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[1999. Directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan F reeman. Wamer Bros. 125 mins.] V O The scène is intense as some of the United States' most talent ed virotogists are huddted in the Army's Medical Research Instituto of Infectkxjs Diseases Level 4 laboratory trying to figure out the cause of a deadly virus devastating Cedar Creek, California This outbreak - dubbed the "Mataba virus" - is moving energetically. It's threatening to take out the whole country within a matter of days. The virus' massive blood clots, viscous black vomrt, and unsightly facial lesi ons make cholera seemlike child'splay. Wrth an intently grim face, Dr. Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) leans towards his sophisticated display monitor, and with a knowing smile, spots his opponent It's a germ that looks a lot like a misplaced am persand. That'sit. The American science fiction film has degenera! ed into a killer ampersand. What happened to the days when radioact i ve giant ants came crawling out of the ground after nuclear blasts in the desert? O man-eating giant triffkte slithered around scarfing on human flesh? Or, for that matter, even rampaging giant rabbits roamed the range.. .making for an odd, if not exactly bone-chilling, night at the drive-in movies? We ' re past those innocent days now. And so is Dustin Hoffman. Taking a cue from Robert Wise's superb The Andromeda Strain and Stephen King's not-soadmirable The Stand, Wolfgang Petersen is on the hunt for thegreat Mataba germ... and he'sonlygot Hoffman between us and Armageddon. Outbreak starts plausibly and promisingty enough with an unexplained viral mutation in the Mataba región of Equatorial África some twenty years ago. Then through an interesting qiirk of movieland fate - presumably as an analog to the AIDS epidemie- one cuddly research monkey infects an underhanded laboratory caretaker. This chance event sets into motion a chain-reaction that threatens the existence of the worid's most powerfii nation. Fortunately , Hoffman has taken a little time off serious acting in order to fill in for Sly , Amie, JeanClaude, Mr. Clean, or whoever else should rightly be single-handedly taking out killer molecules. But scientrfíc knowledge is not nearty enough. Before the dreaded outbreak is contained, Hoffman's Dr. Daniels has to commandeer a military helicopter from Cedar Creek (apparent ly without refueling across the ent i re Pacific seaboard) to find thrs menacng monkey beforeit hits the bigtime in LA. He must then fight off a couple of attack helicopterstryingtoslow nis progress bef or e he can synt hesize a ïf e-saving vaccine. All th is trauma onty to have to face down a top secret bomber whose atomic warhead is meant to silence the infectad town f orever. And to prove that virologists are also nice guys, Daniels even manages to reconcile wit h his estranged wif e (Rene Russo) on what hethinks s her death bed in what spare time he has from saving the world. This is a lot to ask of anyone. Especially since Daniels' only got a couple of hours to get the job done before the killer germ really gets out of hand. Then again, no one ever said being a scientist was aprettyjob. Nor can rt be said that Outbreak is much of a movie aft er the first couple of remotely plausible cinematic leaps of farth. But at least Morgan Freeman's duplicrtous general has a surtably vacant look in his eyes as if he knows he 's covering the rent for the next couple of years and Russo's just doing what a working girl has to do to keep ends together. Not so Hoffman. Once one of America's finest actors, it 's now obvious that his career is in precipitous decline. And despite Rain Man's many faults, this film is now beginning to look like Masterpiece Theatre in contrast to the other dreadful missteps Hoff man's taken in the last few years. Dick Tracy, Hem, and Hook are all unrted by an aimost seemingly naive attempt on his part to act up a storm in films that aren 't worth his effort. The tragedy of Outbreak is that Hoffman does a competent job of spouting lines that have no conviction. He looks aged and out of place in this pseudo-scientifk: disaster. Ultimately, despite his medical ranting and moral posturing, Dr. Daniels is of no consequence. Hoffman stands stiffly lect uring about the dangers of enzymes where Sly or JeanC laude would simply chew up the scenery with an Uzi. No killer germ would dare threaten America again afteralirt Ie dose of this kind of leadpoisoning. Instead, the only serious consequence of this film is Hoffman's slide in artistic integrity. Rather than a Hoffman Outbreak, one wishes fora Hoffman break out fromtNs tepid actionflick. Becauseif he's not caref ui, those radioactive ants won 't be long in coming. ORLANDO [1 992. Directed bySally Potter. Cast Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp. Sony Picture ClassicsColumbia Home Video. 93mins.] TbebestthingtobesaidaboutOrandoisnot that il suspends our disbelief. Rather, the best thing is that Oriando suspends the suspension of our disbelief. Wrthin seconds of the film's intUation, we're cleariy along for an enjoyable ride. Sally Potter can teil her tale any way she wishes because we're securely in the grip of her imagination. And this is betterthan disbelief.. .it's cinema Granted Potter's hip overdrive takes a few liberties with Virginia Woolf s famed novel along the way; but in doing so, Potter also crafts a thoroughly modem humanist tract that dspenses with traditional gender identification through a playful critique of human foibtes. Between 1600 and today, Potter's Oriando mustgothroughtheprocessofgainingimrnortality before losing nis mocence only to flnd himsetf a herself who will lose her inheritance unless she renounces nis freedom. Got all that? By the time this swiftty paced film has run its course, she's birthed a daughter in modem-day England and visits themanor (and, by extensión, revisits the premodern worid) that was once herhis home. Orlando isoneof thosedelightful movies where social, polH cal , and cultural signifiers bo unce rily out of control. Taking her myriad of themes and tuming them inskte out, Potter reverses Oriando's binary oppositions so that their original context is subverted into another set of cross-indexed signifiers. Potter is soconfident of her material; shewaives many of the cardinal nies of filmmaking. Tilda Swinton is no more a male Orlando than Billy Zane can act. But it makes no difference. tt's this offhanded knowing that most effecthely communicates Potter's intuitiva grasp of her material. ükewise, Swinton's androgyny is no wink-anda-nod. Nor is Potter's spirit ed depict onof Oriando's crucial sexual transition a fey rnid-18th century convenience. We are, rather, being calmly introduced into the sweet paradoxes of personal identity by a masterty filmmaker. As such, Orlando is not merely a mamered comedy about sexual orientatioa It is, more accuratery, a serious comedy about the subtle conventkxis and ambiguities that underlie gender dentificatioa K ateo seeks to clarify the consequences of subverting these ccxTventionsandambiguitieswhen you're on your own. For make no mistake about it; after his first leap in historical time, Orlando is definïtely on hisher own. Potter justplaysthegarnestraightforward, rather than encourage the suspension of our disbelief. Whether male orfemale (and all points in-between) Orlando celébrales the vitality of human identity. Through feminine durability and masculine obstinacy, Potter says quite clearty after careful examination: Viva la difference! ...but what she really means is that it's all the same. RATING KEY ft Acting O Cinematography Direction H Editing & Narrative Sound Special Effects Hften a symbo appean following a öie, ( npfiés íhaí (he corresponding category is a strength of the movie.


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