Monthly Archives: June 1995

The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love

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 »

Redrawing History [POCAHONTAS]

From the Chicago Reader (June 30, 1995). — J.R.

 

Pocahontas

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg

Written by Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, and Pillip LaZebnick

With the voices of Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Linda Hunt, Russel Means, Christian Bale, Billy Connolly, and Joe Baker.


American history without Smith and Pocahontas is hard to imagine. If the void were there, something else — yet something similar — would have to fill it. — Bradford Smith, Captain John Smith: His Life & Legend

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I assume we’re still some years away from the abolition of state-supported schools and the gleeful handing over of our entire system of education to the Disney people. But some of the studio’s clever promotions for Pocahontas might make you conclude that some such changes have already taken place.

Consider the “special collector’s issue” of the kids’ magazine Disney Adventures devoted to “Pocahontas: The Movie, The Stars, The Real-Life Story,” complete with ads for some of the spin-off products. It afforded me almost as much food for thought as the two hours I spent in a library reading through historical accounts of what “really” happened in the wilds of Virginia in the early 17th century.… Read more »

Red Desert

Michelangelo Antonioni’s first feature in color (1964) remains a high-water mark for using colors creatively, expressionistically, and beautifully; to get the precise hues he wanted, Antonioni had entire fields painted. Restored prints make it clear why audiences were so excited a quarter of a century ago by his innovations, which include not only expressive use of color for moods and subtle thematic coding, but striking uses of editing as well. This film comes at the tail end of his most fertile period, immediately after his remarkable trilogy consisting of L’avventura, La notte, and Eclipse; Red Desert may not be quite as good as the first and last of these, but the ecological concerns of this film look a lot more prescient today than they did at the time. Monica Vitti plays an extreme neurotic married to industrialist Richard Harris, and Antonioni does eerie, memorable work with the industrial shapes and colors that surround her, which are shown alternately as threatening and beautiful; she walks through a science fiction lunar landscape spotted with structures that are both disorienting and full of possibilities. Like any self-respecting Antonioni heroine, she’s looking for love and meaning–more specifically, for ways of adjusting to new forms of life–and mainly finding sex.… Read more »

The Innocent

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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)

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Judge Dredd

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 »

Party Girl

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 »

Island of the Dead

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 »

The World According to Harvey and Bob

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.

Smoke

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 »

The Bridges of Madison County

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 »

Halfaouine–Boy of the Terraces

This lovely first feature from Tunisia (1990) is the work of Ferid Boughedir, the best-known film critic in the Arab world, whose documentaries Camera d’Afrique and Camera d’Arabe are models of their kind. Exquisitely sensual without being prurient, sensitive without being arch or affected, this portrait of a 12-year-old boy’s life, family, and community is packed with humor and perception, and the film’s feeling for the labyrinthine architecture of the neighborhood is a source of wonder. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday and Saturday, June 16 and 17, 8:00, and Tuesday, June 20, 6:00, 443-3737.… Read more »

Pocahontas

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 »

Batman Forever

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 »

Sixty Minutes

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 »

Bab El-Oued City

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 »

The Significance of Sniggering (CRUMB)

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,

Crumb

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 »