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- December 11, 1995
- Vol. 44
- No. 24
Picks and Pans Main: Screen
There are two scenes in this untidy and tedious retelling, yet again, of the life story of western gun-slinger James Butler Hickock (1837-76) that have a loopy sense of fun missing from the rest of the picture. One is where Wild Bill (Bridges) and Calamity Jane (Barkin) do what comes naturally on a saloon table to the musical accompaniment of "Battle Hymn of the Republic." Who needs Ravel's Bolero? The second is when Bruce Dern, in a scene sure to be in contention for the Quintessential Wacko Bruce Dern Moment, scoots his wheelchair—he is playing a paraplegic gunfighter—down the dusty main street of town, waving his pistol and bellowing for Hickock to c'mon out and fight him.
Otherwise, Wild Bill, written and directed by Walter Hill, is a mess and a logy one at that. This despite its frenetic hop-skipping between the last days of Hickock's life, during which he is being stalked by a sniveling stripling (Arquette), and his great, earlier exploits—including what he did way back then that so irked his would-be assassin. All of which makes us sit through way too many gun-and fistfights to distinguish between them, and makes us lose patience with all the characters, past and present.
Bridges, usually one of our most coolly reliable actors, here seems listless and pudgy, which is in keeping with Hickock's been-there, done-that lassitude but does nothing to perk up the action. Barkin, whipping her long ponytail about as if it were Tarzan's favorite vine and actually saying "purty" for "pretty," appears to be auditioning for a summer camp version of Annie Get Your Gun. (R)
Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mare Winningham
Sisterhood is powerful, especially in this unflinching look at the push and pull of sibling ties. Boosted by Leigh's blistering performance, Georgia is about, two siblings who are in conflict because one (Winningham) sings and the other (Leigh) doesn't. Well, Leigh does sing, but not even a quarter as skillfully or successfully as her older sister whom she worships. She also has the desire, but she lacks Winningham's talent and discipline.
Instead, she rushes headlong into life, drinking and shooting drugs and messing up every way she can. Winningham, meanwhile, retreats from the world, returning between concert tours to her farm outside Seattle and her husband (Ted Levine) and kids.
Unlike so many movies today that seem to have been tacked together from prefab plot kits, Georgia never gives away what's coming next. The movie surprises—and touches—you again and again. In one scene, Leigh, whose singing has until this point sounded like Julie London on Quaaludes, suddenly rips into Van Morrison's "Take Me Back" as if her character's life depended on it (and, in a way, it does). In another, barefoot and strung out on heroin, she beseeches, in increasingly foul language, the other passengers in an airport lounge to lend her shoes so that she can board a plane and put herself back in her sister's care.
Much of this isn't pretty to watch but, as written by Barbara Turner (Leigh's mother) and directed with a sensitive, no-frills approach by Ulu Grosbard, it is riveting. Leigh's character may be exhausting, but it is exhilarating to watch the actress, her eyes great kohl-rimmed pools of hope and hurt, dive deep and find the person beneath all this pathetic flailing. Winningham, in the less showy role of the older sister who willingly plays caretaker but resents every minute of it, is equally good. There is also deft supporting work from Levine as Winningham's laconic husband, Max Perlich as a grocery boy who is Leigh's worshipful suitor, and John Doe and John C. Reilly as Leigh's bandmates. This Georgia will definitely be staying on my mind. (R)
Al Pacino, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Jerry Barone
It's a hot summer day in South Philadelphia in 1933, and a 12-year-old boy (Barone), desperate to go to the opening of a new movie palace, is negotiating with his ailing grandfather (Pacino). He wants the quarter now, please, that the old man has promised to will him after his death. This way, he argues, Gramps will at least know how he spent it.
No dice, says the old man, an Italian immigrant who will, over the course of a single day in this small, sweet, exceedingly handsome movie, teach the boy several life lessons of far greater value than the coveted coin. Based on an autobiographical script by Joseph Stefano and directed by James Foley, Two Bits is like a bonsai tree, carefully and lovingly shaped—and diminutive.
Mastrantonio, playing the boy's widowed mother, misses with her Philly accent, but is otherwise spot-on. What the film really has going for it, though, is an uncharacteristically subdued performance by Pacino, who brings both sly humor and elegiac regret to his character's final hours. He doesn't yell once. (PG-13)
MAHARISHI MAHESH MIMIEUX
IN THE ULTIMATE SPRING-BREAK-MOVIE—1960's Where the Boys Are—18-year-old swimsuit-clad Yvette Mimieux redefined the classic beach babe. That year, the L.A.-born actress strode memorably through the sci-fi adventure The Time Machine wearing a skimpy sarong. By the time she appeared on two episodes of TV's Dr. Kildare in 1964, playing a surfer who falls in love with series star Richard Chamberlain, Mimieux was a certified '60s sex kitten, until director Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain), 18 years her senior, wed her in 1972. Today she says she considers herself "retired from acting." Yet at a remarkably youthful-looking 53, she could still be a spokeswoman for time travel. Her secret, she says, is yoga, and its benefits are on ample display in her new video, Yoga Workout with Yvette. "I can do things now that I couldn't 15 years ago. I was always strong, but I wasn't flexible," says Mimieux, who turned on to the Eastern discipline in 1980 after becoming interested in Buddhism and Hinduism. Mimieux practices neither religion, but she says they made their mark on her mind as well as her exercise routine, which combines calmative, deep-breathing techniques with stretching and balancing routines. "I don't do Buns of Steel yoga," she says. "I teach meditation in motion."
Looking back on a career that included Monkeys, Go Home! (1967), The Black Hole (1979) and, her last movie, the made-for-TV Lady Boss (1992), Mimieux laughs, "I wish I'd been a better actress." Today, she mostly travels with her current husband, Howard Ruby, 60, a real estate executive she wed in 1986 (Mimieux and Donen divorced in 1982). On their trips to Europe and Asia, Mimieux says she sometimes sees a pernicious side to the pop culture she helped create. "All around the world," she says, "they all want porno, McDonald's and MTV, and we're exporting it as fast as we can. It saddens me deeply."
- Leah Rozen.
December 19, 2014
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