From the Chicago Reader (November 26, 1993). — J.R.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Marco Brambilla
Written by Daniel Waters, Robert Reneau, and Peter M. Lenkov
With Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, and Nigel Hawthorne.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Peter Weir
Written by Rafael Yglesias
With Jeff Bridges, Isabella Rossellini, Rosie Perez, Tom Hulce, and John Turturro.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed and written by Bruce Joel Rubin
With Michael Keaton, Nicole Kidman, Bradley Whitford, Queen Latifah, Michael Constantine, and Haing S. Ngor.
With the steady rise of committee moviemaking and the steady shrinking of attention spans thanks to TV, suspension of disbelief and densely imagined fictional worlds are becoming scarce commodities in pop movies. A relative triumph of style and blackout wit like Addams Family Values reflects this loss just as much as an airhead, cyberdolt, kick-ass romp like Demolition Man. In both films a character’s behavior or personality — and sometimes even the physical terrain — can change radically from one scene to the next, and no one in the audience is expected to notice or even care.
The only thing that seems to be important is that the scene (or moment) score.… Read more »
This decidedly offbeat 1992 French comedy-drama–Confessions d’un barjo in French–from Jerome Boivin (Baxter) is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Confessions of a Crap-Artist, set in contemporary provincial France rather than 50s California but otherwise reportedly fairly close to the original. The central characters are an unconventional pair of fraternal twins who maintain an unusually close bond into adulthood–a sort of dysfunctional holy fool (Hippolyte Giradot) who serves as narrator and his impetuous sister (Cyrano de Bergerac’s Anne Brochet). The sister marries a fairly conventional aluminum salesman (Diva’s Richard Bohringer), and their life together starts to go haywire after she becomes obsessed with another local couple. Expect the unexpected in the interaction of these five characters, and count on some effective performances along the way. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, November 26, 6:00 and 7:45, and Saturday, Sunday, and Thursday, November 27 and 28 and December 2, 6:00, 443-3737.… Read more »
This sequel starts off with the same sort of hard-sell blackout gags as its predecessor, most of them built around the premise of Gomez (Raul Julia) and Morticia (Anjelica Huston) having another baby. But once Joan Cusack enters the picture as a nanny-cum-serial-killer/gold digger with her eye trained on Fester (Christopher Lloyd) things get livelier, and by the time the movie reaches its centerpiece–Wednesday (Christina Ricci) and Pugsley (Jimmy Workman) being shipped off to summer camp–the comedy has moved into high gear and become one of the funniest, most mean-spirited satirical assaults on sunny American values since the salad days of W.C. Fields. Paul Rudnick wrote the script and Carol Kane costars as Granny. Burnham Plaza, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, Water Tower, Ford City, Evanston, Hyde Park, Norridge, Webster Place.… Read more »
Sweetie and An Angel at My Table have taught us to expect startling as well as beautiful things from Jane Campion, and this assured and provocative third feature offers yet another lush parable about the perils and paradoxes of female self-expression–albeit one that seems at times a bit more calculated and commercially minded. Set during the last century, this original story by Campion–which evokes at times some of the romantic intensity of Emily Bronte–focuses on a Scottish widow (Holly Hunter) who hasn’t spoken since her childhood, presumably by choice, and whose main form of self-expression is her piano playing. She arrives with her nine-year-old daughter in the New Zealand wilds to enter into an arranged marriage, which gets off to an unhappy start when her husband-to-be (Sam Neill) refuses to transport her piano. A local white man living with the Maori natives (Harvey Keitel) buys the piano from him and, fascinated by and attracted to the mute woman, agrees to “sell” it back to her a key at a time in exchange for lessons, with ultimately traumatic consequences. Not to be missed. Fine Arts, Old Orchard.… Read more »
This powerful feminist Korean docudrama by Kim Yu-jin (1990) demonstrates yet again the near universality of the injustices suffered by rape victims. In this case the victim is a young housewife and mother (Won Mi-kyung) who bites off the tongue of a man who attacks her one night on the street, only to find herself brought to trial and convicted for injuring him; eventually she files for a second hearing in an attempt to clear her name. Methodically directed and forcefully acted, this is one of the strongest contemporary Korean pictures I’ve seen, lucid and angry in its calm indictment. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, November 20, 8:15, 443-3737.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 17, 1993), also reprinted in my collection Movies as Politics. — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Steven Zaillian
With Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagalle, and Embeth Davidtz.
The ideological structures of Spielberg’s films “hail” the spectator into a world of the obvious that affirms the viewer’s presence (even while dissolving it), affirms that what the viewer has always believed or hoped is (obviously) right and accessible, and assures the viewer excitement and comfort in the process. The films offer nothing new beyond their spectacle, nothing the viewer does not already want, does not immediately accept. That is their conservative power, and it has spread throughout the cinema of the 80s. — Robert Phillip Kolker, A Cinema of Loneliness (1988)
Confessions are in order. From Duel to Jurassic Park, there are few Steven Spielberg movies I admire, and none I fully respect — though I respond to a good many of them as obediently as any well-oiled automaton. My first look at Close Encounters of the Third Kind actually brought tears to my eyes. I can’t say that on reflection I felt much pride in this response, though the experience of becoming a boy again in relation to the imagined parental benevolence of the cosmos — which also happens with Ray Bradbury’s best early tales about Mars — may be morally preferable to feeding on the murderous xenophobia of Star Wars, released the same year (1977); at worst one winds up feeling silly rather than dirty afterward.… Read more »
A fascinating and highly entertaining hour-long video (1992) by Dan Bessie about a trio of puppeteers who toured America for more than seven decades with their satirical musical revues: Bessie’s 92-year-old uncle, puppeteer Harry Burnett; Burnett’s cousin Forman Brown; and Brown’s lover, Roddy Brandon. (Their LA theater–which counted Charlie Chaplin and Albert Einstein among its fans–was called the Turnabout because it had a puppet stage at one end, a cabaret stage at the other, and seats that swiveled.) Burnett and Brown, both still alive, perform entertainingly, and we also get fascinating archival footage of some of their shows. Brown, who wrote songs, also talks about his recently republished 1934 novel Better Angel, originally published under a pseudonym, perhaps the only gay novel of its period with a happy ending. A fascinating piece of show-business history, this also offers many interesting comments about what it meant to be gay in the early part of this century. On the same Gay & Lesbian Film Festival program, four short films by Sandi DuBowski, Ruth Scovill, and Iara Lee; one of Lee’s films features Allen Ginsberg narrating, the other features Matt Dillon reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W.… Read more »
This Brechtian biopic by English filmmaker Derek Jarman about Ludwig Wittgenstein encompasses everything from the philosopher’s pampered childhood to his friendships with Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes and his relationships with rough young men. This is probably the best of Jarman’s narrative features to date, presented in a series of spare but powerful tableaux–beautifully and thoughtfully designed, like Joseph Cornell boxes with black backgrounds. With Karl Johnson, Michael Gough, and Tilda Swinton. Music Box, Thursday, November 11, 7:00.… Read more »
Tim Burton, working as a producer at Disney, employs stop-motion animation to flesh out a story he first dreamed up while working at the same studio a dozen years ago–a tale about the havoc that ensues when Jack Skellington, the pipe-cleaner hero of Halloweentown, decides to take over the duties of Santa Claus at Christmastime. As adapted by Michael McDowell and scripted by Caroline Thompson, this is at worst a macabre Muppet movie, at best an inspired jaunt. The set designs are ingenious and the songs (music and lyrics by Danny Elfman) are fairly good. Directed by Henry Selick, with the voices of Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara, Elfman, and Paul Reubens. Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Lincoln Village, North Riverside, Water Tower, Ford City, Hyde Park, Old Orchard, Webster Place.… Read more »
Widely regarded as Sacha Guitry’s masterpiece (though I’d place it below The Pearls of the Crown), this 1936 tour de force can be regarded as a kind of concerto for the writer-director-performer’s special brand of brittle cleverness. After a credits sequence that introduces us to the film’s cast and crew, Guitry settles into a flashback account of how the title hero learned to benefit from cheating over the course of his life. A notoriously anticinematic cineaste whose first love was theater, Guitry nevertheless had a flair for cinematic high jinks when it came to adapting his plays (or in this case a novel) to film, and most of this movie registers as a rather lively and stylishly inventive silent film, with Guitry’s character serving as offscreen lecturer. Francois Truffaut was sufficiently impressed to dub Guitry a French brother of Lubitsch, though Guitry clearly differs from this master of continental romance in that his own personality invariably overwhelms his characters. In French with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »
This Brechtian biopic (1993, 75 min.) by the English filmmaker Derek Jarman about Ludwig Wittgenstein encompasses everything from the philosopher’s pampered childhood to his friendships with Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes and his relationships with rough young men. This is quite probably the best of Jarman’s narrative features, presented in a series of spare but powerful tableauxbeautifully and thoughtfully designed, like Joseph Cornell boxes with black backgrounds. With Karl Johnson, Michael Gough, and Tilda Swinton. (JR)… Read more »
There’s loads of imagination and energy (if not much taste) in this hyperventilated Spielberg-produced animated feature (1993) — probably too much for the 72-minute running time, inasmuch as characters, settings, and plot situations are sideswiped rather than introduced or developed. (It’s probably a market strategy: selling toys and other products derived from the movie is probably easier if kids feel they’re not getting enough the first time around.) Some prehistoric beasts are visited by a flying saucer, fed brain grain, and transported to contemporary New York City, where they’re befriended by a wily street kid and a lonely debutante. But they’re waylaid by an evil circus master who feeds them brain drain, and they become horrific beasts again. Among the recognizable voices are those of Walter Cronkite, John Goodman, Jay Leno, Martin Short, and Julia Child. Adapted by John Patrick Shanley from a book by Hudson Talbott and directed by several hands. (JR)… Read more »
Both previous features (Gal Young ‘Un, A Flash of Green) by Florida-based independent Victor Nunez are good, but this one’s a beauty: his first original script, it details the everyday adventures and encounters of a woman in her early 20s (Ashley Judd) who flees the Tennessee mountains for a Florida resort town, Panama City Beach, along the Redneck Riviera, where she finds work in a souvenir shop. Like Eric Rohmer (another older filmmaker who favors attractive young heroines), Nunez has an untiring, subtly novelistic fascination with ordinary people and events and the special feel of particular places. Thanks to a natural and highly charismatic performance by Judd, Ruby in Paradise (1993) has a graceful lyricismas well as a complex sense of what living in today’s world is likethat will stay with you; the tempo is slow and dreamy, but the flavor is rich, and it lasts. With Todd Field, Bentley Mitchum, Allison Dean, and Dorothy Lyman. (JR)… Read more »
One of Sacha Guitry’s biggest commercial successes (1954), this 165-minute stuffed pheasant of a movie is a historical pageant in color, notable mainly for its chockablock all-star cast, including Claudette Colbert, Jean-Louis Barrault, Gerard Philipe, Edith Piaf, Orson Welles (as Benjamin Franklin), Brigitte Bardot, Jean Marais, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Charles Vanel, Gaby Morlay, Lana Marconi (Guitry’s fifth wife), and Guitry himself. Going out of its way to ingratiate, it certainly amuses; but being flamboyantly Guitry-esque, it also begs indulgence more than once. Its original title is Si Versailles nous etait conte, which translates roughly as If Versailles Could Talk. (JR)… Read more »
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s masterpiece about the childhood and early adulthood of octogenerian Taiwanese puppet master and actor Li Tien-lu. This is the second part of a trilogy about Taiwanese life in the 20th century, covering all but the first few years of the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945). Hou’s preference for filming entire scenes in long takes from fixed camera angles and for eschewing close-ups has never been as masterfully employed and modulated as it is heresome of the landscape shots are breathtaking. The film alternates between re-created scenes from Li’s life, Li speaking directly to the camera about his past, and extracts from his puppet and stage performances, creating a layered density in the narrative that does full justice to the complexity and poetry of Hou’s investigation. In Mandarin and Taiwanese with subtitles. 142 min. (JR)… Read more »