Monthly Archives: July 1990

Presumed Innocent

This adaptation of Scott Turow’s best-selling novel–about an idealistic prosecutor (Harrison Ford at his best) who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a colleague (Greta Scacchi) with whom he had an adulterous affair–is a top-notch courtroom drama that will keep you guessing if you haven’t read the book; even if you have, it is still a very well crafted story, directed by Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men), who collaborated on the script with Frank Pierson, and effectively shot by Gordon Willis. While it never reaches the level of Anatomy of a Murder, which is probably the high point in this genre, it shares with that film a rather complex view of the judicial system that makes the multiple plot twists all part of an overall vision, and Paul Winfield here rivals Joseph Welch in the earlier film by making the most of (read hamming up) his juicy part as the judge. The remainder of the cast–including Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, and John Spencer–is never less than capable, and Pakula and Ford are especially good in handling the nuances of sexual obsession. (Ford City, Evanston, Norridge, Webster Place, Burnham Plaza, Edens, Golf Mill, 900 N.… Read more »

Love Your Mama

After a long and successful career in day care, Ruby L. Oliver made this, her first feature, originally known as Leola, in her late 40s. It’s a remarkable debut: assured, highly focused, surprisingly upbeat considering the number of problems it addresses without flinching–and the best low-budget Chicago independent feature that I’ve seen. Set in contemporary Chicago, it concerns a 17-year-old girl from the ghetto whose plans for the future are jeopardized when she finds herself pregnant. In addition, her brothers are gradually drifting into a life of crime, her mother is having difficulty maintaining a day-care center without a license, and her stepfather is an alcoholic and philanderer. The plot line is concentrated and purposeful, and the cast–including Carol E. Hall, Audrey Morgan (particularly impressive as the mother), Earnest Rayford, Andre Robinson, and Kearo Johnson–is uniformly fine. In addition to writing, directing, producing, and financing the film, Oliver is also credited with casting, served as set decorator and location manager, and sang as well as wrote the lyrics to the film’s theme song (1989). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 27, 6:00 and 8:00; Saturday, July 28, 3:00; Sunday, July 29, 1:00; and Monday through Thursday, July 30 through August 2, 6:00; 443-3737) … Read more »

Chicago Joe and the Showgirl

Although it’s based on a disturbing true story–the so-called cleft-chin murder case that swept the English press in 1944–this period drama, written by David A. Yallop and directed by Bernard Rose, is served up in the form of fanciful and stylish nostalgia (evocative at times of both The Singing Detective and Bonnie and Clyde), perhaps because the power of fantasy is mainly what it’s about. Emily Lloyd and Kiefer Sutherland star as an aspiring 18-year-old movie star and a 22-year-old American serviceman who claims to have Chicago gangster connections. They meet during the London bombings and spur on each other’s fantasies until they’ve embarked on a life of crime. The results aren’t uniformly successful, but the film’s production design (by Gemma Jackson) is a knockout, and Lloyd and Sutherland make a pretty steamy couple. With Patsy Kensit and Keith Allen. (Esquire)… Read more »

Quick Change

A delightful “small” picture in an era when such things are no longer supposed to exist, this quirky comedy follows the adventures of a trio of bank robbers (Bill Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid) who pull off an ingenious and successful job but then find it difficult to get out of New York City; Jason Robards plays the police chief who is alternately hot and not so hot on their trail. Based on a novel by Jay Cronley, the screenplay by Howard Franklin, codirected by Franklin and Murray (both of them making directorial debuts), manages to live up to the demands of a thriller without sacrificing character to frenetic pacing, and the film exudes a kind of sweetness that never threatens to become either sticky or synthetic. All the lead actors are funny and creative while keeping their characters life-size (to my taste, this is Murray’s best work), and they’re given a very pleasant backup by Bob Elliott (of the former radio team Bob and Ray), Philip Bosco, Saturday Night Live’s Phil Hartman, Kathryn Grody, and Tony Shalhoub, among others. (Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Forest Park, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, 900 N. Michigan, Evanston, Webster Place, Ford City East)… Read more »

How Hip We Are [WITHOUT YOU I’M NOTHING]

From the Chicago Reader (July 6, 1990). — J.R.

WITHOUT YOU I’M NOTHING

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by John Boskovich

Written by Sandra Bernhard and Boskovich

With Sandra Bernhard, John Doe, Steve Antin, Lu Leonard, Ken Foree, and Cynthia Bailey.

Once upon a time, before postmodernism came along, art tended to be about reality and the world — not always, to be sure, but more often than today. Then a group of professors and hucksters (as well as huckster-professors) got together and said, “What are reality and the world except particular versions of what we used to call art? And anyway what do we know about the world apart from what we see on TV, which is a form of popular art? The subject of art has always been other art, and postmodernism — unlike modernism, which is old hat by now, and all art prior to modernism, which is even older hat — is up-to-date art about other art. And what’s up-to-date is what sells.” Or words to that effect.

If capitalism is devoted in part to developing new markets, and advertising and journalism are devoted to promoting them, then postmodernist criticism is a means of backing up that promotion with hard intellectual currency.… Read more »

How To Make Love To A Negro Without Getting Tired

An amiable but otherwise fairly aimless French Canadian picture about bohemian life in Montreal that centers on a Haitian emigre (Isaach de Bankole) writing his first novel, his intellectual African roommate (Maka Kotto), and the numerous white women they attract (including, among others, Roberta Bizeau and Miriam Cyr). The bohemian ambienceand, alas, the sexual politicssuggest the late 50s and early 60s. An adaptation by Dany Laferriere of his own lightly satirical autobiographical novel, coscripted by coproducer Richard Sadler and directed by Jacques W. Benoit (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Unbelievable Truth

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1990). — J.R.

TheUnbelievableTruth

A highly intriguing if not always fully successful first feature (1990) by independent writer-director Hal Hartley, shot in his hometown on Long Island, gives us, among other characters, a mechanic mistaken for a priest (Robert Burke) returning from a prison sentence, a politically alienated teenager (Adrienne Shelly), and the teenager’s mercenary redneck father (Christopher Cooke). Fantasies about global annihilation obsess the teenager, fantasies about money obsess her father, and fantasies about a pair of murders apparently committed by the mechanic obsess almost everyone else. The unvarnished quality of some of the acting limits this effort in spots, but the quirky originality of the story, characters, and filmmaking keeps one alert and curious. With Julia McNeal, Mark Bailey, and Gary Sauer. (JR)… Read more »

Quick Change

A delightful small picture in an era when such things are no longer supposed to exist, this quirky comedy follows the adventures of a trio of bank robbers (Bill Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid) who pull off an ingenious job but then find it difficult to get out of New York City; Jason Robards plays the police chief who is alternately hot and not so hot on their trail. Based on a novel by Jay Cronley, the screenplay by Howard Franklin, codirected by Franklin and Murray (both making directorial debuts), manages to live up to the demands of a thriller without sacrificing character to frenetic pacing, and the film exudes a kind of sweetness that never threatens to become either sticky or synthetic. All the lead actors are funny and creative while keeping their characters life-size (to my taste, this is Murray’s best work), and they’re given a very pleasant backup by Bob Elliott (of the former radio team Bob and Ray), Philip Bosco, Phil Hartman, Kathryn Grody, and Tony Shalhoub, among others (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Presumed Innocent

This adaptation of Scott Turow’s best-selling novelabout an idealistic prosecutor (Harrison Ford at his best) who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a colleague (Greta Scacchi) with whom he’s had an adulterous affairis a top-notch courtroom drama that will keep you guessing if you haven’t read the book; even if you have, it is still a very well crafted story, directed by Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men), who collaborated on the script with Frank Pierson, and effectively shot by Gordon Willis. While it never reaches the level of Anatomy of a Murder, which is probably the high point in this genre, it shares with that film a complex view of the judicial system that makes the multiple plot twists part of an overall vision, and Paul Winfield rivals Joseph Welch in the earlier film by making the most of (read hamming up) his juicy part as the judge. The remainder of the castincluding Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, and John Spencerare never less than capable, and Pakula and Ford are especially good in handling the nuances of sexual obsession (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Philosopher

A frankly outrageous comedy from West Germany by Rudolph Thome, part two of his Forms of Love trilogy. Odd yet entertaining in a head-scratching sort of way, the poker-faced plot concerns a young, serious, and rather inexperienced male philosopher who is loved and catered to by three beautiful young women, all of whom eventually devote their lives to taking care of and pleasing him (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Passing Through

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1990). — J.R.

One of the rare fiction features about the jazz world made by a black filmmaker — and arguably much more important than Mo’ Better Blues, though it’s rarely shown. This 1977 film by Larry Clark, written by Ted Lange, follows a young saxophonist (Nathaniel Taylor) recently released from prison who tries to deal with the political aspects of his profession with the help of an older musician (Clarence Muse). Original and thoughtful, this is a very special first feature, with a feeling for the music that’s boldly translated into film style. (JR)

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Opera

Italian cult favorite Dario Argento (The Bird With the Crystal Plumage) directed this violent and offbeat horror feature (1987) set in the celebrated La Scala opera house, where an unorthodox production of Macbeth is being presented. After the diva is injured, her understudy suffers a string of brutal attacks and tortures, among them being forced to watch the murder of her lover. Also known as Terror at the Opera; different versions run 88 and 107 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

Mo’ Better Blues

Spike Lee’s fourth feature (1990) combines some of the cast members from Do the Right Thing (including Lee himself, Giancarlo Esposito, Joie Lee, Robin Harris, Bill Nunn, and John Turturro) with a theme from She’s Gotta Have It (promiscuous protagonist gets comeuppance) to tell the story of a dedicated jazz musician (Denzel Washington) whose tunnel vision gets him into trouble. Though it’s full of striking visual ideas and actorly turns, it never fully convinces; the characters and plot are too familiar and predictable, and Lee’s continuing awkwardness with musicextending here to Branford Marsalis’s jazz numbers, a characteristically overblown score by Bill Lee, and the use of a few jazz classicsplaces too low a premium on silence and sustained listening to allow even the best of the music to register as it should. On the plus side, Cynda Williams is sensational, and some of the experimental aspects of the editing are refreshing. 127 min. (JR)… Read more »

May Fools

Louis Malle is generally at his worst when he ignores the parochial aspects of his worldview and assumes that he can do anythingsuch as, in this 1989 feature, make a movie that evokes Jean Renoir and La Regle du Jeu. An elderly woman (Paulette Dubost, who played the heroine’s maid in the Renoir film) living in the Gers region of France with her 60-year-old son (Michel Piccoli) dies unexpectedly in May 1968, when widespread strikes have brought France to the brink of revolution, and her large and varied family gathers to squabble over her possessions and bury her. Milking this situation for boulevard farce, black comedy, and facile jeersthe very opposite of Renoir’s generosity, humanity, and richnessMalle is too busy elbowing the spectator in the ribs to capture anything more than the most superficial sense of the characters, all of whom we’re glibly invited to feel superior to. With Miou-Miou and Michel Duchaussoy. In French with subtitles. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Jesus Of Montreal

Denys Arcand’s first feature after The Decline of the American Empire sounds unpromising but turns out to be both watchable and entertainingwhen it’s not taking itself too seriously. It’s a satire that centers on a Montreal actor (Lothaire Bluteau) who’s putting on an avant-garde passion play and the effect that it has on him and his small team of players (Catherine Wilkening, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Remy Girard, and Robert Lepage)a multifaceted comic meditation on contemporary attitudes. The consideration of what sort of impact Jesus would have on the modern world has informed films as great as Dreyer’s Ordet and as pretentious as Dassin’s He Who Must Die; nowhere near as good as the former or as bad as the latter, Arcand’s 1989 film is provocative, thoughtful, and at times both sad and funny. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »