Monthly Archives: April 1992

Scenes Not From a Mall [MY COUSIN VINNY & WHITE MEN CAN'T JUMP]

From the Chicago Reader (April 24, 1992). — J.R.


MY COUSIN VINNY

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Jonathan Lynn

Written by Dale Launer

With Joe Pesci, Marisa Tomei, Ralph Macchio, Mitchell Whitfield, Fred Gwynne, Lane Smith, and Austin Pendleton.

WHITE MEN CAN’T JUMP

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Ron Shelton

With Wesley Snipes, Woody Harrelson, Rosie Perez, Tyra Ferrell, Cylk Cozart, and Kadeem Hardison.



“Why is this film so popular?” Michael Sragow asked a little plaintively about My Cousin Vinny in the New Yorker last week. Then he suggested an answer: “Perhaps because it gives Pesci a chance to combine his commercial signature, pop scabrousness, with old-fashioned virtues like ‘heart.’” This hypothesis implies that audiences go to comedies for highly esoteric reasons — just like some film critics.

Personally, I’d rather believe that My Cousin Vinny is popular for reasons that have more to do with reality and recognition — specifically, with an appreciation of American regionalism that most contemporary American movies never even attempt, much less convey. At least that’s what I like about the movie, and it’s also what I like about White Men Can’t Jump, the other most popular American comedy around at the moment.… Read more »

Roadside Prophets

The acting is raw and unglued, the guest-star appearances of aging 60s icons (Arlo Guthrie, Timothy Leary, David Carradine) are self-conscious and arch, and the sprawling episodic construction is underlined by conceptions that are sentimental to a fault. But this odd little road movie–a first feature written and directed by Abbe Wool, who cowrote Sid & Nancy–still got to me, mainly because of its sincerity and its relative novelty in trying to locate the dregs of American counterculture in various portentous and philosophical roadside encounters. The semifantastical plot concerns the absurdist journey of two bikers (John Doe and Adam Horovitz, members respectively of the bands X and the Beastie Boys) from southern California through parts of Nevada. Doe, the older biker, is a grizzled factory worker literally searching for a place called El Dorado, where he wants to scatter the ashes of an acquaintance (David Anthony Marshall) who died in a freak accident; Horovitz is a younger biker with a Motel 9 fixation who insists on tagging along. At its worst, this registers like an unconscious parody of Easy Rider; at its best, it suggests a flea-bitten yahoo version of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Hawks and Sparrows. It clearly isn’t for everybody, but if you like it at all you’ll probably wind up moved as well as charmed by its ambitions and conceits.… Read more »

FernGully…The Last Rainforest

This may be the most enjoyable animated feature I’ve seen since Walt Disney died–a passionate ecological fable that combines more wit and wonder than the entire output of some animation studios. Basically a collaborative effort between Australians and Americans, directed by Bill Kroyer (a Disney-trained animator) from a script by Jim Cox based on the FernGully stories by Australian writer Diana Young, it benefits greatly from the voices of such actors as Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater, Grace Zabriskie, Cheech Marin, and Tommy Chong, as well as from a canny sense of how to use them. The simple story involves the multiple creatures of an enormous rain forest and the grim encroachments of humans, one of whom gets shrunk to insect size and learns what “toxic love” (as one of the songs calls it) is all about. The rain forest itself is invested with an imaginative depth and variety and a sense of immensity that hark back to the best early Disney features, and the expressionist depiction of deforestation and pollution is equally rich and potent. The score (by several hands) isn’t as memorable as Beauty and the Beast’s, but the dialogue is arguably even funnier. In other words, you should see this.… Read more »

Deep Cover

Larry Fishburne plays a cop who poses as a Hollywood drug dealer in order to infiltrate and destroy a cocaine cartel, but gradually discovers that the U.S. State Department has other political priorities and agendas in mind. Amply fulfilling the promise recently shown in A Rage in Harlem, director Bill Duke does a terrific job in spelling out the grim implications of this exceptionally violent picture, scripted by Henry Bean and Michael Tolkin (The Rapture). What emerges is a powerhouse thriller full of surprises, original touches, and rare political lucidity, including an impressive performance by Jeff Goldblum as a yuppie Jewish gangster. With Victoria Dillard, Charles Martin Smith, Sydney Lassick, Clarence Williams III, Gregory Sierra, and Roger Guenveur Smith. (Starts Wednesday, April 15, Hyde Park, Broadway, Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Golf Glen, Plaza) … Read more »

How to Write a $3 Million Script [BASIC INSTINCT]

It appears that I hated Basic Instinct when it came out in 1992 (this review appeared in the Chicago Reader on April 3), before I became something of a diehard Paul Verhoeven fan, and now I like the movie a lot. Or maybe I was a fan back then, at least in a back-handed sort of way, and wouldn’t or couldn’t admit this to myself. I offer the following as evidence of my former position, whatever it might have been.– J.R.

BASIC INSTINCT

No stars (Worthless)

Directed by Paul Verhoeven

Written by Joe Eszterhas

With Michael Douglas, Sharon Stone, George Dzundza, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Denis Arndt, Leilani Sarelle, and Dorothy Malone.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

What’s really news about Basic Instinct isn’t that it’s number one at the box office; after all, that happens to some movie every week. Nor is it that you get to see Sharon Stone’s (quite ordinary looking) twat for a few seconds when she uncrosses her legs. Even the bisexual and lesbian psycho serial killers, which gay groups are protesting, aren’t news.

No, the real news about Basic Instinct is that Joe Eszterhas got $3 million for the script. This is clearly a script that’s going to be studied and emulated for some time to come.… Read more »

White Men Can’t Jump

After the disappointing Blaze, writer-director Ron Shelton is back on track with the same mixture of sports action, sexual sparring, and comic, slangy dialogue that sparked Bull Durham. Like that earlier comedy, this is enough of a structural mess to lose itself somewhere before the end, but the jazzy surface action is even more lively and seductive. Basically the movie is a string of episodes occasioned by the teaming up of two basketball hustlers (Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes) in Los Angeles, with racial differences serving both to help their hustles along and to define the limits of their friendship; Do the Right Thing’s feisty Rosie Perez plays Harrelson’s girlfriend, who longs to be a contestant on Jeopardy, while Tyra Ferrell is accorded the less interesting and less prominent part of Snipes’s wife. But if Shelton’s flair for fancy dialogue and his preoccupation with scoring often make him seem like the Preston Sturges of southern jive, it’s a pity that he doesn’t seem to have a matching sense of plot and continuity. This picture is packed with fun, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and elements that summon up memories of The Hustler don’t work in its favor. (Biograph, Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Golf Glen, Plaza, Evanston, Hyde Park, Ford City) … Read more »

Meet the Parents

It’s tempting to call this low-budget, independently made feature by Chicago stand-up comic Greg Glienna (who directed and cowrote the script) the ultimate worst-case-scenario comedy. Glienna plays an unassuming young man in advertising who drives from Chicago to Indiana with his fiancee (Jacqueline Cahill) to meet her folks (Dick Galloway and Carol Whelan) and sister (Mary Ruth Clarke, Glienna’s cowriter). What follows is a cascade of nightmares that may not always make you laugh but will impress you with the singularity of Glienna’s dark approach. Some of these nightmares work better than others–I could have done without the encounter with the fiancee’s former boyfriend, and there are times when the bits about the maniacal star struck sister seem overworked–but you’re still likely to be taken by the purity and relentlessness of this picture’s vision (1991). (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, April 3 through 9)… Read more »

The Rock

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1992). — J.R.

Very entertaining 1996 action hokum that benefits hugely from the use of its three stars — Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. Harris, evoking Dr. Strangelove’s Jack D. Ripper, is a brigadier general so angry about the U.S. government’s refusal to honor the soldiers who died in covert operations that he kidnaps a bunch of tourists on Alcatraz and threatens to hit the mainland with lethal poison gas if reparations aren’t made immediately. Connery is a top-secret federal prisoner who once escaped from Alcatraz and Cage is an FBI chemist and biological weapons expert; together they form a funny and crotchety action duo pitted against Harris and his renegade commandos. Michael Bay directed from a script by David Weisberg, Douglas S. Cook, and Mark Rosner that’s high-octane nonsense but gives both the actors and the audience all that’s needed to make this diverting — car chases, wisecracks, narrow escapes, explosions. With Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, and Vanessa Marcil. (JR)… Read more »

The Player

Entertaining but shallow, this 1992 Hollywood roast of the film industrydirected by Robert Altman, and adapted by Michael Tolkin from his own novelis supposed to be scathing, but the pleasure it affords is like what you get from watching the Oscars: celebrity spotting and in-jokes. The setup is a would-be noir situation: a studio executive (Tim Robbins) nervous about his position starts to get anonymous threatening mail from a disgruntled screenwriter and winds up committing a murder. As is customary in Altman ensemble pieces, the surface activity keeps one occupied, but never adds up to much because none of the characters is developed beyond the cartoon level; and the snobby sense of knowingness that’s over everything is uncomfortably close to what the movie is supposed to be dissecting. With Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Cynthia Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, and more than 60 cameos. R, 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

Newsies

A Disney musical with an undistinguished score (Alan Menken and Jack Feldman), fair to middling choreography (Kenny Ortega and Peggy Holmes), and clunky direction (Ortega) that still manages to be entertaining in spots because of its story (by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White), which purports to be based on actual events: New York newsboys go on strike in 1899 against the New York World’s evil Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall), until sweetie-pie governor Teddy Roosevelt (David James Alexander) saves the day. (It’s too bad Samuel Fuller wasn’t turned loose on this project.) Christian Bale plays the charismatic boy leader, and others in the cast include David Moscow, Luke Edwards, Ann-Margret, Bill Pullman, Michael Lerner, and Kevin Tighe. (JR)… Read more »

Howards End

The famous adapting team of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who’ve specialized over the years in the novels of Henry James (The Europeans, The Bostonians) and E.M. Forster (A Room With a View, Maurice), turn to Forster’s 1910 masterpiece about the intertwined lives of two families (1992). Although the results are generally better than their earlier triesmost of the acting is exquisite, the ‘Scope framing and lighting is elegant, the settings are beautifulthe conceptual limitations of the whole middlebrow enterprise are, if anything, even more blatant. This is the apotheosis of Classics Illustrated filmmaking, aiming at nothing more than tasteful reduction, and the fact that it’s done so well here doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily worth doing. With Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Joseph Bennett, Emma Thompson, Prunella Scales, Anthony Hopkins, and an uncredited cameo by Simon Callow. (JR)… Read more »

Year Of The Comet

Penelope Ann Miller plays a London wine merchant’s daughter who has to catalog a wine collection in a Scottish cellar, and discovers there an exceptionally rare wine bottled in 1811, the year of the comet. Accompanied on her trip back to London by a client’s uncouth employee (Timothy Daly), she finds herself the target of many prospective thieves (including Louis Jourdan). Peter Yates directed this romantic caper comedy from a script by William Goldman that harks back (in aspiration, at least) to cross-country Hitchcockian romps of the 50s and 60s, but the movie is so in love with its own would-be cuteness that it strangles on the effort. At least the Scottish and Riviera settings, if not the actors, are used attractively. (JR)… Read more »

Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades Of Blue

The only connection between this picture and Wild Orchid is that both were written and directed by Zalman King and both feature hothouse overacting and soft-core sex. This is almost as silly in spots as King’s Two Moon Junction, but it’s a lot more likable because of its sincerity and relative sweetness. The plot concerns Blue (Nina Siemaszko), the daughter of a jazz trumpeter and junkie (Tom Skerritt), who winds up working as an expensive call girl when her father dies, then decides to go straight after falling for a high school senior (Brent Fraser). As in James B. Harris’s infinitely superior Some Call It Loving (1973), in which King starred, the subject here is largely the contrast between high school innocence and corrupted ideas of sexuality. With Wendy Hughes, Robert Davi, Christopher McDonald, and Joe Dallesandro. (JR)… Read more »

Too Late Blues

The success of John Cassavetes’s independent Shadows led to a contract with Paramount that yielded only this feature, Cassavetes’s second — a gauche but sincere drama with a highly relevant subject: the self-laceration and other forms of emotional havoc brought about when a footloose jazz musician (Bobby Darin) decides to sell out and go commercial. A lot could be (and was) said about what’s wrong with this picture: it’s pretentious, lugubrious, mawkish, and full of both naivete and macho bluster. It also has moments that are indelible and heartbreaking, at least one unforgettable performance (Everett Chambers as the hero’s manager), and many very touching ones (by Darin, Stella Stevens, Rupert Crosse, Vince Edwards, Cliff Carnell, and Seymour Cassel, among others), not to mention a highly affecting jazz score featuring Benny Carter and a haunting theme by David Raksin. If you care a lot about Cassavetes, you should definitely see this — otherwise keep your distance (1960). (JR)… Read more »

Tea And Sympathy

Dated and bowdlerized but nonetheless sincere, Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 ‘Scope version of a Robert Anderson playadapted by the author, with Hays Office censorshipwas originally about a persecuted gay schoolboy taken under the wing of an older woman. Now it’s about a persecuted effeminate heterosexual schoolboy taken under the wing of an older woman, with John Kerr and Deborah Kerr (no relation) re-creating their stage roles. The result may be less memorable or celebrated than Minnelli’s other ‘Scope melodramas (e.g., The Cobweb, Home From the Hill, Some Came Running), but it’s still probably better than most contemporary movies. With Leif Erickson, Edward Andrews, and Darryl Hickman. (JR)… Read more »