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July 2000

Hits and Misses

Movie Reviews of Passion of Mind, Center Stage, High Fidelity

Passion of mind*
Life is but a Dream

Passion of Mind is a psychological drama in which fantasy and reality become indistinguishable for a woman leading a double life in her dreams. Demi Moore plays Marie and Marty. Marie is a lonely American widow living in rural France, and a freelance book reviewer for the New York Times. A negative review sends her into an unexpected romance with the author of the book in question (Stellan Skarsgard). Marty is a glamorous Manhattan workaholic who has no time for a social life, until she falls for a coworker (William Fichtner). Or does she? Every night, when Marty goes to sleep, she wakes up as Marie. And when Marie goes to sleep, she wakes up as Marty. Reluctant to reveal their increasing confusion to the men in their lives, Marie/Marty must quickly discover which life is real and which is the dream, before they both lose everything.

Passion of Mind is the latest in a line of bad movies whose only success is in sabotaging an intriguing premise. Screenwriter/producer Ron Bass (Stepmom, The Joy Luck Club) undoubtedly proves that he is one of the most overrated screenwriters in Hollywood. The film proceeds at a snail’s pace, offering nothing to hold our interest beyond a few nice shots of French scenery and the New York skyline. To add insult to injury, the film’s plot is bland, obvious and is longer than it needs to be. Psychologically speaking, there’s some potentially fascinating stuff here, but the superficial screenplay and another flat performance by Moore effectively snuffs the life out of this film. Enquiring minds don’t want to know.

Center Stage**
Ballet High

Center Stage follows a group of teenage students accepted to a workshop at the American Ballet Academy. Jody Sawyer (Amanda Schull) is an ingénue whose dance technique and body shape don’t exactly leave a favorable impression on her teachers. Jody’s roommates include Eva (Zoe Saldana), a gifted and sassy natural-born star, and Maureen (Susan May Pratt), a snob with an aggressive stage mother (Donna Murphy). While the girls face fierce competition in daily classes and harsh rules governing their leisure time, the boys don’t have it any easier. Star Cooper Nielson (Ethan Stiefel) returns after a year on a drinking binge, spawned by having lost his girlfriend to Academy head Jonathan Reeves (Peter Gallagher). Behind the bright lights and glamour, the aspiring adolescents soon discover that the realities of ballet life are as comfortable as a pair of burlap tights.

Reminiscent of 1980’s Fame, the cast is a varied company of eye-catching wonders with a few professional actors to boot (to make this a drama rather than a documentary). Leading the pack is the spectacular American Ballet Theater star Stiefel. Schull, a junior member of the San Francisco Ballet, and Saldana are equally breathtaking. Carol Heikkinen’s script is unfortunately subpar, undercutting director Nicholas Hytner’s testimony to dance and tempering the glow of his youth. But if you love ballet, this story of a fresh crop of dancers will certainly keep you entertained. As a drama, however, Center Stage is a pas-de-don’t.

High Fidelity***
Spin Cycle

In High Fidelity John Cusack stars as Rob Gordon, a Generation-X record shop owner who manages to keep “Championship Vinyl” afloat, despite his underachieving employees, Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black), each of whom is a textbook case of arrested development in his own right. Rob obsesses over his pathetic romantic history. Fond of making lists, he composes his “Top 5 all-time breakups,” and relives each of them in his head. His latest breakup with Laura (Iben Hjejle) has hit him the hardest as he belatedly realizes she might have been “the one.” In an effort to purge his demons, Rob contacts each member of his list to see where he went wrong.

Based on a novel by Nick Hornby, High Fidelity has no profound meaning, although it occasionally toys with the importance of pop music on one’s psychological development. Early in the film, Cusack (who also served as coscriptwriter) muses, “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” We never get an answer, but the movie is good enough without it. The supporting cast includes such familiar faces as Catherine Zeta-Jones, Tim Robbins and Joan Cusack, but all are overshadowed by Black, with his acerbic wit, and a surprising musical performance. High Fidelity is definitely among the Top 5 comedies of the year, so give it a spin. <<<

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