Bronson Pinchot

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It's My Party Review

Like the outstanding Longtime Companion, Randal Kleiser's It's My Party shows what happens as AIDS rips apart a tight-knit circle of friends both gay and straight. The disease is claiming the life of the leader of their pack, a charismatic architect named Nick (Eric Roberts), and the experience is life-changing for all who know him.

Given just a few days to live (a rather contrived Dark Victory-style setup but one that is apparently based on a true story), Nick decides to commit suicide rather than suffer at the end the way so many of his AIDS-afflicted friends have. But before he goes, he decides to throw a two-day party to which he will invite all his friends, hand out parting gifts, and say goodbye with laughs and drinks rather than with tears and sadness.

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Second Best Review

An embittered writer's movie about the coruscating damage of jealousy and the impossibility of finding nobility in failure, Second Best has a pretty good time with its characters, even with all the sad sacks on display. Written and directed by Eric Weber, it's all about Elliot Kelman (Joe Pantoliano), a former publishing executive who bombed out and returned to his small New Jersey hometown - more than a whiff of autobiography here, as Weber was once a big-city ad exec but now lives in a small town and writes screenplays - where he spends his time obsessing over his failure and that of his group of friends. As a means of getting his creative juices out (or simply rubbing his depression in everybody's face), Elliot writes a weekly missive about "The Loser," which he is too scared will be rejected and so just prints up several thousand of them and hires a high school kid to leave them around town. And so, Elliot's self-hating, barely-fictionalized musings about why he and others like him are failures, and why it's better to acknowledge that than delude themselves, flutter in the wind, taped to delicatessen windows, stuffed under windshield wipers, blowing down the street.

The big event awaited by Elliot's friends - a bum but friendly bunch that include a broke real estate agent, an ER doctor and an older guy with prostate cancer - is the arrival of their old friend, movie magnate Richard (Boyd Gaines), whose newest blockbuster just won a slew of Oscars. The jealousy that envelops all of is deadly, of course, but at least Richard lets them play at a nice golf course, so it's not all bad. Although Weber doesn't go the expected route by turning Richard into a preening Hollywood villain, that doesn't stop Elliot (who sells suits at the mall and cadges money from everybody he knows, including his nursing home-confined mother) from feeling bitterly resentful at his friend's wealth and success.

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The First Wives Club Review

The biggest crowd-pleaser of the year is upon us -- the powerhouse trio of Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton foisting their womanness on us with a vengeance. Sure to revive the debate over whether films like this are "man hating," The First Wives Club is, in reality, a harmless big screen sitcom that actually manages to appeal to a large audience.

Rambling through its first 30 minutes with no real direction, The First Wives Club eventually turns into a story about three old friends who want to exact vengeance on their wayward ex-husbands. Elise (Hawn) is an aging movie star, obsessed, as most aging movie stars are, about her looks. Brenda (Midler) is a bitter ex-housewife who loves her son and bemoans her lack of funds to support him -- and hasn't changed her hair since 1969. Annie (Keaton) is basically a middle-aged version of Annie Hall, only now she has a lesbian daughter and an intrusive mother, and Woody Allen is nowhere to be seen.

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Courage Under Fire Review

The so-called Gulf War is the only war in which America was involved that, due to my age, I can personally remember. I saw it on CNN like everyone else, listening to the death toll of Iraqis climb into the 100,000 range, while U.S. casualties stayed around 300 -- half of whom were killed by accidents or friendly fire. The idea of a Gulf "War" will always be kind of silly to me, because the word "war" implies two sides fighting each other. The Gulf War was the wholesale slaughter of Iraqis by U.S. troops.

I'm not saying the Gulf War was a bad, or unjust, operation. It's more of a joke than anything else, and that's why when a film comes out attempting to glamorize the war and make heroes out of fictional soldiers and fictional events, I greet it with a bit of skepticism. Courage Under Fire (just out on DVD) is the first real Gulf War movie. It probably won't be the last.

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After Hours Review

It's one of cinema's greatest freak-outs. The mild-mannered and terminably hapless Paul (Griffin Dunne, in the defining role of his career) encounters Marcy (Rosanna Arquette, ditto) in a coffee shop, reading Tropic of Cancer, naturally. When he gets her number and takes a cab ride to a desolate and rain-drenched SoHo to meet her at her loft, things take a turn for the bizarre -- with Paul finding himself entangled with an intertwined web of people, including an obsessive cocktail waitress (Teri Garr), a suicidal girl, a possibly murderous sculptress (Linda Fiorentino), an unhinged ice cream truck driver (Catherine O'Hara), and a whole host of other characters that represent some of the wackiest nutjobs in cinema. No one else seems to notice it's so bizarre except for Paul: As Dick Miller's diner cook character puts it, when it's after hours, "Different rules apply."

By the end, Paul is on the run from an angry mob who thinks he's a burglar, fleeing in fear for his life. Will he escape? Well, rest assured that After Hours is actually a comedy. It's also one of my favorite Martin Scorsese movies (and a massive departure from his grittier fare), fresh every time you see it and full of little touches that you catch more of with each subsequent viewing. Check out the rows of Aqua Net in Garr's apartment. Or the "tie" she's wearing.

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Slappy And The Stinkers Review

Your enjoyment of Slappy and the Stinkers will be directly proportional to your ability to be amused by a farting seal. In other words, if you're over the age of nine, this frantic melange of The Little Rascals, Caddyshack, and Free Willy will be of limited appeal. However, if you know someone under the age of nine, he or she will probably get a kick out of it.

The Stinkers in question are an adorable group of five seven-year-old ragamuffins who are in some sort of scholarship summer school program at an exclusive private academy. Their every move is carefully watched by nasty headmaster Morgan Brinway (B.D. Wong), an ultra persnickety and fastidious mincing prig whose idea of a music class is to lead the children through grueling rehearsals of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. It's he who has nicknamed the kids Stinkers. Quite the educator.

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Risky Business Review

I recently caught Risky Business on cable for the umpteenth time, and realized that the roots of American Beauty can all be found in this groundbreaking film. Think of Tom Cruises's Joel as a Lester Burnham before he lost his wide-eyed youth. You can see a glimmer of it in Joel's existential monologue ("It seems to me that if there were any logic to our language, trust would be a four letter word."), and he's certainly got the devil-may-care attitude locked up. Case in point is the plot itself -- when Joel wrecks his parents' Porsche, he turns their house into a one-night-only brothel to raise the money to pay for the damages. Even the soundtrack has the same feeling to it. Of course, Cruise owns this movie -- with some excellent one-liners and a certain renowned dance move through the living room -- but what of the rest of the cast? Joe Pantoliano and Rebecca De Mornay have struggled to find some measure of success, but writer/director Paul Brickman is the film's most curious alumnus. In nearly 20 years, he's written a smattering of scripts and has directed only one additional picture, 1990's Men Don't Leave. Paul, didn't you learn anything from your man Joel?
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