Monthly Archives: August 1998

Let’s Talk About Sex

Troy Beyera seven-year veteran of Sesame Street who went on to play the female lead in Robert Wise’s Rooftops and script B.A.P.S.wrote, directed, and appears in this low-budget independent feature. She plays a Miami advice columnist trying to launch a TV talk show in which young women talk about sex; Paget Brewster and Randi Ingerman play her two best friends, who help her shoot her pilot and talk a lot about their own sex lives. The sound bites of real interviews that punctuate this romantic comedy-drama give it some flavor and raunchy directness, but the movie turns phony every time a big emotional scene is called for and fatuous elevator music (its volume turned way up) chimes in. With Joseph C. Phillips, Michaline Babich, and Tina Nguyen. (JR)… Read more »

Halloween: H20

Halloween: H20

The seventh Halloween film is being described as the last, and that may actually turn out to be the case because there’s an earnest and successful attempt to give the series a satisfying closure. Jamie Lee Curtis–who made her reputation on the first Halloween but hasn’t been part of the series since the second–is now, 20 years later, teaching at an exclusive private school in northern California, raising a son as a single mother, and once again trying to fend off her murderously insane brother, who won’t stay dead. If you can accept the flouting of logic and credibility that usually goes with this kind of horror picture, this scary and suspenseful genre exercise, chock-full of false alarms and brutal shocks, really delivers, and Curtis approaches the assignment without a trace of condescension. Directed by Steve Miner from a script by Robert Zappia and others; with Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, and Adam Arkin, and an amusing cameo by Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh. Bel-Air Drive-In, Bricktown Square, Chatham 14, Ford City, Golf Glen, Lawndale, North Riverside, Plaza, 62nd & Western, Village North, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

The Governess

The Governess

Like Jane Campion’s The Piano, this first feature by writer-director Sandra Goldbacher is less a story about the 19th century than a fantasy about the 19th century, and as such even more erotic. The singular Minnie Driver (Circle of Friends, Good Will Hunting) plays a stagestruck Sephardic Jew in London in the 1840s. After her father is murdered she has to support her surviving family and, concealing her Jewish identity, secures a job as a governess on a remote Scottish island. The man of the house (Tom Wilkinson) is an inventor experimenting with photography, and after serving as his lab assistant she becomes romantically involved with him, though she’s also pursued by his troubled adolescent son (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Goldbacher’s story is not always convincing as history, but it’s absorbing as a sort of gothic romance and sensually quite potent, and Driver carries it all with grace and authority. With Florence Hoath, Harriet Walter, and Bruce Myers. Evanston, Pipers Alley. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

In Loving Memory (THE SON OF GASCOGNE)

From the August 14, 1998 Chicago Reader. I can happily report that this film is still available on DVD. — J.R.

The Son of Gascogne

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Pascal Aubier

Written by Patrick Modiano and Aubier

With Grégoire Colin, Dinara Droukarova, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Laszlo Szabo, Pascal Bonitzer, Otar Iosseliani, Alexandra Stewart, and Jean-Claude Brialy.

It’s been a full quarter of a century, but I still harbor fond memories of a low-budget French comedy called Valparaiso Valparaiso, a first feature starring Alain Cuny and Bernadette Lafont that I saw at Cannes in 1973. A lighthearted satire about the myopia of romantic French revolutionaries, it details an elaborate hoax perpetrated on a befuddled leftist — a character so absorbed in the glory of departing for Chile to fight the good fight as a special agent that he doesn’t even notice the political struggle going on around him on the French docks when he leaves.

The film was so marginal that two years passed between its completion and its modest premiere at the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes, and you won’t find it mentioned in any of the standard reference books. No, I take that back: Jean-Michel Frodon gives it a third of a sentence in his over-900-page L’Age moderne du Cinéma Français de la Nouvelle Vague à nos jours (1995), linking it with two other films of the early 70s inspired by the French Communist Party and critical of leftists.… Read more »

Return to Paradise

Return to Paradise

Compared to the self-righteous xenophobia and hypocritical pornography of Oliver Stone and Alan Parker’s Midnight Express, this drama about a Malaysian drug bust and its consequences for three young Americans is serious, intelligent, and powerful. Three buddies (Vince Vaughn, David Conrad, and Joaquin Phoenix) do some adolescent carousing in Malaysia, then the first two leave the third behind. Two years later a lawyer (Anne Heche) notifies them that their friend has been arrested for possession of hashish, has been serving a prison term, and will be hung unless they go back to share the blame. If they both go back, each will have to serve three years, but if only one goes back, he’ll have to serve six. None of the moral ramifications of this dilemma is avoided, and to the film’s credit the behavior of the American press seems more questionable than the machinations of third-world justice. Directed by the talented Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather, Sleeping With the Enemy) and sharply written by Wesley Strick and Bruce Robinson, who adapted a 1989 fact-based French feature by Pierre Jolivet, Force majeure. With Jada Pinkett Smith. Broadway, Evanston, Lake, McClurg Court. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Revenge Is Bitter [BUFFALO '66]

From the Chicago Reader (August 7, 1998). — J.R.

Buffalo ’66

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Vincent Gallo

Written by Gallo and Alison Bagnall

With Gallo, Christina Ricci, Anjelica Huston, Ben Gazzara, Kevin Corrigan, Mickey Rourke, Roseanna Arquette, and Jan-Michael Vincent.

Vincent Gallo has proved himself a good actor in many films — in Arizona Dream, The Funeral, and several Claire Denis movies. But the first feature in which he functions as director, cowriter, composer, and star is a pathological curiosity. Candidly and painfully personal, Buffalo ’66 seems to spring from the kind of fantasies that inform movies almost exclusively — though vanity publishers offer similar opportunities. For me the film creates more embarrassment than sympathy, but at least it’s a kind of embarrassment that’s instructive. Its genre — narcissistic self-hatred reconfigured as a sense of entitlement — is far from exclusive to American movies, though it’s especially common in American independent efforts. Part of the self-hatred comes from the sense that it’s a disgrace to be poor, a sense more common in this country than in most other places, and poverty gives the film a distinctive musty odor — an ambience evident in such settings as a bowling alley and a cheap motel room.… Read more »

Skirt Power

Skirt Power

From Malian director Adama Drabo comes this exuberant magical-realist comedy (1997) in which an 18th-century village’s war between the sexes casts a distinctly modern light on the role of women in Mali’s 1991 revolution. An abused young wife of the Dogon people steals a tribal mask ordinarily worn by men, demanding that they exchange roles with the women and take over the household chores; the men prove so inept that they’re exhausted by the end of the day, and some of them pretend to be asleep when their wives make sexual demands. Drabo’s relatively low-tech special effects are beautiful and charming, and his fascination with tribal rituals is balanced by a sharp sense of the contemporary (the film opens with a group of present-day city dwellers watching a Depression-era Hollywood musical on TV; a woman who insists on sitting in the “men’s section” inspires a traditional griot to recount the story of the Dogons). As in Souleymane Cisse’s remarkable Brightness, mythology and the politics of everyday life are intimately intertwined, and the film captures the wonder of a world where magic still lives. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, August 7, 6:00, and Sunday, August 9, 4:00, 312-443-3737.… Read more »

Safe Men

A piece of whimsy, set in Providence, involving two terrible singers (Sam Rockwell and Steve Zahn) who are mistaken for safecrackers and become entangled with rival Jewish gangsters (Michael Lerner and Harvey Fierstein). Writer-director John Hamburg’s American indie comedy is no great shakes as a movie, but it carries a distinct goofball charm. The crosscutting’s awkward (most obtrusively at the beginning and end) and motivations are barely sketched out, but the actors seem to be having a pretty good time. How amused you’ll be, though, will have a lot to do with how long you can remain tickled by such conceits as a bar mitzvah in which father and son are dressed in sweat suits. With Paul Giamatti, Christina Kirk, and Michael Schmidt. (JR)… Read more »

The Governess

Like Jane Campion’s The Piano, this 1998 first feature by writer-director Sandra Goldbacher is less a story about the 19th century than a fantasy about it, and as such even more erotic. The singular Minnie Driver plays a stagestruck Sephardic Jew in London in the 1840s. After her father is murdered she has to support her surviving family and, concealing her Jewish identity, secures a job as a governess on a remote Scottish island. The man of the house (Tom Wilkinson) is an inventor experimenting with photography, and after serving as his lab assistant she becomes romantically involved with him, though she’s also pursued by his troubled adolescent son (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Goldbacher’s story is not always convincing as history, but it’s absorbing as a sort of gothic romance and sensually quite potent, and Driver carries it all with grace and authority. With Florence Hoath, Harriet Walter, and Bruce Myers. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Frozen

A rare example of independent cinema from mainland Chinaprivately financed, shot without authorization in Beijing, credited pseudonymously to Wu Ming (which means nobody in Chinese), and smuggled out of the countrythis odd and disturbing 1997 feature follows the morose tale of a performance artist who stages his own suicide. On the longest day of the year he plans to kill himself by melting a large block of ice with his own body warmth, a performance he calls Funeral in Ice. Given the importance of this film as a provocation and an act of courage, I wish I liked it more, but I can’t deny that there’s nothing else like it. (JR)… Read more »

Flashframes

A program of jazz-related films, showing in conjunction with the Chicago Jazz Festival. John Coney directed the 1974 film Space Is the Place, starring and cowritten by avant-garde composer, musician, and bandleader Sun Ra. In The Spitball Story, Jean Bach, director of the remarkable A Great Day in Harlem, uses the same techniques of oral history and thumbnail jazz portraiture to tell the story of why Dizzy Gillespie was fired from the Cab Calloway band and how this transformed his career; the film isn… Read more »

Red Psalm

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East Side Story, a recent documentary about communist musicals, assumes that communist-bloc directors were just itching to make Hollywood extravaganzas and invariably wound up looking strained, square, and ill equipped. But Red Psalm (1971), Miklos Jancso’s dazzling, open-air revolutionary pageant, is a highly sensual communist musical that employs occasional nudity as lyrically as the singing, dancing, and nature; within its own idioms it swings as well as wails. Set near the end of the 19th century, when a group of peasants have demanded basic rights from a landowner and soldiers arrive on horseback, it’s composed of less than 30 shots, each one an intricate choreography of panning camera, landscape, and clustered bodies. Jancso’s awesome fusion of form with content and politics with poetry equals the exciting innovations of the French New Wave in the 60s and early 70s. The music, ranging from revolutionary folk songs to {Charlie Is My Darlin’,} will keep playing in your head for days, and the colors are ravishing. The picture won Jancso a best director prize at Cannes, and it may well be the greatest Hungarian film of the 60s and 70s, summing up an entire strain in his work that lamentably has been forgotten here.… Read more »

Nights Of Cabiria

From Chicago Reader (August 1, 1998). — J.R.

Federico Fellini’s restored 1957 masterpiece, starring his wife, Giulietta Masina. Though the additional scene — an incident involving a man who distributes food and clothing to the homeless — may have little consequence in terms of the overall plot, it changes one’s thematic and spiritual sense of the whole film. The story basically consists of five lengthy episodes in the life and career of a prostitute who repeatedly becomes disillusioned but keeps finding the resources to believe in romantic love just the same. Masina’s exaggerated grimaces and clownlike features, which hark back to the tradition of silent comics, are undoubtedly mannerist, but part of Fellini’s mastery is to make them necessary correlatives to his own vision of innocence. Too melodramatic and fanciful in turn to qualify as neorealism in the usual sense, despite the gritty Roman street slang contributed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, this gains immeasurably, like many other Fellini films, from Nino Rota’s wistful music. In Italian with subtitles. 117 min. (JR)

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Junk Food

This 1997 piece of Japanese exploitation by writer-director Masashi Yamamoto shuttles between a devout blind woman, a crazed drug addict, a gang war, a Pakistani thief who hopes to marry a Japanese woman, and a Japanese-American who works temporarily as a prostitute and hooks up with a guy from the provinces, all within the same 24-hour period in Tokyo. The strength of the pictureapart from its gritty stylistic eclecticism, which incorporates video and unorthodox editing that suggests various drug experiencesrests mainly in its uncharacteristic and unofficial glimpses of Japanese society, especially of people living on the fringes of that society. A somewhat noirish project occasionally confused by the filmmaker’s desire to hoke things up with as much sex, violence, and gore as possible. (JR)… Read more »