Daily Archives: April 1, 1994

Bitter Moon

It’s a matter of some dispute whether Roman Polanski’s letter to the darker side of the romantic impulsea French-English production made in 1992represents him at his best or worst (I’d say the former), but there’s little question that this is his most emotionally complex movie. With its American, English, and French characters representing the three cultures Polanski has known since he left Poland, it’s also quite possibly his most personal filmand certainly his most self-critical. The major focus of the plot, told in flashbacks, is the perverse relationship that develops in Paris between a failed, well-to-do American writer who becomes crippled (Peter Coyote) and a young French dancer (Emmanuelle Seigner); their encounter with a British couple (Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas) on a luxury liner forms the present-tense story. This uneasy combination of comedy and tragedy, frank pornography and caustic antipornography, sexual fun and games and mental cruelty doesn’t allow the audience a comfortably detached viewpoint from which to judge the proceedings. Chances are you’ll either love it or despise it. (JR)… Read more »

Show Boat

James Whale’s brilliant and surprisingly delicate 1936 rendition of the Kern and Hammerstein musical, which was based on an Edna Ferber novel, is infinitely superior to the dull 1951 MGM Technicolor remake and, interestingly enough, less racist. The rendition of Old Man River by Paul Robeson, magnificent throughout, is a high point, occasioning a montage sequence that shows Whale at his most expressionistic and inventive. With Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Helen Morgan, and Charles Winninger. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

No Escape

The usual stuff. Some promising material about totalitarian maximum-security imprisonment in the year 2022 is quickly succeeded by OK action a la The Road Warrior on a remote island; the all-male cast begins to pall after a while, though Ray Liotta (hero), Stuart Wilson (villain), Lance Henriksen (father figure), and various others (Kevin Dillon, Kevin J. O’Connor, Ernie Hudson, Ian McNeice) do their best to keep you from nodding off. Martin Campbell directed from a screenplay by Michael Gaylin and Joel Gross that’s based on Richard Herley’s novel The Penal Colony. (JR)… Read more »

Banned Hitchcock

Two wartime propaganda shorts in French, directed by Alfred Hitchcock for the unoccupied French colonies: Bon Voyage and Aventure Malgache (both 1944). Neither was shown much at the time, but both are interesting as period pieces and minor Hitchcockian narrative exercises. 57 min. (JR)… Read more »

With Honors

A Harvard senior on scholarship (Brendan Fraser) has a rude encounter with a homeless wino (Joe Pesci) camped out in the basement of the campus library. The student and his three roommatesMoira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, and Josh Hamiltonlearn a lot about how the other half lives, while the hero winds up with a surrogate for the father he never had. A good deal of this can be read as a Clinton-administration update of The Paper Chase (a Nixon-administration movie), with Gore Vidal enlisted to do a rough equivalent of John Houseman’s cameo in the earlier picture; otherwise, it’s a fairly effective tearjerker with a smidgen of social conscience, despiteor is it because of?the compulsive Hollywood gloss. Truth or Dare’s Alek Keshishian directed (with distinction if not honors), which helps explain why Madonna furnishes the movie’s theme song, and the better-than-average script is credited to William Mastrosimone, though both playwright Israel Horowitz and novelist Rafael Yglesias (Fearless) are said to have worked on it. (JR)… Read more »

We Never Die

It’s been suggested by the editor of the Budapest Daily News that one reason this 1993 Hungarian comedy, set during the 60s, was the most popular local movie ever released in Hungary is that Hungarian audiences are tired of films that are forever digging up the policies and social issues of the past. There’s clearly no threat of that happening here. This is a jaunty account of a wooden-hanger salesman (played by director and cowriter Robert Koltai, his first feature) taking along his awkward teenage nephew on trips to various trade fairs and the racetrack, and cluing him in to the facts of life, sexual and otherwise. The uncle has been compared to a life force like Zorba the Greek and Auntie Mame, and if you love those characters I guess you’ll enjoy this too; I was much more intrigued by the ambiguous nature of the character’s ethnic background. (JR)… Read more »

Vertical Features Remake

By reputation at least, this is a seminal early work (1978) by Peter Greenaway45 minutes long, involving the jokey reconstruction of an imaginary film. (JR)… Read more »

Twenty Bucks

Perhaps the most intriguing fact about this clever, touching, and well-directed independent feature is that the script was written by the late Endre Bohem in 1935 and revised by his son Leslie only a few years agoa form of generational continuity reflected in one of the delayed revelations of the plot as well. The storyset in the present, though one can imagine it set during the Depressionconcerns the fate of a single $20 bill that’s dropped on a city street, picked up, spent, given away, lost, and pursued by many people for multiple reasons, always gaining new significance with each new setting. Most of the resulting miniplots are self-contained, but the script also gracefully brings back characters, making a roundelay exercise like the 1993 Chain of Desire look fairly crude by comparison. Documentary filmmaker Keva Rosenfeld has switched to fiction with a great deal of craft and assurance, never allowing the large number of characters to seem top-heavy or confusing. The able cast includes Linda Hunt, Elisabeth Shue, Christopher Lloyd, Steve Buscemi, Brendan Fraser, Gladys Knight, Melora Walters, and Kamal Holloway. (JR)… Read more »

The Trial

A pointless second film version of Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel. Done in English and with a miscast American movie star as hero, just like its 1962 predecessor (by Orson Welles), this is shot on locationi.e., in Prague, a much more concrete location than the one in the bookand, as pedantically written by Harold Pinter, sticks superficially closer than Welles’s version to the original novel in terms of events. But under the unimaginative hand of English director David Jones, far from offering a true conceptual alternative to Welles, this film often plagiarizes Welles’s work, and, worse still, tends to plagiarize the less interesting shots. Twin Peaks’s Kyle MacLachlan makes a rather unconvincing Josef K (most of his actorly energy seems taken up in pronouncing clerk as clark to make him sound English), but the remainder of the cast is much betterAnthony Hopkins, Jason Robards, Polly Walker, Juliet Stevenson, and Alfred Molinaand Phil Meheux’ black-and-white cinematography is at least serviceable. If you don’t find the notion of a Masterpiece Theatre edition of Kafka as offensive as I do, you might actually enjoy this. (JR)… Read more »

Threesome

Lara Flynn Boyle, Stephen Baldwin, and Josh Charles play college roommates who fight against their sexual attractions for one another (heterosexual as well as homosexual) to preserve their friendship, in a charming romantic comedy written and directed by Andrew Fleming. The movie’s clear reference point is Truffaut’s Jules and Jim of over 30 years ago, and despite a few false moments, its sweetness occasionally approximates some of the charm of the earlier picture. (JR)… Read more »

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould

If you know much about pianist and musical visionary Gould, this intelligent Canadian feature (1993) by Francois Girard may leave you feeling somewhat dissatisfied, and if you know much about avant-garde film, you’ll recognize this as a popularized simplification and dilution of the much better work of conceptual artists like Michael Snow, not as anything especially new. But if you fit neither category, this is a fascinating and easy-to-take set of musings on a fascinating artist. Whether the sequences actually number 32 is a moot point, but the frequent shifting of stylistic gears between various fictional and documentary formats, a performance by Colm Feore as Gould that doesn’t try to re-create any of his keyboard behavior, and a lot of good music on the sound track all help to make up for the middle-class and middlebrow pitches about the inscrutable genius of eccentric artists. Don McKellar collaborated on the script. (JR)… Read more »

The Retired General

A savage indictment of the greed and materialism overtaking postwar Vietnam, this 1988 adaptation of Nguyen Huy Thiep’s controversial short story of the same title, directed by Nguyen Khac Loi, is a grim satire laced with black humor that recalls some of the Mexican comedies of Luis Bu… Read more »

The Ref

A pretty funny satire (1994) about a dysfunctional, argumentative American family, headed by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey, going ballistic at Christmastime. A jewel thief played by Denis Leary kidnaps the quarreling couple and winds up functioning as a combined family therapist and comrade-in-arms when the horrid in-laws turn up for dinner. What makes most of this work is the brio of the acting, though the direction by Ted Demme and the script by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss certainly don’t hurt. With Glynis Johns, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., and Raymond J. Barry. R, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Raining Stones

The best Ken Loach movie I’ve seen, this energizing and subversive 1993 English tragicomedy about an unemployed Catholic man on the dole in a Manchester suburba scam-meister who, along with an unemployed friend, specializes in petty thefts and small jobs such as cleaning drains to support his familydeservedly won a special jury prize at Cannes and was an audience favorite at Locarno. Inspired by the real-life experiences of screenwriter Jim Allen, the plot hinges on the hero’s desperate efforts to retain his self-respect against all odds after his partner’s van is stolen. He’s supposed to somehow get his daughter the traditional white dress, shoes, veil, and gloves for her upcoming first communion, and complications and emotions escalate. The movie has a terrific payoff. With Bruce Jones, Julie Brown, Ricky Tomlinson, Tom Hickey, and Gemma Phoenix. (JR)… Read more »

Pcu

This college gross-out comedy (1994) is good, amusing, disreputable fununtil it starts getting solemn and preachy. In keeping with the usual checks and balances of Hollywood exploitation, the ribbing of various campus protest groups is eventually balanced by the obnoxiousness of the neocons, and the hero’s closing (and rather class-blind) sermon on the virtues of democracy is immediately, cheerfully illustrated by the entire student body virtually turning into a lynch mob (which is OK as long as the lynch victim is a neocon villain). Directed by actor Hart Bochner (not badly) from a script by Zak Penn and Adam Leff; with Jeremy Piven, Chris Young, and David Spade. 79 min. (JR)… Read more »