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March 08, 2000 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2000-03-08

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p 'o the evening to ye!
?odern Celtic legends The Chieftans
bring their rousing, ethnic-folk reper-
toire to Hill Auditorium at 8 p.m.

Aft 10

michigandaily.com /arts

MARCH 8, 2000


'Skip' triumphs with sweet, simple Southern tale

By Aaron Rich
Daily Arts Writer
Early in "My Dog Skip," Willie
Morris (Frankie Muniz), our nine-year-
old protagonist,
sees his hero and
older friend, Dink
My Dog (Luke Wilson),
Skip ship off for World
Grade: B+ War II. Fearing
that losing his
At Quality 16 only friend will
tear their boy
apart, Willie's
parents decide to
get him a dog to
keep him compa-
ny. This small
gesture pays off
as Skip, the pup, becomes a near-
human member of the family and of the

small community of Yazoo, Miss,
"My Dog Skip" is touted as a movie
for kids. The fact is, this film is cleaner,
sweeter and put together better than
most movies for grown-ups.
Based on the autobiographical book
by Morris and directed by relative new-
comer Jay Russell, the film sheds hon-
est light on wartime Mississippi and
Southern culture. The characters move
gently through the (it not need be said)
bigoted South noting many racial
slights, but not dwelling on these
moments - after all, this is a rather
simple film, and, as Willie eloquently
says "dogs are color blind."
Skip becomes not only Willie's best
friend, but also a tool to help the boy
branch out making friends (girls) and
growing up. The wunderpooch "teach-
es" Willie to play football (his father
was crippled fighting in the Spanish
Civil War and could not run around

with the tyke) and inteoduces him to the
"other side of town" where the black
community lives.
We see Skip plot (at least we figure
he has as much sense) to get Willie to
approach a black contemporary and
throw a ball. We see Willie's grand-
mother, on old-guard dame living in a
white-columned retirement home, dis-
approve of the interaction. This is all we
need to know of the full story. The rest
is understood or implied. Two innocent
boys; a kind-hearted dog; a tense racial
This could easily be seen as a cop-out
by the producers. But any deeper allu-
sions to bigotry would feel too self-
righteous and overdone.
In terms of cast, the Morris family -
for that matter, all of Yazoo -- does
very well for itself. First, is Muniz, of
"Malcom in the Middle" fame. Being
on the screen as much as he is, it is nice

that he does not ham it up too much. In
fact his performance is quite good and a
definite departure from his better-
known, lighter FOX personage.
There are very few actors alive as
beautiful and talented as Diane Lane,
who plays Ellen Morris, Willie's mom.
Inciting strong oedipal desires, Lane
brings a fresh believability and gentle-
ness to the Morris dinner table.
Finally, if the movie fails at all, it can
always fall back on the fact that it is a
great new link in the "Kevin Bacon
game." Bacon, as Jack Morris, Willie's
dad, does well in a part rather surprising
for the one-size-fits-all performer.
Remember: Kevin Bacon is in "My
Dog Skip" with Diane Lane, who is in
"A Walk on the Moon" with Viggo
Mortensen, who is in "A Perfect
Murder" with Gwyneth Paltrow, who is
in "Emma" with Jeremy Northam, who
is in "Amistad" with Djimon Hounsou.

Willie Morris (Frankie Muniz) and his best friend Skip are as close as boy and dog could be.

Smiley Shandling's script slips off 'Planet'

By Erin Podolsky
Daily Arts Writer

courtesy of1Lions Gate
Errol Morris turns his focus to television,
S OWSwith ' t
TV Series
By Aon RiCh
I*Arts Writer
Parents and professors always say
that writing a short essay is always hard-
er than writing a long one. Every word
must be exact, every paragraph must be
tight and no thought can run on too
much. (Thoughts of "one page" reac-
tion papers scare me.)

Garry Shandling has a way of smiling that no matter how
happy he's supposed to be, he looks like he's being given a
hydrochloric acid enema somewhere out of the line of sight of
the camera. His thick, fishy lips quiver tentatively until they
find enough motivation, looking all the while like they're about
to form a grimace, when suddenly they upturn and playact at
mirth. He looks pained and apologetic when he smiles, as if he
knows he shouldn't be laughing. As if he knows whatever he's
laughing isn't funny at all.
Shandling smiles a lot during "What Planet Are You From?,"

What Planet
Are You
Grade: D-
At Showcase
and Quality 16

and his lips know a lot more than they're
telling. He plays Harold Anderson, an
alien chosen as the lone specimen of his
species to go to Earth and mate with a
human. "What Planet Are You From?"
requires a lot of suspension of disbelief,
even for an absurdist comedy. The idea
that an alien planet, entirely populated by
men, would choose somebody who looks
like Garry Shandling as their representa-
tive sex machine, is just too far off the
charts to stomach. Unfortunately for the
film, it's merely the beginning of the bait
that we're expected to swallow, hook, line
and sinker.
Harold is given a crash course in how to

anything else in the film even remotely humorous.
It's aggravating to sit through "What Planet Are You
From?" and watch its excellent, character actor-rich cast
fumble through a script that lets them down at every turn.
Janeane Garofalo, Linda Fiorentino, Ben Kingsley, Greg
Kinnear and the unequivocally great John Goodman mill
around like old women at a nursing home, waiting for
Shandling to come and, you know, hum a few bars. Sex-on-a-
stick Helen (Fiorentino) is married to the philandering Perry
(Kinnear) for reasons far beyond my comprehension,
although I suspect it has something to do with plot conven-
tions. Meanwhile, Roland Jones (Goodman, who continually
delivers powerhouse performances in severely underrated
films - except for this one, of course) spends the movie
chasing after Harold on the sneaking suspicion that he is an
What alien forces coerced the talented Nichols (a career
that includes "The Graduate" and, more recently, "Primary
Colors") to direct this film have yet to be identified by gov-
ernment agencies, although if I were President Clinton I'd
redouble my NASA efforts and start funding the space pro-
gram pronto. Ed Solomon, who wrote "Men In Black," anoth-
er film about aliens on Earth (although to refer to "MIB" and
"Planet" in the same sentence is sacrilege), pitched in on the
screenplay, making the movie's failure all the more mysteri-
ous. I'd say more, but I just don't feel like putting forth the
effort. This movie wasn't worth my time, and it isn't worth
Which leaves Shandling, who surely conceived of this project as
a starring vehicle for his squarely character actor persona. There he
will stay, and he should be content not to be a leading man. He had
years of that treatment on his never-paralleled HBO series, "The
Larry Sanders Show," a consistently source not of humor but of
hilarity, the kind that "What Planet Are You From?" only dreams of
achieving. But it seems dreaming is all the movie can do.
And through it all, Shandling smiles, silently atoning for his cin-
ematic sins. If only he could have kept his pen silent, too.

First Person
Tonight at 10:30

The same must
be said for movies.
It is much more
difficult to direct a
short film than a
long one, all things
being equal. A doc-
umentary short, for
instance, normally
no longer than a
half-hour, must tell
a whole story in the
time it takes many
to simply introduce
the characters.
So, then, leave

woo the fairer sex and plops down in Arizona as a ban'k execu-
tive. After a multitude of failed seductions (most of which
involve footwear compliments, immediately followed by a fum-
bling request for intercourse) he meets Susan Hart (Annette
Bening), a flighty post-modern flower child who has found new
strength through Alcoholics Anonymous. Their fledgling
romance blooms into marriage and pregnancy, and Harold's
mission is accomplished.

Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Gary Schandling Imagines a long and shining career in quality films.
None of this is particularly amusing. "What Planet Are You
From?" has one joke, and one joke only: Harold's penis, a
mechanical attachment installed in his groin because his race is,
shall we say, long on brains and short on brawn, hums whenev-
er he gets excited. Having the emotional maturity and control
of a 13-year-old, Harold and his equipment hum whenever
they get within poking range of a female. This is funny
maybe once. Maybe. Director Mike Nichols and writer
Shandling, though, think it's funny twenty times over and
then some. To make matters worse, while pouring their cre-
ative energies into the little humvee, they forgot to make


it to master documentarian Errol Morris
-creator of films such as "Fast, Cheap
and Out of Control," "A Brief History
of Time" and the recent "Mr. Death" -
to figure out how to pare down his reg-
ular format from 90 minutes to 30, and
still keep the same unparalleled quality.
Recently the artsy cable network,
l o, began running "First Person" -
a collection of half-hour documentary
profiles by Morris of eccentrics and
geniuses. This week, the second of the
11-part series the episode retolves
around an interview with novelist and
lover Sondra London.
London, a middle-aged woman who
claims to have fantasies about being
swept away by the boogie man, finds an
interesting trend in the men she falls for
- they're serial killers. Well, only two of
tl are.
f turns out London's beau from high
school became a murderer - he blames
her of course - and when she found out,
she contacted him about writing his story.
When done with his book, she met anoth-
er killer, Danny Rolling, who wanted his
tale told as well. As soon as the two met,
they fell in love - and remain there
today (ain't love grand!).
st as in his movies, Morris uses
related documents - everything
from drawings by Rolling to videotapes
of his arraignment - to illustrate the
One warning to the weak of stomach:
Some of the heinous murders are graph-
ically explained. This is one of the eeri-


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