrenner (Kenneth Welsh) asks Torre to manage his team. Torre and his pregnant wife, Ali (Barbara Williams), are welcomed home by the new manager's siblings. One is Frank (Robert Loggia), Joe's inspiration and a former major leaguer. At first, the Yankees don't do well, and Joe is criticized by nearly everybody. Then, the team begins its drive to first place. But Frank's heart is failing, and Joe finds his first chance to win a World Series isn't so important anymore. While Joe Torre: Curveballs Along the Way isn't a particularly briglliant docudrama, it's filled with a heartwarming appreciation for family and a clear regard for persistence in the face of adversity.
Mama Flora's Family
A troubled granddaughter gets the action going in Mama Flora's Family, which is based on a novel by Alex Haley and David Stevens. The granddaughter is Dinah (Queen Latifah). It's 1970, and she's living in Baltimore with her infant son and bottles of booze. One day, her grandmother Flora (Cicely Tyson) arrives, and takes Dinah and her baby to Flora's home in Mississippi. The highly moral old lady immediately begins rehabilitating Dinah. One of Flora's strongest tools is storytelling, particularly dramatic tales about her family. Flora's memory stretches back to 1900 and her life as a sharecropper's daughter. This good but naive girl was bedazzled into a pregnancy by a charming rake. Her baby was taken from her, a tragedy that overshadows her life. Flora turns to Jesus for solace, and he always answers her in some way, sending her a husband, another son and several grandchildren. Although Mama Flora's Family has melodramatic elements, the film is generally engrossing and occasionally enlightening.
Saints for Kids, Volume 4:
Peter, Lucy, Anthony of Egypt
Geared for youngsters ages 5–8, the Saints for Kids series introduces children to some of Catholicism's holiest people. This Pauline video series is also designed to give young viewers role models and encourage them to make holiness a personal goal. The series consists of six tapes; each contains several four-minute, animated segments devoted to a particular saint. Volume 4 highlights Peter, Lucy and Anthony of Egypt, three of the Church's earliest saints. The segment on Peter emphasizes God's forgiveness, Church leadership and the meaning of names; the segment on Lucy focuses on courage, service and praying to saints; the segment on Anthony stresses prayer and appreciation for God's creation. Although the animation is crude and the narration brief, the video manages to give children an overview of three famous and important saints. The youngsters' understanding of the lives of these threesaints will be augmented if parents consult the video's accompanying study guide for additional information. The guide includes discussion questions, vocabulary words, follow-up activities and additional study resources for children and parents.
— Loretta G. Seyer
BY Loretta Seyer
Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81
In the beautiful but desolate terrain outside of El Paso, the inhabitants of Dancer, Texas, are preparing for an important event. Five seniors are graduating from high school on Saturday. Four of the graduates are boys. The four are delighted that they are finally leaving academia. They are also anticipating Monday, the day they will catch the bus to Los Angeles and a new life. But as Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81 reveals, these long-held intentions don't pan out as expected. The four find that familial responsibilities might hold them behind in their tiny burg. Keller (Breckin Meyer) has a feeble grandfather he's been caring for. Terrell Lee (Peter Facinelli) is expected to join the family oil business. Squirrel (Ethan Embray) has a drunken father to contend with. John (Eddie Mills) is being pressured by a younger sister, Josie (Ashley Johnson), to stay on the family ranch. Over a three-day period, the four have to decide if they have the ability, and the wish, to leave town. In many ways, Dancer, Texas, Pop. 81 is an old-fashioned film. It's nonviolent, it's family friendly, it's gently amusing. And it manages to be engrossing and thought provoking. A definite gem.
Passion in the Desert
It's 1798, and a troop of Napoleon's crack artillery is finding it difficult to find, much less defeat, bands of Egypt's wily Mameluke warriors. Laden with heavy European weapons, the French soldiers are trudging through the unforgiving Saharan sands in a seemingly futile effort to bring the ancient African country under Napoleon's rule. Their frustration is stressed further by the arrival of Captain Augustin (Ben Daniels), who is escorting an eccentric artist called Ventare (Michel Piccoli). Napoleon has assigned Ventare to accompany the soldiers and draw any Egyptian wonders he encounters. Ventare's obsessiveness leads to his and Augustin's separation from the troops in a sandstorm. The captain is enraged, but as an honorable officer he's determined to rescue them. The mysterious Sahara, however, defeats him. Driven mad by thirst and pursued by angry Bedouins, he stumbles into ancient ruins and a leopard's cave. Instead of mauling Augustin, the female cat adopts him, and a strange but dangerous relationship begins between the man and the big cat. Based on an eponymous novella by Honoré de Balzac, Passion in the Desert is an otherworldly experience. It explores how the most civilized of men can be reduced to the level of a beast in extreme circumstances.
4 Little Girls
On Sept. 15, 1963, Addie Mae Collins, Carole Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, and Carole Rosa-mond Robertson were attending Sunday school in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. No one expected that these fine, young, black Americans would become the innocent victims of the civil-rights unrest that had been haunting Birmingham, Ala., for years. Yet at an hour when many townsfolk were home enjoying breakfast, the four girls were torn to shreds by a bomb planted by a white supremacist. The tragedy proved galvinizing for the civil-rights movement. The leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference arrived in Birmingham and promised to help bring justice to the suffering. Millions of Americans who hadn't been paying much attention to the unrest in the South suddenly focused on the injustices experienced by blacks. The civil authorities started a long campaign to find and convict the bomber. 4 Little Girls, a documentary by Spike Lee that originally appeared on HBO, follows all this and much more as it examines the events that surrounded the bombing. In a series of touching interviews, it explores who the girls were, reveals the grief their deaths left behind, and examines the causes and effects of their tragedy.
Hollywood studio Dreamworks SKG is on a mission: to release animated films as good as any of Disney's classics. The latest Dreamworks video entry in this high-risk venture is Antz, a comic look at an unhappy ant and the teeming ant colony he resides in. The ant is Z (voice of Woody Allen), who is suffering existential angst. As the middle child in a family of 5 million, he's feeling neglected. As an ant who can lift only 10 times his body weight, he's feeling puny. And as a worker who spends his days digging tunnels with thousands of others, he's feeling unimportant. But all that changes when he meets Princess Bala (voice of Sharon Stone). Feeling slighted by her fiance, General Mandible (voice of Gene Hackman), this heiress heads to a workers' bar. Her encounter with Z sets the two ants on a series of adventures that permanently changes their futures. Although Antz is somewhat incoherent politically — it seems to recommend both the individualism of democracy and the stultification of socialism — it does have moments of high comedy. Children will enjoy the video's tale, while adults will enjoy the wry asides and cultural references.
— Loretta Seyer
BY Loretta Seyer
Packed with big men, big machinery, big explosions, and big problems, Armageddon follows a crew of oil drillers led by Bruce Willis as they try to save Earth from an asteroid. Willis and company receive their assignment from nerdy government officials and seem to be more interested in destroying them than the asteroid. But after consenting to a few days of training, the drillers blast off into space, leaving Willis’ daughter (Liv Tyler) behind to mourn her father and her fiancé (Ben Affleck), a troublesome driller. Disaster soon ensues, and tough decisions must be made. Although rife with impressive special effects, Armageddon is one of the silliest thrillers ever concocted. Frenetic direction and editing it make it even harder to bear. (150 mins, $15.99; Register Ratings V-3 L-2 N1 S-3)
Many fans of the stylish, whimsical, and clever '60s TV series known around the world as “The Avengers” awaited the release of the film version of their beloved show with deep anxiety. Their doubts have been more than fulfilled by the oddity that hit the multiplexes last summer as The Avengers. The filmmakers behind this movie seem to have no idea of what they were assembling. The movie is part thriller, part satire, part cartoon, part love story, and mostly incomprehensible. Its story loosely follows the adventures of Ralph Fiennes as the imperturbable John Steed and Uma Thurman as the svelte Mrs. Peel as they attempt to defeat Sean Connery, an obscenely wealthy villain who is determined to gain worldwide domination through his control of the weather. The only interesting aspects of The Avengers are the brilliant art direction and the quality of the actors, who try mightily with impossible parts. Everything else is a misfire. (89 mins., rental only; Register Ratings V-2 L-2 N-1 S-1)
The Truman Show
Australian director Peter Weir is known for the luminosity and subtlety of his films, and his latest is no exception. At first sight, it's the story of Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey), a 30-year-old insurance salesman whose entire life has been lived as a television show. Millions of viewers have watched Truman grow up in Seahaven, a set in the world's largest soundstage. This young man has no idea how artificial his life is until a series of unsettling incidents gives him an inkling. Increasingly desperate, Truman struggles to discover who he is and who is controlling him. Working to counter him is Christof (Ed Harris), the all-powerful director who runs nearly every aspect of his star's life. The Truman Show is a complex allegory that works on many levels. It asks questions about the artificiality of modern life, the corrosiveness of the celebrity culture, the power of free will, the meaning of freedom, and the role of religion. This is one of the few movies to emerge in the past year that's worth debating. (104 mins., rental only; Register Ratings V4 L-1 N-0 S-1)
— Loretta Seyer
BY Jim Cosgrove
Wallace Ritchie (Bill Murray) makes a surprise visit to his brother James (Peter Gallagher), a banker in England who's about to close an important business deal. James doesn't want Wallace to be around so he arranges for his brother to act in a performance of the “theater of life.” Wallace waits outside a phone box to get the supposed instructions for the plot. But when he answers the phone, little does he know that the call is actually for a real-life hitman. Instead of entering an acting scene he becomes involved in a deadly game of espionage. He thinks the events are part of the play and begins to disrupt the others’ plans. They believe that he's some sort of superspy and send Boris “The Butcher” (Alfred Molina) and others to stop him. A good, Pink Panther stle spoof, but contains strong language, innuendo, and sensuality. (MPAA—PG)
Written by Academy Award winning screenwriter Horton Foote (Tender Mercies), the movie tells of a Texas oilman who offers farmer and recent widower John Webb (Hume Cronyn) mineral rights to his land. The film brilliantly portrays the conflicts and tensions that arise as Webb's family becomes divided over the prospect of easy money when they pin their hopes on striking oil and try to lease the land to the highest bidder. Excellent family viewing with a very deep message to be learned. (MPAA—PG)
Get a Clue
The movie is based on The Westing Game, a children's book by Ellen Raskin. Turtle Wexler's family has just moved to a new neighborhood, next to the haunted Westing Mansion. On a dare from her newfound friends, she enters the mansion and finds that someone has been murdered. The crime becomes the biggest mystery in the city's history. With a handful of clues and a houseful of suspects, Turtle and her clever partner decide to gather the evidence. The stakes are high, with a reward of $20 million that Wexler desperately wants to help her divided and confused family, raises some interesting questions for a young audience. (MPAA—PG)
Forest Service firefighter and smoke jumper Jesse Graves (Howie Long) parachutes into forest fires to put them out. He faces a new adventure when Earl Shaye (William Forsythe), a convict imprisoned for a deadly train heist, uses a forest fire to plot his escape and take an ornithologist, Jennifer (Suzy Amis), hostage. Jesse finds himself battling not only the blaze, but Shaye and his men as he tries to save Jennifer before a deadly firestorm overtakes them all. The action-packed movie keeps the viewer's interest. It contains strong language. (MPAA—R)
BY Greg Chesmore
Good Will Hunting
Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a highly intelligent 20-year-old, can solve the most complex mathematical problems. Despite his intelligence, his troubled background and street-smart ways continually get him into trouble with the law. While on parole he spends his days working as a cleaner in a school and his nights drinking and hanging out with his buddies Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck), and Billy (Cole Hauser). He tries to impress Skylar (Minnie Driver), a fourth-year Harvard student. Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) at the college and therapist Sean McGuire (Robin Williams) who see the troubled young man's potential try to help him after he anonymously solves a math problem that stumped other university students. Sean works hard to get inside the young geniu’ head, and Skylar tries to get inside his heart. They both hope the young man will come to his full senses and realize his capabilities. An excellent movie but includes strong language, including some sex-related dialogue. (MPAA—R)
During a massive flood, armored-car guards Tom (Christian Slater) and his uncle Charlie (Ed Asner) battle a gang of robbers led by Jim (Morgan Freeman). When the gang unintentionally open fire on them, Charlie is killed. Wanting to protect the money, Tom wades through flood waters with $3 million in cash and hides it in a flooded cemetery. He then tries to hide from the bandits in a local church, but Karen (Minnie Driver), a restoration artist, thinks he's a looter and knocks him unconscious. She hands him over him to the local sheriff (Randy Quaid), who becomes greedy for the money and goes after it. Meanwhile, Tom finds himself in a flooding jail cell. Karen eventually comes to his rescue and the two try to stop both sets of bad guys while also battling the rising floodwaters. A predictable but watchable movie. Contains violence. (MPAA—R)
Six Days and Seven Nights
Robin Monroe (Anne Heche) is an assistant editor of a magazine in New York. In order to break from work and get away from the cold of the city, boyfriend Frank Martin (David Schwimmer) takes her on vacation to a tropical island. Boarding a tiny plane owned by cargo pilot Quinn Harris (Harrison Ford), the two lovebirds arrive at their tropical destination and immediately get engaged. However, an urgent work deadline then forces Robin to hire Quinn to fly her to Tahiti for a photo shoot. On the way to Tahiti they run into a lighting storm and are forced to crash-land their plane on a remote island. Hearing that the plane never arrived at its destination, Frank is concerned and takes comfort in the company of Quinn's girlfriend, Angelica (Jacqueline Obradors). Meanwhile, realizing that they may be stranded for a long time, Robin and Quinn try to make the best of their situation. At first they get on each other's nerves. But the two slowly begin to fall for each other as they deal with the dangers they encounter on the island. Contains strong language, suggestive sexuality, and some violence. (MPAA—PG-13)
Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow), a public relations specialist, has just been fired from her job. Racing to catch the subway home, she just misses it as the sliding doors close in front of her. In an unexplained sequence, another version of her does make it onto the train. From that moment on, the two different Helens continue with their parallel but different lives. The Helen who makes it onto the subway meets James (John Hannah), and then gets home in time to find her live-in boyfriend and aspiring novelist, Gerry (John Lynch), with his former girlfriend, Lydia (Jeanne Tripplehorn). The Helen who didn't make it onto the train nearly gets mugged on the way home, and thus is delayed long enough to miss Lydia leaving their place. As each of the Helens and their lives continue in different directions—the first falling for James whom she later meets again, and the second becoming suspicious of Gerry—they must decide what is best for each of them. Not suitable viewing for children because of sexual content and language. (MPAA RATING—PG-13)
BY Jim Cosgrove
Good Will Hunting
Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a highly intelligent 20-year-old, can solve the most complex mathematical problems. Despite his intelligence, his troubled background and street-smart ways continually get him into trouble with the law. While on parole he spends his days working as a cleaner in a school and his nights drinking and hanging out with his buddies Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck), and Billy (Cole Hauser). He tries to impress Skylar (Minnie Driver), a fourth-year Harvard student. Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) at the college and therapist Sean McGuire (Robin Williams) who see the troubled young man's potential try to help him after he anonymously solves a math problem that stumped other university students. Sean works hard to get inside the young genius' head, and Skylar tries to get inside his heart. They both hope the young man will come to his full senses and realize his capabilities. An excellent movie but includes strong language, including some sex-related dialogue. (MPAA — R)
The Spanish Prisoner
Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) develops a top-secret formula that will help his company forge years ahead of any competition. He seeks the advice of lawyer friend George Lang (Ricky Jay) after he becomes afraid that his company will not properly compensate him for his efforts. Joe then meets with his boss, Klein (Ben Gazzara), while on a business trip to the Caribbean and is assured that he will be compensated. On the same trip he meets up with Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin), a wealthy businessman. The two become friends. Joe agrees to deliver a book to Jimmy's sister upon his return to New York. Joe is still worried about being compensated and talks to Jimmy who tells him that the company will probably try to take advantage of him. Sure enough, Klein and his associates then try to renegotiate his contract and Joe begins to follow Jimmy's directions on how to solve this problem. A slow-moving and at times confusing movie. (MPAA — PG)
During a massive flood, armored-car guards Tom (Christian Slater) and his uncle Charlie (Ed Asner) battle a gang of robbers led by Jim (Morgan Freeman). When the gang unintentionally open fire on them, Charlie is killed. Wanting to protect the money, Tom wades through flood waters with $3 million in cash and hides it in a flooded cemetery. He then tries to hide from the bandits in a local church, but Karen (Minnie Driver), a restoration artist, thinks he's a looter and knocks him unconscious. She hands him over to the local sheriff (Randy Quaid), who becomes greedy for the money and goes after it. Meanwhile, Tom finds himself in a flooding jail cell. Karen eventually comes to his rescue and the two try to stop both sets of bad guys while also battling the rising floodwaters. A predictable but watchable movie. Contains violence. (MPAA — R)
Can't Hardly Wait
A group of students celebrates their high school graduation at a party that becomes a get-even session. Aspiring writer Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry) is madly in love with Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the nicest looking girl in school. That very day Amanda's macho boyfriend, Mike Dexter (Peter Facinellili), dumps her. Preston's close but shy friend, Denise Fleming (Lauren Ambrose), finds it hard to believe that he has never told Amanda about his feelings for her and encourages him to give Amanda the letter which has taken him the past four years to write. Meanwhile, Denise has own problems with her childhood friend, Kenny Fisher (Seth Green).
William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo), the school's bright spark, also attends the party and wants to get final revenge on Mike for years of social downgrading. Not suitable viewing for children due to crude language, teen drinking, and sexuality. (MPAA — PG-13)