Monthly Archives: February 1999

Eight Millimeter

Nicolas Cage plays a surveillance specialist hired to determine whether a snuff film found in the safe of a recently deceased Pennsylvania millionaire is authentica job that leads him into the seamier recesses of the porn industry on both coasts. The director of this creepy wide-screen thriller is Joel Schumacher, who will surely live in infamy for Batman and Robin; he seems much more in charge this time, maybe because he has something to work with. The sturdy script is by Andrew Kevin Walker, the former Tower Records cashier who also wrote Seven, and there’s a similar impulse here to rub our noses in terminal slime and evil. The desire for retribution that’s honored so unambiguously may be morally based, but it’s the morality of Mickey Spillane, and I wonder if the defense of vigilante justice in Schumacher’s earlier A Time to Kill is more than just a coincidence. I can’t say I warmed to the results, but I was solidly held for the film’s two hours, and the secondary castincluding Joaquin Phoenix, Peter Stormare, Amy Morton, and James Gandolfiniis unusually sharp; with Catherine Keener, Anthony Heald, and Chris Bauer. (JR)… Read more »

In a World of His Own [on RUSHMORE]


This appeared in the February 12, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.

Rushmore

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Wes Anderson

Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson

With Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Mason Gamble, Sara Tanaka, Stephen McCole, Connie Nielsen, and Luke Wilson.

Rushmore has a good deal of content and human qualities to spare, but what makes it such a charming and satisfying experience is its style. Its segments are introduced by parting curtains, each labeled with the name of the appropriate month, which serves as a chapter heading — a neat way of calling attention to the broad and attractively composed ‘Scope frames and of parceling out the story in bite-size seasonal units. Less obvious and functional but unmistakably style-driven is the fact that the curtains come in different colors, giving another kind of lift to the proceedings. All the scenes are short (at least until the film moves into its homestretch), and director Wes Anderson also films these scenes in long and medium shots; in general he indulges in long scenes and close-ups only after he’s earned them. Because this is a studio effort that knows what it’s doing — a rare breed these days — it makes you wonder how many close-ups and long scenes are squandered in other studio releases.… Read more »

Shattered Image

Film Still

Raul Ruiz’s first mainstream release, which is getting its Chicago premiere at an art house rather than a multiplex, may not be one of his best — given his hundred or so shorts and features, there’s a lot of competition, and this is one of the rare Ruiz movies scripted by someone else. But it certainly provides some provocative and enjoyable jolts. Anne Parillaud plays a professional assassin in Seattle who dreams she’s a vulnerable newlywed honeymooning in the Caribbean and recovering from a rape; she also plays a vulnerable bride who dreams she’s an assassin. William Baldwin plays the significant other of both women, bearing the same name, and the contrapuntal play between Parillaud the victimizer and Parillaud the victim is pushed to dizzying extremes. Beautifully shot by Robby Muller, with periodic allusions in the score (by Ruiz regular Jorge Arriagada) to Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock, this head-scratching thriller should keep you entertained throughout, at least if you’re feeling adventurous. Ruiz didn’t even have final cut, but he clearly enjoyed himself making this film. Duane Poole wrote the distinctly Ruizian script, featuring twists at every turn, and the costars include Graham Greene and Bulle Ogier. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, February 5 through 11.… Read more »

Park Row

Park Row

This neglected feature is one of Samuel Fuller’s most energetic–his own personal favorite, in part because he financed it out of his own pocket and lost every penny (1952). It’s a giddy look at New York journalism in the 1880s that crams together a good many of Fuller’s favorite newspaper stories, legends, and conceits and puts them in socko headline type. A principled cigar smoker (Gene Evans) becomes the hard-hitting editor of a new Manhattan daily, where he competes with his former employer (Mary Welch) in a grudge match full of sexual undertones; a man jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge trying to become famous; the Statue of Liberty is given to the U.S. by France, and a newspaper drive raises money for its pedestal. Enthusiasm flows into every nook and cranny of this exceptionally cozy movie; when violence breaks out in the cramped-looking set of the title street, the camera weaves in and out of the buildings as through a sports arena, in a single take. “Park Row” is repeated incessantly like a crazy mantra, and the overall fervor of this vest-pocket Citizen Kane makes journalism sound like the most exciting activity in the world, even as it turns all its practitioners into members of a Fuller-esque military squad.… Read more »

Preminger: Anatomy Of A Filmmaker

Valerie A. Robins directed this so-so 1991 portrait of director Otto Preminger (Laura, Anatomy of a Murder, Advise and Consent), giving a pretty good account of his career but a less than adequate sense of the style and themes that continue to make him more important than his American reputation would suggest. Burgess Meredith narrates. (JR)… Read more »

Duo

Nobuhiro Suwa, a TV documentarian making his feature debut, scripted this exciting 1996 psychodrama about the breakup of a young couple, but he asked his actors to forget the script after reading it and improvise their own dialogue, and to make things more interesting he periodically interviews lead actors Eri Yu and Hidetoshi Nishijima in character, asking them about their feelings and motivations. Inspired by Jacques Rivette, Suwa is less interested in a free-form experiment than in the play between fiction and documentary, freedom and discipline. The film’s extraordinary camera work, as creatively improvised as the performances, is by Masaki Tamura (Narita: Heta Village); highly original in its unorthodox framings and its rare combination of empathy and independence, it shapes the film as much as Suwa’s sensitive direction does. Also known as 2 Duo. (JR)… Read more »

The Other Sister

Juliette Lewis plays the mentally challenged daughter of a wealthy San Francisco couple (Diane Keaton and Tom Skerritt) who decides to strike out on her own; she becomes involved with a similarly impaired boy (Giovanni Ribisi) she meets at a vocational school, and things come to a crisis at a wedding reception for one of her sisters. Part of the problem with this comedy-drama, which oscillates bewilderingly between contrived and insightful, mechanical and sincere, clumsy and graceful, is that the hokey style of filmmaking often seems aimed at the mentally challenged; but sometimes it’s affecting in spite of everything. Lewis is resourceful but uneven, if only because her character’s intelligence seems to vary considerably from one scene to the next. Garry Marshall directed from a script he wrote with Bob Brunner, and has an especially awkward time handling flashbacks. Thankfully, these are few and brief. (JR)… Read more »

You And Me

Fritz Lang takes a stab at a Brechtian musical, with songs by Kurt Weill and even some stretches of recitative. George Raft plays an ex-con who marries Sylvia Sidney without realizing that she too has done time. This 1938 feature is among Lang’s most unjustly neglected Hollywood picturesnot an unqualified success by any means but interesting, imaginative, and genuinely strange. The story is by Norman Krasna, and Virginia Van Upp wrote the script. (JR)… Read more »

Bike Boy

A 1967 Andy Warhol feature from his quasi-pornographic period, when Paul Morrissey was already taking over many of the directorial chores. This one mainly consists of the interactions between a passive stud (Joe Spencer) and a few relatively hyperventilated Warhol regulars (Viva, Bridget Polk, Ingrid Superstar). (JR)… Read more »

The 24-hour Woman

One of the stylistic hallmarks of writer-director Nancy Savoca is overacting by everyone in the cast, though she does periodically rein in Rosie Perezhere the producer of a TV morning show who decides she can have a baby and keep her job. Predictably, the adjustment proves difficult and Perez’s explosions become even more frenetic. On the whole, this is a pretty good comedy about life in Manhattan, but it’s not always clear when Savoca is satirizing pop culture and when she’s simply imitating it. With Marianne Jean-Baptiste (as another overachievera mother of three who goes to work as Perez’s assistant), Diego Serrano, Patti LuPone, and Karen Duffy. (JR)… Read more »

The Naked Jungle

Charlton Heston at his sweatiest contends with an invading army of red ants on a South American plantation he shares with his wife (Eleanor Parker) in a watchable and fairly gripping 1954 action-adventure film produced by George Pal and directed by Byron Haskin, who had served as Pal’s director on War of the Worlds the previous year. (JR)… Read more »

Guns Of The Trees

Jonas Mekas’s highly uncharacteristic first feature (1962) is a fiction film about two couples in New York and environs whose contrasting behavior might be labeled hip and square. (The respective men are Ben Carruthers, who previously played the disaffected brother in John Cassavetes’s Shadows, and Adolfas Mekas, the filmmaker’s own brother.) Angry and at times shrill, sincere and sometimes pretentious, this independent beatnik effort also features an offscreen monologue by Allen Ginsberg and various kinds of arty interludes. Fascinating as a period piece, it also carries interest by showing the road not taken in Mekas’s subsequent diaristic and more experimental work. (JR)… Read more »

The Dress

Nasty, even brutish in tone but enjoyably playful in form, Alex van Warmerdam’s dryly comic 1997 Dutch feature recounts the life story of a dress, from designer through various ownerscreating a shaggy-dog ambience that recalls at times the automatic writing and delirium of continuity proposed by Luis Buñuel’s The Phantom of Liberty. Van Warmerdam’s misanthropy and cavalier notions about rape are a far cry from Buñuel’s mordant humanism, but his freewheeling narrative style and gallows humor are lively and unpredictable. If you’re in the mood for something different, check this one out. In Dutch with subtitles. 103 min.… Read more »

Utopia

James Benning’s absorbing 1998 experimental feature combines beautifully composed images of desert landscapes, stretching from Death Valley to south of the Mexican border, with the entire sound track of the English-language version of Richard Dindo’s 1994 Swiss documentary Ernesto Che Guevara, the Bolivian Journal. Sometimes sound and image match up in interesting and unexpected ways and sometimes they don’t; a lot depends on the viewer’s level of imagination and involvement, though a lengthy printed title at the end tries to shoehorn a lot of additional political and metaphorical relationships into the mix. More generally, Benning is interested in desert spaces as the sites of failed utopias. (JR)… Read more »

My Name Is Joe

This 1998 feature is one of Ken Loach’s most powerful films, even if it takes a wrong turna lamentable failure of imagination in Paul Laverty’s script that foreshortens the leading female character about three quarters of the way through to accommodate the deterministic plot machinery. A reformed alcoholic and volunteer soccer coach (played with charisma and nobility by Peter Mullan) doing odd jobs in a Glasgow slum meets and falls in love with a sensitive health worker (Louise Goodall) and gets a new lease on life. But the crippling deprivation and desperation of the world he inhabits begin to close in on him, and he finds his life spinning out of control. Loach’s grasp of the infernal choices faced by the poor is so acute and precise that it prompts both recognition and rage, and the processes by which souls are found and lost are delineated with a passion that recalls Nicholas Ray. Despite the aforementioned script problem, which even an actress as fine as Goodall can’t circumvent, this is a scorching look at how the contemporary world operates. (JR)… Read more »