Monthly Archives: July 1996

Ragged But Right [on UP DOWN FRAGILE]

This appeared in the July 26, 1996 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Up Down Fragile

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jacques Rivette

Written by Laurence Côte, Marianne Denicourt, Nathalie Richard, Pascal Bonitzer, Christine Laurent, and Rivette

With Côte, Denicourt, Richard, Anna Karina, André Marcon, Bruno Todeschini, Wilfre Benaiche, Enzo Enzo, and the voice of László Szabó

The inspiration of Up Down Fragile? The MGM low-budget films of the 50s that were shot in four or five weeks on sets left over from other films. In particular, a Stanley Donen movie, Give a Girl a Break [1953], a simple film shot in next to no time with short dance numbers. — Jacques Rivette in an interview

Entertainment does not…present models of utopian worlds, as in the classic utopias of Sir Thomas More, William Morris, et al. Rather the utopianism is contained in the feelings it embodies. It presents, head-on as it were, what utopia would feel like rather than how it would be organized. — Richard Dyer, “Entertainment and Utopia”

Out of Jacques Rivette’s 17 features to date — in which I include his 12-hour serial Out 1 (1970) as well as both parts of his Jeanne la pucelle (1994) — 9 are set in contemporary Paris.… Read more »

Good Men, Good Women

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

Like its predecessors, the concluding and entirely self-sufficient feature in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s epic trilogy about the history of Taiwan in the 20th century — a landmark in Taiwanese cinema along with Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day — focuses on a specific period and a specific art form. City of Sadness (1989) covers the end of World War II through the retreat of the Kuomintang to Taiwan in 1949 and concentrates on still photography; The Puppet Master (1993) covers the first 36 years (1909-1945) in the life of puppet master Li Tien-lu and showcases his art. This film, whose art form is cinema itself, intercuts material from 1949 to the present. In the present a young film actress preparing to play Chiang Bi-yu — an anti-Japanese guerrilla in 40s China who, along with her husband, was arrested when she returned to Taiwan during the anticommunist “White Terror” of the 50s — is harassed by an anonymous caller who’s stolen her diary and is faxing her pages from it. Images evoked by her diary from her past as a drug-addicted barmaid involved with a gangster alternate with her imaginative projections of the film she’s about to shoot, seen in black and white.… Read more »

Kansas City

From the Chicago Reader (July 23, 1996). — J.R.

KansasCity

The sets — designed by Stephen Altman — are great, and so is the 30s jazz, but the story of this Robert Altman memory piece about his hometown, written with Frank Barhydt (Short Cuts), is borderline terrible. It counts on the dubious premise that a gangster (Harry Belafonte) would fritter away a whole night deciding what to do with a thief who rips him off — thereby enabling the thief’s significant other (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to kidnap a society lady (Miranda Richardson) and Altman to crosscut to his heart’s content as he exposes the inner workings of a city on the eve of a local election. The conception of character is so limited that the kidnapper’s seems to consist exclusively of Jean Harlow imitations, while the kidnappee’s seems defined only by drug addiction. Charlie Parker and his mother are gratuitously shoehorned into the plot, though some of the movie’s other strategies for imparting period flavor work better. The flip cynicism, which by now has become Altman’s trademark, doesn’t work at all. With Michael Murphy, Dermot Mulroney, and Steve Buscemi. (JR)

kansas-city-1996-real-robert-altman-jennifer-jason-leigh-miranda-richardson-fw1ak6Read more »

Escape From L.a.

John Carpenter’s long-awaited follow-up to his SF movie Escape From New York brings Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken to Los Angeles in the year 2013after an earthquake has turned the city into a postapocalyptic island of warring gangs and outcastswhere he kicks some serious ass. This time around, Russell seems uncomfortable in the parta cartoon of a cartoonbut the production design by Blade Runner’s Lawrence G. Paull is so attractive and inventive that this is probably Carpenter’s most visually impressive feature. And though the plot at times seems almost as mechanical as Russell’s performance, there are many delightful parodic episodes and details along the way. With Stacy Keach, Steve Buscemi, Valeria Golino, Bruce Campbell, Peter Fonda, Pam Grier, and Cliff Robertson. Russell and Debra Hill wrote and produced. (JR)… Read more »

Tin Cup

Writer-director and sports specialist Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump) teams up with writer John Norville (an old golfing buddy) in a comedy about a golfer down on his luck (Kevin Costner) who decides to win the heart and hand of a psychologist (Rene Russo) by triumphing in the U.S. Open; Cheech Marin and Don Johnson costar. The four leads make this a fair amount of fun, though you have to put up with a lot of infantile claptrap about their charactersRusso’s, for instance, starts off as intriguing, but she winds up as a boring bimbo groupie, and Marin eventually degenerates into a standard-issue Latin lover. The tension between Costner and Johnson is basically a matter of class and sexual envy, and the echoes of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges that often ring through this movie never work to Shelton’s advantage; this is OK entertainment, but it isn’t a patch on Bull Durham. (JR)… Read more »

Heavy

Winner of the grand jury prize for best direction at Sundance in 1995, this commendable but relatively familiar low-key drama, written and directed by James Mangold, gives us an overweight pizza chef (Pruitt Taylor Vince) in a roadside tavern trying with little success to pry himself from the influence of his boss and mother (Shelley Winters) while hankering after an attractive young waitress (Stealing Beauty’s Liv Tyler) who’s recently started to work there. The performances are strong (my favorite is Deborah Harry as an older waitress) and the sense of eroded as well as barely articulated lives is palpable. With Evan Dando. (JR)… Read more »

Walking And Talking

A first feature by writer-director Nicole Holofcener, about two lifelong women friends living in New York City and approaching 30. One (Anne Heche) is an engaged therapist in training who’s attracted to one of her patients; another (Catherine Keener) finds herself dumped by a video-store clerk and is living through a trauma about what to do with her cancer-stricken cat. Reasonably lifelike and nicely acted (Keener is especially good), but otherwise nothing special, this is an OK light comedy. With Todd Field, Liev Schreiber, and Kevin Corrigan. (JR)… Read more »

Kingpin

This energetic 1996 bad-taste comedy about bowling champs, from the dudes who brought you Dumb and Dumber, decides to go scummy and scummier by blatantly ripping off several scenes from The Hustler and The Color of Money and cracking endless gags about an ugly woman, the Amish, the hero’s artificial hand, and the bimbo heroine’s breasts. But at least it has Bill Murray. Written by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan, directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly; with Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, and Chris Elliott. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Adventures Of Pinocchio

I don’t imagine the Disney people lost any sleep over this live-action telling of the tale of the famous wooden boy, starring Martin Landau as Geppetto, but it’s a very pleasant version, less cruel and nightmarish than Disney’s cartoon predecessor, lacking a fairy godmother, and probably closer to Carlo Collodi’s original story in other respects as well. (The cricket, voiced by David Doyle, is named Pepe, and most of the effects are charmingly low keythough when Pinocchio lies here his nose grows in yards, not inches.) Steve Barron directed from a script he wrote with Sherry Mills, Tom Benedek, and Barry Berman; with Jonathan Taylor Thomas (as the hero), Rob Schneider, Udo Kier, Bebe Neuwirth, and the delightful Genevieve Bujold. (JR)… Read more »

The Spitfire Grill

Like so many regional melodramas of delayed revelations in the PBS mode, this winner of the audience award at the Sundance festival has characterssuch as the cranky owner of a greasy spoon (Ellen Burstyn) and the young former convict (Alison Elliott) who goes to work for herthat seem fairly potent and interesting as long as their secrets are well guarded. Once the beans get spilled, they come across as cliches. But if one can put up with these cliches, and with Marcia Gay Harden’s overacting, there are some nice compensations here, including most of the other performances and the location shooting. Written and directed by Lee David Zlotoff and set in a small town in Maine; with Will Patton, Kieran Mulroney, and Gailard Sartain. (JR)… Read more »

Wonderful World of Disney

To the editor:

I’d like to report on an error that appeared in my review of Charles Burnett’s Nightjohn (July 12), traceable to the Disney Channel, which produced the film. Though I reported that the film exists only on video, I discovered shortly after the review appeared that it’s available in 35-millimeter, the format it was shot in, and I happily was able to inform the Film Center in time for it to acquire and screen a print in the original, nonvideo format.

In the same review, I reported that the Disney Channel was sending free copies of the video to people requesting them, and included the appropriate phone number. The day after this number was published, the same PR person who gave me this information called back to say that because of the massive response from the Chicago area, Disney was rescinding its offer. I suppose if any lesson is to be learned, it’s that one should look a gift horse in the mouth.

Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Cold Fever

Cold Fever

Beginning in Tokyo in a standard screen ratio before expanding to ‘Scope in scenic Iceland, this arresting, oddball 1995 road movie by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson–cowritten by producer Jim Stark (a longtime Jim Jarmusch associate)–is the first Icelandic feature to be released commercially in the U.S. (Nearly all of the dialogue is in English.) Strange, often funny, and occasionally beautiful, it concerns a Japanese businessman (Mystery Train’s Masotoshi Nagase) who’s planning a vacation in Hawaii until his grandfather (the late Seijun Suzuki, ace B-film auteur) persuades him to fly to Iceland during winter and travel cross-country to perform a memorial service at the spot where his parents died in an accident. His absurdist, mock-epic adventures involve both a spiritual quest and a comic travelogue–among the strangers he encounters are a murderous American couple named Jack and Jill (Fisher Stevens and Lili Taylor) and a philosophical, self-styled Icelandic cowboy (Gisli Halldorsson). Stark will introduce the screenings on Friday and Saturday at 9:45 and Sunday at 7:45. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 19 through 25.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo from Cold Fever.… Read more »

The Frighteners

In your face, but not too likely to remain in your heart or mind long after the lights come on, this aggressive horror farce from Peter Jackson (Dead Alive, Heavenly Creatures) bubbles over with special effects. Its convoluted plot has something to do with a psychic handyman (Michael J. Fox) whose rapport with a trio of male ghosts allows him to perpetrate spirit clearance scams. There’s also a standard haunted house sheltering the disturbed former girlfriend of a crazed killer and lots of other attractions. I found it shrill, ugly, and painful, but some people seem to enjoy it. Robert Zemeckis served as executive producer; Fran Walsh collaborated with Jackson on the script. With Trini Alvarado, Peter Dobson, John Astin, Jeffrey Combs, and Dee Wallace Stone. (JR)… Read more »

Maybe . . . Maybe Not

An entertaining but fairly unexceptional comedy from Germany, about a heterosexual hunk (Til Schweiger) who’s thrown out of his girlfriend’s apartment after cheating on her and winds up sleeping in the flat of a gay acquaintance (Joachim Krol) who would love to seduce him. Written and directed by Sonke Wortmann, and based on German comic books by Ralf Konig, this is fairly standard bedroom farce sparked by the bisexual element and reasonably high spirits; it was a monster hit in Germany. (JR)… Read more »

Foxfire

Adapted by Elizabeth White from Joyce Carol Oates’s novel and directed with a great deal of visual flair and imagination by first-timer Annette Haywood-Carter, this is a story of four teenage girls drawn together by their common alienation and oppression when they encounter a mysterious female drifter. Fairly slow as narrative, but Haywood-Carter’s handling of the female bonding and her highly atmospheric mise en scene make this something rather special. Males, incidentally, are treated just as marginally and as stereotypically in this story as females in most male gang moviesthe subjectivity of the five lead girls tends to rule everythingbut the relatively unknown actresses all do a fine job. With Hedy Burress, Angelina Jolie, Jenny Lewis, Jenny Shimizu, and Sarah Rosenberg. (JR)… Read more »