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March 1999

Make Love, Not War: A great love flick, a combat dud, and a doctor flop

A movie review of Patch Adams, Shakespeare in Love, and The Thin Red Line.

Shakespeare in Love**** Love and Carriage London. The early 1590s. A time of bad teeth, bawdy humor, and the new romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love. A young, virile playwright named Will Shakespeare (Joe Fiennes) is suffering from a paralyzing case of writer’s block. His latest effort, “Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter” is all but forgotten as he seeks a muse to rekindle his creative fires. Enter the enchantingly beautiful Viola (Gwyneth Paltrow) who, in addition to enflaming Will’s passions, has secret (and illegal) aspirations. The young bard falls in love with Viola, and vice versa, but alas, she is destined to marry another and move to Virginia. The clandestine lovers are caught in the forbidden romance that provides rich inspiration for Will’s work. The rest is pure poetry. At just over two hours in length, Shakespeare in Love is a rare film in which the acting, writing, direction and design are destined for abundant awards. Leading the troupe, Fiennes (Elizabeth) and Paltrow (Sliding Doors) are magical as the star-crossed lovers, but this is truly an ensemble triumph. Recognizable faces in the cast include Geoffrey Rush (Shine), Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting), Judi Dench (Mrs. Brown), and Rupert Everett (My Best Friend’s Wedding). Kudos to director John Madden (Mrs. Brown) and writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead) for utilizing mistaken identity and gender, conventions favored by the bard himself. Beware the ides of March, but don’t miss Shakespeare in Love! Patch Adams* Is there a doctor in the house? Patch Adams is another of those "based on a true story" feel-good movies that divides the world into two kinds of people: free spirits (the good guys) and establishment types (the villains). The title character, played by Robin Williams (Good Will Hunting) is a mental patient, who has an epiphany while saving his bunkmate from killer squirrels. After checking himself out of the psychiatric ward, the middle-aged man enrolls in medical school. However, while the teachers preach emotional detachment, Adams spouts that a physician should connect with his patients. When the school forbids Adams to have contact with patients, he disobeys and finds himself in danger of being thrown out of school. Unfortunately, Patch Adams is a series of emotionally overdone scenes connected by a weak story line. There are moments of contrived emotional warmth as Adams connects with the dying; deep sadness as he recites poetry over the coffin of a friend; and triumph as he overcomes the malevolent medical establishment. Williams creates genuinely funny moments, but the dramatic performance is unconvincing. The supporting cast is forgettable. But the actors aren’t the only ones to blame. While director Tom Shadyac (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective) and writer Steve Oedekerk (director of Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls) have some comedic skill, their drama is D.O.A. They say laughter is contagious. So is yawning. The Thin Red Line** Once again, war is hell Adapted from James Jones’ novel about the Battle of Guadalcanal, The Thin Red Line is yet another “war is the ultimate nightmare” film. An American Army rifle unit spends two of the film’s three hours staging an attack on Hill 210, a lush green hummock that has been fortified by hidden Japanese machine gun nests. Commanding officer, Lt. Col. Gordon Tall (Nick Nolte), is a man who’s been passed over one too many times. Captain James Staros (Elias Koteas), the caring squad leader, refuses a direct order when he realizes it’s a suicide mission for his men. Sgt. Edward Welsh (Sean Penn) has a reputation for being hard, but on the battlefield risks his own life to get morphine to a wounded soldier. Narrators are Private Witt (James Caviezel), who redeems himself in combat after nearly being courtmartialed for going AWOL, and Private Bell (Ben Chaplin) who suffers pseudo-erotic flashbacks about his lonely wife back home. Cameos by John Travolta, Woody Harrelson and John Cusack only distract from the story. Director/screenwriter Terrance Malick (Days of Heaven), having spent twenty years away from Hollywood, seems to have lost his storytelling voice. He wanted an art film, but gave us an editing nightmare. In any other year, his faults may have been chalked up to his self-imposed hibernation. But this is the year a director must live up to Spielberg’s epic Saving Private Ryan. He didn’t.

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