Monthly Archives: April 1992

FernGully…The Last Rainforest

This may be the most enjoyable animated feature I’ve seen since Walt Disney died–a passionate ecological fable that combines more wit and wonder than the entire output of some animation studios. Basically a collaborative effort between Australians and Americans, directed by Bill Kroyer (a Disney-trained animator) from a script by Jim Cox based on the FernGully stories by Australian writer Diana Young, it benefits greatly from the voices of such actors as Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater, Grace Zabriskie, Cheech Marin, and Tommy Chong, as well as from a canny sense of how to use them. The simple story involves the multiple creatures of an enormous rain forest and the grim encroachments of humans, one of whom gets shrunk to insect size and learns what “toxic love” (as one of the songs calls it) is all about. The rain forest itself is invested with an imaginative depth and variety and a sense of immensity that hark back to the best early Disney features, and the expressionist depiction of deforestation and pollution is equally rich and potent. The score (by several hands) isn’t as memorable as Beauty and the Beast’s, but the dialogue is arguably even funnier. In other words, you should see this. Read more

Deep Cover

Larry Fishburne plays a cop who poses as a Hollywood drug dealer in order to infiltrate and destroy a cocaine cartel, but gradually discovers that the U.S. State Department has other political priorities and agendas in mind. Amply fulfilling the promise recently shown in A Rage in Harlem, director Bill Duke does a terrific job in spelling out the grim implications of this exceptionally violent picture, scripted by Henry Bean and Michael Tolkin (The Rapture). What emerges is a powerhouse thriller full of surprises, original touches, and rare political lucidity, including an impressive performance by Jeff Goldblum as a yuppie Jewish gangster. With Victoria Dillard, Charles Martin Smith, Sydney Lassick, Clarence Williams III, Gregory Sierra, and Roger Guenveur Smith. (Starts Wednesday, April 15, Hyde Park, Broadway, Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Golf Glen, Plaza) Read more

White Men Can’t Jump

After the disappointing Blaze, writer-director Ron Shelton is back on track with the same mixture of sports action, sexual sparring, and comic, slangy dialogue that sparked Bull Durham. Like that earlier comedy, this is enough of a structural mess to lose itself somewhere before the end, but the jazzy surface action is even more lively and seductive. Basically the movie is a string of episodes occasioned by the teaming up of two basketball hustlers (Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes) in Los Angeles, with racial differences serving both to help their hustles along and to define the limits of their friendship; Do the Right Thing’s feisty Rosie Perez plays Harrelson’s girlfriend, who longs to be a contestant on Jeopardy, while Tyra Ferrell is accorded the less interesting and less prominent part of Snipes’s wife. But if Shelton’s flair for fancy dialogue and his preoccupation with scoring often make him seem like the Preston Sturges of southern jive, it’s a pity that he doesn’t seem to have a matching sense of plot and continuity. This picture is packed with fun, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and elements that summon up memories of The Hustler don’t work in its favor. (Biograph, Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Golf Glen, Plaza, Evanston, Hyde Park, Ford City) Read more

Meet the Parents

It’s tempting to call this low-budget, independently made feature by Chicago stand-up comic Greg Glienna (who directed and cowrote the script) the ultimate worst-case-scenario comedy. Glienna plays an unassuming young man in advertising who drives from Chicago to Indiana with his fiancee (Jacqueline Cahill) to meet her folks (Dick Galloway and Carol Whelan) and sister (Mary Ruth Clarke, Glienna’s cowriter). What follows is a cascade of nightmares that may not always make you laugh but will impress you with the singularity of Glienna’s dark approach. Some of these nightmares work better than others–I could have done without the encounter with the fiancee’s former boyfriend, and there are times when the bits about the maniacal star struck sister seem overworked–but you’re still likely to be taken by the purity and relentlessness of this picture’s vision (1991). (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, April 3 through 9) Read more

The Rock

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1992). — J.R.

Very entertaining 1996 action hokum that benefits hugely from the use of its three stars — Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage, and Ed Harris. Harris, evoking Dr. Strangelove’s Jack D. Ripper, is a brigadier general so angry about the U.S. government’s refusal to honor the soldiers who died in covert operations that he kidnaps a bunch of tourists on Alcatraz and threatens to hit the mainland with lethal poison gas if reparations aren’t made immediately. Connery is a top-secret federal prisoner who once escaped from Alcatraz and Cage is an FBI chemist and biological weapons expert; together they form a funny and crotchety action duo pitted against Harris and his renegade commandos. Michael Bay directed from a script by David Weisberg, Douglas S. Cook, and Mark Rosner that’s high-octane nonsense but gives both the actors and the audience all that’s needed to make this diverting — car chases, wisecracks, narrow escapes, explosions. With Michael Biehn, William Forsythe, and Vanessa Marcil. (JR) Read more

The Player

Entertaining but shallow, this 1992 Hollywood roast of the film industrydirected by Robert Altman, and adapted by Michael Tolkin from his own novelis supposed to be scathing, but the pleasure it affords is like what you get from watching the Oscars: celebrity spotting and in-jokes. The setup is a would-be noir situation: a studio executive (Tim Robbins) nervous about his position starts to get anonymous threatening mail from a disgruntled screenwriter and winds up committing a murder. As is customary in Altman ensemble pieces, the surface activity keeps one occupied, but never adds up to much because none of the characters is developed beyond the cartoon level; and the snobby sense of knowingness that’s over everything is uncomfortably close to what the movie is supposed to be dissecting. With Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward, Whoopi Goldberg, Peter Gallagher, Brion James, Cynthia Stevenson, Vincent D’Onofrio, and more than 60 cameos. R, 123 min. (JR) Read more


A Disney musical with an undistinguished score (Alan Menken and Jack Feldman), fair to middling choreography (Kenny Ortega and Peggy Holmes), and clunky direction (Ortega) that still manages to be entertaining in spots because of its story (by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White), which purports to be based on actual events: New York newsboys go on strike in 1899 against the New York World’s evil Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall), until sweetie-pie governor Teddy Roosevelt (David James Alexander) saves the day. (It’s too bad Samuel Fuller wasn’t turned loose on this project.) Christian Bale plays the charismatic boy leader, and others in the cast include David Moscow, Luke Edwards, Ann-Margret, Bill Pullman, Michael Lerner, and Kevin Tighe. (JR) Read more

Howards End

The famous adapting team of producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who’ve specialized over the years in the novels of Henry James (The Europeans, The Bostonians) and E.M. Forster (A Room With a View, Maurice), turn to Forster’s 1910 masterpiece about the intertwined lives of two families (1992). Although the results are generally better than their earlier triesmost of the acting is exquisite, the ‘Scope framing and lighting is elegant, the settings are beautifulthe conceptual limitations of the whole middlebrow enterprise are, if anything, even more blatant. This is the apotheosis of Classics Illustrated filmmaking, aiming at nothing more than tasteful reduction, and the fact that it’s done so well here doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily worth doing. With Vanessa Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, Joseph Bennett, Emma Thompson, Prunella Scales, Anthony Hopkins, and an uncredited cameo by Simon Callow. (JR) Read more

Year Of The Comet

Penelope Ann Miller plays a London wine merchant’s daughter who has to catalog a wine collection in a Scottish cellar, and discovers there an exceptionally rare wine bottled in 1811, the year of the comet. Accompanied on her trip back to London by a client’s uncouth employee (Timothy Daly), she finds herself the target of many prospective thieves (including Louis Jourdan). Peter Yates directed this romantic caper comedy from a script by William Goldman that harks back (in aspiration, at least) to cross-country Hitchcockian romps of the 50s and 60s, but the movie is so in love with its own would-be cuteness that it strangles on the effort. At least the Scottish and Riviera settings, if not the actors, are used attractively. (JR) Read more

Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades Of Blue

The only connection between this picture and Wild Orchid is that both were written and directed by Zalman King and both feature hothouse overacting and soft-core sex. This is almost as silly in spots as King’s Two Moon Junction, but it’s a lot more likable because of its sincerity and relative sweetness. The plot concerns Blue (Nina Siemaszko), the daughter of a jazz trumpeter and junkie (Tom Skerritt), who winds up working as an expensive call girl when her father dies, then decides to go straight after falling for a high school senior (Brent Fraser). As in James B. Harris’s infinitely superior Some Call It Loving (1973), in which King starred, the subject here is largely the contrast between high school innocence and corrupted ideas of sexuality. With Wendy Hughes, Robert Davi, Christopher McDonald, and Joe Dallesandro. (JR) Read more

Tea And Sympathy

Dated and bowdlerized but nonetheless sincere, Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 ‘Scope version of a Robert Anderson playadapted by the author, with Hays Office censorshipwas originally about a persecuted gay schoolboy taken under the wing of an older woman. Now it’s about a persecuted effeminate heterosexual schoolboy taken under the wing of an older woman, with John Kerr and Deborah Kerr (no relation) re-creating their stage roles. The result may be less memorable or celebrated than Minnelli’s other ‘Scope melodramas (e.g., The Cobweb, Home From the Hill, Some Came Running), but it’s still probably better than most contemporary movies. With Leif Erickson, Edward Andrews, and Darryl Hickman. (JR) Read more

Films By Jay Rosenblatt

San Francisco independent Jay Rosenblatt will present a program of his quirky and interesting films, including his ten-minute Short of Breath (1990). Most of this masterpiece belongs to that currently overworked and underthought experimental genre the found-footage film, but Rosenblattemulating Bruce Connor, the master of the genre, in a fresh and psychoanalytical manner that is at once sad, frightening, and lyricalmakes it the stuff of high drama. He’ll also be showing Blood Test (1985), Paris X2 (1988), and Brain in the Desert (1990). (JR) Read more

God Of Gamblers Iii: Back To Shanghai

Back to the Future Hong Kong style, with Stephen Chow as the time traveler visiting his unmarried grandfather and grandmother (Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern’s Gong Li) in Shanghai in the 30s. Poon Man Kit directed this madcap 1991 action comedy. (JR) Read more


Soviet filmmaker Mikhail Belikov’s docudrama about Chernobyl views the 1986 power-plant disaster as a sort of objective correlative of national moral decay and as a tragedy that served to throw this decay into relief. It’s more interesting and persuasive in what it has to say about the accident than in the somewhat awkward thrust of its fiction (1990). (JR) Read more

The Playboys

While this delightful and charming Irish comedy, set in 1957, is quite different in plot from John Ford’s The Quiet Man (1952), it frequently evokes the earlier film in its beautiful village settings, its fiercely independent heroine (Robin Wright), and its climactic slugfest between the outsider hero (Aidan Quinn) and a drunken local bully (Albert Finney); it also may come a lot closer to the reality of an Irish village. The unmarried heroine in this case causes a scandal by becoming pregnant and refusing to name the father; the hero is an actor in a traveling troupe, and the bully is a local cop. Shane Connaughton and Kerry Crabbe wrote the script, Gillies MacKinnon directed, Milo O’Shea and Alan Devlin costar, and it seems like everyone had a ball; I know I did. (JR) Read more