Daily Archives: December 1, 1997

Wag The Dog

Robert De Niro plays a presidential spin doctor spurred into action after a sex scandal threatens to destroy his boss… Read more »

The Sweet Hereafter

Adapting a beautiful novel by Russell Banks, Atom Egoyan (Exotica) may finally have bitten off more than he can chew, but the power and reach of this undertaking are still formidable. At the tragic center of the story are the deaths of many children in a small town when a school bus spins out of control and sinks into a frozen lake (depicted in an extraordinary single shot that calls to mind a Brueghel landscape) and what this threatens to do to the community, especially after a big-city lawyer (a miscast, albeit effective, Ian Holm) turns up and tries to initiate litigation. Egoyan restructures Banks’s novel (which is narrated by several characters in turn and proceeds chronologically) into a kind of mosaic narrative used in his other features, and one that has potent things to say about communal ties and the repressive machinations of capitalism that can sever them. R, 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

From The Terrace

A tolerable (if interminable) piece of mediocrity from 1960, adapted by Ernest Lehman from John O’Hara’s lengthy novel about the rise to power of a young war veteran (Paul Newman) among wealthy Pennsylvanians. Directed by Mark Robson; with Joanne Woodward and Myrna Loy. This was made in ‘Scope, so beware of scanned prints. (JR)… Read more »

A Self Made Hero

Jacques Audiard (See How They Fall) directed this 1996 tale of a young man in France during the closing days of World War II (Mathieu Kassovitz) who fabricates a past for himself as a war hero. Clever, fashionably cynical, and entertaining, this moves along like a cabaret performancefor better and for worse. With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Anouk Grinberg, and Sandrine Kiberlain; Audiard and Alain Le Henry based their screenplay on a novel by Jean-Francois Deniau. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Captain Conan

Not a Schwarzenegger sword-and-sorcery epic but a nuanced 1996 drama based on a little-known episode of World War I, in which French troops were compelled to fight an undeclared war in the Balkans long after the armistice had been signed. The title hero (Philippe Torreton), who leads the scruffy guerrilla units, regards himself as more a warrior than a soldier; the only fellow officers he respects are a nobleman in the infantry (Bernard Le Coq) and a humane lieutenant assigned to a military tribunal (Samuel Le Bihan). Director Bertrand Tavernier has a keen eye for period detail, and his use of handheld cameras in the battle scenes is impressive. At times the film evokes Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, though its antiwar sentiments are more querulous than didactic. This is a fine prosaic account of a neglected subject, but don’t expect much poetry. Tavernier and Jean Cosmos adapted an autobiographical novel by Roger Vercel; Torreton… Read more »

The Tango Lesson

If James Cameron (Titanic) is entitled to risk making a fool of himself, why not Sally Potter? The writer-director of the wonderful if much-reviled The Gold Diggers (her first black-and-white musical) and the mediocre if much-praised Orlando plays herself in this second black-and-white musical, a wistful pipe dream set in Paris, London, and Buenos Aires, about learning the tango from a master (Pablo Veron, also playing himself). She?s always dreamed of being a dancer, he?s always dreamed of being in a film, and the main problem between them in this joint enterprise is who gets to lead — a metaphorical premise that?s milked for everything it?s worth, and then some. Meanwhile Potter is seen writing a script for what appears (in color snatches) to be a god-awful film combining the worst elements of her first two features, and there?s some enigmatic material about both characters supposedly being Jewish. The film?s division into 12 “lessons” might at times seem a little arch, but when Potter and Veron are dancing — which is at least half the time — the movie becomes rapturous and joyful, so who cares if she?s being presumptuous? I don?t know whether this is autobiographical or made-up, and I don?t care; Robby Müller?s luscious cinematography, Veron?s remarkable dancing, and — dare I say it?… Read more »

As Good As It Gets

The fourth and best feature of writer-director-producer James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, I’ll Do Anything) focuses on a dysfunctional, obsessive-compulsive novelist in Greenwich Village (Jack Nicholson), the gay painter who lives next door (Greg Kinnear), and a waitress and single parent (Helen Hunt) who works nearby but lives in Brooklynall of whom get entangled through a number of personal catastrophes. Whether or not these characters add up to coherent individuals, what Brooks manages to do with them as they struggle mightily to connect with one another is funny, painful, beautiful, and basically truthfula triumph for everyone involved. Mark Andrus wrote the original story and collaborated on the script; with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Shirley Knight. (JR)… Read more »

Four Corners

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

four-corners

The ninth feature of experimental filmmaker James Benning (11 x 14, One Way Boogie Woogie, Landscape Suicide, Deseret) is one of his most ambitious and powerful. Four Corners takes as its jumping-off point the famous tourist spot where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah meet, but as a complex meditation on landscape, history, and painting, its subject is really the entire country (one of the longest passages deals with Milwaukee, where Benning grew up). The film examines four paintings by very dissimilar artists (Monet, Jasper Johns, a black man from Alabama, and a first-century Native American); presents biographical sketches of each painter; explores migration history, ethnic displacement, and conflicts in particular areas of Milwaukee or Four Corners; includes 13 fixed (and beautifully composed) shots of each area; and records two pieces of ethnic music (by a Navajo band and a prerap Harlem group). But Benning convinces us that nearly all these things are part of the same story, a politically potent one that brims with a sense of everyday life. (JR)

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Circuit Carole

Laurence Cote (Up Down Fragile, Les voleurs) plays the daughter of Bulle Ogier (L’amour fou, Irma Vep); both live in a northern suburb of Paris in this 1995 first feature by Emmanuelle Cuau. I sampled this a couple of years ago and liked what I saw; given the distinction of the two actresses involved, it should be well worth seeing. (JR)… Read more »

Full Speed

Directed by Gael Morel, the young lead of Andre Techine’s Wild Reeds (1996), this is a French feature about the sex lives of several 20-year-olds, gay as well as straight. I only stuck around for the first half-hour or so when I sampled this at Cannes last year and I wasn’t sorry to leave, but maybe I missed something. (JR)… Read more »

Sick: The Life And Death Of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

Kirby Dick’s 1996 documentary about performance artist and writer Bob Flanaganborn with cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease that made pain a constant factor in his lifechronicles his masochism, graphically illustrated in his performance pieces, as a way he coped therapeutically with his condition. The film also deals at length with Sheree Rose, who became Flanagan’s dominatrix, companion, and artistic collaborator over the last 15 years of his life, drawing some of its material from her own videotapes as well as Dick’s film footage. What emerges is perhaps the first in-depth look on film at a long-term sadomasochistic relationship, though one might argue that the nature of Rose’s investment is often ambiguous. Overall, this is serious, powerful, and provocative stuff. I can’t recall a film that compelled me to look away from the screen more often. (JR)… Read more »

A Confucian Confusion

Edward Yang’s ambitious and satiric 1994 Taiwanese feature, set over a couple of frenetic days in Taipei, deals with some of the effects of capitalism on personal relationships, weaving a web of romantic, sexual, and professional intrigues among an energetic businesswoman, her reckless fiance, a TV talk-show hostess, an alienated novelist, an avant-garde playwright, and others. As the title suggests, the collision between ancient Chinese beliefs and current economic trends creates a certain sense of vertigo, and this dense comic drama catches the feeling precisely. (JR)… Read more »

Schizopolis

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

schizopolis-mirror

Writer-director Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Kafka, King of the Hill, The Underneath) tries his hand at outrageous screwball comedy, with very mixed results. Playing the lead part himself and shooting with a cast of unknowns in Louisiana, where he grew up, he proceeds largely by peppering his dialogue with various non sequiturs and stretches of nonsense (pacifist cottage . . . Belgian disregard . . . nose army . . . Vienna dog is one fair sample) and bad puns (I may vote Republican, says a dentist, but I’m a firm believer in gum control) and throwing in irreverent asides (No fish was harmed during the making of this film, reads an opening title, and one sign posted to a tree reads, Idea missing). Given the audacity, it would be a pleasure to report that the results are hilarious, but most of it isn’t even funny, and the sense of anything goes hangs heavy over the film as it develops. An authentic curiosity, but proceed at your own risk. (JR)

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