[1 995. Directed by Ron Howard. Cast Torn Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton. Universal Pictures. 1 40 mins.] Having an accident on the toad is always a drag. Birt traveling 205,000 miles out of town toblowagasketisareadrag. Suchaday's bad luck is the story of Apollo 13. When Mission Commander Jim Lovetl's Apollo command module oxygen tank marfunctioned on April 13, 1970, and serf-destructed two days aft er lift-off, rt was obvious the rest of the joumey was going to be a touch-and-go proposition. There were enough difficurties in store to chili the hearts of the most seasoned space traveler. For instance, the astronauts were reduced to free zing in the farreaches of lunar orbrt. Then, if they survived the trip over, there was the distinct probability they would choke on their carbon dioxide before they reached home. And ifthings weren t bad enough, even if they did manage to get back to earth, their reentry margin of error was a scant two degrees. The seasoned veteran on the flight was Lovell. He had flown within 60 miles of the lunar surf ace in 1 969's Apollo 8 mi ssion. But lunar module pilotFred Haise and command module pilot Jack Swigert were rookies. All three were floating between the earth and the moon ike af ree-formdamaged can of Spam. Director Ron Howard has pulle ' off the spectacular feat of balancing these space travails and theequalearthboundNASAheadachesof Apollo 13 in magnifteent fashion. The fïm doesnt have the imaginative zip of Star Wars, nor the .nteilectuai depth of 200 1:A Space Odyssey, but it does have a solid story that is as heroic today as it was when it happened. Howard's strategy is simple: Quickly flesh out the prior two lunar missions and give us a sense of the men who would take flight in Apollo 13. Obviously these prior stories, if handled property, would be dramatic in their own right; but in the case of LoveU's command, the sneer intensity of these men's ordeal would fual a 96-hour woridwide vigil. In contrast to Phiip Kaufman's 1 976 77 Right Stuff- which was perhaps a bit too cynically rambling to be a comfortable classic - Apollo 13 keeps its focus on goodoldfashioned bravery. Not quite feel-good, but very definitely optlmistic, the film Ilústrales America's selflessness in the faceofdaunting adversity. This simóle phüosophy propels one of the most exciting films of this decade. Torn Han ksasthesingle-minded Lovell, Kevin Bacon as the playboy Jack Swigert, and Bill Paxton as the reliable Fred Haise, represent a compelling cross-section of modem American mannood. Toss in the module commander who got yanked at the last second for af alse case of measles, Ken Mattingly (Gary Sinise); as wel as the indomitable flight director, Gene Kranz (Ed Harris); and the best and brightest of NASA's finest hour shines brightty. Once the fílm gets underway (and it takes a leisurety 45 minutes to get t her e), Apollo 1 3 tums into a hair-raising ride despite our knowing how the story ends. In fact, it may be that we can relax because we know how the story ends. NASA's solutions to the problems facing the nearty doomed mission are quite ingenious. What matters most is that for a film of such gigantic proportions - and with such extraordinary visual and audio effects - every special effects dollar counts. It's inconceivable that Apollo 13 could be i ss than it is and this is the hallmark of competent f nmaking. Howard has carefully thought through - ; ccnsequences of his story. Apollo 13 is one of these rare masterworks where every element of the film fuses together to créate a superior motion picture. We're taken along one of the most exciting adventures in our half-century. In this vivid instance- from the crew's dicey figure-eight around the moon to their reasonable anxiety of buming to death upon reentry- truth is far more compelling than fiction could ever be. DESPERADO [1 995. Directed by Robert Rodríguez. Cast: Antonb Bandetas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almedia Columbia Pictures. 103 mins.] Anyone who liked the last 15 minutes of Sani Peckinpah's 1 969 77 Wild Bunch s goíng to love the two-hour camage of Desperado. Never before in the history of cinema have so many Mexican banditos died from so much lead poisoning from so few gun barrels. The body count resulting from Robert Rodríguez' border town massacre numbers somewnere near the triple-digits. And the only reason forthis statisticai inexactness sterns from an understated climatic fade-out that leaves the film's final mayhem to the viewer's imagination. Unfortunately, we, too, have been f ar overcooked by this point to care much about what's happened. Rodríguez' 1993 El Mariachi ended with our unnamed hero's fretting hand and erstwhile girifriend being blasted to blazes by evil gangsters. As the mariachi in that film was - well, a harmless musician - his unkind turn of events only added insult to hts lost livelihood. By the time we catch up with him in Desperado', he's no longer quite so harmless, and he's aft er the drug lord who was behind the shenanigans of the first film. Rodríguez made that movie on a shoestring budget of $7,000, and Desperado sports a budget of S3.5 million. So there's been afew changes made. For one, the original mariachi, Carlos Gallardo, has been replaced by rising superstar, Antonio Banderas. And for another, there's an understated element of desperation to the proceedings that was missing from the earlier independent production. Rodríguez is playing for much higher stakes and the studio's insistence upon genre conformity is evident from the film's wooden script and incendiary special effects. As exit of control as John Woo or Quentin Tarantino on a bad-ass day, Rodriguez' violence has a comic book silliness that s at odds with the story's slim narrativo. Granted El Mariachi was no Brothers Karamazov, but where Rodriguez' earHer film was inventivo and comical, Desperado is just bigger and a lot louder. While the studio demanded f irst-rate production values, Desperado is decidedly second-rate material. It suffers from an excess of excess. In three set-pieces alone, Rodriguez expends enough fire power to light up a third-world war. Indeed, somewhat like the 26-year-old whiz kid that he is, he's more fascinated with his explosives than he is with his narrative. So even if the results are visual and aurally impressive - which they are, if not eventually also a bit ludicrous - no one can aecuse him of not using the company's available money. Besides, his casting almost saves the day. Antonio Banderas is clearly super star material. His cat-like lithe movements and energetic athleticism are the stuff action stars are made of. So what if cc-star Sal ma Hayek is a bit awe-struck in her film debut and Joaquim de Almedia (as the mastermind El Mariachi is sworn to destroy) has tohold down his sideofthestoryfitfully? Rodríguez just sends in another round of bullets and figures no one will notice the difference. He's probably right. Nonetheless, Desperado is a compromiso between Rodríguez' previous success and what he can do in the future. Having pulled off one of the all-time celebrated independent film productions, he's now maneuvering himself to make the movies he wishes in corporate America Yet he's also compromised himself by committing his talent to a thoughtless sequel of his prior hardeamed triumph. It's understandable that he wants to stay on safe ground on his first studio feature film. But the next time around, Rodriguez will have to do more than blow up cars against a sauey Los Lobos soundtrack. After all, even in genre flicks, scripts stand for something. I RATING KEY ik Acting $ Cinematography Direction H Editing fa Narrative Sound Special Effects When a symbol appears following a itle, t implies that the corresponding category is a strength oí the movie.
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