From the Chicago Reader (September 29, 1995). — J.R.
Directed by Abbas Kiarostami
Through the Olive Trees
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Abbas Kiarostami
With Hossein Rezai, Tahereh Ladanian, Mohamad Ali Keshavarz, Farhad Kheradmand, and Zarifeh Shiva.
At the Toronto film festival earlier this month Canadian filmmaker Clement Vigo recalled the memorable response of Winston Churchill to pressure to cut state arts funding during World War II: “If we cut funding for the arts and culture, then what are we fighting for?” It’s a question I’ve been pondering ever since.
A month earlier, while I was in the middle of looking at close to 100 films as part of the New York film festival’s selection committee, I had the rare privilege of being able to fly for a weekend to still another festival, in Locarno, Switzerland, to serve on a panel devoted to Godard’s Histoire(s) de cinéma. Locarno had two ambitious sidebars this year — one devoted to Godard’s video series, the other to Iranian women filmmakers and the first virtually complete retrospective of work by Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami ever held anywhere, including an exhibition of his color photographs of landscapes and two very beautiful paintings.… Read more »
Carl Franklin (One False Move) directs his own adaptation of a Walter Mosley mystery novel set in Los Angeles in 1948, and what’s most memorable about it is the period flavor, including a detailed and precise account of the jim crow complications blacks had to contend with. Denzel Washington is hired to track down a white woman (Jennifer Beals) who hangs out with blacks and finds himself pulled into a complicated intrigue; with Tom Sizemore and Don Cheadle. Ford City, Biograph, Bricktown Square, Broadway, Golf Glen, Esquire, Old Orchard.… Read more »
From the September 15, 1995 issue of Chicago Reader. —J.R.
Films by Marguerite Duras
It’s surely indicative of the scarcity of Marguerite Duras movies that even a dedicated fan like me has managed to see only seven of them — and for one of those I had to drive 100 miles, from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. No Duras film has been distributed in the United States for years, and in preparing this article I wasn’t even able to obtain a complete filmography; my own provisional list includes 20 titles, stretching from La musica in 1966 to Les enfants in 1982.
If one extends this list by adding adaptations (by herself and others) of Duras literary works, the scripts she wrote for other directors, and two films by Benoit Jacquot revolving around Duras, the figure is 31 films, most of them features. So it’s no small achievement that Facets Multimedia (which, thanks to the efforts of Charles Coleman, has recently featured such adventurous fare as Manoel de Oliveira’s Valley of Abraham and an exhaustive Nanni Moretti retrospective) will be showing a dozen films from this list over the next couple of weeks, most of them in brand-new prints and most of them four to six times.… Read more »
Though not directed by an auteurist-approved figure (Mark Robson has never attracted any cult to my knowledge), this is arguably the greatest of producer Val Lewton’s justly celebrated low-budget chillers (rivaled only by his 1942 Cat People)–a beautifully wrought story about the discovery of devil worshipers in Greenwich Village that fully lives up to the morbid John Donne quote that frames the action. Intricately plotted over its 71 minutes by screenwriters Charles O’Neal and De Witt Bodeen, this 1943 tale of a young woman searching for her troubled sister exudes a distilled poetry of doom that extends to all the characters as well as to the noirish bohemian atmosphere. (As a fascinating intertextual detail, the horny psychiatrist clawed to death by an offscreen feline in Cat People–played by Tom Conway, George Sanders’s brother–is resurrected here.) Not to be missed; with Kim Hunter, Evelyn Brent, and Hugh Beaumont. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, September 15, 6:00, 443-3737.… Read more »
A very funny 1994 comedy by New York writer-director Tom DiCillo, the cinematographer who shot Stranger Than Paradise, about the nightmares of shooting an American independent feature. The story comes in three acts, and even though the first is funnier than the second and the second funnier than the third, the whole thing is still pretty entertaining. The comedy here recalls at times Truffaut’s Day for Night, though the characters are much thinner. With Steve Buscemi, James LeGros, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, and Danielle von Zernick. Fine Arts.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 8, 1995). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Richard Williams
Written by Williams and Margaret French
With the voices of Vincent Price, Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Beals, Eric Bogosian, Toni Collette, and Jonathan Winters
To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar
No stars (Worthless)
Directed by Beeban Kidron
Written by Douglas Carter Beane
With Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, John Leguizamo, Stockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Arliss Howard, Jason London, and Chris Penn.
It might be argued that a talent for abstract thought defines the radically different achievements of Arabian Knight and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar. In Arabian Knight–a wildly imaginative and somewhat delirious animated feature that’s reportedly been in the works for over a quarter century — it’s a talent for graphic abstraction, a talent that is its own reward; this movie takes the highly dangerous step of pursuing formal beauty above all else, story and characters be damned. By contrast, in To Wong Foo — a terribly written, terribly directed, terribly designed, and for the most part terribly acted (if nobly intentioned) comedy –i t’s a talent for pure concept: three drag queens driving from New York to Hollywood enlighten bigoted middle Americans on the subjects of style and beauty.… Read more »
Albert Finney and director Peter Yates, who worked together on The Dresser, team again in this adaptation by Shane Connaughton (My Left Foot) of his own novel, an intelligently nuanced coming-of-age story about an 18-year-old Irish lad (newcomer Matt Keeslar) adjusting to the death of his mother, learning to communicate with his demanding father (Finney), falling in with a disreputable local worker (Anthony Brophy), and impregnating a young woman (Victoria Smurfit) on the other side of the northern Irish border. What keeps this watchable are the performancesFinney and Brophy are especially goodbut the story is a routine one we’ve all seen before. (JR)… Read more »
Some reviewers euphemistically described this as America’s answer to The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desertwhich only makes sense if you consider that better-than-average Australian movie a question. This horrifically ugly and witless middle-American comedy (1995), seemingly designed for small-town homophobes who want to feel tolerant, is basically just an excuse to show Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo in dressesnever mind giving them a plausible reason for wearing themand send them on a cross-country journey to teach stupid straights in Nebraska how to be outrageous and improve their love lives. Douglas Carter Beane is credited with the script and Beeban Kidron with the direction, though whether this is either written or directed is a matter of debate; sadly, the able secondary castStockard Channing, Blythe Danner, Arliss Howard, Jason London, and Chris Pennis disabled, like the leads, by the extenuating circumstances. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »
After the striking originality of her documentary Heaven, Diane Keaton’s first fiction feature as a director is disappointingly conventionala comedy written by Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King) about a Jewish boy in New York during the 60s who goes to live with his two highly eccentric and paranoid leftist uncles. Thanks to the performers (including Andie MacDowell and John Turturro), this has a certain amount of charm and warmth, but the period ambience feels both remote and uncertain and the story as a whole is familiara cross between Woody Allen and Neil Simon. With Michael Richards, Maury Chaykin, Nathan Watt, and Kendra Krull. (JR)… Read more »
Carl Franklin (One False Move) directs his own adaptation of a Walter Mosley mystery novel set in Los Angeles in 1948. What’s most memorable about it is the period flavor, including a detailed and precise account of the jim crow complications blacks had to contend with. Denzel Washington is hired to track down a white woman (Jennifer Beals) who hangs out with blacks and finds himself pulled into a complicated intrigue; with Tom Sizemore and Don Cheadle (1995, 102 min.). (JR)… Read more »
Though it’s no disgrace, Spike Lee’s 1995 reworking of Richard Price’s adaptation of his own novel (a project originally developed for Martin Scorsese) comes across as neither fish nor fowlunsatisfying as a Price script, but not entirely a Lee movie either. The story involves a Brooklyn crack dealer (Mekhi Phifer) caught between his boss (Delroy Lindo) and a police detective investigating a local murder (Harvey Keitel). The film is ambitious in exploring an ambiguous and complex situation that also involves the dealer’s respectable brother (Isaiah Washington), who unpersuasively confesses to the crime, and Keitel’s sidekick (John Turturro), but the sheer unpleasantness of the story isn’t always justified by its insights. The performances are strong, but the spectator often feels adrift in an overly busy intrigue. With Keith David. R, 128 min. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1995). — J.R.
This 1995 live-action film about a piglet that behaves like a sheepdog is impressive, though I do think it’s creepy to be so entertained by a movie in which I can’t tell from one moment to the next whether I’m watching a real animal or a fake. Writer-producer George Miller is the Australian wonder responsible for both the antihumanist brilliance of the Mad Max movies and the humanist brilliance of Lorenzo’s Oil, and that same paradox animates this movie. Directed and coscripted by Chris Noonan from a novel by Dick King-Smith, the film succeeds because its talking animals are more than just ersatz humans. In addition the lip sync is more skillful than in Forrest Gump, the characters (both animal and human) are solidly conceived, and the storytelling and visuals are expertly fashioned. With James Cromwell and Magda Szubanski. G, 92 min. (JR)
… Read more »
American sexual ideology circa Christmas 1948, which was when RKO released this comedy and raked in lots of loot. It stars Betsy Drake (her screen debut) as a department-store clerk who goes after Cary Grant, a pediatrician; the two actually got married soon after the movie was released, making it all look like a publicity stunt. Don Hartman directed and collaborated on the script; with Franchot Tone and Alan Mowbray. (JR)… Read more »
A major film (1989, 86 min.) by the greatest of all Iranian filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami, this is an idiosyncratic though mainly straightforward 16-millimeter documentary about the homework done by boys in primary school, with the interviews carried out by Kiarostami himself. For all the simplicity of its approach, this film has a great deal to impart about Iran during its war with Iraq, and some of the unorthodox formal procedures carried out by Kiarostami are as provocative as in his subsequent documentary masterpiece, Close-up; moreover, the director seems every bit as adept as Truffaut at handling children with respect. In Farsi with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »
The social status of filmmaking among ordinary people, central to Abbas Kiarostami’s wonderful Close-up and Life and Nothing More, is equally operative in this entertaining and sometimes beautiful film. Through the Olive Trees (1994) concludes a trilogy begun with Where Is the Friend’s House?, which focused on the adventures of a poor schoolboy in a mountainous region of northern Iran. Life and Nothing More, the second and best film of the three, fictionally re-created Kiarostami and his son’s return to the area, which had recently been devastated by an earthquake, to look for two child actors from the earlier film. Through the Olive Trees is a comedy about the making of a film, mostly emphasizing the persistent efforts of a young actor to woo an actress who won’t even speak to him. Like Kiarostami’s more recent Taste of Cherry, all three films strategically elide certain information about the characters, inviting audiences to fill in the blanks and in this case yielding a mysteriously beautiful and open-ended conclusion. If you’re unfamiliar with Kiarostamione of our greatest living filmmakers and certainly the greatest in Iranthis is an excellent introduction. (JR)… Read more »