Monthly Archives: October 1995

The Addiction

Here’s something to wrestle with: a PhD candidate in philosophy at NYU becomes a raving and ravenous Greenwich Village vampire and junkie — the two conditions are seen as interchangeable — while contemplating the victims of the Vietnam War and Nazi extermination camps and then promptly receives absolution. The dumbest, most pretentious script of 1995 is served up straight, with absolute sincerity and triple-distilled formal and thematic purity, by what may be the most beautiful and powerful direction in any American feature this year. The direction is by Abel Ferrara, working with his frequent screenwriter Nicholas St. John. Ken Kelsch’s nocturnal black-and-white cinematography is sometimes even breathtaking enough to justify the Dostoyevskian conceits of the dialogue (“The entire world’s a graveyard, and we’re the predators picking at the bones”), and the performances by Lili Taylor as the grad student and Christopher Walken (in only one scene) as a fellow vampire have comparable voltage. The mood of Catholic despair and excess is often close to that of Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant, but it’s even more metaphysical and delirious. At the Berlin film festival, Ferrara maintained that St. John studied philosophy at Heidelberg, though some of the seminar dialogue here sounds like he must have made it through on college outlines.… Read more »


A blank, baby-faced hunk (Jason Priestley) who works as a bookie is reluctantly promoted by a new gang boss (Robert Loggia) to become a hit man, and then has some trouble adjusting to the fact that he’s so good at it. I suppose the point of this black comedy is how willing all of us are nowadays to accommodate ourselves to murder. It’s the material for Swiftian satire, but writer-director M. Wallace Wolodarsky, a TV veteran, isn’t up to the job. In order for this to have a pointed moral position, one has to believe in the characters on some level, and only Peter Riegert, as the hero’s mentor, and Janeane Garofalo, in a small part as a hooker, come close to earning belief. Most of the performances and much of the mise en scene are stiff, and the laugh cues in the horribly banal and TV-like music score discouraged me even from smiling. One more indication of what Tarantino’s pervasive influence has wrought: this seems to tip its hat to him in a gag about blood on a new car’s leather upholstery. Maybe you’ll bust a gut, but I doubt it. With Kimberly Williams and Jay Kogen. Michael J. Fox, one of the producers, has a cameo.… Read more »


I’ve never read Jane Austen’s last novel (1818), and I’m not generally attracted to film adaptations of classic English literaturemost of which, even at their best, seem like Cliffs Notes versions. But Roger Michell’s first feature (1995), scripted by Nick Dear, is a lot fresher and more engaging than the usual department-store windows of Merchant-Ivory: it makes us care about the characters rather than the sets and costumes. Set in 1814, with the British navy just back from the Napoleonic wars, it concerns the gradual reunion of Captain Frederick Wentworth (Ciaran Hinds) and Anne Elliot (Amanda Root), who’d been engaged seven years before. The secondary castincluding Simon Russell Beale, Sophie Thompson, Corin Redgrave, Susan Fleetwood, and Fiona Shawis especially effective. (JR)… Read more »

The Chicago International Film Festival Week 2: Simon Says

As the Chicago International Film Festival moves into its second week, two more films with distributors have been added to the list. Persuasion–a thoughtful, intelligent adaptation of the Jane Austen novel that provides a welcome alternative to Merchant-Ivory–is replacing Deathmaker and is being handled by Sony Pictures Classics. Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, filling the “surprise” film slot, is on all counts the dumbest Hollywood movie I saw in Cannes last May–an egregious Tarantino spin-off with everything the mainstream press is screaming for: a simple (even stupid) contrived plot, intimations of deranged and nonsensical violence, macho stances, movie stars, a fancy title, and the Miramax logo. It has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with someone pointing at Reservoir Dogs and saying, “Let’s have another one of those.” Under the circumstances, I guess the performances are OK.

Last week I suggested that the focus of this year’s retrospective, Lina Wertmuller–the recent recipient of the festival’s Golden Hugo for lifetime achievement–was a bizarre choice that might have been made interesting if the festival had issued a monograph explaining why her work was still worth defending or had some special relevance to the 90s. As a sort of substitute gesture the festival flew in John Simon, Wertmuller’s biggest defender, who solemnly informed at least one gathering that she had produced four masterpieces, more than any other artist in the history of Italian cinema–unlike Antonioni, responsible for only three, De Sica (only two), de Seta (one), Fellini (two or three–I forget which), and Visconti (one or two, ditto).… Read more »

A Time of Love

Less potent as filmmaking than The Peddler or Marriage of the Blessed, this intriguing 1990 feature by the eclectic, unpredictable Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, set in Turkey, was banned in Iran five years ago. It recounts the tale of an adulterous triangle (a taxi driver, a wife, and a man who shines shoes) in three separate versions, each of which offers a different perspective on the characters and issues; with Shiva Gered, Abdolrahman Yalmai, and Aken Tunc. Makhmalbaf, making his first U.S. appearance, will be present at both screenings to answer questions. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 21, 8:00, and Sunday, October 22, 4:00, 443-3737.… Read more »


I can’t think of two hours more unpleasant than the ones I spent watching this, but if you like to watch women getting tortured by serial killers when they’re not tracking them down, this may be your cup of tea. Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver, a cop and a shrink, are the main trackers, but so little is done in Ann Biderman and David Madsen’s script to give them or their colleagues or even their prey interesting human dimensions that the overall ambience is chiefly pornographic. It seems that the serial killer likes to copy other serial killers in the same way that the filmmakers (including director Jon Amiel) like to copy other serial-killer movies, but little is made of this boring self-referentiality. I suppose you could call the film efficient, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it. The cinematographer is Laszlo Kovacs; with Dermot Mulroney, William McNamara, Will Patton, and Harry Connick Jr. (JR)… Read more »


Kevin Smith’s 1995 follow-up to Clerks is a clear illustration of the principle that if you want to eliminate what’s distinctive and potentially dangerous in a low-budget independent, offer him a Hollywood contract. The Sundance festival, I know, is founded on a reverse principlethat Hollywood contracts are what everybody needsbut if this were the first Kevin Smith movie I’d ever seen I wouldn’t be especially eager to see another. As an Animal House romp about consumer slackers in a New Jersey mall, it’s harmless enoughjust don’t expect any sort of edge. At least with this outing, Smith left the working class to become just as boring as everybody else. With Shannen Doherty, Jeremy London, Jason Lee, and Claire Forlani. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Now And Then

A rather lame comedy-drama, about four women recalling their adventures when they were 12 and the best of friends in Indiana. Hampered by a sprawling script (by I. Marlene King) and uneven direction (by Lesli Linka Glatter), the actresses playing the 12-year-oldsChristina Ricci, Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffmann, and Ashleigh Aston Moorecan’t hold the same amount of interest as Melanie Griffith, Demi Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, and Rita Wilson, who play the grown women and are around only for extended cameos. (JR)… Read more »

Losing Focus

Last year’s Chicago International Film Festival was the best in my eight years of living here. But now in its 31st year the festival seems to be sliding back toward some of its past problems. I don’t want to sound too alarmist about an event that’s showing several indispensable works, most of which would be impossible to see without the festival’s initiative. At least half are U.S. premieres, and we all should be properly grateful for this bounty.

But it’s also clear that the recent resignation of festival coprogrammer Marc Evans– over creative differences with director and founder Michael Kutza–has had consequences that are already visible in the program. Though Evans estimates that he was responsible for roughly a third of this year’s selections, his long-term efforts to cut down on the festival’s excesses and lack of selectivity have been undermined. The bane of last-minute schedule changes–always a problem with the Chicago festival, though one that Evans helped to minimize–is already back with a vengeance: as we go to press, a new festival schedule has just been printed to replace the original handout, and readers are advised to call and check whenever possible. Another problem, for which apparently neither Kutza nor Evans can be blamed, is the loss of Pipers Alley as a central festival screening facility.… Read more »

How to make an American Quilt

Not bad, especially as an excuse to bring together many of the best Hollywood actresses around–Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Samantha Mathis, Kate Nelligan, Winona Ryder, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, and Alfre Woodard–not to mention Maya Angelou in a cameo. Jane Anderson’s adaptation of Whitney Otto’s novel focuses on the summer a Berkeley graduate student (Ryder) spends with her grandmother and great aunt (Burstyn and Bancroft) while mulling over a marriage proposal from her boyfriend (Dermot Mulroney). Flashbacks spanning over a century rub shoulders with present-day scenes of a quilting bee. The capable director here is Jocelyn Moorhouse, an Australian best known for directing Proof and producing Muriel’s Wedding. Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, 900 N. Michigan, Norridge, Old Orchard, Webster Place, Ford City. … Read more »

The Scarlet Letter

Freely adapted from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, the credits say cautiously. I’ll say. Demi Moore, clothed and occasionally nude, lends her body to Hester Prynne (her mind seems elsewhere), Robert Duvall plays Uncle Tom’s Cabin’s Simon Legree, and Gary Oldman plays Brad Pitt. Though the setting is Puritan New England, director Roland Joffe makes the New World landscapes and period details (both often handsome in their ‘Scope framings) resemble those in The Killing Fields and The Mission, as if to prove that an auteur, not an author, is in charge. (JR)… Read more »


Pretentious, boring, and consistently uninvolving, this effort by producer Robert Evans and director William Friedkin to make comebacks with an incoherent Joe Eszterhas script simply won’t wash. A San Francisco millionaire gets murdered to the strains of The Rite of Spring, the governor of California (Richard Crenna) is incriminated in a potential sex scandal, and thanks to the flaccid filmmaking and unappealing cast (David Caruso, Linda Fiorentino, Chazz Palminteri), it’s impossible to care. Friedkin includes a car chase to remind us of The French Connection and part of it is staged in Chinatown, presumably to remind us of Evans’s better days, but I kept looking at my watch; with Michael Biehn and Donna Murphy. (JR)… Read more »

Dead Presidents

More ambitious than Menace II Society, this second feature by youthful codirecting twins Allen and Albert Hughes starts in 1968, a few years before they were born, when three friends from the Bronx (Larenz Tate, Chris Tucker, and Freddy Rodriguez) enlist in the marines. Back from Vietnam but not treated as heroes, they eventually find themselves plotting an armed robbery. Written with Michael Henry Brown, this 1995 picture shows flashes of political savvy and has some decent performances, and the period evocations are nothing to be ashamed of. But gratuitous gore and violence and a huffing and puffing heist sequence eventually compromise the movie’s claim to seriousness. With Keith David, N’Bushe Wright, and Bokeem Woodbine. R, 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Strange Days

A movie that gives a new meaning to the word punchy, Kathryn Bigelow’s hyperventilating, violent 1995 thrillerentertaining if often over the topis set in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve in the year 1999 and has something to do with snuff tapes (with several nods to Peeping Tom), racial violence, and police corruption. One feels at times that these matters have been worked into James Cameron and Jay Cocks’s script like fashionable teasers rather than as subjects the filmmakers have much to say about. Ralph Fiennes stars as a black marketeer who traffics in virtual-reality tapes, and one wonders if surviving fragments of four or five different script drafts are responsible for his changes of personality every half hour or so. I wasn’t bored at all by this movie, and Angela Bassett’s charisma as an action heroine often blew me away, but fans of Bigelow at her best (e.g., Near Dark) may be put off by the acres of calculation, which don’t always fit with the intellectual pretensions. With Juliette Lewis, Tom Sizemore, Michael Wincott, Vincent D’Onofrio, Glenn Plummer, and Richard Edson. (JR)… Read more »

Off Season

One of the the nicest as well as most personal of the movies of Swiss director Daniel Schmid is this 1992 semiautobiographical reverie, Fellini-like in a good sense, about a boy growing up in a hotel in the Swiss Alps run by his widowed mother and grandmother. (The grandmother is played by Fellini’s sister, Maddalena.) With an excellent cast, including Sami Frey, Carlos Devesa, Ingrid Caven, Arielle Dombasle, Geraldine Chaplin, and Ulli Lommel. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »