Monthly Archives: August 1994

A Simple Twist Of Fate

Apparently bent on following the Robin Williams route to success, Steve Martin stars in a contemporary soap opera from Disneywhich Martin himself loosely adapted from George Eliot’s Silas Marnerabout a hermetic furniture maker who adopts a baby girl deposited on his doorstep. As he is raising her the biological father (Gabriel Byrne), a local politician, demands custody of the child. There are only a few laughs here, and though the efforts to elicit tears show a certain amount of sincerity, Eliot’s 19th-century armature keeps poking through the proceedings, making them all seem faintly archaic. With Catherine O’Hara and Stephen Baldwin; directed by Gillies MacKinnon. (JR) Read more

Killing Zoe

Now I know what hip is: looking indifferent about whether the cat lying on the floor of your apartment is dead or not. Apart from this invaluable lesson, not a whole lot is going on here, and most of the moves are awfully familiar. Just as there’s a branch of filmmaking that could be called the school of Jim Jarmusch, this 1994 bank-heist thriller with a Paris setting, written and directed by Roger Avary, clearly belongs to the Quentin Tarantino school. (Avary once worked with Tarantino in a video store, and Tarantino serves here as executive producer.) Unfortunately it’s primary school; Killing Zoe has little of the style, pacing, characterization, or wit of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction (though Avary worked on the scripts of both). With Eric Stoltz, Julie Delpy, Jean-Hugues Anglade, Tai Thai, and Bruce Ramsey. (JR) Read more

My Life’s In Turnaround

Slight but charming, this low-budget feature by cabdriver Eric Schaeffer and bartender Donal Lardner Ward about a cabdriver and bartender in Manhattan trying to make a low-budget feature presents a somewhat dumbed-down version of the producer-writer-director costars, whose semifictional counterparts would never have gotten this picture financed and made. But it’s an amusing enough facsimile of some of the vagaries of the film business and its aspirants. Among the highlights are cameos by Phoebe Cates, Martha Plimpton, and Casey Siemaszko playing themselves and John Sayles as a marginal producer. Only some of the proceedings are laugh-out-loud funny, but the adolescent energies of the filmmakers and characters keep this chugging along agreeably. With Lisa Gerstein, Dana Wheeler Nicholson, Debra Clein, and Sheila Jaffe. (JR) Read more

Wagons East!

Sad to say, John Candy’s last movie is also his worsta stridently unfunny western comedy that is equally lame in its writing (Matthew Carlson and Jerry Abrahamson) and direction (Peter Markle). Candy plays an inefficient wagon master leading a group of disgruntled western settlers back to Saint Louis; they encounter a string of adventures and bad gagsmany of them anachronistic, some of them homophobic, virtually all of them stupidalong the way. With Richard Lewis, John C. McGinley, Ellen Greene, Robert Picardo, and Ed Lauter. (JR) Read more

The Secret Rapture

Howard Davies, a distinguished director on the London and Broadway stage, makes his feature debut with this David Hare play, adapted by the author. Two grown sisters (Juliet Stevenson and Penelope Wilton) and the young wife (Joanne Whalley-Kilmer) of their father try to reach a business agreement together after the father dies. What emerges is a rather morose and (for me) unsatisfying psychological thriller, but the three actresses are so good at making characters liveand Neil Pearson as one sister’s lover is not far behindthat you’ll probably be held by the story all the same. (JR) Read more

Color Of Night

Bruce Willis plays a New York psychologist who abandons his practice and moves to LA after the suicide of a patient, only to find himself enmeshed in an obsessive sexual relationship with a mysterious woman (Jane March) and a murder investigation involving a colleague and friend. All the major suspects are in group therapy together, and look like they need italong with just about every other character in this somewhat preposterous but fairly watchable mystery thriller. The plot gets so convoluted and farfetched that you still may be scratching your head after the denouement, but you probably won’t be bored. Directed by Richard Rush (Getting Straight, The Stunt Man) from a script by Matthew Chapman and Billy Ray; with Ruben Blades, Lesley Ann Warren, Brad Dourif, Lance Henriksen, and Kevin J. O’Connor. (JR) Read more

Mi Vida Loca

A funky independent feature by Allison Anders (Gas Food Lodging), set in the Los Angeles barrios and concentrating on the friendships between working-class women there. The stylistic boldness may get a little top-heavy in spots, but in general this is funny, insightful, and imaginatively told. The cinematographer, interestingly, is Rodrigo Garcia, son of writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. With Angel Aviles, Seidy Lopez, Jacob Vargas, Marlo Marron, and Jessie Borrago (1993). Pipers Alley, Wilmette, Norridge. Read more

Milk Money

Three boys from the suburbs travel to the city in order to see a naked woman and wind up meeting a friendly hooker (Melanie Griffith) who drives them all home and then gets a crush on the father (Ed Harris) of one of the boys while she hides out from a gang boss (Malcolm McDowell). John Mattson’s script is every bit as silly as it sounds; it dawdles, stumbles, stalls, embarrasses both itself and the audience, and is routinely formulaic to boot. But Harris and Griffith (the latter doing her customary maternal Marilyn/Madonna shtick) make an appealing couple, and Richard Benjamin’s direction of them and the boys is halfway nice. With Michael Patrick Carter, Casey Siemaszko, and Brian Christopher. (JR) Read more

In Custody

According to Robert Frost, poetry is what gets lost in translationwhich describes the difficulty as well as the interest of the first feature directed by Ismail Merchant (1993), best known as James Ivory’s producer for 30-odd years (he has forayed into directing only twice before, making two films for British television). His principal motive here was to pay homage to Urdu, a poetic language on the verge of extinction in northern India. Based on a novel by Anita Desai and adapted by her and Shahrukh Husain, the film tells of a Hindu teacher coming into contact with one of his idols, a revered Urdu poet who’s fallen on hard times; a central part of the story involves the teacher’s protracted tragicomic efforts to record the poet reciting his own poetry. Merchant’s storytelling and direction are fluid and graceful, but there’s nothing he can do to convey in subtitles the essence of the language he’s celebrating. With Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Om Puri, and Sushma Seth. (JR) Read more


An OK documentary by actor Andy Garciawho also appears as host and interviewerabout Israel Cachao Lopez, the Cuban bassist and bandleader who invented the mambo and exerted a major influence over salsa and Afro-Cuban jazz. Lopez is interviewed, and Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante is on hand for his recollections and scholarly asides on the music; most of the remaining footage is devoted to a 1992 concert in Miami. Read more

Walk Cheerfully

A silent picture by Yasujiro Ozu (1930) about a petty thief who dreams of becoming a boxer and decides to go straight; he’s helped by the love of a woman and ultimately a job as a window washer. Like all Ozu silents, this is much brisker than his subsequent sound work, and the compositions are an eyeful. 96 min. (JR) Read more

That Night’s Wife

This uncharacteristic Sternbergian crime thriller by Yasujiro Ozu, one of his more interesting silent pictures (1930), is set almost entirely inside a single cluttered flat, where a policeman, hoping to arrest a commercial artist who’s robbed an office, is held at bay by his gun-wielding wife. The results are tense, claustrophobic, and visually striking throughout. In Japanese with subtitles. 65 min. (JR) Read more

Days Of Youth

The earliest of Yasujiro Ozu’s silent films to have survived, this is a chipper skiing comedy (1929) involving two college friends on holiday who are in love with the same woman. The ambience is akin to Harold Lloyd, and the slapstick is funny as well as touching. Ozu’s playful formalism is already fully evident, especially in what he does with ski poles. In Japanese with subtitles. 103 min. (JR) Read more

Coming Out Under Fire

One of the most interesting and effective aspects of this prizewinning new documentary by Arthur Dong about gay men and lesbians in the military during World War II is the fact that it’s in black and white. Among other things, this puts contemporary interviews and archival footage on an equal footing, so they seem continuous with one another. (Mark Adler’s serviceable score strengthens this continuity by playing over both kinds of footage.) Adapted by Dong and Allan Berube from Berube’s 1990 book of the same title and narrated by Salome Jens, this informative and intelligent work provides a comprehensive historical context for the recent debates stirred up by Clinton’s efforts to allow gay men and women to serve in the armed forces. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, August 5, 6:00 and 7:45; Saturday, August 6, 4:15 and 6:00; and Sunday, August 7, 4:00; 443-3737. Read more


The exciting thing about Haile Gerima’s lush, wide-screen folkloric feature about black slavery is its poetic conviction, backed up by a great deal of filmmaking savvy. Born in Ethiopia but based in the U.S., Gerima attended UCLA’s film school around the same time as Charles Burnett and Larry Clark, but Sankofa (1993) shows that he has a camera style and political vision all his own. A glamorous black model (Oyafunmike Ogunlano) posing for pictures outside an ancient castle in Ghana where slaves were once bought and sold provokes the ire of a self-appointed tribal guardian of this tourist spot; he hurls a curse that magically transports her into the role of a slave on a Jamaican plantation, where most of the remainder of the film is set. Beautifully shot and powerfully acted, the depiction of slavery is rendered mainly in English dialogue, with an intriguing score by David J. White that manages to encompass American jazz and blues as well as African elements. 124 min. (JR) Read more