Daily Archives: January 1, 1996

Angela

A sometimes intriguing, extremely ambitious, and ultimately unsatisfying art movie by writer-director Rebecca Miller, Arthur Miller’s daughter, about the imaginative life of two little girls living in upstate New York, with their manic-depressive mother and ex-musician father. Ellen Kuras’s hyperrealist color cinematography is striking and at times beautiful, the performances are good, and the magical-realist atmosphere, where the imaginations and physical realities of the two little girls are accorded the same status, has its provocative aspects, but the story and the drama never come together. With Anna Thomson, John Ventimiglia, Miranda Stuart Rhyne, Charlotte Blythe, and Vincent Gallo. (JR)… Read more »

The Baron Of Arizona

Writer-director Samuel Fullers’s second feature (1950), shot in only 15 days, is an oddball western, based somewhat on fact, about James Addison Reavis, a 19th-century forger who staked a claim to the entire Arizona territory, and his young ward, who becomes his wife. Not one of Fuller’s best films, though the subject is fascinatingly offbeat, the cinematography is by James Wong Howe, and no personal Fuller project is devoid of interest; perhaps the undernourished budget and a relative absence of action are the problem. With Vincent Price, Ellen Drew, Beulah Bondi, and Robert Barrat. (JR)… Read more »

White Squall

Ridley Scott directs a script by Todd Robinson based on a true story about an ocean academy for male high school students in the Caribbean in 1960, run by a tough skipper (Jeff Bridges) who calls to mind a crusty army sergeant with a hidden heart of gold. The training ship sailed into a freak storm called a white squall and sank, with half a dozen casualties. The story has its corny aspects, but thanks to Scott’s skill as an image maker and as a storytellerproceeding from the very blue and very abstract water seen behind the credits to the climactic, extended stormthis is superior to both Dead Poets Society (as a tale about a boys’ school and its charismatic teacher) and Apollo 13 (as a true-life action adventure). With Caroline Goodall, John Savage, Scott Wolf, Jeremy Sisto, and Balthazar Getty. (JR)… Read more »

Nico Icon

A watchable if at times irritating 1995 German documentary by Susanne Ofteringer about the German-born model-actress-singer Nico, best known for her association with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. What’s irritating is the procession of talking heads who clearly know little about Nico but like sounding off about her anyway, presumably for their own glory (it seems that many of those who knew her best, such as filmmaker Philippe Garrel, declined to be interviewed); the result is that no clear sense of who she was ever emerges. As in the portrait of Chet Baker in Let’s Get Lost, the romantic fetishizing of a heroin addict’s doom often serves to fill in the blanks, and, as with Jean Seberg, the impulse to read Nico like a Rorschach test often proves to be all-determining, ensuring that the real person remains in hiding. But the period footage and the gossipy details are interesting; we learn, for instance, that she introduced her son by Alain Delon to heroin. Other people interviewed include Tina Aumont, John Cale, Jonas Mekas, Paul Morrissey, Billy Name, Lutz Ulbrich, and Viva. (JR)… Read more »

Joan The Maid

Paradoxically yet appropriately, Jacques Rivette’s only superproduction to date, his two-part, no-nonsense 1993 opus about Joan of Arc (Sandrine Bonnaire), is his first realistic film since L’amour fou (1968)and perhaps the only movie that offers a plausible portrait of what the 15th-century teenager who led the French into battle was actually like. Apart from the stylized effect of having various participants in the action narrate the plot while facing the camera, this is a materialist version of a story that offers no miracles, though it does offer a pertinent attentiveness to gender issues (such as the nervousness and sexual braggadocio of the soldiers who sleep besideJoan) and a Joan who’s girlish as well as devout, capable of giggling as well as experiencing pain; when she wins over the dauphin the scene is pointedly kept offscreen, and when she’s interrogated by priests about her faith she could almost be a graduate student defending a dissertation. (Rivette himself plays the priest who blesses her just before she leaves home.) Jeanne la pucelle is made up of two features that can be seen separately; if I had to see only one I would opt for The Battles (somewhat mislabeled because battle scenes crop up only in the last third), because Rivette is doing things, especially with landscape and period detail (both traversed by inquisitive pans), that he’s never done before.… Read more »

Nobody Loves Me

A 1994 German comedy by Doris Dorrie about the woes of being single. The heroine works in security at the Cologne airport, lives alone in a housing project, and is trying to improve her life. Her friendship with a psychic who’s gay leads her to get her hopes up about a new building manager. This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very farwhich is another way of saying that it’s diverting but doesn’t stick to the ribs. With Maria Schrader and Pierre Sanoussi-Bliss. (JR)… Read more »

The Devil, Probably

Robert Bresson’s penultimate feature (1977)his only original script apart from his early short Affaires publiques and his masterpiece Au hasard Balthazaris a ringing indictment of the modern world, centered on the suicide of a disaffected 20-year-old Parisian. There’s something mannered and at times even freakish about Bresson’s handling of well-clothed adolescents and his multifaceted editorializingwhich improbably recalls Samuel Fuller in its anger and dynamic energybut the power and conviction of this bitter, reflective parable are remarkable. Not a masterwork perhaps, but certainly the work of a master, and, judging from the work of many of his young French disciples (including Leos Carax), one of his most influential features. (JR)… Read more »

The Silences Of The Palace

A striking semiautobiographical first feature (1994) by Tunisian writer-director Moufida Tlatli about being a woman in the Islamic world. Told in flashbacks from the vantage point of the mid-60s, it recounts the story of a young woman who may be the illegitimate daughter of a nobleman as she grows up on his lavish estate. Slow and nuanced, this is well worth your time. (JR)… Read more »

Mr. Holland’s Opus

Richard Dreyfuss stars as an inspirational music teacher in a Disney movie scripted by Patrick Sheane Duncan and designed for the Oscar nomination it did in fact receive (Dreyfuss for best actor). That doesn’t mean you have to see it. With Glenne Headly, Jay Thomas, and Olympia Dukakis. 142 min. (JR)… Read more »

Georgia

This was the most popular American movie at Cannes in 1995; the vagaries of deal making caused delays in its domestic opening. Very much an actor’s vehiclewritten for Jennifer Jason Leigh by her mother, Barbara Turner, and directed with panache and sensitivity by Ulu Grosbard, who’s best known as a stage directorit focuses on the untalented, highly dysfunctional sister of a successful folk-rock singer (Mare Winningham) based in Seattle as she follows her sister on the road and pitifully tries to carve out a life and career of her own. Leigh does remarkable things with her part, moving well beyond the sort of academicism that has limited her other recent work; she builds the character from moment to moment as well from scene to scene, climaxing in a protracted onstage number, filmed with a mainly unsuspecting live audience. Quirky and nuanced, this movie has a lot to say about sibling rivalry and the current music scene. With Ted Levine, Max Perlich, John Doe, John C. Reilly, and a welcome bit by blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon. (JR)… Read more »

Eye For An Eye

Sally Field plays Charles Bronson in Death Wish. She and director John Schlesinger are determined to do anything for a buck in this really awful, hysterical thriller about a housewife determined to take revenge on the creep who raped and killed her teenage daughter who’s been set free on a technicality. With Ed Harris (as Fields’s sweetie-pie husband), Joe Mantegna (as a sweetie-pie cop), Kiefer Sutherland, Beverly D’Angelo, and Keith David; adapted from an Erika Holzer novel by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa. If you thought Schlesinger’s Pacific Heights was egregious, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet; do yourself a favor and see Dead Man Walking instead. (JR)… Read more »

I Can’t Sleep

This characteristic walk on the wild side from writer-director Claire Denis attracted my interest mainly for its cunning portrait of a particular Paris quartier, the 18th arrondissement, through its diverse assortment of neighbors; others may be drawn to the movie because it’s about serial killers. Based on a true story about a gay coupleone a West Indian with a wife, the other a female impersonatorwho murdered more than 20 elderly women in Paris in late 1987, this 1994 film has a Hitchcockian sense of crisscrossing lives and festering compulsions that recalls Rear Window and Frenzy, though it isn’t a thriller in any ordinary sense. The killers are probably more interesting than anyone else here (other characters include a female karate teacher and a recent immigrant from Lithuania). But the subject is too tired to generate all the interest the film assumes we’ll have, and the depiction of the murders is unvarnished. With Richard Courcet, Vincent Dupont, and Beatrice Dalle. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Walk In The Clouds

Directed by Alfonso Arau (Like Water for Chocolate), this is a 1995 remake of an Italian feature with the setting changed to northern California by screenwriters Robert Mark Kamen, Mark Miller, and Harvey Weitzman. Returning home from World War II, a young American soldier (Keanu Reeves) has a chance encounter with the daughter (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon) of a Mexican-American vineyard owner and winds up posing as her husband to help her deal with her father (Giancarlo Giannini). With Anthony Quinn and Angelica Aragon.… Read more »

Murmur Of The Heart

This semiautobiographical 1971 film by Louis Malle is one of his finest. Set in Dijon in the mid-50s, it concerns the sexual initiation of a precocious, intellectual, wealthy French adolescent (Benoit Ferreux), a process that’s assisted at one crucial point by his sensuous Italian mother (Lea Massari). Malle’s sense of the period and milieu is precise and confident throughout, as is his effective use of jazz (mainly Charlie Parker) on the soundtrack. The film is enjoyable, but viewers who find the aristocratic narcissism, the self-congratulating superiority, of most of Malle’s work repellent may think it’s a bit creepy. In French with subtitles. 110 min. With Michel Lonsdale, Daniel Gelin, Fabien Ferreux, and Ave Ninchi. (JR)… Read more »

Films By Richard Leacock

Three short films from the 60s by Richard Leacock, one of the pioneers of the cinema verite documentary style. The first twoHappy Mother’s Day and The Fischer Quintupletsare alternate versions of the same 1963 film shot in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in collaboration with Joyce Chopra for ABC TV; the former was rejected by ABC, which reedited Leacock and Chopra’s footage to yield the broadcast version. The third film is Chiefs (1968). (JR)… Read more »