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January 08, 1999 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1999-01-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Lloyd Kaufman speaks at Borders tonight. The cofounder of
Troma Studios and author of "All I Need to Know About
Filmmaking I Learned From 'The Toxic Avenger,'" the story of the
studio's questionable tactics, explains his filmmaking techniques.
7 p.m.


Check out reviews of the new films "Shakespeare in Love"
and "A Civil Action."
January 8, 1999



Hanks, Ryan make

'Mail' work

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Susan Sarandon and Julia Roberts bond in "Stepmom."

By Kristin Long
Daily Arts Writer
What attracts us to films starring Tom Hanks
and Meg Ryan is the endearingly realistic quali-
ties that both actors carry with their characters. It
is a trait that allows us to imagine that perhaps
something so romantic or unique can actually
happen to us, or maybe to someone we know.
For the latest Hanks-Ryan flick, "You've Got
Mail," "Sleepless in Seattle" scribe and director
Nora Ephron reunites the wholesome pair in a
romantic-comedy that bears all the essential ele-
ments for a fine romance: friendship, frustration
and infatuation.
Ryan plays the owner of an independent chil-
dren's bookstore, Kathleen Kelly, and adds her
charming charisma and personality to a role that
was obviously fashioned for her. It is a wonder,
however, that the Foreign Press Association has
given her a Golden Globe nomination for Best
Actress in a comedy, for this is a character-type
that Ryan usually plays - which, of course, the
audience adores - but it is nonetheless far from
a challenge for Hollywood's sweetheart.
The object of her affection is none other than
her nemesis Joe Fox (Hanks), whose family
mega-bookstore, Fox Books, has set up camp in
the same neighborhood as Kathleen's The Shop
Around The Corner. Fox Books, with its immense
book selection, discounts and the "legal addictive
stimulant" sold at the espresso bar, threatens to
put the decade-old business of nice-girl Kathleen
out of commission.
Ryan's and Hanks' characters are so compati-
ble because Hanks, as the evil Big Business
giant, is everything we don't want to like in terms
of what people will do for business and Ryan, as
the daughter who took over her mother's dream
business, is everything we want to love about

Stepm , iom stalls
ingooey plot

By Bryan Lark
Daily Arts Writer
Real life best friends Julia Roberts
and Susan Sarandon have long
searched for a project that would
allow both actresses meaty roles
worth sinking their teeth into.
"Stepmom" must have seemed the
perfect project to play against their
friendly public personas.
As bitter new girlfriend Isabel
Kelly and even more bitter ex-wife
Jackie Harrison, Roberts and
Sarandon, respectively, get to be arch
rivals for the attention of Luke
Harrison (Ed Harris) and the affec-
tion of Jackie and Luke's two end-
lessly adorable children.
Some of their barbs as bitter ene-
ies have bite, examples of which
can be found throughout the film: "I
think she's pretty," says munchkin-
magician Ben (Liam Aiken), to
which his mother tartly replies,
"Sure, if you like big teeth" or
"You're not my mother," screamed

b &~
At Briarwood
and Showcase

with burgeon-
ing bitterness
by Anna (Jena
Malone), to
which hip,
urban Isabel
yells, "And
thank God for
Aside from
some pithy
"Step m o m,"
for Roberts and
Sarandon, is

the warm and fuzzy, sad-funny "Mrs.
Doubtfire," "Stepmom," though gor-
geous and mildly entertaining, never
rises above its chick flick trappings,
which were originated by "Terms of
Endearment" and include laughs,
tears, cancer, loud and hurtful argu-
ments, heartwarming reconcilia-
tions, and the systematic shipping
away of all adult males.
As if Columbus was not making
perfectly clear that the film belonged
to its leading ladies, he allows Ed
Harris to disappear almost complete-
ly after 45 minutes, which is a mis-
take since the versatile Harris can
make any film better just by acting
with his considerable forehead.
But "Stepmom" is far from devoid
of great acting. In fact, Roberts does
some of her best, most grown-up
work here and Sarandon is effortless-
ly brilliant.
Even the kids are refreshingly nat-
ural. Jena Malone is perhaps the
most intense 12-year-old ever pro-
jected onto a screen and Liam
Aiken's infectious laugh and mis-
chievous behavior approaches Julia
Roberts heights in the cuteness
All of this talent, however, is in
service of a choppy, paint-by-num-
bers script, not surprising consider-
ing the words come courtesy of five
separate screenwriters from five dif-
ferent drafts.
This places the wasted potential of
"Stepmom" squarely in the cheese
department, where it joins absurd
chunks of death-obsessed Velveeta
like "Untamed Heart,' "Boys on the
Side," and this year's earlier moldy
truffle, "One True Thing."
Sarandon, the film's one true
thing, as it were, has remarked that
her character in "Stepmom" is so bit-
ter because of the frumpy clothes she
has to wear, while Roberts trollops
around in leather pants.
Indeed, "Stepmom" suffers a simi-
lar fate, though here it is the audi-
ence that's bitter because "Stepmom"
is trying on "Terms of
Endearment"'s clothes and they just
don't fit.

Got Mail
At Briarwood
and Showcase
-,-. 4

individuals in business for all
the right reasons.
Their love-struck identities
are kept hidden from each
other through the wonders of
e-mail, and it's a shame that a
majority of the first half of
the film is concentrated on
the e-mails the two send each
other instead of sharing the
screen together.
The second half of the film
almost makes up for the first
in that we see Hanks and
Ryan feed off of each other's
personalities - in person -

Around the Corner" carries the same premise as
"Mail" only with "real" letters as opposed to
electronic ones, and the two are employees of the
same store as opposed to owners of different
One scene that seems as though it was taken
almost word-for-word from the original captures
the essence of Hanks-Ryan spirit that one might
have thought that only Stewart could have exe-
cuted well. It takes place in a cafe where the "pen
pals" have arranged to meet, and with the male
arriving after the female, he, of course, knows
that his beloved correspondent is also his bitter
rival. What's to follow? Oh, just a few mind
games that have us laughing at the events that
follow and embarrassed for the woman who puts
her foot in her mouth and washes it down with a
bit of tea.
In many ways, the original succeeds where
"You've Got Mail" falters - particularly with
respect to the film's duration. "Mail" clocks in at

more than two hours and hurts itself by running
its storyline in circles instead of maintaining the
momentum of a forward-moving script.
This is perhaps also the film's biggest down-
fall. While fans of the on-screen pair might think
one could never get enough of their wit and
appeal, halfway through it's time to move on. The
final 30 minutes of "Mail" make up for much of
the humdrum that proceeds it, but if every film
were based on its final 30 minutes, some audi-
ence members might never make it to the end.
"You've Got Mail" is do-able because it rests
on one quality that makes the Ephron-Hanks-
Ryan team work: charm. The film is pure charm
which, if anything, makes us enjoy the light-
heartedness of the story.
Whether a hopeless romantic or an enemy of
love, one cannot deny the endearing spirit of
Hanks' and Ryan's chemistry. The boredom and
dilution of the plot, however, undermine whatever
hopes we might have that the film will succeed.

while at times these moments are so "Sleepless in
Seattle"-like it's nauseating; they are good for a
few laughs and for enjoying the talent of the
dynamic duo.
The film's story is based on the 1940 film
comedy "The Shop Around the Corner" starring
Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan. "The Shop

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan fall in love - again - in "You've Got Mall."




ostly toothless.

An unabashedly gooey melodra-
ma, "Stepmom" is a clich6.
It's the type of film that exists for
the sole purpose of emotionally
wrecking the audience for two hours.
It's the type of film that treats first
snowfalls, Christmas mornings and
lip-synching to Motown hits with
equal awe. It's the type of film that,
ardon the momentary chauvanism,
could and should be labelled a chick
Directed by Chris Columbus, he of

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