Monthly Archives: May 1993

Much Ado About Nothing

Kenneth Branagh’s second attempt (after Henry V) to popularize Shakespeare for the screen yields his best movie to date–not especially interesting as art perhaps, but a smashing piece of entertainment. The comedy has been cut and deprived of its urban setting so that the whole thing could be shot in and around a 14th-century Tuscan villa, but the trade-off seems worth it, and most of the cast shines: I especially enjoyed Michael Keaton’s outrageous mugging as Constable Dogberry. Denzel Washington is sufficiently elegant as Don Pedro to enable one to forget his American accent most of the time. If Branagh himself as Benedick is the price we have to pay to get the resourceful Emma Thompson (his wife and regular costar) as Beatrice, they’re both more at home here than Keanu Reeves as Don John. Their separate soliloquies are effectively staged like recitatives in a musical, and their sparring dialogues are somewhat evocative of Kiss Me Kate. If you appreciate the effort to make Shakespeare comprehensible, the high spirits, sensual trappings, and juicy language of this buoyant, handsome production are pretty contagious. Fine Arts. Read more


Contrary to what’s suggested in the Film Center’s Gazette, the version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1929 masterpiece being shown is not his first sound picture, but the film that immediately preceded it, his last silent. (Both versions follow the plight of a murderer caught between her blackmailer and her boyfriend, an investigating detective.) For all the experimental interest of the sound version (the first full-length talkie released in England), this recently uncovered silent version, which hasn’t been seen anywhere in more than 60 years, is the more fluid and accomplished of the two. Apart from two suspenseful set pieces–an attempted date rape in an artist’s studio that ends with the murder of the artist-rapist, and a chase through the British Museum, Hitchcock’s first giddy desecration of a national monument–what most impresses here is the masterful movement back and forth between subjective and objective modes of story telling, as well as the pungent uses of diverse London settings. As someone who’s always preferred Lang’s treatment of serial killers to Hitchcock’s, I would opt for this thriller over the much better known The Lodger as Hitchcock’s best silent picture, rivaled only by his less characteristic but formally inventive The Ring. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown; David Drazin will provide piano accompaniment. Read more


A likable minor-key effort about a Czech baron (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who collects porcelain figures, adapted by Hugh Whitemore from a novel by Bruce Chatwin and directed by George Sluizer (the Dutch filmmaker best known for The Vanishing and its U.S. remake). This British-German production, with effective secondary performances by Paul Scofield, Brenda Fricker, and Local Hero’s Peter Riegert, is partially a wry satiric look at Eastern Euopean communism and partially an exercise in fragmented story telling. It shows a fair amount of wit and restraint in both departments and qualifies as civilized entertainment, if not much more. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 14 through 20. Read more

Number 17

A peculiar and neglected early Hitchcock stage adaptation (1932), notable because it was intended partly as an absurdist send-up and none of the contemporary reviewers got the point. (The opening sequence suggests a kind of delirium of continuity that the picture periodically returns to.) Most of the film is set in an abandoned house, where enjoyably murky intrigues abound, and the last ten minutes feature a chase sequence with miniatures that is almost as much fun. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, May 14, 7:45, 443-3737. Read more

Emma and Elvis

From the Chicago Reader (May 7, 1993). — J.R.

This entertaining first fiction feature of Julia Reichert (Union Maids) is at least 25 times better than The Pickle in making a filmmaker’s creative/mid-life crisis meaningful, engaging, and interesting — so the fact that it’s taken two years for this enjoyable independent movie to open here (and at Facets rather than, say, Water Tower) must have more to do with the vanity of cock-waving industry honchos than with the needs of ordinary spectators like you and me. The filmmaker is a married woman (Kathryn Walker) in Dayton, Ohio, who’s bogged down in a documentary about the 60s counterculture. She becomes involved with a bitter, disaffected cable-access video artist in his 20s (Jason Duchin), which creates an ongoing dialogue between 60s and contemporary approaches to political protest — particularly when both characters become involved with a local censorship issue involving a gay activist with AIDS. The story is set in spring 1989, during the Tiananmen Square protests, and all the characters are fresh and unpredictable. The film-within-a-film features interviews about the 60s with Angela Davis, Tom Hayden, David Horowitz, Greil Marcus, and Holly Near. Mark Blum is effective as the filmmaker’s neglected husband; Steven Bognar and Martin M. Read more


To the editors:

Contrary to what I wrote in my review of My New Gun (April 30), the film’s distributor is I.R.S. Media, not Fine Line. My apologies for the error.

Jonathan Rosenbaum Read more


From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1993). — J.R.


Basic Instinct‘s Sharon Stone and that film’s screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas, reunite in a much less dynamic, erotic, and suspenseful thriller, this one about voyeurism rather than bondage (1993). It’s an adaptation of an Ira Levin novel about a shy Manhattan editor (Stone) who moves into an upscale apartment where the last tenant, whom she resembles, was murdered. She attracts the romantic interest of two neighbors — a successful crime writer (Tom Berenger) and a younger man (William Baldwin) who owns the building. Despite misleading flackery about this being somehow like Rear Window, it’s actually a high-tech rip-off of various notions and even shots from the lesser-known The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Fritz Lang’s last film, about a hotel whose every room conceals a hidden TV camera. (In fact, this hasn’t a hint of the sexiness, style, or conceptual brilliance of either film.) Stone tries to prove she can act but only demonstrates that she can give good close-up; the script is full of holes and red herrings; and the direction of Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games), who probably was hampered by producer Robert Evans and preview audiences breathing down his neck, never achieves much authority or coherence. Read more

The Story Of Qiu Ju

Zhang Yimou shifts gears from the upper-class formalism and cloistered period settings of his Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, and Raise the Red Lantern with this 1992 comedy about a pregnant farm wife (Gong Li) taking on the government bureaucracy after her husband is injured in an altercation with the village chief. Shot mainly with hidden cameras and nonprofessional actors (including government bureaucrats), this may contain more casual information about everyday life in China than all the other Chinese movies distributed in this country combined; it’s also an adroit piece of storytelling and mise-en-scene that shows at least as much of Zhang’s directorial talent as his previous features. Screenwriter Liu Heng freely adapts a novel by Chen Yuan Bin, shifting its setting from southern China to a region in the north where Zhang himself grew up. 100 min. (JR) Read more

Star Time

An exceedingly odd first feature by writer-director-producer Alexander Cassini about an infantile young man (Young Elvis’s Michael St. Gerard) who’s lured away from committing suicide after his favorite TV sitcom is canceled by a fatherly show-biz type (John P. Ryan) who persuades him that he can become a TV star by committing gratuitous mass murders. A more maternal and law-abiding response is provided by a social worker (Maureen Teefy). Played half as arty allegory, half as satiric comedy, and generally as some species of midnight madness, this gaga independent item is most daring in refusing to focus on the violence that’s its subject, while getting us to think plenty about what it means. Recommended (1992). (JR) Read more

Sodom And Gomorrah

Directed by Robert Aldrich in Italy in 1962, this isn’t really as awful or as campy as you might expect, but it’s not exactly a masterpiece either. Stewart Granger, Pier Angeli, Stanley Baker, Anouk Aimee, and Rossana Podesta all do what they can in elaborate settings meant to suggest the biblical cities of sin. (JR) Read more

The Skin Game

A rather stagy and creaky early talkie (1931) by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from a John Galsworthy play; with Jill Esmond, Laurence Olivier’s first wife, and Edmund Gwenn, who later worked with Hitchcock on Waltzes From Vienna, Foreign Correspondent, and The Trouble With Harry. (JR) Read more

Silverlake Life: The View From Here

A video diary transferred to film, started by the late documentary filmmaker Tom Joslin after he and his lover of 22 years, Mark Massi, were diagnosed HIV-positive, and completed by Joslin’s friend and former student Peter Friedman, with Joslin’s consent, after Joslin’s death. This is a powerful and rewarding work that fully repays one for the pain of watching itfor its impact as a love story, its nobility, and its candor about coping with AIDS in today’s world. The relative absence of self-pity and self-indulgence in this daring testament are exemplary, as is the economy of expression (including wit) of the leading characters and the filming and editing. If you see only one movie about AIDS this should be it. (JR) Read more

Hot Shots! Part Deux

More Mad-style lampooning of Hollywood movies, with many fewer laughs, from the original’s basic team and cast: writer-director Jim Abrahams, cowriter Pat Proft, and actors Charlie Sheen, Lloyd Bridges, and Valeria Golino. My heart goes out to any movie that can revive a nice, corny tune like Innamorata from Tashlin’s Artists and Models and give away the surprise of The Crying Game. But it’s hard to find the gulf war an occasion for glib laughter, and the movie’s total indifference to Middle East topography and its mechanical straining for laughs get downright painful after a while. This is a long way from the inspirations of Airplane! With Richard Crenna, Brenda Bakke, and Miguel Ferrer. (JR) Read more

Wide Sargasso Sea

I haven’t read Jean Rhys’s much-celebrated novel, a sort of postgothic Caribbean rumination on Jane Eyre set in Jamaica in the 1840s, but the best and worst thing to be said about this 1993 adaptation by John Duigan, the highly talented Australian writer-director of The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting, is that it never entirely transcends its literary origins to become something independent. It certainly looks sensual and feels tormented, both of which seem right, and the fiery colors in Geoff Burton’s cinematography are memorably vibrant, but the deadly specter of Masterpiece Theatre hovers over the proceedings, even with an NC-17 rating. A white West Indian sugar heiress (Karina Lombard) entering an arranged marriage falls in love with her English groom (Nathaniel Parker), whose name happens to be Edward Rochester; when he abandons her out of fear she turns to voodoo to win him back. Coscripted by Jan Sharp (the producer) and Carole Angier, and costarring Rachel Ward and Michael York. 100 min. (JR) Read more

Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

Martin Scorsese’s first feature (1968), set in New York’s Little Italy and starring Harvey Keitel in his first role, can be read as a rather rough draft of Mean Streets, down to the use of rock music and Catholic guilt. With Zina Bethune and Anne Collette. 90 min. (JR) Read more