Monthly Archives: September 1994

Sleep With Me

The best of the so-called Generation X movies I’ve seen so far, this charming first feature by Rory Kelly about a circle of friends in their 30s, and the various complications that ensue when one of the bunch falls helplessly in love with a friend’s wife, owes much of its spark to collective effort, in the script as well as the performances. The film was written by Kelly and five of his own friends–Duane Dell’Amico, Roger Hedden (author of Bodies, Rest & Motion), Neal Jimenez (writer and codirector of The Waterdance), Joe Keenan, and Michael Steinberg (director of Bodies, Rest & Motion and codirector of The Waterdance)–with each of the six scripting a separate scene organized around a specific gathering. A limitation of the collective social portrait drawn is that one never learns what most of the characters do for a living, but the behavioral interplay is often funny and observant. The able cast includes Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It), coproducer Eric Stoltz (who starred in both The Waterdance and Bodies, Rest & Motion), and Meg Tilly (Valmont, The Body Snatchers); the striking and effective score is by David Lawrence. Watch for a funny cameo by Quentin Tarantino in a party scene; he claims to be offering a theory about Top Gun, but seems in fact to be describing his own films.… Read more »

Employees Entrance

This 1933 film focuses on life in a huge department store from the vantage point of the employees, whose lives are made miserable by a heartless, amoral manager (Warren William). As an attack on ruthless capitalism, it goes a lot further than more recent efforts such as Wall Street, and it’s amazing how much plot and character are gracefully shoehorned into 75 minutes. Adapted by Robert Presnell from a play by David Boehm, and directed by the reliable Roy Del Ruth; with Loretta Young, Wallace Ford, Alice White, and Allen Jenkins. To be screened as part of a zippy double feature with Baby Face, which launches a series of Warner double and triple features–two dozen movies in all–that demonstrates how much you could expect from a night at the movies in the early 30s. Music Box, Friday, September 23.… Read more »

The Shawshank Redemption

A 21-year friendship between a lifer (Morgan Freeman) and a New England banker convicted of murder (Tim Robbins) is the focus of this gripping 1994 prison drama, capably directed and adapted by Frank Darabont from Stephen King’s short novel Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. A passing reference to The Count of Monte Cristo offers a partial clue to what makes this movie compelling: though its events occur between the late 40s and late 60s, the film’s 19th-century storytelling mode shows how lives, personalities, and personal agendas develop over years, and how various individuals cope with the dynamics of prison life and totalitarian systems in general. Robbins and Freeman both shine; with Bob Gunton, William Sadler, Clancy Brown, Gil Bellows, and James Whitmore. R, 142 min. (JR)… Read more »

The River Wild

In an effort to save their marriage, a couple (Meryl Streep and David Strathairn) leave with their son on a white-water raft trip and encounter trouble from a pair of strangers (Kevin Bacon and John C. Reilly). Curtis Hanson (The Hand That Rocks the Cradle) directed this 1994 thriller effectively from a fairly routine script by Denis O’Neill; what really makes this movie worth seeing are the stunning Oregon and Montana locations (filmed in ‘Scope), as well as Streep’s sexy pluck in playing the most capable and resourceful character around. (JR)… Read more »

The New Age

This new comedy by writer-director Michael Tolkin (The Rapture), which reunites the leads of Naked Lunch, Peter Weller and Judy Davis, as fashion-plate yuppies in Los Angeles who have spiritually lost their way, keeps promising to be a great satire. But the promise is only half kept; each time one expects some follow-through on a fruitful conceit (e.g., the couple opening a new boutique called Hipocracy, Patrick Bauchau as a mysterious guru), the movie stops dead in its tracks, just like the woeful couple. This is still great fun as far as it goes;, and serious as well; just don’t expect any structure. With Adam West as Weller’s father, John Diehl, Paula Marshall, and Samuel L. Jackson. (JR)… Read more »

And God Spoke

A rather unfunny pseudodocumentary in the manner of This is Spinal Tap, Bob Roberts, and Fear of a Black Hat about two American independents setting out to make a big-budget biblical spectacular. If you haven’t seen as many movies of this ilk as I have, it’s possible you might be amused. Directed by Arthur Borman from a script he wrote with Chicagoan Mark Borman, Gregory S. Malins, and Michael Curtis; with Michael Riley and Stephen Rappaport, as well as cameos by Lou Ferrigno, Eve Plumb, and, in the part of Moses, Soupy Sales. (JR)… Read more »

TV Films by Alexander Kluge

American TV watchers, eat your hearts out! It isn’t always easy to trace the connections in these selections from “Ten to Eleven”–a series of short, experimental “essay” films made for German television by the remarkable German filmmaker Alexander Kluge–but they’re the liveliest and most imaginative European TV shows I’ve seen since those of Ruiz and Godard. Densely constructed out of a very diverse selection of archival materials, which are manipulated (electronically and otherwise) in a number of unexpected ways, these historical meditations often suggest Max Ernst collages using the cultural flotsam of the last 100 years. I’ve seen four of the programs: Why Are You Crying, Antonio? relates fascism, opera, and domesticity; Antiques & Advertising historicizes ads in a number of novel ways; Madame Butterfly Waits offers a compressed history of opera and its kitschy pop-culture successors; and the self-explanatory The Eiffel Tower, King Kong, and the White Women makes use of comics, 1890s movies, a quote from Heidegger, and multiple images of the famous ape and tower. The first part of this program features Madame Butterfly Waits, The Eiffel Tower, King Kong, and the White Women, Antiques & Advertising, and The African Lady, or Love With a Fatal Outcome; the second includes Blue Hour Tango Time, Why Are You Crying, Antonio?, Changing Time (Quickly), and Japanclips.… Read more »

The Advocate

A witty British courtroom comedy-drama, set circa 1450, in which a Parisian lawyer (played by Colin Firth), accompanied by his clerk, tries his hand in the French provinces, meanwhile becoming involved with a beautiful Gypsy outcast. In a misguided effort to cash in on the fanfare accompanying The Crying Game, also distributed by Miramax, viewers are urged not to reveal a “surprise” that this picture virtually gives away in its opening sequence, one predicated on the medieval practice of treating animals as “equals” under the law. What’s actually surprising is that most of this sexy, nicely acted, and humorously detailed picture works on its own modest terms, without hype or gimmicks, even after some stupid censorious cuts. Written and directed by the able TV documentarist Leslie Megahey, whose best earlier work includes a wonderful three-hour interview with Orson Welles; with Amina Annabi, Jim Carter, Donald Pleasence, Ian Holm, and Nicol Williamson. Pipers Alley.… Read more »

History Happens

This appeared in the Chicago Reader (September 16, 1994). –J.R.

**** THE BLUE KITE

(Masterpiece)

Directed by Tian Zhuangzhuang

Written by Xiao Mao

With Zhang Wenyao, Chen Xiaoman, Lu Liping, Pu Quanxin, Li Xuejian, Guo Baochang, Zhong Ping, and Chu Quanzhong.

Covering 15 years of modern Chinese history, from 1953 to 1968, The Blue Kite is powerful less for what it says about continuity in history than for what it implies about history disrupting people’s lives. The two things that matter most to Tietou, the fictional hero, apart from his mother, are the courtyard just off the Dry Well Lane apartment where his parents move in the opening scene and the title toy — actually a series of toys — he’s given to play with by his father. Each blue kite we see over the course of the film winds up getting stuck in one of the courtyard’s trees and needs to be replaced; more or less the same thing happens with the Tietou’s father (eventually supplanted by two stepfathers) and Tietou’s sense of home, not to mention his sense of identity. All that he retains, and only after a struggle, is a certain sense of morality bequeathed by his mother and a certain sense of place bequeathed by the courtyard.… Read more »

The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert

You’d never guess it, but the title heroine is actually a refurbished bus, and this nicely made 1994 comedy-drama could be described as an Australian Easy Rider, with Sydney drag queens instead of bikers and no apocalyptic ending. Terence Stamp brings a certain suave integrity to his role as a transsexual who takes two queens cross-country in a drag show. Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith in The Matrix and the blind photographer in Proof) and Guy Pearce are almost as good, with Bob Hunter doing a fine job in a smaller role. Not everything works equally well in this road movieI could have done without Hunter’s disgruntled Japanese wife, a poorly conceived and crudely executed characterbut writer-director Stephan Elliott keeps things watchable. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sankofa

The exciting thing about Haile Gerima’s lush, wide-screen folkloric feature about black slavery–independently made and distributed–is its poetic conviction, backed up by a great deal of filmmaking savvy. Born in Ethiopia but based in the U.S., Gerima attended UCLA’s film school around the same time as Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Julie Dash, and Billy Woodbury. I haven’t seen his previous films–which include Harvest 3000 Years, Bush Mama, and Ashes and Embers–but Sankofa (1993) shows that he has a camera style and political vision all his own. A glamorous black model (Oyafunmike Ogunlano) posing for pictures outside an ancient castle in Ghana where slaves were once bought and sold provokes the ire of a self-appointed tribal guardian of this tourist spot, who hurls a curse at her that magically transports her into the role of a slave on a Jamaican plantation, where most of the remainder of the film is set. Beautifully shot and powerfully acted, the depiction of slavery from the vantage point of the slaves as they move toward revolt is rendered mainly in English dialogue, with an interesting score by David J. White that manages to encompass American jazz and blues as well as African elements. It stands to reason that if anything could bridge the radically disparate experiences of being an American black and being an African slave it’s poetry, and Gerima puts it to stirring use.… Read more »

Timecop

SF specialist Peter Hyams, doubling as usual as director and cinematographer, leaves his record for mediocrity (Outland, 2010) unblemished in this silly time-travel tale, set in 2004, that has Jean-Claude Van Damme going after a corrupt senator (Ron Silver) who seeks to buy his way to the presidency by making select raids on the past (e.g., gold bullion from 1863, crafty investments on Wall Street in 1929), thereby manipulating the present. But fans of the humorless Van Damme’s brutal footwork probably won’t be disappointed. The script is by Mark Verheiden and executive producer Mike Richardson; with Mia Sara, Gloria Reuben, and Bruce McGill. (JR)… Read more »

Quiz Show

Robert Redford’s best and richest directorial effort (1994, 130 min.) unpacks the TV quiz show scandal of the late 50s, when glamorous intellectual Charles Van Doren, star contestant on the quiz show Twenty-One, belatedly confessed that he’d been fed all the questions in advance. As played by Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List), Van Doren is lamentably not much more than a shallow icon (though Paul Attanasio’s script works overtime making him appear sympathetic), stripped of the real-life ambiguities and hidden depths that were apparent to everyone who followed the story at the time. Despite these and other predictable simplifications, the story is allowed to retain much of its resonance and suggestivenessas an instance of ethnic and class conflict as well as a landmark in media bamboozlementand even some of the network and corporate culprits in the original fraud are singled out and named. Rob Morrow is especially good as Richard N. Goodwin, the feisty and ambitious House subcommittee member who helped to uncover the scandal, even though it meant fingering a man he admired (though the film, based on a chapter in Goodwin’s book Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties, exaggerates Goodwin’s role in the investigation), and John Turturro is effective as Herb Stempel, another Twenty-One contestant whose disgruntlement as an involuntary loser on the show was crucial in bringing Van Doren down.… Read more »

Sleep with Me

From the Chicago Reader (September 6, 1994). — J.R.

The best of the so-called Generation X movies that I’ve seen so far, this charming first feature by Rory Kelly about a circle of friends in their 30s, and the various complications that ensue when one of the bunch falls helplessly in love with a friend’s wife, owes much of its spark to collective effort, in the script as well as the performances. The film was written by Kelly and five of his friends — Duane Dell’Amico, Roger Hedden (author of Bodies, Rest & Motion), Neal Jimenez (writer and codirector of The Waterdance), Joe Keenan, and Michael Steinberg (director of Bodies, Rest & Motion and codirector of The Waterdance) — with each of the six scripting a separate scene organized around a gathering. A limitation of the collective social portrait is that one never learns what most of the characters do for a living, but the behavioral interplay is often funny and observant. The able cast includes Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It), coproducer Eric Stoltz (who starred in both The Waterdance and Bodies, Rest & Motion), and Meg Tilly; the striking and effective score is by David Lawrence.… Read more »

A Good Man In Africa

A dotty and disheveled but fairly watchable comedy of errors set in Africa, adapted by William Boyd from his own novel, directed by Bruce Beresford, and probably suffering from nervous studio recutting. Colin Friels plays the not-so-likable hero, an English diplomat posted to the newly independent state of Kinjanja, where he has to contend with a pompous boss (John Lithgow doing a mildly funny if predictable turn), a possible venereal disease, and his own as well as his boss’s indifference to the local customs. Sean Connery plays a serene local doctor who is understandably dubious about this fellow, and Louis Gossett Jr. plays a rising local politician; romantic interest is provided by Diana Rigg and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer. (JR)… Read more »