That sword-fighting scene is indicative of the entire movie's attitude. Roxanne is an intelligent, playful flight of fancy, meant to be judged by the merits of its own universe, not the real world. Martin is a brilliant mind and a beautiful writer, and the light touch of his screenplay allows for this story to be set in the "real world," but graces it with such good cheer and unexpected whimsy that this film is like a fairy tale with jokes.
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A languorous single take opens the film, sweeping across verdant Mississippi countryside being traversed by a railcar carrying a chain gang and armed guards, before spying a couple of other prisoners rowing their way across a pond, chatting about things inconsequential. A third accomplice shows up with a car and some civilian clothes. The car breaks down, they take off on foot. Eventually the trio -- a couple of hard cases, T-Dub (Bert Remsen) and Chickamaw (John Schuck), and one fresh-faced young Ozark farmboy, Bowie (Keith Carradine) previously serving life for a murder committed at 16 -- wind up at a relative's place, where they hide out and plan their first robbery. Because the three, who continually refer to themselves as "thieves," never seem to consider even for a moment to do anything but just keeping on robbing and running. And so they do.
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Manna From Heaven is the story of a Buffalo family who one day discover $20,000 "raining from heaven," wisely decide to split it up, and then go on their merry ways. A decade or so later, every last one of them has grown up to be a loser, having squandered his or her (mostly her) share of the loot. The lone exception is Theresa (Ursula Burton... well of course the good one is going to be played by a Burton sister!) who has become an ash-on-the-forehead nun. In fact, Theresa becomes convinced that the 20 grand of so long ago was not a gift but a loan, and that they must now "pay it back."
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Young Kevin (Craig Warnock) is a history buff trapped in the household of his shallow, materialistic parents. While they sit mindlessly in front of the television, absorbed in an insanely morbid game show, Kevin explores his history books enthusiastically, fantasizing about a more meaningful world than the one in which he lives. But when his parents finally send him to bed, his world gets a lot more interesting.
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Possibly the most celebrated film of the 1970s -- at least among film snob circles -- Robert Altman's sprawling case study of five days in the Tennessee city is self-absorbed, overwrought, and dismissive. Nor is it particularly well-made, with poor sound (even after being remastered for its DVD release) and washed-out photography, not to mention a running time (2:40) that's at least an hour too long.
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Welcome to Robert Altman's personal nightmare (literally, he came up with the story in a dream), a tale of identity and personality, and the cascading way that cliques work, even in the smallest of groups.
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But seriously, that's what you're going to be doing if you see The Portrait of a Lady -- Jane Campion's follow-up to The Piano, based on Henry James's "classic" novel that you've probably never read. Now, I'm wishing that I had, though, because Portrait is a fantastic movie to watch, exquisitely crafted and painstakingly detailed, gorgeously photographed and full of style -- but it is just plain impossible to follow.
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Torpid, trite and not the least bit scary -- just unrelen=tinglyunpleasant -- the first 45 minutes of the movie only came to life in twoscenes involving the messy divorce of miserable single mom Jennifer Connelly(proving Oscars don't bring talented actresses good roles). She subsequentlymoves into a drab, creepy cinderblock slum with her sad-eyed daughter (ArielGade), even though it's made very clear that there's nothing keeping herfrom finding a nicer place in the suburbs.
Soon the kid has an "imaginary friend" she won'ttalk about, their ceiling is dripping gooey black liquid from an abandoned(and eerily flooded) apartment upstairs, and the building's greasy manager(John C. Reilly) and bug-eyed, hollow-cheeked building superintendent (PetePostlethwaite) both seem to be hiding something sinister.
Director Walter Salles (the Brazilian behind "TheMotorcycle Diaries," making his inauspicious Hollywood debut) dragsout these routine, oppressively glum establishing scenes to a mind-numbingdegree. (If this apartment building is spooky enough to justify its ownominous soundtrack theme from the moment mom and daughter arrive, how comeConnelly isn't astute enough to realize something's amiss, even if shecan't hear the music?)
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