In trying to explain to her puzzled teenage daughter why she has just upended both their lives to hit the road once again and manage an English rock band whose breakup 20 years ago broke her heart, a mother (Aubrey) says, "I still love their music, and I want to stand in the dark and see an audience feel the same way that I do."
By the end of Still Crazy, a fond valentine to rock and roll and rock and rollers, we know exactly what she means and are delighted that she took the risk. Like The Full Monty and Waking Ned Devine, Still Crazy is a comic import that has made the trip across the Atlantic with its sense of humor ebulliently intact. The laughs are not so much enormous as consistent in this tale of bickering band members trying to recapture the magic.
The fictional band at the center of Crazy is called Strange Fruit. The group almost made it to the top before being derailed in 1977 by drugs and personality conflicts. Twenty years later, no sooner have the band members reconstituted Fruit than old rivalries ripen. As crisply directed by Brian Gibson (What's Love Got to Do with It) and acted by a talented ensemble cast, the movie manages to turn each band member, who at first seems merely like a refugee from Spinal Tap, into a fully fleshed-out character about whom we care. (R)
Bottom Line: It's easy to be crazy about this amiable comedy
Peter Mullan, Louise Goodall
Joe Kavanagh (Mullan) has always lived in Glasgow's poorest neighborhood. After spending most of his adult life as an alcoholic, the 37-year-old Scotsman gave up drink 10 months ago but still can't find a job. This makes it tough to escape his old life and cronies, including a drug dealer who calls in a favor. When the middle-class health worker (Goodall) with whom Joe has begun a romance finds out about his forced return to drug-running, she gives Joe the boot, "I'm sorry, but we don't all live in this nice tidy world of yours," he tells her bitterly. "Some of us don't have a choice."
Making choices when limited by economic and social circumstances is the dilemma at the core of My Name Is Joe, a blistering drama from British director Ken Loach (Carla's Song) that will leave viewers as drained as the bottles Joe guzzles during a relapse. And Mullan (Trainspotting) is superb. (Note: The Scottish accents here are so heavy that subtitles appear throughout.) (R)
Bottom Line: Strong brew
Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Dennis Quaid, Gillian Anderson, Angelina Jolie
Like an acquaintance who initially seems fascinating but by third meeting is retelling the same tedious anecdotes, Playing by Heart by its end shows considerably less promise than suggested in its early scenes.
Set in Los Angeles, this ensemble drama written and directed by Willard Carroll is an Evianed-down version of those two other ensemble movies with L.A. locales, Robert Altman's Short Cuts and Alan Rudolph's Welcome to L.A. The film introduces a series of characters and their romantic dilemmas, and only at the end—most viewers will have already guessed—does it reveal their connection. There's a long-wed couple (Connery and Rowlands) who are spatting; a motor-mouthed actress (Jolie, in yet another impressive performance) chasing a sad-eyed fellow (Ryan Phillippe
); a theater director (Anderson) discouraging the romantic overtures of an architect (Jon Stewart); a man (Quaid) telling whopping lies to strangers, and so on. Of this crew, Connery and Rowlands do best. Their scenes have an easy grace and believability that the rest of Heart lacks. (R)
Bottom Line: Impressive cast but unimpressive results
Jamie Lee Curtis, William Baldwin
There's trouble down below, on deck and everywhere else in this weak and uninspired action thriller set on a huge Russian ship in the Pacific. Virus opens with the ship's crew tracking astronauts aboard the space station Mir. Suddenly a shimmering force slices through Mir. Transmission from the spacecraft to the boat is severed as both astronauts and shipboard scientists scream in terror. Cut to one week later and a lowly tug. On board are a captain (Donald Sutherland), navigator (Curtis), engineer (Baldwin) and other crew members who come upon the now deserted Russian ship, claim it as their own and then realize that they are being stalked by murderous mechanical robots. Who is behind this evil? Who cares? (R)
Bottom Line: Deserves to sink without a trace
James Woods, Melanie Griffith, Vincent Kartheiser, Natasha Gregson Wagner
Can we please call a moratorium on actors proving their seriousness by playing drug addicts who inject heroin into their necks? Last year we had to watch Ben Stiller go for his jugular in Permanent Midnight, and now a faded-looking Griffith mines the same vein in Another Day in Paradise. Enough already. Remember when an extended emotional scene on the telephone was enough to score major acting points?
In Paradise, a drama as violent as it is familiar, Griffith and Woods portray a criminal twosome who, acting as surrogate parents to a sensitive young couple (Kartheiser and Wagner), instruct their protégés on the finer points of a life of crime. Predictably tragic results follow. As directed by Larry Clark (Kids), Paradise plays like too many other on-the-road crime movies. The always watchable Woods, however, cast as a small-time Jewish hood with big-time ambitions, brings a reptilian cunning to his every scene. (R)
Bottom Line: Paradise lost is more accurate
Twenty years ago, James Coburn was ready to give up. In the midst of a divorce, the actor, then in his 50s, developed severe rheumatoid arthritis. One night, he recalls, "I was lying in bed and I had to pee, but it was so painful to get up. So I said, 'I'm just going to lie here.' But some little voice said, 'Get up! You're not going to wet yourself.' "
These days, thanks to a routine of meditation, acupuncture, dietary sulfur pills and three-mile hikes near his Los Angeles home, Coburn is now nearly arthritis-free. And the actor, who starred in 1965's spy spoof Our Man Flint, is eliciting raves—and shivers—as Nick Nolte's abusive alcoholic father in the new film Affliction. "I can't play the romantic lead anymore," he says. "Now it's time for me to really start work."
His love life has rebounded as well. In 1993, Coburn married homemaker Paula Murad, 40, whom he met at an L.A. nightclub. "She's the one who really keeps me healthy," he notes. "She says, 'Get up! Go on a hike!' " The only snag comes from their 30-year age gap. He squelches her talk of having children with the response: "You can do all of that when I'm gone!"
- Elizabeth Leonard.
Stephen Rea, Juliet Aubrey, Billy Connolly, Jimmy Nail, Bill Nighy