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?,… 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 »

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 »

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 »

Fresh

An intermittently engaging first feature by writer-director Boaz Yakin, who previously scripted The Rookie, about a 12-year-old boy living in a Brooklyn slum who manages to extricate himself from drug running by applying lessons learned in speed chess from his estranged father (Samuel L. Jackson). Poised somewhere between a movie-familiar (i.e., semiscurrilous) look at inner-city life as trench warfare and a farfetched Hollywood revenge fantasy, this is kept alive largely through its first-rate performances, beginning with Sean Nelson’s as the boy; Giancarlo Esposito is also a standout. With Cheryl Freeman, and N’Bushe Wright. (JR)… Read more »

The Adventuress

The rise and fall of a talented cabaretera from a good family, played by Cuban rumba dancer Ninon Sevilla, is the focus of this 1949 Mexican cult item, highly critical of and disparaged by the Mexican middle class. Alberto Gout directed. In Spanish with subtitles. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Conviction

A singularly weird if watchable Italian courtroom drama about rape from the once very promising Marco Bellocchio (Fist in the Pocket, China Is Near), who more recently has been known for his ponderous sexual psychodramas and for having his psychotherapist present on his shooting locations to advise him on each shot. Perhaps he could use a better therapist. In this 1990 feature a young woman who finds herself locked inside an art museum is approached and, after some initial reluctance, seduced by an architect. Afterward the architect reveals that he was responsible for locking her inside the museum, and the woman brings rape charges against him. In the courtroom the architect expounds at length on the philosophy of rape and the philosophy of orgasm; for him, her orgasm proves there was no violence. Bellocchio seems to think he has a point; as he puts it, I am convinced that violence against women must be severely punished by law, but at the same time the perpetrator or the rapist is not really a rapist, but the ‘ideal’ man which every woman is looking for deep down, the man who does not destroy the woman’s identity, but by stimulating her desire does not disappoint her and therefore enables her to ‘be born’ and to strengthen her own identity.… Read more »