Daily Archives: March 1, 1993

Reservoir Dogs

A stunning debut (1992) from writer-director Quentin Tarantino, though a far cry from Stanley Kubrick’s 1956 The Killing, to which it clearly owes a debt. Like The Killing, it employs an intricate flashback structure to follow the before and after of a carefully planned heist and explores some of the homoerotic allegiances, betrayals, and tensions involved; unlike The Killing, it never flashes back to the heist itself and leaves a good many knots still tied at the end. The hoods hereincluding Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi, and (in a bit) Tarantino himselfare all ex-cons hired by an older ex-con (Lawrence Tierney) who conceals their identities from one another by assigning them the names of colors. Our grasp of what’s going on is always in flux, and Tarantino’s skill with actors, dialogue, ‘Scope framing, and offbeat construction is kaleidoscopic. More questionable are the show-offy celebrations of brutality: buckets of blood, racist and homophobic invective, and an excruciating sequence of sadistic torture and (offscreen) mutilation that’s clearly meant to awe us with its sheer unpleasantness. It’s unclear whether this macho thriller does anything to improve the state of the world or our understanding of it, but it certainly sets off enough rockets to hold and shake us for every one of its 99 minutes.… Read more »

Swing Kids

Rebellious German teenagers who like big-band jazz trying to resist social pressures to join the Hitler Youth in 1939 Hamburg is the subject of this corny but sincere weeper written by Jonathan Marc Feldman, directed by Thomas Carter, and shot mainly in Prague. Needless to say, all the German kids are played (pretty well, as it happens) by Americans, and if it seems that kitsch of this kind is a less than ideal way to teach history, it’s still infinitely preferable to Reagan’s Bitburg pieties. With Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Frank Whaley, and Kenneth Branagh. (JR)… Read more »

Night And Day

One of the constants of Chantal Akerman’s remarkable work is a powerful if heavy painterly style that practically precludes narrative flow even when she’s telling stories. Even at her best, as in Jeanne Dielman and The Man With a Suitcase, the only kind of character development she seems able to articulate with conviction is a gradual descent into madness. But the relatively unneurotic Night and Day (1991) strikes me as her most successful work in years. Julie (Guilaine Londez), the heroine, makes love to Jack (Thomas Langmann) in their small flat by day and wanders through Paris at night while he drives a cabuntil she meets Joseph (Francois Negret) and guiltlessly launches a secret nighttime affair with him. Akerman brings a lyricism to the material that makes it sing like a musical. Whether the camera is gracefully traversing Jack and Julie’s flat or slowly retreating from Julie and Joseph across bustling traffic while he recounts the things he loves about Paris, Akerman seems to have discovered both a musical rhythm for her mise en scene and a deftness in integrating her score that eluded her in her literal musical Window Shopping. This movie isn’t for everyoneno Akerman feature isbut if you care about her work you shouldn’t miss it.… Read more »

Nemesis

In 2020, after Japan and the U.S. have joined forces politically and economically, an undercover cop (Olivier Gruner) specializing in robot-generated crimes has to undergo reconstructive surgery before investigating his ex-lover and fellow operative on a tropical island. Albert Pyun directed this 1993 feature. 95 min.… Read more »

Half The Kingdom

Considering certain Orthodox Jewish practices (e.g., a daily prayer recited by men that thanks God for not making them female), Jewish feminism may be a contradiction in terms. Francine Zuckerman’s hour-long Canadian talking-head documentary seems quite aware of this possibility, and her film is interesting not so much because it provides conclusive answers, but because it offers several intelligent and determined Jewish womenincluding a rabbi, a journalist, a novelist, an activist, a professor, an experimental educator, and an Israeli Knesset membera forum for describing some of their own approaches to the problem (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Watch It

The title refers to an interminable practical-joke game played by the four preppy leadsthree Northwestern graduates (Jon Tenney, John G. McGinley, Tom Sizemore) and the cousin of one of them (Peter Gallagher), all of whom share a house in the Chicago suburbsin a smart-ass, conventionally misogynist locker-room comedy that I found tiresome in spite of the better-than-average cast, which also includes Suzy Amis, Cynthia Stevenson, and Lili Taylor. Tom Flynn wrote and directed this first feature; Stanley Clarke is in charge of the music. (JR)… Read more »

Untamed Heart

The heart, a weak one, belongs to Christian Slater, playing a reclusive and eccentric busboy at a Minneapolis coffee shop, but the movie mainly belongs to Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny), a waitress at the same establishment who falls for him after he saves her from being raped. It’s a sure sign of how good Tomei is that she can even occasionally do something with Tom Sierchio’s lachrymose script; the usually wonderful Rosie Perez, stuck with an uninteresting part, is less lucky. Tony Bill (Five Corners, Crazy People) directed, and Kyle Secor, Willie Garson, Gary Groomes, and James Cada costar. (JR)… Read more »

Rose Marie

The 1954 ‘Scope version of the Canadian Mountie operetta, with Howard Keel and Ann Blyth replacing Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, who starred in the 1936 original, and Fernando Lamas completing the triangle. Busby Berkeley handled the choreography, and the underrated Mervyn LeRoy directed; what they yield may be hokum, but it’s hokum with a certain zip and polish, apart from the stagy sets. With Bert Lahr, Marjorie Main, and Ray Collins. (JR)… Read more »

Riff-raff

Ken Loach, perhaps the last unreconstructed English realist (Kes, Land and Freedom), takes a funky, intermittently comic, and generally uncompromisingly grim look at a group of men on a London building crew, placing particular emphasis on a young man from Glasgow and his affair with an aspiring singer (1991). Using actors experienced in construction, Loach shot on an actual building site complete with rats. Written by the late Bill Jesse, a former laborer himself, this film has a gritty authenticity about English working-class life that makes even Mike Leigh seem like a bit of an artificer. With Robert Carlyle and Emer McCourt. Recommended. (JR)… Read more »

The Opposite Sex And How To Live With Them

A fairly threadbare Boston singles comedy with tired stand-up routines and one pretty funny Ted Koppel parody. With Arye Gross, Courteney Cox, Kevin Pollak, and Julie Brown; written by Noah Stern and directed by Matthew Meshekoff. (JR)… Read more »

Married To It

Three New York couplesa young Wall Street broker (Robert Sean Leonard) and a child psychologist (Mary Stuart Masterson), a toy manufacturer (Ron Silver) and his upper-crust second wife (Cybill Shepherd), and a welfare worker (Beau Bridges) and his politically committed wife (Stockard Channing)wind up on a school committee helping to prepare a pageant on the theme of the 60s. Janet Kovalcik’s plot-heavy and programmatic screenplay bristles with implausible premises, and the deadly Arthur Hiller is not the sort of director who can make up the difference with style. Each couple experiences a crisis that is resolved Hollywood-style, and the fact that these six people quickly overcome their differences in age, class, and politics to become steadfast friends remains hard to swallow. But some of the performancesespecially by Channing and Bridgesgive this a modicum of feeling, at least until the climactic 60s pageant. (JR)… Read more »

Mad Dog And Glory

John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) directed this picture from a predictable script by Richard Price about a police photographer (Robert De Niro at his most nebbishy) inadvertently saving the life of a gangster (Bill Murray at his oddball best), who rewards him by sending over one of his barmaids (Uma Thurman) as a gift for a week. This is stronger in terms of characters (male ones, that is) than in terms of story or mise en scene, but the actorsincluding David Caruso, Mike Starr, Kathy Baker, and McNaughton regular Tom Towleskeep this pretty watchable. Martin Scorsese coproduced, and none too well apparently: the ending had to be reshot after disappointing previews. (JR)… Read more »

Mac

John Turturro stars in his own impressive if occasionally rambling first feature (1992), based on his own father, a carpenter who became a contractor, and his Italian immigrant New York family. At nearly two hours, it’s a mite longer than it has to be, but the editing is genuinely crisp, and most of the acting is spirited. Cowritten with Brandon Cole; with Ellen Barkin, Michael Badalucco, Carl Capotorto, Katherine Borowitz (Turturro’s real-life wife), and John Amos (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Like Water For Chocolate

Based on the best-selling novel by Laura Esquivel, who adapted her own work for the screen, this delightful 1991 piece of magical realism from Mexican director Alfonso Arau contemplates the unrequited love of a single woman for her brother-in-law, which can be expressed only through the sensual meals she prepares for him. (The original novel even contained recipes.) The title, incidentally, derives from a Mexican slang expression that means, approximately, ready to boil. With Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, and Regina Torne. In Spanish with subtitles. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Days Of Chez Nous

Even if the storytelling and visual style aren’t as compelling as the characters, this woman-oriented 1992 feature by Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, High Tide), working here with novelist and screenwriter Helen Garner, is so alive with felt and observed experience and subtle familial interaction that you may not care. The story concerns a group of people living in a ramshackle house in Sydney, among them a middle-aged novelist (Lisa Harrow), her teenage daughter (Miranda Otto), her French husband (Bruno Ganz), her younger sister (An Angel at My Table’s Kerry Fox), and a young male boarder (Kiri Paramore); the plot consists largely of what ensues when the sister has an abortion and then becomes involved with her brother-in-law. The performances are so powerful and persuasiveespecially those of Harrow, Ganz, and Bill Hunter, who plays the novelist’s fatherthat you may periodically forget they’re performances; these are complex characters you remember, not actors’ turns you’re asked to admire. (JR)… Read more »