Monthly Archives: August 1995


Without being any sort of miracle, this is an engaging and lively exploitation fantasy-thriller about computer hackers, anarchistic in spirit, that succeeds at just about everything The Net failed toespecially in representing computer operations with some visual flair. The isolated teenage hero (Jonny Lee Miller), having caused 1,507 Wall Street computers to crash some years before, moves to New York with his mother and eventually joins forces with other disenfranchised hackers at school (Hackers of the world, unite!) against a hacker working for a corporation who’s bent on snuffing them out. The director and executive producer here is Iain Softley, best known for Backbeat, doing his utmost with an only so-so script by Rafael Moreu; the standout in a cast composed mainly of youthful unknowns (apart from Lorraine Bracco and Penn Jillette) is Angelina Jolie as the spiky hacker heroine. With Fisher Stevens, Jesse Bradford, Laurence Mason, and Renoly Santiago. (JR) Read more

The Battle Of Culloden

Peter Watkins documents a decisive step in England’s conquest of the Scots with this impressive early feature (1964). Like many of his other films, including The Commune, it’s a period film done in the style of a TV news broadcast. (JR) Read more

Beyond Rangoon

This 1995 film works so well as storytelling and action adventure that you may want to overlook the dubious if well-intentioned premise: the slaughter of the Burmese populace becomes significant only to the degree that an American tourist (Patricia Arquette), seeking to overcome a tragedy in her own life, becomes personally involved with it. Ace director John Boorman took over this project from other hands, and he shows his customary flair with ‘Scope compositions, gorgeous sunsets, and suspenseful, exotic spectacle. What left me a little uneasy is epitomized by Hans Zimmer’s hack score, which aims at sounding vaguely Southeast Asian (wooden-sounding flutes and the like) rather than specifically Burmese to get us all in the right paternalistic frame of mind. But if you don’t mind such casual insults, you’re likely to be glued to your seat. Alex Lasker and Bill Rubenstein wrote the script; with Frances McDormand, Spalding Gray, and U Aung Ko. 99 min. (JR) Read more

Magic In The Water

A singularly unconvincing parable, ultimately hamstrung by awkward, choppy storytelling. Mark Harmon plays a divorced radio psychiatrist in Seattle who reluctantly takes his son and daughter on a holiday to a lakeside community in British Columbia where, according to Indian legends, a sea monster is lurking; by the time you discover whether it is or not it’s pretty hard to care as much as the characters, who undergo all sorts of improbable changes by listening to their inner selves. Directed by Rick Stevenson, from a script he wrote with Icel Dobell Massey and Ninian Dunnett; with Joshua Jackson, Harley Jane Kozak, and Sarah Wayne. (JR) Read more

Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey

Apart from Crumb, this film by Steven M. Martin may be the best American documentary feature of 1994. It’s certainly one of the most fascinating, taking as its subject the electronic musical instrument known as the theremin; Leon Theremin, the Russian visionary who created it; and all the remarkable things that have happened to inventor and invention over the past seven decades. In a way, the film also describes the complex history of a concept in this country: how a particular sound gave birth to electronic music (Robert Moog is one of the many people interviewed here, along with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and various classical musicians) and wound up being used in Hollywood, mainly in SF films. Then there’s the hair-raising story of Theremin being kidnapped by Soviet agents in 1938, his romance with a Russian violin prodigy, and much, much more. I shouldn’t leave out the fascination of watching a theremin being played; just as it’s difficult to play a vibraphone without dancing, it’s hard to play a theremin without “conducting.” Martin will attend the screening. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, August 19, 8:00, 443-3737. Read more

The Day the Sun Turned Cold

A remarkably effective and provocative contemporary Chinese melodrama (1994), based on a recent murder case in mainland China (where much of the movie was filmed), and written and directed by the talented Cantonese filmmaker Yim Ho (Homecoming, King of Chess). Told mainly in flashbacks, the story describes what happens when a worker in his 20s turns up at a police station to report that his mother murdered his father ten years earlier. No psychological ramification of the case is overlooked, and Yim’s mise en scene keeps the action suspenseful and emotionally potent. This was last year’s Hong Kong entry for the Academy Award for best foreign film, and it’s certainly better than any recent American psychological thriller that comes to mind (though the neglected Dolores Claiborne might give it a run for its money). With Siqin Gowa, Tuo Zhong Hua, and Wai Zhi. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, August 19, 4:00, 443-3737. Read more

Living In Oblivion

A very funny 1994 comedy by New York writer-director Tom DiCillo, cinematographer of Stranger Than Paradise, about the nightmares of shooting an American independent feature. The story comes in three acts, and even though the first is funnier than the second and the second funnier than the third, the whole thing is still pretty entertaining. The comedy here recalls at times Truffaut’s Day for Night, though the characters are much thinner. With Steve Buscemi, James LeGros, Catherine Keener, Dermot Mulroney, and Danielle von Zernick. 91 min. (JR) Read more

The Brothers Mcmullen

This extremely banal low-budget American independent effort by writer-director-actor Edward Burns (1995, 97 min.), about Irish-Catholic brothers and their women in Long Island, provoked a certain amount of buzz and won a best picture prize at the Sundance film festival, but if anything about the movie merits such interest it eludes me. Though the acting seems competent enough, I was bored out of my skull throughoutby the conventional characters and by their shopworn soul-searching, which reminded me of Woody Allen devoid of wit. If you want to waste a couple of hours, you can surely do much better. With Shari Albert, Maxine Bahns, Catharine Bolz, Connie Britton, Peter Johansen, Jennifer Jostyn, Mike McGlone, Elizabeth P. McKay, and Jack Mulcahy. (JR) Read more

Pather Panchali

In 1955, the year Satyajit Ray’s beautiful first feature, Pather Panchali, won the grand prix at Cannes, no less a humanist than Francois Truffaut walked out of a screening declaring, “I don’t want to see a film about Indian peasants.” Time and critical opinion have been much kinder to this family melodrama–derived, like its successors in the Apu trilogy, Aparajito and The World of Apu, from a 30s novel by Bibhutibhusan Banerjee–than to Truffaut’s remark. Yet there’s no question that Ray’s contemplative treatment of a poor Brahmin family in a Bengali village, made on a small budget and accompanied by the mesmerizing music of Ravi Shankar, is a triumph of mood and character rather than an exercise in brisk Western storytelling. This new print launches an exciting retrospective of Ray’s important, long-unavailable work, perhaps the closest thing to a genuinely “classical” and novelistic oeuvre in the Indian cinema. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, August 11 through 17. Read more


Roman Polanski’s first film in English (1965) is still his scariest and most disturbingnot only for its evocations of sexual panic, but also because his masterful employment of sound puts the audience’s imagination to work in numerous ways. Catherine Deneuve gives an impressive performance as a quiet and quietly mad beautician living with her older sister in London and terrified of men. When the sister and her boyfriend take off on a holiday, her fears and her isolation in the apartment are allowed to fester along with the uncooked food, with increasingly violent and macabre results. As narrative this works only part of the time, and as case study it may occasionally seem too pat, but as subjective nightmare it’s a stunning piece of filmmaking. 105 min. (JR) Read more

Country Life

Suggested by Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, this graceful and well-acted drama set on an Australian sheep farm shortly after the end of World War II is written and directed by distinguished London stage director Michael Blakemore, who also costars; the other leading cast members are Sam Neill, Greta Scacchi, and Kerry Fox. Your first reaction may be to wonder whether in fact we need another Uncle Vanya so soon after Louis Malle’s Vanya on 42nd Street, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the freshness and skill of this version. Fine Arts. Read more

Ballot Measure 9

Winner of the audience award at the Sundance film festival and two years in the making, this informative and chilling documentary by Heather MacDonald (1994) is about a telling sign of the New Barbarism–the 1992 Oregon ballot proposal to deny civil rights to homosexuals–and the accompanying political campaigns for and against it. More terrifying than anything shown in the film are the outcomes of similar propositions in Oregon and other states since 1992; when she showed this film in Berlin, MacDonald had plenty to say about those proposals, and she’ll be present at the Saturday screening to discuss them. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, August 5, 8:00, and Tuesday and Thursday, August 8 and 10, 6:00, 443-3737. Read more


The second part of Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, fully comprehensible on its own terms, suffers at times from its episodic plot, which follows Apu from the age of ten in the holy city of Benares to his early adulthood in Calcutta. But this is my favorite film in the trilogy, and the reported favorite of Ray’s fellow Bengali directors Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Its treatment of deathof Apu’s father toward the beginning of the film and of his mother near the endis among the most beautiful, mystical, and precise handlings of that subject in all of cinema, worthy of Mizoguchi; in a way the film is little more than a careful contextualizing of these two astonishing sequences. An adaptation of roughly the last fifth of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee’s novel Pather Panchali and the first third of his subsequent novel Aparajito, this benefits as much as the rest of the trilogy from the ravishing commentary of Ravi Shankar’s music. It’s a masterpiece for which terms like simplicity and profundity seem inadequate. In Bengali with subtitles. 113 min. (JR) Read more

Smell Of Camphor, Fragrance Of Jasmine

Iranian filmmaker Bahman Farmanara produced one of Abbas Kiarostami’s early features and won praise for his own work, including Prince Ehtejab (1974). But state officials began rejecting his film proposals in the mid-70s, and for much of the past 30 years he’s lived in the West. In this welcome comeback (2000) he plays a middle-aged director, rather like himself, who ruefully agrees to make a documentary about Iranian death rituals for Japanese TV. His wife has been dead five years (Farmanara’s wife, to whom he dedicated the film, was alive and well), and after discovering that their cemetery has planted someone else next to her, he has the strange experience of witnessing his own funeral, one of many fantasy sequences. This oddball comedy is full of wry asides and unexpected details; ultimately it’s more memorable for its ideas than its sounds and images, but it’s still fascinating and entertaining. In Farsi with subtitles. 93 min. (JR) Read more

The Stars Fell On Henrietta

Robert Duvall stars in a charming period piece as a solitary wildcat oilman in the Texas dust bowl during the mid-1930s in a picture produced by Clint Eastwood and directed by James Keach from a script by Philip Railsback. The plot is fairly conventional, but the period flavor is wonderful and the castwhich also includes Aidan Quinn, Frances Fisher, and Brian Dennehyis first-rate. (JR) Read more