Monthly Archives: July 1993

American Fabulous

One hundred and five minutes of spontaneous talk from a homosexual named Jeffrey Strouth, seated in the back of a 1957 Cadillac in Columbus, Ohio, may sound like thin fare for a feature, but Reno Dakota’s 1992 movie–a tribute to his wild and uninhibited friend, who subsequently died of AIDS–kept me mesmerized and entertained. Recounting various episodes in his difficult life–bouts with his alcoholic and abusive father; being kept at age 14 by a 400-pound drag queen; hitchhiking to Hollywood with a campy boyfriend, a tiny dog, and a caged bird; numerous tragicomic scrapes with the police; and much, much else involving sex and drugs–Strouth often calls to mind some of the comic gross-outs of William Burroughs (whom he openly imitates at one point) and the picaresque hard-luck stories of Nelson Algren, not to mention the road adventures of Kerouac. This has more of the flavor of an epic American narrative than most conventional features, and it certainly offers a more comprehensive look at our national life. Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, July 31 and August 1. Read more

Chain of Desire

While nothing major, this soft-core daisy chain of sexual linkages and loosely connected dramatic sketches about life in contemporary Manhattan, written and directed by Temistocles Lopez, is fun, mainly for its cast and playful form. This form has been compared by some critics to La ronde, but more apt cross-references might be The Leopard Man, The Phantom of Liberty, and Slacker. The cast includes Linda Fiorentino, Elias Koteas, Patrick Bauchau, Angel Aviles, Grace Zabriskie, Malcolm McDowell, Jamie Harrold, Tim Guinee, Dewey Weber, Holly Marie Combs, Seymour Cassel, Sabrina Lloyd, Assumpta Serna, and Suzzanne Douglas; the sexual preferences include straight and gay, diverse forms of adultery, bondage, discipline, phone sex, voyeurism, and masturbation. The New York regionalism–the conviction that the city is the hub of the universe–adds to the energy as well as the unwarranted self-importance; don’t expect too much and you’ll probably be entertained. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 23 through 29. Read more

Delivered Vacant

This is the first documentary feature about gentrification I’m aware of, and it’s an uncommonly good one–made by School of the Art Institute graduate Nora Jacobson over eight years in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the neighborhood where she still lives. Alert and lucid without a trace of sentimentality, she focuses on a number of related events, including the torching of rent-controlled buildings (and subsequent condo conversions), and interviews local residents, landlords, developers, activists, and others about what’s going on. This is an eye-opener. (1992) Jacobson will attend both screenings. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, July 17, 7:45, and Sunday, July 18, 6:00, 443-3737. Read more

Dead Alive

New highs (or lows) in free-flowing gore and nonstop, torrential splatter are reached in this modest-budget comic horror extravaganza from New Zealand by Peter Jackson, originally and more appropriately known as Braindead. The standard-issue plot, with all the usual steals from Psycho and Night of the Living Dead, emanates from the poisonous bite of a rat monkey from Sumatra in a Wellington zoo circa 1957. Yet the only meaningful bill of fare here is deliberately stomach-turning showstoppers involving dismemberment, disfigurement, disembowelment, countless gallons of spewing blood and bile, and related gross-outs–more the stuff of animated cartoons than live action. Ordinarily I don’t care for this kind of thing at all, but something must be said for the endless reserves of giddy energy and the general absence of the calculated mean spiritedness of more prestigious directors like Spielberg and Renny Harlin (perhaps because this is so clearly meant to be silly). I was also charmed quite a bit by Diana Penalver as the Spanish heroine. This clearly isn’t for everyone, but the preview audience had a ball; with Timothy Balme, Elizabeth Moody, and Ian Watkin; cowritten by Jackson, Stephen Sinclair, and Frances Walsh. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 16 through 22. Read more

American Friends

A satisfying if small-scale love story, written by and starring Monty Python regular Michael Palin and inspired by his great-grandfather’s unpublished travel diaries. Not really a comedy, though it has its share of humor, this is about a senior tutor at Oxford’s Saint John’s College (Palin), a middle-aged bachelor who takes a holiday in Switzerland in 1861 and meets two American women, a philanthropic Bostonian (Connie Booth) and her 18-year-old niece and ward (Trini Alvarado). Some romantic stirrings pass between him and the niece, but this is the 19th century and he’s an Oxford tutor, unable to keep his job unless he’s single–a lot more has to happen before the two can deal with their mutual attraction, even after the two women make the daring move of visiting him in Oxford. The director is English TV veteran Tristram Powell, son of the novelist Anthony Powell, and he does a fine job (1991). Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, July 9 and 10, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, July 11, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, July 12 through 15, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114. Read more

Apollo 13

Ron Howard directed this 1995 adaptation of Lost Moon, astronaut Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger’s book about the harrowing flight of Apollo 13. This meticulous but ultimately rather pedestrian drama gradually won me over as a minor if watchable example of the victory through defeat brand of military heroism that John Ford specialized in. But it’s a long way from Howard’s best movie, not to mention Ford’s worst, and at 139 minutes it repeatedly risks overstaying its welcome. With Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, Bill Paxton, Gary Sinise, Ed Harris, and Kathleen Quinlan. (JR) Read more

The Firm

This starts out as a piece of yuppie consumerist pornography calculated to get audiences drooling. Then it suddenly and purposefully turns into an enjoyable, nimble thriller that manages to sustain interest for its full running time of a little over two and a half hours. It’s the first Sydney Pollack movie I’ve ever liked. A lot of what makes it work is a well-constructed script by David Rabe, Robert Towne, and David Rayfiel, rather freely adapted from the best-selling John Grisham novel, and an excellent cast that Pollack (as producer-director) gets the most out of–including, among others, Tom Cruise, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Gary Busey, Hal Holbrook, David Strathairn, Wilford Brimley, and Paul Sorvino. Cruise plays a lawyer fresh out of Harvard who’s hired by a wealthy Memphis firm that he discovers is working for organized crime; Dave Grusin provides the vamping jazz piano. Ford City, Evanston, Hyde Park, Norridge, Webster Place, Burnham Plaza, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, Water Tower. Read more

Histoire(s) Du Cinema

Jean-Luc Godard’s ten-part video series, made for French TV. Daunting, provocative, and very beautiful, it looks at the history of the 20th century through cinema and vice versa, mainly through a rich assortment of film clips (sometimes several at once), sound tracks, poetic commentary (with plenty of metaphors), and captions. Indispensable. In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Tom And Jerry: The Movie

Given that the famous cartoon cat and mouse speak and sometimes play second fiddle to a little-girl heroine, this doesn’t have much to do with the old Tom and Jerry cartoons. It has a lot more to do with screenwriter Dennis Marks and producer-director Phil Roman trying to imitate the late-80s animation successes of Disney. Overplaying wealth and villainy, it has a so-so Henry Mancini score that may remind you of his work on Hatari! and overall a better feeling for action than character (1992). 84 min. (JR) Read more

Poetic Justice

Though it’s not unlikable, John Singleton’s second feature (Boyz N the Hood was his first) is an unholy mess in almost every respect. There’s a line in the final credits saying that, for the purposes of copyright, Columbia Pictures is the author of this film, so maybe Columbia and not Singleton should be held accountable for the meandering and badly told (if occasionally suggestive) love story about a hairdresser-poet (Janet Jackson) and a postman (Tupac Shakur) from South Central LA who take a trip up to Oakland in a mail truck with another couple, bringing all their ghetto-bred problems with them. The title comes from the poet’s name, Justice, and though Jackson shows a lot of charm in the role, it’s often hard to relate the poetry she’s supposed to have written (which is read mainly offscreen) to her character. (In fact, the poems are by Maya Angelou, who’s around to play a bit part.) After a deceptively funny and offbeat beginning, the movie keeps restarting; each new start shows some promise, and Singleton’s talent never really deserts himbut the parts don’t come together to create a unified story. With Regina King, Joe Torry, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Tyra Ferrell. (JR) Read more

The Outlaw

One of the weirdest westerns of all time, reflecting the eccentricities of its producer and credited director, Howard Hughes, who completed it only after firing Howard Hawks. When it came out in 1943 it was trumpeted and sometimes banned for its sexual audacity (Jane Russell debuts in a brassiere designed by Hughes himself), yet much of the plot now makes it seem like a closet gay movie. Made two years prior to release, it was scripted by Jules Furthman and shot by Gregg Toland, which gives it some classbut by and large it’s enjoyable today chiefly as a camp hoot. With Jack Buetel (the forgotten lead, who seems to care more about his horse than Russell), Walter Huston, and Thomas Mitchell. (JR) Read more


Sally Potter’s well-appointed fashion show and pithy, symmetrical period spectacle (1993, 92 min.), loosely adapted from Virginia Woolf’s fanciful novel, which follows the adventures of the eponymous protagonist (Tilda Swinton)a man who eventually turns into a womanfrom 1600 to the present. Compared with Potter’s bold, beautiful, original, and witty (albeit unpopular and seldom seen) first feature, The Gold Diggers, this is safe, crowd-flattering stuff, the Driving Miss Daisy of art picturesa film with practically no ideas at all, but lots of fancy trimmings (including Peter Greenaway’s production designers and Derek Jarman’s costume designer) and plenty of attitude. As a drag show, it’s far from inspired (though Quentin Crisp’s Queen Elizabeth I is a lot more convincing than Swinton’s male Orlando), and as upscale entertainment it’s about as radical as Woody Allen. Yet Potter’s musical score, written in collaboration with David Motion, is lovely. With Billy Zane, Lothaire Bluteau, John Wood, Charlotte Valandrey, and Heathcote Williams. (JR) Read more

Mozart Quartier

In Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s 1992 comedy-fantasy charmer from Cameroon, a young girl betrays too much curiosity for her age, and a witch transforms her into a man. He/she promptly joins a male gang and starts romancing the daughter of a neighborhood copherself. The plot carries a few echoes of George Axelrod’s play Goodbye Charlie, but what’s most notable about this first feature is how much its eclectic style owes to Spike Lee, even though its folkloric content and sexual politics are quite different. Bekolo’s overall handling of his cast is delightful. With Sandrine Ola’a, Serge Amougou, Jimmy Biyong, and Essindi Mindja. (JR) Read more

Move Over, Darling

This comedy, about a wife returning from five years on a desert island to discover that her husband has remarried, began as Something’s Got to Give, the last feature Marilyn Monroe worked on, directed by George Cukor. It wound up as a Doris Day vehicle with James Garner, Thelma Ritter, and Polly Bergen, directed by Michael Gordon (1963). (JR) Read more

Montparnasse 19

A transitional film (1958, 108 min.) between the French tradition of quality and the New Wave, this slick biopic about the last year or so in the life of the painter Amedeo Modigliani (the title alludes to the bohemian quarter and the year, 1919) is a highly personal effort by one of the idols of the New Wave generation, the neglected Jacques Becker (Casque d’or, Le trou). At once clunky, overproduced, and naive, it’s also sincere and moving, in spite of its faults as a statement about the gulf between serious artists and marketers. It’s both helped and hindered by its glamorous cast: Gerard Philipe, Anouk Aimee, and Lilli Palmer. Jean-Luc Godard memorably defended this film when it came out by writing, Everything rings true in this totally false film. Everything is illuminated in this obscure film. For he who leaps into the void owes no explanations to those who watch. In French with subtitles. (JR) Read more