Yearly Archives: 1995

The Loved One

Admittedly, this 1965 adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh satire about American burial habits in general, LA’s Forest Lawn in particular, isn’t all that it could or perhaps even should have been. Still, considering the unpromising credits (Tony Richardson directing in black-and-white ‘Scope, snaggle-toothed Robert Morse as the lead) it could have been worse, and there are diverse compensations along the way (including parts by Liberace, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Tab Hunter, Robert Morley, John Gielgud, and Lionel Stander). Haskell Wexler shot it, Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood adapted it, and there’s all the bad taste one would ever want to see crowded into one work on the subject. Others in the cast include Rod Steiger, Anjanette Comer, Dana Andrews, James Coburn, Margaret Leighton, and Roddy McDowall. (JR)… Read more »

False Idol [NIXON]

From the Chicago Reader (December 22, 1995). — J.R.

Nixon

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Written by Stephen J. Rivele,

Christopher Wilkinson, and Stone

With Anthony Hopkins, Joan Allen, James Woods, J.T. Walsh, Paul Sorvino, Powers Boothe, David Hyde Pierce, E.G. Marshall, Madeleine Kahn, David Paymer, and Mary Steenburgen.

Did we really win the cold war? I know that capitalism prevailed on the economic front, but I’m less sure about the cultural front. I suspect a capitalist version of Stalinist culture has triumphed rather than any sort of democracy: Stalinist culture meaning calcified, state-supported art built around solemn, hulking father figures — something like Oliver Stone’s latest two-ton Christmas turkey, Nixon. If we recognize that Disney has effectively become the federal government, the rest of the scenario falls into place. Just as Stalin’s flunkies had to praise the official “masterpieces” of Stalinist art no matter how inert or uninventive they were, Nixon‘s producers (who’ve spent millions promoting the movie) have guaranteed that media savants are already describing Stone’s Nixon as a figure of Shakespearean proportions rather than the poorly cast, two-dimensional numskull decked out with a few grade-Z horror-movie traits that he is.

Toddlers have been treated a lot more like adults by the movies this year than grown-ups have.… Read more »

Sabrina

Alot better than one might have expected, this remake of Billy Wilder’s weakest romantic comedy of the 50s manages to minimize the jaded, dirty-old-man aspect of the sub-Lubitsch original (a flaw it shares with Wilder’s Love in the Afternoon) with better casting. Humphrey Bogart certainly had his gifts, but Harrison Ford makes a much better romantic lead as a tycoon opposite a gamine chauffeur’s daughter; and if Julia Ormond initially seems to be playing Audrey Hepburn rather than Sabrina–an impression furthered by various references to Funny Face–she eventually takes over the part for herself. Sydney Pollack directs with the sort of old-fashioned polish that was easy to take for granted two decades ago but almost looks like classicism today. With TV-talk-show host Greg Kinnear as the tycoon’s brother (originally played by William Holden), Nancy Marchand, and John Wood, in a script by Barbara Benedek and David Rayfiel, who adapted the original screenplay that Wilder, Samuel Taylor, and Ernest Lehman based on Taylor’s play. This is basically double-dealing Hollywood nonsense with all the usual dishonesty, but it goes down easily. Ford City, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, North Riverside, Water Tower, Norridge, Old Orchard, Webster Place. … Read more »

Lamerica

This masterful and extremely moving feature by Gianni Amelio (Open Doors, Stolen Children) is a powerful piece of storytelling that recalls some of the best Italian neorealist films. It depicts the adventures of an Italian con artist (Enrico Lo Verso) trying to set up a fake corporation in postcommunist Albania in order to get his hands on state subsidies. With his business partner, he digs up a traumatized 70-year-old former political prisoner to serve as the phony president of his phony company, but the poor creature–whose memory, like Albania’s links with the outside world, seems to have frozen a half century earlier–keeps wandering away. (Finding the old man at one point shoeless in a hospital, the hero is able to reclaim him only when the wife of another patient, silently realizing her husband will never leave his bed again, offers her husband’s shoes–a beautiful bit of silent exposition that perfectly illustrates Amelio’s uncanny gifts of suggestion and implication.) The story only grows in dimension and resonance as it proceeds, becoming an epic, multifaceted portrayal of a postcommunist Europe awakened from its slumbers by TV and consumerism–as illuminating a portrait of what’s now happening in the world as we can find in movies.… Read more »

Sudden Death

It’s the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, a meanie holds the vice president of the United States hostage while 17,000 fans sit in an arena that’s been wired to explode, and it’s fire marshal Jean-Claude Van Damme to the rescue. Badly conceived, written (by Gene Quintano), acted, and directed (by Peter Hyams), with some terrible process shots (though excellent purple marks on Van Damme’s face to suggest bruises), this mechanical suspense thriller only springs to life during its gruesomely violent fight scenes, some of which are staged with props as if they were musical numbers. With Powers Boothe, Raymond J. Barry, and Whittni Wright. (JR)… Read more »

Dracula: Dead And Loving It

Either this is the lamest Mel Brooks comedy ever or it’s too close to other contenders to make much difference. A major liability is straight-hunk-turned-aging-lampoon-hero Leslie Nielsen as the count, if only because double Bruce Barbour seems to get almost as much screen time as Nielsen himself, which leads to a lot of choppy continuity. The set decoration has a certain charm, and so does Brooks’s uninhibited silliness, but, you should excuse the expression, most of the gags are strictly from hunger. Written by Brooks, Rudy De Luca, and Steve Haberman; with Peter MacNicol, Steven Weber, Amy Yasbeck, Lysette Anthony, Harvey Korman, and Brooks. (JR)… Read more »

Cry, The Beloved Country

It’s been too many years since I’ve seen Zoltan Korda’s celebrated 1951 film with Sidney Poitier and Canada Lee for me to offer a detailed comparison of that adaptation of the Alan Paton novel with this new version. Set in South Africa in the 1940s, the film deals with the crisis of a black pastor (James Earl Jones) whose estranged son has killed the son of a wealthy white landowner (Richard Harris). Directed by Darrell Roodt from a screenplay by Ron Harwood, this has a strong sense of dignity about its characters, and Jones and Harris are both effective. Whether it deserves to replace the Korda version is another matter. With Dambisa Kente, Eric Miyeni, and Vusi Kunene. (JR)… Read more »

Four Rooms

The theory behind this 1995 release was that if Quentin Tarantino, Allison Anders, Alexandre Rockwell, and Robert Rodriguezfour American independents who became stars at Sundancegot together to create separate sketches, each taking place in a separate room of the same LA hotel and linked only by a bellboy dispensing room service (Tim Roth), something wonderful would happen. Instead, each writer-director wound up making an allegorical sketch about the unlimited power of being a writer-director. The results are mainly awful, and even Roth got saddled with a mannered part that he can’t comfortably play. (An earlier cut of this movie suggested it may once have had something to do with Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy.) Rodriguez’s sketch, about a couple of mischievous kids left alone for an evening by Antonio Banderas, is passable, and Anders’s at least has some star power (Valeria Golino, Madonna, Lili Taylor, and Ione Skye as a coven of witches). But the Rockwell and Tarantino contributions are strident embarrassments, each reeking with grandiloquent self-hatred parading as comedy. The first is basically about tying up and humiliating Rockwell’s wife, Jennifer Beals; the second, adapting an old Alfred Hitchcock TV script, is about Tarantino playing a nouveau riche asshole director eager to show off his bankroll.… Read more »

Waiting To Exhale

Given such an entertaining castWhitney Houston, Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine, Lela Rochon, and Gregory Hines for startersone might have thought this adaptation by Terry McMillan (working with Ronald Bass) of her best-selling novel about four black women friends living in the southwest to be foolproof. Alas, the direction of Forest Whitaker, despite his considerable gifts as an actor, combined with the poorly structured script, makes the film sluggish and poorly paced. Bring along your lunch. With Dennis Haysbert, Mykelti Williamson, Leon, Michael Beach, Wendell Pierce, and Donald Adeosun Faison. (JR)… Read more »

Cutthroat Island

I had my hopes, but Anne of the Indies this ain’tnot only because Geena Davis as a woman pirate is no Jean Peters but even more because Renny Harlin, for all his modest gifts, is no Jacques Tourneur and Matthew Modine, for heaven’s sake, is no action hero. Set in the 17th century and naturally involving buried treasure and picturesque landscapes, this zillion-dollar mess is basically a celebration of human slaughter with echoes of Waterworld, and it long overstays its welcome. With Frank Langella (in the Dennis Hopper part), Maury Chaykin, Patrick Malahide, Stan Shaw, and Rex Linn. The script, based on a story by loads of people (and reeking of committee think), is by Robert King and Marc Norman. (JR)… Read more »

Heat

There’s nothing really new in this three-hour thriller about cops (Al Pacino and others) and robbers (Robert De Niro and others) in Los Angeles, but writer-director Michael Mann’s latest has craft, pacing, and an overall sense of proportion, three pretty rare virtues nowadays. The story takes as long as it does because the big heist is actually shown rather than elided (a la Reservoir Dogs) and because the action keeps passing back and forth between Pacino and De Niro, concentrating on their personal failings as well as their professional smarts. (Both actors do creditable jobs, by the way.) With Tom Sizemore, Diane Venora, Amy Brenneman, Ashley Judd, Mykelti Williamson, Wes Studi, Ted Levine, Val Kilmer, and Jon Voight (in what might be called the Christopher Walken part). There’s an effectively minimalist, percussive music score by Elliot Goldenthal. Lincoln Village, Golf Glen, Norridge, Old Orchard.… Read more »

Sense And Sensibility

Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) does a creditable job with Emma Thompson’s adroit adaptation of Jane Austen’s first and probably weakest novel, thereby giving some credence to the idea that the best movies tend to grow out of second-rate literary properties. Perhaps because of a deep-seated bias against the plush adaptations of 19th-century English literature that have been flooding the market, I can’t say I remembered this 1995 feature too clearly a couple of days later; but I certainly had a good time as I watched it. The able cast includes Thompson, Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, James Fleet, and Emilie Francois. PG, 135 min. (JR)… Read more »

Visionary Agitprop

From the Chicago Reader (December 8, 1995).  — J.R.

I Am Cuba

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Mikhail Kalatozov

Written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Enrique Pineda Barnet

With Luz Maria Collazo, Jose Gallardo, Sergio Corrieri, Maria Gonzalez Broche, Raul Garcia, and Jean Bouise.

Undeniably monstrous and breathtakingly beautiful, ridiculous and awe inspiring, I Am Cuba confounds so many usual yardsticks of judgment that any kind of star rating becomes inadequate. A delirious, lyrical, epic piece of communist propaganda from 1964 — at least three years in the making and 141 minutes long–it is simply too campy and too grotesque to qualify as a “masterpiece,” but I’d probably care less about it if it were one. A “must-see” may come closer to the mark, but it certainly isn’t a must-see for everybody. This movie has been rattling around in my head since I first encountered it 16 months ago, yet I can’t say it won’t enrage some people and bore others. Worth seeing? Has redeeming facet? Worthless? It fits all and none of these categories. To put it simply, the world doesn’t make allowances for a freak of this kind.

A Russian-Cuban production, it reportedly was hated in Russia and Cuba alike in the mid-60s, at least among government officials; in Cuba it was commonly known as I Am Not Cuba.… Read more »

Casualties of the Mass Market [THE VOICE OF THE MOON & CASINO]

From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 1995). — J.R.

The Voice of the Moon

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Federico Fellini

Written by Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ermanno Cavazzoni

With Roberto Benigni, Paolo Villaggio, Nadia Ottaviani, Marisa Tomasi, and Angelo Orlando.

Casino

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Written by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese

With Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, and L.Q. Jones.

If I had the choice of seeing either Martin Scorsese’s latest (Casino) or Federico Fellini’s last (The Voice of the Moon) a second time, I’d opt for the Fellini. Both films are relatively minor works by relatively major filmmakers, though Scorsese has described The Voice of the Moon as one of Fellini’s “better pictures.” But Fellini’s swan song has a sweetness and sadness because it represents a kind of local — that is to say national — filmmaking that seems to be quickly vanishing from the mainstream. It isn’t hard to understand why no U.S. distributor has picked up this 1990 movie: it’s too Italian, and it isn’t at all easy to follow as storytelling, because it digresses all over the place. Yet these qualities, which are part of the film’s charm and poetry, might have worked in its favor outside Italy 30 years ago, when audiences tended to be more curious about other cultures and other forms of storytelling.… Read more »

The Blue Villa

If you’ve read one or more of Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novels but haven’t seen any of his films, you might as well see this one (1994)codirected by Dimitri de Clercq, one of his students, whose father financed itthough it’s pretty much like his others. An enigmatic, occasionally tongue-in-cheek mystery story set on a Greek island, it’s generally more pleasurable for its abstract formal patterns than for its narrativean aesthetic tease without many payoffs. Considering that Robbe-Grillet has been directing his own pictures since 1963, it’s disappointing that he hasn’t varied his routines much, either formally or erotically. Fred Ward and Arielle Dombasle star. (JR)… Read more »