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January 20, 1999 - Image 10

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-01-20

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u - The Michigan Daily - Wednesay, January 20, 1999
Virus'leaves audience diseased with boredom

By Joshua Pederson
Daily Arts Writer
From watching "Virus," one might be led
to believe that originality is going out of
style. Like a forlorn harlequin's costume, this
film is a patchwork of borrowed, tattered
scraps of other science-fiction films, sewn
together with some trite dialogue and glitzy
technology. Or, for all
the romantics out there
who don't like that
metaphor, one could
say that "Virus" is like
VirUS a botched cybernetic
creation, a horrible
combination of metal
At Showcase and flesh that might
have been best left in
the can. Either way,
"Virus" is essentially a
blending of elements
taken from those sci-
ence-fiction specimens
that have gone before.
But when one looks
back, one will realize that there have been
some exceptional sci-fi flicks made in the
recent past. A conglomeration bringing
together pieces of the best of them might
result in an enjoyable film. But while some
of the film's stolen ancestry is comprised of
some sci-fi greats, the final result is less than
The creators of "Virus" chose to borrow
the film's most important element from one
of the genre's most ignominious samplings.
To lead off, and to this writer's infinite cha-
grin, the plot is more or less a rehashing of
last summer's gruesomely pointless venture

into space, "Event Horizon," in which a
space ship is taken over by a malevolent alien
lifeform that commences to wreak havoc on
a ragtag band of weary space-travelers. In
"Virus," a similar lifeform possesses the
computer systems of a nautical ship, wreak-
ing havoc on a ragtag band of weary sea-trav-
This lifeform, embodied by electricity and
void of any material structure, uses the ship's
technological stores to create metal terrors of
various size to pick off members of the for-
eign crew, assimilating them into a collective
of sorts.
Sound familiar? The species called "the

Borg," featured in both the syndicated televi-
sion series, "Star Trek: The Next
Generation," and the subsequent feature
film, "First Contact," employ an identical
tactic in its attempted plans of earthly domi-
nation. This theft is reinforced by each cyber-
netically combined creaturd's possession of a
single optic device in place of one of their
eyes, one of the Borg's trademark features.
Furthermore, the alien lifeform in posses-
sion of the ship uses a network of cameras,
strategically placed throughout the many
rooms, in order to pound into the head of
the viewer the fact that "it" is watching. And
the film features numberless shots of mean-
ingful glances at these cameras' lenses,
always skirted by a single red light, and
often accompanied by the computer's dis-
turbingly monotone voice. Anyone remem-
ber Hal?
A less blatant, but surely noticeable ele-
ment on loan from an earlier film era is the
composition of the cast. Remember "Alien?"
The small ship's crew is comprised of a num-
ber of hardened male mercenaries desparate-
ly in need of an electric shaver among the
technologically advanced weaponry. These
men's men are complemented by a pair of
women, one alien bait, stereotypically femi-
nine, the other a survivor, strong and res-
olute. The latter is played by Sigourney
Weaver, in arguably her most memorable
Enter the cast of "Virus." The mercs, led
by Baker and Everton (William Baldwin and
Donald Sutherland, respectively) are still
there, and still need a shave. And the pair of
women are present as well, Foster and Nadia,
played by Jamie Lee Curtis and Joanna

Courtesy of Universal Pitures
Despite a well-known cast, Including Jamie Lee Curtis and William Baldwin, "Virus" suffers.

Pacula. But there is a difference.
"Alien" was good. And so was "2001: A
Space Odyssey." And so was "First Contact."
"Virus" just isn't. There are surely those who
would say that any film must necessarily bor-
row from those movies that went before it.
Precedents are set and conventions estab-
lished. And there are those who would say
that any good film will evoke memories of its
cinematographic ancestry, borrowing a few
of their best components. But there's borrow-
ing, and then there's grand larceny.

So, ultimately, is there anything positive
that can be said about the debacle called
"Virus?" Well, it does feature some pret
darn cool robotic monsters and some pretty
frightening-looking cybernetic creations.
And there are enough pregnant pauses frac-
tured by the smashing of some metal walls to
make the audience jump a few times. But
overall, there is only one conclusion that can
be reached after sitting through two hours of
"Virus." The whole doesn't really come close
to equalling the sum of its parts.

A mysterious life form emerges in "Virus."

Post-modernist film confuses art with a loud tumult'

By Bryan Lark
Daily Arts Writer
A hurlyburly is defined as a noisy
confusion or tumult. Anthony
Drazan's new film "Hurlyburly" fits
that definition soundly.
A loud, intense, coked-up rush of
a film that's ultimately a let-down,
"Hurlyburly" tells the tale of four
Hollywood men who behave very
badly and the largely sexual women
who are their antagonists and vic-
All the oversexed people of the
film, reagrdless of their gender, are
wholly dispicable and illogical -
and that's the fun.
Their actions are so awful and
their verbose justifications so hilar-

ious, one can't help but be drawn
into their drug-induced la-la land.
At the center of it all is Eddie
(Sean Penn), a stressed-out and eas-
ily distracted casting director who's
convinced that the best way to sur-
vive is to become "a thing," mean-
ing a cold, detached, emotionless
object, and that the quickest way to
achieve "thing" status is narcotics
and television news.
Then there's his roommate and
partner Mickey (Kevin Spacey), a
supercool shark who's just stolen
Eddie's sometime girlfriend
Darlene (Robin Wright Penn), with
Eddie's consent, of course.
Rounding out their aimless crew
are Phil (Chazz Palminteri), a luck-
less and talentless actor and psycho,

and Artie (Garry Shandling), the

equally insane
At Showcase

conscience of the
As for their
women, there's
Donna (an all-
grown-up Anna
Paquin), the
eager nymphet
runaway given
to Eddie and
Mickey by Artie
as a "care pack-
age;" there's
Bonnie (Meg
Ryan), a happy-
go-lucky strip-
per-hooker hired

a costume mistress who's Eddie's
equal in intensity, stupidity and dis-
Of course, all of this set-up is
nearly irrelevant as "Hurlyburly" is
largely talk and little action - an
actor's wordy dream project.
Granted, the talk is fast and witty
with frequent dark-comedic bril-
liance, but it's strenuous keeping up
with these evil Joneses and their
numerous rants and blow-ups
become tedious.
But for the early stretch of the
film, before it spirals into offense
and self-seriousness, such blow-ups
are awe-inspiring, if just as a show-
case for the film's arsenal of acting
Penn creates in the irrational,

ferocious and appealingly amoral
Eddie one of his greatest characters
in a career filled with great charac-
Spacey is equally compelling, as
always, demonstrating in his under-
stated role the nuanced cleverness
that won him an Oscar in 1995.
Anna Paquin, on the other hand,
disputes here the novelty of her pre-
cocious, Oscar-winning perfor-
mance in "The Piano,' pulling off a
fascinating 180-degree turn as the
slutty angel in Eddie's life.
But the most surprising change of
pace is Meg Ryan, who manages to
apply her neverending fount of
spunk to even the most stereotypical
of roles, the hooker with the heart of
gold, which she injects with a wel-

come hint of sympathetic tarnish.
If only the film had as much
spunk as Ryan - it begins promis-
ingly, full of satiric malice, but fails
to sustain its tone, tapering off into
a talk-induced state of restless bore-
Director Drazan, in adapting
David Rabe's now-dated 1984 play
about the absurd dangers of '80s
excess, mistakes shaky camerawork
and jarring angles for an ingenious
reflection of the turmoil of the char-
But the cinematography just adds
to the "noisy confusion" that, while
the definition of "hurly-burly," is
not in the best interest of the w -
acted and ludicrously charming,
overly tumultuous "Hurlyburly."

by Eddie to cheer up Phil; and
there's the aforementioned Darlene,


Renaissance scholar offers insight
into Shakespeare's characters

Shakespeare: The
Invention of the
Harold Bloom
Harold Bloom is one of those
individuals about whom only a
fraction of the population knows or
cares. Perhaps it would be a good
thing if more people did care about
him; at the very least, he is an inter-
esting figure on the cultural land-
scape. He is the most eminent liv-
ing critic of comparative literature,
and has written literally dozens of
books, some of which, such as "The
Anxiety of Influence" and "The
Western Canon," have attracted
both luminous praise and heated
controversy in the literary field. He
has acquired his share of enemies,
attributable as much to an unde-
niable arrogance that he lends to
much of his writings and theories
as to the theories themselves.
Bloom's latest book,
"Shakespeare," is perhaps his
most mainstream: in its acces-
sibility to a wider audience, howev-
er, not necessarily in its content. It
is also one of his best, even though
it is not nearly the conceptual inno-
vation that, say, "The Anxiety of
Influence" represented. It may be
the best book on Shakespeare since
Harold Goddard's "The Meaning of
Shakespeare," a work whose influ-
ence and shadow Bloom acknowl-
edges and keenly feels.
The book succeeds, in large part,
because Bloom is so well suited to
write about Shakespeare. First, the
Bard of Avon is maybe the only
writer in world history who intel-
lectually impresses Bloom enough
to stimulate something like humili-
ty in the critic, which makes Bloom
much more pleasant company for

being impressed with himself.
Second, Bloom has a passionate
love for Shakespeare's works that
suffuses each one of the book's
700-plus pages with an appealing
sincerity and engagement of the
reader, even when Bloom is playing
the curmudgeon, a habitual posture
not entirely absent from
Bloom apparently can't help him-
self from occasionally picking
fights with schools of literary criti-
cism he disapproves, which is to
say any at all other than the school
Bloom represents to his own mind.
But in this book, the author does
not grandstand in an attempt to be
controversial for its own sake; his
tantrums are not particularly off-
putting since they are absorbed in
concern for the subject matter.

In fact, Bloom seems to finally
feel that Shakespeare is bigger than
the rest of life put together, but that
is just one of many outrageous
opinions set forth in "Shakespeare."
Some of the others include that
Shakespeare's first play was a
rough draft of "Hamlet," that the
Macbeths' marriage was their sec-
ond, not to mention Bloom's rather
singular enthusiasm for "The T
Noble Kinsmen," a play of whicl
many doubt Shakespeare's author-
All these rather wild claims,.
however, are advanced in a charm-
ing and enthusiastic way, and"
Bloom soon dashes off to some
other new train of thought without
bullying the reader, so that the more
idiosyncratic perspectives are some
of the book's greatest pleasures. *)
It is likely clear already, btit'
should be made more so, that this is,
not a book for everybody.
"Shakespeare" will only be enjoyed:
by someone with considerable'
interest in all of literature, not just
Shakespeare, for Bloom is con-:
stantly making passing references'
to other authors. The book has
spent quality time on the hard-
cover bestseller list, but that
statistic makes one wond/
if it might not give Stephen
Hawking's "A Brief History
of Time" a run for its money in
the bought-but-not-read catego-
Even for enthusiasts, this is not a
casual purchase. The elephartine
bulk of the.book means that hard-
cover copies will run upwards of
$30. But it is an excellent browsi
book, for Bloom divides it into sep
arate sections on each of the plays,
and several subsections within
those. Nonetheless, it is only justi-
fiable as an investment for a serious
reader's library. Fortunately, it lives
up to such an investment.

The crux of Bloom's concern is
the portrayal of Shakespeare as
central not only to world literature,
but to human nature as well, as
indicated in the book's subtitle.
With what seems like typical hyper-
bole, but probably isn't, Bloom
declares that "Shakespeare invented
us," meaning that the playwright
was so radically ahead of his time
in understanding and illustrating
human personality and psychology
as to still control our comprehen-



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