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Month
December
Year
1997
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Creative Commons (Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike)
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Agenda Publications
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[1997. Directed by Paul Verhoeven. Cast: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards. TriStar Pictures. 1 29 mins.] The book on Paul Verhoeven is getting more disturbing by the feature. Paradoxically, his most mature artistic successes came early in his youth when he was working in his native Holland during the late 1 970s and early 1 980s. Verhoeven became a one-man Dutch cinema cottage industry with his incisive (if not also quirky) nvestigations into modern society through such projects as Soldier of Orange, Spetters, and The Fourth Man. As is inevitable for such a successful foreign product, he was finally called to Hollywood in the mid-1980s. And what happened next almost def ies the reason why he carne to America. His work has become increasingly sensationalistic and thematically unbalanced. Starting with Robocop in 1987, through 1990's Total Recall, 1992's Basic Instinct, and last year's heavily slammed Showgirls, Verhoeven has catalogued a rogue's gallery of western civilization's greatest misses. From authoritarianism, chauvinism, misogyny, and govemmental suppression, his films subtly exalt these grave political issues while simultaneously decrying them. Starship Troopers continúes this trend with, admittedly, a verve that's both viscerally exciting and paradoxically troubled. The story revolves around the exploits of a group of Buenos Aires high school students in the distant future when Earth is a sexually egalitarian society engaged in a war to the death with a vicious species of ten-foot tall spiders. Senior class heartthrob Johnny (Casper Van Dien) patriotically decides to join the army after his girtfriend Carmen (Denise Richards) joins the World Federation's Fleet Academy to become a space pilot. Their classmate, Dizzy (Dina Meyer), however, joins Johnny in the Federation infantry because she's nfatuated with him. None of the kids wager fully with the fight ahead of them. The World Federation's military f orces (which are clearly fascistic by their Nazi-era uniforms and brutal code of discipline) strike out for the spiders' worid of Klendathu after a marauding asteroid f uil of bugs destroys Buenos Aires in an alien preemptive raid. Once these characters have been f leshed out and established, the anee of the film revolves around their desperate struggle against their otherworldly enemies on this deadly desert planet. Starship Troopers is, admittedly, one of the most vividty realized wars ever shown on the si Iver screen. In particular, one battle scène where Johnny's and Dizzy's unit is surrounded by seemingly tens of thousands of warriorarachnids is particularly hair-raising. The relentless energy of these killer spiders s superbly abetted by their razor sharp legs, heavily armored exoskeleton, and dagger-sharp pincers. Indeed, the film would be nearly seamlessly exciting if it weren 't for Verhoeven's unfortunate choice of martial cultures. He's admitted that he deliberately used Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 Triumph of the Will for the key army recruitment sequence of the film. And the associations connected with the army's wardrobe - as well as the soldiers'oddlyjingoi stic behavior - isenough to jar one out of the film's suspension of disbelief. His troopers' uniforms (like the World Federation's sleek Speerish architecture) is enough to make the film distasteful. Maybe these details won't matter to the SciFi buffs worldwide that will undoubtedly turn this film into a cult classic. But it should. Because Verhoeven's remarkably kinetic and enthusiastic direction is meant to make a point. If, as he's claimed in recent interviews, the film's backdrop and costuming is meant as a satire, then he's foolishly tricked himself. For satire - even black comedy - only works when it's played out on a conscious level. Anything less is only bad taste. On the other hand, if Verhoeven's point is to show us that underthe right circumstances, we humans are nearly as undifferentiable as these killer insects, then he's played upon this anthropomorphic concert a little too cleverly. For his film works on a level that he might not have ntended. It's hard to pull enthusiastically for one side orthe other when both pests deserve a swift and permanent eradication. MEN IN BLACK [1997. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld. Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Florentino. ColumbiaTriStar Home Video. 98 mins.] ik Granted, Men in Black (like Starship Troopers) is a homage to the 1950s inner-galactic paranoia. But chalk up this mid-century psychological illness to the onset of the atomic age and some really cheesy special effects. Today's science fiction spectaculars, by contrast, have no such excuses. This film features a special American govemment agency whose sole mission is to lay waste to extra-terrestrial bugs whose nefarious plans include the destruction of the galaxy. New York City cop James Edwards (Will Smith) gets recruited when a collar he chases one night commits suicide after climbing a wall and revealing plans for the eminent destruction of Earth. Jay (as Edwards is renamed) joins senior investigator, Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), in a boundless dedication to save the world. They're eventually joined by morgue pathologist Laurel (Linda Fiorentino) in their chase, and all three barely save the world f rom a f ate worse than death. The MiB (as they bilí themselves) get the job done despite some really yukky roach juice and bug guts. There just never seems to be a can of Raid around when you need it most. On the other hand, the film's ten million dollar budget shows up on screen to good effect. But with the remarkable FXing available now to routinely destroy the universe, ho-hum, what's one more highf lying flying saucer or super-creepy space alien? Not much when good old fashioned acting carnes the day. Will Smith's relentless pitch for leading man status is greased by Barry Sonnenfeld's kid gloves direction n the film. At the very least this film (like last year's under-rated Independence Day) shows that he can carry action driven dialogue with the best of them. As smooth as Wesley Snipes - if also not quite as polished as Eddie Murphy - Sm'rth is on a seemingly non-stop trajectory to super star status. But it's the old pro who holds this film'sflimsy premise together. Tommy Lee Jones is one of those rare actors whose projection of integrity carnes us along despite whatever inanities he's required to deliver. By underplaying nis incredulity and deli vering his dialogue with a wry eamestness, Jones makes Men in Black a thoroughly engaging adventure. Sonnenfeld is smart enough to let the second unit deliver the technical wonders and stay out of his main man's way. And this strategy suits Jones justfine because he's the sortof disciplined actor who never steps on his co-stars - whether human or non-human. A seasoned screen veteran, Jones works his considerable movie magie by sardón ically weighing the stakes of his dilemma against the odds of his success. This is no small stakes when the worid's fate is hanging tenuously in the balance. The lasting impression of Men in Black is not the eye-popping special effects or sometimes cheap laughs that are endemic in films of this sort. Instead, the knowing twinkle in Jones' eyes is enough to let us know that right and virtue will save the cosmos. His delibérate squaure-shouldered posture - those ultra-cool Ray-Bans - and the black suit he casually wears are all he needs to do unceasing battle with all those heavy - duty bad bugs out there. We're just lucky he's on our side. " 'RATING KE Y14 iL Acting H Cinematography Direction E Editing Ld Narrative Sound Special Effects kVften a symbol appears fdlowing a (fe, íí impWes fiaf tfie corresponding category is a strength of the mom.

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