Double Jeopardy, Dragonheart, Dune

Double Jeopardy (1999) **1/2 The basic premise of this blockbuster is that if a woman is convicted for killing her husband, and he later shows up alive and kicking, she can then kill him anyway, since you can’t be convicted for the same crime twice. Umm.. Wrong! With a premise like that, the credibility of the movie goes way out the window. The legal term ‘double jeopardy’ means one cannot be convicted of exactly the same crime twice, not just the charge. If I were accused of killing a man at 8:30 in a bookstore in New York on November 13, 1996, then I can never again be convicted of killing that man at that time in that place on that date. All of the specifics need to be the same, not just the “I killed a man” part.

But obviously, since so many people watched and liked this movie, the actual veracity of the plot is mostly immaterial. My personal opinion is that with so many rotten ex-husbands in the world, any movie in which one gets killed TWICE is going to make beaucoup bucks! So forget the implausible plot and focus on the action and the drama. Ashley Judd is Libby Parsons, the accused woman in question. Judd turns in another of her fine performances as a woman who will do almost anything to get back to her young son, who of course was taken by the seedy husband. Tommy Lee Jones is her parole officer (!) who seems like a bit of a jerk at the start, but lo and behold comes to believe in her cause. Actually, Tommy Lee’s character is a little tough to figure out. Is he a good guy? Is he a bad guy? Does he have ulterior motives? Well, no ulterior motives surface here, because this film isn’t quite deep enough for that. But when all the dust settles on this incredible tale, the customer is satisfied with the product onscreen.

Dragonheart (1996) *** Set way back in the day when kings were sometimes evil and knights were usually chivalrous, this unique movie details what happens when a dying boy-king is given half of a giant dragon’s heart – then subsequently turns despicably evil. The valiant knight who’s helped train the boy then vows to slay every last one of the beasts. Dennis Quaid’s the knight, straying from the ancient knight code and slaying dragons for money. Eventually, he runs into the last existing dragon (voiced by Sean Connery) and nearly gets his butt handed to him by the fiery fire-breather. The dragon reasons that if Quaid kills him, his livelihood will be gone, so the two join forces to extort money from local villages. (So much for valor and dignity, huh?) But of course, they’re not going to do this forever – someone has to be heroic, right? Someone has to overthrow the original evil king, who by now is a healthy, cruel young man. Throw in a lovely, spunky damsel, a clever cleric (Pete Postlethwaite) and some energetic sword-fighting, and you have yourself the real crux of the plot. This movie features two very commanding performances by Quaid and Connery (who is so powerful an actor he doesn’t even need to appear in the flesh to control a scene!) and some of the best state-of-the-art digital imaging seen in movies to date. The dragon is so seamlessly integrated into the movie that you’d swear he was real. We’ve come a long way since the special effects of Ray Harryhausen wowed us in the 1950s, haven’t we? Stellar acting, an electric pacing, and magnificent cinematography are all present in spades here.

Dune (1984) ** Maybe it’s just me, but someone has to put a stop to people who adapt long novels into movies. More often than not the adaptation leaves out entire chapters, whole characters, all in the name of brevity and coherence. I give you as evidence most of the Stephen King oeuvre – the nuances of characterizations are lost in most cases. The movie adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” is a little different, though. It’s plenty long enough for those nuances to show up, but its underlying problem is that it’s just plain incomprehensible. Maybe the book’s better, maybe not, but I had problems figuring out the story at all. I know the thing’s set about 8,000 years into the future, (which, if I were suddenly transported there, would be very confusing to me anyway) but even at the very begining, while the story’s being set up, one gets the feeling one stepped into the middle of a long tale. And if you’re confused right off the bat, folks, chances are pretty good things won’t be cleared up for you later on. Really, though, I was watching this movie and it was so confusing it was as if they were speaking a different language. Sure, I know it’s David Lynch, and he’s made a career out of strange movies, but dull and leaden pacing isn’t strange, it’s boring. So imagine sitting in your doctor’s waiting room, waiting to be called for your appointment. You’re reading magazine after magazine, bored out of your mind. That’s what watching “Dune” is like.

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