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In this episode: Galaxy Quest | Man on the Moon | The Talented Mr. Ripley
To make up for my lack of movie viewing during the long, cold December (you don't think it gets cold here in L.A., but it does--I have several times this winter needed a light sweater when going outside!), I saw three (3) movies over Christmastime. Here's your fix, folks. Hopefully the movie viewing will continue furiously before the Oscars. There's flicks in them thar hills! (Why would that not be "Thar's flicks in them thar hills?")



I may as well start with this one because it seems such a throwaway, such a piffle, that you may be tempted to skip it. But you see, I can't recommend you do so. Instead, I recommend you see it for an afternoon of light laughter and some heavy grinning. Or just rent the damn thing and watch it on your TV. While the movie is widescreen, it is lit like a TV sitcom or, good golly, like an episode of Star Trek. OOPS! Did I mention Star Trek? My God, I did. Galaxy Quest, if you must know, is a spoof of Star Trek and the phenomenon of societal warping it's caused. It both makes fun of Star Trek and bows to it, a very clever balancing act.

Okay, so you want to make a movie that deals with the rabid cult following built up around an old TV show. You want to show how silly such cults can be, and how both the people who attend the conventions and the actors in the show itself are all in need of lives of some kind. BUT... you also want to make a movie that celebrates that a vision of peace and unity and harmony can come out of that very same TV show. I mean, even in this age of rabid cynicism, the concept of being good to people and living peacefully with others ain't such a bad idea.

Writers David Howard and Robert Gordon have scant credits to their credit, but they do a nice job here. The main idea of the movie, which you can figure out from the previews but skip ahead if you don't want to know, is that a race of aliens come to Earth to enlist the help of the crew of the starship Protector, having mistaken the TV transmissions of the Galaxy Quest show as historical documents. It's a great idea, and it works very well on several levels. The pathetic appearances by the worn-out cast (20 years after the show was canceled), the geeky perfectionism of the fans, the crew's reaction at their first appearance on board the real-life Protector (built by the aliens from Theremin--nice reference!--based on the ship from the show), the "transporter" and its wild, goo-encasing plasmic whatever-it-is... very imaginative, fun stuff. Even the bad alien guy, Sarris, is a great creature creation (thanks, Stan Winston).

It is for these good reasons I had a major question of mine answered: "What the hell are Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman doing in this movie?" Obviously, it was fun and clever, and much of the Star Trek satire is right on the mark. I imagine they got a big kick out of this one.

If I can't recommend this movie 100%, it's because there's a lot of ludicrous stuff you have to sit through. The story itself is predictable, and while you might say that mirrors any ol' plot of Star Trek, it'd still be nice if there were some surprises here. Just copying a predictable story for the sake of doing so is no good without some wink-wink, and while there are wink-winks elsewhere in the movie, the overall story takes itself rather seriously as a story at times. In addition, some of the jokes are just lazy. And there's too much of the "Of Course" factor here, meaning you're expecting or dreading something will happen, and then it does. Perhaps I was wanting some more zaniness than this movie was going to offer. It could have used a more colorful kick. Or more wink-wink.

But, hey, there's a lot to like, and you should give it a peek if you have the time. The effects are very good (ILM did them), and the clever parts of the movie will keep you interested. The performances are all amusing to watch. Tim Allen does a good egomaniac captain/actor character without resorting to any Buzz Lightyear stuff. Alan Rickman is great as the disgruntled, classically-trained actor typecast forever in his goofy TV alien role (the fact that he complains so bitterly about being typecast yet is never once out of his alien head makeup is very funny). Sigourney is bland but fun as the buxom lady who has nothing to do on the show except repeat what the computer says. I was especially happy to see Tony Shalhoub in the movie as a clueless guy who plays the tech sergeant on the "show." He's a very funny guy (see The Impostors) who can also do a good dramatic turn (see The Siege). Watch how he carries his lunch with him all the time.

Galaxy Quest: A nice surprise. Just a bit more, and it would have been a great surprise.



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You already know, I assume, that this is not an insightful film about the real Andy Kaufman. This is a movie about Andy as an enigma. It takes the persona(e) Andy created and presents his life through it (them). At one point in the movie, Andy tells his girlfriend, Lynne, that he wants her to know the real him. She scoffs and counters that there is no real Andy. And there you go.

Now, this review is coming from someone who doesn't know much about Andy. In his heyday, I was too young to have the patience to watch him. I hated Taxi and thought it was boring, so I never got to Andy that way. I remember vaguely his wrestling shenanigans, and the most vivid memory I have of him is his getting into that fight with Jerry Lawler on David Letterman. With that said, let me now say that Jim Carrey is fantastic. I've heard people say that he's nothing like Jim Carrey in this movie, and he's all Andy. I may ruffle some spines here, but while Jim is truly excellent in this movie, I think a lot of Carrey comes through. Again, my exposure is limited, but from what I've seen of Andy, Jim does a bit of the usual Carrey mugging. Often, the likeness to Andy is scary, but just as often it looks like Jim Carrey with bushy eyebrows and funny hair. I'm not offering this as a criticism because, as I already said twice, Jim is great to watch. I just offer up the idea that Jim is playing Andy as perhaps Andy would have played Andy... a little over the top, a little inaccurate, a little showy. I'd like to hear from any true Andy Kaufman fans regarding this, so e-mail away.

The movie was engaging and fun, but I can't, as others have done, call it the best movie of the year. It's the non-existence of Andy's life that gets in the way of a truly moving movie. I felt I was watching a TV film that kept me at an arm's distance. And, once again, I know that was the point, to keep the mystery of Andy in tact, to play with the audience like Andy would have done himself. But the fallout of that technique is that the film holds little weight. Yes, the part at the end where Andy goes to see a healer in the Philippines (I think that's where it was) was very poignant as Andy sits there, laughing that he, the master of the dupe, has himself been duped. He appreciates the joke, even when it's on him. It's a nice, subtly powerful moment. But you can't feel much for Andy himself because he's so intangible. So you have to appreciate this movie in a different way: As a look at a guy who made his entire life up in his head. It's not a movie about the emotional life of a mysterious genius.

What I came away with from this movie was an appreciation of what Andy did as a performer. The mastery at which he created controversy, turning it into entertainment, is intriguing. He was an unusual mix of classically funny, like the Mighty Mouse song, and bizarrely eyebrow-raising, like his wrestling stuff. I now want to see the real Andy Kaufman. I want to see what's out there to rent on video, so I can see Andy himself perform what Jim recreates almost perfectly in the movie.

Talk about re-creation... one of the biggest pleasures I got out of the movie was seeing all the people who played themselves. The cast of Taxi was all there, recreating themselves on a recreation of the set. David Letterman and Paul Shaffer are there for the Jerry Lawler brawl, as is Jerry Lawler himself. Lorne Michaels shows up and proves that, indeed, Dr. Evil's mannerisms are partly inspired by him. All great fun.

I also want to tell you how impressed I was with Courtney Love. Her character was slim, sure, but Courtney's good. Put her and Will Smith and Mark Wahlberg together in one movie, and you could call it The Musicians Can Act Movie, and people would come. Unless it was stupid.

If you have any desire to see a recreation of the life of a comedic groundbreaker, go see Man on the Moon. It's empty emotionally, but it's full of much else.



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If Gwenneth were Uma and Matt were Ethan and Italy were The Future, you'd have Gattaca. Though poor Jude gets his identity stolen both times, she's not, he's not, and it's not, so let's talk about this, not that.

Well, this is a disturbing movie. It's one of those ones that sneaks up on you, if not while you're watching it, then afterwards, when you think about it for a couple days. It's not the story that gets to you, but the direction and the acting. The story is pretty normal, following the typical thriller path. But there are some nice original elements here that keep the movie from being boring. It's a long movie, and there are at least two times I thought it was wrapping up when it wasn't, but that's okay. It's a thriller, you see.

Matt Damon is excellent. He creates a character whose inner turmoil is just tantalizingly under the surface. Unlike the false-front Andy in Man on the Moon, this Tom Ripley guy is complex and truly deep. There's a lot at work underneath Tom, and Matt shows just what he needs to and hides just what he needs to. Tom becomes the scariest kind of nobody--a dangerous one--right before our eyes. In essence, Tom can not live his own life. He has to follow in the footsteps of others. The only motivation he takes is to hide who he really is and to be someone he's not; (SKIP AHEAD) this of course cascades into personal tragedy so that by the end of the movie, you know Tom will never be himself.

Tom is not your typical sympathetic character. In fact, many people may not find much of anything to like about him. He's wimpy, uninteresting, and eventually just plain creepy. But you tend to warm to the character as you see Tom's complexity unfold. You may not approve of what he does, but you are fascinated nonetheless. You feel that, if Tom can just get over the next rough spot, he'll be fine, he'll be himself and all will be well. None of this complexity would have come through had Matt not been as good as he is. Mr. Damon is, indeed, one talented Mr. Ripley. (Sorry. Couldn't help myself with that one.)

The other actors provide excellent backup for Matt. Gwenneth is, as always, perfect. I'm glad she demanded her character be stronger, because she would have been wasted otherwise. Jude Law is a perfect playboy, completely different from his roles in eXistenZ and Gattaca. And he's got a flawless American accent. Philip Seymour Hoffman vanishes again into another interesting role. And Cate Blanchett, who you all know by now I find particularly awesome (see Oscar and Lucinda, Elizabeth, and An Ideal Husband), plays a new character, a cocky rich expatriate girl. You go, cocky rich expatriate girl.

I think lots of people will be bored in this movie. There's little action, the movie being mostly driven by character. Others will be turned off by the homosexual stuff; in fact, I'm sure some off-the-scale (and maybe not-so-off-the-scale) conservatives will proclaim The Talented Mr. Ripley a proof that homosexuality turns you into a deceitful, murderous devil. Heh heh. How cute those conservatives are.

Anthony Minghella, the director of The English Patient, works a similar dramatic pace in Mr. Ripley. As with The English Patient, if you allow Mr. Ripley to sweep you along in its beautifully-shot river, you'll enjoy the trip.

Unfortunately, I have to put Mr. Ripley into Bad Focus. I saw it at a decrepit Carmike Cinemas theater in Grand Junction, Colorado. It was Christmas day, and so the place was staffed by A&F-clad college layabouts who had no concept on how to fix a broken projector. The image was out of frame and jittery. After hounding the staff constantly during the first 15 minutes of the movie, I was finally told by some kid who was no older than 6 that, hey, that projector does that all the time. Yeah. Hey. And your mother gives birth to people like you all the time, too, I imagine. Okay, it wasn't his fault, so I shouldn't be so harsh, but if there's no authority figure to bitch to, guess I gotta knock the poor kid who had to deal with the Wrath of Lekowicz.


I hope you enjoyed getting caught up. I enjoyed it myself. Fantasia/2000 is coming up this weekend, and I'll be seeing it in a $4 million temporary IMAX theater here in L.A., so I'll let you know how that is. In the meantime, happy 2000.

Wow. 2000. My sea monkeys don't seem to notice any difference.




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©2000 (!) Steven Lekowicz except
Galaxy Quest photo ©1999 DreamWorks SKG
Man on the Moon photo ©1999 Universal Studios
The Talented Mr. Ripley artwork ©1999 Paramount Pictures and Miramax Film Corp.