Monthly Archives: March 1996

It’s My Party

Expecting to die soon from AIDS, a Los Angeles architect (Eric Roberts) decides to end it all with pills, but not before throwing a two-day party for his friends and family. The bash consumes almost the entirety of this powerful comedy-drama by writer-director Randal Kleiser, who drew on personal experience. Among the architect’s party guests are his mother (Lee Grant), his sister (Marlee Matlin), his estranged lover (Gregory Harrison), his estranged father (George Segal), and others played by Olivia Newton-John, Bruce Davison, Roddy McDowall, Margaret Cho, Paul Regina, Devon Gummersall, and Bronson Pinchot. Sally Kellerman and Nina Foch are among the cameos. This may sound like the worst kind of Henry Jaglom movie, but despite a tendency to cut between sound bites it’s leagues ahead of that sort of New Age exercise. It’s My Party is a serious (albeit entertaining) movie about learning to die bravely, and the cast honors the concept with plenty of warmth and intelligence. Biograph. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

A Thin Line Between Love And Hate

Sandwiched between shots inspired by the opening of Sunset Boulevard is a grotesque, unfunny comic version of Fatal Attraction. Martin Lawrence, playing a nightclub promoter who gets into trouble with a scorned girlfriend (Lynn Whitfield), is also credited as director and cowriter, though this looks like a movie written and directed by a committee whose members aren’t even on speaking terms. With Bobby Brown (Panther), Della Reese, Regina King, and Roger E. Mosley. (JR)… Read more »

Sgt. Bilko

Steve Martin takes over the Phil Silvers part from the old TV show You’ll Never Get Rich (also known as The Phil Silvers Show): a philandering con artist on a peacetime army base who’s happily bilking the army of our billions of tax dollars with our affectionate approval and consent. Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) directs the proceedings with the right amount of bounce, working from a routine but serviceable Andy Breckman script. Overall, this offers a reasonably updated facsimile of a 50s service romp called Operation Mad Ball, a similar celebration of high jinks. With Dan Aykroyd, Phil Hartman, Glenne Headly, Daryl Mitchell, Austin Pendleton, and Chris Rock. (JR)… Read more »

Man Of The Year

Though this has its share of silly moments and overdone lampoonery, Dick Shafer’s pseudodocumentary about his stint as Playgirl magazine’s 1992 man of the yearan extended promotional gig complicated by the fact that he’s gayis pretty funny much of the time. The movie combines a certain amount of real-life footage with satiric re-creation and dares you to sort out which is which. Chances are you won’t have too hard a time, but that’ll probably make the movie more fun to watch, not less. With Shafer (as himself), the model Fabio (ditto), Bill Brochtrup, Beth Broderick, Lu Leonard, and Cal Bartlett. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

Flirting With Disaster

From the Chicago Reader (March 26, 1996). — J.R.

David O. Russell, the writer-director of Spanking the Monkey, offers another naughty comedy — this one less independent and much more farcical (1996), with more familiar names in the cast. A young east-coaster (Ben Stiller) with a wife (Patricia Arquette) and baby son is contacted by a psychologist (Tea Leoni) who wants to reunite him with his biological parents — whom he hasn’t seen since infancy — and videotape the results for her research. After attempting to placate his adoptive parents (George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore), he and his family and the psychologist all take off cross-country. The results are watchable enough — sometimes funny, sometimes over the top — and fairly fresh, though also a bit calculated. Leoni has an interesting comic presence one would like to see in toothier material, though this certainly has a few bites. With Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Jenkins. R, 92 min. (JR)

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Decalogue

By a cruel twist of fate, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s major work, made in 1988, is finally receiving its Chicago theatrical premiere only a few days after his death at the age of 54. Ten separate films, each running 50-odd minutes and set mainly around two facing high-rises in Warsaw, are built around a contemporary reflection on the Ten Commandments–specifically, an inquiry into what breaking each of them in today’s world might mean. Made as a miniseries for Polish TV before Kieslowski embarked on The Double Life of Veronique and the “Three Colors” trilogy, these concise dramas can be seen in any order or combination, and they don’t depend on one another, though if you see them in batches you’ll probably notice how major characters in one story turn up as extras in another. (Facets Multimedia is running two at a time, three or four times each, over the next two weeks, which offers many possible options.) One reason why Kieslowski remains such a controversial filmmaker is that he embodied in certain ways the intellectual European filmmaking tradition of the 60s while commenting directly on how we live today. The first film, illustrating “Thou shall have no other gods before thee,” is about trust in computers.… Read more »

Girl 6

Spike Lee directed (and reportedly did an uncredited rewrite on) this mainly comic script by playwright Suzin-Lori Parks, about an aspiring actress (Theresa Randle) who becomes a phone sex worker to pay the rent. Perhaps because Lee seems less ambitious here than in previous features I found myself enjoying this film more; for all its hit-or-miss quality it offers a dreamy playfulness and stylistic inventiveness as well as a satirical edge that kept me interested. (Lee is particularly provocative when he cuts between film and video in highlighting some of the ideological preconceptions we have about both media.) Lee himself and Isaiah Washington costar; among those in smaller roles are John Turturro, Jennifer Lewis, Debi Mazar, Ron Silver, Peter Berg, Richard Belzer, and, in cameo parts, Naomi Campbell, Halle Berry, Madonna, and Quentin Tarantino. (JR)… Read more »

It’s My Party

Expecting to die soon from AIDS, a Los Angeles architect (Eric Roberts) decides to end it all with pills, but not before throwing a two-day party for his friends and family. The bash consumes almost the entirety of this powerful comedy-drama by writer-director Randal Kleiser, who drew on personal experience. Among the architect’s party guests are his mother (Lee Grant), his sister (Marlee Matlin), his estranged lover (Gregory Harrison), his estranged father (George Segal), and others played by Olivia Newton-John, Bruce Davison, Roddy McDowall, Margaret Cho, Paul Regina, Devon Gummersall, and Bronson Pinchot. Sally Kellerman and Nina Foch are among the cameos. This may sound like the worst kind of Henry Jaglom movie, but despite a tendency to cut between sound bites that supports such a comparison it’s leagues ahead of that sort of New Age exercise. It’s a serious (albeit entertaining) movie about learning to die bravely, and the cast honors the concept with plenty of warmth and intelligence. (JR)… Read more »

Little Indian, Big City

A French boulevard comedy, dubbed into English and distributed by Disney, that should set your teeth on edge. A Paris businessman (Thierry Lhermitte), who needs to divorce his wife (Miou-Miou) after 13 years of separation in order to marry someone else (Arielle Dombasle), ventures to a South American rain forest to get her consent, only to discover that he has an Indian son (Ludwig Briand), whom he winds up bringing back with him to Paris, poisoned blow darts and all. The primitive third-world condescension here is calculated to warm your heart and fill your throat with chuckles; at least that’s what I assume writer-director Herve Palud had in mind. With Sonia Vollereaux; cowritten by Igor Aptekman. (JR)… Read more »

Diabolique

If you like basking in the star power of Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani as much as I do, you’ll probably stick it out through this ludicrous and slack remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s nasty but effective 1955 thriller; otherwise you shouldn’t go near this turkey. Set at an improbable boys school in Pennsylvania, where two teachers, one an ex-nun (Adjani) married to the sadistic headmaster (Chazz Palminteri), the other his mistress (Sharon Stone), plot the master’s murder, this at no point shows us any character or situation that seems remotely believable. There’s no evidence of any effort to adapt the story from 50s France to contemporary America. Indeed, thanks to the terrible script by Don Roos (Single White Female) and the floundering direction by Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon), there’s no evidence of any brain whatsoever behind the camera. The three lead actors are resourceful enough to keep us mildly interested anyway, but don’t expect chills, suspense, or coherent narrative development; not even Kathy Bates as a wisecracking detectivea character not found in the originalcan bring this twitching corpse to life. With Spalding Gray, Alan Garfield, and Adam Hann-Byrd. (JR)… Read more »

Chungking Express

If you haven’t seen a film by Wong Kar-wai, one of the most exciting and original younger Hong Kong filmmakers, this charming and energetic two-part comedy is a good place to start. Though less ambitious than Days of Being Wild or Ashes of Time, the Wong films that precede and follow it–Chungking Express is in many ways the most accessible of the three. (Quentin Tarantino selected this film as the first he would distribute through Miramax, though the fact that his name isn’t being featured in the ads and that Miramax is soft-peddling this important release makes one wonder how committed either of them is.) Both stories here are set in contemporary Hong Kong and deal poignantly with young policemen striving to get over unsuccessful romances and having unconventional encounters with other women–a mob hit woman in the first, an infatuated fast-food waitress in the second. Wong’s singular frenetic visual style and his special feeling for lonely romantics may remind you of certain French New Wave directors, but this movie isn’t a trip down memory lane; it’s a vibrant commentary on young love today, packed with punch and personality. With Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, and Faye Wong (1995). Fine Arts.… Read more »

Toddler Time (THE WHITE BALLOON)

From the Chicago Reader (March 8, 1996). — J.R.

The White Balloon

Directed by Jafar Panahi

Written by Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi, and Parviz Shahbazi

With Aida Mohammadkhani, Mohsen Kalifi, Fereshteh Sadr Orfani, Anna Bourkowska, Aliasghar Samadi, Mohammad Shahani, and Mohammad Bahktiari.

In Iran the first day of spring is New Year’s Day, the celebration of which starts at a different time of day every year, and among the objects used in the celebration is a goldfish, which symbolizes life. The plot of Jafar Panahi’s extraordinary first feature, The White Balloon (opening this week at the Music Box), involves the adventures of Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani), a seven-year-old girl who has her heart set on buying a new goldfish for the celebration, insisting that the ones her family already has are “too skinny.”

Only 85 minutes long, the film unfolds in real time and almost exclusively in exteriors along a few blocks of Tehran the morning of the New Year. The film opens in a market, where Razieh’s mother (Fereshteh Sadr Orfani) is shopping; she collects Razieh, who’s carrying a blue balloon, and they walk home together. Nearly all of the film’s other major characters — and even a couple of minor ones — are fleetingly glimpsed during this prelude, though we don’t recognize any of them yet.… Read more »

Two Much

Or should we say knot enough? Antonio Banderas plays a frustrated painter and crooked art dealer who pretends to be twin brothers while romancing wealthy sisters played by Melanie Griffith and Daryl Hannah. Spanish director Fernando Trueba, who with his brother David Trueba has adapted a Donald E. Westlake novel, easily surpasses his comic work on the overrated and Oscar-winning Belle Epoque; but he fails to take the knotswhich might also be called the flabby stretchesout of an overextended farce. I could live with this movie because the cast (which also includes Danny Aiello, Joan Cusack, and Eli Wallach) is so agreeable, but Banderas, for one, has to strain too hard and too long for his laughs, and the relatively lackadaisical pacing forces him to do so. (JR)… Read more »

The Birdcage

From the Chicago Reader (March 8, 1996). — J.R.

The_Birdcage

One swell reason for seeing this fresh Americanized remake of La cage aux folles – the 1978 French farce about a middle-aged gay couple — written by Elaine May for her old improv partner, producer-director Mike Nichols, and costarring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane as the couple — is its hilarious depiction of Pat Buchanan as played by Gene Hackman, which implies, among other things, that only a drag queen could adequately fulfill Buchanan’s dream of ideal womanhood. More specifically, the son (Dan Futterman) of the proprietor (Williams) of a Florida nightclub with a drag show called “The Birdcage” becomes engaged to the daughter (Calista Flockhart) of an ultraconservative senator (Hackman) who wants to visit his future in-laws, leading to frantic preparations for a dinner party at which the proprietor’s drag-queen partner winds up playing the boy’s mother. (Hackman’s wife, incidentally, is played by Dianne Wiest.) This isn’t the supreme masterpiece it might have been, but Nichols’s direction is very polished and some of the lines and details are awfully funny.

– Jonathan Rosenbaum

genehackman.birdcageRead more »

Fargo

Set mainly in the Coen brothers’ native Minnesota and harking back to the sordid themes of their first feature (Blood Simple), this 1996 crime story may be their best picture to date, but if you have the same problems with their movies as I do Fargo won’t brush them all away. Though the Coens combine their usual derisive amusement toward their characters with a certain affection and condescending appreciation for some of the local yokels (in particular a pregnant police chief played by Frances McDormand), their well-honed antihumanist vision remains as bleak as ever. A slimy car dealer (William H. Macy) sunk in debt hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so they can split the ransom from her wealthy father (Harve Presnell); the scheme leads to a good many pointless deaths that we aren’t expected to care too deeply about. Given the Coens’ taste for hoaxes, their claim that some version of the story actually happened may or may not be specious, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What mainly registers is the quiet desperation and simple pleasures of ordinary midwestern lives, the fatuous ways that people cover up their emotional and intellectual gaps, and the alternating pointlessness and cuteness of human existence.… Read more »