Jessica Lange, Tommy Lee Jones
He's blind, and she's crazy. They're perfect for each other." That's the disgusted diagnosis of her military scientist dad (Jones) and her flashy, manic mom (Lange) that their daughter (Amy Locane) offers up early in this movie. And it's pretty much on the mark.
Lange is the sort who makes other women hold on tight to their husbands. She wears halter tops, strapless tops or no tops (she sunbathes seminude for Jones when he's flying low on maneuvers). A figure right out of Tennessee Williams, she's also given to throwing fits and calling Jones "Daddy." Though a straight-arrow military man, Jones forgives her excesses and even enjoys them. If Blue Sky were set in the '90s rather than in the early '60s, mental-health professionals would label him an enabler. Unfortunately the film, which has been on the shelf since Orion Pictures filed for bankruptcy in 1991, fails to make much sense of the relationship between Lange and Jones. It also clumsily layers on another story about a military cover-up involving atomic testing. Powers Boothe is effectively scummy as the base commander who seduces Lange and attempts to get Jones out of the way. But Lange does a summer-stock portrayal of Blanche DuBois, and Jones is woefully underutilized, rather like Norman Schwarzkopf being assigned to do KP. (PG-13)
Phoebe Cates, Stephen Rea, Kevin Kline, John Lithgow
The tale begins with a strange young woman in a turban who shows up in early-19th-century Bristol, England. Because of her imperious mien, elegant hand gestures and irregular chirpings that sound like a foreign language, she soon convinces the locals—and eventually even the prince regent—that she is some sort of Asiatic princess. Or is she a fake?
Once upon a time this might have provided a nice plot for Gilbert and Sullivan. Or maybe it could have been a distaff Martin Guerre. But here, in a family-oriented movie called Princess Caraboo, it's a very weak, if sweet, tea that will probably appeal mostly to girls in early adolescence. Cates has the tranquil face of a beautiful, bemused baby, but she's not an especially mysterious actress, which more or less consigns Caraboo to boo-boo-dom from the start. As a Greek butler, Kline (Cates's real-life husband) seems to be entertaining himself by trilling his r's. Rea, as a reporter fascinated by the princess, is his dependably hangdog self. The only genuine pleasures are Freddie Francis's softly colored cinematography and Lithgow as a linguist who's emotionally undone by a glimpse of Cates's tattooed thigh. (PG)"
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman
No, it's not the sequel to The Hud-sucker Proxy, another recent Rob-bins outing. Adapted from a Stephen King novella, this movie centers on Robbins, an introverted Maine banker convicted in the '40s of murdering his unfaithful wife and her lover and sentenced to double life terms at Shawshank State Prison.
He is quickly singled out as a target by the resident gang of "Sisters," who beat and rape him, and is almost as quickly singled out for friendship by the prison's chief fixer and philosopher (Freeman). When the brutish head guard (Clancy Brown) and the Bible-thumping warden (Bob Gunton) learn of Robbins's skill as a money manager, he is remanded to do their income taxes and to launder ill-gotten gains. "I'm a convicted murderer who provides sound financial planning," Robbins notes wryly. For a while his way with an adding machine makes life—and doing life—easier. Robbins draws library duty and helps fellow inmates get their high school diplomas. But when a new inmate appears to have evidence that would prove Robbins's innocence, Gunton takes stern measures to keep his "accountant" in stir.
Shawshank runs nearly 2½ hours and sometimes gives audiences the sense of doing a 20-year stretch. Ultimately the rewards aren't commensurate with the outlay of time. The movie's message about the triumph of the human spirit and its exhortation to "Get busy living or get busy dying" seem rather paltry payoffs. (R)
THE NEW AGE
Judy Davis, Peter Weller, Adam West, Samuel L. Jackson, Corbin Bernsen
Another cinematic anxiety attack set in the self-pity and pretension capital of the world: Hollywood. Davis and Weller are a self-consciously hip couple whose marriage is disintegrating just as they are giving up their jobs, she as a graphics designer, he as a theatrical agent. In a desperate attempt to resolve all their problems, they agree to live together as platonic housemates while opening an expensive fashion boutique called Hip ocracy.
Writer-director Michael Tolkin casts his film as a satire of false prophets in the pop culture, dragging out every psychobabble catchphrase. As false prophets go, though, Tolkin seems to be in a takes-one-to-know-one situation. His humorless script kicks all kinds of straw dogs and potboils all kinds of red herrings. It's hard to muster sympathy for the couple when all she wants to do is shop and all he wants to do is act hip, down to musing about what might be the chicest clothes in which to kill himself.
West appears in passing as Weller's playboyish father. Jackson, in a touch of irony, runs a blusterful seminar for telemarketing phone sales. Weller, who is bedeviled throughout the film by pitch calls telling him he has just won something, ends up doing telemarketing himself—and being really good at it. (R)
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