Monthly Archives: June 1993

The Passing

The best experimental work I’ve seen in ages, Bill Viola’s hour-long video (1991), shot in ravishing black and white, is like a string of epiphanies generated by lush and ambiguous encounters between the natural world (basically the American southwest) and the world of dreams and sleep. The minimal stereo sound track consists chiefly of Viola’s own breathing while he sleeps and the ticking of a clock; the haunting images encompass the death of Viola’s mother and the birth of his children as well as a good many surreal events that transpire underwater and in slow motion. If I had to come up with parallels, it would be necessary to grope in contrary directionsto the works of Stan Brakhage on the one hand and to Eraserhead on the other. But the musical pulse and flow of the images and their mesmerizing beauty throughout don’t deserve cross-referencesthey sing and vibrate with maximal intensity on their own. (JR)… Read more »

Live With This: Adrift In America

Life on the road with a trio of rock musicians calling themselves Popdefect is the subject of this low-budget (less than $10,000) documentary by Brad Vanderburg, who climbed into a van with the musicians and filmed a whole lot of what they did and said. Which isn’t very interesting, though at least it’s filmed and edited with a certain amount of energy. The biggest problem is the usual historical shortsightednessthe differences between Popdefect and other struggling rock bands on the road and the differences between this movie and other movies about touring rock bands are never really broached, and most of what we see is pretty familiar stuff. But on a modest level it’s all pretty easy to take. (JR)… Read more »

Life With Mikey

Michael J. Fox plays a former sitcom child star who with his brother (Nathan Lane) now runs a low-rent talent agency specializing in child actors. Desperate to find a kid to star in a cookie commercial, he discovers a streetwise but talented little girl (Christina Vidal) who picks his pocket. Vidal herself and a bunch of secondary actors give this some intermittent charm and pizzazz, though less than there is in Broadway Danny Rose, one of its possible inspirations. Unfortunately, neither the script (by coproducer Marc Lawrence) nor the direction (by James Lapine) does much with the basic material. Cyndi Lauper costars. (JR)… Read more »

Last Action Hero

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a movie action hero in Los Angeles, joined on the screen by an 11-year-old fan (Austin O’Brien) in New York; when the movie villains exit the screen for New York in the real world, the boy and his hero follow. This is less successful as streamlined merchandise than Jurassic Park or Cliffhanger, but it gave me more pleasure, at least for its imagination and goofy ideas. The performances of both Schwarzenegger and O’Brien are labored, the pacing uneven, and maybe only half the gags work, but there’s a certain amount of creative energy and audacity mixed in with all the confusion. Among the many writers with a hand in this $80 million blockbuster are Shane Black, David Arnott, Zak Penn, and Adam Leff; John McTiernan (Die Hard, Medicine Man) directed, and the secondary cast includes F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, and Joan Plowright. (JR)… Read more »

Jurassic Park

From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1993). — J.R.

Cloned prehistoric animals run riot in a contemporary theme park in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 fantasy adventure, which is less scary than Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark but still has its tense moments. Within the first ten minutes you can tell that the characters who’ll be eaten are the ones who exhibit greed — not that this makes them anything like the director, who positioned the movie as the central unit in a line of merchandise and even integrated its own advertising logo into the plot. The film’s ersatz moral, about the dangers of tampering with nature, harks back to The Lost World (1925) routed through King Kong (1933) and Island of Lost Souls (1932), though there’s more soul to be found in any Kong close-up than in this film’s overplayed reactions. Adapted from the Michael Crichton novel by Crichton and David Koepp; with Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough. 126 min. (JR)

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In The Line Of Fire

Clint Eastwood plays a Secret Service agentactually Dirty Harry in disguise (with minor variations)emotionally devastated by the assassination of John F. Kennedy, who gets a shot at redeeming himself 30 years later when a loony assassin (John Malkovich) also trained by the Secret Service menaces the president and baits Eastwood about it, for no discernible reason except to keep Eastwood working. If you don’t care about such motivations, this is a pretty good thriller, though not one you’re likely to remember for very long. Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot) directed from a script by Jeff Maguire; with Rene Russo. (JR)… Read more »

Guilty As Sin

I’ve never been a Don Johnson fan, but thanks to inspired casting, an effectively gripping and oppressive screenplay by Larry Cohen, and able direction by Sidney Lumet, he dominates this courtroom thriller as one of the most effective feline villains to be seen since Robert Walker in Strangers on a Trainhe’s a glib ladies’ man who induces a successful criminal lawyer (Rebecca De Mornay) to defend him against charges of murdering his wealthy wife. There are plenty of old-fashioned virtues to be found herenot only graceful storytelling, nerve-racking suspense, and a fine secondary role by Jack Warden, but also a feeling of assurance that these filmmakers are going to play by the rules and not sacrifice sense or plausibility for the sake of cheap thrills. With Stephen Lang and Dana Ivey. (JR)… Read more »

The End Of The Nightstick: Confronting Police Brutality In Chicago

A chilling, informative 1993 video documentary by Peter Kuttner, Cindi Moran, and Eric Scholl about police brutality in Chicago, emphasizing the prolonged effort to get police commander Jon Burge suspended. The many testimonies given here are cogent and to the point, though one may regret the occasional use of actors. On the whole, a terrifying and useful document about some of the ways everyday racism functions locally. 43 min. (JR)… Read more »

Un Coeur En Hiver

One of the key writer-directors associated with the upper-middle-class and middle-aged French, Claude Sautet has never had a strong impact in this country. This feature, A Heart in Winter, his 13th, gives a fair sense of his craft and his limitations; I find it ably made but a bit on the dull side. Loosely inspired by The Princess Mary story in Lermontov’s novel A Hero of Our Time, the plot concerns two violin makers played by Daniel Auteuil (Jean de Florette) and Andre Dussollier (Melo, Le beau mariage), who work as partners, and the changes wrought in their lives by a young violinist (La belle noiseuse’s Emmanuelle Beart) preparing to record a Ravel trio. Other significant characters include a music teacher (Maurice Garrel) and the older woman (Brigitte Catillon) the violinist lives with. A major thematic interest is the wintry heart (lack of feeling) of Auteuil’s character, and what makes the presentation of this theme relatively novel for American tastes is the lack of psychology underlying it. The performances are all quite good, Beart’s in particular, but whether one really cares about these characters is another matter (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Claire Of The Moon

Billed as a lesbian love story with a rare happy ending, this 1992 feature by writer-director-producer Nicole Conn pairs a popular satirist (Trisha Todd) and a psychotherapist and author (Karen Trumbo) who specializes in sexual behavior at an annual women writers’ retreat on the Oregon coast. The psychotherapist is openly gay; the satirist is straight but fascinated with, if skeptical about, her cabin mate. Their prickly relationship gradually becomes a testy friendship before gravitating toward love and sex. Despite the obvious sincerity of this project, the stilted acting by most of the secondary cast and the generally undistinguished direction give the script little chance to take root or take flight; the issues are certainly there, but by and large the characters are not. Particularly regrettable is a straight southern writer of steamy best-sellers named Tara O’Hara; the character’s name alone tells you what’s wrong with the conception. By contrast, Faith McDevitt does an interesting job as an older lesbian character who helps run the colony. (JR)… Read more »

Butoh: Body On The Edge Of Crisis

A fascinating documentary directed by Michael Blackwood (and shot by his brother Christian) about butoh, the Japanese avant-garde dance movement born in the late 50s out of radical street theater in protest against Western incursions into Japanese culture (although Jean Genet, Antonin Artaud, and German expressionist dance all exerted some influence on its founder Tatsumi Hijikata). This subtle and complex movement, as much a philosophy as a style of dance, emphasizing introspection and primal experience and featuring scantily-clad dancers (as well as intricate impersonations) is described and illustrated with great detail and lucidity. (JR)… Read more »