Power of Attorney
The Rainmaker does Grisham justice; Alien Resurrection does what
by Debbie Gilbert & Mark Jordan
ell, heres a novelty: a movie thats simply about whats right
and whats wrong. In Francis Ford Coppolas adaptation of John
Grishams novel The Rainmaker, theres no sex, no car chases,
no violence (except for one beautifully staged fight scene). Nothing,
in short, to detract from the storys focus on a lawyer who tries,
against all odds, to maintain the moral high ground.
Matt Damon, in a surprisingly nuanced performance, plays fledgling
attorney Rudy Baylor, a modest, polite-spoken young man who has
barely graduated from Memphis State when he lands a whopper
of a case: a family wants to sue the Great Benefit insurance company
for denying a bone-marrow transplant to their leukemia-stricken
son. Penniless himself, he takes a job with sleazy lawyer Bruiser
Stone (Mickey Rourke), whose office is next to a topless club
(Dannys, which is not disguised for the movie). Rudy is homeless,
too, so he rents a carriage house on the property of flighty Midtown
widow Miss Birdie (79-year-old Teresa Wright), who turns him into
her yard boy.
Rudy takes everything thats thrown at him and doesnt complain.
He seems too good to be true. He also seems more than a little
wet behind the ears, but we know from his sardonic voiceovers
that hes aware of the absurdity of his situation; he just doesnt
yet have the power to control his own destiny.
With prodding from paralawyer Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito),
Rudy goes into business for himself and sets about confronting
Great Benefits army of lawyers. When he faces them all across
a boardroom table, it truly is a David-and-Goliath scenario, and
the kid scores with a verbal slingshot. His nemesis is the insurance
companys chief lawyer Leo Drummond, played with arrogant self-righteousness
by Jon Voight. Slick and superior, Drummond can scarcely contain
his mirth at Rudys ignorance of courtroom procedure. But through
some not-quite-illegal maneuvering, Deck and Rudy manage to expose
a weakness in the insurance companys armor.
In the midst of all this, theres a parallel story in which Rudy
plays the gallant hero, rescuing a damsel in distress. He meets
Kelly Riker (Claire Danes, who doesnt have much to do except
look hurt), a young woman who has been repeatedly beaten by her
husband but who is afraid to leave because hes threatened to
kill her. Instinctively Rudy wants to protect her, and theirs
is a sweet little tale of blossoming love, with Rudy as the pure-hearted
savior. Its tangential to the main plot, yet directly connected
to the movies theme: Theres right and theres wrong. Domestic
violence is wrong, and Rudy wont stand for it. (The movie might
be a bit more interesting if Rudy were ever tempted to the dark
side, but on the other hand, its refreshing to see someone so
steadfast in his principles.)
This all sounds pretty heavy-handed, but it doesnt play that
way. This is by far the funniest Grisham movie ever, thanks in
large part to DeVitos indefatigable antics (as Deck, the unrepentant
ambulance-chaser whos failed the bar exam six times, he hands
out business cards to anyone with visible evidence of injury).
And Coppola, who also wrote the screenplay, inserts a number of
witticisms into the script.
As director, Coppola pulls excellent performances from all of
his cast members. In contrast to most Grisham adaptations, which
are full of stereotyped characters and outlandish plot devices,
Coppola makes this one a human story a collection of quiet moments
between people who seem true to life.
For example, Red West, as the brain-addled (hes got a plate
in his head and he aint right) father of the leukemia patient,
could have played his mental deficit for laughs. Instead, he creates
what may be the most emotionally powerful moment in the whole
film, and he never says a word.
Coppolas sharp judgment in picking actors extends to his choice
of production staff as well. His director of photography is John
Toll (Oscar winner for Legends of the Fall and Braveheart), who
depicts Memphis honestly without glamorizing it (as The Firm tended
to do). Memphians will easily recognize many of the sites, from
Court Square and the Pinch district to The Med and the Shelby
County Courthouse. (And the Las Savell jewelry store gets priceless
But with Coppolas insistence on using real locations, its puzzling
why the film refers to the University of Memphis by its old name.
Grisham set the novel before the universitys name change took
place, but since the film moves the action up to 1996, Memphis
State is an anachronism.
The other thing that elicits groans from local moviegoers is the
reference to Union Street. With all the Memphians who were involved
with the production, youd think somebody would have caught this
egregious flub. And The Rainmaker, despite its visual authenticity,
resembles every other Grisham film in one respect: Its characters
speak with syrupy, Hollywoodized Southern accents. Ive been here
all my life and dont talk that way, nor does anyone else I know.
Why didnt the dialogue coach listen to some actual Memphians?
Nitpicking aside, The Rainmaker is an enjoyable, well-made movie
thats worth a couple hours of your time. Its no masterpiece,
but hey its based on a Grisham book. Get real. Debbie Gilbert
After four movies, 20 years, and an incalculable body count, two
things remain consistent: The aliens will come back meaner than
ever, and Lt. Ripley will be there to take them on. It is a reassuring
fact about the hugely successful sci-fi-meets-horror Alien series,
which in every other respect has changed radically since the first
film debuted in 1979.
One of the odd things about the Alien series is how each film
has managed to strike its own tone entirely separate from its
predecessors. Ridley Scotts original Alien was a good old-fashioned
scare-the-pants-off-you haunted-space-ship movie. James Camerons
Aliens was more of an action-adventure flick. And David Finchers
unjustly maligned Alien3 was the most brooding, thoughtful, and
bleak film in the series.
If anything, the latest installment in the Alien series, Alien
Resurrection, is probably most closely linked with Alien3, in
that it builds on plot lines developed in the third film and likewise
takes a more leisurely approach to the thrills and chills. But
in an important distinction between the two, the newest chapter
in the Alien saga brings a touch (warped as it may be) of humanity
and optimism to the saga of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), while also
striking a surprisingly light-hearted, even humorous tone. (This
may come as no surprise when you consider the screenplay is from
Joss Whedon, whose previous films include the animated family
comedy Toy Story and the tongue-in-cheek Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)
Two hundred years after Ripley throws herself into a pit of molten
metal to kill the alien living inside her, scientists aboard a
military medical research ship have gotten hold of Ripleys DNA
and have successfully cloned her and removed the alien fetus
living inside her. Their plan is to breed and domesticate the
aliens for military and scientific use, proof once again that
hundreds of years and all the technology in the world havent
made people one lick smarter.
Into this scenario comes the pirate ship Bette, carrying kidnapped
humans who will be used as human incubators for the new aliens.
Also on board the Bette is the mysterious Call (Winona Ryder),
who takes an unusual interest in Ripley.
Despite the militarys best-laid plans, the aliens soon escape,
the carnage begins, and our heroes begin a frantic, Poseidon Adventure-like
race to get to the Bette and escape.
With good turns by Ryder and Ron Perlman as the brutish Johner,
Weavers Ripley is once again firmly at the center of the action
of Resurrection. And at age 50, she gives us an action hero who
could more than stand up to the likes of Sly, Arnold, Ford, or
One unexpected side effect of the genetic tinkering is that some
characteristics of the alien DNA have mixed with Ripleys, resulting
in her having increased strength, coordination, heightened senses,
and, like her otherworld nemeses, acidic blood. In short, Ripley,
never a shrinking violet, is now a bad ass. (One of the coolest
scenes ends with Weaver making an incredible one-handed, over-the-shoulder
three-point basketball shot, and yes, she really did make it.)
But shes a bad ass with a little bit of an identity problem.
One of the keys to the Alien series success besides the creatures
themselves has been Weaver and the unique perspective of having
a female protagonist in an action film, a genre usually dominated
by men. The character of Ripley and the nature of the aliens themselves
they plant their young inside host organisms until they reach
a certain level of maturity, at which time they burst through
the host body, killing it has allowed the Alien series to explore
ideas about motherhood and rape while still managing to entertain.
Its what the very best science fiction does: distance sensitive
subject matter so that it can be looked at with fresh eyes.
In Resurrection, Ripley continues to struggle with the implications
of her rape by the creature in Alien3, but now has the added dilemma
of discovering herself after having died and been brought back
as the most successful in a series of cloning attempts. The new
Ripley is disturbingly detached as she tries to make sense of
all this. It is a shaded and subtle performance for Weaver, but
a change in the character that distances her from the audience.
With top-notch special effects, production design, and performances,
much of Resurrection compares favorably with the previous films.
One mistake that director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (whose previous films
include the well-worth-checking-out Delicatessen and City of Lost
Children) makes is that he shows us entirely too much of the aliens,
a bad habit of all the post-Scott directors. Maybe after four
films it is asking too much for audiences to be frightened every
time they see one of these slobbering, fanged monsters, but Jeunet
goes too far in the other direction. We become too familiar with
the aliens, to the point that they take on personalities, something
which does provide some nice comic moments but which also robs
the story of some of its dramatic weight.
This habit of identifying with the aliens does work to good advantage,
however, in the movies final act, when a new alien makes its
appearance one that is, in a way, more frightening than all
the others because it is the most human. (The new alien, by the
way, makes its appearance by way of the most out-of-left-field
plot twist Ive seen in quite awhile, one which, Im sorry to
say, Im still struggling to understand.)
It would not be giving away much to say that the aliens come out
on the losing end of their latest clash with Ripley and company.
In fact, the only real suspense is in discovering who among the
cast of supporting players survives and who becomes alien fodder.
But as the film ends, youre not sure if the good guys won or
even if humanity has survived intact. The most human member of
the cast has turned out to be an android who was programmed that
way. And our hero is a laboratory-bred mutant, who is now literally
one with the creatures she has fought for so long. And so, having
successfully saved Earth from the scourge of the aliens, our heroes
literally fly off into the sunset, but the viewer is left with
a sense that the real monsters are still very much alive. Oh,
well. Thats what sequels are for. n Mark Jordan
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