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Volume 1, Number 14

This Week's Reviews:  Hideous Kinky, Tea with Mussolini, Desert Blue.



Hideous Kinky

(Dir: Gillies MacKinnon, Starring Kate Winslet, Said Taghmaoui, Bella Riza, Carrie Mullan, Pierre Clementi, Abigail Cruttenden, Ahmed Boulane, and Sira Stampe)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

I must say that I was not fully sure of what I was walking into when I made way into Hideous Kinky. From the title it sounded like yet another soft-core erotic film, much like Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love; from the ad campaign it looked like yet another film about a person finding themselves in the desert like Walkabout; and from the capsule reviews it seemed like another love story of a scorned woman. To my suprise, Hideous Kinky is really none of the above. It has one far from erotic sex scene and a small love affair, but neither serve as a major part of the film (nor a jumping point for the lead character to find herself).

The film begins with Julia (Winslett) and her two daughters Bea (Riza) and Lucy (Mullan) who are English expatriates in Marrakech, Morocco because of a want to get away from her underappreciative famous poet ex-husband. In fact right at the beginning we see his worth as the three receive a Christmas package from him. The only catch is that the gifts are for his other family: a new wife and her son. While in Morocco, Julia falls for a native named Bilal (Taghmaoui). Through problems of lacking money and Bilal's past, they depart each other after taking a long journey into the desert and Julia finds refuge with a Frenchman (Clementi) and an over-zealous Englishwoman (Cruttenden). After the Englishwoman turns Bea against Julia, Julia and Lucy head back to Marrakech, only to find more problems down the road.

Winslett is highly able making a performance as layered and interesting as her performance in Heavenly Creatures, but I found Taghmaoui a little flat. The screenplay works but tends to be a little repetitive. What really makes the film work is its art direction, cinematography, and direction. I loved the look of the film, highly reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock's 1955 Marrakech set remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. It may be a little over long but from a visual sense, Hideous Kinky works.


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Tea with Mussolini

(Dir: Franco Zeffirelli, Starring Cher, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, Maggie Smith, Lily Tomlin, Baird Wallace, Massimo Ghini, Paolo Chequer, Tessa Pritchard, Mino Bellei, and Claudio Spadaro)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

As much as I respect Franco Zeffirelli, I cannot keep from admitting that he has lost some of his touch over the years. Sure it's not like Francis Ford Coppola doing Jack after The Godfather Part III, but going from classics like 1968's Romeo and Juliet and 1967's The Taming of the Shrew to more toned down (and more listless) takes on Hamlet in 1990 and Jane Eyre in 1996 and now Tea with Mussolini are pretty bad plummets. Don't get me wrong, I actually liked his Hamlet somewhat, but comparing it to The Taming of the Shrew is like comparing Bio-Dome to Citizen Kane.

I think that his main problem in Tea with Mussolini is in the storyline. Sure I hear that it was somewhat autobiographical and close to his heart, but there just is not really that much material from his memories for a feature film (plus I've never considered him with the likes of famed self-helmers like Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman). For the most part the film is about a grouping of elderly British ladies brought together for daily tea in Florence, Italy just before the beginning of the war. After a well made scene in which the leader of the group Hester (Smith) meets with Mussolini and gets his word that England would never be an enemy to his fascist regime, the film falls apart as it tries to bring back the story of a small Italian child taken care of by the ladies, who now wants to help them get free from the war torn country. Along for the ride are two American women: masculine excavator Georgie (Tomlin) and lushly extravagant collector Elsa (Cher).

The film falters with weak story features throughout that make the film seem way too over long and the direction seems rather novice for a guy that has been in the business for over forty years ("get a shot of someone being pushed, now cut to the guy moving as he is pushed"). There are two main things that I rather enjoyed about the film. First of all is the great cast that shows the endless acting clout of Smith and Davis especially. The other great feature of the film is its look. Whether in a falling apart cathedral or a art school filled with sculptures, the film rarely goes without showing of its beautiful sets and locations. Of course maybe that has been Zeffirelli's crowning achievement all along: good sets.


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Desert Blue

(Dir: Morgan J. Freeman, Starring Brendan Sexton III, Kate Hudson, Christina Ricci, John Heard, Lucinda Jenney, Casey Affleck, Sara Gilbert, Isidra Vega, Ethan Suplee, Michael Ironside, and Aunjanue Ellis)

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BY: DAVID PERRY

There is no need to fear, it is not a reteaming of the cast of 200 Cigarettes for another romp. Of course the fact that Gabby Hoffman is not in this alone gets it kudos. It is actually a well made and nice looking new film from second time feature director Morgan J. Freeman. His first film was last year's Hurricane Streets, and while he is unable to parallel the achievement in independent filmmaking that Hurricane Streets was, he has brought a nice story to life.

The film mainly surrounds the residents of Baxter Beach, a small California desert town with what seems to be maybe 15 in population. Anyway, near the town is three landmarks. The first is a giant ice cream cone erected by a recently departed resident to attract people to the city. This little attraction causes a visit by a teacher of road side attractions (Heard) and his somewhat famous TV star daughter Skye (Hudson). Along the path is the second attraction attempted by this Baxter fellow, a ocean type park that would run off the California aqueduct, unfinished due to his death. Then there is the third landmark: a factory that makes a new cola with a secret ingredient. It is this factory that somewhat serves as the plot catalyst as a truck carrying its secret ingredient wrecks and its drenched driver dies of unknown reasons. This causes alarm from the FBI and the town goes into a quarantine. This is awful for Skye, who now must cope with these vagrant townspeople as she misses an important meeting. The film for the most part follows her and the resident she's bound to fall for, Blue (Sexton), as they both come to terms with their own problems (the Sexton one's climax was a little too much like that of Lone Star, not alike in revelations, but alike in filming).

I liked the screenplay and direction of the film, even thought at times it did show that it was merely Freeman's second feature. The cast is great, especially in Sexton, Hudson, and Ricci (as a pyromaniac), but every time that Affleck would take the screen, something was lost. I guess he could be one of my choices for the worst actors of the late nineties (yes, some competition for David Spade). All in all, Desert Blue is a respectable little film, but not as respected or little as Hurricane Streets.


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Reviews by:
David Perry
1999, Cinema-Scene.com

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