This sweet, tender, exciting 1994 feature by writer-director Maria Maggenti is about the puppy love that blossoms between two high school seniors: a rebellious tomboy pothead gas-station attendant who lives with her aunt in an all-lesbian household and a popular wealthy black intellectual. Maggenti doesn’t always have her technique together–there are some awkward voice-overs, and a couple of secondary performances are overblown–but her feeling for the lead characters and for adolescence in general is so energizing that these become minor lapses. This movie triumphs even when it makes a sudden transition toward the end from romantic comedy to farce. With Laurel Holloman and Nicole Parker. Pipers Alley… Read more »
Monthly Archives: June 1995
Though it wasn’t terribly well received when it first appeared, Luchino Visconti’s last film (1979) strikes me as arguably the greatest of his late works apart from The Leopard — a withering autocritique of masculine vanity and self-delusion, adapted from a novel by Gabriele D’Annunzio, focusing on a well-to-do intellectual (Giancarlo Giannini) at the turn of the century struggling to justify his sexual double standards and his libertarian philosophy regarding his wife (Laura Antonelli) and his mistress (Jennifer O’Neill). Opulently mounted, dramatically understated, and keenly felt, this is a haunting testament, as well as one of Visconti’s most erotic pictures. Incidentally, the elderly hand seen on-screen during the opening credits is Visconti’s own. In Italian with subtitles. 125 min. (JR)
Another fascist action bash from Sylvester Stallone, this one based on an English comic book series and borrowing heaps from the set design of Blade Runner and, in at least one scene, the makeup of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In a future lawless America where James Earl Jones or somebody who sounds just like him still reads aloud roller titles, an appropriately semihuman Stallone administers his form of justice. It’s a camp performance decked out with a permanent sneer, twisted grimaces, and constipated line deliveries. Stallone wears a cartoon football outfit, worries about the fate of his brudder, and occasionally does battle with a growling robot thug. They paid Max von Sydow to appear in this as a father figure; also on hand are Armand Assante, Diane Lane, Jurgen Prochnow, Joanna Miles, Joan Chen, and, for teenage belly laughs, Rob Schneider. Directed without inspiration by Danny Cannon from a stupid script by Michael De Luca, William Wisher, and Steven de Souza (best remembered for his witty contributions to The Flintstones). (JR)… Read more »
Parker Posey (Dazed and Confused, Sleep With Me) stars as a 23-year-old diva of lower Manhattan clubs who tries to clean up her life and act, in a low-key comedy directed and cowritten by Daisy von Scherler Mayer, who features her own mother as her heroine’s godmother. This exudes trendiness at regular intervals, and otherwise manages to be reasonably charming about Manhattan’s melting pot culture, but my general response was still Wake me when it’s over. Cowritten by Harry Birckmayer; with Omar Townsend, Sasha von Scherler, and Guillermo Diaz. (JR)… Read more »
This 1993 follow-up to Russian film critic Oleg Kovalov’s feature-length compilation of eccentric found footage, Garden of Scorpions (1991), is as dreamy and experimental as its predecessor. It’s an intriguing reverie on prerevolutionary Russia, loosely organized around a tribute to the memory of silent superstar Vera Kholodnaya, who died in 1919 at the age of 35. Definitely worth checking out. A Chicago premiere. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, June 23, 7:00; Saturday and Sunday, June 24 and 25, 3:00. 6:00, and 9:00; and Monday through Thursday, June 26 through 29, 7:00; 281-4114)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 16, 1995). — J.R.
The Glass Shield
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Charles Burnett
With Michael Boatman, Lori Petty, Ice Cube, Elliott Gould, Richard Anderson, Don Harvey, Michael Ironside, Michael Gregory, Bernie Casey, and M. Emmet Walsh.
Rating * Has redeeming facet
Directed by Wayne Wang
Written by Paul Auster
With William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Stockard Channing, Harold Perrineau, Giancarlo Esposito, Ashley Judd, and Forest Whitaker.
My dozen favorite films at Cannes this year? Terence Davies’s ecstatic wide-screen The Neon Bible, set in a perfectly imagined Georgia of the early 40s, with Gena Rowlands; Emir Kusturica’s Yugoslav black-comedy epic Underground; Hou Hsiao-hsien’s beautiful if difficult Good Men, Good Women; Jim Jarmusch’s transgressive western Dead Man; Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon, an Iranian urban comedy about children that unfolds in real time; Zhang Yimou’s Shanghai Triad, a cross between Sternberg’s The Devil Is a Woman — with Gong Li taking the place of Marlene Dietrich — and Billy Bathgate; and Manoel de Oliveira’s The Convent (Ruizian metaphysics and theology with John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve). Then there were such pleasures on the market as Gianni Amelio’s Lamerica, a mordant treatment of the collapse of communism in Albania; lively low-budget musicals by Jacques Rivette and Joseph P.… Read more »
Clint Eastwood movingly resurrects the star system, the Hollywood love story, classical Hollywood direction, middle-aged romance, the late jazz singer Johnny Hartman, and the mid-60s, but despite a great deal of craft and sincerity he and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese don’t quite turn all the cardboard in Robert James Waller’s popular novel into flesh and bone. The one big exception is Meryl Streep’s beautiful and fresh performance as an Italian-American Iowa housewife and mother resigned to a life that hasn’t lived up to her fantasies. Eastwood himself plays a dreamboat photographer for National Geographic who drops into her life for four days–a fantasy figure who only occasionally adds up to anything more than his sketchy profile. As long as these two are on the screen, one can forget the treacle that placed them there; their first moment of physical contact is exquisite and unforgettable, and the film as a whole makes a plausible conservative argument for adultery as a preserver of marriage. A flashback structure involving the housewife’s two kids and suggesting Wuthering Heights only fitfully transcends the Reader’s Digest aura this movie is so eager to honor and justify. But it’s tempting to overlook the shortcomings of a self-styled relic that’s so earnest about what it’s doing, and has the unfashionable courage to be slow, especially with so much wonderful jazz on the sound track.… Read more »
After some belated glimmers of ecological and postcolonial conscience in The Lion King, the Disney animation people go even further in revising some of their social priorities relative to the racism of Walt, and in their first cartoon feature based on real people do a conscientious and at times imaginative job of trying to illustrate aspects of the John Smith and Pocahontas story without reverting to all of the usual Hollywood lies. Contradictions confound certain aspects of this projectsuch as the language spoken by Pocahontas (which, in the Hollywood tradition, oscillates between tribal talk and the unaccented chatter of a contemporary Valley girl)but overall this seems like a reasonable stab at an impossible agenda. Unsurprisingly, the film is usually more at home with animals (including a pampered English bulldog lifted from Tex Avery’s Spike) than with people, but it isn’t afraid to give both Pocahontas and John Smith some sex appeal. Personally, I prefer Hawks’s The Big Sky on this interracial, intercultural subject, but there’s something to be said for this movie’s monumental and anthropomorphic handling of landscapesa constant in Disney cartoon rhetoric since Bambiwhich reveals that the Leni Riefenstahl influence still persists in some ways. Directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg from a script by Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, and Philip LaZebnik; some of the voices are supplied by Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, and Linda Hunt.… Read more »
The movie, not the McDonald’s franchisethough is it possible or even desirable to tell the two apart? This mannered and mechanical spin-off, suitable for boys of five and under, gives us two male couples instead of a single hero and villainBatman and Robin (Val Kilmer and Chris O’Donnell) on the one hand, the Riddler and Two-Face (Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones) on the otherwith Nicole Kidman as a shrink periodically turning up to validate the rampant repressed homoeroticism. At least Tim Burton’s Batman had the advantage of an original Jack Nicholson performance; this time we get only familiar Carrey shtick and Jones’s reprise of Ty Cobb to take care of the villainy. Director Joel Schumacher submits to the Wagnerian bombast with an overly busy surface, and the script by Lee and Janet Scott Batchler and Akiva Goldsman basically runs through the formula as if it’s a checklist; with Michael Gough and Pat Hingle. (JR)… Read more »
A fascinating and at times exciting one-hour video by Robert Frank, made in 1990 for French television and consisting of only one shot. It begins with the camera inside a van moving through lower Manhattan–mainly Tribeca and environs–with actor Kevin J. O’Connor and others. The camera emerges at various points to take in the street life, often passing in a matter of seconds from public to private in what it observes and capturing the experience of New York pedestrians like few other films or videos; eventually it proceeds down into the subway. Among those who turn up in this mild adventure are Peter Orlovsky and Taylor Mead. On the same program, a half-hour Frank short, Home Improvements (1985), and a 1986 semidocumentary about Frank by Philip and Amy Brookman, Fire in the East: A Portrait of Robert Frank. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, June 13, 6:00, 443-3737. … Read more »
The best Algerian film I’ve seen, Merzak Allouache’s feature contains one of the clearest and most persuasive depictions of the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Shot in 1993 and completed in 1994, it offers an exciting, comprehensive cross section of contemporary urban Algerian life, with particular emphasis on the youth culture. The plot focuses on what happens after a young baker trashes a loudspeaker that’s blaring propaganda from the roof of his apartment house. With Nadia Kaci, Mohamed Ourdache, Hassan Abou, and Nadia Samir. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday and Saturday, June 9 and 10, 8:00, 443-3737. … Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 2, 1995). This piece is quite separate from the essay I contributed to Criterion’s DVD of this film 15 years later, which will be reposted shortly. — J.R,
Rating **** Masterpiece
Directed by Terry Zwigoff
Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb in many ways looks like conventional filmmaking, yet it conveys a remarkable fluidity and density of thought. It may resemble a biographical documentary — unobtrusively shot by Maryse Alberti, gracefully edited by Victor Livingston — but it unfurls like a passionate personal essay. The subject is Robert Crumb, America’s greatest underground comic book artist — little known to most people born much before or after 1943, the year of his birth, because he’s shunned the mainstream as a money-grubbing swamp. Zwigoff, an old friend, shot the movie over six years and edited it over three, and the sheer mass of this two-hour film seems partly a function of the amount of time he’s had to mull it over.
A member of Crumb’s former band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and a fellow collector of rare 20s and 30s blues and jazz records, Zwigoff has previously made documentaries only on musical subjects — blues artist Howard Armstrong in Louie Bluie, a history of Hawaiian music in A Family Named Moe.… Read more »
Though I haven’t yet seen the Miramaxed version of this feature by the country’s most gifted black filmmaker, Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, To Sleep With Anger), it’s reportedly more upbeat and somewhat less angry than the original and contains some additional rap music on the sound track. But this heartfelt and persuasive look at the racism and corruption of the Los Angeles police force, based on a true story, is surely well worth seeing regardless of what Burnett was forced to do to it to get it released. I saw the original version a year ago in Cannes and then again in Toronto, and its power and feeling have stayed with me. The story is about the adjustments and accommodations made by a sincere black rookie cop (Michael Boatman) who joins an all-white precinct and wants to be accepted by his fellow officers; his only real ally turns out to be the one woman in the precinct (Lori Petty), a Jew who gets plenty of flak herself. When a murder case arises involving a black suspect (Ice Cube), the hero’s decision to work for justice within the system gets severely tested. (It must be a bitter irony for Burnett–who’s never been much of a self-promoter–that his own effort to work within the system has led to problems comparable to his hero’s.) The plot may get a little top-heavy in spots, but Burnett’s writing, direction, and visual design remain as purposeful as ever, and what emerges is the first film of any seriousness to give us a plausible and comprehensive context for the Rodney King incident.… Read more »
The idea of this 1994 film sounds cutesy and middlebrow: the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (a dubbed Philippe Noiret), taking sanctuary on an island off the coast of Naples after being forced into political exile in 1952, serves as mentor to the young local postman (the late Massimo Troisi), giving him pointers in wooing the local woman he’s determined to marry. Fortunately director and cowriter Michael Radford, who made the memorable 1984 version of Orwell’s 1984 (as well as the less memorable White Mischief), somehow brings the premise off with both charm and restraint. Sometimes the restraint may be less than felicitousNeruda was a darker poet than he appears to be in these sunny climesbut Noiret seems perfectly cast, and the film’s warmth and sympathy are underlined by some intelligence. Based on Antonio Skarmeta’s novel Burning Patience and also known as Il Postino; Troisi had a hand in the adaptation as well. In Italian and Spanish with subtitles. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »
Even when Quebecois filmmaker Denys Arcand is handling someone else’s material, as he is hereBrad Fraser’s adaption of his play Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Lovehe has an annoying habit of glibly overgeneralizing about the Way We Live Now, invariably erring on the side of pretension. This is his first film in English (1993)shot in Montreal but clearly set in an English-speaking Canadian city that isn’t Torontoand, like his earlier Jesus of Montreal, it has a fair number of likable details and interesting characters. The film basically concerns sexual uncertainties among gay characters who experiment with straight sex and among straight characters who experiment with gay sex, and the focus is on the relationship between a gay actor turned waiter and a straight book reviewer who used to be lovers and now share an apartment. Many interesting notations about them and the characters they become entangled with are ultimately skewed by some guff about a serial killer that’s somehow supposed to sum up everybody’s problemswhich strikes me as desperate dramaturgical rhetoric. With Thomas Gibson, Ruth Marshall, Cameron Bancroft, Mia Kirshner, Rick Roberts, Joanne Vannicola, and Matthew Ferguson. (JR)… Read more »