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"Flawless," "Toy Story 2," and "The Straight Story"

Quick Flicks

!B! "Flawless"
!B! "Toy Story 2"
!B! "The Straight Story"

"Flawless" - Despite its title, this odd Joel Schumacher movie starring Robert DeNiro and Philip Seymour Hoffman is nothing short of flawed. Never a master of understatement, Schumacher annoyingly states and restates the obvious beyond the point of irritation. De Niro plays a retired security guard named Walt whose reason for waking each new day is so he can heap harassment on the members of the "gay community" who hang out at his Lower East Side residential hotel.

Then ol' Walt has a stroke and a change of heart. His speech therapist suggest singing lessons as a way for Walt to regain the voice he used primarily for slinging slurs at others. And guess who ends up his voice teacher? You guessed it — one of the drag queens upstairs.

Equally flamboyant and frustrated, Hoffman's portrayal is everything De Niro's is not: heartfelt, bittersweet and three-dimensional. Deliberately inaudible for much of the film, De Niro is spared much of Schumacher's attempts at "tough, punchy" dialogue. Schumacher has been bragging that it took him less than three weeks to write this script, and it shows. Hoffman is the only reason to catch this underwhelming film.

"Toy Story 2" - I loved this movie! And dare I say it? This sequel is head-and-shoulders above the original. Although Pixar has improved the computer-generated look to almost rival reality, what makes this second take on the world from a toy's perspective so much fun are the characters and story line.

Tom Hanks and Tim Allen return to voice Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Lightyear, respectively, and both make their toy alter egos sound real. This time, an unscrupulous toy collector steals Woody. It seems our cloth hero is really a much-prized collectible, along the lines of a Howdy-Doody. Buzz and Woody's other toy-chest pals witness this egregious act and vow to bring him home.

But while Buzz and his band of courageous toys set out to cross the street, Woody discovers that he's famous. He also meets his old TV-show cohorts Jesse, the yodeling Cowgirl and Prospector Pete. Now Woody's torn. Should he be admired the rest of his life in a Japanese Toy Museum or return home and face the inevitable — watching his beloved Andy grow up and forget about him?

"Toy Story 2" mixes action with heart and humor, making it fun for anyone who ever loved that one special toy.

"The Straight Story" - Yes, this is the latest from David "Blue Velvet" and "Twin Peaks" Lynch. And yes, it is rated G. Whoa! What's up with that? Actually, everything, for Lynch has fashioned a small, delicate and moving tale about friendship.

The movie is based on the true story of 73-year-old Alvin Straight, a man who sets out on a six-week odyssey to visit his estranged brother who's just suffered a stroke. Not in the best health himself, Alvin hitches a homemade trailer to his John Deere and sets off to travel 320 miles at a clip that never exceeds 5 mph.

That slow pace allows us to learn a lot about Alvin, his stuttering daughter, Ruth, and all he encounters on his trip through the heartland of America. Yes, this is a "feel good" movie, but it is devoid of saccharine sentimentality. Richard Farnsworth gives the performance of a lifetime as Alvin and Sissy Spacek turns in a memorable performance as Ruth. If the conclusion of this wonderful tale doesn't bring a tear to the eye, then there's no hope for the future of mankind.

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