A thrilling and multifaceted Taiwanese feature (1994) by theater director Stan Lai about both vaultingthe Chinese martial art of leaping enormous distancesand contemporary Taipei. The mysterious coexistence of the past in the present and Lai’s visually impressive style (combined with the work of Chris Doyle, the key cinematographer of the Taiwanese and Hong Kong new wave) make this one of the better Taiwanese features I’ve seen; with Ying Zhaode, Chen Wenming, Nai Weixun, and Li Tongcun. (JR)… Read more »
Daily Archives: July 1, 1996
Danny Boyle’s second feature (1996, 94 min.), a lot more stylish and entertaining than Shallow Grave. Far from nihilistic, though certainly calculated to butt up against various puritanical norms, this feel-good jaunt about young Scottish heroin addicts and their degradation and betrayals of one another draws a lot of its energy from Richard Lester movies of the 60s and 70s and from A Clockwork Orange (the novel as well as the movie). Adapted by John Hodge from Irvine Welsh’s popular pidgin-English novel (which had already been successfully adapted for the stage) and partially redubbed for American ears, it floats by almost as episodically as 94 minutes of MTV. With Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, Kevin McKidd, Robert Carlyle (Priest, The Full Monty), Kelly Macdonald, and Shirley Henderson. R. (JR)… Read more »
This exquisitely filmed 1992 experimental feature by Svetlana Proskurina, starring her husband Victor Proskurin and written by Andrei Chernykh, concerns a famous stage actor undergoing an identity crisisa theme that may call to mind Bergman, though the mesmerizingly slow camera movements often recall Tarkovsky. Much of the film is erotic and lyrical, with a fair amount of nudity, and there’s an eclectic score with jazz elements by Vyacheslav Gaivaronsky. The unidiomatic and often confusing subtitles make this difficult to follow in spots, but the color images are so ravishing that you may not care. (JR)… Read more »
This powerful paranoid thriller set in Santa Barbara, adapted by Jeffrey Alan Fishkin from Newton Thornberg’s novel Cutter and Bone (the film’s original title), is probably Ivan Passer’s best American feature (1981, 105 min.). Jeff Bridges and John Heard play two friends, the latter a crippled Vietnam war veteran, who stumble upon what looks like a murder committed by a wealthy local citizen. A major statement about post-60s disillusionment, with a wonderful performance by Lisa Eichhorn and shimmering, hallucinatory cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth. (JR)… Read more »
Isaac Julien directed this excellent British documentary (1996) about the psychiatrist and theorist who wrote about colonial oppression and revolution. In English and subtitled French. 52 min. (JR)… Read more »
This arresting, oddball 1995 road movie by Fredrik Thor Fridriksson concerns a Japanese businessman (Mystery Train’s Masatoshi Nagase) who’s planning a golfing vacation in Hawaii until his grandfather (the late Seijun Suzuki, ace B-film auteur) persuades him to fly to Iceland during the dead of winter, travel cross-country to the spot where his parents died in an accident, and perform a memorial service for them. His absurdist, mock-epic adventures constitute both a spiritual quest and a comic travelogue; among the strangers he encounters are a murderous American couple named Jack and Jill (Fisher Stevens and Lili Taylor) and a philosophical, self-styled Icelandic cowboy (Gisli Halldorsson). Strange, often funny, and occasionally beautiful, the film begins in Tokyo at standard screen ratio before expanding to ‘Scope in scenic Iceland. Fridriksson scripted with producer Jim Stark (a longtime Jim Jarmusch associate); this was the first Icelandic feature to be released commercially in the U.S., though nearly all of the dialogue is in English. (JR)… Read more »
Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) directed, cowrote (with Vincenzo Cerami), and stars in this funny if slightly overextended 1995 comedy about a doofus who’s mistaken for a crazed sex killer. Benigni’s brand of vulgar, high-spirited physical comedy, influenced by the erotic inflections of some of Tex Avery’s wartime cartoons, tends to be casually leering in its sexual politics. The sex comedy is funniest in the very skillfully performed extended scenes featuring Nicoletta Braschi (Benigni’s wife) as a policewoman; it’s most tiresome when it focuses on the machinations of a crazed psychiatrist played by Michel Blanc (who, like Jean-Claude Brialy, is dubbed into Italian). (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1996). — J.R.
Charles Burnett’s fifth feature (and the first he didn’t write), made for the Disney Channel in 1996. Adroitly scripted by coproducer Bill Cain from Gary Paulsen’s sketchy and rather lurid short novel for young adults, this is a powerful, skillful tale about one antebellum plantation slave (the title character, played by Carl Lumbly of To Sleep With Anger) teaching another slave (the narrator, a 12-year-old girl played by Allison Jones) how to read. As a parable about empowerment through reading this is at least as strong as Fahrenheit 451, and as a didactic fairy tale about the relationship between slavery and literacy it’s even stronger. In keeping with their Disney origins, Burnett delivers the story and drama in broad strokes, though he depicts even the white villains with humanity and some complexity (as in his only other film involving white as well as black characters, The Glass Shield). A wonderful, fully realized work — passionate, stirring, and beautiful. With Beau Bridges, Lorraine Toussaint, Bill Cobbs, and Kathleen York. 95 min. (JR)
From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1996). — J.R.
A little over two hours of recent videos by the great essayistic filmmaker Chris Marker (Sans soleil), ranging from playful personal works — such as Bestiary, put together between 1985 and 1993 and consisting of a record of the filmmaker’s cat’s responses to Ravel, the repeated staring of an owl, and two separate videos shot at a zoo — to documentaries for European television, including one that features Andrei Tarkovsky shooting the last sequence of his last film and then watching the film on video from his sickbed, a playful 1988 tour of Tokyo streets, a 1990 survey of reunified Berlin, a monologue by the painter Roberto Matta about his own work, and a fascinating account of a community of Bosnian refugees in Slovenia pirating TV signals to watch the news together. The videos about Tokyo, Berlin, and Tarkovsky aren’t subtitled, but they’re still highly watchable (and they contain bits of English, including actress Arielle Dombasle’s charming imitation of an American accent in the Tokyo work). The overall experience is roughly akin to channel surfing in a European hotel with a satellite dish. (JR)
Sometimes laborious, sometimes mildly funny Brooklyn jive from the head writer at Seinfeld, Sam Henry Kass. I didn’t mind watching this shaggy-dog story most of the time, but I came away feeling that the actors had much more fun than I did. With Nick and John Turturro, Michael Badalucco, Ray Boom Boom Mancini, Holt McCallany, Anne Meara, Steve Buscemi, Samuel L. Jackson, and Jennifer Beals. (JR)… Read more »
Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 first feature is a lighthearted and for the most part lightweight pseudodocumentary about an aspiring lesbian filmmaker (Dunye) attempting to research the life of an early Hollywood black actress known as the Watermelon Woman. The film’s laid-back charm and the delicacy of the sex scenes make the controversy the film raised in the U.S. Senate all the more grotesque. With Guinevere Turner (Go Fish), Valarie Walker, and a funny bit by Camille Paglia about the positive aspects of watermelon imagery in relation to both blacks and Italians. (JR)… Read more »
The original title of Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s striking and vibrant 1995 folkloric feature from Mali, a film dedicated to Africa, is Guimba: A Tyrant, an Epoch. A fantasy complete with magic spells and special effects, it recounts the intrigues that ensue when the title king allows his dwarf son to ride roughshod over their village kingdom to satisfy his lust, demanding that a married woman divorce her husband and marry him. With Falaba Issa Traore and Lamine Diallo. Check this one out. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »