National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Videos on Release

BY Loretta G. Seyer

March 14-20, 1999 Issue | Posted 3/14/99 at 2:00 PM

 

Big and Hairy

A large serving of suspension of dis-belief is essential while watching Big and Hairy. Based on a novel by Brian Daly, this family-oriented film is filled with whimsical notions and general silliness, but it also makes a series of solid points that few parents would disagree with. Big and Hairy follows the adventures of Picasso Dewlap (Robert Burke), a middle-schooler who has moved to Cedar Island from Chicago. Picasso has been forced to leave his friends behind because his father Victor (Richard Thomas) has accepted a job as a designer for a lawn-ornament factory. Picasso soon discovers that he and his parents don't fit in with the inhabitants of Cedar Island. The Dewlap parents handle this by living spontaneously and obliviously. Their son tries to deal with the problem by joining the basketball team, but even there he has difficulties. Then, Picasso's life is changed by a wandering sasquatch, an adolescent named Ed Tibbets (Trevor Jones). Ed becomes a brilliant basketball player, to the joy of the basketball-crazy town, but this only makes Picasso's life even harder. Over time, the boy has to learn a series of lessons about love, friendship and responsibility before he realizes the true source of happiness.

Next Stop Wonderland

Next Stop Wonderland is a variation on one of humanity's oldest tales, but it's the variation's cleverness that makes the film so beguiling. Instead of the standard boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl plot, the movie follows a different course. The boy, Alan (Alan Gelfont), and the girl, Erin (Hope Davis), don't meet each other until the very end of the movie, although they have close encounters all the way through. This complex dance is set in Boston. Alan, a plumber studying to become a marine biologist, is hoping to become an employee of the city's aquarium. Erin, a shell-shocked nurse trying to recover from being dumped by her hyperprogressive boyfriend Sean (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is trying to fend off her manipulative mother (Holland Taylor), who has placed a personal ad in the classifieds. At first, Hope ignores the 64 responses on her answering machine, but eventually starts meeting some of the prospects. None work out because her true love is just around the corner. In a very subtle way, Next Stop Wonderland exposes the hollowness of many contemporary lives. It quietly reveals the desperation of those who live without love and a core philosophy.

Ronin

In feudal Japan, ronin were samurai whose lord had been killed. Masterless, they wandered the land as bandits or hired swords. If they were fortunate, they found a new and just master; if they were unfortunate, they died cruelly. The story of the wandering samurai is at the heart of Ronin, a thriller from noted action director John Frankenheimer. Only these ronin are masterless because of the Soviet bloc's breakup. These former spies, soldiers and mercenaries circle the globe looking for the work they were trained to do. In the chaos of the post-Cold War world, they often don't know who is bidding for their services, and the small band assembled in Paris is even more in the dark than usual. All that the group understands is that they're taking orders from the Irish Deidre (Natascha McElhone), that their object is a briefcase with unknown contents, that the briefcase's holders are ruthless and that only two of the band, Sam (Robert De Niro) and Vincent (Jean Reno), know what they're doing. “Ronin” has many of the qualities of a great thriller — elaborate plot, impressive action scenes, top actors — but it makes the mistake of pushing these qualities too far. The result is an oddly top-heavy movie.

Without Limits

In June 1975, a 24-year-old runner was killed in a car accident after taking a friend home. The tragedy shook American sports since the runner was Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup), one of the world's most gifted and notorious athletes. Pre, as he was known, had shaken up the stodgy and corrupt milieu of international amateur athletics while he was setting records in 5,000-meter races. He had also shaken up the notions of his hard-driving track coach at the University of Oregon, Bill Bowerman (Donald Sutherland), one of the founders of Nike. And he had almost shaken up the determination of his devout Catholic girlfriend, Mary Mardox (Monica Potter). From early childhood as a German-speaking boy in the village of Coos Bay, Ore., Pre had known he was different. This Olympian attributed his difference and his confidence to his uncanny ability to withstand pain and a sheer desire to run flat out. This sublime arrogance inevitably brought clashes with other strong-willed persons, a process that “Without Limits” highlights well. Pre was a difficult person, but he serves as a fascinating subjecting for a biographical film. Without Limits tells his story with care and integrity.

Loretta G. Seyer