Ludicrous as morality or theology but passable as light entertainment (despite the lame try at jaunty theme music), writer-director Daniel Taplitz’s comedy-drama concerns a man (Aidan Quinn) who loses his wife, home, and job and is even hit by a bolt of lightning. He then resolves to defy God by breaking all of the Ten Commandments. Since this, like most commercial American movies, is about capitalist male ownership, the bad luck of the hero’s wifenot to mention the welfare of his community relative to his lossesis never remotely at issue; what’s at stake is God’s respect for a man’s private property. With Courteney Cox and Anthony LaPaglia. (JR)… Read more »
Monthly Archives: April 1997
Its paper-thin characters turned into caricatures by egregious hamming, this 1996 Japanese comedy drama about shy ballroom dancers is sentimental goo and downright interminable. Clearly pitched to the Strictly Ballroom market, it’s strident and glib enough to corner it. Good luck and all that, but count me out. Written and directed by Masayuki Suo. In Japanese with subtitles. PG-13, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »
Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow play best friends who decide with some trepidation to attend their high school reunion. Despite the aggressive silliness of this enjoyable comedy, the emotional focus on the painful social experience of high school makes the film real and immediate, and the flavorsome dialogue in Robin Schiff’s script gives the leads a lot to work (as well as play) with. Directed fairly well by David Mirkin, though this movie really belongs to the actresses and screenwriter. With Janeane Garofalo. Evanston, Ford City, Lake, Lincoln Village, Norridge, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo.… Read more »
The subject’s nice — a clan of Irish con artists operating in the rural south — but the movie breaks down into separate pieces, some fresher than others, without much cumulative force. Directed by former cinematographer Jack Green (who’s shot eight Clint Eastwood movies as well as Twister) from a script by Jim McGlynn, the story centers on the adventures of a seasoned scam veteran (coproducer Bill Paxton) and his young protege (Mark Wahlberg), though a love interest eventually turns up in the form of a single mother (Julianna Margulies) who becomes the target of one of the duo’s schemes. James Gammon is around for additional grit, and there’s loads of country music on the sound track. (JR)… Read more »
Made between The Peddler and Marriage of the Blessed, this 1989 Iranian feature by the highly talented Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a filmmaker comparable in some ways to Martin Scorsese, follows the exploitation of an Afghan refugee who embarks on a bicycle marathon in order to raise money for his wife’s medical expenses. A searing expressionist work about man’s inhumanity, filmed in a hypnotic and feverish style. With Moharram Zaynalzadeh and Esmail Soltanian. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, April 24, 6:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo from “The Cyclist”.… Read more »
After running off the rails in Mallrats, writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks) not only returns to form but surpasses himself in this touching romantic comedy about comic book artists. The immature hero (Ben Affleck) falls in love with a bisexual woman (Joey Lauren Adams) with a promiscuous past, then struggles to come to terms with his own hang-ups. Neither PC nor crudely anti-PC, this tough and tender movie, like its characters, is prepared to take emotional risks, and the comic book milieu is deftly sketched in. With Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, and Smith himself, who recounts an anecdote near the end explaining the film’s title. Evanston, Golf Glen, Lake, Norridge, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo of “Chasing Amy”.… Read more »
Inspired by history, writer-director Bruce Beresford’s story about European, Australian, and American women who try to flee from Singapore during World War II but wind up as POWs of the Japanese in Sumatra is worthy but rather pedestrian stuff. Frances McDormand gets to show off by playing a German Jew, and Glenn Close, Pauline Collins, Cate Blanchett, Joanna Ter Steege, and Wendy Hughes do creditable jobs of their own. But the inspirational aspects of the talewhich mainly has to do with the determination of Close to form a vocal orchestra at the camp, despite the class divisions between the womennever quite carry the dramatic impact they’re supposed to. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 11, 1997). I’ve suppressed the title/headline originally given to this piece, which I greatly regretted at the time, “Tortured Genius”. There are a few contributions of my own here that I also regret, but, for the record, I’ve decided to let this text stand. — J.R.
Films by Mohsen Makhmalbaf
It’s tempting but dangerous to approach artists from exotic cultures in terms of more familiar reference points — such as comparing Zhang Yimou’s Ju Dou to The Postman Always Rings Twice or reading Souleymane Cisse’s Brightness as if it were an African Star Wars, as some American and English critics have done. Yet to describe the styles and visions of the two major Iranian filmmakers of the 80s and 90s, Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, I’ve been exploring comparisons to Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky — a project obviously fraught with booby traps, but one that clarifies some of the important differences between these two major figures.
Last June the Film Center brought us seven features and nine short films by Kiarostami, and this month it’s showing ten features and one short documentary by Makhmalbaf, as well as three documentaries about him (one of them Kiarostami’s remarkable Close-up).… Read more »
After running off the rails in Mallrats, writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks) not only returned to form but surpassed himself with this touching 1997 romantic comedy about comic book artists. The immature hero (Ben Affleck) falls in love with a bisexual woman (Joey Lauren Adams) with a promiscuous past, then struggles to come to terms with his own hang-ups. Neither PC nor crudely anti-PC, this tough and tender movie, like its characters, is prepared to take emotional risks, and the comic book milieu is deftly sketched in. With Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, and Smith himself, whose anecdote near the end explains the film’s title. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »
If snakes give you the willies, and big snakes even more of them, and having the willies is a desired state, this 1997 adventure about a documentary film crew doing battle with a 40-footer in the Brazilian rain forest may be just what you’re looking for. But you’re going to have to put up with a lot of silly characterizations and labored plot turns, not to mention some fast cutting that doesn’t mesh well with the picture’s ‘Scope format and a ridiculous shot looking out through the snake’s jaws. Jon Voight, the all-purpose villain, does a pretty good job of imitating Marlon Brando imitating a Paraguayan snake expert, but the rest of the playersincluding Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson, Vincent Castellanos, Jonathan Hyde, and Kari Wuhrerseem to be in a hurry to pick up their checks. Luis Llosa directed the makeshift script by Hans Bauer, Jim Cash, and Jack Epps Jr. (JR)… Read more »
One reason I prefer this mystery thriller about murder in the White House to Absolute Power is that its politics are liberal rather than neocon, and there’s no gratuitous Hillary bashing. But hey, it’s also a better mystery and a better thriller toonothing that makes undue claims for itself, but entertaining and put together with craft and economy. Wesley Snipes (a D.C. homicide detective) and Diane Lane (a dissident Secret Service agent and former Olympic sharpshooter) team up to solve the mystery; others in the cast include Alan Alda, Daniel Benzali, Ronny Cox, and Dennis Miller. Dwight Little directed the script by Wayne Beach and David Hodgin. (JR)… Read more »
Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Minnie Driver, and Joan and John Cusack star in this 1997 comedy directed by George Armitage (Miami Blues), about a hit man who returns home for a high school reunion. The odd premise is promising, but despite some early indications from the two Cusacks and Arkin that it’s going to be funny, it winds up an unholy mess that becomes steadily more incoherentmorally, dramatically, and conceptually. Alas, not even an ace like Armitage can save it. Written by Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, and John Cusack, who also coproduced; Barbara Harris appears in a cameo as the hero’s mother. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »
That Old Feeling
The underrated Carl Reiner (All of Me) directed this carnivalesque romantic farce, written by Leslie Dixon expressly for Bette Midler. The form and style are traditional Hollywood–closer to Hollywood of the 30s and 40s than to that of today–but the film comes across as positively rebellious in the present conservative climate. The long-divorced and feuding parents (Midler and Dennis Farina) of a straitlaced bride (Paula Marshall) desert their spouses at the wedding party to go off on a fling, and before the picture’s over, bounds of propriety concerning marital fidelity, class, and age have all been joyously crossed. This celebration of middle-age sex and paean to irresponsibility has its share of broad characterizations and predictable plot turns, but Reiner and his actors know what they’re doing every step of the way–and they have a ball with it. With Gail O’Grady, David Rasche, Jamie Denton, and Danny Nucci. Ford City, Gardens, Lake, Lincoln Village, 900 N. Michigan, Norridge, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 4, 1997). — J.R.
This is one of the best features (1996) of the prolific and unpredictable Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a dozen of whose films are showing at the Film Center this month. It’s also one of his most seminal and accessible — a reconstruction of a pivotal incident during his teens. At the time the shah was in power, and Makhmalbaf was a fundamentalist activist. He stabbed a policeman, was shot and arrested, and spent several years in prison. Two decades later, his politics quite different, Makhmalbaf was auditioning people to appear in his film Salaam Cinema, and among them was the policeman, now unemployed. The two of them wound up collaborating on this film, which tries to reconcile their separate versions of what happened with separate cameras. No doubt it was prompted in part by Abbas Kiarostami’s remarkable Close-up (1990), another eclectic documentary that reconstructs past events — a hoax that involved Makhmalbaf himself — with two cameras (showing at the Film Center on April 24). But this is no mere imitation; it’s a fascinating humanist experiment and investigation in its own right, full of warmth and humor as well as mystery. The original Persian title, incidentally, translates as “Bread and Flower.” Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, April 6, 4:15 and 6:00, 312-443-3737.… Read more »
A rarely screened and reportedly faithful adaptation of a Preston Sturges play, directed by John Stahl in 1931, with Paul Lukas, Sidney Fox, and Lewis Stone.… Read more »