Monthly Archives: March 1995

Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made

An amiable, partially contrived documentary by Mika Kaurismaki (1994) in which Jim Jarmusch joins Sam Fuller as Fuller returns to a Brazilian rain forest where 40 years earlier he scouted locations and shot 16-millimeter footage for a Hollywood adventure story that was never made. What keeps this fun and watchable are Fuller and Jarmusch holding forth for the camera and each other, but the settings and the Karaja Indians they visit hold plenty of fascination as well. Winner of the international critics’ award at the Berlin film festival. Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, April 1 and 2.… Read more »

Tommy Boy

Jerky in both senses of the term, this slapdash comedy follows the efforts of the half-wit son (Chris Farley) of a midwestern auto parts manufacturer (Brian Dennehy) to follow in his father’s footsteps after the old man kicks off on his wedding day. (Bo Derek is the woman he’s just married, and she’s up to no good.) Directed by Peter Segal (Naked Gun 331/3: The Final Insult) from a desperately unfunny script by Bonnie and Terry Turner, this has a cheesy, unreal plot that vaguely suggests an overhauled Roger & Me with a happy ending. David Spade costars and Lorne Michaels, who should hang his head in shame, produced. (JR)… Read more »

Dolores Claiborne

Although most of the elements are familiar and virtually all of the characters are unpleasant, this is a better than average melodrama–mainly because of the volcanic power of Kathy Bates in the title role, but also because of some attractive cinematography by Gabriel Beristain and disciplined script work by Tony Gilroy in adapting a Stephen King novel. (William Goldman, credited as a consultant, likely lent a hand to the writing as well.) Centered on a remote island off the coast of Maine and teeming with regional accents, the plot involves a bitter, hard-nosed maid (Bates) who’s suspected of murdering her wealthy longtime employer. Her long-alienated daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a neurotic and ambitious New York journalist, turns up to reluctantly help her out. The story is full of achronological flashbacks, delayed revelations, bitter recriminations, and long-term grudges, but Bates gives it all more flavor and substance than the conventions require, and the other cast members–including Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Eric Bogosian, and Judy Parfitt–do their best with relatively limited parts. Taylor Hackford directed, with a fair amount of panache. Ford City, Biograph, Bricktown Square, Gardens, Lincoln Village, Esquire.… Read more »

Character Flaws [MAJOR PAYNE]

From the Chicago Reader (March 24, 1995). I must confess that I’m immensely grateful that I no longer remember anything more than a stray detail or two about the dozen movies cited in the first paragraph, including the film under review. — J.R.

Major Payne *

Directed by Nick Castle

Written by Dean Lorey, Damon Wayans, and Gary Rosen

With Wayans, Karyn Parsons, Steven Martini, Andrew Harrison Leeds, Joda Blaire-Hershman, Stephen Coleman, and Orlando Brown.

It’s hard to remember when the mainstream releases have been as dismal as the offerings of the past few weeks. Admittedly, I haven’t seen everything, so it’s possible I missed the odd trick or two. But the rewards of The Quick and the Dead, Federal Hill, The Walking Dead, Losing Isaiah, Outbreak, Shallow Grave, Tall Tale, Circle of Friends, Bye Bye, Love, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Muriel’s Wedding, and Major Payne have been so paltry that I’ve been reluctant to search out further punishment. If there’s an element that unites this disparate dozen, it’s an absence of characters — an absence stemming from a lack of consistent vision of what characters are supposed to be.… Read more »

Buccaneer Soul

This 1994 feature about a friendship between two intellectual writers in the 50s and 60s doesn’t qualify as writer-director Carlos Reichenbach’s best work, but it’s an excellent introduction to one of the most interesting and creative Brazilian filmmakers around. His artistic interests and surreal imagination evoke Raul Ruiz as well as the French New Wave. Three Penny, Saturday and Monday, March 25 and 27, 8:45.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Still.… Read more »

Major Payne

This fumbling and formulaic semiremake of The Private War of Major Benson (1955) is basically just an excuse to let comic Damon Wayansfunctioning here as cowriter and executive producer as well as starstrut his stuff. But he’s strutting in a void, and not even two gold teeth will light his way. The initial premise, good for a couple of laughs at most, is that he’s a professional marine consumed with blood lust who can’t adjust to his honorable discharge and a new job training boys in a Virginia prep school’s junior ROTC; after that, it’s whatever strikes Wayans’s and the filmmakers’ fancies from one moment to the next. That includes some threadbare noncomic material about bonding with the recruits. Directed by Nick Castle and cowritten by Dean Lorey and Gary Rosen; with Karyn Parsons, Michael Ironside, and Albert Hall, and a strained cameo by William Hickey. (JR)… Read more »

Dolores Claiborne

Although most of the elements are familiar and virtually all of the characters are unpleasant, this is a better than average melodramamainly because of the volcanic power of Kathy Bates in the title role, but also because of some attractive cinematography by Gabriel Beristain and disciplined script work by Tony Gilroy in adapting a Stephen King novel. (William Goldman, credited as a consultant, likely lent a hand to the writing as well.) Centered on a remote island off the coast of Maine teeming with regional accents, the plot involves a bitter, hard-nosed maid (Bates) who’s suspected of murdering her wealthy longtime employer. Her long-alienated daughter (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a neurotic and ambitious New York journalist, reluctantly turns up to help her out. The story is full of achronological flashbacks, delayed revelations, bitter recriminations, and long-term grudges, but Bates gives them all more flavor and substance than the conventions require, and the other cast membersincluding Christopher Plummer, David Strathairn, John C. Reilly, Eric Bogosian, and Judy Parfittdo their best with relatively limited parts. Taylor Hackford directed, with a fair amount of panache. (JR)… Read more »

Picture of Light

I’ve always assumed it would be impossible to photograph such a glorious and mysterious sight as the northern lights, but Canadian experimental filmmaker Peter Mettler has done it. His fascinating, beautiful, and evocative documentary feature (1994) about his trip to the Canadian arctic is a mixture of science and poetry that indirectly recalls Michael Snow’s La region centrale, though it’s much easier to watch. Mettler and the Chicago-based composer of his score, Jim O’Rourke, will be present for a discussion, and O’Rourke will give a concert afterward. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, March 19, 7:00, 443-3737.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Still.… Read more »

Happiness and Letter From Siberia

A dynamite program. Happiness is the most famous and probably best film by the late, neglected Russian pioneer Alexander Medvedkin, “the last bolshevik” in Chris Marker’s recent video of that title (see separate listing). This late silent film (1934) with a music track was only recently made available in this country on video (which is unfortunately the only way Chicago Filmmakers can show it, though it’s a good transfer). It’s a hilarious and daring surrealist masterpiece that combines some of the pie-eyed “magical realism” of a Gogol with what might be described as a mordant communist folk wisdom. On the same bill, one of Marker’s earliest essay films, Letter From Siberia (1957), which provides an excellent introduction to his thoughtful, ironic style. Each picture is about an hour long; both are rarely screened and well worth seeing. Kino-Eye Cinema at Chicago Filmmakers, 1543 W. Division, Saturday, March 18, 8:00, 384-5533.… Read more »

Circle Of Friends

Three female friends grow up in a small town in Ireland in the mid-50s and attend college in Dublin in this nostalgic soap opera that’s vaguely evocative of Peyton Place, though generally less memorable. Adapted by Andrew Davies from Maeve Binchy’s novel and directed by Pat O’Connor; with Chris O’Donnell, Minnie Driver, Geraldine O’Rawe, Saffron Burrows, Alan Cummings, and Colin Firth. (JR)… Read more »

Tall Tale

A charmless, mirthless, and juiceless fantasy in ‘Scope from Disney, enlivened only by its natural locations. A spiteful 12-year-old farm boy in the American west of 1905 heaps scorn on his father’s tall tales about Pecos Bill until he finds himself transported to a universe where Pecos Bill and other folk heroesPaul Bunyan (inexplicably got up to resemble a Mongolian rabbi), John Henry, and Calamity Janeactually exist and help him fight off the greedy developers who want to sell his father’s farm. Directed by Jeremiah Chechik from a script by Steven Blom and Robert Rodat; with Nick Stahl, Patrick Swayze (as Pecos Bill), and Oliver Platt. (JR)… Read more »

Bye Bye, Love

In overall ambience, this is Sleepless in Seattle meets Parenthoodmore specifically, the tragicomic trials and tribulations of three recently divorced fathers (Matthew Modine, Randy Quaid, and Paul Reiser) in southern California suburbia. Everything tends to get underlined and overplayed, and the first stretch of the movie might be the lengthiest plug for McDonald’s in the history of cinema, but otherwise things are fairly tolerable and watchable, at least if one can accept the ultraconventional framework. Directed by Sam Weisman from a script by Gary David Goldberg and Brad Hall; with Janeane Garofalo, Amy Brenneman, Eliza Dushku, Ed Flanders, and Maria Pitillo; Rob Reiner is around as a fatuous radio talk show host specializing in divorced husbands. (JR)… Read more »

Frameup

Subtitled 12 Movements to the Only Conclusion, this is the last feature made by virtuoso low-budget independent Jon Jost (All the Vermeers in New York, Sure Fire) before he split for Europe in 1993, and once you see it you’ll know why he left. A highly stylized, extremely sarcastic, and sexually explicit road movie about an ex-con and a former waitress on a motel-strewn path to crime and oblivion through Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and northern California, it’s a technical tour de force devoted to the shallowness of the couple and the beauty of the landscape. It’s boldly conceived and brilliantly executed, with an interesting semijazz score by Jost regular John A. English, though the whiny delivery of the heroine will probably grate on your nerves (as it was no doubt meant to do) and the highly distanced treatment of both characters, which periodically turns them into zombies, has none of the usual Hollywood consolations. If you think Natural Born Killers was innovative and avant-garde, try this nasty piece of work. With Howard Swain and Nancy Carlin. A U.S. premiere. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, March 10, 7:00 and 9:00; Saturday and Sunday, March 11 and 12, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00; and Monday through Thursday, March 13 through 16, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114.… Read more »

Exotica

This may be the best of writer-director Atom Egoyan’s slick, Canadian carriage-trade productions (the other two are Speaking Parts and The Adjuster), though it’s also a regression, both formally and thematically, compared to his previous film, Calendar. The central location–a triumph of lush, imaginative set design–is a sort of strip club where young female dancers sit at male customers’ tables and verbally cater to their psychic needs; at the center of this faux-tropical establishment is an odd little house where the club’s pregnant owner hangs out with the jaundiced announcer (Egoyan regulars Arsinee Khanjian and Elias Koteas), voyeuristically overseeing the voyeuristic clientele. The main customer is still mourning the death of his young daughter, and other significant characters include a dancer who sits at his table, a baby-sitter, and an eccentric smuggler whose path briefly crosses that of the bereaved father. As a narrative this is something of a tease, building toward a denouement straight out of Freud; its structure both benefits and suffers from Egoyan’s customary splintered focus and repetition compulsion, and there’s an unmistakable sadness in its pornographic luster. But as mise en scene it’s rich and accomplished–for better and for worse, a place to get lost in. Fine Arts.… Read more »

Outbreak

Though reasonably efficient on its own very simpleminded and cornball terms, this action thriller about the spread of a lethal virus from a monkey in Zaire to a small town in the American northwest is downright offensive when it comes to capriciously and irresponsibly converting certain aspects of the probable origins of AIDSas well as notions about the spread of any virusinto an occasion for light entertainment, bending the facts however it pleases. According to this movie, only one individual (doofus Dustin Hoffman) is capable of saving humanity from the plague, and only one meanie in the army (hulking Donald Sutherland) is responsible for endangering our survival; thanks a lot, guys, for clarifying all the issues so precisely. With Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Patrick Dempsey, and Kevin Spacey; directed by Wolfgang Petersen from a script by Laurence Dworet and Robert Roy Pool. (JR)… Read more »