Daily Archives: June 1, 1993

A Story Of Floating Weeds

One of the last of Yasujiro Ozu’s silent films, which he remade toward the end of his career, this 1934 feature has a fairly standard soap-opera plotthe lead actor in an impoverished acting troupe returns to a remote mountain village to meet his illegitimate son for the first timebut, needless to say, the Japanese master works wonders with it. Like other Ozu films of the period, this has a great deal of camera movement; stylistic purification would later lead him to eliminate such expressive devices. 86 min. (JR) Read more

Stairway C

An interesting, albeit not entirely successful, feature by Jean-Charles Tacchella (Cousin, cousine), based on Elvire Murail’s novel, about the neighbors in the back of a Paris apartment house, among them a tormented, cynical male-chauvinist art critic (Robin Renucci); a solitary, middle-aged, half-Jewish and half-Arab woman; and a young gay man recovering from the physical abuse of his lover. Eventually the focus narrows to the story of the art critic’s spiritual regeneration, which isn’t entirely convincing. Still, the events leading up to this hold one’s interest. With Jacques Bonnagge, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Catherine Leprince, Jacques Weber, and Claude Rich (1985). (JR) Read more

Sleepless In Seattle

Tom Hanks plays a lonely widower and architect who moves with his little boy (Ross Malinger) from Chicago to Seattle; Meg Ryan plays a newspaper reporter in Baltimore who’s preparing to get married. One night she hears the architect on a radio call-in show, falls madly in love with him, and writes him a letter; his son tries to encourage a match between them. Nora Ephron, who wrote and directed this, repeatedly alludes to the 1957 An Affair to Remember as her principal point of reference, yet at no point does she indicate any awareness of what makes that tragicomic love story sublime and this one merely cutesy. If one can ignore all the straining for lightness here, this is watchable enough, though hardly anything resembling a tearjerker. With Bill Pullman, Rosie O’Donnell, and Rob Reiner (1993). PG, 105 min. (JR) Read more

House Of Cards

An accomplished and provocative first feature by writer-director Michael Lessac, built around the proposition that, as Lessac puts it, children see things we don’t. A six-year-old (Asha Menina) returns fatherless to North Carolina from an extended stay with her family in Mexico, where she’d come under the influence of an Indian archaeologist who steeped her in Mayan folklore. Now she displays both autistic behavior and visionary artistic giftsthe former according to a child psychologist (Tommy Lee Jones), the latter according to her mother (Kathleen Turner), an architect with a virtual-reality computer program who tries to reproduce one of her daughter’s visions. Difficult to describe, this well-constructed drama of ideas will seem pretentious if you don’t get into it, exciting and compelling if you do; either way, the performances of the three leads are very, very good. Robert Jay Litz collaborated on the original story. (JR) Read more

The Wrong Man

Even though Henry Fonda and Vera Miles are the stars, this somber 1957 black-and-white drama, shot in and around New York City, is the closest Alfred Hitchcock ever came to making an art film. It’s based on the true story of a bass player working at the Stork Club who was falsely arrested for holding up a liquor store because of his physical resemblance to the guilty party, which led to a series of grim mishaps that culminated in his wife going insane. This is a highly personal and even religious expression of Hitchcock concerning the vicissitudes of fate, predicated on his lifelong fear that anyone can be wrongly accused of a crime and placed behind bars. The result, as Hitchcock himself warns in a prologue, isn’t a Hitchcock picture in the usual sense, but it’s still one of his most potent and memorable works from the 50s, his richest period. With Anthony Quayle, Harold J. Stone, and Nehemiah Persoff. 105 min. (JR) Read more

World’s Best Commercials: Cannes ’92

When it comes to TV commercials, I’m not sure what best means: so good that you forget the product, or so good that you remember? Anyway, both kinds appear among the nearly 100 international examplesgood, bad, and indifferentincluded here. Many if not all of the foreign entries are dubbed or retitled in English, which tends to minimize the cultural differences, though a few of the differencessuch as the anticlericalism in the grand-prize winner, a cutesy Spanish ad for gluestill come across. I find most of this as tedious as the commercials I normally see on TV, though a few ads are aesthetically striking (above all the English one for Ariston) and many more have the virtue of telling us how people elsewhere in the world get cajoled into buying things. Still, I would have preferred a wider sampling; most of what we see here is from the U.S., western Europe, Japan, and Australia. (JR) Read more

Where The Boys Are

Connie Francis sings the title tune and makes her film debut in this OK 1960 movie about teenagers taking their spring break in Fort Lauderdale. Directed by Henry Levin; with Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Yvette Mimieux, Jim Hutton, Barbara Nichols, Paula Prentiss, Frank Gorshin, and Chill Wills. (JR) Read more

What’s Love Got To Do With It

As a truthful account of the life of Tina Turner or as a faithful adaptation of her as-told-to autobiography, I, Tina, this 1993 film can’t be taken too seriously. But as a powerhouse showcase for the acting talents of Angela Bassett (who plays Turner) and Laurence Fishburne (who plays her abusive husband, Ike) and as a potent portrayal of wife beating and the emotions that surround it (in this case, Ike’s professional envy and Tina’s stoic acceptance of abuse), it’s quite a show. As with the even sillier Lady Sings the Blues (Diana Ross’s ridiculous depiction of Billie Holiday), which harked back to a still earlier model of musical biopic, showbiz instincts tend to triumph as common sense and fidelity to fact disintegrate, though the handling of place and period is slightly better than one usually finds in such enterprises, and the slant of a woman screenwriter (Kate Lanier) is also highly welcome. Directed by Brian Gibson; with Vanessa Bell Calloway, Jenifer Lewis, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney, and Khandi Alexander. (JR) Read more

Trusting Beatrice

A rather feeble, cutesy romantic comedyan independent first feature shot in Providence, Rhode Island, that often suggests an update of Pollyanna with a few mordant overtones. After his wife leaves him, a hapless landscaper (Mark Evan Jacobs) accidentally burns down his house, including the downstairs apartment that’s occupied by Beatrice, a French immigrant (The Double Life of Veronique’s Irene Jacob), and her adopted Cambodian daughter. Guilt stricken, he moves them into the troubled household of his parents and grandfather, where Beatrice brings a ray of sunshine, or something like that, into all their lives. You can imagine the restor at least try to, which is what writer-director Cindy Lou Johnson did. With Charlotte Moore, Pat McNamara, Leonardo Cimino, Nady Meas, and Steve Buscemi (1992). (JR) Read more

Traveling Avant

An ode to fanatical French cinephilia in 1948the generation immediately preceding the New Wave, to which writer-director Jean-Charles Tacchella (Cousin, cousine) belongedthis is a must-see charmer not only for crazed film buffs and Francophiles, but also for anyone wanting to follow the adventures of a passionate romantic trio of scruffy bohemians in their early 20s in a Paris that no longer exists. Like the New Wave figures who followed them, the young men in this milieu write about movies and aspire to be directors; as critic David Overbey put it, they live through film references: They even take girls to bed talking about Howard Hawks’s women and wake up feeling like Bogart. Much of the idealistic effort they display goes toward setting up a cineclub that shows rare films, though there’s also a certain amount of suspense involving a treasure trove of old movies the characters steal. Conventionally made, though potent and heartfelt in its feelings of personal nostalgia, this movie makes effective use of its cast of young unknowns: Thierry Fremont, Ann-Gisel Glass, and Simon de la Brosse (1987). (JR) Read more

The Passing

The best experimental work I’ve seen in ages, Bill Viola’s hour-long video (1991), shot in ravishing black and white, is like a string of epiphanies generated by lush and ambiguous encounters between the natural world (basically the American southwest) and the world of dreams and sleep. The minimal stereo sound track consists chiefly of Viola’s own breathing while he sleeps and the ticking of a clock; the haunting images encompass the death of Viola’s mother and the birth of his children as well as a good many surreal events that transpire underwater and in slow motion. If I had to come up with parallels, it would be necessary to grope in contrary directionsto the works of Stan Brakhage on the one hand and to Eraserhead on the other. But the musical pulse and flow of the images and their mesmerizing beauty throughout don’t deserve cross-referencesthey sing and vibrate with maximal intensity on their own. (JR) Read more

Live With This: Adrift In America

Life on the road with a trio of rock musicians calling themselves Popdefect is the subject of this low-budget (less than $10,000) documentary by Brad Vanderburg, who climbed into a van with the musicians and filmed a whole lot of what they did and said. Which isn’t very interesting, though at least it’s filmed and edited with a certain amount of energy. The biggest problem is the usual historical shortsightednessthe differences between Popdefect and other struggling rock bands on the road and the differences between this movie and other movies about touring rock bands are never really broached, and most of what we see is pretty familiar stuff. But on a modest level it’s all pretty easy to take. (JR) Read more

Life With Mikey

Michael J. Fox plays a former sitcom child star who with his brother (Nathan Lane) now runs a low-rent talent agency specializing in child actors. Desperate to find a kid to star in a cookie commercial, he discovers a streetwise but talented little girl (Christina Vidal) who picks his pocket. Vidal herself and a bunch of secondary actors give this some intermittent charm and pizzazz, though less than there is in Broadway Danny Rose, one of its possible inspirations. Unfortunately, neither the script (by coproducer Marc Lawrence) nor the direction (by James Lapine) does much with the basic material. Cyndi Lauper costars. (JR) Read more

Last Action Hero

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a movie action hero in Los Angeles, joined on the screen by an 11-year-old fan (Austin O’Brien) in New York; when the movie villains exit the screen for New York in the real world, the boy and his hero follow. This is less successful as streamlined merchandise than Jurassic Park or Cliffhanger, but it gave me more pleasure, at least for its imagination and goofy ideas. The performances of both Schwarzenegger and O’Brien are labored, the pacing uneven, and maybe only half the gags work, but there’s a certain amount of creative energy and audacity mixed in with all the confusion. Among the many writers with a hand in this $80 million blockbuster are Shane Black, David Arnott, Zak Penn, and Adam Leff; John McTiernan (Die Hard, Medicine Man) directed, and the secondary cast includes F. Murray Abraham, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky, Anthony Quinn, Mercedes Ruehl, and Joan Plowright. (JR) Read more

Jurassic Park

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

Cloned prehistoric animals run riot in a contemporary theme park in Steven Spielberg’s 1993 fantasy adventure, which is less scary than Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark but still has its tense moments. Within the first ten minutes you can tell that the characters who’ll be eaten are the ones who exhibit greed — not that this makes them anything like the director, who positioned the movie as the central unit in a line of merchandise and even integrated its own advertising logo into the plot. The film’s ersatz moral, about the dangers of tampering with nature, harks back to The Lost World (1925) routed through King Kong (1933) and Island of Lost Souls (1932), though there’s more soul to be found in any Kong close-up than in this film’s overplayed reactions. Adapted from the Michael Crichton novel by Crichton and David Koepp; with Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and Richard Attenborough. 126 min. (JR)

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