Daily Archives: December 1, 1993

Sure Fire

American independent Jon Jost at his most personal and mordantthe film is dedicated ironically to his father. It’s a bleak tale about crumbling patriarchy and male hysteria in a remote part of Utah, where a failed entrepreneurbrilliantly played with compulsive, all-American cheeriness by Tom Blair, who also starred in Jost’s Last Chants for a Slow Dance and The Bed You Sleep Ingoes hunting with his son. Visually inventive and striking, as Jost’s films always are, this is as good as his All the Vermeers in New York, and given the landscapes and manias on display here, perhaps even more authentic (1991). (JR)… Read more »

The Summer House

Jeanne Moreau, Joan Plowright, Julie Walters, and newcomer Lena Headey star in an enjoyable 1993 English comedy directed by Waris Hussein and set in Croydon, a straitlaced London suburb, in 1959. The story, adapted by Martin Sherman from Alice Thomas Ellis’s novel The Clothes in the Wardrobe, concerns a young woman (Headey) who finds herself engaged to a self-absorbed and insensitive local (David Threlfall) she couldn’t care less about. Her mother (Walters), prospective mother-in-law (Plowright), and everyone else in the vicinity somehow manage to dissuade her from backing out, and her only confidant proves to be Lili (Moreau), an unconventional, half-Egyptian friend of the family who turns up for the wedding and slowly but surely, using an arsenal of wiles, does what she can to set things right. Apart from offering a juicy star turn to Moreau, the movie has a lot of mordantly funny things to say about the conventionality of suburban English life, and all the actors shine; with Maggie Steed and John Wood. (JR)… Read more »

The Snapper

This 1993 film, the second adapted from Irish novelist Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy (following The Commitments) follows the moral progress of Dessie Curley (Colm Meaney) when he discovers that his 20-year-old daughter Sharon (Tina Kellegher) is pregnant and won’t identify the father. Better-than-average sitcom stuff, enhanced by the lively performances, Doyle’s own adaptation, and the able direction of Stephen Frears (My Beautiful Laundrette, Hero). With Ruth McCabe and Pat Laffan. (JR)… Read more »

Six Degrees Of Separation

A young hustler (Will Smith) claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier cons his way into the upper-class Manhattan household and affections of a middle-aged couple (Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland), with disquieting and soul-searching consequences once his fraud is discovered. John Guare adapted this 1993 film from his own play, transplanting the action from a bare stage to a variety of realistic locations, most in Manhattan. Fortunately (and daringly) he’s retained the play’s highly theatrical language, and Fred Schepisi’s razor-sharp direction makes it both sing and soar as it explores some of the social gulfs and philosophical crevasses that define contemporary urban life. The movie basically belongs to Channing, who gives it both moral force and heat, but Schepisi delivers an audacious lesson in making the theatrical cinematic. (JR)… Read more »

Sister Act 2: Back In The Habit

Whoopi Goldberg plays a nightclub singer who happily gives up a lucrative Las Vegas engagement in order to teach music to recalcitrant inner-city teenagers at her Catholic alma mater in San Francisco (1993). The talented director Bill Duke (A Rage in Harlem, Deep Cover), who brought distinction even to The Cemetery Club, his previous outing, goes to sleep here, and it’s hard to blame him; why stay awake for insulting hackwork like this? James Orr and Jim Cruickshank wrote this malarkey, and some of the cute, jiving nuns from Sister ActKathy Najimy, Mary Wickes, Wendy Makkena, Maggie Smithare back again, joined this time by James Coburn in a semivillainous part. I hope what they all got paid made it worth the bother. (JR)… Read more »

Shadowlands

Richard Attenborough has never been a very interesting director, but working here with a fairly foolproof packagetwo terrific actors (Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger) and an adaptation by author William Nicholson of his highly successful BBC telefilm and stage playhe does a respectable job (1993). Based on the real-life friendship and marriage of New York City writer Joy Gresham (Winger) and Oxford writer and professor C.S. Lewis (Hopkins), this is an understated love story shot in ‘Scope by Roger Pratt that makes the most of its lead players and lush English countryside, including the Oxford campus; with Edward Hardwicke, John Wood, Michael Denison, Joseph Mazzello, and Peter Firth. (JR)… Read more »

No Fear, No Die

S’en fout la mort is the French title of this grim little feature (1990) by Claire Denis (Chocolat). It’s the name given to one of the fighting cocks owned by two men; one (Alex Descas), from the West Indies, trains them, the other (Isaach de Bankole), from Africa, takes care of business and narrates this story about their deal with a restaurant owner (Jean-Claude Brialy) outside Paris to stage a series of pit duels. We follow the training, the matches, and the trainer’s despondency and drinking after the restaurant owner insists on giving the birds metal spurs. This is basically a noirish B-film with fine, underplayed performances by the two leads (Bankole, who played in Chocolat and Night on Earth, is especially good) and a sordid, depressing milieu; Solveig Dommartin (Wings of Desire) costars. (JR)… Read more »

Nea

A 16-year-old French girl (Ann Zacharias) writes a best-selling pornographic novel that she publishes under a pseudonym, and when she finds herself financially, sexually, and emotionally exploited by the publisher (Samy Frey), she concocts an elaborate revenge scheme. Like many other Nelly Kaplan features, this 1979 comedy is dominated by audacious fantasies of revenge against manipulative men; it also projects an undeniable eroticismnot surprising given that the plot is loosely based on a story by the author of Emmanuelle, though it’s a far cry from that pornographic model. (JR)… Read more »

Heaven And Earth

Oliver Stone completes his America-and-Vietnam trilogy (which includes Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July) with this 1993 adaptation of two nonfiction books by Le Ly Hayslip, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places and Child of War, Woman of Peace, about her life in Vietnam and the U.S. Newcomer Hiep Thi Le stars as Le Ly, Joan Chen plays her mother, Dr. Haing S. Ngor her father, Tommy Lee Jones the U.S. Army sergeant she marries, and Debbie Reynolds the sergeant’s mother.… Read more »

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Even if you have a taste as I do for movies about dysfunctional families, you may be a little put off by the Grapes in this 1993 adaptation by Peter Hedges of his own novel: no father, 500-pound mother, mentally disabled son (especially good work by Leonardo DiCaprio), and two daughters, as well as Johnny Depp to more or less hold things together. This is directed by Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog), and his feeling for the look and mood of a godforsaken midwestern town is often as acute as Sven Nykvist’s cinematography. Juliette Lewis plays the out-of-town girl Depp takes a shine to once he starts getting tired of the married woman (Mary Steenburgen) he’s involved with, and while the picture is too absentminded to explain what it is that makes Lewis move in and out of town, she and Depp make a swell couple. There are other rough edges as far as plot is concerned, but I liked this. With Darlene Cates, Laura Harrington, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Kevin Tighe, and Crispin Glover. PG-13, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tombstone

Kurt Russell plays Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer plays Doc Holliday in this 1993 western based on an old story set in Tombstone, Arizona; Bill Paxton and Sam Elliot costar as Earp’s brothers. Written by Kevin Jarre (Glory) and directed by George P. Cosmatos, this has plenty of designer gore to go with its periodic spurts of bloodletting, and a lot of care and attention were obviously devoted to selecting locations, designing sets, and grooming handlebar mustaches. Much less attention went to making one believe that any of the events took place circa 1879, but at least the bursts of action keep coming, and most survive Cosmatos’s addiction to smoldering close-ups. For a weepy death scene, Jarre borrows a famous gesture from Only Angels Have Wings, but usually he’s content to show how ornery critters like to shoot one another for the fun of it. With Michael Biehn, Powers Boothe, Robert Burke, Dana Delany, Stephen Lang, Joanna Pacula, Michael Rooker, Billy Zane, and Charlton Heston; none other than Robert Mitchum supplied the opening and closing narration. (JR)… Read more »

The Pleasure Of Love

Nelly Kaplan’s 1991 feature, far from her best, follows the frustrations of an egotistical French Don Juan (Pierre Arditi) who’s brought to a tropical island plantation in the 30s to tutor a teenage girl. While waiting for her to show up, becomes sexually involved with the three women in charge; he thinks he’s in control of the situation, but gradually realizes that things are not as they seem. As much of her earlier work (A Very Curious Girl, Nea) shows, Kaplan has a talent for dreaming up and articulating various feminist revenge fantasies; what’s disappointing this time around is the meandering and rather contrived script, written with Jean Chapot. With Francoise Fabian, Dominique Blanc, and Cecile Sanz de Alba. (JR)… Read more »

Philadelphia

Even a good performance by Tom Hanks and noble intentions can’t save this mainstream look at AIDS from the worst effects of nervous committeethink. A top Philadelphia lawyer (Hanks) who happens to be gay is fired by his firm (headed by Jason Robards) when it’s discovered that he has That Disease. Hanks decides to sue and winds up hiring a homophobic lawyer (Denzel Washington) to fight the opposition, led by Mary Steenburgen. You may be hoping for an exciting courtroom drama a la Otto Preminger, but all screenwriter Ron Nyswaner and director Jonathan Demme can come up with are simplistic formulas and cardboard character studies; it’s symptomatic that the filmmakers don’t even have the guts to show Hanks and his lover (Antonio Banderas) kissing. Clearly, this 1993 movie isn’t for people who know anyone with AIDS; it’s for people who know people who know people who know people with AIDS. 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

Loyalties

Based on a play by John Galsworthy, this 1933 British feature about anti-Semitism stars Basil Rathbone as a wealthy Jewish businessman sued for slander after he accuses an army officer (Miles Mander) of stealing 100 pounds from his wallet during a weekend house party for aristocrats. It might be argued that the film itself isn’t entirely free of anti-Semitism; as Frank S. Nugent wrote in the New York Times at the time, Rathbone’s Shylock in modern dress . . . gets his pound of flesh in this drama, but finds his triumph empty, which correctly implies that the character is something of a stereotype from the outset. Yet Galsworthy’s study in tribal loyalties has some less-than-obvious points to make, and Basil Dean’s direction shows some flair and genuine cinematic panache. A fascinating relic. (JR)… Read more »

Jit

A pleasantly unpretentious low-budget musical from Zimbabwe (1990), written and directed by Michael Raeburn, author of a well-known book about Zimbabwe, We Are Everywhere. The plot concerns a sort of working-class rural Candide called UK (Dominic Makuvachuma), who falls out of a taxicab and then falls in love with the woman he gazes up at when he comes to, Sofi (Sibongile Nene). He’s determined to marry her, but her father insists on a bride price, an expensive stereo and a lot of cash. UK sets out to obtain them, but has to contend with both his traditional guiding spirit (Winnie Ndemera), who wants him to earn money for his parents in the countryside and to keep her floating in beer, and Sofi’s vindictive boyfriend (Farai Sevenzo). The prerecorded music is by Oliver Mtukudzi and other Zimbabwe pop stars. (JR)… Read more »