The fourth and best feature of writer-director-producer James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, I’ll Do Anything) focuses on a dysfunctional, obsessive-compulsive novelist in Greenwich Village (Jack Nicholson), the gay painter who lives next door (Greg Kinnear), and a waitress and single parent (Helen Hunt) who works nearby but lives in Brooklynall of whom get entangled through a number of personal catastrophes. Whether or not these characters add up to coherent individuals, what Brooks manages to do with them as they struggle mightily to connect with one another is funny, painful, beautiful, and basically truthfula triumph for everyone involved. Mark Andrus wrote the original story and collaborated on the script; with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Shirley Knight. (JR)… Read more »
Monthly Archives: December 1997
From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 1997). — J.R.
The ninth feature of experimental filmmaker James Benning (11 x 14, One Way Boogie Woogie, Landscape Suicide, Deseret) is one of his most ambitious and powerful. Four Corners takes as its jumping-off point the famous tourist spot where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah meet, but as a complex meditation on landscape, history, and painting, its subject is really the entire country (one of the longest passages deals with Milwaukee, where Benning grew up). The film examines four paintings by very dissimilar artists (Monet, Jasper Johns, a black man from Alabama, and a first-century Native American); presents biographical sketches of each painter; explores migration history, ethnic displacement, and conflicts in particular areas of Milwaukee or Four Corners; includes 13 fixed (and beautifully composed) shots of each area; and records two pieces of ethnic music (by a Navajo band and a prerap Harlem group). But Benning convinces us that nearly all these things are part of the same story, a politically potent one that brims with a sense of everyday life. (JR)
Laurence Cote (Up Down Fragile, Les voleurs) plays the daughter of Bulle Ogier (L’amour fou, Irma Vep); both live in a northern suburb of Paris in this 1995 first feature by Emmanuelle Cuau. I sampled this a couple of years ago and liked what I saw; given the distinction of the two actresses involved, it should be well worth seeing. (JR)… Read more »
Directed by Gael Morel, the young lead of Andre Techine’s Wild Reeds (1996), this is a French feature about the sex lives of several 20-year-olds, gay as well as straight. I only stuck around for the first half-hour or so when I sampled this at Cannes last year and I wasn’t sorry to leave, but maybe I missed something. (JR)… Read more »
Kirby Dick’s 1996 documentary about performance artist and writer Bob Flanaganborn with cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease that made pain a constant factor in his lifechronicles his masochism, graphically illustrated in his performance pieces, as a way he coped therapeutically with his condition. The film also deals at length with Sheree Rose, who became Flanagan’s dominatrix, companion, and artistic collaborator over the last 15 years of his life, drawing some of its material from her own videotapes as well as Dick’s film footage. What emerges is perhaps the first in-depth look on film at a long-term sadomasochistic relationship, though one might argue that the nature of Rose’s investment is often ambiguous. Overall, this is serious, powerful, and provocative stuff. I can’t recall a film that compelled me to look away from the screen more often. (JR)… Read more »
Edward Yang’s ambitious and satiric 1994 Taiwanese feature, set over a couple of frenetic days in Taipei, deals with some of the effects of capitalism on personal relationships, weaving a web of romantic, sexual, and professional intrigues among an energetic businesswoman, her reckless fiance, a TV talk-show hostess, an alienated novelist, an avant-garde playwright, and others. As the title suggests, the collision between ancient Chinese beliefs and current economic trends creates a certain sense of vertigo, and this dense comic drama catches the feeling precisely. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 1997). — J.R.
Writer-director Steven Soderbergh (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Kafka, King of the Hill, The Underneath) tries his hand at outrageous screwball comedy, with very mixed results. Playing the lead part himself and shooting with a cast of unknowns in Louisiana, where he grew up, he proceeds largely by peppering his dialogue with various non sequiturs and stretches of nonsense (pacifist cottage . . . Belgian disregard . . . nose army . . . Vienna dog is one fair sample) and bad puns (I may vote Republican, says a dentist, but I’m a firm believer in gum control) and throwing in irreverent asides (No fish was harmed during the making of this film, reads an opening title, and one sign posted to a tree reads, Idea missing). Given the audacity, it would be a pleasure to report that the results are hilarious, but most of it isn’t even funny, and the sense of anything goes hangs heavy over the film as it develops. An authentic curiosity, but proceed at your own risk. (JR)