Monthly Archives: July 1997

Salut cousin!

Salut cousin!

Algerian filmmaker Merzak Allouache, whose remarkable 1994 feature Bab El-Oued City led to his exile, switches to a lighter mode in this entertaining and flavorsome 1996 comedy about an Algerian who turns up in Paris to collect a suitcase of contraband clothes (for his boss to sell back home) and winds up spending a few days with his cousin, a con artist. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 25, 6:00; Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27, 4:00; and Tuesday, July 29, 6:00; 312-443-3737.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Buried Clues (LA PROMESSE)

From the Chicago Reader (August 22, 1997). — J.R.

La promesse

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

With Jérémie Renier, Olivier Gourmet, Assita Ouedraogo, Frederic Bodson, Rasmane Ouedraogo, and Hachemi Haddad.

I’d never heard of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne before I saw La promesse (1996), an important and highly involving movie playing at the Music Box this week. But given that they’re regional filmmakers working in an unfashionable country, this isn’t surprising. Based in Liege — a city in French-speaking western Belgium — the two brothers, both in their mid-40s, started out in the 70s as assistants to Belgian director and playwright Armand Gatti. They then made leftist videos about local urban and labor issues, followed by documentary films for TV about local anti-Nazi resistance, local workers’ struggles in the 60s, and a history of Polish immigration between the 30s and early 80s. In 1986 they turned to fiction, filming a play called Falsch, and their film made the rounds of a few international festivals. In 1991 they did a more experimental feature, Je pense à vous (“I’m Thinking of You”), cowritten by the distinguished New Wave screenwriter Jean Gruault, that apparently sank without a trace after playing at a few French festivals and being slaughtered by the Belgian press.… Read more »

The Outpost

The Outpost

All things being equal, Peter Gothar’s Kafkaesque allegory (1994) periodically suggests a Hungarian variation on Tarkovsky’s Stalker, albeit one in which both comedy and sex play much more substantial roles. In the 1980s a divorced design engineer (Mari Nagy) learns she’s been “promoted” to run a remote branch office for the company that employs her; she leaves her hometown in good faith, knowing next to nothing about her new job or destination, for a journey through industrial devastation that gets progressively weirder and creepier. In some ways her successive male escorts prove even more sinister than the terrain. An engrossing head-scratcher that’s definitely worth checking out. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Saturday, July 19, 3:15 and 6:45, and Tuesday, July 22, 7:00, 773-281-4114. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Operation Condor

Operation Condor

Also known as Armor of God II, this 1990 Jackie Chan sequel has its hero searching for Nazi gold in Morocco at the behest of the United Nations, with no fewer than three spunky heroines in tow (Carol Cheng, Eva Cobo de Garcia, Shoko Ikeda). Dubbed in English for this rerelease, with Chan (who directed and cowrote the script) supplying his own lines, this is a much purer example of Hong Kong’s silly, exuberant popular cinema than a diluted and pretentious concoction like Face/Off. The intrigue and behavioral comedy (complete with voyeurism) may seem to come straight out of a Bob Hope farce, but the choreographed action and stunts are breathtaking. Burnham Plaza, Ford City, Hyde Park, Norridge, Old Orchard, Plaza, Water Tower, Webster Place.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Pynchon’s Tangle

This review originally appeared in the July 14, 1997 issue of In These Times. — J.R.


Pynchon’s Tangle

Mason & Dixon
By Thomas Pynchon
Henry Holt
773 pp. $27.50

It’s always been one of the paradoxes of Thomas Pynchon’s fiction that he combines the encyclopedic researches of a polymath with the rude instincts of a populist. V., The Crying of Lot 49, Gravity’s Rainbow, the stories in Slow Learner, Vineland, and now Mason & Dixon synthesize an awesome array of scientific and historical speculation  while steadily sabotaging, with a compulsive anti-elitism, every effort to marshal this material into the stuff of high art. Fusing studied literary pastiche with collegiate humor and flip song lyrics, philosophical soul-searching with barroom brawls and locker-room asides, Pynchon’s intricate and unwieldy narratives tend to define and confound boundaries in the same gesture. So it stands to reason that this epic about American origins, focused on a couple of low-level line drawers (the 18th century executors of the Mason-Dixon Line), winds up favoring sprawl over progression, digression over linear advance.

It’s surely too soon to post final verdicts about a novel that reportedly was almost a quarter of a century in the making.… Read more »

The Human Touch [MEN IN BLACK & CONTACT]

From the Chicago Reader (July 11, 1997).  — J.R.

Men in Black

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

Written by Ed Solomon

With Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, and Mike Nussbaum.


Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Written by James V. Hart, Michael Goldenberg, Carl Sagan, and Ann Druyan

With Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, and Rob Lowe.


Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black and Robert Zemeckis’s Contact, both about the existence of extraterrestrials, are probably the first two blockbusters of the summer worthy of the name, even if many grains of salt are required to make much of a meal of either. I’m not claiming that Contact and Men in Black offer the only genuine chills and thrills around — I caught up with The Lost World: Jurassic Park a couple of weekends ago and enjoyed it more than its predecessor — only that they come closer to speaking my language. Given the preordained preeminence of Spielberg’s romp, I’m sure I would have slammed The Lost World, like most of my colleagues, if I’d seen it when they did.… Read more »

Out To Sea

From the Chicago Reader (July 4, 1997). — J.R.


Unless I’ve lost count, this is the seventh comedy pairing Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and neither the standard-issue trailer nor the prospect of seeing these geezers as dance hosts on a Caribbean luxury cruise filled me with any sympathetic anticipation. For a long time this duo has been picking through ersatz or second-rate Billy Wilder and Neil Simon material without adding any sparks. I can’t really say that Robert Nelson Jacobs’s predictable script is anything special either. But director Martha Coolidge’s warmth, grace, and generosity in handling not just this team but a fleet of talented troupers — above all Dyan Cannon, Gloria De Haven, Donald O’Connor, and Elaine Stritch, but also Brent Spiner, Hal Linden, Edward Mulhare, and Rue McClanahan — make much of this a genuinely joyful experience, and the dancing alone is well worth seeing. Be sure to stick around for the closing credits. Broadway, Esquire, Evanston, Golf Glen, Lake, Lincoln Village, Norridge. — Jonathan Rosenbaum

OUT-TO-SEARead more »

Star Maps

Given its heartfelt sincerity and its desire to adapt some of the tropes of Mexican movie melodrama, I wish I could recommend this American independent feature by Latino writer-director Miguel Arteta, but the stilted dialogue and camera style make this difficult. After spending two years in Mexico with his grandparents, a young Mexican-American (Douglas Spain) returns to Los Angeles; though he aspires to be a Hollywood actor, his pimp father (Efrain Figueroa) puts him to work as a roadside prostitute selling maps of the stars… Read more »

Mr. Hobbs Takes A Vacation

Maybe this isn’t 60s family entertainment at its absolute worst, but it’s still pretty awful. Henry Koster, the resident hack at Fox who directed The Robe, does what he can, which isn’t much, with a comic tale by Edward Streeter (Father of the Bride) about the mishaps of a family renting a house on the ocean for the summer. Shot in CinemaScope; with James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Fabian, John Saxon, Marie Wilson, Reginald Gardiner, and John McGiver. (JR)… Read more »


From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1997). — J.R.



Richard Quine, a sometime actor best known today for his career as a director at Columbia in the 50s and early 60s, never became a cult hero, but a surprising number of his pictures hold up pretty well. This is one of them, a 1954 noir item with echoes of Double Indemnity. An aging cop (Fred MacMurray) falls in love with a bank robber’s girlfriend (Kim Novak in her first major role, and if you’re as much of a pushover for her early work as I am, you can’t afford to miss this). Adapted by Roy Huggins from two novels — Thomas Walsh’s The Night Watch and William S. Ballinger’s Rafferty; with Phil Carey, Dorothy Malone, and E.G. Marshall. (JR)


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Tight Spot

The neglected but powerful noirmeister Phil Karlson shows how good he can be in this taut 1955 thriller about a former gangster’s moll (Ginger Rogers, no less) who agrees to work for the police. The script is by William Bowers; with Edward G. Robinson and Brian Keith. (JR)… Read more »

My Name Is Julia Ross

A fairly remarkable B-feature directed by the remarkable Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy), this 1946 gothic noir stars Nina Foch at her most effective as a woman who answers a newspaper ad and winds up as the prisoner of a crazy family. Only 65 minutes long and dripping with low-budget resourcefulness. With Dame May Whitty and George Macready. (JR)… Read more »


This lively, very-low-budget exploitation film follows a young Japanese-American woman (Darling Narita) in Los Angeles as she’s evicted, groped by a film producer who’s pretending to audition her, and nearly raped by a motorcycle cop. After getting hold of the cop’s gun, handcuffing him to a tree, and making off with his uniform and bike, she gets a chance to see how his gear affects other people, not to mention herself. The first feature of a London-born writer-director who calls himself Ash, this was shot without permits, using a handheld camera and long takes. It’s an amateur effort in the best sense: raw, angry, often bordering on incoherence, but never less than watchable and full of renegade insights about the differences between the haves and the have-nots. The only familiar face here is Peter Greene (Laws of Gravity), hyperbolically acting up a storm as a homeless eccentric; Narita shows some uncertainty in spots but remains a striking figure, and everyone else manages to be energetic at the very least. Originally titled The Big Bang Theory when a somewhat longer cut went out on the festival circuit a couple of years ago. (JR)… Read more »