Daily Archives: March 1, 1995

Amnesia

I didn’t last to the end of this 1994 Chilean political thriller when it showed last month at the Berlin film festival, but perhaps it got better. It’s about a man who accidentally runs into someone who 30 years before, as a fellow concentration-camp guard, ordered him to torture and kill war prisoners. Directed by Gonzalo Justiniano (Toffee or Mint); with Julio Jung and Pedro Vicu… Read more »

Jury Duty

Pauly Shore plays a jobless goof-off serving on a jury who insists on prolonging the deliberations, so he can remain in the hotel where he’s sequestered until his mother (Shelley Winters) and her fiance return from Las Vegas. (The other jurors have junky rooms, but he finesses an opulent suite by sneaking a plug for the hotel onto prime time TV.) Connoisseurs of inept direction a la Edward D. Wood Jr. should probably make a beeline to this stinker: TV veteran John Fortenberry doesn’t even have Wood’s sincerity or personality to help him plow through the sludge. Written by Neil Tolkin, Barbara Williams, and Samantha Adams with a cynical eye on (though nary a thought about) the O.J. Simpson trial, which was just getting started when the film went into production, this is simply another dumber-than-thou comedy designed to make white teenagers feel as fashionably marginal as everybody else. With Tia Carrere (appallingly wasted), Stanley Tucci, Brian Doyle-Murray, Abe Vigoda, Charles Napier, Richard Edson, and an uncredited Andrew Dice Claythe only member of the cast who seems right at home. (JR)… Read more »

The Comforter

A highly ascetic, probing re-creation by Italian filmmaker Paolo Benvenuti (1992) of a historical incident that occurred in Rome in 1736. Arrested for burglary, two Jewish men are tortured until they confess, and then are condemned by the papal court to death by hanging. But the church feels obliged to convert them before carrying out its sentence, and the Confortorio, an ecclesiastic brotherhood in charge of performing the last rites, unsuccessfully devotes an entire night to this end. Based on extensive historical research by Simona Foa, this picture occasionally suggests some of the efforts of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet, at least in its severity and concentrationa specifically European seriousness in unpacking the historical past. With Emidio Simini and Franco Pistoni. (JR)… Read more »

Rock ‘n’ Roll Cop

The 1994 conclusion of Kirk Wong’s crime trilogy (preceded by Crime Story and Organized Crime & Triad Bureau) is set in Shenzhen, a sort of industrial suburb of Hong Kong on the border of mainland China. It’s a visually striking if stylistically mechanical and thematically routine police procedural whose short takes, frequent camera movements, and approximate lip sync all recall music videos, though the frenetic action keeps this somewhat livelier. With Anthony Wong, Wu Hsing-kuo, and Carrie Ng. (JR)… Read more »

Begotten

Made in 1989 but apparently first released in 1991, this remarkable if extremely upsetting and gory black-and-white experimental feature by E. Elias Merhige doesn’t have any dialogue and lacks a plot or even a series of actions one can easily follow. But what you can make out is so horrific you may not want to know more. Working with filters and rephotographing his original footage in various ways, Merhige reportedly devoted ten hours of work to processing each minute of this 78-minute film, and the sheer otherworldliness of the grainy, overexposed images is hard to forget. Evoking Alexander Sokurov and Francis Bacon as well as early David Lynch and a great many splatter films, the medieval, allegorical plot begins with a figure identified as God in the credits eviscerating himself; an Eve figure emerges from his entrails and inseminates herself with his corpse, and she and the resultant child wind up on a pilgrimage leading to further gore, pain, and devastation when they encounter a nomadic tribe. If you’re squeamish you should avoid this like the plague; others may find it hard to shake off the artistry and originality of this visionary effort. And if you’re looking to be freaked out you shouldn’t pass it up.… Read more »

Clean, Shaven

An impressive if rather unnerving first feature by Lodge Kerrigan (1993), this low-budget independent effort charts the journey of a schizophrenic (Peter Greene) back to his hometown, where he hopes to find his daughter. Shot over a two-year period and skirting experimental filmmaking with its carefully fashioned sounds and images, this creepy picture isn’t for everyone, but those looking for something different should definitely check it out. (JR)… Read more »

Tigrero: A Film That Was Never Made

An amiable, partially contrived documentary by Mika Kaurismaki (1994) in which Jim Jarmusch joins Sam Fuller as Fuller returns to a Brazilian rain forest where 40 years earlier he scouted locations and shot 16-millimeter footage for a Hollywood adventure story that was never made. What keeps this fun and watchable is Fuller and Jarmusch holding forth for the camera and each other, but the settings and the Karaja Indians they visit hold plenty of fascination as well. Winner of the international critics’ award at the Berlin film festival. (JR)… Read more »

Rio, 40 Degrees

The first feature (1955) of Nelson Pereira Dos Santos, the father of cinema novo, this gritty neorealist film about five slum children is one of the essential works of the Brazilian cinema; highly recommended. (JR)… Read more »

Muriel’s Wedding

A monster hit in its native Australia, this vulgar, crowd-pleasing comedy (1994) follows a gauche secretarial school graduate from a town named Porpoise Spit as she sets off for Sydney to find a wedding dress and a husband. A first feature by writer-director P.J. Hogan, it was produced by his wife, Jocelyn Moorhouse, the director of Proof, but don’t expect to find any of the conceptual purity of that film here. Oscillating back and forth between insulting its two central characters (Muriel and her dad) and showing they have hidden depths, this movie only shows true tact and understanding when it comes to flattering the audience; everyone on-screen is strictly up for grabs. With Toni Collette, Bill Hunter, Rachel Griffiths, Jeanie Drynan, and Gennie Nevinson. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Losing Isaiah

After being deposited by his crack-addicted mother (Halle Berry) in a Chicago inner-city garbage can, a baby is adopted by an upscale social worker (Jessica Lange). The natural mother, out of rehab, decides she wants her child back, and a court battle ensues. The highly charged tug-of-war, adapted by Naomi Foner from a novel by Seth Margolis and directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal, is certainly given force and distinction by the actors. But lamentably, the PC climate seems to have ensured that the racial questions being debated here would overwhelm the economic ones, and viewers never come close to learning enough about the characters to reach an intelligent verdict on their own. A studio that dared to make such a picture 50 or 60 years ago probably would have come up with a solution unthinkable by today’s standards: the original mother going to work as a cook for the social worker. This is an absorbing and involving picture, but the terms propounded here limit the story, which depends almost entirely on emotions rather than on thought. With David Strathairn, Cuba Gooding Jr., and Samuel L. Jackson. (JR)… Read more »

Eclipse

Yet another daisy chain of narratives in the manner of La ronde, this one a watchable first feature (1994) by writer-director Jeremy Podeswa that uses sex, both gay and straight, to make the various connections. Set in Toronto shortly before a solar eclipse, it circles around ten characters, each of whom figures as seducer and seduced. With Earl Pastko, Von Flores, John Gilbert, and Matthew Ferguson. (JR)… Read more »

Happiness

The most famous and probably best film by the late, neglected Russian pioneer Alexander Medvedkin (the last bolshevik in Chris Marker’s video of that title ). This late silent surrealist masterpiece (1934), hilarious and daring, combines the pie-eyed magical realism of a Gogol with what might be described as a mordant communist folk wisdom. Well worth seeing. (JR)… Read more »

Picture Of Light

I ‘ve always assumed it would be impossible to photograph such a glorious and mysterious sight as the northern lights, but Canadian experimental filmmaker Peter Mettler has done it. His fascinating, beautiful, and evocative documentary feature (1994) about his trip to the Canadian arctic is a mixture of science and poetry that indirectly recalls Michael Snow’s La region centrale, though it’s much easier to watch. (JR)… Read more »

I Want To Live!

Before the late Robert Wise got mired in superproductions like West Side Story and The Sound of Music he was a much-better-than-average noir specialist, and this 1958 account of a real-life prostitute and crook, Barbara Graham, who went to the gas chamber after reportedly being framed for murder, is a good example of his gritty realism and liberal vantage point. Susan Hayward won an Oscar for her lead performance, and Johnny Mandel’s jazz score is a classic; the script is by Nelson Gidding and Don Mankiewicz. With Simon Oakland, Virginia Vincent, Theodore Bikel, and John Marley. 120 min. (JR)… Read more »

Window To Paris

This 1994 Russian fantasy-comedy by Yuri Mamin has a fetching premise: a young music teacher in Saint Petersburg who’s renting a room in a family flat discovers a hidden window inside his closet that leads directly into Paris, and many comic misadventures ensue as he and his flatmates pass back and forth between the cities. There are several pointed satirical details: since the collapse of communism the school where the hero teaches has shifted its emphasis from aesthetics to business, and framed blowups of world currencies now decorate the walls; in dance classes the kids perform like Bob Fosse chorus lines. The film is no less sparing when it comes to the pretensions of the French (in particular a woman taxidermist who lives next door in Paris). But Mamin tends to be a rather scattershot director, and this feature runs out of ideas and energy well before its 90 minutes are over. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »