Archive for the ‘Stir of Echoes’ Category

Spartacus, Stir of Echoes, Stigmata

March 19, 2000

Spartacus (1964) **** Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece – which is saying something, considering Kubrick’s work, which includes “2001,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Barry Lyndon” – covers quite a bit of historical ground, but no director before or since has told the tale of the strong slave Spartacus inciting his fellow chained men and women to rebel against the arms of Italy. It’s movies like these, along with De Mille’s “The Ten Commandments,” that really defined the term “sweeping epic.” Kirk Douglas stars as the resilient leader Spartacus, and gives an unusually commanding and convincing performance. He’s supported by an all-star cast, of course, including a magnificent Peter Ustinov, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work. The toughest part for Kubrick probably wasn’t filming the movie, it was keeping all of his stars’ egos in check – he had Charles Laughton, Ustinov, and Lawrence Olivier, to name three. Such heavyweights in a movie today would provide some amiable gossip column fodder, but it’s a testament to Kubrick that there weren’t more problems on the set. As for the movie itself, you won’t find many movies with the same level of cinematography, which also garnered an Oscar. A must-see.

Stigmata (1999) *** Frankie (Patricia Arquette) works in a low-rent beauty salon. Somehow, she comes into possession of the rosary beads of a now-deceased priest who witnessed a statue suffering from stigmata – a condition in which the afflicted bleeds in the same locations as Christ did when he was crucified. It’s not long before Frankie’s suffering the same types of wounds, but unlike the statue, her wounds are real. What could be behind such strange activities? Is there skullduggery afoot?

Gabriel Byrne plays a priest assigned by the Vatican to investigate claims of stigmata. Naturally, he’s intrigued by Frankie’s wounds and suspects they’re real. Also naturally, he falls a little for Frankie. Hey, this is Hollywood, and this stuff happens! Don’t ask me to explain why…

This movie is big on special effects, big on loud music, big on pomp but small on circumstance. It’s mostly style, with little substance. Makes you wonder what would have happened if the script had been adapted into an Indiana Jones movie – now THAT would have been intriguing! Byrne is his usual solid, stone-faced self, and Arquette is her usual one-note self as well. Don’t look for deep meaning in this trifling.

Stir of Echoes (1999) *** Tom (Kevin Bacon) has hypnotized by his sister-in-law, played by Illeana Douglas, and from then on his life’s a little….well, weird. He sees a ghost of a disappeared girl, and he’s not the only one – his young son’s been seeing the spectre for weeks. What unfolds after that is that Tom slips further and further into imminent madness. His wife Maggie (Kathryn Erbe) can’t fathom his insanity, and it’s driving her up the wall, as both of the men in her life are increasingly distant and non-communicative. So what happened to Tom when he was under hypnosis? His sister-in-law claims there’s a door in everyone’s mind that’s never been opened, and it sure looks like Tom’s door is wide open, with a big neon sign over it, inviting him to run through with abandon. What’s behind all of this freakiness? There’s a mystery afoot, but it turns out to be a little more standard and predictable than one would hope with the solid premise. Can’t fault the actors, though – this is an unusual role for Bacon, who here comes off as a tough, strong, blue-collar kind of guy – he and his family are close to what one might call white trash, but they’re never portrayed as being mean-spirited or hateful. This is just one of those cases where weird stuff happens to nice folk, kind of like the clan in “Poltergeist.”

So this is a stylish psychological/supernatural thriller with game performances by a capable cast. It’s watchable and full of chills, but the ending’s a little pat.

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