Monthly Archives: March 1994

Monkey Troubles

A rather captivating if unlikely tale about a little girl, nicely played by Thora Birch, who winds up with a pet monkey that’s been trained to be a pickpocket and jewel thief. Real-life Gypsies undoubtedly have cause to be offended by Harvey Keitel’s greasy impersonation of one as the monkey-trainer villain, and Sam Fuller could lodge some legitimate beefs against this movie’s wholesale appropriation of the deprogramming theme from his White Dog, but the story’s kernel still carries some undeniable charm. With Mimi Rogers and Christopher McDonald; written and directed by Italian filmmaker Franco Amurri, a former assistant to Fellini, Zeffirelli, and Mazursky who’s best known for Da grande (the movie that inspired Big) and Flashback; Stu Krieger collaborated on the script. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Man On Earth

Vincent Price is the only survivor of a plague that turns its victims into vampires. Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkowin directed this 1964 Italian-American horror/SF item, shot in ‘Scope and adapted from Richard Matheson’s paranoid postapocalyptic novel I Am Legend. Some would consider this version better than the 1971 remake with Charlton Heston, The Omega Man, but that isn’t much of an achievement. With Franca Bettoia and Emma Danieli. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Joy Luck Club

A wonderful tearjerker (1993) about four young Chinese American women (Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, Tamilyn Tomita, and Ming-na Wen) in San Francisco and their Chinese immigrant mothers (Tsai Chin, Kieu Chinh, Lisa Lu, and France Nuyen). Adapted from Amy Tan’s best-selling novel by the author and Ron Bass, and directed by Wayne Wang, it’s a story (or more precisely, four interwoven stories) told mainly in flashbacks. Wang, whose previous work has reflected the influence of both Ozu (Dim Sum) and Godard (Life Is Cheap…but Toilet Paper Is Expensive), seems to have fallen under the spell of Mizoguchi here, and this model serves him well. At once fascinating for its detailed lore about Chinese customs and legacies and very moving in its realization, the film builds into a highly emotional epic about what it means to be both Chinese and American. (JR)… Read more »

Journey Into Fear

Contrary to rumor, Orson Welles did not direct this 1943 version of the Eric Ambler thriller, which is correctly credited to Norman Foster; Welles was off in Brazil while more than half the picture was shot. Yet he did produce and design the picture and wrote the script with the star, Joseph Cottenwhich certainly makes the film qualify as Wellesian. Unfortunately, RKO cut it almost as badly as The Magnificent Ambersons, which was in production at the same time, and what survives is basically a lot of claustrophobic atmosphere and some fair-to-middling suspense. The interesting cast includes Welles as the somewhat corny Turkish villain, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead, Dolores Del Rio, and Ruth Warrick. 69 min. (JR)… Read more »

Guarding Tess

As even the title suggests, this is an attempt to rekindle the sort of giggly, middlebrow, faded-empire charm of Driving Miss Daisy, seen here in the gradually warming relationship between an eccentric former first lady (Shirley MacLaine) living in a small Ohio town and a young, by-the-book Secret Service agent (Nicolas Cage) assigned to protect her. All this is supposed to be as cute as bugs and chock-full of worldly wisdom, but even with lead actors as likable and as resourceful as these, the material made me alternately want to gag and nod off. And when the filmmakerswriter-director Hugh Wilson (Police Academy) and cowriter Peter Torokveithrow in a ludicruous kidnapping toward the end in a futile effort to liven things up, they only make things worse. With Austin Pendleton (not so funny this time around), Edward Albert, James Rebhorn, and Richard Griffiths. (JR)… Read more »

Germinal

It seems grimly ironic that the most expensive French film ever made is about starving striking coal miners, though it’s not exactly surprising that this 158-minute, yawn-inducing Emile Zola adaptation from Claude Berri (1993) should seem so cosmically unnecessary. The film has neither the punch of a mining melodrama like Cecil B. De Mille’s early Dynamite nor the edification of a serious literary adaptationthough there’s plenty of ham acting from such coal-smeared French luminaries as Gerard Depardieu, Miou-Miou, Renaud, Jean Carmet, Judith Henry, and Bernard Fresson and one striking secondary performance by the underrated Laurent Terzieff. Berri, whose work in Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring has made him the James Ivory of the French peasantryor is it the French Stanley Kramer?brings all the pretension and impersonality required of such an enterprise, though little of the meaning or urgency that might make it worth sitting through. (For the record, Zola’s a lot better than this movie would suggest.) (JR)… Read more »

Four Weddings And A Funeral

Mike Newell (Enchanted April) directs Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell in an English attempt at glitzy, Hollywood-style romantic comedy (1994). A grocery store would sell this on its generic shelf: the brittle upper-class British cleverness is strictly standard issue. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, but don’t expect to remember it ten minutes later, or even to believe in the characters while you’re watching them: as in the dreadful Sleepless in Seattle, it’s the idea rather than the fact of romance that’s supposed to make you feel all warm and tingly, along with the conspicuous consumption. Richard Curtis (Love Actually) wrote the script. With Simon Callow. R, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

For A Lost Soldier

The sole interest of this rather flat-footed 1992 Dutch feature by Roeland Kerbosch, based on a novel by Rudi van Dantzig, is its taboo subject, a pederastic love story. A famous choreographer from Amsterdam, who’s having difficulty creating a ballet inspired by his memories of World War II, recalls his youth during the mid-40s, when he was sheltered by a fisherman and his family. Shortly after the liberation, he had a brief affair with a Canadian soldier (Andrew Kelley), which the film charts in detail. With Maarten Smit as the boy and Jeroen Krabbe as his older self. (JR)… Read more »

Flight Of The Innocent

A boy (Manuel Colao) caught in the crossfire of a Sicilian family feud flees to Rome, where his skirmishes with the Mafia continue. Carlos Carlei’s pretentious and arty American-style thriller, an Italian-French coproduction featuring not many thrills but lots of grandiloquent grandstanding, was understandably dismissed by European critics when it showed at the Venice film festival. But over here it won the director a Hollywood contract. Could the slow-motion, blood-spurting deaths a la Peckinpah be responsible, or is it the burnished gold hue of Raffaele Mertes’s cinematography? Or, better yet, the cackling villains and ethnic-cleansing ambience of compulsive tribalism? As in the case of Lina Wertmuller and Heaven’s Gate, the Europeans appear to be right; with Jacques Perrin. (JR)… Read more »

Fiorile

A watchable, occasionally charming, but less than stirring 1993 Italian feature by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, about Tuscany and a family curse. It… Read more »

Clifford

Now let’s have a show of hands: how many want to see Martin Short play a ten-year-old brat who makes everybody miserable and winds up staying with his uncle (Charles Grodin) in Los Angeles for a week? Of those who do, how many are willing to go without any laughs, largely thanks to a director, SCTV’s Paul Flaherty, who has yet to learn how to make a funny movie? And is there anyone, apart from the screenwriters (Jay Dee Rock and Bobby Von Hayes), who wants this movie constructed as a flashback, in the form of a cautionary tale told to a bad boy by the priest the brat has become? Those who still have their hands up will have a ball. Mary Steenburgen and Dabney Coleman costar. (JR)… Read more »

Between The Teeth

It may not be fashionable to be (mildly) bored by David Byrne, but Lewis Kahn, one of his backup musicians, mechanically and distractedly running through his obligatory backup two-step between trombone solos proves I’m not alone. Truthfully, the only thing that seems meagre in this concert film, taped in 1992 in Red Bank, New Jersey, is the music; the showmanship and filmmaking, with directorial duties shared by Byrne (a veteran at this sort of thing) and David Wild, are impeccable, and the editing goes a long way toward making the proceedings less stale. This is no Stop Making Sense, but it functions, I guess. (JR)… Read more »

Aileen Wuornos: The Selling Of A Serial Killer

This 1992 English documentary has a lot in common with the second part of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, the subject being the merchandising of death-row killers by the media, though here we also get the participation of the police, the convicted killer’s lawyer, and others. In more ways than one, this grim, sordid, and violent Florida story is a tale of buffoonsapart from Wuornos herself, who seems sad, brutalized, and enraged well beyond buffoonery. But where does that leave documentarist Nick Broomfield, who doesn’t breathe a word about the monetary benefits he’s reaping from this muckraking exercise? Are we to conclude that his motives don’t need to be examined? This is about as interesting in a scuzzy sort of way as the Vanity Fair article about the same case; as in other Broomfield documentaries (Chicken Ranch and Driving Me Crazy), the rhetoric indicates more noble intentions on the part of the filmmaker than anything we see or hear. (JR)… Read more »

The Abyss: Special Edition

The third collaboration of writer-director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd was a big-budget action thriller about a group of underwater oil diggers who go looking for a lost nuclear submarine and wind up encountering extraterrestrials. Shot largely underwater and with direct sound, it had a visceral kick to it that enhanced Cameron’s flair for high-tech special effects and streamlined storytelling, but the attempt to extract the essences of several genres (cold-war submarine thriller, love story, Disney fantasy, pseudomystical SF in the Spielberg mode) and mix them together ultimately led to giddy incoherence. This special edition, actually Cameron’s original three-hour cut, is 27 minutes longer than the 1989 version, and according to most descriptions it’s also vastly superior. (JR)… Read more »