Monthly Archives: January 2000

Eye of the Beholder

From the Chicago Reader (January 28, 2000). — J.R.

Here’s one very sick and messed-up movie. As misogynistic as anything I’ve seen in ages, it’s tricked up with enough fancy cinematography (by Guy Dufaux) to guarantee it sub-Hitchcockian credentials of the sort that some reviewers eagerly hand out to Brian De Palma. A surveillance specialist for the British secret service (Ewan McGregor) who’s haunted by the loss of his wife and little girl years earlier obsessively tracks a psychopathic murderer (Ashley Judd) across the U.S. The first couple of times he and we watch her take her clothes off through his surveillance equipment, grisly murders follow; after that we get more grisly stuff but less cheesecake. Writer-director Stephan Elliott (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert), adapting a novel by Marc Behm, shows how much he likes The Conversation, Bob Rafelson’s Black Widow, and Basic Instinct by serving up pastiches of them all and hoping everything somehow fits together. (To all appearances, the plot was resolved with a coin flip.) According to this movie’s view of femininity, Genevieve Bujold as a reform school official is womanly, therefore evil, and K.D. Lang as a secret service contact is androgynous, therefore OK.… Read more »

Holy Smoke

Jane Campion still has a remarkable eye for framing and imagining, but on the sad evidence of this scrambled free-for-all (1999), written with her sister Anna Campion, she’s taken leave of about half her senses. The setup is promising: a young Australian woman (Kate Winslet) becomes smitten with an Indian guru, and her bourgeois family, after luring her back home with a lie that her father is dying, hires an American specialist (Harvey Keitel) to deprogram her in the outback. Naturally the two of them get involved, and naturally this becomes a monumental battle of wills and sexes. As in Campion’s The Piano there’s a lot of wildness qualifying as a kind of politically correct porn, decked out on this occasion with dazzling visual effects that begin with the title written in smoke. But all sorts of questions go unanswered, and there’s little of the density found in Campion’s early work; this is mainly smoke, not fire. R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Reindeer Games

John Frankenheimer does an excellent job of directing an extremely dubious thriller script by Ehren Kruger, about an ex-con (Ben Affleck) forced by a group of gun smugglers (including Gary Sinise and Clarence Williams III) into helping in the heist of a roadside casino on Christmas Eve. What’s dubious about this is the contribution of the usual studio thinking: the plot has more twists than a rattlesnake, at least three twists too many if one is supposed to accept any of the characters as human. (As two who couldn’t possibly be, Charlize Theron and James Frain prove as malleable as they come.) I had a pretty good time with this until the end, when I felt so soiled by the filmmakers’ cynicism and the characters’ gratuitous viciousness that I wanted to take a bath. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Simpatico

It takes spectacularly bad judgment to make Jeff Bridges, Albert Finney, Nick Nolte, and Sharon Stone all look clunky and adrift. (Catherine Keener, a relative newcomer, emerges relatively unscathed, but then again she’s given much less to do.) Such misjudgment is usually the work of a committee, and even though this film was allegedly directed by one individual (Matthew Warchus), adapting with David Nicholls the work of another individual (a Sam Shepard play about a horse-racing scam), I can’t tell how much Warchus and/or Shepard can be blamed for the terminally awkward flashbacks, the unconvincing characters, the heavy-handed dramaturgy, and the overall dullness of what’s on-screen. Insofar as they’re allowed to be members of the committee, I assume they’re at least partially to blame, but it’s the whole contemporary system of picture making that probably has to be faulted for such an extravagant waste of resources. (JR)… Read more »

Play It To The Bone

From the Chicago Reader (January 17, 2000). — J.R.

Even when his work is at its most contrived, which it certainly is here, writer-director Ron Shelton is the best purveyor of jock humor around. He extracts it endlessly from this comedy about two boxers (Woody Harrelson and Antonio Banderas), best friends but romantic rivals , who are driving to Las Vegas with their mutual girl (Lolita Davidovich) to fight each other before the Mike Tyson main event. Instead of providing closure the movie just evaporates, but Shelton’s wit and sass keep it flowing, after a fashion. Plot is nothing and character is everything in this sort of setup, and speaking as someone who would rather watch paint spill than blood, I was glued to my seat during the protracted, fairly gruesome climactic slugfest. With Lucy Liu, Robert Wagner, Tom Sizemore, Richard Masur, and lots of pointless cameos of stars glimpsed in ringside seats. (JR)

PlayItToTheBone

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Avanti!

From the Chicago Reader (January 14, 2000). — J.R.

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This 1972 release is the most underrated of all Billy Wilder comedies and arguably the one that comes closest to the sweet mastery and lilting grace of his mentor, Ernst Lubitsch. Jack Lemmon arrives at a small resort in Italy to claim the body of his late father, who perished in a car accident, and there he meets Juliet Mills, whose mother died in the same accident and, as it turns out, had been having an affair with the father. The development of Mills and Lemmon’s own romance over various bureaucratic complications is gradual and leisurely paced; at 144 minutes, this is an experience to roll around on your tongue. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond adapted a relatively obscure play by Samuel A. Taylor, and the lovely music is by Carlo Rustichelli; with Clive Revill and Edward Andrews. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, January 15, 3:30, 312-443-3737

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The Tree, the Mayor and the Media Center

The Tree, the Mayor, and the Media Center

What a pity that one of Eric Rohmer’s best features should have fallen between the cracks and never received a U.S. release. But what a piece of luck that the Museum of Contemporary Art should launch its series “Living Spaces: Films on Architecture” with a swell pair of French features: Jean-Luc Godard’s multilingual Contempt (see separate listing), which features a famous villa designed by writer Curzio Malaparte, and Rohmer’s conservative comedy of manners (1993), receiving its Chicago premiere. A provincial mayor (Pascal Greggory) gets a government grant to build a media center, and the film’s gentle mockery of the socialist politician, some of it articulated by his own mistress (Arielle Dombasle), shows how Rohmer must have influenced Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, The Last Days of Disco). Yet Rohmer exceeds even Stillman’s audacity by turning this wry fable into a musical in its closing minutes; nothing he does here is predictable, yet in retrospect it all seems logical and balanced. With Fabrice Luchini; a 35-millimeter print in stereo will be shown. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, Sunday, January 16, 4:00, 312-397-4010… Read more »

Correction

In my January 7 piece on the ten best movies of 1999, I incorrectly implied that Divorce Iranian Style first played locally at the Film Center. In fact it surfaced originally at the 1998 Chicago International Film Festival, where, festival programmer Jim Healy informs me, it tied for best documentary. Apologies to the festival for the error. Since it also had an extended run at the Film Center in early 1999, it still qualifies for my list.

Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Women (elles)

Luis Galvao Teles’s film about five middle-aged Lisbon friends is Portuguese-made with French dialogue, making it in theory the worst kind of Europudding. But in practice it’s a stirring vehicle for five talented actressesCarmen Maura, Miou-Miou, Paris opera star Guesch Patti, Marisa Berenson, and Marthe Keller. For my taste, this is juicier and more enjoyable as a movie about aging than All About My Mother, and the social milieu it encompasses is considerably wider: Maura plays a TV news journalist, Miou-Miou a literature professor, Patti an actress and singer, Keller a caterer, and Berenson the owner of a chic beauty salon where the others hang out. Collectively they conjure up a substantial worldand incidentally act up a storm. (JR)… Read more »

Same Old Song

Same Old Song

To preserve and present the best world cinema, France has the Cinematheque Francaise and England has the British Film Institute; we’ve got the American Film Institute, which doesn’t even have a clue about the best Hollywood movies. Consequently most younger American viewers have never seen a film by Alain Resnais, probably the greatest living French filmmaker, who’s never made an indifferent or unadventurous film and who’s much more talented and innovative than Francois Truffaut. From Resnais’ first three features, all masterpieces–Hiroshima, mon amour (1959), Last Year at Marienbad (1961), Muriel (1963)–to dazzling later works–Stavisky (1974), Providence (1977), Mon oncle d’Amerique (1980), Melo (1986)–he’s remained a master. On connait la chanson (1997), a more accurate translation of which might be “I Recognize the Tune,” was inspired by British screenwriter Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven); its characters frequently break into lip-synched French pop songs, which serve as cross-references to their moods and aren’t always bound by gender. (When Resnais made similar use of French film clips in Mon oncle d’Amerique, contemporary actress Nicole Garcia was cross-referenced with Cocteau’s actor Jean Marais.) A comedy about real estate and class differences, Same Old Song was the biggest hit of Resnais’ career in France; it’s less popular among viewers unfamiliar with the music, but even if you can’t follow all the nuances, this is fun and different and at times mysterious (periodically revealing Resnais’ surrealist roots), and it superbly captures Paris in the 90s.… Read more »

Same Old Song

From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 2000). — J.R.

Alain Resnais, probably the greatest living French filmmaker, has never made an indifferent or unadventurous film, and he’s much more talented and innovative than Francois Truffaut. On connait la chanson (1997, 120 min.), a more accurate translation of which might be I Recognize the Tune, was inspired by British screenwriter Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven); its characters frequently break into lip-synched French pop songs, which serve as cross-references to their moods and aren’t always bound by gender. (When Resnais made similar use of French film clips in Mon oncle d’Amerique, contemporary actress Nicole Garcia was cross-referenced with Cocteau’s actor Jean Marais.) A comedy about real estate and class differences, Same Old Song was the biggest hit of Resnais’ career in France, superbly capturing Paris in the 90s; it’s less popular among viewers unfamiliar with the music, but even if you can’t follow all the nuances, this is fun and different and at times mysterious (periodically revealing Resnais’ surrealist roots). Written by and costarring the talented couple Jean-Pierre Bacri and Agnes Jaoui, who previously scripted and acted in Un air de famille (and wrote Resnais’ previous two features), this also has graceful performances by Resnais regulars Sabine Azema, Pierre Arditi, and Andre Dussollier.… Read more »

Kiss Me, Stupid

From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 2000). — J.R.

This vulgar Billy Wilder comedy scandalized the Legion of Decency and large segments of the American public when it came out in 1964. At the time Wilder pointed out that the film is about human dignity and the sanctity of marriage, but its undisguised contempt for the American hinterlands and the success ethic makes the sexual element seem dirtier than it actually is. Dean Martin plays a carousing parody of himself, stranded in the godforsaken town of Climax, Nevada, while a desperate songwriter (Ray Walston), hoping to sell him a tune, tries to get him shacked up with a prostitute (Kim Novak) impersonating the songwriter’s wife (Felicia Farr). This restoration includes the original ending, which originally played only in Europe, followed by the forced ending that played in the U.S. Both Martin and Novak are at their near best, and the undertone of small-town desperation in Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s script is effectively captured by Walston and his sidekick, Cliff Osmond. Shot in black-and-white ‘Scope. 126 min. (JR)

The Cup

Shortly after two boys from Tibet arrive in India to be trained as monks, one of them develops a passion for soccer. He contrives to get the monastery to chip in so that a satellite dish and TV can be rented and everyone can watch the World Cup final. For better and for worse, everything else in this comedy from Bhutan plays out in the homey details. This is the first feature of Khyentse Norbu, a lama who was recognized at age seven as the reincarnation of a 19th-century Buddhist saint. (Perhaps he helped inspire Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, a film on which he apprenticed.) Norbu tries too hard to please and charm, but his film at least carries the advantages of unactorly faces and a premise based on actual events that dramatizes the issue of religious vocation in a secular world. Norbu cites Ozu, Tarkovsky, and Satyajit Ray as his masters, but the only discernible traces of these influences are the bratty mugging of the younger kid (Ozu) and some of Ray’s uses of musical interludes. (JR)… Read more »

Cosmos

Half a dozen young French-Canadian filmmakersManon Briand, Andre Turpin, Marie-Julie Dallaire, Denis Villeneuve, Jennifer Alleyn, and Arto Paragamianpool their resources to produce a lively comic-sketch film in black and white (1996), imaginative and satirical and sexy; part of its charm is that you can’t always tell where one sketch ends and the next begins. A collective spirit and coordinated efforts make this breezy tour of youth culture in Quebec City homogeneous at the same time that each episode has its own distinctive flavor. The two segments I recall most fondly are a nightmarish interview with a filmmaker on a high-tech TV show (Villeneuve’s segment) and a very funny chance encounter between two ex-lovers in a hotel (Turpin’s segment), but just about everything here recalls the footloose, playful spirit of the French New Wavenot when its directors were trying to make hefty statements, but when they were just having fun. (JR)… Read more »

Coming Apart

Younger fans of The Blair Witch Project may not realize that this kind of pseudodocumentary, usually minus the horror elements, was a staple of independent filmmaking during the 60s; Jim McBride’s first feature (David Holzman’s Diary), Shirley Clarke’s The Connection, and Peter Watkins’s early films (including The War Game and Privilege) all dealt potently with this form. This evocative 1969 feature by Milton Moses Ginsberg, a relatively late example, is particularly good at giving the impression that he’s using random footage, and it sometimes suggests Andy Warhol (the strobe cutting and unbridled behavior) and Michael Snow (a consistent camera angle). The entire movie is set in the living room of the Manhattan apartment of a onetime psychiatrist (Rip Torn), most of it shot with an allegedly hidden camera across from a sofa and mirror. The hero is idly filming his sexual encountersmany of them abortive, though in keeping with the period’s sexual politics, the women generally strip right away and he never gets further than his underpants. The scenes range from flirtations and kinky come-ons to orgies to marital squabbles. Torn, Sally Kirkland, and Viveca Lindfors are all terrific, and the music is by Jefferson Airplane. (JR)… Read more »