Daily Archives: July 1, 1998

Flesh

Though advertised as an Andy Warhol film when it came out, Joe Dallesandro’s 1969 debut feature was actually directed by Paul Morrissey, and it was his first feature too. A rambling and sometimes funny tale of a low-energy hustler who goes to work to pay for his wife’s girlfriend’s abortion, the film consists largely of the one-on-one encounters that characterized most of the dramatic Warhol Factory releases. (JR)… Read more »

I Think I Do

Writer-director Brian Sloan has a nice, loose way of handling his actors, and his decision to locate this gay screwball comedy in a world of mainly straight peoplespecifically a circle of George Washington University students and (a few years later) alumni, some straight and some gaygives this breezy feature a certain freshness. In most other respects, however, this is a movie we’ve all seen several times before and can expect to see many times again. With Alexis Arquette, Maddie Corman, Guillermo Diaz, Marianne Hagan, Jamie Harrold, Christian Maelen, Lauren Velez, and Tuc Watkins. (JR)… Read more »

Genealogies Of A Crime

An uncharacteristically somber and mainly straightforward 1997 drama by prolific Chilean-born French postsurrealist Raul Ruiz (Three Lives and Only One Death). Catherine Deneuve plays a defense lawyer whose young client (Ruiz standby Melvil Poupaud) has murdered his aunt. (The aunt had belonged to a psychoanalytic group that believed criminal tendencies form by the age of five, an issue prominently debated throughout the film.) Over time the young man begins to associate the defense lawyer with his dead aunt while she identifies him with her dead sona relationship that grows even stranger once the two become lovers. The film has strong performances by Deneuve and Poupaud as well as by Monique Melinand (as the lawyer’s mother), Michel Piccoli (as the head of a psychoanalytic group), and Bernadette Lafont. Beautifully shot and relatively concentrated for Ruiz — who usually prefers to ramble, constructing baroque visual tangents to his fictions — it delivers the sting of a sharp novella. (JR)… Read more »

Henry Fool

Hal Hartley’s ambitious 1997 feature has a precise sense of everyday life in a working-class neighborhood of Queens: the sense of community, the casual desperation of people without defenses, the way people hang out on their front stoops or in the local convenience store. He uses his quirky, almost diagrammatic style to give us two literary archetypes: a repressed garbageman named Simon (James Urbaniak), who supports his invalid mother (Maria Porter) and oversexed sister (Parker Posey) and serves as the local scapegoat, and the title hero (Thomas Jay Ryan), a rebellious autodidact with a prison record who rents Simon’s family’s basement flat and encourages Simon to write. When Simon goes on to become a celebrity while his teacher remains mired in trouble and obscurity, a more abstract design begins to take shape. What eventually emerges isn’t nearly as achieved or convincing as the neighborhood portrait, but even when it ultimately overwhelms the characters, it’s full of juice, humor, and nuance. R, 137 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tamango

I haven’t seen this legendary and rarely screened French film in ‘Scope, but it should be well worth checking out. Director John Berry was a longtime member of Orson Welles’s Mercury repertory company, working as an actor on stage and radio and sometimes as a director; because he was also a communist, his promising Hollywood career as a film director (From This Day Forward, He Ran All the Way) was cut short by the blacklist. He emigrated to France, where he spent most of the remainder of his career, though he returned to the U.S. in the 70s to make, among other films, the wonderful ghetto comedy Claudine. Tamango (1957), loosely based on a story by Prosper Merim… Read more »

Smoke Signals

Good-natured but haunting, elliptical and repetitive as narrative but extremely likable, this is a poignant and sometimes funny story about two young Native American men (Adam Beach and Evan Adams) who travel from their Idaho reservation to Phoenix to retrieve the ashes of an estranged father of one of them. Directed by Chris Eyre and adapted by Sherman Alexie from stories in his book The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, this 1998 film has been billed as the first feature written, directed, and coproduced by American Indians, and while its general notations about being Native American are nothing to sneeze at, its particularities are the best thing about it. Gary Farmer, who was so memorable in Dead Man, gives an equally impressive but more abbreviated performance as the father, and the others in the cast portray the kind of characters you wind up remembering. PG-13, 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chicago Short Comedy Video And Film Festival 1998

I watched all but one of the shorts on the second of the two programs that constitute this festival, and, much as I hate to say this, I didn’t laugh once. I suspect seeing some of the clips with an audience might make a difference, but how much of a difference would depend on how eager that particular assembly was to laugh. Some of the works here are worth looking at simply because they’re weird (Noel Olken’s Mr. Peach’s Dinner Party), extreme (Joe Ryan’s The Western), unsettling (a clay-animation effort called The Boy With the Flip-Top Head), or nicely designed (Bubble Quandary), but none of them was actually funny. (JR)… Read more »

Drifting Clouds

Finnish mannerist Aki Kaurismaki (Ariel, The Match Factory Girl, Leningrad Cowboys Go America) takes on the theme of contemporary unemployment in a tender love story that, by his own account, places Frank Capra’s emotional rescue story It’s a Wonderful Life in one extreme corner and Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief in the other, and the Finnish reality in between. The film was conceived in part for actor Matti Pellonpaa, who died before it went into production; it’s now dedicated to his memory, and a photograph of him as a boy plays a key role in the emotional orchestration. Despite some careful color coordination in the sets and some quiet humor in the mise en scene and plot, not to mention a mournful seriousness in the overall treatment of the theme, this is arguably one of those instances in the filmmaker’s touching but reductive minimalist oeuvre where less becomes less (1996). In Finnish with subtitles. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Insomnia

An antiseptic, unemotional police procedural (1997, 96 min.) set in northern Norway, where an ace Swedish police sleuth (Stellan Skarsgard) turns up to investigate the murder of a 17-year-old girl and (surprise, surprise) winds up demonstrating he’s fairly screwed up himself. The style of director and cowriter Erik Skjoldbjaerg in this first feature is clipped and crisp, and much is made of the action’s transpiring inside the arctic circle during the season when there’s no night, but I had a much easier time nodding off than the hero. It’s nice to see a genre film from abroad for a change, but I would have preferred one with an interesting character or two, not to mention a livelier plot. In Norwegian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

There’s Something About Mary

Despite my earlier reservations about Bobby and Peter Farrelly, they’re progressively winning me over, partly because they keep getting better; this 1998 comedy often had me in stitches. Their gross-out humor is basically sweet tempered, for all its tweaking of PC attitudes, and though this film looks slapdash, its script (by the Farrellys, Ed Decter, and John J. Strauss) is surprisingly well put together. The victimized hero (Ben Stiller) nurtures a 13-year infatuation with the title heroine (Cameron Diaz), who moved away to Miami soon after high school in Rhode Island. He hires a shady detective (Matt Dillon) to track her down, and the detective falls in love with her himself. This movie’s unforced feeling for lower-middle-class disaffection is worthy at times of W.C. Fields, and there are some worst-case-scenario sequences involving a prom date, a dog, and jerking off that are convulsively hilarious. With Lee Evans and Chris Elliott. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »