Daily Archives: June 1, 1994

Wolf

Somewhere inside this moderately watchable if ultimately incoherent star vehicle is an old-fashioned grade-Z werewolf movie crying to be born. If that were the sort of thing money could buy it would undoubtedly have been factored into the $70-million-plus budget, but it seems beyond the reach of the creative participants, who try for a vague sort of profundity instead. Jack Nicholson plays an honorable failurea book editor about to discover that he’s being demoted and cuckoldedwho comes into his own after being bitten by a wolf, an event that brings out both good and bad aspects of his latent animal nature. Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen (1981), which also dealt with wolves in Manhattan’s Central Park, is a much more thoughtful and meaningful project; this one lurches along in fits and starts, mixing generic stereotypes (e.g., the villainy of James Spader and Christopher Plummer) with loftier (if more confused) ambitions, and winds up honoring neither art nor commerce. Mike Nichols’s direction is so-so; the two writers credited are Jim Harrison (though the film has no connection with his novel of the same title) and Wesley Strick. Michelle Pfeiffer, Kate Nelligan, and Richard Jenkins also star. (JR)… Read more »

The Shadow

I only know the 30s radio show by hearsay, so I can’t vouch for the faithfulness of this big-scale movie version, but if I had to choose between a sequel to this and another Batman or Indiana Jones romp, I’d opt for a second Shadow, if only because the visual design of this onea comic-book fever dream of 30s Manhattan so well imagined and lived-in that one could almost crawl inside ithas more enchantments than the Wagnerian pretensions and Pavlovian cliff-hangers of the other two cycles. Admittedly, this visual designwhich recalls more than once some of the classic Universal horror pictures of the 30stends to triumph over and thereby diminish everything else in the picture. The characters are fairly dim (Alec Baldwin in the title role, alias Lamont Cranston, is a bit of a stick, and Penelope Ann Miller is just a slinky icon, though John Lone seems well cast as the occult villain); the plotlargely a matter of telepathy, hypnosis, and mind over matterwhile true enough to its origins in Louis Feuillade and Fritz Lang, is not especially memorable; and the action thrills tend to be obligatory rather than inspired. But the look of this movie is such a delight that even passing detailsan apple twirled in Miller’s hands, a striped sofa beside which subvillain Tim Curry falls to his deathseem integral parts of the production design; and when an anachronistic, spherical atomic bomb barrels down a hotel hallway, even if it occasions much less suspense than the rolling boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it has all the sleek decorum of a Magritte painting.… Read more »

Forrest Gump

Robert Zemeckis, combining his taste for brittle comedy (Used Cars), mutilated bodies (Death Becomes Her), and recycled history (Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit), won an Oscar for this tear-jerking 1994 comedy about a slow-witted southerner (Tom Hanks) living through an absurdist half century of American great events. Zemeckis banks on the innocence of two parties, Gump and the spectator, homogenizing culture and politics into a safe, sweet, palatable nugget. Judging by the the movie’s enduring popularity, the message that stupidity is redemption is clearly what a lot of Americans want to hear. With Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, and Sally Field; Eric Roth and Zemeckis adapted a novel by Winston Groom. PG-13, 142 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blown Away

Another overproduced and undernourished mad bomber movie, just as formulaic as Speed but not nearly as gripping; there’s some undigested Irish material involving the hero and villain that is supposed to count as motivation but merely takes up space. Set in Boston, the story features Tommy Lee Jones as the demon bomber, Jeff Bridges, his father Lloyd, and Forest Whitaker as bomb squad members, and Suzy Amis as Jeff Bridges’s wife. Stephen Hopkins directed this thriller, fairly routinely, from a script by Joe Batteer, John Rice, and M. Jay Roach. (JR)… Read more »

Zero Patience

A Canadian musical fantasy (1993) by John Greyson (Urinal) involving Sir Richard Burton (transported from the Victorian era to the present to mount a sensationalistic multimedia art exhibit about the origins of AIDS) and Patient Zero, the legendary French Canadian flight attendant credited with bringing AIDS to North America. Disappointing as a follow-up to Greyson’s brilliant short The Making of Monsters and undercut toward the end by a surfeit of solemn preaching, this satire on media myopia still has its share of laughs, especially during the musical numbers. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Wyatt Earp

Lawrence Kasdan’s ambitious effort to rewrite the Wyatt Earp story for Kevin Costner (here at his most inexpressive) is an improvement over Tombstone, but you’re still better off renting My Darling Clementine or even Gunfight at the O.K. Corral if you want the story told with action and drama. Running beyond three hours, the movie more than overstays its welcome, and despite some vague genuflections in the general direction of The Godfather regarding family ties and revenge, there are simply too many years and locations covered, too many crane shots and rainstorms. On the plus side, Dennis Quaid has a very charming turn as a southern-hipster version of Doc Holliday (at times he seems to come straight out of a Jim Jarmusch movie), and Owen Roizman’s ‘Scope cinematography is often handsomely lit and framed. But overall the movie gets lost in its own lumbering aspirations. The script is by Dan Gordon and Kasdan, and the other actors include Gene Hackman, Jeff Fahey, Mark Harmon, Michael Madsen, Catherine O’Hara, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rossellini, Tom Sizemore, and JoBeth Williams. (JR)… Read more »

When Billy Broke His Head . . . And Other Tales Of Wonder

An hour-long documentary by Chicago artist David E. Simpson and former Minneapolis journalist Billy Golfusan account of Golfus’s experiences after he suffered a severe head injury in a motor-scooter accident almost a decade earlier that’s also an irreverent polemic about the plight of the disabled, particularly the demoralizing negativity expressed by the culture at large and the bureaucratic nightmares they’re forced to endure to receive the government benefits they’re legally entitled to. Not always as sharply pointed as it might have been, either as filmmaking or as argument, this is still an invaluable introduction to a neglected and potent subject, informative as well as provocative. (JR)… Read more »

Poison

After personally thanking all the members of his cast and crew inside the film’s various sets, Sacha Guitry plunges into the most ferocious, and possibly the most subversive, masterpiece of his career (1951). The great Michel Simon plays a middle-aged village gardener who despises his alcoholic wife (who despises him in turn). After learning on the radio about an ace defense lawyer famous for getting murderers acquitted, he goes to see the lawyer, claiming to have already killed his wife, and learns from the lawyer’s questions and comments precisely how he should commit the crime to escape sentencing; meanwhile, his wife is hatching a murder plot of her own. Shot in just 11 daysin deference to Simon, who demanded that each of his scenes be filmed only oncethis caustic social satire lasts 96 minutes, and not one of them is wasted; with Germaine Reuver and Jean Debucourt. (JR)… Read more »

I Love Trouble

The husband-and-wife team of writer-director Charles Shyer and writer-producer Nancy Meyersimpresarios of the cute and smarmy (Baby Boom, the Father of the Bride remake)cast Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte as reporters on rival Chicago papers, both after the same dangerous story, in a rather anemic and forgettable $50-million action comedy. Clearly the models are Charade, North by Northwest, and the Tracy-Hepburn sparring matches, but Roberts and Nolte seem to go together like oil and water, and the convoluted conspiracy-crime plot keeps them a lot more occupied than us. As a romp, this is more labored than light, though it’s mildly watchable if all you’re looking for is distraction. With Saul Rubinek, Robert Loggia, and James Rebhorn. (JR)… Read more »

The Eye Of Vichy

A fascinating 1993 compilation by Claude Chabrol of material from French newsreels and related ephemera between 1940 and 1944, during the German occupationmainly propaganda in the form of news items and public service features, but also a few movie trailers and one startling animated short. It’s all edited by Chabrol with a keen, ironic eye, with a few English voice-overs to help point out the lies and omissions, and adds up to an irreplaceable view of what living in Vichy France was like. (JR)… Read more »

El Dorado

Marcel L’Herbier, director of this silent 1921 melodrama, is one of the key figures in the French experimental narrative cinema of the 20s. This film, about the maltreatment of a cabaret performer and her subsequent revenge, is one of his best-known works, though it’s far from his best (cf. L’argent, L’inhumaine). Still, it’s certainly an interesting introduction to his work. (JR)… Read more »

The Choirboys

To my mind, this is one of Robert Aldrich’s worst films, but clearly not everyone agrees. Dave Kehr has described it as an accomplished black comedy, albeit a little rough around the edges, whose many moments of virtuoso filmmaking . . . very nearly make up for its faults. I see this raunchy 1977 adaptation of a Joseph Wambaugh novel about police shenanigans as homophobic, heavy-handed, and glib, a sort of Animal House celebrating police corruptionbut maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the editing and camera movements. The lead actors include Charles Durning, Louis Gossett Jr., Randy Quaid, Burt Young, and James Woods. (JR)… Read more »

The Birth Of Love

An investigation of love, family life, and friendship starring Lou Castel, Jean-Pierre Leaud, and Johanna Ter Steege, this autobiographical black-and-white feature (1993) is one of the first by the highly influential Philippe Garrel to be shown in these parts, though he’s made about two dozen films by nowsome experimental, all highly personal. (A spiritual son of Jean-Luc Godard, steeped in the moods and textures of silent cinema, Garrel can also be regarded as the spiritual father of Leos Carax.) Relatively indifferent to lucid storytelling as it’s generally understood, this revolves around the restless moods of a professional actor (Castel) undergoing some sort of midlife crisis and periodically breaking away from his wife, teenage son, and infant daughter to have affairs with younger women. Its beauties and strengths rest almost entirely in the poetry of its images and rhythms and its stabbing emotions rather than its narrative flow. The breathtaking cinematography is by Raoul Coutard, who shot most of Godard’s early features. (JR)… Read more »

Betty

Heralded by some as the triumphant comeback of Claude Chabrol, though I prefer to see it as one of his better second-degree effortsand considering how many of his features have never crossed the Atlantic, it’s hard to rank it more definitively than that. Much of this 1991 film is recounted piecemeal in flashbacks as the title heroine (Marie Trintignant), a young wife recently abandoned by her husband for infidelity, recalls her past to an older woman (Stephane Audran). As is often the case with Chabrol, moral ambiguity is just the other side of mise en scene, and the storytelling is pretty fluid. (JR)… Read more »

The Best Of The New York Underground

Three errors in seven words, and sad proof that a New York underground survives today less as a reality than as an advertising slogan. First, apart from Eugene Salandra’s mildly charming animated Faerie Film (1993), set in Greenwich Village, and the locations of a few postproduction facilities, these six shorts appear to have practically nothing to do with New York. Second, underground used to mean blissfully free and actively hostile toward institutions of all kinds, while these workswith the possible exception of Peter Sarkisian’s striking, aggressive Detritus (sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll in high-contrast black and white with scary effects, shot in New Mexico)are basically student films, indebted to institutions for their production as well as most of their ideas, made largely to please professors. And third, if this is truly the best of what’s availablesomething I can’t believethen God save us all from the worst. The other titles are: Mike King’s Doper, a rather dull documentary about a casual dope dealer and his friends; Joshua Wintringham’s Pleasant Hill, USA, a documentary about a senseless killing in Ohio; Frank Sebastiano’s Spring Break, a light comedy about an ineffectual slob planning to kill a romantic rival; and Helen Stickler’s Queen Mercy, a meditation on exchanges in a porn parlor.… Read more »