Daily Archives: October 1, 1995

Les Miserables

Not an adaptation of Victor Hugo, but a 20th-century story inspired by this literary touchstone. The corny and flamboyant Claude Lelouch (A Man and a Woman) is the writer-director, and Jean-Paul Belmondo plays the replacement for Hugo’s Jean Valjeanan illiterate fellow named Henri Fortin who befriends a Jewish family fleeing from Nazi persecution. The family reads the Hugo novel aloud to him while they travel together, and apparently they all come to realize how much their lives are like great literature. With Annie Girardot, Philippe Leotard, and Clementine Celarie. (JR)… Read more »

Dirty Money

This ultralow-budget 1994 thriller by a director of America’s Most Wanted, James Bruce, shot largely with a handheld camera, is so raw and direct that you may be energized for a whileuntil the sheer nastiness of the characters takes over. Unless you love cheesiness, there’s not a whole lot to hold your interest. With Frederick Deane (also the screenwriter), Timothy Patrick Cavanaugh, Biff Yeager, and Dagmar Stansova. (JR)… Read more »

Rogopag

The strange title combines the abbreviations of the four directors (Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and the relatively unknown Ugo Gregoretti) responsible for the sketches in this much-better-than-average Italian feature of 1962, when the art of cinema was in an especially lively phase. I don’t recall the Gregoretti segment, but the other three make this well worth the price of admission, even if Rossellini’s sketch and Godard’s The New World (a rough draft for Alphaville) are ultimately more interesting than satisfying. Pasolini’s episode, about the shooting of a biblical spectacular, with Orson Welles as the Felliniesque director, is mind-bogglingly wonderful. (JR)… Read more »

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow

Director Vittorio De Sica, in his late crowd-pleasing comic mode (1963), joins forces with his longtime screenwriter, Cesare Zavattini, to create three broad, brassy sketches with Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni (the third was reprised in Robert Altman’s Ready to Wear). Not bad for what it is, though a long, long way from Shoeshine or even The Gold of Naples. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

How To Make An American Quilt

Not bad, at least as an excuse to bring together many of the best Hollywood actresses aroundAnne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Samantha Mathis, Kate Nelligan, Winona Ryder, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, and Alfre Woodardand, as an added bonus, Maya Angelou. Jane Anderson’s 1995 adaptation of Whitney Otto’s novel focuses on the summer a Berkeley graduate student (Ryder) spends with her grandmother and great aunt (Burstyn and Bancroft) while mulling over a marriage proposal from her boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney). Flashbacks spanning more than a century rub shoulders with present-day scenes of a quilting bee. The capable director here is Jocelyn Moorhouse, an Australian best known for directing Proof and producing Muriel’s Wedding. (JR)… Read more »

1-900

A 1994 Dutch drama about the evolving relationship between two strangers (Ariane Schluter and Ad Van Kempen) who meet on a telephone sex line and make weekly dates to masturbate while talking to each other, adapted by playwright Johan Doesburg, Marcel Otten, and the actors from Doesburg’s stage play 06 and directed by Theo van Gogh. This has some of the drawbacks of Nicholson Baker’s novel about phone sex, Vox, which also has only two characters at its disposal, but the film has the advantage of being more inventive about the ambiguities of what we know about both characters (though there are fewer ambiguities about the apartments of both callers, the only settings we see). An exercise of this kind is generally either a stunning tour de force or nothing; 1-900 is at best fair to middling. (JR)… Read more »

Dangerous Minds

Imagine a west-coast Blackboard Jungle 40 years later, with Michelle Pfeiffer in the Glenn Ford part, a liberal high school teacher trying to get through to inner-city kids, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of what this is like. Adapted by Ronald Bass from Louanne Johnson’s book My Posse Don’t Do Homework and directed by John M. Smith, best known for The Boys of St. Vincent, it’s another indication (cf Operation Dumbo Drop) that old-fashioned 50s liberalism may be making a comeback in Hollywood movies. Though it lacks the sensational pizzazz of Blackboard Jungle, the politics here are arguably somewhat better, and the supporting castGeorge Dzundza, Courtney P. Vance, Robin Bartlett, Beatrice Windeisn’t bad either. Elaine May, incidentally, did an uncredited rewrite of the script. (JR)… Read more »

Something To Talk About

Callie Khouri’s first produced screenplay since Thelma & Louise, directed by Lasse Hallstrom (Once Around, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), stars Julia Roberts as a southern housewife and mother working out her rage after discovering that her husband (Dennis Quaid) has been unfaithful. The movie is first-rate at dealing with this subject and not nearly as confident about dealing with everything else, but Hallstrom is as adept as usual in handling the actors (all of them skillful), and if you don’t mind being attentive to heaps of southern jive going nowhere in particular, Khouri lays it on with style. With Robert Duvall, Gena Rowlands, and Kyra Sedgwick; Sven Nykvist is in charge of the cinematography. (JR)… Read more »

Waterworld

Two hundred million dollars’ worth of something or other, initially planned as a cheap aquatic Mad Max spin-off, starring Kevin Costner and directed by Kevin Reynolds. Though it’s marginally more entertaining than Batman Forever or The Flintstones, once again an outsize budget proves a straitjacket, guaranteeing predictability on all fronts. After factoring in all the one-liners of the standard Dennis Hopper villain, Costner’s change in attitude from hostility toward the two females in his charge (Jeanne Tripplehorn and Tina Majorino) to friendship and loyalty, the narrow-escape stunts, and the carefully measured doses of profanity and nudity, this movie feels like it was made by a bank rather than a person. Written by Peter Rader and David Twohy; with Michael Jeter. (JR)… Read more »

12 Angry Men

Sidney Lumet’s first film (1957) adapts a Reginald Rose TV play about a serious-minded juror (Henry Fonda, naturally) who gradually convinces his 11 colleagues to reconsider the guilt of a Puerto Rican youth on trial for murder. A somewhat pat liberal parable that reeks of its period, the film is pretty much saved, or nearly, by Lumet’s tight direction and the capable performances, which are virtually restricted to the same closed room. Mechanically written, but within its own middlebrow limitations, it delivers the goods. With Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, and Jack Klugman. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »