Daily Archives: December 1, 1994

Arizona Dream

The first English-language movie (1993) by Bosnian director Emir Kusturica. An orphan (Johnny Depp) working for the New York Department of Fish and Game is asked to serve as best man at the wedding of his uncle (Jerry Lewis), an Arizona Cadillac dealer marrying a Polish woman (Paulina Porizkova) less than half his age. A cousin who comes along (Vincent Gallo) is an aspiring actor whose performances consist of repeating lines and gestures in sync with classic movies. The orphan starts an affair with a widow (Faye Dunaway) nearly twice his age who lives with her neurotic stepdaughter (Lili Taylor). This goofy, disturbing piece of magical realism about dysfunctional families was picked up by Warners, cut by 23 minutes, unsuccessfully test-marketed, and then shelveduntil someone got the great idea of releasing the original 142-minute cut. It illustrates the truism that the biggest difference between European and American directors using America as a site for fantasies is that the Europeans are likelier to know what they’re doing. (JR)… Read more »

Immortal Beloved

Writer-director Bernard Rose decides that Ludwig van Beethoven looked like Gary Oldman and had a lot in common with both Charles Foster Kane and Jake LaMotta, and makes a movie to prove it (1994). If you can buy any or all of these premises, you might enjoy this as something other than a hoot. There are plenty of sound bites from Beethoven’s best-known works, nicely performed by the London Symphony Orchestra under Georg Solti’s direction; there are attractive Czech locations, and OK performances by Jeroen Krabbe, Isabella Rossellini, Valeria Golino, Johanna Ter Steeg, Marco Hofschneider, Barry Humphries, and Miriam Margolyes. There are apparent lifts from Abel Gance’s Beethoven biopic, which also tried to suggest the composer’s growing deafness on the sound track. But if you think this movie is going to solve the mystery of Beethoven’s cryptic inscription on his last quartet, as it pretends to, you’re out of your skull. (JR)… Read more »

I.q.

Fred Schepisi, back in his Roxanne mode, directs this tale by Michael Leeson and Andrew Breckman (1994). During the Eisenhower 50s Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau) and his Princeton-based pals connive to make a match between Einstein’s mathematician niece (Meg Ryan) and an uneducated auto mechanic who’s smitten with her (Tim Robbins). By passing the mechanic off as a genius in physics, they hope to pull her away from her dull fiance, an English behaviorist psychologist. Einstein and his chums (Lou Jacobi, Gene Saks, and Joseph Maher) are made out to be as cute as bugsrather like the trio of Russian diplomats in Ninotchkaand this cheerful demonstration of the power of love over physics is pretty much wedded to Hollywood formula throughout. If you like Ryan and Robbins as much as I do, you’ll probably feel indulgent and even charmed in spots; if you don’t, you’ll probably run screaming out of the theater. With Stephen Fry and Tony Shalhoub. PG, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Speechless

An exasperating demonstration of what’s wrong with contemporary Hollywood and what’s wrong with contemporary American election campaigns, pitched in the form of a cutesy romantic comedy that should set your teeth on edge. Loosely inspired by the well-publicized romance of Mary Matalin and James Carville during the 1992 presidential election, with Ron Underwood (City Slickers) directing a script by Robert King (Clean Slate), this throws together a Republican speechwriter (Michael Keaton) and a Democratic speechwriter (coproducer Geena Davis) during a senatorial campaign in New Mexico and watches their love blossom as they proceed to work competitively. The movie’s smart enough to offer a jaded portrait of the way such campaigns operate, but the hackneyed love story repeatedly relegates it to the back burner, and matters weren’t helped by test-market previews that led to a new and exceptionally stupid feel good ending. Ultimately, for all its fancy footwork, this movie winds up being even sicker than what it’s looking at. With Christopher Reeve, Bonnie Bedelia, Ernie Hudson, Charles Martin Smith, and Gailard Sartain (1994). (JR)… Read more »

Cafe Au Lait

A first feature by 25-year-old French writer-director-actor Mathieu Kassovitz, this is a light comedy about an 18-year-old West Indian woman who finds herself pregnant by one of her two boyfriendsa Jewish bike messenger (Kassovitz) and an African law student, neither of whom knows about the other before learning of the pregnancy. As the two guys struggle to overcome their racial, ethnic, and class biases they gradually form a sexless trio with the heroine, nursing her along until she gives birth. Most of this is predictable Archie Bunker-style humor, though some of the details about contemporary Parisian life may make it a little fresher for American audiences. With Julie Mauduech and Hubert Kounde. (JR)… Read more »

Floundering

Affable if rambling revue-sketch material about a 30-ish liberal slacker in Venice Beach just after the LA riots who’s trying to do right by his community, his drug-addict brother, and himself, but who mainly encounters disaster until his life is seemingly touched by grace. This first feature by independent producer Peter McCarthy (Repo Man, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka) is fairly lightweight, but the cast and low-rent production credits have a certain charm; with James LeGros, Ethan Hawke, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, and Lisa Zane. (JR)… Read more »

What Happened Was . . .

This gripping and well-acted theatrical duet (1993) evokes a kinder, gentler Oleanna; the setting is the apartment of a paralegal assistant (Karen Sillas) and the circumstance is her first date with a coworker (writer-director Tom Noonan). Neither character is quite who she or he appears to be, and a subtly modulated power shift between the two gradually takes place as each unveils an inner self. The film won a screenwriting award at Sundance, and the actors both seem to know what they’re doing every step of the way. (JR)… Read more »

One Million B.c.

Intermittently enjoyable nonsense about cave people and dinosaurs (1940) from Hal Roach and Hal Roach Jr., who codirected. D.W. Griffith, who was down on his luck at the time, was rumored to have directed some sequences, but informed sources report that his main role as nominal producer and adviser on the production was his discovery of Victor Mature (who plays the lead). With Carole Landis and Lon Chaney Jr. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mrs. Parker And The Vicious Circle

Alan Rudolph’s 1994 feature about writer Dorothy Parker and the famous Algonquin wits she hung out with in the 20s certainly has its pleasures, but someone should tell Rudolph that, for all his skill and charm, period movies aren’t really his forte. As a clever postmodernist neoromantic, he’s much better at drawing on the moods of classic Hollywood to reimagine the present than at reinterpreting the past (as he also did in The Moderns, to similar effect). Jennifer Jason Leigh makes an impressive effort to copy Parker’s speech patterns, but her mannerist performance matches the claustrophobic ambience of the direction and script (by Rudolph and Randy Sue Coburn) by conjuring up a profile rather than a life or milieu. At its best this movie manages to be very touching, especially in its handling of Parker’s passionate platonic friendship with Robert Benchley (Campbell Scott); at its worst it shies away so steadily from her leftist politics that you will miss them entirely if you leave before the closing credits. With Matthew Broderick, Andrew McCarthy, Wallace Shawn, Jennifer Beals, Sam Robards, Lili Taylor, and Nick Cassavetes. (JR)… Read more »

Totally F***ed Up

Gregg Araki’s disappointing low-budget feature (1993, 80 min.) about gay teenagers in Los Angeles includes many nods to Godard’s Masculine-Feminine and shows a filmmaker of sensitivity, daring, and all-around talent. But the decline in freshness and creativity from The Long Weekend (o’ Despair) to The Living End to this film is hard to rationalize. Still, if you haven’t seen those earlier films you may like this more than I did. (JR)… Read more »

Disclosure

To paraphrase French critic Michel Mourlet on Charlton Heston, Michael Douglas is an axiom, which means, in the case of this 1994 spin-off, that if you’ve already seen Fatal Attraction or Basic Instinct you know in advance what the politics will be: strong women in positions of power are just fine as long as they aren’t sexually dominant and obey middle-class rules of propriety. Douglaswhose lopsided facial expressions come in two basic settings, constipated/thwarted lockjaw mode and glib/preening grin modeplays a Seattle computer executive who’s sexually importuned by former girlfriend and present boss Demi Moore; when he refuses to go all the way with her she accuses him of sexual harassment. Michael Crichton’s novel served as the basis of Paul Attanasio’s script, which is directed by Barry Levinson; the silly melodrama has some watchable as well as pleasurable moments, including two good sex scenesone between Douglas and Moore and one between Douglas and Donald Sutherlandand an interesting use of the company office as a location milked for various paranoid effects. Much less winning are a total lack of plausible motivation when it comes to Moore’s character (as in Fatal Attraction and Basic Instinct, naked lust after Douglas’s bod is supposed to explain everything) and the improbable uses of high-tech virtual reality.… Read more »

Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s best film (1993) doesn’t so much forgo the shameless and ruthless manipulations of his earlier work as refine and direct them toward a nobler purpose. Working from a well-constructed script by Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) adapting Thomas Keneally’s nonfiction novela fascinating account of the Nazi businessman Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of over 1,100 Polish JewsSpielberg does an uncommonly good job both of holding our interest over 185 minutes and of showing more of the nuts and bolts of the Holocaust than we usually get from fiction films. Despite some characteristic simplifications, he’s generally scrupulous about both his source and the historical record. One enormous plus is the rich and beautiful black-and-white cinematography by onetime Chicagoan Janusz Kaminski. Spielberg’s capacity to milk the maximal intensity out of the existential terror and pathos conveyed in Keneally’s bookPolish Jews could be killed at any moment by the capriciousness of a labor camp director (Ralph Fiennes)is complemented and even counterpointed by his capacity to milk the glamour of Nazi high life and absolute power. Significantly, each emotional register is generally accompanied by a different style of cinematography, and much as Liam Neeson’s effective embodiment of Schindler works as our conduit to the Nazis, Ben Kingsley’s subtle performance as his Jewish accountant, right-hand man, and mainly silent conscience provides our conduit to the Polish Jews.… Read more »

La Triche

The title translates as the cheat; a French police thriller, directed by a woman, Yannick Bellon, involving a male couple, which was voted best film at the New York Gay Film Festival, with Victor Lanoux, Xavier Deluc, Valerie Mairesse, and Anny Duperey.… Read more »

Vanya On 42nd Street

In this 1994 feature by Louis Malle, Andre Gregory directs a street-clothes production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (as adapted by David Mamet) in the ruins of Manhattan’s New Amsterdam Theatre. Based on actual run-throughs of the play, seen by audiences of only 20 or 30, the film adroitly captures a well-honed production and incidentally unites Malle with the cowriters and costars of My Dinner With AndreGregory and Wallace Shawn (who plays Vanya). Not all of Chekhov’s social themes survive the contemporary trappings, but thanks to Gregory’s sensitive direction each actor shines. Julianne Moore and Larry Pine are especially impressive, and even a technically limited character actor like Shawn outdoes himself (albeit without quite filling Vanya’s shoes). Malle adeptly eases us into the play so we can’t tell at what precise moment Chekhov takes over, an ambiguity that becomes the film’s triumph as well as its key limitation. 120 min. (JR)… Read more »