Monthly Archives: September 1997


A fairly enjoyable piece of junk from Oliver Stone (1997) that occasionally recalls Dennis Hopper’s The Hot Spotsleazy southwest burg seething with creeps, sexpots, and protracted grudge matchesand is limited only by its occasional pseudoexperimental tics (a carryover from Natural Born Killers) and by its determination to extend its hyperbolic noir plot beyond two hours. Sean Penn plays a con man whose car breaks down en route to Las Vegas, where he’s supposed to settle a debt; Billy Bob Thornton, as the ornery mechanic who extends his stay, is the first in a string of overblown caricatures that for better or worse define the movieothers are offered by Jennifer Lopez, Nick Nolte, Julie Hagerty, Powers Boothe, Joaquin Phoenix, Jon Voight, Claire Danes, Bo Hopkins, Laurie Metcalf, and Liv Tyler. The tricky and tricked-up script is by John Ridley. (JR)… Read more »

The Matchmaker

Not the Thornton Wilder stage play, but a broad and laid-back comedy, about a Boston political aide (Janeane Garofalo) who travels to Ireland to trace the alleged roots of the hypocritical U.S. senator she’s working for and lands in the middle of a matchmaking festival. Evoking at times an English comedy from Ealing Studios in its relaxed feeling for character, this is a fairly pleasant if unexceptional piece of whimsy with only a modicum of dog reaction shots. The script by Karen Janszen, Louis Nowra, and Graham Linehan is based on a screenplay by Greg Dinner, which suggests this may be a remake, but who knows of what? Mark Joffe directed; with Denis Leary, David O’Hara, and Milo O’Shea. R, 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Unmade Beds

Unmade Beds

This fascinating and highly original nonfiction feature by Nicholas Barker, shot in New York City, portrays two men and two women who search for mates via classified ads. Not simply a documentary in any conventional sense, it’s a highly stylized affair that works from a script generated by interviews with all four individuals, who then wind up “playing” themselves. The results are both disturbing and funny, often revealing the plight of singles in urban American culture, and the characters themselves are unforgettable. (Interestingly enough, the men here are much more bitter than the women.) On all counts, one of the most interesting films I’ve seen this year. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, September 28, 4:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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


From the Chicago Reader (September 19, 1997). — J.R.

Waco: The Rules of Engagement

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by William Gazecki

Written by Gazecki and Dan Gifford

Narrated by Gifford.

At some point in the middle of Dog Day Afternoon (1975) Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino at his best) — a small-time operator and bisexual who’s taken over a bank to finance his male lover’s sex-change operation — has to step outside to bargain with the police. When it becomes clear that the crowd of bystanders and media that has gathered is more sympathetic to him than to the armed police, he calls out “Attica!” as a gesture of solidarity with the crowd and against the forces of law and order, which wins him more acclamation.

It’s a moment I recalled while thinking about the veiled allusion to the conflagration at Waco made by Timothy McVeigh on the day he was sentenced. This wasn’t because McVeigh, who has none of Wortzik’s charisma, qualifies as any sort of populist hero. It was because the fact that there can be no equivalence between the Waco disaster and the Oklahoma City bombing was apparently lost on McVeigh, just as the fact that there could be no equivalence between the slaughter of Attica prisoners in 1971 and robbing a bank was apparently lost on Wortzik — not to mention the crowd he was addressing.… Read more »

NIGHTJOHN (1997 program note)

A program note for the 1997 San Francisco International Film Festival. — J.R.


In this intense drama of courage and humanity in the face of the brutality of slavery, a plantation slave named Nightjohn (Carl Lumblv) defies the law by teaching another slave, a l2-year-old girl named Sammy (Allison Jones), how to read and write. The only other slave on the plantation who even knows the alphabet had a thumb and forefinger chopped off as punishment. Working with a theme akin to that of Ray Bradbury’s novel (and François Truffaut’s film) Fahrenheit 451 – though it’s given a substantially different edge by being set in the past rather than the future — Nightjohn views illiteracy as a central adjunct of slavery. The film isn’t merely a history lesson about people who lived some 165 years ago but a story with immediate relevance. Part of what’s so wonderful about it is its use of fairy-tale feeling to focus on real-life issues, not to evade or obfuscate them. Nightjohn’s ambience is placed at the service of myth — myth that embodies a lucid understanding of both slavery and literacy. Sammy and Nightjohn may sometimes come across as superhuman, but the world they inhabit and seek to change is in no sense  fanciful.… Read more »

Pretty Vacant

Pretty Vacant

“The movie’s all told in voice-over–it’s cheaper that way.” The last words in this energetic, low-budget, 33-minute film by Jim Mendiola, spoken by its narrator, Molly (Mariana Vasquez)–a 21-year-old Chicana who drums for an all-girl punk band and is working on the fifth issue of her zine, this one in Super-8–are a pretty fair description of what Mendiola is up to, technically speaking. Culturally this black-and-white effort is even more interesting, especially as it describes what alienates Molly from her more traditional, Mexican-oriented dad (David Mercado Gonzales). To be shown with other short films; Mendiola will lead a discussion. Tres en Uno, 1769 W. Greenleaf, Friday, September 12, 7:00, 773-764-8634; also Calles y Suenos, 1900 S. Carpenter, Sunday, September 14, 7:00, 312-243-4243.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

The Game

This 1997 thriller is fairly entertaining nonsense if all you’re looking for is 128 minutes of diversion. But if you’d like something more from David Fincher, the director of Seven, don’t get your hopes up; in retrospect, one wonders how much of the previous film came from Fincher’s collaborators. A wealthy, jaded, self-centered businessman (Michael Douglas) gets enlisted in a mysterious game as a birthday present from his wastrel younger brother (Sean Penn). A conspiratorial manipulation of everything around him, including even the newscast he watches on TV, it winds up consuming and perhaps even destroying his life. Though a paranoid plot of this kind has clear metaphysical implications, most of them prove to be fairly banal, and on a plot level screenwriters John Brancato and Michael Ferris don’t even try to make the details add up. What emerges is a very poor man’s North by Northwest without much moral nuance and a decreasing number of thrills. Most of the kicks have to do with seeing Douglas’s unpleasant character get his comeuppance, along with some OK turns from the other actors: Deborah Kara Unger (Crash), Armin Mueller-Stahl, James Rebhorn, Carroll Baker, and Peter Donat. (JR)… Read more »



Is it possible for a movie to be intoxicatingly pretty without quite attaining beauty? Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s fantasy about the nomadic Ghashghai of southern Iran, who weave colorful carpets that tell stories, is a delightful treasure chest of colors, costumes, landscapes, magical-realist details, and very simple characters–all of whom tend to have the allure of trinkets and living legends. This romantic parable seems less personal than Makhmalbaf’s more troubled urban dramas (The Peddler, Marriage of the Blessed, A Moment of Innocence), but it’s also more accessible, and the magical moods keep one fairly spellbound. Hints of a lament about the sacrifices made by a young woman for her family and against her romantic nature (she longs to marry a mysterious stranger who rides after her tribe) are never supported with a clear take on the patriarchy that oppresses her, but the fairy-tale seductiveness piques one’s imagination throughout. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, September 5 through 11. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Different For Girls

A romance between a transsexual born as a man (Steven Mackintosh) and a straight 34-year-old punk (Rupert Graves) who were friends at school 15 years earlier is the unlikely but exclusive focus of this British comedy-drama, directed by Richard Spence from an original screenplay by Tony Marchant. The script shows some sensitivity and the performances are good (Miriam Margolyes and Saskia Reeves figure in the secondary cast), but as moviemaking this is fairly dull and conventional stuff. (JR)… Read more »


Pay no attention to the claims that this 1988 Danish video feature by Lars von Trier (Breaking the Waves) is a faithful or even remotely respectful realization of the late Carl Dreyer’s unrealized script, cowritten by poet Preben Thomsen. For starters, the Dreyer script, based only loosely on the Euripides tragedy, features a chorus that is omitted here, its lines grotesquely converted into printed titles when they aren’t simply dropped; many of Dreyer’s scenes are eliminated, scrambled, or placed elsewhere in the overall continuity, and some of von Trier’s scenes and sequences are strictly his own invention. That said, this is well worth seeing as a visually inventive and highly dramatic version of the Medea story, with strong performances by Kirsten Olesen and Udo Kier. In some respects it’s as striking as anything von Trier has done, but Dreyer could never have accepted this florid piece of showmanship as even a remote approximation of his intentions. (JR)… Read more »

Song Without End

When I saw this 141-minute ‘Scope biopic about Franz Liszt (played by Dirk Bogarde) in my teens, the title seemed appropriate, even though I enjoyed the music (the score received an Oscar) and lush settings (photographed by James Wong Howe). Started by director Charles Vidor and then completed by George Cukor after Vidor’s death, the film costars Capucine and Genevieve Page (1960). (JR)… Read more »

The Edge

Given that most homicidal movie fantasies are rated G or PG, it’s baffling that this harmless 1997 movie about surviving in the Alaskan wilderness was assigned an R. I can say without irony that it’s an excellent, rousing adventure film for ten-year-old boyswith sincere moral lessons about self-reliance, self-respect, marital fidelity, and money (the latter mainly as a signifier of wisdom) that seem perfectly suited for that age group. David Mamet’s original script reeks with macho awe of wealth and nature, and the landscapes are often stunning. Anthony Hopkins plays a bookish billionaire superman who decides to accompany his fashion-model wife (Elle Macpherson) on an exotic shoot in Alaska. On a side trip with her photographer (Alec Baldwin) and his assistant (Harold Perrineau) their plane crashes, and the three men struggle to survive in the wilderness, matching wits, courage, and poundage with a humongous killer bear. Some of the individual details are far from plausible, but as this is a boys’ fantasy and parable it hardly matters. Too bad only grown-ups with the innocence of ten-year-olds can enjoy it. Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Mulholland Falls) directed. (JR)… Read more »

Waco: The Rules Of Engagement

A troubling and fascinating if not entirely satisfactory film documenting the 1993 clash between federal agents and the Branch Davidians, which it argues was almost completely misrepresented in the press at that time. Despite strong investigative journalism, the film suffers from David Hamilton’s unnecessarily pushy musical score and what appears to be a sloppy reedit trimming about half an hour from the original 165-minute cut. Directed by William Gazecki; written by Gazecki and coproducer Dan Gifford. (JR)… Read more »