From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1999). — J.R.
Not just a remake of the Boris Karloff-Karl Freund classic but an Indiana Jones spin-off with dollops of Jason and the Argonauts, George Romero’s zombie series, Land of the Pharaohs, Samson and Delilah, and even Apocalypse Now (Arnold Vosloo’s mummy bears a certain resemblance to Brando’s Kurtz). Writer-director Stephen Sommers does a pretty good job of zipping things along and occasionally scaring us, and the digital effects are fun; Brendan Fraser, John Hannah, and Jonathan Hyde do what they can with one-dimensional parts but tend to be outshone by the almost two-dimensional Rachel Weisz. Kevin J. O’Connor is mainly embarrassing as a conniving Arab, but then all the Arabs in this 1999 film, set during the 1920s, are accorded roughly the same respect, affection, and humanity as black people in The Birth of a Nation. Thanks to the example of Lucas-Spielberg, guiltless colonialism backed by endless gun power is still the name of the game. PG-13, 124 min. (JR)
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Set during the final days of World War II on a Japanese island containing a factory and prison camp, this late (1998) feature by Shohei Imamura is a serious yet cockeyed farce about a comically obsessed middle-aged doctor (Akira Emoto, the creepy con in The Eel) who makes the rounds of the island convinced that a hepatitis epidemic is sweeping Japan and his motley gang of helpers, which includes a young prostitute, a drunken and licentious monk, and a morphine-addicted surgeon. Beautifully realized on every level, this is a masterpiece that manages to combine low comedy and earthy humanity with apocalyptic profundity and terse wisdom; it’s not just a portrait of Japan in general and a closely knit community in particular, but a rousing black comedy about life and the world. In Japanese with subtitles. 128 min. (JR)… Read more »
Sincere and lachrymose, directorially ham-fisted, and terminally sappy, Roberto Benigni’s 1997 movie about Italian fascism and the Holocaust makes Schindler’s List look like social realism. The simple plot concerns a simple, good-hearted, and partly Jewish dreamer (Benigni), the proper schoolteacher he woos and marries (Nicoletta Braschi, Benigni’s real-life wife), and their little boy. The first half or so coasts along on a certain amount of charm attached to Benigni’s charismatic mugging, but when father and son wind up at a concentration camp and the father contrives to explain their hardships in terms of an invented game, the indifference of the proceedings and the hero’s slapstick behavior to the everyday realities of the camps borders on the nauseating. In Italian with subtitles. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »