Monthly Archives: January 1999

Playing by Heart

Playing by Heart

This charming romantic comedy with a Los Angeles setting cuts between seemingly unconnected miniplots the way some Robert Altman movies do. In the final scenes the connections become clear, but until then the links are strictly thematic, having to do with love of one kind or another. A distraught man (Dennis Quaid) offers contradictory hard-luck stories to different women (including one drag queen) in different bars; two couples (Gillian Anderson and Jon Stewart, Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe) each encounter romantic difficulties caused by the fears of one member; a mother (Ellen Burstyn) comforts her son who’s dying of AIDS (Jay Mohr); an elderly couple (Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands) bickers; a younger couple (Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Edwards) pursues a clandestine and emotionless affair. This differs most strikingly from Altman’s work in that the overall thrust of the stories is optimistic–but even the most overly determined happy ending can seem welcome after Altman’s heavy cynicism. The writer-director, whose previous features (Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Runestone) are unknown to me, is Willard Carroll; cinematography is by former Altman collaborator Vilmos Zsigmond and music is by John Barry. Evanston, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Gloria

Sidney Lumet’s misguided 1999 remake of the John Cassavetes feature about a pistol-packing woman who accidentally becomes the guardian of a six-year-old boy hunted by the mob. Cassavetes’s original script was designed to be commercial, and someone else was supposed to direct itthough Cassavetes wound up with the jobso the notion of a remake with Sharon Stone taking over the Gena Rowlands part sounds plausible. Unfortunately Stone reaches for 50s reference points like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Holliday that throw the whole conception out of kilter. Steven Antin wrote the screenplay; with Jean-Luke Figueroa, Jeremy Northam, Cathy Moriarty, George C. Scott, and Bonnie Bedelia. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Theory Of Flight

With the possible exception of The Eighth Day, this entry in the 90s Oscar-mongering heartwarming disability sweepstakes has got to be the most repulsive yet. Kenneth Branagh plays a would-be inventor in trouble with the law whose community service is caring for a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease (you guessed itHelena Bonham Carter). She asks him to help her lose her virginity. The commercial release of an atrocity like this cynical-sentimental caper from England while infinitely better features from abroad get passed over is the kind of thing that unjustifiably gives international cinema a bad name. Richard Hawkins wrote the script and Paul Greengrass directed it; with Gemma Jones and Holly Aird. (JR)… Read more »

In Dreams

As part of his ongoing project to turn himself into Clive Barker, Neil Jordan directs his coadaptation (with Bruce Robinson) of Bari Wood’s novel Doll’s Eyes. It’s about a New England housewife (Annette Bening) possessed by a vengeful psychotic (Robert Downey Jr.) who controls her dreams, and if it were a vignette in the old EC comic book Tales From the Crypt, I’d probably give it a B-minus or a C-plus. Unfortunately, this takes a lot longer to watch than one of those tales ever took to read, and the strident tone of hysteria is too unvaried to allow for much suspense or sense of character to take shape; Bening alone wore me down in about ten minutes. Some pretty autumn foliage, a couple of nice visual effects, and Downey in his manic prime all couldn’t prevent me from wanting this to end a lot sooner than it did. With Aidan Quinn (the husband) and Stephen Rea (the shrink). (JR)… Read more »

Divorce Iranian Style

Divorce Iranian Style

Kim Longinotto and Ziba Mir-Hosseini directed this documentary about divorce in Iran, where a man is free to leave his wife but a woman needs either her husband’s permission or proof that he’s insane or sterile. The film’s image of contemporary Iranian women clashes with Western stereotypes: despite their legal handicaps, the women we see here are angry, aggressive, and resourceful. Longinotto (an English documentarian) and Mir-Hosseini (a divorced Iranian anthropologist based in London) make their feminist bias clear from the outset, and their periodic involvement in the court proceedings adds to the interest. This Iranian-British coproduction is a rare example of a successful documentary in the mode of Frederick Wiseman made outside the United States; it’s clearly been facilitated by the recent liberalization of the Iranian government. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, January 8, 6:00; Saturday, January 9, 4:00 and 7:45; and Sunday, January 10, 8:00; 312-443-3737.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

The Red And The White

This 1968 feature about Hungarians joining the Red Army during the 1918 Russian civil war was the first feature by Miklos Jancso I ever saw, and it proved to be an excellent introduction to his work. Filmed in extremely long takes in black and white ‘Scope, with the camera frequently in gliding motion, the film, like most of Jancso’s work, is a highly choreographed historical pageant that is highly charged with erotic elements as well as meditations on the nature of power. Highly recommended. In Hungarian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Au Revoir

This 1990 short by Canadian filmmaker, painter, musician, and conceptual artist Michael Snow, his latest film, features him rising from a desk, saying good-bye to a woman, and walking out a dooran event filmed with a Super Slo-Mo camera and stretched out to 18 beautiful and fascinating minutes. Snow aptly calls the film slightly activated Vermeer, and it’s a wonderful and multifaceted experience. Also known as See You Later. (JR)… Read more »

North African Videos

Three shorts: Sabriya, by Tunisian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, and Whispers (an experimental work in progress) and Boujad: A Nest in the Heat, by Moroccan filmmaker Hakim Belabbes (a student at Columbia College). I’ve seen Boujad, an intense and compelling 45-minute documentary about Belabbes… Read more »

Phase Iv

So-so ecological SF thriller from 1973 about superintelligent ants. Director Saul Bass is best known for creating the title sequences to many key films by Alfred Hitchcock and Otto Preminger; he directed a few films of his own, but to the best of my knowledge this is his only feature. With Nigel Davenport, Lynne Frederic, and Michael Murphy. (JR)… Read more »

Park Row

This neglected Samuel Fuller feature from 1952, a giddy look at New York journalism in the 1880s, was his personal favoritehe financed it himself and lost every penny. A principled cigar smoker (Gene Evans) becomes the hard-hitting editor of a new Manhattan daily, where he competes with his former employer (Mary Welch) in a grudge match loaded with sexual undertones; meanwhile a man jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge trying to become famous, the Statue of Liberty is given to the U.S. by France, and a newspaper drive raises money for its pedestal. Enthusiasm flows into every nook and cranny of this cozy movie: when violence breaks out in the cramped-looking set of the title street, the camera weaves in and out of the buildings as through a sports arena, in a single take. Park Row is repeated incessantly like a crazy mantra, and the overall fervor of this vest-pocket Citizen Kane makes journalism sound like the most exciting activity in the world. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

Playing By Heart

This charming romantic comedy with a Los Angeles setting cuts between seemingly unconnected miniplots the way some Robert Altman movies do. In the final scenes the connections become clear, but until then the links are strictly thematic, having to do with love of one kind or another. A distraught man (Dennis Quaid) offers contradictory hard-luck stories to different women (including one drag queen) in different bars; two couples (Gillian Anderson and Jon Stewart, Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe) each encounter romantic difficulties caused by the fears of one member; a mother (Ellen Burstyn) comforts her son who… Read more »

Seventh Heaven

A frigid kleptomaniac who faints a lot (Sandrine Kiberlain) seeks therapy from a mysterious hypnotist (Francois Berleaud); he begins to cure her using feng shui, but as she recovers, her surgeon husband (Vincent Lindon) starts to lose his own bearings. This curious, unsatisfying 1997 French comedy-drama by Benoit Jacquot (A Single Girl) initially calls to mind Otto Preminger’s 1949 thriller¬†Whirlpool¬†but winds up in New Age territory I can barely fathom. The notion of one spouse suffering from the other’s recovery is provocative, but neither the characters nor the therapeutic particulars seem adequately developed.… Read more »

See The Sea And A Summer Dress

Two films by the young French writer-director Francois Ozon, both in similar seaside settings. The 52-minute See the Sea (1997) is a gripping and extremely creepy tale of an encounter between two young women, a new mother, and a mysterious backpacker who asks to camp out on her lawn; this is very accomplished work, but I didn’t much care for it, mainly because its dark pessimism seems to have been adopted like a clothing style rather than arrived at existentially. More lighthearted (and much more lightweight) is the 15-minute A Summer Dress (1996), a comedy about gender bending and cross-dressing. (JR)… Read more »

At First Sight

Formerly an enterprising producer (Point Blank, Raging Bull) but nowadays a not very good director (The Net), Irwin Winkler has the annoying habit of taking on potent materialsuch as the Hollywood blacklist in Guilty by Suspicion and Jules Dassin’s Night and the City in a remake of the same nameand draining it of practically everything that makes it matter. Here he comes dangerously close to doing the same with Oliver Sacks’s nonfiction story To See and Not See, about a blind man whose sight was restored. He glamorizes, romanticizes, and simplifies the material to an insulting degree, but despite his worst efforts fragments of what made the original story arresting manage to leak through. Val Kilmer, clearly pleased to be entering the Oscar disability sweepstakes, does what he can as the hunk who learns how to see, and Mira Sorvino plays the architect who falls for him; with Kelly McGillis, Bruce Davison, and Nathan Lane. (JR)… Read more »

A Civil Action

A multifaceted misfire from writer-director Steven Zaillian that is especially disappointing as a follow-up to his first feature, Searching for Bobby Fischer, made with many members of that film’s production team. In retrospect, the conceptual coherence of the underrated earlier feature may have been protected by the relative absence of big-name stars. Here one has to contend with both the miscasting of John Travolta as a determined personal-injury attorney and an uneven script that appears to have been mangled by the sort of studio interference that superstars often impose or provoke. This project, based on a best-selling nonfiction book by Jonathan Harr about an attorney locking horns with two corporations over the contaminated water supply of a New England town where several children have died, demands the focus of something like Anatomy of a Murder or The Rainmaker. Instead it suffers from a scattershot approach. An excellent secondary castincluding Robert Duvall, Stephen Fry, Dan Hedaya, and Sydney Pollackisn’t allowed to build momentum, and Travolta’s character is established so poorly that he never functions properly as a through line. The theme remains strong, but the storytelling doesn’t do it justice. With Tony Shalhoub, William H. Macy, and Kathleen Quinlan. (JR)… Read more »