Movies offer mobsters, Midwinter tales and Mary Reilly

by Dave Sarles

Daily Cougar Staff

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead

*** stars

It is hard these days to twist a plot that revolves around gangsters into something that we haven't seen before. Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead actually does take a new angle on a look into the seedy underworld of organized crime.

It tells the story of Jimmy the Saint (Andy Garcia), one gangster who made it out of the mob alive, only to be pulled back in for one last piece of work, whether he wants to or not.

The movie's theme revolves around bad timing. Jimmy is pulled back into the mob the same week he finds the perfect girl and falls madly in love. Dagney (Gabrielle Anwar) is the girl Jimmy has been searching for his entire life. This gives him more to deal with than just his ailing business.

Jimmy sets out to round up his old gang. There is Franchise (William Forsythe), a biker who runs a trailer park with his wife and kids; Pieces (Christopher Lloyd), who left the mob to run the projection booth in a porno theater; Critical Bill (Treat Williams), who preps cadavers at a funeral home in his own special way; and Easy Wind (Bill Nunn), who still works as an exterminator, but kills bugs these days.

Director Gary Fleder does a good job in telling this story in an interesting way. He handles the star-studded, ensemble cast very well. It is impressive work for his first feature film. The screenplay is also the first feature from writer Scott Rosenburg.

Garcia is perfect as Jimmy the Saint. He can play a gangster just as well as De Niro or Pacino. He is one of the few actors who can make it so convincing. Christopher Walker is also great as The Man With The Plan.

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead is a good film, although it is not an entirely original idea, but few films are these days. Fleder explores a side of the mob not often seen. It is definitely worthwhile for those of you who love gangster movies. And for those of you who don't, there is a romantic story in there as well.

by Joey Guerra

Daily Cougar Staff

Before and After

*** stars

From the outset, the new film Before and After seemed like the stuff that TV movies were made of.

Fortunately, folks, we're not dealing with amateurs. Director Barbet Schroeder knows how to create real tension, and screenwriter Ted Tally introduced the world to Hannibal Lecter on the big screen.

Add Academy Award winners Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson to that list, and you've got the makings of a pretty impressive film.

Carolyn Ryan (Streep) is a small-town pediatrician, and her husband, Ben (Neeson), a sculptor. Their family is loving and devoted, with a teen-age son, Jacob (Edward Furlong), and a young daughter, Judith (Julia Weldon).

Their quiet home is torn apart when Jacob's girlfriend, Martha (Alison Folland), is found brutally murdered and Jacob turns up missing.

Carolyn is immediately terrified, imagining her "innocent" son is hurt or murdered as well. Ben, however, works to hide the clues leading up to his son's guilt in Martha's death.

The movie is anchored by strong performances, and at the head of the pack is Streep, fresh off an Oscar-worthy performance in The Bridges of Madison County. Her work here isn't quite as breathtaking, but she handles her role with a controlled heartbreak.

Neeson interjects Ben with fear and doubt toward his son. He is a man whose actions aren't well- thought out but are filled with concern for his family.

The supporting cast is equally effective. Furlong's performance was surprisingly strong, illustrating all the rage, fear and desperation perfectly.

Before all the heartache and despair, the Ryans were a happy family. After a life-changing experience, their relationships will never be the same. The movie conveys the message, and perhaps addresses the issue of how some families must be faced with grim reality before they find out just who they really are.

by Joey Guerra

Daily Cougar Staff

Mary Reilly

*** stars

After reportedly missing seven release dates since last year, the film Mary Reilly seemed destined for failure even before anyone saw it.

Taken as it was intended, Mary Reilly is an absorbing, intense drama delving into the story of Jekyll and Hyde and featuring a brave, impressive performance from Julia Roberts.

The film is based on a novel by Valerie Martin, and tells the story from the point of view of Mary Reilly (Roberts), the newest addition to Dr. Henry Jekyll's (John Malkovich) staff. As a housemaid, Mary must serve Dr. Jekyll in every way, even in hiding his most terrible secret, Mr. Hyde.

We see Mary going about her daily chores, all the while quietly dealing with painful memories of an abusive past. This ability to persevere in the face of evil draws Jekyll to Mary, but also creates a battle within the doctor.

Mary, too, is torn in some ways. She is afraid of Dr. Hyde's alter ego, but somehow drawn to it in a way she cannot understand. Her loyalty is to the doctor, shown in her delivery of letters to a local brothels-keeper, Mrs. Farraday (Glen Close in a small, showy role). But her longing, her desire, everything primal and unbound within her soul, longs for Jekyll.

Stephen Frears' direction is effective, slow and methodical, but never boring. He allows the events to develop and supplies the film with subtleties not often seen in American films.

Most of the film's success is due to Roberts. She does an excellent job of portraying the meek housekeeper. Her Irish accent is perfect, and Roberts makes good use of facial expression and body language to convey Mary's feelings.

Despite plenty of reasons to see Mary Reilly, it is not without faults. There are a few too many shots of people descending and ascending long stairways that never seem to go anywhere.

Nevertheless, Mary Reilly is a gripping tale, exploring the gray areas of good and evil.

by Eric James

Daily Cougar Staff

A Midwinter's Tale

*** stars

Writer/director Kenneth Branagh seems to be the latest feather in the Shakespearean hat. After impressive turns as Henry V and Iago, Branagh (newly bleached-blonds for the role) now tackles the latest performance in the long line of Hamlets.

First, however, the director decided to have a little fun with the play. He concocted a script about a misfit cast of actors, who have decided to produce a collaborative effort of Hamlet. The result is A Midwinter's Tale.

Opening around Christmas, when thoughts turn to "the birth of Christ and The Wizard of Oz," the audience would swear they were watching a Woody Allen film.

With struggling actor Joe Harper (Michael Maloney) speaking of his misfortunes in acting and his depressive thoughts, the screen fades to black with white titles and an old recording of "The Show Must Go On" playing. Definite shades of Woody.

The film then catapults into the wittiest and most quick-paced British humor to come along in quite a while. Shot in fabulous black and white, A Midwinter's Tale delves into the effect that Hamlet has on the lives of the actors, and once it starts, no prisoners are taken.

The film follows the actors through their various fumblings and bunglings of lines and blocking in Hamlet.

A knowledge of the theater as well as Shakespeare's major works would probably enhance your outing to this film, but it is a riot in of its own.

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