Monthly Archives: July 1995

Wild Reeds

Though I liked his criticism for Cahiers du Cinema in the 60s, on the basis of five of his early films I haven’t been a big fan of Andre Techine. But this wonderful and masterful feature (1994), his 12th, suggests that maybe he’d just been tooling up. It’s one of the best movies from an excellent French television series of fiction features on teenagers of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s, and it’s the first to be released in the U.S. If Techine’s French Provincial (1974) evoked in some ways the Bertolucci of The Conformist, this account of kids living in southwest France in 1962, toward the end of the Algerian war, has some of the feeling, lyricism, and sweetness of Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution–though it’s clearly the work of someone much older and wiser. The main characters, all completing their baccalaureate exam at a boarding school, include a boy struggling with his homosexual desire for a close friend, an older student who’s a right-wing opponent of Algerian nationalism, and a communist girl, the daughter of one of the teachers, who befriends the homosexual and falls for the older student in spite of their violent political differences. One remembers these characters and others as vividly as old friends, and Techine’s handling of pastoral settings is as exquisite as his feeling for period.… Read more »

The Net

Director Irwin Winkler, who’d previously given us a political movie without politics (Guilty by Suspicion) and a remake of a classic noir without atmosphere or flavor (Night and the City), here gives us a thriller without thrills, though Sandra Bullock in the lead and the putative themethe paranoid possibility of deleting people’s public profiles from computer networksmay keep you intermittently interested. Bullock plays a lonely freelance hacker who accidentally stumbles upon a conspiracy that wipes out her identity during a vacation in Mexico. What’s really terrible here is the script credited to John Brancato and Michael Ferris and apparently written by a computer with identity problems of its own. Winkler doesn’t know how to transcend or circumvent it, and the mechanical music by the omnipresent Mark Isham doesn’t help much. With Jeremy Northam, Dennis Miller, and Diane Baker. (JR)… Read more »

Operation Dumbo Drop

A much better-than-average comedy-adventure and animal picture from Disney, set in South Vietnam in 1968 and inspired by a true story, about the mission of five Green Berets to transport an 8,000-pound elephant through 200 miles of jungle. This logistical nightmareinvolving travel by plane, parachute, truck, and boat as well as by footwas carried out for Montagnard villagers after the elephant they’d planned to use in a ceremony was accidentally killed. Leading the mission are two captains (Danny Glover and Ray Liotta) at temperamental loggerheads, and leading the elephant is a war orphan (Dinh Thien Le) suspicious of both of them; part of what makes this picture distinctive is a humanist treatment of the Vietnamese characters, North as well as South. Simon Wincer (Free Willy) does a fine job of keeping things both mobile and scenic, and the script by Gene Quintano and Jim Kouf has an old-fashioned sense of character and story development that kept me entertained; even when this picture is corny, it’s corny in a likable way. With Denis Leary, Doug E. Doug, and Corin Nemec. (JR)… Read more »

Bulletproof Heart

You’ve probably never heard of this crime picture and love story (1994), but it’s almost certainly the best American genre movie released so far this year–the sort of beautifully crafted personal effort that would qualify as a sleeper if our film industry still allowed sleepers to function as they did in the 50s. Given the kinky (and highly erotic) sex scenes and the quirky comedy, the expert handling of actors and the playful experimenting with both narrative form and genre expectations, one is tempted to compare writer-director Mark Malone to Quentin Tarantino. But in fact he stands Tarantino squarely on his head; this movie, originally titled Killer (and scripted for contractual reasons under a pseudonym), about the unexpected overnight awakening and humanizing of a cold-blooded hit man (Anthony LaPaglia) by his willing victim (Mimi Rogers) puts back the tenderness and conscience that Tarantino removed from his pulp sources, and does it with soul as well as style. Apart from the wonderful leads, Matt Craven and Peter Boyle are both inspired–and often very funny–in secondary parts. The story may wind up haunting you for days. Like the ad writers, I’m tempted to call this movie a noir, but since it isn’t misogynist that would be misleading.… Read more »

Grosse Fatigue

A very funny if mean-spirited French farce (1994) about the French film industry, with writer-director-star Michel Blanc (Menage, Monsieur Hire) playing himself. Boasting a certain metaphysical dimension as well as a satirical edge about the cult of show-biz celebrity and the decline of French cinema, this movie raises the possibility that vulgar look-alikes may be taking jobs away from the stars they’re imitating. Several international film personalities (ranging from Carole Bouquet and Philippe Noiret to Josiane Balasko, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Roman Polanski) have been induced to play themselves (or is it their doubles?), and if you can overlook the offensiveness of a few jokes about rape, you’re likely to enjoy the boisterous energy and cascading anger. Incidentally, this won a prize at Cannes for best screenplay. (JR)… Read more »

Bulletproof Heart

Almost certainly the best American genre movie of its year (1995)the sort of beautifully crafted personal effort that would qualify as a sleeper if our film industry still allowed such things. Given the kinky (and highly erotic) sex scenes and the quirky comedy, the expert handling of actors and the playful experimenting with both narrative form and genre expectations, one is tempted to compare writer-director Mark Malone to Quentin Tarantino. But in fact he stands Tarantino squarely on his head; this movie, originally titled Killer (and scripted for contractual reasons under a pseudonym), about the unexpected overnight awakening and humanizing of a cold-blooded hit man (Anthony LaPaglia) by his willing victim (Mimi Rogers), puts back the tenderness and conscience that Tarantino removed from his pulp sources, and does it with soul as well as style. Apart from the wonderful leads, Matt Craven and Peter Boyle are both inspiredand often very funnyin secondary parts. The story may wind up haunting you for days. I’m tempted to call this movie a noir, but since it isn’t misogynistic that would be misleading. Just see it before it disappears. (JR)… Read more »

Manhattan by Numbers

The surprising thing about the first English-language feature (1993) of Iranian filmmaker Amir Naderi (The Runner, Water, Wind, Sand) is that it has nothing at all to do with Iran or Iranians. Rather, it tells the story of a laid-off American newspaperman (John Wojda), separated from his wife and child and at the end of his economic resources, traveling across New York City in an effort to find enough money by the end of the day to keep himself from becoming homeless. It’s a realistic, keenly felt, and richly detailed movie about American urban life in the mid-90s, but what’s most striking about it is its power as poetry, as it delineates a landscape and the precise contours of a state of mind. This is a potent example of what Hollywood, which can’t seem to make movies about the world we’re living in, is studiously avoiding. The beautiful, original jazz score is by Gato Barbieri, the Brazilian musician best known for his score for Last Tango in Paris. Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, July 15 and 16. … Read more »

Nine Months

Proof positiveif any is neededthat the films of writer-director-coproducer Chris Columbus (who once upon a time wrote the script for Gremlins) are not only insults to the intelligence but crimes against humanity. Much as the fleet, free-form style of Robin Williams was methodically destroyed in Mrs. Doubtfire, the subtle underplaying of Hugh Grant is replaced here by grotesque mugging and telegraphing designed to ensure that even brain-dead members of the audience aren’t remotely challenged. Grant unconvincingly plays an unmarried expectant father and child psychologist, and Julianne Moore is the expectant mother in a glib, reactionary yuppie comedy set in San Francisco, remade from a French comedy by Patrick Braoude that may or may not be just as nauseating. The costars are Tom Arnold (still playing the poor man’s Alan Alda), Joan Cusack, Jeff Goldblum, and Robin Williams (who clearly thinks he’s the cat’s pajamas as an inept Russian doctor). If you’re determined to make Columbus richer than he already is, why not save yourself further dehumanization and simply send him a check. (JR)… Read more »

The Indian In The Cupboard

A highly Americanized and extremely bland adaptation of Lynne Reid Banks’s English novel for children, about a nine-year-old boy (Hal Scardino) who discovers he can bring plastic toy figures to life inside a small cupboard. I haven’t read the novel, but I gather that one of the key differences in this version from writer Melissa Mathison and director Frank Oz is a sort of fractured multiculturalism whereby the hero gets to keep a real-life miniature Indian as a pet and a nonwhite kid (an Indian from India, played by Rishi Bhat) gets to keep a real-life white cowboy (David Keith) to even things up. The premise has its enjoyable aspects, but the casting and direction of actors here (not to mention the extremely narrow sense of character) seem so misconceived that the title Indian, though played by a member of the Cherokee nation named Litefoot, seems unconvincing throughout; the other little people aren’t much better, and Lindsay Crouse as the hero’s mother seems totally wasted. Hunt down Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll, James Whale’s The Bride of Frankenstein, or even Ernest Schoedsack’s Dr. Cyclops or Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man for a much more enjoyable exploration of the same theme with more imaginative special effects.… Read more »

When It Rains

The U.S. premiere of a beautifully inflected 12-minute jazz fable by Charles Burnett. It’s distinctly different from his recent The Glass Shield and closer to the feeling of Killer of Sheep, his first feature, though the poetic narration represents a real departure. This is one of those rare movies in which jazz forms directly influence film narrative: set in Los Angeles, the slender plot involves a good Samaritan trying to raise money from ghetto neighbors for a young mother who’s about to be evicted, and each person he goes to see registers like a separate solo chorus in a 12-bar blues. On the same program, two half-hour narrative films by local independents that I haven’t seen: Zeinabu Irene Davis’s Mother of the River, a children’s film that reworks an African folk tale, setting it in the American south during the 1850s, and Katherine Nero’s Wedding Bell Blues, which follows the machinations of a young woman who wants to get married. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, 8:30, 443-3737.… Read more »

The Crude Oasis

Made for only $25,000 in and around El Dorado, Kansas, this odd and interesting though not entirely successful first feature by writer-director-producer-editor Alex Graves belongs to the loose subgenre alienated loner moving through desolate landscapes in brooding long shotsa kind of art movie that filmmakers as disparate as Michelangelo Antonioni and Jon Jost have built their careers on. The writing tends to be stronger than the direction in this depiction of a lonely, weak-willed, exploited, and childless housewife (Jennifer Taylor), who encounters in real life a young man (Aaron Shields) she’d previously seen only in a recurring bad dream and idly follows him around. Though there’s a fitfully interesting dialectic between phantasmagoria and boringly mundane life in a small town, one feels that Graves is only intermittently in control of the resulting ambiguities. But the cast acquits itself admirably, and the oil-field landscapes leave their impression as well; with Robert Peterson, Mussef Sibay, Lynn Bieler, and Roberta Eaton. (JR)… Read more »

Kanto Vagabonds

A characteristically campy and stylish yakuza thriller in striking color (1963) by Japanese B-film mannerist Seijun Suzuki. It’s about a gambling-hall bouncer (Akira Kobayashi) who goes against the conventional code of gangster behavior by falling for a professional gambler. Based on a novel by Taiko Hirabayashi; with Chieko Matsubara. (JR)… Read more »

The Usual Suspects

Bryan Singer mechanically directs an intricate neo-noir script by Christopher McQuarrie, about five small-time New York thieves who find themselves caught up in a revenge scheme in Los Angeles with a $91 million payoff. If Reservoir Dogs is a lively rethinking of Kubrick’s The Killing, this is a less than lively retooling of Reservoir Dogs without the characters or punch, albeit with loads of macho posturing clearly intended to take their place. I didn’t believe this story for a minute, even in movie termsthough it’s less offensive than a piece of junk like Apt Pupil, Singer’s subsequent feature. With Stephen Baldwin, Gabriel Byrne, Chazz Palminteri, Kevin Pollak, Pete Postlethwaite, Kevin Spacey, Suzy Amis, Benicio Del Toro, Giancarlo Esposito, and Dan Hedaya (1995). R, 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Wild Reeds

Though I liked his criticism for Cahiers du Cinema in the 60s, I haven’t been a big fan of the five early Andre Techine films I’ve seen. But this wonderful and masterful feature (1994), his 12th, suggests that maybe he was just tooling up. It’s one of the best movies from an excellent French television series of fiction features on teenagers of the 60s, 70s, and early 80s. If Techine’s French Provincial (1974) evoked in some ways the Bertolucci of The Conformist, this account of kids living in southwest France in 1962, toward the end of the Algerian war, has some of the feeling, lyricism, and sweetness of Bertolucci’s Before the Revolutionthough it’s clearly the work of someone much older and wiser. The main characters, all completing their baccalaureate exam at a boarding school, include a boy struggling with his homosexual desire for a close friend, an older student who’s a right-wing opponent of Algerian nationalism, and a communist daughter of one of the teachers, who befriends the homosexual and falls for the older student in spite of their political differences. One comes to regard these characters and others as old friends, and Techine’s handling of pastoral settings is as exquisite as his feeling for period.… Read more »

The Cow

This 1993 Czech feature by Karel Kachyna (The Ear, The Last Butterfly), set in a remote mountain village around the turn of the century, doesn’t entirely work for me, but it’s still a film of some beauty and sensibility. A young farmer whose mother is a prostitute sells their cow to pay for morphine shortly before she dies, and the maid, who’s also the mistress of a butcher in the valley, gradually insinuates herself into the hero’s household. What one tends to carry away from this picture is a sense of hard labor in a beautiful setting; the characters are a bit crudely drawn, but the sense of the milieu lingers. With Radek Holub and Alena Mihulova. (JR)… Read more »