Monthly Archives: January 1996

Once Upon A Time . . . When We Were Colored

A warm and likable chronicle (1995) about growing up black in Mississippi between 1946 and 1962, shortly before the end of jim crow laws, adapted from a memoir by Clifton Taulbert and directed by first-timer Tim Reid. Even as a southerner and near contemporary of Taulbert, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of every detail here, but on the whole this feels right (even the colors employed in the decor smack of the 50s), and it certainly puts to shame the egregious nonsense of Mississippi Burning. The film has its hokey moments but also a good many quiet virtues and strengths, which is perhaps why it was rejected by the trendy Sundance festival: there’s hardly an ounce of hyperbole in it. The excellent cast includes Al Freeman Jr., Phylicia Rashad, Isaac Hayes, Taj Mahal, Polly Bergen, and Richard Roundtree. PG, 115 min. (JR) Read more

Bottle Rocket

Wes Anderson’s 1996 first feature (before Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums) is fresh, character driven, often funny, and unfashionably upbeat (as well as offbeat). And it doesn’t beat you over the headwhich made it a hard sell in industry terms and explains why it was almost completely ignored upon release. But I found its Kerouac-like goofiness both charming and sustaining. Owen Wilson, his brother Luke, and Robert Musgrave play three young, immature friends and aspiring thieves in Texas; another Wilson brother, Andrew, also appears, and the film benefits from its relaxed cast consisting largely of friends and siblings. (The presence of such producer godparents as Polly Platt, James L. Brooks, Monte Hellman, and L.M. Kit Carson probably helped as well.) Written by Anderson and Owen Wilson; with James Caan and Lumi Cavazos (Like Water for Chocolate). R, 95 min. (JR) Read more

The Juror

Demi Moore plays a sculptor and single mother serving on the jury in a dangerous mobster’s trial who is forced to campaign for a not guilty verdict in order to save her son’s life. Brian Gibson directed this terrible psychological thriller from a script by Ted Tally (The Silence of the Lambs), based on a book by George Dawes Green; Alec Baldwin costars. While trying to distract myself from everything that seemed cliched, unbelievable, stupid, and/or mean-spirited about this useless exercise, I ruefully reflected that, just as an obviously guilty mobster gets off scot-free, this bad movie probably garnered as many rave blurbs from reviewers as a good one would. The reason isn’t that producer Irwin Winkler threatened to kill anybody’s loved ones, but some miscarriage of justice occasioned by heaps of money. With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Heche, and Lindsay Crouse. (JR) Read more

Antonia’s Line

I didn’t much take to this humorless, Oscar-winning 1995 feminist fable from the Netherlands by Marleen Gorris (A Question of Silence, Broken Mirrors), set in the Dutch countryside and spanning four matriarchal generations of a single family over the second half of the 20th century. But if you’re looking for a movie that expresses feminist rageGorris’s specialty, to the exclusion of most other concernsyou shouldn’t pass this up. With Willeke Van Ammelrooy, Jan Decleir, and Els Dottermans. In Dutch with subtitles. 102 min. (JR) Read more

Bed Of Roses

Reasonably sincere and decently scripted, this love story between an investment banker (Mary Stuart Masterson) and a florist’s delivery boy (Christian Slater) is such familiar stuff that you probably won’t have sharp memories of it afterward, but it’s not bad on its own modest terms. A first feature by writer-director Michael Goldberg; with Pamela Segall, Josh Brolin, Kenneth Cranham, Ally Walker, and Mike Haley. (JR) Read more

From the Journals of Jean Seberg

As in his Rock Hudson’s Home Movies, Mark Rappaport offers a trenchant piece of film criticism, revisionist history, and social commentary in the form of a movie star’s fictionalized autobiography–specifically Jean Seberg (Mary Beth Hurt) speaking from beyond the grave about her life and career, as well as the careers of Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, who, like Seberg, have also been associated with radical politics. Rappaport is a highly entertaining raconteur as he speaks through his title character, always justifying his many digressions on such subjects as movies about Joan of Arc, close-ups, expressionless actors, film directors who depict their actress-wives as whores, the Vietnam war, the FBI, and the Black Panthers; he also has a rather chilling story to tell–not only about Seberg but also about what her audience did and didn’t see in her films from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, including Saint Joan, Bonjour Tristesse, Breathless, Lilith, and Paint Your Wagon. Essential viewing; a U.S. theatrical premiere. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, January 19, 6:00 and 7:45, and Saturday, January 20, 8:00, 443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): . Read more

Bed And Sofa

Made in 1927, Abram Room’s silent comedy about the Moscow housing shortage offers a rare and nonjudgmental look at the free love side of the Russian Revolution, with adultery and abortion both treated as significant issues. Viktor Shklovsky, the father of Russian formalism, worked on the script. 95 min. (JR) Read more

From Dusk Till Dawn

Robert Rodriguez directs a script by Quentin Tarantino, who also costars. About halfway through, this 1996 crime thriller turns into a gory vampire bloodbath a la The Evil Dead; the result is better than Rodriguez’s Desperado, but there’s a similar feeling of disassociation among the various elements. Harvey Keitel plays a former minister who’s recently lost his faith; he and his two kids (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu) are taken hostage by brother robbers (George Clooney and Tarantino) fleeing for the Mexican border. On a mindless exploitation level this is pretty good, but on other levels it seems to make promises that it fails to deliver on; none of the deaths carries any moral weight, and the climactic special-effects free-for-all tends to drown out all other interests. (What are we to make of all the curious third-world references, ranging from the fact that one of Keitel’s kids is Chinese to Fred Williamson’s memoriesin a Mexican vampire bar, no lessof wasting a lot of Vietnamese? And Tarantino’s character, a somewhat deranged sex offender, also throws out various hints that go unexplored.) But if your critical horizons are low and you’re feeling in a nasty mood, you probably won’t be bored. With Cheech Marin (in three separate roles), Salma Hayek, Tom Savini, and John Saxon. Read more


A Canadian SF action thriller with nice art direction, loads of echoes of Dune and the three Aliens, and a director (Christian Duguay) who doesn’t seem to have much idea of how to handle action sequences. Set on a remote mining planet almost a century from now during a decade-long war, the story is derived from Philip K. Dick’s Second Variety and has some of his trademark paranoia (also found in Blade Runner and Total Recall) about who’s a friend and who’s a killer machine; but even though Peter Weller and Jennifer Rubin make interesting leads, the results are oddly unaffecting. With Roy Dupuis, Andy Lauer, and Michael Caloz; written by Dan O’Bannon and Miguel Tejada-Flores. (JR) Read more

Dead Man Walking

Tim Robbins’s second feature as a writer-director, adapted from Sister Helen Prejean’s autobiographical book of the same title, depicts Prejean’s efforts to save (in more ways than one) a rapist and killer in Louisiana who’s on death row. The direction has its awkward and square moments, but the film is uncommonly honest and serious–a rare quality these days. Not the simple polemic against capital execution one might have expected, it works very hard to acknowledge and even honor the viewpoints of the victims’ families, and ultimately respects the audience’s ability to make up its own mind. This film is about hatred on both sides of the law–the kind of subject Samuel Fuller has often powerfully dealt with–and for the most part it doesn’t settle for easy effects or platitudes. If nothing else, the two powerful and highly intelligent lead performances by Susan Sarandon as Prejean and Sean Penn as the criminal are ample reason to see the picture. McClurg Court, Webster Place.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still. Read more


A sometimes intriguing, extremely ambitious, and ultimately unsatisfying art movie by writer-director Rebecca Miller, Arthur Miller’s daughter, about the imaginative life of two little girls living in upstate New York, with their manic-depressive mother and ex-musician father. Ellen Kuras’s hyperrealist color cinematography is striking and at times beautiful, the performances are good, and the magical-realist atmosphere, where the imaginations and physical realities of the two little girls are accorded the same status, has its provocative aspects, but the story and the drama never come together. With Anna Thomson, John Ventimiglia, Miranda Stuart Rhyne, Charlotte Blythe, and Vincent Gallo. (JR) Read more

The Baron Of Arizona

Writer-director Samuel Fullers’s second feature (1950), shot in only 15 days, is an oddball western, based somewhat on fact, about James Addison Reavis, a 19th-century forger who staked a claim to the entire Arizona territory, and his young ward, who becomes his wife. Not one of Fuller’s best films, though the subject is fascinatingly offbeat, the cinematography is by James Wong Howe, and no personal Fuller project is devoid of interest; perhaps the undernourished budget and a relative absence of action are the problem. With Vincent Price, Ellen Drew, Beulah Bondi, and Robert Barrat. (JR) Read more

White Squall

Ridley Scott directs a script by Todd Robinson based on a true story about an ocean academy for male high school students in the Caribbean in 1960, run by a tough skipper (Jeff Bridges) who calls to mind a crusty army sergeant with a hidden heart of gold. The training ship sailed into a freak storm called a white squall and sank, with half a dozen casualties. The story has its corny aspects, but thanks to Scott’s skill as an image maker and as a storytellerproceeding from the very blue and very abstract water seen behind the credits to the climactic, extended stormthis is superior to both Dead Poets Society (as a tale about a boys’ school and its charismatic teacher) and Apollo 13 (as a true-life action adventure). With Caroline Goodall, John Savage, Scott Wolf, Jeremy Sisto, and Balthazar Getty. (JR) Read more

Nico Icon

A watchable if at times irritating 1995 German documentary by Susanne Ofteringer about the German-born model-actress-singer Nico, best known for her association with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground. What’s irritating is the procession of talking heads who clearly know little about Nico but like sounding off about her anyway, presumably for their own glory (it seems that many of those who knew her best, such as filmmaker Philippe Garrel, declined to be interviewed); the result is that no clear sense of who she was ever emerges. As in the portrait of Chet Baker in Let’s Get Lost, the romantic fetishizing of a heroin addict’s doom often serves to fill in the blanks, and, as with Jean Seberg, the impulse to read Nico like a Rorschach test often proves to be all-determining, ensuring that the real person remains in hiding. But the period footage and the gossipy details are interesting; we learn, for instance, that she introduced her son by Alain Delon to heroin. Other people interviewed include Tina Aumont, John Cale, Jonas Mekas, Paul Morrissey, Billy Name, Lutz Ulbrich, and Viva. (JR) Read more

Joan The Maid

Paradoxically yet appropriately, Jacques Rivette’s only superproduction to date, his two-part, no-nonsense 1993 opus about Joan of Arc (Sandrine Bonnaire), is his first realistic film since L’amour fou (1968)and perhaps the only movie that offers a plausible portrait of what the 15th-century teenager who led the French into battle was actually like. Apart from the stylized effect of having various participants in the action narrate the plot while facing the camera, this is a materialist version of a story that offers no miracles, though it does offer a pertinent attentiveness to gender issues (such as the nervousness and sexual braggadocio of the soldiers who sleep besideJoan) and a Joan who’s girlish as well as devout, capable of giggling as well as experiencing pain; when she wins over the dauphin the scene is pointedly kept offscreen, and when she’s interrogated by priests about her faith she could almost be a graduate student defending a dissertation. (Rivette himself plays the priest who blesses her just before she leaves home.) Jeanne la pucelle is made up of two features that can be seen separately; if I had to see only one I would opt for The Battles (somewhat mislabeled because battle scenes crop up only in the last third), because Rivette is doing things, especially with landscape and period detail (both traversed by inquisitive pans), that he’s never done before. Read more