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Movies

New on video

'Saving Private Ryan' best bet of new video offerings

Web posted on: Tuesday, May 25, 1999 11:32:01 AM EDT

By Reviewer Paul Tatara

(CNN) -- So your team was the only one in professional basketball that didn't manage to double-dribble its way into the playoffs, you finally had that icky bump removed from the dog's leg so you're running low on cash again, and you're already so sick of "The Phantom Menace" you'd rather take a beating with a two-by-four than actually watch the Major Event of All Time from beginning to end. Add it all up, and there's only one solution: time to rent another video.

Unfortunately, that might not work out so well, either. The latest releases, with one-and-a-half exceptions, are a fairly uninspiring lot. Here's the low-down on what's new.

MULTIMEDIA

Theatrical preview for "Saving Private Ryan"
3.3Mb QuickTime movie

"Saving Private Ryan"

DreamWorks Pictures. Rated R, 170 minutes.

Regardless of the Academy snubbing it for Best Picture in favor of "Shakespeare in Love"'s far less alarming kissy-poo, this was easily the most electrifying film of 1998. Granted, Steven Spielberg's technical mastery was already the stuff of movie legend when it was released, but "Saving Private Ryan"'s startling opening battle -- a horribly authentic rendering of the carnage on Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy -- is a nearly unparalleled piece of virtuoso filmmaking.

Spielberg shot the 20 minute sequence in near-documentary style, though his command of the craft is so overpowering you don't feel the least bit displaced when he actually enters the fear-rattled mind of the film's main character (Tom Hanks, giving yet another effortlessly iconic performance.) Yes, the blood-and-guts are hugely disturbing, but not as disturbing as they were to the men who actually fought the battle. Since you very possibly wouldn't be watching the film if they hadn't surrendered their lives and limbs on that beach 50 years ago, you should absolutely keep your eyes open and take it all in. And then you should remember it.

The film's noticeable drawback (and very possibly the reason it didn't win that top Oscar) is a screenplay that never really collapses but still drags around a pile of clichés as if they're government issue when it comes to war movies. Hank's squad, whose task it is to find and send home the last surviving son (played in so-so manner by Matt Damon) of a war-shattered Midwestern family, is a pretty obvious cross section of what used to be called the immigrant experience. There's a Jewish kid, a Brooklyn loudmouth, an Italian-American, and so on.

All of the performances (especially a particularly moving one from Giovanni Ribisi as a doomed medic) are top-notch, but the heart-rending battles that bookend the European sections of the film are what makes this one a near-classic. Even with its flaws, it's arguably the greatest war film ever made.

MULTIMEDIA
Theatrical preview for "Gloria"
Windows Media 28K 80K

"Gloria"

Sony Pictures Entertainment. Rated R, 110 minutes.

Director Sidney Lumet once wrote a marvelous book called "Making Movies" that's the most informative piece of writing that I've ever read about (amazingly enough) making movies. In the book, he's admirably willing to admit that more than a few films during his 35 year career have simply gotten away from him, winding up as mere suggestions of what he was actually shooting for when he started. "Gloria," Lumet's uninspired, thoroughly pointless remake of the just as mediocre John Cassavetes film of the same name, should be added to that list.

Sharon Stone -- getting more attractive as she ages -- plays the title character, a gun moll who's being released from prison as the movie opens (Feel free to giggle at the designer hairdo she's sporting upon exit.) You may recall from the first time around that the plot centers on the moll trying to take care of a young boy who's been pegged for extinction by the mob. That's what happens here, too, except that Lumet takes about three days getting around to the action. After that, he spends so much time having Stone and the little tike get all squishy while they warm up to each other, no steam is ever generated.

As expected, you get a full dose of Lumet's cigarette-stoked agita, and his skill with urban locales is beyond reproach. Stone's "dem-guys-wit-da-guns" accent, on the other hand, verges on ridiculous. The kid (played by Jean-Luke Figueroa) is thankfully less than cavity-inducing, but that's not anywhere near enough. Visually, Lumet can work an enclosed space like nobody's business (see "Dog Day Afternoon" and "12 Angry Men" for prime examples) but his hand with open air chase scenes is something less than stellar. The movie promises to pull up lame from the very beginning, and eventually delivers the limping goods. That Stone's legs are the ones doing the limping is the only conceivable draw.

MULTIMEDIA
Theatrical preview for "Holy Man"
Windows Media 28K 56K

"Holy Man"

Touchstone Pictures. Rated PG, 114 minutes.

A dreadful snooze of a comedy from screenwriter Tom Schulman, who also brought us that Joe Pesci manifesto of un-hilarity, "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag." Eddie Murphy plays a mystic of some ill-defined sort named G. who's taken in by Jeff Goldblum, playing a programming executive at a cable home shopping channel. Kelly Preston also works for the channel, and she pushes G. on the air, where his fortune cookie insights about life and consumerism somehow inspire people to buy-buy-buy. Then everybody starts "understanding each other." Murphy's performance consists of having a shaved head and grinning madly whenever he delivers dialogue. Must have been tough.

"Holy Man" just missed my "10 Worst" list at the end of last year, and, in retrospect, that might have been a mistake. If you can afford the therapy, it might be spiritually constructive to buy a copy just so you can throw it away.


MULTIMEDIA

A clip from "Bent"
1Mb QuickTime movie

"Bent"

Goldwyn Entertainment. Rated R, 104 minutes.

The half-good film that I alluded to earlier. Clive Owen stars as Max, a gay party-boy in 1930s Berlin who enters into a hellish world of systematic brutality when Hitler and the SS decide that the party is definitely over. Homosexuals are being rounded up and shipped off to Dachau, where they're treated as less than animals and are forced to engage in barbaric games of torture and humiliation.

The movie is based on a play, and that's basically its problem. A lot of it is stage-bound. The early nightclub scenes (including a "chanteuse" performance by none other than Mick Jagger, underplaying it admirably) are cinematic in the extreme, looking like forbidden carnivals photographed by a late-'20s German expressionist. Director Sean Mathias establishes a distinct sense of place and time here, but once the characters are sent to the camps, things fall apart considerably.

Admittedly, there are a several very touching moments between Owen and fellow prisoner Lothaire Bluteau, who actually manages to interject a healthy dose of pitch black humor into the proceedings. But most of the camp-bound screen time is filled with the two characters carrying huge rocks back and forth across an empty building while attempting to communicate to some small degree each time they pass each other. It's a Beckett-like move that must have on stage, but grows increasingly tedious -- even annoying -- as the film drags on.

The presentation of this material is certainly unflinching, and it deserves to be, but you may find your own humanity being squashed before it's all over with. "Bent" is an honorable semi-failure that could be easier to handle at home, where you can take an occasional break from the searing pain and harsh monotony. The effort, and the film's desire to illustrate the unbreakable nature of human dignity, should definitely be applauded.


RELATED STORIES:
Review: 'Saving Private Ryan' staggering, hellish, heroic
July 24, 1998
Dear Lord, this is 'Holy Man'?
October 13, 1998
Review: Poignancy of 'Bent' plays better on stage
December 4, 1997
Review: 'Gloria' stumbles on heels of original
January 26, 1999

RELATED SITES:
'Gloria' on Sony Pictures Movies
Official 'Holy Man' site
Official 'Saving Private Ryan' site
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