Armchair Cinephile 


Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Buena Vista)
Rabbit-Proof Fence (Buena Vista)
Go Tigers! (Docurama)
Of Mice and Men (MGM)
Straw Dogs (Criterion Collection)
My Life as a Dog (Criterion Collection)
Amores Perros (Lions Gate)

Animation has changed a lot in the 15 years since Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Certainly, computers have made it possible for digitally-created actors and those manufactured the old-fashioned way to co-exist on screen seamlessly - take Gollum, for instance. But there's still something thrilling about the first moment in which the 'toon world intersects with the human one in Roger Rabbit, at the end of a manic, death-defying animated short in which poor Roger takes a beating. It's hard not to be impressed with this entertaining flick's ambition: Not only does it star practically every cartoon character in movie history, it slips

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them nicely into Bob Hoskins' comic-noir environment. If the film itself is still a treat, bonus points go to Disney for putting both the "family friendly" full-screen version and the feature-packed "cinema friendly" widescreen one in the same package.

Give Disney (slash Miramax) props, too, for getting Rabbit-Proof Fence out on the shelves so quickly. The Philip Noyce film came and went from theaters too quickly for many people to notice, but that's no reflection on its worth. Fence depicts an era of oppression of which many Americans are unaware: For decades, white Australians routinely kidnapped mixed-blood Aboriginal children from their mothers, taking them to prison-like schools where they were trained for domestic work. The whites told themselves they were helping to "civilize" their future maids. In this film's remarkable true story, three such children escape from school and set off to cross a continent on foot. Aboriginal trackers and armed whites chased them, hunger and weather assaulted them, but they kept walking. Adjectives like "inspirational" are generally used for lousy after-school movie fare, but here's a serious film that demands them.

It's a little hard to tell whether the documentary Go Tigers! (Docurama) wants to be inspirational or critical, and that might be a good thing. In telling the story of football-obsessed Massillon, Ohio (Texans think high-school sports are big here, but trust me, you haven't seen anything 'til you've seen this), director Kenneth Carlson refuses to take a lot of the cheap shots other filmmakers (or yours truly) would have made. After all, Massillon is a small town whose school district can't afford new books or a pay raise for teachers, but has a football scoreboard worthy of Vegas and sends the team onto the field under cover of fog machines. Massillon families routinely have their sons repeat eighth grade, not for academic reasons, but so they'll be bigger and stronger the next year for football. Let's hear it for education!

Massillon parents would probably trade a Nobel laureate for a son like John Steinbeck's Lennie, the emotionally-stunted powerhouse destined for tragedy in Of Mice and Men (MGM). Gary Sinise's 1992 adaptation (in which he stars with John Malkovich) has just

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been released, begging us to wonder what the hell is keeping Sinise from making another film. He was certainly off to a good start, capturing the allegory in this sad tale without sacrificing the specific, individual characters at its heart. For some reason, Sinise hasn't been seen much lately; here's hoping he catches his second wind soon.

Sam Pekinpah's Straw Dogs (Criterion Collection) was attacked by censors before its 1971 release. In a too-common irony, though, trimming the film's most brutal moments - part of a rape scene, in this case - make the film's horrors more palatable, when they should in fact shock us. (Criterion, naturally, has reinstated the director's edit.) Removed from controversy, it's clear that Dogs is more about mood and marriage than bullets and blood. As critic Michael Skragow once said, it makes more sense compared to Bergman than to Kubrick's contemporary shocker A Clockwork Orange.

Continuing Criterion's canine obsession, My Life as a Dog couldn't be further removed from Pekinpah's world. One of the films Lasse Hallström made in Sweden before hitting the Hollywood big-time, it hints at the too-cute quirkiness that would afflict Chocolat, but only hints. Dog sets a boy's adolescence against the slow decline of his mother's health, and overflows with smartly observed details and moments of mystery.

If that's not enough four-legged beasts for you, Amores Perros (Lions Gate) has just been reissued in a fancy new "Signature Series" edition featuring a director's commentary, deleted scenes, et cetera. I may be the only one of the film's admirers who feels its three stories weren't quite connected enough to live under the same roof - I'd love to have seen Alejandro González Iñárritu get enough money and time to make three full, thematically linked features out of them - but I'm still delighted to see one of Mexico's most thrilling films (those who haven't seen it should be warned that those thrills come along with lots and lots of blood) given the treatment usually reserved for European masters and Hollywood moneymakers. •

More by John DeFore



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