Monthly Archives: August 1994

A Simple Twist Of Fate

Apparently bent on following the Robin Williams route to success, Steve Martin stars in a contemporary soap opera from Disneywhich Martin himself loosely adapted from George Eliot’s Silas Marnerabout a hermetic furniture maker who adopts a baby girl deposited on his doorstep. As he is raising her the biological father (Gabriel Byrne), a local politician, demands custody of the child. There are only a few laughs here, and though the efforts to elicit tears show a certain amount of sincerity, Eliot’s 19th-century armature keeps poking through the proceedings, making them all seem faintly archaic. With Catherine O’Hara and Stephen Baldwin; directed by Gillies MacKinnon. (JR)… Read more »

Killing Zoe

Now I know what hip is: looking indifferent about whether the cat lying on the floor of your apartment is dead or not. Apart from this invaluable lesson, not a whole lot is going on here, and most of the moves are awfully familiar. Just as there’s a branch of filmmaking that could be called the school of Jim Jarmusch, this 1994 bank-heist thriller with a Paris setting, written and directed by Roger Avary, clearly belongs to the Quentin Tarantino school. (Avary once worked with Tarantino in a video store, and Tarantino serves here as executive producer.) Unfortunately it’s primary school; Killing Zoe has little of the style, pacing, characterization, or wit of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction (though Avary worked on the scripts of both). With Eric Stoltz, Julie Delpy, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Tai Thai, and Bruce Ramsey. (JR)… Read more »

My Life’s In Turnaround

Slight but charming, this low-budget feature by cabdriver Eric Schaeffer and bartender Donal Lardner Ward about a cabdriver and bartender in Manhattan trying to make a low-budget feature presents a somewhat dumbed-down version of the producer-writer-director costars, whose semifictional counterparts would never have gotten this picture financed and made. But it’s an amusing enough facsimile of some of the vagaries of the film business and its aspirants. Among the highlights are cameos by Phoebe Cates, Martha Plimpton, and Casey Siemaszko playing themselves and John Sayles as a marginal producer. Only some of the proceedings are laugh-out-loud funny, but the adolescent energies of the filmmakers and characters keep this chugging along agreeably. With Lisa Gerstein, Dana Wheeler Nicholson, Debra Clein, and Sheila Jaffe. (JR)… Read more »

Natural Born Killers

Writer-director Oliver Stone lets it all hang out, including common sense, in this freewheeling, heavy-handed music-video-style satire (1994) about a young couple on the run (Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis) who rack up 50 corpses for the fun of it and then spearhead a prison revolt after they’re arrested, all with the lip-smacking encouragement of the sleazy media, not to mention Stone himself. The characters are (perhaps deliberately) cut from the thinnest cardboard, while the style is an unbridled smorgasbord of 35-millimeter, 16-millimeter, Super-8, video, animation, and rear projection, raggedly edited and goonishly overacted by everyone involved (including Robert Downey Jr. with an Australian accent, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Sizemore, and Rodney Dangerfield, who’s featured in a wild sitcom parody that provides some of the film’s more inventive moments). The show-offy psychedelic manner may keep you interested, just as the sex and violence may keep you titillatedunless, like me, you feel you’ve seen it all before, in which case you’ll be bored out of your skull. Written with David Veloz and Richard Rutowski, the script is said to be based on a story by Quentin Tarantinowhich means that a Tarantino script has been both figuratively and literally stoned beyond all recognition.… Read more »

Wagons East!

Sad to say, John Candy’s last movie is also his worsta stridently unfunny western comedy that is equally lame in its writing (Matthew Carlson and Jerry Abrahamson) and direction (Peter Markle). Candy plays an inefficient wagon master leading a group of disgruntled western settlers back to Saint Louis; they encounter a string of adventures and bad gagsmany of them anachronistic, some of them homophobic, virtually all of them stupidalong the way. With Richard Lewis, John C. McGinley, Ellen Greene, Robert Picardo, and Ed Lauter. (JR)… Read more »

The Secret Rapture

Howard Davies, a distinguished director on the London and Broadway stage, makes his feature debut with this David Hare play, adapted by the author. Two grown sisters (Juliet Stevenson and Penelope Wilton) and the young wife (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) of their father try to reach a business agreement together after the father dies. What emerges is a rather morose and (for me) unsatisfying psychological thriller, but the three actresses are so good at making characters liveand Neil Pearson as one sister’s lover is not far behindthat you’ll probably be held by the story all the same. (JR)… Read more »

Color Of Night

Bruce Willis plays a New York psychologist who abandons his practice and moves to LA after the suicide of a patient, only to find himself enmeshed in an obsessive sexual relationship with a mysterious woman (Jane March) and a murder investigation involving a colleague and friend. All the major suspects are in group therapy together, and look like they need italong with just about every other character in this somewhat preposterous but fairly watchable mystery thriller. The plot gets so convoluted and farfetched that you still may be scratching your head after the denouement, but you probably won’t be bored. Directed by Richard Rush (Getting Straight, The Stunt Man) from a script by Matthew Chapman and Billy Ray; with Ruben Blades, Lesley Ann Warren, Brad Dourif, Lance Henriksen, and Kevin J. O’Connor. (JR)… Read more »

Tribal Trouble [CALENDAR]

From the Chicago Reader (August 19, 1994). — J.R.

**** CALENDAR

(Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Atom Egoyan

With Arsinee Khanjian, Ashot Adamian, and Atom Egoyan.

In terms of craft, originality, and intelligence, there are few young filmmakers in the world today to match Atom Egoyan — a Canadian writer-director with a bee in his bonnet about video, photography, voyeurism, sexual obsession, troubled families, and personal identity (not necessarily in that order). But of his half-dozen features to date, the only one I’m comfortable calling a flat-out masterpiece is his fifth, Calendar — in some ways the least premeditated or worked over of the bunch. (Its successor, Exotica, which showed at Cannes in May 1993, will probably surface in New York later this year, which means it probably won’t get to Chicago before next summer.)

There are various ways of categorizing Egoyan’s six features, but perhaps the most useful involves distinguishing between the relatively low-budget ones, which happen to be my favorites – Next of Kin (1984), Family Viewing (1987), and Calendar (1993) — and the slicker, more expensive ones: Speaking Parts (1989), The Adjuster (1991), and Exotica (1994). Though all these movies have similar preoccupations and many have similar formal structures, a few distinctions between them are worth noting.… Read more »

Mi Vida Loca

A funky independent feature by Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging), set in the Los Angeles barrios and concentrating on the friendships between working-class women there. The stylistic boldness may get a little top-heavy in spots, but in general this is funny, insightful, and imaginatively told. The cinematographer, interestingly, is Rodrigo Garcia, son of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. With Angel Aviles, Seidy Lopez, Jacob Vargas, Marlo Marron, and Jessie Borrago (1993). Pipers Alley, Wilmette, Norridge. … Read more »

Milk Money

Three boys from the suburbs travel to the city in order to see a naked woman and wind up meeting a friendly hooker (Melanie Griffith) who drives them all home and then gets a crush on the father (Ed Harris) of one of the boys while she hides out from a gang boss (Malcolm McDowell). John Mattson’s script is every bit as silly as it sounds; it dawdles, stumbles, stalls, embarrasses both itself and the audience, and is routinely formulaic to boot. But Harris and Griffith (the latter doing her customary maternal Marilyn/Madonna shtick) make an appealing couple, and Richard Benjamin’s direction of them and the boys is halfway nice. With Michael Patrick Carter, Casey Siemaszko, and Brian Christopher. (JR)… Read more »

In Custody

According to Robert Frost, poetry is what gets lost in translationwhich describes the difficulty as well as the interest of the first feature directed by Ismail Merchant (1993), best known as James Ivory’s producer for 30-odd years (he has forayed into directing only twice before, making two films for British television). His principal motive here was to pay homage to Urdu, a poetic language on the verge of extinction in northern India. Based on a novel by Anita Desai and adapted by her and Shahrukh Husain, the film tells of a Hindu teacher coming into contact with one of his idols, a revered Urdu poet who’s fallen on hard times; a central part of the story involves the teacher’s protracted tragicomic efforts to record the poet reciting his own poetry. Merchant’s storytelling and direction are fluid and graceful, but there’s nothing he can do to convey in subtitles the essence of the language he’s celebrating. With Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, and Sushma Seth. (JR)… Read more »

Cachao

An OK documentary by actor Andy Garciawho also appears as host and interviewerabout Israel Cachao Lopez, the Cuban bassist and bandleader who invented the mambo and exerted a major influence over salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz. Lopez is interviewed, and Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante is on hand for his recollections and scholarly asides on the music; most of the remaining footage is devoted to a 1992 concert in Miami.… Read more »

Walk Cheerfully

A silent picture by Yasujiro Ozu (1930) about a petty thief who dreams of becoming a boxer and decides to go straight; he’s helped by the love of a woman and ultimately a job as a window washer. Like all Ozu silents, this is much brisker than his subsequent sound work, and the compositions are an eyeful. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

That Night’s Wife

This uncharacteristic Sternbergian crime thriller by Yasujiro Ozu, one of his more interesting silent pictures (1930), is set almost entirely inside a single cluttered flat, where a policeman, hoping to arrest a commercial artist who’s robbed an office, is held at bay by his gun-wielding wife. The results are tense, claustrophobic, and visually striking throughout. In Japanese with subtitles. 65 min. (JR)… Read more »

Days Of Youth

The earliest of Yasujiro Ozu’s silent films to have survived, this is a chipper skiing comedy (1929) involving two college friends on holiday who are in love with the same woman. The ambience is akin to Harold Lloyd, and the slapstick is funny as well as touching. Ozu’s playful formalism is already fully evident, especially in what he does with ski poles. In Japanese with subtitles. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »