Daily Archives: April 1, 1992

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

Passed Away

A reluctant family reunion brought about by the death of a patriarch (Jack Warden) is the point of departure for this mildly engaging and fairly fresh comedy written and directed by Charlie Petersa screenwriter on such pictures as Three Men and a Little Lady and Blame It on Rio, here making his directorial debut. The capable and offbeat cast includes Bob Hoskins, Blair Brown, Tim Curry, Frances McDormand, William Petersen, Pamela Reed, Peter Riegert, Maureen Stapleton, and (especially good) Nancy Travis. (JR) Read more


For all the liberties taken with the play, Orson Welles’s 1952 independent feature may well be the greatest Shakespeare film (Welles’s later Chimes at Midnight is the only other contender)a brooding expressionist dream made in eerie Moorish locations over nearly three years, yet held together by a remarkably cohesive style and atmosphere. (The film looks better than ever in its 1992 restored version, though it sounds quite different thanks to the restorers’ debatable decision to redo the brilliant score and sound effects in stereo, altering them considerably in the process.) The most impressive performance here is Micheal MacLiammoir’s Iago; Welles’s own underplaying of the title role meshes well with the somnambulistic mood, but apart from some magnificent line readings he makes less of a dramatic impression. With Suzanne Cloutier (as Desdemona), Robert Coote, Fay Compton, Doris Dowling, and Michael Laurence. 92 min. (JR) Read more

A Midnight Clear

Writer-director Keith Gordon sustains rather than fulfills the interesting promise of his first feature (The Chocolate War) in another taut novel adaptation that shows the influence of Stanley Kubrick. The novel this time is by William Wharton, who also wrote the source novels for Birdy and Dad; it’s a semiautobiographical account of the members of a young World War II infantry squad, stuck in a deserted French chateau during the Christmas season in 1944, who form a sort of perverse family (two of the soldiers are nicknamed Father and Mother) and make uncertain contact with a small German squad that may or may not want to surrender. This fable about the futility of the war benefits not only from fine performances but an intelligent and literate offscreen narration that enhances the movie’s conceptual integrity (for my money, it’s a much better model of what literary cinema should be than Howards End). With Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross, Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, Frank Whaley, and John C. McGinley. (JR) Read more

Locked Up Time

A fascinating German documentary by Sybille Schonemann about her return to the East German penitentiary where she spent a year as a political prisoner before Germany’s reunification. In addition to restaging portions of her own arrest and incarceration, she films her confrontations with the officials who brought unspecified charges against her, the secret police who arrested her, and the prison matrons and warden. It’s as if Kafka’s Joseph K. went back and tried to conduct rational and even-tempered interviews with the bureaucrats who condemned himmost of the people she speaks to are friendly, vague, evasive, and forgetful, and something about the state apparatus they were a part of courses through the film like a chilly draft (1991). (JR) Read more