John Ford’s first and only completed film in ‘Scope also happens to be one of his major neglected works of the 50s. A biopic of epic proportions (138 minutes) about West Point athletic instructor Marty Maher (Tyrone Power), who failed as a student at the academy but stayed on to become a much-beloved figure, this 1955 film is an almost paradigmatic example of the “victory in defeat” theme that comprises much of Ford’s oeuvre. Adapted by Edward Hope from Maher’s autobiography, Bring Up the Brass, the film is rich with nostalgia, family feeling, and sentimentality. It’s given density by a superb supporting cast (including Maureen O’Hara at her most luminous, Donald Crisp, Ward Bond, and Harry Carey Jr.) and a kind of mysticism that, as in How Green Was My Valley, makes the past seem even more alive than the present. Not for everyone, but a work that vibrates with tenderness and emotion. A Technicolor, adapted 16-millimeter ‘Scope print will be screened. LaSalle Theatre, 4901 W. Irving Park, Saturday, June 29, 8:00, 904-5549.
For better and for worse, this 1996 megahit is an archetypal 50s alien-invasion/disaster movie, though it contains dollops of Dr. Strangelove (without the 60s irony) and Star Wars (with equal nostalgia for old movie tropes). After invading bug-eyed monsters reduce New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and assorted unseen world capitals to rubble, a black and a Jew (Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum) set out to give humanity another chance. The earnestness, the effects, and the notion of a whole world forgetting its differences to defeat a common foe carry a certain charm, but like the U.S., this movie is so hamstrung trying to represent the whole worldor anything outside its own bordersthat it pretty nearly gives up at the start. Otherwise this is overlong but watchable. Roland Emmerich directed from a script he wrote with Dern Devlin; with Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, and Bill Pullman as the U.S. president. PG-13, 145 min. (JR)
Eddie Murphy’s 1996 remake of Jerry Lewis’s most accomplished comedy narrative (1963) is most memorable for Murphy’s impersonation of the title hero, defined in this version as an obese science professor who undergoes a Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation, with his own formula turning him into the usual slim and narcissistic Murphy persona. (By contrast Lewis’s nutty professor, a mere klutz, turned himself into the real-life Lewis and made this complex and highly critical self-portrait the center of the movie.) Exploiting audience anxieties about food and overeating and never shying from vulgarity and excess, this remake has a touch of pathos derived from the original that is uncharacteristic of Murphy, though with none of the tragic undertones that Lewis found in the subject. I’m not much of a Murphy fan, but this movie made me laugh a lot. Tom Shadyac directed and collaborated on the script with many others; the costars are Jada Pinkett (in the sexist/alluring Stella Stevens part), James Coburn, Larry Miller, Dave Chappelle, and John Ales. 95 min. (JR)
Moribund, dopey stuff, about an all-American garage mechanic (John Travolta) who witnesses a strange light in the sky and turns into some sort of genius (the kind who excels in answering TV-quiz-show-style questions), with telekinetic and prophetic powers to boot. Isolated from the frightened folks in his small town, he moves toward death. I don’t doubt the noble motives behind this Disney parable, but the attempts at amiable, laid-back dialogue (script by Gerald DiPego) are painful, the pacing is sluggish, and the confused story’s poorly focused. Travolta is as charming as usual, but seems distinctly out of his element here as a nice-guy everyman who oozes significance. With Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Duvall; directed by Jon Turteltaub. (JR)
A mainly disappointing 1996 entry from comedy writer-director Andrew Bergman, who seems to be overwhelmed by both the contractual power of Demi Moore and unsuitable material (a crime novel by Carl Hiaasen). Moore plays a former FBI clerk who takes up topless dancing to make enough money to regain custody of her little girl (Rumer Willis, Moore’s real-life daughter), but about the only intriguing character is a bouncer of ambiguous sexuality played by Ving Rhames. Everyone else seems both underimagined and overblown, including Robert Patrick as the stripper