Daily Archives: September 1, 1993

Schtonk

A pretty good German comedy by Helmut Dietl, nominated for an Oscar, that satirizes Germany’s relation to its Nazi past, with particular reference to the Hitler diaries hoax. It chronicles the exploits of a charlatan who starts out as an art forger, then takes up counterfeiting Nazi relics, including Hitler’s diaries and even his (and Eva Braun’s) ashes, in collusion with a puffed-up, greedy Hamburg journalist who’s restoring one of Goring’s ships and romancing one of his nieces. The title is a nonsense word derived from Chaplin’s splutters in The Great Dictator; the tone is cheerfully irreverent, though this is hardly a patch on The Nasty Girl. (JR)… Read more »

You Can’t Take It With You

Frank Capra and Robert Riskin’s reductive, relatively conformist version of the Kaufman and Hart farce about an eccentric family (Lionel Barrymore, Jean Arthur, Mischa Auer, Spring Byington) coming into contact with a rich one (Edward Arnold, Mary Forbes, James Stewart) won best-picture and best-director Oscars in 1938. There are still some laughs and entertainment to be found here, but forget about fidelity to the original. 127 min. (JR)… Read more »

Two Features With One Ticket

An Iranian comedy (1991) by Dariush Farhang about the complications and disasters that ensue when an Iranian director, played by Farhang himself, tries to shoot an American-style action picture. His lead actor refuses to perform a stunt, then becomes injured, reducing the director to finding a slum dweller who resembles him in order to complete the picture. Some of this is funny, but too much comes across as the kind of slick, soulless filmmaking the movie professes to parody. (JR)… Read more »

True Romance

Tony Scott (Top Gun) directs a Quentin Tarantino script about a couple (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette) fleeing from Detroit to Los Angeles with the mob and the police after them (1993). There’s plenty of pizzazz on view but not always a lot of sense; as usual, Tarantino’s sense of fun is infectious but fairly heartless (as in the easy way the movie shrugs off the courageous death of Slater’s father, a former cop played by Dennis Hopper), and Scott’s direction is slick but mechanical, which pretty much seems what’s called for. With Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, and Christopher Walken. R, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Road Scholar

I’ve never encountered the poetry of Romanian expatriate writer Andrei Codrescu or his contributions to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. I hope I never have to after seeing this 1992 documentary produced and directed by Roger Weisberg, which follows Codrescu as he drives across the U.S., spouting cliches whenever he can’t find a religious cultist or gun freak or McDonald’s executive to spout them for him. The narrative’s jocular, superficial tone becomes insufferable once it’s apparent that no subject is going to be accorded anything more than a cutesy one-liner. Whatever the limitations of Sherman’s March and Roger & Me, they at least offered some food for thought along with the self-congratulation; this offers little more than smarmy joke cues and poetic platitudes. (JR)… Read more »

Once Upon A Time, Cinema

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1993). — J.R.

once-upon-a-time-cinema

An entertaining if somewhat uneven departure by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, this 1992 film can be regarded in part as a kind of peace offering to the Iranian government after the banning of his two previous features. A fantasy about the birth of Iranian cinema, full of whimsical special effects and wacky magical-realism conceits, it’s centered on an early cinematographer (Mehdi Hashemi) — modeled loosely and rather awkwardly on Chaplin’s tramp figure — who introduces movies to the Persian court, gradually winning over the shah (Ezatollah Entezami) after the ruler falls for an actress (Fatemeh Motamed Aria, literally dropping from the screen into the palace). Quirkily inventive and unpredictable, the film concludes with a sentimental anthology of clips celebrating the history of Iranian cinema that calls to mind Oscar night; before this, much more interesting use is made of a silent film identified by Makhmalbaf as the first Iranian movie, Ebrahim Khan’s Hajagha, the Film Actor. In Farsi with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)

ONCE UPON A TIME CINEMA by Mohsen MakhmalbafRead more »

The Music Of Chance

Though it eliminates most of the first chapter and sweetens the ending, this is a fairly literal adaptation (1993) by documentary filmmaker Philip Haas (Money Man) of Paul Auster’s allegorical, parablelike novel about the nature of freedom, scripted with Haas’s wife, film editor Belinda Haas. A former fireman and drifter (Mandy Patinkin) stakes a professional poker player (James Spader) in a game with two eccentric millionaires (Charles Durning and Joel Grey); after going bust the drifter and poker player wind up building a stone wall across a meadow to work off their debts. The acting is engaging and resourceful (Spader and M. Emmet Walsh as a foreman are standouts), but the translation of this highly literary tale into something cinematic never quite takes place; with Samantha Mathis. (JR)… Read more »

Masala

A brash and sprightly Canadian comedy about Indian emigres in Toronto, with musical numbers, erotic dream sequences, exploding airplanes, a blue-skinned Hindu deity who exists mainly on video, a fair amount of farce, and a great deal of satire. In his first feature the young writer-director-star Srinivas Krishna seems less comfortable as an actor than as a filmmaker, but he coaxes rich performances from Saeed Jaffrey, who plays three separate parts (including the Hindu deity), and otherwise keeps things hopping; with Sakina Jaffrey (Saeed’s daughter) and Zohra Segal (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Married Life

A pretty good Mexican revenge comedy (1993) by Luis Carlos Carrera about an abused wife (Socorro Bonilla) who has to wait most of her life to dispose of her philandering husband (Alonso Echanove). You’ve seen it all before, but the direction and performances give it some flavor and bite. (JR)… Read more »

The Man Who Envied Women

Strangely enough, modern dancer and choreographer Yvonne Rainer was known throughout the 60s and early 70s as a minimalist. Yet for more than two decades she’s been making experimental quasi-narrative films of increasing density, culminating in this angry, vibrant film of 1985 that, in her words, takes on the housing shortage, changing family patterns, the poor pitted against the middle class, Hispanics against Jews, artists and politics, female menopause, abortion rights. There’s even a dream sequence. Working with the speeches and writings of more than a dozen figures, ranging from Raymond Chandler to Julia Kristeva, Rainer confronts and parodies male theoretical discourse (Michel Foucault in particular, sampled and discussed in extended chunks) as a mode of sexual seduction. Politics has been present in all her features, but usually folded into so many distancing devices it comes out mainly dressed in quotes; here she allows it to speak more directly and eloquently, letting it charge the rest of the filmrightly assuming we could all use a few jolts. (JR)… Read more »

Malice

A serial killer and rapist is at large in a small college town, but what he does to his prey isn’t much worse than what Aaron Sorkin and Scott Frank’s muddled thriller script and Harold Becker’s klutzy direction do to credibility. The lead actorsNicole Kidman, Bill Pullman, Alec Baldwinare reasonably fun to watch in spite of the escalating silliness, as long as you aren’t expecting to read them as human beings all the way through, and George C. Scott and Anne Bancroft each get a fancy cameo turn that takes up some of the slack; they’re having so much fun they must not have had to watch the rest of the movie (1993). (JR)… Read more »

The Good Son

Ian McEwan’s original screenplay offers good possibilities for two separate moviesone about a 12-year-old (Elijah Wood) coping with the recent death of his mother and believing that his aunt (Wendy Crewson) is her reincarnation, the other about a 12-year-old spending time with a sadistic cousin (Macaulay Culkin) while his father is away. Unfortunately, despite the occasionally resourceful direction of Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather), each of these promising scenarios winds up getting in the way of the other. And the casting of Culkin is less clever than it initially might have seemed: he’s already been applauded for sadism and cruelty in the Home Alone movies, so asking us to find the same qualities disturbing here seems a bit of a stretch. There’s wonderful use made of a Maine port town, and Ruben gets a dizzying thrill or two out of overhead shots, but the conceptual overload finally prevents this from coming together (1993). (JR)… Read more »

For Love Or Money

If Billy Wilder had been hired to rewrite Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner’s script and take over the direction, this might have had a chance of succeeding; unfortunately, the directing job went to The Addams Family’s Barry Sonnenfeld, who’s OK at paying homage to his own work and filling in the background of some shots with arch sight gags, but lacks the light touch needed for the rest. Michael J. Fox stars as the good-hearted concierge of a luxury hotel in Manhattan who dreams of opening his own establishment; a bad-hearted English tycoon (Anthony Higgins) agrees to stake Fox if he can entertain his adulterous mistress (Gabrielle Anwar). Fox is smitten, and winds up having to choose between …you can fill in the blanks. Overproduced, overdirected, and overfamiliar, this is one of those conspicuous-consumption spreads that is trying to tell us that true love is all that really matters. Come again? With Michael Tucker, Bob Balaban, and Isaac Misrahi. (JR)… Read more »

Dazed And Confused

Belonging to an international trend that might be called the plotless examination of bored teenagers, Richard Linklater’s third feature (1993) begins right after the end of spring term in 1976; a lot of the stupidity it lingers over and criticizes (though nostalgia a la American Graffiti threatens to overwhelm the critique) has to do with the brutal hazing of junior high school kids by juniors and seniors. I enjoyed some performances (especially by Wiley Wiggins and Rory Cochrane) but hankered after the precise sense of place and the elliptical treatment of character that gave Linklater’s Slacker some of its distinction; here one learns enough about the characters to realize how little Linklater knows about them, and so little about the location (despite the Texas license plates) that one often feels stranded in Anywhere, USA. What survives is a better-than-average teen movie but not much more, at least if you aren’t a member of Linklater’s generation. With Jason London and Milla Jovovich. R, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Calamity Jane

An elaboration of the concept of Annie Get Your Gunnot to mention Doris Day’s tomboy image in On Moonlight Baythis 1953 western musical is perhaps best remembered for its Oscar-winning tune Secret Love; otherwise there’s Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok, direction by David Butler, and all that kinky cross-dressing. (JR)… Read more »