Category Archives: 1998

Lick the Star (1998, Sofia Coppola)

The opening narration of Lick the Star, which isn’t from the same character as the end narration, explains the ground situation. Ostensible protagonist Christina Turley has just returned to school after her father accidentally ran over her foot. So she’s on crutches. She worries her group of friends has ostracized her for her absence. Good news, they haven’t. Bad news, Turley and her friends are the seventh grade bad girl bully clique.

Audrey Kelly plays the leader, who loves V.C. Andrews books (which almost feels like writers Stephanie Hayman and director Coppola are stereotyping), wears make-up, smokes, gets objectified most by the little boys. And, the age thing is one of the short’s biggest visual problems. Kelly and her crew look older than the middle schoolers they’re bullying. It filmed on location at a middle school, which probably no doubt accounts for some of the awful acting–though given Peter Bogdanovich is terrible in his cameo, amateur actors don’t account for all the acting problems–and the girls are bullying little kids.

Coppola and Hayman move away from Turley as protagonist and de facto give it to Kelly. The short becomes fixated on her glamour, then her cruelty, then her abuse (from the male classmates). She’s got a plan though (straight from V.C. Andrews). Poison the boys with arsenic.

The short only runs thirteen minutes and Coppola is more concerned with montage sequences set to (some good, some bad) indie rock. It’s not diegetic and doesn’t seem like anything the characters would like, so it causes a disconnect. The cast’s painful delivery of the expository dialogue or the mood-breaking montages. Pretty soon, the short becomes a toss-up of what you don’t want to sit through more.

Coppola’s composition is good. Her direction of the cast is awful. The short initially promises some kind of insight into the tween angst, then gets distracted from it (losing protagonist Turley almost entirely by the three-quarter mark), then brings her back to passively witness the finale. Coppola doesn’t even bother trying to straight-face that finish, cutting away from Turley as soon as she can.

Decent black and white photography from Lance Acord.

Lick the Star is thirteen minutes of mediocre disappointments.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Sofia Coppola; written by Stephanie Hayman and Coppola; director of photography, Lance Acord; edited by Eric Zumbrunnen; produced by Coppola, Andrew Durham, and Christopher Neil.

Starring Christina Turley (Kate), Audrey Kelly (Chloe), Julia Vanderham (Rebecca), Lindsy Drummer (Sara), Rachael Vanni (Wendy), and Peter Bogdanovich (Principal).


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No Looking Back (1998, Edward Burns)

No Looking Back runs just under a hundred minutes. The first half of the film–roughly the first half–evenly relies on its cast. In fact, top-billed Lauren Holly almost has less than either Jon Bon Jovi and director Burns (acting, second-billed) in the first half. It’s a love triangle and she’s the prize. Burns is coming back to Nowhere, Long Island after running away to California years before. Ex-girlfriend Holly has moved on and in with Bon Jovi, who’s ostensibly a childhood friend of Burns’s but it’s a somewhat reluctant friendship. Burns is a jerk from scene two. He has two honest moments in the film; his first and his last. The rest of the time, he’s basically just a prick.

But he’s a different kind of prick than Bon Jovi, who’s the too perfect man. He wants to be a good dad, can’t wait for Holly to join his mom and sisters in the kitchen for football Sunday (he’s in the living room with his brothers), and so on and so forth. There’s this strange transition with sympathies, which Burns (as a writer and director) doesn’t deal with very well. He tries hard to keep the love triangle restless–the three characters never all interact in a single scene, even if all present–and it strains the film at times. But it also pays off because it means Holly gets more opportunity.

Then around the halfway market, a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio and No Looking Back totally changes. The first half soundtrack, with the exception of a Patti Scialfa track or two, is indistinct, bland, late nineties pseudo-alternative songs. Nothing distinct. And then, all of a sudden, Holly assumes the protagonist role decisively. Performance, script, direction. The first half of the movie has been an awkward setup to provide back story to turn the second half into a Bruce Springsteen mix tape set to film. And it’s exceptional. The film’s flow is better, the scenes more poignant–I mean, it’s a soap opera. The thing couldn’t fail the Bechdel test more if it tried. But it’s this exceptional soap opera turned character study. And what ends up saving it is when Burns, as writer and director, stops pretending there’s any depth to he and Bon Jovi’s characters. More, the characters have to stop pretending too. It’s awesome.

Plus, there’s scene payoff for most of the supporting cast. Blythe Danner (as Holly’s mom) gets almost nothing in the first half and ends up being essential in pulling off the big finale upswing. Connie Britton’s great as Holly’s sister, with the first half’s least disjointed arc. Jennifer Esposito and Nick Sandow are both good as various friends, though Sandow’s basically Norm from “Cheers” and Esposito doesn’t get enough to do.

Oh–and Joe Delia’s score is a mess in the first half. There’s this generic hard rock theme running through the score. Maybe Burns could only get the four or five Springsteen songs and had to save them, but it’s not a good theme for Holly as Burns intentionally and maliciously upends her life, albeit through accepted social conventions. Score is much better in the second half.

Great photography from Frank Prinzi. Nice, patient editing from Susan Graef.

Holly doesn’t have a great character here; Burns ignored her too much in the first half to setup the second, but she gives an excellent performance. The stuff she gets to do in the second half, it’s like a reward for having to suffer through the first half’s weaker scenes. Bon Jovi gives a strong performance and once Burns, as an actor, gets to the Springsteen section, he really comes through as well.

No Looking Back has more than its share of problems, all of them (with the exception of the music) director Burns’s fault. It’s also pretty darn great; again, all Burns’s fault.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward Burns; director of photography, Frank Prinzi; edited by Susan Graef; music by Joe Delia; production designer, Thérèse DePrez; produced by Ted Hope, Michael Nozik, and Burns; released by Polygram Filmed Entertainment.

Starring Lauren Holly (Claudia), Edward Burns (Charlie), Jon Bon Jovi (Michael), Connie Britton (Kelly), Blythe Danner (Claudia’s Mom), Nick Sandow (Goldie), Jennifer Esposito (Teresa), Welker White (Missy), John Ventimiglia (Tony the Pizza Guy), and Kathleen Doyle (Mrs. Ryan).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | EDWARD BURNS.

Mothra 3: King Ghidorah Attacks (1998, Yoneda Okihiro)

Mothra 3: King Ghidorah Attacks is simultaneously accessible but also one for the Mothra fans, which is a bit of a weird thing to think about. The film presupposes there are going to be dedicated Mothra fans in the audience and gears a lot of references towards them–at the moment I was appreciating the imagination behind the prehistoric larval Mothra, I realized I was definitely in that dedicated audience. While concerning, there’s so much good stuff in Mothra 3, it’s so creative.

Director Yoneda (who skipped the previous entry, but directed the first) has a bunch of differing styles and technologies going on. There’s miniatures, there’s man in suit, there’s CG, there’s CG-aided composites (which aren’t good), but then there’s CG-aided composites where background action moves into foreground and there’s just something to it. It’s a mix of special effects technologies pushed beyond what they can do. In seeing what’s too far, you do get to see where it would’ve been just right, where Mothra 3’s budget could have met Yoneda’s imagination. He’s gloriously, if unrealistically, ambitious with the film.

Suetani Masumi has a relatively solid script this outing (he scripted all three of these nineties Mothra films). There’s this troubled kid–the actor hasn’t ever gotten credit in an English language version apparently–who teams up with Mothra’s fairies to save the world. Except the fairies have a bigger story. There’s troublemaker fairy (Hano Aki, who tries really hard with no return from her costars), well-meaning fairy (Tate Misato) and perfect combination fairy (Kobayashi Megumi). Given how much they have to do in the film, it would really have helped if Tate weren’t awful and Kobayashi were a little better. With Kobayashi, the script fails her too often. But Tate’s bad. Otherwise Yoneda is good with the actors. The family stuff–basically uncredited troubled kid’s moodiness is just dragging down an otherwise happy family, though mom Matsuda Miyuki is way too young to have three kids and way too with it to be married to bumbling Fred Flintstone-esque Ohnita Atsushi.

And then there’s Mothra. Amazing set of Mothra designs in this one, as the creature itself has a fairly solid story arc. The traditional Mothra Christian imagery gets more integrated into the actual plot. There’s the very intentional rapturing imagery–Ghidorah flies over Japan, sucking up the children. And now since Mothra’s the boy giant moth, there’s a whole Mothra as Jesus thing, with Ghidorah graphically beating him and tearing away his flesh. Or wings. It’s a vicious kids movie.

Awesome Mothra song rendition. Yoneda treats it like a special aside, a wink at the audience. The special effects aren’t great–Mothra 3’s composite effects are really bad–but the enthusiasm carries it. There’s a thoroughness and sincerity to the film. Mothra 3 is a mix of story ideas, special effects ideas, acting styles (or lack thereof), yet it all works out. Yoneda brings it all together.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Yoneda Okihio; written by Suetani Masumi; director of photography, Sekiguchi Yoshinori; edited by Ogawa Nobuo; music by Watanabe Toshiyuki; produced by Tomiyama Shogo; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kobayashi Megumi (Moll), Tate Misato (Lora), Matsuda Miyuki (the mother), Ohnita Atsushi (the father) and Hano Aki (Belvera).


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Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, Jonathan Frakes)

Star Trek: Insurrection has a lot of problems, but they’re peculiar ones. None of them affect the film’s overall quality. Sure, it’d be nice if the sci-fi action sequences worked out better, but they aren’t the point. Even though director Frakes clearly has some set pieces in the film, he always relies instead on his actors instead of the effects.

Given Insurrection has some terribly pedestrian CG, it’s a good move.

Characters disappear for long stretches of film–Gates McFadden gets a couple lines at the beginning, a kicker later on, and does hang out, she has nothing to do. LeVar Burton gets a tiny bit more. Michael Dorn gets to hang around Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner. Frakes does give himself an amusing romantic subplot with Marina Sirtis. But, in the end, Insurrection gives everyone enough to do. The characters are appealing, have chemistry, make the plot work well.

Michael Piller’s script is this gentle, “extended” episode of the “Next Generation” show with Spiner going renegade and Stewart and company showing up to figure out what’s going on. It all leads to Stewart going renegade too (and cavorting around with the fetching Donna Murphy). Stewart and Murphy are great together, though Stewart’s just strong throughout. He has a fun time with the film. The light tone helps the film get through some of its other problems, like Herman F. Zimmerman’s questionable production design and Matthew F. Leonetti’s too crisp photography, which never matches the digital composites.

And villain F. Murray Abraham isn’t good. He’s goofy. Gregg Henry’s good as his sidekick though.

The film moves. It never runs long, never has to hurry through anything. It’s not good because it’s likable, it’s likable because it’s good. It’s just a shame the production values are so wonky, because Insurrection would be one heck of a Star Trek picture if the visual tone were right.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score, regardless of it heavily borrowing from his previous Trek scores, is good.

Insurrection stumbles all over the place, but always ends up firmly footed.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jonathan Frakes; screenplay by Michael Piller, based on a story by Rick Berman and Piller and “Star Trek” created by Gene Roddenberry; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Peter E. Berger; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Herman F. Zimmermann; produced by Berman; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Patrick Stewart (Picard), Jonathan Frakes (Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Beverly), Marina Sirtis (Troi), Donna Murphy (Anij), F. Murray Abraham (Ru’afo), Gregg Henry (Gallatin), Daniel Hugh Kelly (Sojef), Michael Welch (Artim) and Anthony Zerbe (Dougherty).


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