Yearly Archives: 1996

One Fine Day

Michael Hoffman (Restoration, Soapdish) directs Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney in a beautifully contrived romantic comedy with a Manhattan setting that’s exploited to the utmost. A veritable anthology of the perils of single parenting–demanding jobs, cellular phones, busy schedules, transportation hassles–this works a lot better than most Hollywood fluff because the leads are so good (and so well-defined, in Terrel Seltzer and Ellen Simon’s deft script), and because Hoffman is a pro at keeping everything in motion. With Mae Whitman, Alex D. Linz, Ellen Greene, and Charles Durning. Biograph, Esquire, Ford City, Gardens, Golf Mill, Lake, Lincoln Village.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Thieves

Writer-director Andre Techine appears to be on a roll; after the revelations of My Favorite Season (1993) and Wild Reeds, here’s a picture that’s in some ways even more exciting and serious. Jumping between characters in order to see the same events from different vantage points, as in a Faulkner novel, the story involves a family of thieves based in the French Alps. The plot centers on an abortive car heist, but the thriller elements are secondary to the explorations of character. The younger brother (Daniel Auteuil), in rebellion against both his older brother (Didier Bezace) and his father, has become a cop in Lyons; there he gets sexually involved with the troubled sister (Laurence Cote) of a thief (Benoit Magimel) in league with his brother. To complicate matters further, the sister is a former mistress of the older brother and is currently also involved with a philosophy teacher (Catherine Deneuve). Auteuil and Deneuve costarred as brother and sister in My Favorite Season, and it’s remarkable how different they are here. Cote, best known in this country for her work with Rivette (The Gang of Four, Up Down Fragile) and Godard (Nouvelle vague), is equally sensational. An exquisite, haunting movie for grown-ups about love and family ties.… Read more »

The People Vs. Larry Flynt

It’s somehow characteristic of director Milos Forman that his 1979 version of the prohippie musical Hair bordered on being a conservative attack on the counterculture, whereas, in these conservative times, his tragicomic all-American saga about the life and times of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt (1996) borders on being a piece of hippie irreverence. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s script may in spots be as much of a skim job as their one for Ed Wood, but it’s almost as sweet and as likable, and if the movie can’t ever practice what it and its hillbilly hero preachthe only beaver shot in the movie involves a corpseits heart is certainly in the right place. Woody Harrelson plays Flynt with energy, and Courtney Love does at least as well as his wife; others in the capable cast include Edward Norton, James Cromwell, Crispin Glover, and James Carville. 127 min. (JR)… Read more »

Evita

I walked out halfway through Alan Parker’s bombastic 1996 version of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1978 musical about Argentina’s national heroine Eva Peroncoscripted by Oliver Stone, who also teamed up with Parker on the lurid fantasies of Midnight Express. I figured if I stayed longer I’d only become angrier, which wouldn’t do anybody any good. In what I saw, Madonna in the title role tries bravely not to buckle under the weight of Stone and Parker’s sense of Stalinist monumentality and fails honorably, while the Lloyd Webber music goes on being nonmusical. Antonio Banderas plays a character serving as chorus and emcee, Jonathan Pryce is the heroine’s totalitarian husband, and Jimmy Nail is on hand as the tango-singer lover who enabled her to move to Buenos Aires. Parker’s Argentina between the 30s and 50s bears a close resemblance to his Midnight Express Turkey and his Mississippi Burning Mississippi. I’ve rarely felt so liberated as I did when I escaped from this torture engine, and I’m eagerly waiting for all the critics who called Nixon Shakespearean to explain why this equally inflated companion piece is Brechtian. (JR)… Read more »

Michael

John Travolta plays an angel who smokes, guzzles beer, romances women, and (no doubt because it’s Travolta) dances. Two washed-up reporters from a Chicago-based tabloid (William Hurt and Robert Pastorelli) are sent off to Iowa by their boss (Bob Hoskins) to write a story about him with the help of a dog trainer posing as an angel expert (Andie MacDowell). Before this turns to total mush, it’s a quirky, fitfully effective fantasy (1996) periodically enlivened by the cast. Producer-director-cowriter Nora Ephron is still learning how to make moviesafter proving in Sleepless in Seattle that she could hit pay dirt without knowingbut by now she’s at least able to slide her players over the weak parts of her scripts. Her cowriters this time around are her sister Delia, Pete Dexter, and Jim Quinlan. (JR)… Read more »

Ghosts Of Mississippi

A bracing corrective to the provigilante stances and crude caricatures of Mississippi Burning and A Time to Kill, this conscientious and moving 1996 docudrama about the struggle three decades later to convict the assassin of NAACP activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, may err at times by overidealizing its principal heroes (Alec Baldwin and Whoopi Goldberg). But as directed by Rob Reiner from a script by Lewis Colick, it offers the most decent and convincing portrait of the contemporary south I’ve seen in ages (apart from Sling Blade). A first-rate secondary cast ranging from James Woods as the assassin to Bill Cobbs as Evers’s disc jockey brotherand also including Craig T. Nelson and William H. Macy as well as some Jackson localscontributes to the ring of truth, and the story held me throughout. (JR)… Read more »

The Crucible

Arthur Miller adapts his own early 50s play about witchcraft trials in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1692, and he, director Nicholas Hytner, and a superb cast headed by Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, and Bruce Davison do a fine job of making it work (1996). Praised as well as attacked (in its own time as well as ours) as an allegory about the cold-war witch hunts, the work can’t be reduced to that dimension alone; it has plenty to say about sexual repression and puritanical hysteriatwo constants in American history over the past three centuriesand how these intersect with personal as well as public politics. Though Hytner remains essentially a stage director, he makes fine use of Massachusetts locations and period interiors; some of the visual details recall Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, a film that likely had an influence on Miller’s play. Then as now, Miller’s liberal vision is limited by certain historical and psychological simplifications, but never to the point of losing the disturbing ambiguities that give this work much of its primal power; The Crucible continues to be performed almost constantly across the globe, and this intelligent mounting shows why. PG-13, 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

Some Mother’s Son

Helen Mirren and Fionnula Flanagan play two of the 21 mothers of IRA prisoners who went on a hunger strike against Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1981. Effective and well acted, this 1996 British feature was directed by Terry George (Hotel Rwanda), who collaborated on the script with Jim Sheridan (In America). Most of the characters are fictional, but the film is nevertheless stirring as agitprop. With Aidan Gillen, David O’Hara, John Lynch, Tom Hollander, and Tim Woodward. R, 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Jerry Maguire

A good argument for the abolition of the star system. Writer-director Cameron Crowe (Say Anything . . . ) might have given even Ron Shelton a run for his money with this irreverent look at the world of sports agents, but the film is all but crushed by Tom Cruise’s screen-hogging demand that everything collapse and swoon around him. Mission: Impossible periodically stopped dead in its tracks to show us how adept Cruise was at performing magic tricks; here he’s so bent on displaying his kinetic energy and the depth of his feelings that Crowe’s accomplishments are shoved into the marginsincluding better-than-average performances from Cuba Gooding Jr. and Bonnie Hunt, and some lively narration and dialogue (often cut off in midstream). There’s also a lot of mugging from a little boy (Jonathan Lipnicki) that seems to have been tolerated only because he’s doing it with Cruise. If the star gave us more of a rest, we might have more of a movie. With Renee Zellweger, Kelly Preston, Jerry O’Connell, Jay Mohr, and Regina King. (JR)… Read more »

Mixed Emotions (BREAKING THE WAVES)

From the Chicago Reader (December 6, 1996). – J.R.

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Breaking the Waves

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by

Lars von Trier

With Emily Watson, Stellan

Skarsgard, Katrin Cartlidge,

Jean-Marc Barr, Adrian Rawlins,

Jonathan Hackett, and Udo Kier.

Ever since I first encountered Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves in Cannes, where it won the grand jury prize, I’ve been debating within myself about it, because I find it simultaneously shameless, boldly original, contrived, highly affecting, transparent, cynical, hopeful, ironic, sincere, ugly, beautiful, and downright baffling. In a way, my debate isn’t so different from that of Bess (Emily Watson) — the innocent and high strung (or unstrung) young heroine who lives on the northwest coast of Scotland in the early 70s and for much of the film carries on a furious internal debate with “God,” speaking her own part in a squeaky high voice and God’s in a patriarchal low one.

Where Bess, a devout believer, has God, I, a nonbeliever, have the late Carl Dreyer, the film artist von Trier and I both revere above all others. And where Bess speaks to herself not as God but as her sense of God (which overlaps on rare occasion with her sense of Jan), I speak to myself not as Dreyer but as my sense of Dreyer’s achievement (which overlaps on rare occasion with my sense of von Trier’s achievement).… Read more »

Shine

Directed by Scott Hicks from a script by Jan Sardi, this hyperbolic but undeniably effective Australian feature recounts the unorthodox career of classical pianist David Helfgott–a gifted musician driven to succeed so fanatically by his ambitious Polish-Jewish emigre father (Armin Mueller-Stahl) that he wound up insane. (It’s a story that sometimes recalls Fear Strikes Out, the 1956 biopic about baseball star Jim Piersall.) Even if the film’s closing act seems too hasty to be fully believable (a common failing in biopics about living people), the high-powered drive of both the storytelling and the music is riveting. Helfgott is played at separate ages by Geoffrey Rush, Noah Taylor, and Alex Rafalowicz; others in the cast include Lynn Redgrave, John Gielgud, and Googie Withers. Among the highlighted composers are Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff, whose works are performed offscreen by Helfgott himself. 600 N. Michigan.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Daylight

Sylvester Stalloneplaying Hercules as usual, but this time acting heroically out of a guilt complextries to save the survivors of a Holland Tunnel explosion that traps a dozen drivers under the Hudson River between Manhattan and New Jersey (1996). Written by Leslie Bohem and directed by Rob Cohen, this is one of those Grand Hotel-style disaster thrillers, with a lot of little stories shoehorned into the hysterical action, none of them very interesting. But at least the nonstop ordeals of Stallone and the other trapped individuals, decked out with impressive effects, kept me fairly attentive. With Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Dan Hedaya, Karen Young, Claire Bloom, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Barry Newman, and Stan Shaw. (JR)… Read more »

The Secret Agent

Christopher Hampton’s grim and dank 1996 adaptation of the 1907 Joseph Conrad novel, set in London during the late 19th century, is closer in many ways to the original than Alfred Hitchcock’s updated 1936 version, Sabotagebut that doesn’t make it better. Bob Hoskins plays the central figure, a middle-aged anarchist with a younger wife (Patricia Arquette) who plots to bomb Greenwich Observatory, accidentally killing his feebleminded young brother-in-law in the process. Fairly strong on period atmospherics, but it mainly adds up to yet another pointless adaptation of a literary standby (arguably not one of Conrad’s best)one of the countless examples of dubious middlebrow fodder that keeps foreign-language pictures off our screens. With George Spelvin, Jim Broadbent, Christian Bale, and distracting turns by Gerard Depardieu and an uncredited Robin Williams. (JR)… Read more »

The Portrait Of A Lady

The progression from Sweetie to An Angel at My Table to The Piano to this unsatisfying mess (1996) shows that the more money director Jane Campion has to spend, the more of her formidable talent she wastes. This time she all but drowns in a sea of production values and Monarch Notes. Almost everyone in the cast is good (except John Malkovich, who gives a tiresomely generic performance), and Martin Donovan as the heroine’s doomed cousin is especially affecting. But they’re all treading water, and neither the script (by An Angel at My Table’s Laura Jones) nor the direction supplies them with any reason for being. It’s highly doubtful whether Henry James’s 1881 novel is filmable to begin with, as the book depends on a style of observation and nuance that proceeds with the methodical patience of a bricklayer. Campion has none of this patience and little discernible design or vision to replace it with, and she seriously mauls the novel. A coy New Age prologue, an early dream sequence, and a surrealist black-and-white interlude are at best provocative teasers for an alternative to James that never takes shape, and the dull use of a wide-screen format only increases the sluggishness.… Read more »

Losing Chase

Kevin Bacon’s directorial debut, with a script by Anne Meredith and a Martha’s Vineyard setting, describes the recovery of a middle-aged housewife (Helen Mirren) from a nervous breakdown. Her husband (Beau Bridges) hires a young woman (Kyra Sedgwick) to take care of her and their two children while he’s away on business; a friendship between the two women develops, and the older woman begins to fall in love with her friend (who has a schizophrenic sister she periodically visits). For all the sincerity and able acting on view here, I never fully believed either the story or the behavior of the characters (the two women and two children especially)a problem that seems attributable mainly to the script, though the direction suffers as a consequence. (JR)… Read more »