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Month
January
Year
1996
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1 995. Directed by M ichael Man n. Cast: Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Val Kilmer. Warner Bros. 170 mins.] Watching Michael Mann put the pieces of his craft together has been quite an interesting pastime. One of HoUywood's enigmatic talents through the last two decades, Mann has always seemed on the verge of doing something significant. . .only to slide back to mediocrity neariy each and every time. The largest part of Mann's difficulty has been his penchant for overtly stylized cinematography. His first notable success, Thief, dazzled the viewer's eye with aflai r whose only current equals are Nicolás Roeg and Jane Campion. But where Roeg's visual style is subordinated to his quirky intellectualism, and Campion is seemingly driven torewrite the rules of the visual narrative, Mann's taste for middling melodramas has made his work of little serious consequence. His subsequentfilms - The Keep, Manhunter, and The Last of the Mohicans - have been disjointed ventures that meander almost aimlessly. These films have staggered more through mangled scripts than they've thoughtfully entertained. Thus more often than not, Mann's promise to improve upon his previous efforts has only happened by increments. We can always count on getting bowled over, yet a little coherence would also be nice. With Heat, Mann has finally fit his talents to a relatively straightforward story. Perhaps the film overplays its hand, but there's no question that his take on organized West Coast crime is clever. The plot is simple: Vincent Hanna (Al Pacino) is a Los Angeles detective whose sole purpose in life is to hammer bad guys. On the other side of the badge, mastermind Neil McCauley's (Robert DeNiro) sole purpose in life is to jazz the copswho interfere with his business. These two men's competition occupies most of thefilm's neariy three hours, but Mann's ing screenplay also has pit stops for two dysfunctional families, a wayward romance, and one of the finest action set piecessincethe famedStarbuck shoot-out in Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch. Despite surface similarities with Quentin ervoirDogs, and the use of Francis Ford Coppola's Godfathers, the film that Mann obviously has at heart is Sergio Leone's woefully ignored Once Upon a Time in America. The fate of these two movies says more about the state of the entertainment industry than it does about the films themselves. Once Upon a Time in America was butchered by its distributor so that it would fit comfortably in the two-hour rotation favored by film exhibitors. Unfortunately, thefilm was not only in tatters when it was finally released; far more important, it was incomprehensible. Only in the video "director's cut" does Leone's operatic saga make its considerable impact By contrast, Heat could lose one hour of its running time without much narrative loss. But what would be missing is the film 's visual texture. And this atmospheric ambiance is what Mann does best. His ability to telegraph visual asides makes the film a visceral masterwork. Add DeNiro'srivetingperformancetoPacino's bravado - with a nifty existential turn by Val Kilmer - and one leaves Heat in a thoroughly alterad state of mind. Maybe this is why this film seemsthe ultímate Califomiacrime stopper. Where elsecouldsuchdrivencombatantslettheirvindictiveness flair sovividly. ..and with such mellifluous languor? JUMANJI [1 995. Directed by Joe Johnston . Cast Robin Williams, BonnieHunt, Ki reten Dunst. Tristar Pictures. 104 mins.] It's to be granted that Toy Story has generated quite a media buzz with its being the first completely computer animated motion picture made. The film deserves all the popular success it's currently enjoying. Yet its middle-ofthe-road approach is aiso geared towards mass popular success. There's no edge to its raison d'être. By contrast, the nearequally popular Jumanji is a far more enigmatic film. This Robin Williams vehicle - despite its surprisingly commonplace story that has little in common with the Chris Van Allsburg story - represents the future of cinematic special effects. Aiid once you overlook its hackneyed narrative, the wonders in store for future audiences is quite amazing. Jumanji begins in 1 869 when two New England boys fearfully bury a wooden case in which the Jumanji game is stashed. How they found it, why they're burying it, and the whole point of the sequence is of marginal consequence. We only know they're frightfully grateful to be rid of the accursed game. Rash forward to 1969 and town nerd, Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd), discovers the case when it'saccidentally excavated nearhisfather's shoe factory. After tossing the game's dice in the company of a girif tiend, he gets magically drawn into the game board, and is lost in the jungles of Jumanji for a quarter-century. Flash forward (again) to 1995 and two orphans, Judy and Peter (Kristen Dunst and Bradley Pierce), have inherited the Parrish mansion that was abandoned after Alan'sdisappearance. The Parrish shoe company has gone bankrupt and the old home town is a palé reflection of its enterprising self. When the two kids discover the game board, they release Alan (Robin Williams) and inadvertently let loóse a squadron of giant mosquitoes. Between the kids, Alan, and nis once-upon-atime girtfriend, Sarah (Bonnie Hunt), Jumanji escalates into a race to complete the game against man-eating vines, a loony 1 9th-century wild game hunter, and a rampaging herd of elephants, rhinoceros, and zebras. This is cleariy a movie where more is not neariy enough. Lifting plot devices from The Wizard of Oz, Ifs a Wonderful Life, The üftfe Shop of Horrors, Romancing the Stone, Gremlins, and Back to the Future, Jumanji is every bit as frantic as one would expect. . .and perhaps even more so. Indeed, director Johnston improves upon his previous Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, but that he succeeds says more about Jumanji that it does about his joumeyman by-the-numbers plotting. But, then again, analysis is probably more harmf ui here than simply surrendering to the visual and aural barrage taking place on the big screen. Which leads us back to the film's remarkable visual effects. Not that the figure is of any significance (excepting that it neariy outstrips some thirdworld economies), but the $65 million dollars used to make Jumanji hasn't been wasted. Granted, no single fx packs the walbp of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, but then it would also be drfficult to topahungryTyrannosaurus.Jurr)af?yïcleverlymoves in the opposite direction by giving us marauding animáis that could escape from any local zoo. Terminator2, Death Becomes Her, The Last Action Hero, and Jurassic Park were only the beginning. Through the turn of the century, the special effects that are in store for us are going to be neariy unimaginable.Whether any filmmakeris resourceful enough to use these wondrous accouterments to créate something of masterful importance remains to be seen, but as the littie tot so rightty said in the otherwise forgettable Pofergeist They're (definitely) here. After a near half-century of fighting to keep their box office alive, the film studios may well have finally coined the alchemist's gold they've been desperately seeking. Through Cinemascope, Cinerama, Smell-o-Vision, and other sometimes daffy special effects, the presumption has always been that there had to be something that would drag audiences away from their televisión sets and back into motion picture theaters. RATING KEY ft Acting H Cinematography Direction &E Editing fa Narrative Sound Special Effects Kften a symbo appears following a title, t implies that the corresponding category is a strength of the movie.

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