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In this episode: The Iron Giant | Dick | Trick and The Trio
Okay. Excuse, please, the title of this page, but it was too much to resist. In fact, I just know that's why Dick was called Dick: so when the filmmakers got good reviews, they could say, in huge letters across the top of full-page ads in family newspapers across the country, "Critics Love Dick!" In the movie itself, of course, there are some funny moments where characters say things like, "I love Dick!" and "You have to stop letting Dick run your life!" But all that's better discussed in the review itself, huh?
The Cool Art
I want to start with this one because it didn't do so well on opening weekend. Granted, nothing much did well except The Sixth Sense, thanks to the crowded release schedule (I'm glad to see Mystery Men only did $10 million), but The Iron Giant deserves better. Finally there's a non-Disney animated movie that is good for the kids, not insulting to adults, and of extremely high quality in the animation department.

The animation in The Iron Giant is spectacular. Besides the occasional CG snafu and change in character scale, everything is top-notch, beautiful, energetic, colorful, crisp clean sharp and snazzy. A lot of time was put into the art here, and it shows. Some shots in the movie honestly left me with gaping mouth, they were so beautiful and cinematically perfect. The colors, the composition, all superb. Set as it is in the '50s, the movie not only has an appropriate style, but a very well-thought-out one as well. The story fits the style, the style fits the story, and inside it all are the fun characters.

The characters are surprising in a good way. The kid, Hogarth, is perfectly voiced by Eli Marienthal (the younger brother in Slums of Beverly Hills). He's not annoying as most screen kids can be, and thanks to smart writing (Brad Bird and Tim McCanlies) and directing (Brad Bird), Hogarth is a truly likable, fun kid. The Giant, a pure CG creation, is also extremely likable and kinda cute in that puppy dog way, even while being a huge, imposing, "awesome!" robot. His voice is by Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan), with a lot of distortion. The adults in the movie are all well-done and do not get in the way of the story as they tend to do in your typical Boy Meets ________ movies. The bad guy, Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald), is amusingly odd and immature. Dean (Harry Connick, Jr.), a fun '50s hipster who makes art out of junk, becomes Hogarth's confidant. Hogarth's mom, Annie (Jennifer Aniston), while not terribly unique or quirky, is likable and, well, sort of modern.

It's hard to peg down any one thing about The Iron Giant to hold up as an example of why the movie is so good. The quality animation is a huge factor, of course, but it's more than that. Everything works together. Despite the occasional cliché moment or obvious plot point, the movie is so full of energy and has such a joyous tone that it's infectious. The movie uses its '50s setting perfectly, cleverly borrowing from our 20/20-hindsight view of the era to make some fantastic commentary (the Duck and Cover film shown in Hogarth's class) and create some funny parody (the late-night killer brain movie). The Iron Giant itself is both a movie fashioned after those made in the '50s and a movie commenting on the '50s. What a treat!

Okay, so there are problems. How does the Giant sneak around so quietly when the rest of the time he makes huge THUDing sounds? How does he learn to understand Hogarth? What's up with the trite life lesson at the end? Then there are the plot clichés, which I won't reveal because they are, after all, plot points. But the movie has so much more going for it and is so clever in other ways, all can be forgiven. You can't really even fault the movie for the trite life lesson because, hey, it's a good one! But who cares about the lesson? See the movie for itself! At the Chinese Monday night, though the theater was mostly empty (not hard since it's so big), there was lots of applause at the end of the movie, and people were talking about it fondly as they left.

Whatever you do, don't see this one on video... SEE IT ON THE BIG SCREEN! It is a widescreen movie (2.35:1) and is actually composed for the format, so a lot will be lost in the transfer to pan-and-scan. The scope and the beauty of the movie will vanish on the TV screen, as will the awesome sound (if you get to see it in digital at a THX theater). The Iron Giant is worth your money.

 

 

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DICK

As I said above, the title of this movie must be great fun for the filmmakers. The American Family Council on Moral and Family Values for the Family must disapprove, as they and their fellow clone-like councils must if something is not followed with "Isaiah 7:11" or some other Biblical Dewey number.

Dick is another movie that deserves to be seen more than it is, even though some people won't get it. If you're clueless about history, you may only have the funny acting by Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams to laugh at. Or you may snicker at the great Nixon impersonation Dan Hedaya pulls off. But if you know something about Watergate, Checkers, Brezhnev, G. Gordon Liddy, Vietnam, Love American Style, hippies, Deep Throat and Deep Throat... well, there's a lot to love here. And weaving Betsy (Kirsten) and Arlene's (Michelle) story into the fabric of history is hilarious. We've seen this before, of course, more recently in Forrest Gump, but this movie utilizes a smaller chunk of history and is pure comedy where Forrest was funny drama.

The performances, barring two, are excellent and make the movie. Without Dan's spot-on parody of Dick, the movie would be nowhere. Without Kirsten and Michelle's completely goobery take on daffy, clueless teenage girls, the movie wouldn't even be possible. Throw in some brilliant cameos by Harry Shearer (G. Gordon Liddy) and Saul Rubinek (Henry Kissinger) and strong showings by Dave Foley (Bob Haldeman) and Jim Breuer (John Dean), and you have a comedy Popsicle. (What exactly is a comedy Popsicle? I have no idea. I just rented that phrase from the Reviewers' Online Resource. Leonard Maltin borrows from it daily, I understand.)

This opinion will be argued with hotly, I imagine, but I was not so pleased with Woodward and Bernstein, played by Will Farrell and Bruce McCulloch. The two actors are pulling some Saturday Night Live shit here that is only so funny before it gets annoying. Will is not a very good actor, as you can see even in his small role as Mustafa in the Austin Powers movies. Bruce, part of the former Kids in the Hall, is only marginally better, but I've seen him do this a hundred times, the hair flipping and sissy-boy glances. I did laugh at W&B and enjoyed what the director, Andrew Fleming, was going for here, but of all the characters based on real people, Woodward and Bernstein were the most out of place and over the top. They didn't need to be so ludicrous in this smart comedy.

The plot is very clever and I liked it a lot, but I have to say the movie rests on the performances of the three main actors. That being, in case you've lost track, Kirsten, Michelle, and Dan. Both girls are so perfectly dense it hurts. They have the teenage girl thing sussed and just squeeze the living hell out of it. The point of course is that the brainless meddling of such flighty nobodies can affect history so importantly. Forget voting! These girls, without a clue in the world, make bigger changes than anyone can with a punch card and hole poker. (That sounds like a British pub: The Card & Poker.) And Dan's Nixon is a funny, sleazy, mean man who tries unsuccessfully to use the girls to his own advantage. I mean, they're so stupid, how could he not mold them as he needs to? Well, just like Forrest, these ignorant girls follow their own path, Dick be damned. An aside: I love how Dan says "cookies."

As always, you should see Dick in the theater, but it will play well on video if you want for some reason to wait. If you enjoy history re-written into farce, Dick is for you. (Oh, enough already!)

 

 

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TWO Ts

After a review of Dick, it may only be fair to give you some comments on Trick. (For those of you who don't get the semantic connection, please exit now, before the train has come to a complete stop.)

Trick is a very low-budget film about—here we go again—coming of age in modern times!!!!! Of course, this time the movie deals with... sexual coming of age!!!!! Oh. That's not new, either. Right. Well, the more I think about it, the less there is about this movie that's original. There's the sensitive, creative young person who ends up falling for the sexy person who can have anyone they want. There's confusion, misunderstanding, then revelation and happiness... The twist here is the two people are both guys. That must be why it was made, because, I mean, there's already She's All That and 10 Things I Hate About You and Sixteen Candles and 100 others. There's even Billy's Hollywood Screen Kiss, which is almost exactly this plot but much funnier. Trick even has the wacky female friend like in Billy's. Thankfully, in this case, she's played by Tori Spelling. Tori! She surprises me yet again.

The movie is not bad, and I'd hate that to be the impression I leave with you. It's often really funny. Tori is the best part of the movie, something I wouldn't have believed had I not seen it with my own eyes and had I not seen The House of Yes. Yes, Yes. As she showed in that movie, she has a great comic ability. She's a crack-up in Trick and is really the best reason to see the movie. The other acting is okay-to-fine, and the situations are interesting. The movie is fairly well written, though there are some hiccups. It's a cute movie. Let's call it that. Cute.

A better movie is The Trio, which comes from Germany. It has that gritty foreign look, the kind you can't get in America even if you shoot in New Jersey. (Poor New Jersey, always the pooper scooper, never the bride.) The Trio is a sad but ultimately semi-uplifting tale of Zobel, his daughter Lizzi, and Karl, who travel around in a motor home and run a pickpocketing scam. When Karl gets hospitalized after being hit by a car, Lizzi finds another crook, Rudolf, to help her and her father with the thieving. The young smartass of course brings drama into the picture: both Zobel and Lizzi fall for him. Worse, Rudolf plays them both, refusing to choose. There is tragedy, tears, and a small hint of happiness.

The Trio is one of those movies where you hope you never have the kind of life the characters on screen do, but they are so realistically portrayed you can't help but sympathize with them. Happiness in the movie is always underlined with a bit of squalidness, dinginess. Are these people really ever happy? It's hard to tell. Even the ending, which is upbeat, is not exactly happy because nothing has changed, really. The characters' lives go on much as they had before.

The acting is very good. Götz George, from what I understand, is a big star in Germany (he plays Zobel), so it's interesting he's playing a gay character in a movie where the gay thing is no big deal, as it is in Trick. In The Trio, the story is the story, the characters are the characters, and there's no agenda. Trick shows you the same gay scene you see in so many movies these days (clubs, artists, drag queens, the whole thing), while The Trio doesn't need to submerge itself in that world. Trick is stereotypes, Trio is not. The concept here is father and daughter falling in love with the same person and what that does to their relationship. It'd be impossible to tell that story without having one of the characters be gay and one bisexual, but it really doesn't matter. It's the relationships and character interaction that are the focus here. Trick, of course, could have told its story in a different world, but it didn't. The Trio, therefore, is much more interesting.

For all its artsiness, I think I liked The Trio okay. I didn't love it and can only recommend it to people who like foreign films. But it's a good film and I applaud its uniqueness.

 

—Steve

8/11/99

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©1999 Steven Lekowicz