Monthly Archives: June 1999

St. Patrick’s Day

Hope Perello wrote and directed this sincere but pedestrian comic account of an Irish-American family reunion; its main distinction is the participation of Piper Laurie as the matriarch, a reformed alcoholic who banishes booze from the weekend gathering. There are more miniplots here than you can shake a stick at, nearly all of them familiar, and though Laurie and Redmond Gleeson show admirable restraint, most of the actors tend toward overkill. With Joanne Baron, Jim Metzler, and Robert Evan Collins. (JR)… Read more »

A Walk on the Wilde Side [AN IDEAL HUSBAND]

From the Chicago Reader (June 25, 1999). — J.R.

An Ideal Husband

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Oliver Parker

Written by Oscar Wilde and Parker

With Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam, John Wood, Lindsay Duncan, Peter Vaughan, and Jeroen Krabbe.

Reviewing a collection of Oscar Wilde’s critical writings almost 30 years ago, Cyril Connolly made a useful distinction between “Wilde” and “Oscar,” the two sides of the same man. “Wilde is Wilde in these essays and seldom ‘Oscar,’” Connolly noted with justifiable admiration. “The change is beneficial. In some cases he is both: thus The Soul of Man Under Socialism in places seems almost inspired; it is a breath of fresh air in which the idealistic aspects of Socialism (or Christian Democracy) have seldom been so well expressed — in his denunciation of private property for example.

Then ‘Oscar’ intervenes. ‘There is only one class in the community that thinks more about money than the rich, and that is the poor. The poor can think of nothing else.‘”

Connolly goes on to explain, “When I think of ‘Oscar,’ it is against a background of servants, of butlers announcing him and footmen with salvers, of a hansom cab hired by the day, the driver nodding under his tarpaulin while Wilde and Bosie display far into the night.”

I’ve seen An Ideal Husband, writer-director Oliver Parker’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play, twice — once before reading the original and once after.… Read more »

Twice Upon A Yesterday

Europudding incoherence with minor virtues. Director Maria Ripoll and writer Rafa Russo are Spanish, their characters are Spanish and English, and the setting is London; but the milieu, as far as I can tell, is effectively nowhere. An unpleasant and manipulative English actor (Douglas Henshall) sabotages his relationship with his longtime girlfriend (Lena Headey), then gets to go back in time and relive the experience, making different decisions this time around. The premise sounds promising, but the working out of the possibilities is relatively laborious, and arch references to Don Quixote don’t help. With Penelope Cruz, Charlotte Coleman, and Elizabeth McGovern. (JR)… Read more »

The Climb

Previously known by the equally bad title Straight Through the Heart, this 1997 drama is a good example of a certain kind of American feature: although it’s better than 80 percent of the movies that get shoved in your face, it has no public profile because there’s no studio muscle behind it. Set in a Baltimore suburb in 1959, it focuses on courageas it relates to a 12-year-old boy (Small Soldiers’s Gregory Smith) who wants to climb a radio tower near his home; to a bitter neighbor (John Hurt) dying of lung cancer who wants the boy’s assistance in putting him out of his misery; and to the boy’s father (John Sayles regular David Strathairn), who’s perpetually bullied by the local drunk because he didn’t serve in the war. The script by Vince McKewin, which has some of the feeling and conviction of lived experience, tends to avoid easy effects, and the Evanston-born director, Bob Swaimbest known for his French thriller La balance and Half Moon Streetdoes a fine job of handling the actors and charting the movie’s physical terrain. There’s a hair-raising action climax and a lot of fine shading in the characterizations; I hope you’re as pleasantly surprised as I was.… Read more »

An Ideal Husband

An entertaining, adroitly cast adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play by writer-director Oliver Parker, though the expansion of settings and reduction of theme that one might expect from the Miramax label is at times distracting. Trivialized Wilde could sound like an oxymoron, insofar as he functioned rather like Neil Simon in the London theater of a century ago, but this play has its serious as well as its flip side, and the flipness gets much more of Parker’s attention. Though this isn’t a musical, it often feels rather like Gigi (Charlie Mole’s music is particularly effective). With Cate Blanchett, Minnie Driver, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Jeremy Northam, John Wood, Lindsay Duncan, Peter Vaughan, and Jeroen Krabbe. (JR)… Read more »

The Hole

Last year the Film Center screened Last Dance, the 69-minute film directed by Tsai Ming-liang for the French TV anthology “2000 Seen By”; this 95-minute version is the one Tsai prefers, though the film is well worth seeing in any form. An SF story set in the present, wryly postapocalyptic and gorgeously shot and framed, it charts the effects of an epidemic on a Taipei man and the woman who lives in the apartment directly below his. After the rest of the building has been vacated, a plumber drills a hole in the man’s floor and neglects to fill it up again. Periodically the man or the woman or both break into full-scale musical numbers that re-create Hong Kong musicals of the 50s, using both the voice and inspiration of Grace Chang; the rest of the time, they’re wrestling with the same sort of urban angst and alienation that consumes Tsai’s characters in Rebels of the Neon God, Vive l’amour, and The River. I like all of his films, but this one has given me the most pleasure. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, June 18, 6:45; Saturday and Sunday, June 19 and 20, 2:45 and 6:45; and Monday through Thursday, June 21 through 24, 6:45; 773-281-4114.… Read more »

Back in Style

From the June 11, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Besieged

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci

Written by Bertolucci and Clare Peploe

With Thandie Newton, David Thewlis, and Claudio Santamaria.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Many times over the past three decades I’ve been close to giving up on Bernardo Bertolucci. The rapturous lift of his second feature, Before the Revolution (1964), promised more than he seemed prepared to deliver with the eclectic Partner (1968). Yet it was The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) rather than The Conformist (made just afterward and released the same year) that renewed my faith in his talent. Both movies, like Before the Revolution and Partner, were the flamboyant expressions of a guilt-ridden leftist, a spoiled rich kid with a baroque imagination and a social conscience that yielded dark and decadent ideas about privilege and guiltless fancies about sex. Where they differed for me was in the degree to which The Conformist succumbed to fashionable embroidery, a stylishness that took the place of style.

It was the relatively big budget The Conformist, an adaptation of an Alberto Moravia novel, that made Bertolucci’s name in the world market and so influenced American movies that Coppola’s Godfather trilogy would have been inconceivable without it.… Read more »

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me

Roughly the first half of this 95-minute sequel is even funnier, sillier, grosser, and more scatological than the original (Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), making one hope that the further adventures of Mike Myers’s James Bond/Matt Helm/Derek Flint send-up will add up to something like genuine satire. But after a while it becomes apparent that this movie is too eager to please, too willing to sacrifice its point of view toward its targets to sustain itself for the length of a feature. Gags about product plugs eventually turn into just more product plugs, irreverence for other movies gives way to slavish imitation of movies no less questionableMyers’s impersonation of an obese Scottish hit man smacks more of Eddie Murphy than of anything originaland the anything-goes approach becomes too scattershot to allow laughs to build. But the first 40-odd minutes are a delight. Written by Myers and Michael McCullers, and directed by Jay Roach; with Heather Graham, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Seth Green, Mindy Sterling, and Rob Lowe. (JR)… Read more »

Besieged

Bernardo Bertolucci’s sensual made-for-TV feature (1998), with dialogue in English, focuses on the attraction of a wealthy English pianist in Rome (David Thewlis) to his African housekeeper (Thandie Newton), a medical student whose husband is a political prisoner. As a story this is relatively slight for Bertolucci, and is carried mainly by the actors; and as an allegory about colonialism and guilt-ridden privilege it verges on the routine. But as stylistic expressiona mosaic of images and singular editing patternsit’s the most interesting thing he’s done in years, as well as the most pleasurable. It’s a story told mainly through images and music (ranging from African pop and McCoy Tyner to Mozart and Grieg)with dialogue kept to a minimum and looks and gestures exploited to the fullestand as a re-creation of silent cinema it’s much more achieved than The Thin Red Line, its only contemporary rival. R, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Reality Bites [THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR]

From the June 4, 1999 Chicago Reader. A lot of the material here subsequently turned up in my book Movie Wars. — J.R.

The Thirteenth Floor

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Josef Rusnak

Written by Rusnak and Ravel Centeno-Rodriguez

With Armin Mueller-Stahl, Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Vincent D’Onofrio, Dennis Haysbert, and Steven Schub.

“I think, therefore I am,” reads the opening epigraph of The Thirteenth Floor, followed by the quotation’s source, “Descartes (1596-1650).” It’s an especially pompous beginning for a movie whose characters barely think, much less exist, but not too surprising given the metaphysical claims and pronouncements that usually inform virtual-reality thrillers.

This is the fourth such thriller I’ve seen in as many weeks, and if any thought at all can be deemed the source of these pictures cropping up one after the other — with the exception of David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, a film with more than generic commercial kicks on its mind — it might be an especially low estimation of what an audience is looking for at the movies. The assumed desire might be expressed in infantile and emotional terms: “I don’t like the world, take it away.” In other words, for filmmakers stumped by the puzzle of how to address an audience assumed to be interested only in escaping without reminding them of what they’re supposed to be escaping from, virtual-reality thrillers seem made to order.… Read more »

The Winslow Boy

It’s hard to imagine a more uncharacteristic David Mamet project: an adaptation of a genteel Terence Rattigan play from the mid-1940s about family affection and loyalty (previously adapted for a 1948 film directed by Anthony Asquith), based on the real trial of English naval cadet George Archer-Shee in 1910. But this may well be the most accomplished Mamet movie since House of Games, not only because he works so fruitfully with his excellent cast (Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon, Gemma Jones, Guy Edwards, and Matthew Pidgeon) but also because he offers a sturdy object lesson in how to attack period material of this kind without self-serving irony or condescension. He doesn’t lose his stylistic identity either: in addition to the very Mamet-like delivery of unfinished sentences, his command of rhythm and flow remains flawless throughout. Evanston, Pipers Alley.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

The Velocity Of Gary (not His Real Name)

Every bit as awkward as its title, this feature written by James Still and directed by Dan Ireland (The Whole Wide World) might have worked as a solo theater piece, its original form, though it’s so lugubrious one can’t be sure even of that. The title street hustler (Thomas Jane) is picked up by a porn star (Vincent D’Onofrio) in New York, and winds up in a menage a trois with a doughnut shop waitress (Salma Hayek). The hustler and waitress are rivals who hate each other, but when the porn star winds up in a hospital with AIDS and the waitress becomes pregnant, they’re forced to renegotiate their relationship. There’s an effort to poeticize the milieu of these characters, but they all come across more as types than as individuals. With Olivia d’Abo. (JR)… Read more »

Drop Dead Gorgeous

A TV writer (executive producer Lona Williams) and a first-time director (Michael Patrick Jann) join forces with Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Kirsten Dunst, and Denise Richards in a uniquely mean-spirited skewering of teen beauty pageants. An intermittently enjoyable bad movie that never knows when to stop, this heaps scorn not only on every aspect of (and participant in) the pageant but also on mental defectives, signing for the deaf, and Japanese-Americans eager to assimilate. All the leads play their roles like strident amateurs (only Allison Janney, as Barkin’s best friend, emerges relatively unscathed), and the film’s so aggressive about its bad-taste agenda that the early John Waters seems a pussycat by comparison. There’s something bracing about the unleashing of so much unbridled negativity, especially for anyone who’s ever suffered through small-town pettiness and mediocrity, but this 1999 release eventually outstays its welcome. Still, if you come to it in a sufficiently foul mood, it might cheer you up. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Edge Of Seventeen

A coming-of-age gay story, set in Sandusky, Ohio, during the summer of 1984 and featuring a working-class teenager (Chris Stafford) struggling to define his relations with his alleged girlfriend (Tina Holmes) and his libido, as well as with what to tell his mother (Stephanie McVay). Apart from McVay and Lea DeLaria (as a lesbian who befriends and advises the hero), the actors mainly come across as movie types rather than characters, and despite the obvious sincerity of the project, deja vu seems written into the conception. (Writer-producer Todd Stephens admits that he wrote the first draft of the script fueled by a video marathon consisting of Risky Business, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the John Hughes trilogythough even these models can’t be blamed for the film’s unceremonious dumping of Holmes’s character.) David Moreton directed; with Andersen Gabrych. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Universal Hotel & Universal Citizen

As filmmaker Peter Thompson puts it, this 1987 diptych deals with three main themes: the emotional thawing of men by women, the struggle to disengage remembrance from historical anonymity, and nonrecoverable loss. In the first film, Thompson describes his involved research about medical experiments in deep cold conducted on a Polish prisoner and a German prostitute by Dr. Sigmund Rascher at Dachau in 1942; photographs culled from seven archives in six countries, as well as a subjective dream set in the Universal Hotel, form the main materials. In the second film, the filmmaker’s offscreen meetings with a Libyan Jew and former inmate of Dachau who works as a smuggler in Guatemala yield a complex personal travelogue that leads us not only to the Universal Hotel (a real place, as it turns out), but also to the public square in Siena that appears at the beginning of the first film. These are all films that have grown out of years of reflection, and Thompson’s background as a still photographer serves him well in his haunting and original historical meditations; these works reverberate powerfully with a sense of the passage of time and the mysterious coalescence of disparate strands in a varied life.… Read more »