OPENING NOTES

Silent night, video night

JOE CHIDLEY December 27 1993
OPENING NOTES

Silent night, video night

JOE CHIDLEY December 27 1993

Silent night, video night

It’s the holidays, time to gather round the Nineties equivalent of the communal hearth— the television—and pop a movie into the old VCR. This season ’s fare offers pretty slim pickings, but among all the video trash—Roger Corman’s Carnosaur and The Firm, a Tom Cruise soap opera done up as a feature film—there are a few welcome surprises. Among them:

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

A real kick of a biopic. As Bruce Lee, the ChineseAmerican who brought martial arts to North America as Kato on The Green Hornet TV series and in numerous early-1970s kung fu movies, Jason Scott Lee (no relation) captures his subject’s quirky charisma and dynamic fighting techniques. Dragon is a relatively uncritical account of Lee’s life and premature death at age 32. But it still delivers an adult examination of the ambition, violence and battles with racism that marked Lee’s brief career—with a few dynamite fight scenes thrown in to thrilling effect.

Sleepless in Seattle

A flighty journalist (Meg Ryan) falls for a depressed widower (Tom Hanks) after hearing him on an open-line radio show. Writer-director Nora Ephron

(When Harry Met Sally... ) relies heavily on the old “Will they ever get together?” device. But with its unabashed sentimentality and nostalgia, as well as touching performances by Hanks and Ross Malinger as his matchmaking son, Sleepless works on its own terms. As romantic comedy, the movie has its heart in the right place—on its sleeve.

Cliffhanger

Sly on high. Mountain climber Sylvester Stallone takes on evil skyjackers trying to recover millions in stolen loot. Sure, the plot is twisted and thoroughly unbelievable, but the action makes the movie. As Stallone grunts along the trail of the evil-doers, it becomes clear that the real stars are the stuntmen and stuntwomen with their feats of incredible derring-do. As sheer entertainment, Cliffhanger delivers an adrenaline jolt every five minutes.

Guilty as Sin

Fatal Attraction meets Jagged Edge. As a foulmouthed, despicable gigolo who harasses the lawyer (Rebecca De Momay) defending him on charges of murdering his wife, Don Johnson manages an unexpectedly interesting rendition of a sociopath. Filmed in and around Toronto, once again masquerading as a U.S. city, Guilty offers both Canadian content and, refreshingly, a man playing the manipulative sexual exploiter for once. It is hindered by a predictable and incredible courtroom plot. But hey, that’s Hollywood—North.

Bad Lieutenant

Definitely not for the kids. A New York City cop descends into a gritty hell of drug abuse, alcoholism, gambling and corruption while investigating the rape of a nun. Because of its appropriate NC-17 (no children) rating in the United States, the movie had limited theatrical release. Too bad. As the corrupt policeman desperate for salvation, Harvey Keitel—arguably the best screen actor around these days—turns in a gripping, risky performance that few actors would have even attempted. It deserves resurrection on video.

JOE CHIDLEY