Monthly Archives: December 1993

The Summer House

Jeanne Moreau, Joan Plowright, Julie Walters, and newcomer Lena Headey star in an enjoyable English comedy directed by Waris Hussein and set in Croydon, a straitlaced London suburb, in 1959. The story, adapted by Martin Sherman from Alice Thomas Ellis’s novel The Clothes in the Wardrobe, concerns a young woman (Headey) who finds herself engaged to a self-absorbed and insensitive local (David Threlfall) she couldn’t care less about. Her mother (Walters), prospective mother-in-law (Plowright), and everyone else in the vicinity somehow manage to dissuade her from backing out, and her only confidant proves to be Lili (Moreau), an unconventional, half-Egyptian friend of the family who turns up for the wedding and slowly but surely, using an arsenal of wiles, does what she can to set things right. Apart from offering a juicy star turn to Moreau, the movie has a lot of mordantly funny things to say about the conventionality of suburban English life, and all the actors shine; with Maggie Steed and John Wood. Starts Saturday, December 25, Fine Arts.… Read more »

Six Degrees of Separation

A young hustler (Will Smith) claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier cons his way into the upper-class Manhattan household and affections of a middle-aged couple (Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland), with disquieting and soul-searching consequences once his fraud is discovered. John Guare adapted his own play by transplanting the action from a bare stage to a variety of realistic locations, most of them in Manhattan, and has fortunately (and daringly) retained the highly theatrical language of the original. Fred Schepisi’s razor-sharp direction makes it both sing and soar as it explores some of the social gulfs and philosophical crevices that define contemporary urban life. The movie basically belongs to Channing, who gives it both moral force and heat, but with an audacious lesson in making the theatrical cinematic Schepisi does a superb job as well. Fine Arts.… Read more »

Bad Behavior

A middle-class Irish couple living in London with their two young sons are at the center of Les Blair’s fresh, lively, and utterly convincing comedy-drama about contemporary urban life. He’s a town planner (The Crying Game’s Stephen Rea) and she’s a housewife who works part-time at a bookstore (Waterland’s Sinead Cusack). The film carries no script credit and was essentially generated by the actors in collaboration with Blair. As a consequence, the minimal plot, involving such matters as a refurbished bathroom and the couple’s friends and coworkers, rambles a bit, but the focus is almost entirely on character, especially the lead couple and their marriage, and the film’s surface glitters with moments of actorly and behavioral truth. With Saira Todd, Clare Higgins, Philip Jackson, and Phil Daniels, who does a swell job of playing identical twins (1992). Music Box, Friday, December 24, through Thursday, January 6.… Read more »

Loyalties

Based on a play by John Galsworthy, this 1933 British feature about anti-Semitism stars Basil Rathbone as a wealthy Jewish businessman sued for slander after he accuses an army officer (Miles Mander) of stealing 100 pounds from his wallet during a weekend house party for aristocrats. It might be argued that the film itself isn’t entirely free of anti-Semitism; as Frank S. Nugent wrote in the New York Times at the time, Rathbone’s “Shylock in modern dress . . . gets his pound of flesh in this drama, but finds his triumph empty,” which correctly implies that the character is something of a stereotype from the outset. Yet Galsworthy’s study in tribal loyalties has some less-than-obvious points to make, and Basil Dean’s direction shows some flair and genuine cinematic panache. A new 35-millimeter print of this fascinating relic, recently uncovered and restored by the British Film Institute’s National Film Archive, will be shown; cosponsored by the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, December 18, 6:30, and Sunday, December 19, 2:00, 443-3737.… Read more »

Jit

A pleasantly unpretentious low-budget musical from Zimbabwe (1990), written and directed by Michael Raeburn, author of a well-known nonfiction book about Zimbabwe, We Are Everywhere. The plot concerns a sort of working-class rural Candide called UK (Dominic Makuvachuma), who is knocked unconscious when he falls out of a taxicab and then falls in love with the woman, Sofi (Sibongile Nene), he gazes up at when he comes to. He’s determined to marry her, but her father insists on a “bride price,” an expensive stereo and a lot of cash. UK sets out to obtain these things, but has to contend with both his traditional “guiding spirit” (Winnie Ndemera), who wants him to earn money for his parents in the countryside and keep her floating in beer, and Sofi’s vindictive boyfriend (Farai Sevenzo). The prerecorded music is by Oliver Mtukudzi and other Zimbabwe pop stars. Music Box, Friday through Tuesday, December 17 through 21.… Read more »

THE BED YOU SLEEP IN: Notes for the CD (1993)

As nearly as I can recall now (early 2012), this short essay, originally published in December 1993, has been the only time I’ve been commissioned to write liner notes for a CD — in this case, the soundtrack music for Jon Jost’s The Bed You Sleep In, composed by Erling Wold and released by The Table of the Elements. — J.R.

The Bed You Sleep In is the twelfth feature of Jon Jost, one of the most independent of all American independent filmmakers, and in more ways than one. It can be regarded as a kind of summary of his preceding work. From a conventional standpoint, Jost’s first eleven features, made over the past two decades, fall into two loose categories: fiction (Angel City, Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Chameleon, Slow Moves, Bell Diamond, Rembrandt Laughing, All the Vermeers in New York, and Sure Fire) and personal, experimental essays (Speaking Directly, Stagefright, and uncommon senses). But Jost is far from conventional, and a closer work at his work reveals that such neat divisions can’t always be made. Most of the “fiction” films, including The Bed You Sleep In, combine documentary material about where they were shot with improvised storylines and dialogue furnished by the actors in collaboration with Jost.… Read more »

Sexual Discourse [THE PIANO]

From the Chicago Reader (December 10, 1993). — J.R.

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THE PIANO

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Jane Campion

With Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill, Anna Paquin, Kerry Walker, Genevieve Lemon, Tungia Baker, and Ian Mune.

The Piano-HH

Given how sexy and volatile it is, it’s no surprise that The Piano is a hit. It’s also no surprise, given the strong-arm tactics of the distributor and the hype of some reviewers, that a certain critical backlash is already setting in, as evidenced by a lucid and considered dissent by Stuart Klawans in the Nation and a rather lazy dismissal by Stanley Kauffmann in the New Republic. People like myself who are passionate fans of Jane Campion’s previous work may be somewhat churlish that many other people are finding their way to her work only after it has become juiced up, simplified, and mainstreamed — like the people who bypassed the dreamy finesse of Eraserhead on their way to the relative crudeness of Blue Velvet. It’s certainly regrettable that viewers who weren’t interested in seeing Campion’s 1989 film Sweetie until after they saw The Piano now have to contend with a lousy video transfer that doesn’t begin to do justice to Campion’s colors and compositions.… Read more »

How Are the Kids?

A 1990 collection of six fictional shorts, made in diverse corners of the globe and addressing the international rights of children, here having its U.S. premiere. It’s an uneven package, but the filmmakers include the team of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville, the late Lino Brocka, and Euzhan Palcy (A Dry White Season). The jewel of the bunch is Boy, an odd, moving fable about racism, without dialogue, written and directed by Jerry Lewis and scored by Georges Delerue. Lewis’s filmmaking gifts — he initially patterned his work after that of his mentor Frank Tashlin, but substituted an invented, free-form universe for a social and satirical one — have been almost totally obscured in this country by debates about his qualities as a comic performer, but here they can be seen in almost pristine form (albeit with an unmistakable social dimension). The other shorts are by Rolan Bykov (from the former USSR) and Ciro Duran (from Colombia). Also showing are four award-winning French Canadian animated shorts from the collection Rights From the Heart (1992). Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, December 10 and 11, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, December 12, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, December 13 through 16, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114.… Read more »

A Perfect World

On the run from the Texas Rangers in 1963, an escaped convict (Kevin Costner) develops a close friendship with the seven-year-old boy (T.J. Lowther) he takes hostage. A good two-part character study with a terrific performance by Lowther and fine work by Costner, which should help resuscitate his image after too many Boy Scout projects, this film bogs down when it aims for too much psychology and pathos, and it arrives at a few false moments and more than a few overextended ones; John Lee Hancock’s script has too many good guy/bad guy setups, and the suave period handling doesn’t always extend to the characters’ behavior. But director Clint Eastwood (who also plays the leader of the Rangers) is generally so good at handling narrative, savoring Texas panhandle settings, and molding performances that you aren’t likely to mind much. The critique of macho and flawed father figures that he’s been preoccupied with at least since White Hunter, Black Heart continues to be pungent and thoughtful. With Laura Dern. Ford City, Biograph, Burnham Plaza, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, Esquire, Evanston, Norridge.… Read more »

Searching for Taiwan [THE PUPPET MASTER]

From the Chicago Reader (December 3, 1993). — J.R.

THE PUPPET MASTER **** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien

Written by Wu Nien-jen, Chu Tien-wen, and Li Tien-lu

With Li Tien-lu, Lin Chung, Cheng Kuei-chung, Cho Ju-wei, Hung Liu, and Bai Ming-hwa

 

Let’s start with three central and related facts, the first about Taiwan, the second about Taiwanese cinema, and the third about us. (1) Until six years ago, Taiwan spent this whole century under martial law, and over three previous centuries it suffered from nearly continuous occupation — by the Dutch in the 17th century and the Manchus in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. In 1895 it was ceded to Japan as one of the spoils of the Sino-Japanese war, and it remained a Japanese colony for the next half century, until the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. At this point mainland China took control; but four years later, when the communists seized the mainland, the deposed Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, shifted their base to Taiwan — claiming that their rule was only temporary, until they could wrest the mainland back from the communists. But as it turned out they remained in power until 1987, when Taiwan finally became a democracy.… Read more »

Ruby in Paradise

All three features by Florida-based independent Victor Nunez (Gal Young ‘Un, A Flash of Green) 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 has a graceful lyricism–as well as a complex sense of what living in today’s world is like–that 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. Pipers Alley.… Read more »

F for Fake

The first of Orson Welles’s two essay films to be completed and released (the lesser-known 1979 Filming “Othello” was the second), this breezy, low-budget 1973 montage–put together from discarded documentary footage by Francois Reichenbach as well as new material filmed by Welles–forms a kind of dialectic with Welles’s never-completed It’s All True; as Welles himself implied, an equally accurate title for this playful cat-and-mouse game might have been It’s All Lies. The main subjects here are art forger Elmyr de Hory, Clifford Irving, Howard Hughes, Pablo Picasso, and Welles himself; and the name of the game is the practice and meaning of deception. Some commentators have speculated that this film was Welles’s indirect reply to Pauline Kael’s subsequently disproven contention that he didn’t write a word of the Citizen Kane script; his sly commentary here–seconded by some of the trickiest editing anywhere–implies that authorship is a pretty dubious notion anyway, a function of the even more dubious art market and its team of “experts.” Alternately superficial and profound, hollow and moving, simple and complex, this film also enlists the services of Oja Kodar, Welles’s principal collaborator after the late 60s, as actor, erotic spectacle, and cowriter. Joseph Cotten, Richard Wilson, and other Welles cronies put in brief appearances; Michel Legrand wrote the wonderful score.… Read more »

Sure Fire

American independent Jon Jost at his most personal and mordantthe film is dedicated ironically to his father. It’s a bleak tale about crumbling patriarchy and male hysteria in a remote part of Utah, where a failed entrepreneurbrilliantly played with compulsive, all-American cheeriness by Tom Blair, who also starred in Jost’s Last Chants for a Slow Dance and The Bed You Sleep Ingoes hunting with his son. Visually inventive and striking, as Jost’s films always are, this is as good as his All the Vermeers in New York, and given the landscapes and manias on display here, perhaps even more authentic (1991). (JR)… Read more »

The Summer House

Jeanne Moreau, Joan Plowright, Julie Walters, and newcomer Lena Headey star in an enjoyable 1993 English comedy directed by Waris Hussein and set in Croydon, a straitlaced London suburb, in 1959. The story, adapted by Martin Sherman from Alice Thomas Ellis’s novel The Clothes in the Wardrobe, concerns a young woman (Headey) who finds herself engaged to a self-absorbed and insensitive local (David Threlfall) she couldn’t care less about. Her mother (Walters), prospective mother-in-law (Plowright), and everyone else in the vicinity somehow manage to dissuade her from backing out, and her only confidant proves to be Lili (Moreau), an unconventional, half-Egyptian friend of the family who turns up for the wedding and slowly but surely, using an arsenal of wiles, does what she can to set things right. Apart from offering a juicy star turn to Moreau, the movie has a lot of mordantly funny things to say about the conventionality of suburban English life, and all the actors shine; with Maggie Steed and John Wood. (JR)… Read more »

The Snapper

This 1993 film, the second adapted from Irish novelist Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy (following The Commitments) follows the moral progress of Dessie Curley (Colm Meaney) when he discovers that his 20-year-old daughter Sharon (Tina Kellegher) is pregnant and won’t identify the father. Better-than-average sitcom stuff, enhanced by the lively performances, Doyle’s own adaptation, and the able direction of Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Hero). With Ruth McCabe and Pat Laffan. (JR)… Read more »