Monthly Archives: March 1996

It’s My Party

Expecting to die soon from AIDS, a Los Angeles architect (Eric Roberts) decides to end it all with pills, but not before throwing a two-day party for his friends and family. The bash consumes almost the entirety of this powerful comedy-drama by writer-director Randal Kleiser, who drew on personal experience. Among the architect’s party guests are his mother (Lee Grant), his sister (Marlee Matlin), his estranged lover (Gregory Harrison), his estranged father (George Segal), and others played by Olivia Newton-John, Bruce Davison, Roddy McDowall, Margaret Cho, Paul Regina, Devon Gummersall, and Bronson Pinchot. Sally Kellerman and Nina Foch are among the cameos. This may sound like the worst kind of Henry Jaglom movie, but despite a tendency to cut between sound bites it’s leagues ahead of that sort of New Age exercise. It’s My Party is a serious (albeit entertaining) movie about learning to die bravely, and the cast honors the concept with plenty of warmth and intelligence. Biograph. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

A Thin Line Between Love And Hate

Sandwiched between shots inspired by the opening of Sunset Boulevard is a grotesque, unfunny comic version of Fatal Attraction. Martin Lawrence, playing a nightclub promoter who gets into trouble with a scorned girlfriend (Lynn Whitfield), is also credited as director and cowriter, though this looks like a movie written and directed by a committee whose members aren’t even on speaking terms. With Bobby Brown (Panther), Della Reese, Regina King, and Roger E. Mosley. (JR)… Read more »

Sgt. Bilko

Steve Martin takes over the Phil Silvers part from the old TV show You’ll Never Get Rich (also known as The Phil Silvers Show): a philandering con artist on a peacetime army base who’s happily bilking the army of our billions of tax dollars with our affectionate approval and consent. Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) directs the proceedings with the right amount of bounce, working from a routine but serviceable Andy Breckman script. Overall, this offers a reasonably updated facsimile of a 50s service romp called Operation Mad Ball, a similar celebration of high jinks. With Dan Aykroyd, Phil Hartman, Glenne Headly, Daryl Mitchell, Austin Pendleton, and Chris Rock. (JR)… Read more »

Man Of The Year

Though this has its share of silly moments and overdone lampoonery, Dick Shafer’s pseudodocumentary about his stint as Playgirl magazine’s 1992 man of the yearan extended promotional gig complicated by the fact that he’s gayis pretty funny much of the time. The movie combines a certain amount of real-life footage with satiric re-creation and dares you to sort out which is which. Chances are you won’t have too hard a time, but that’ll probably make the movie more fun to watch, not less. With Shafer (as himself), the model Fabio (ditto), Bill Brochtrup, Beth Broderick, Lu Leonard, and Cal Bartlett. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

Decalogue

By a cruel twist of fate, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s major work, made in 1988, is finally receiving its Chicago theatrical premiere only a few days after his death at the age of 54. Ten separate films, each running 50-odd minutes and set mainly around two facing high-rises in Warsaw, are built around a contemporary reflection on the Ten Commandments–specifically, an inquiry into what breaking each of them in today’s world might mean. Made as a miniseries for Polish TV before Kieslowski embarked on The Double Life of Veronique and the “Three Colors” trilogy, these concise dramas can be seen in any order or combination, and they don’t depend on one another, though if you see them in batches you’ll probably notice how major characters in one story turn up as extras in another. (Facets Multimedia is running two at a time, three or four times each, over the next two weeks, which offers many possible options.) One reason why Kieslowski remains such a controversial filmmaker is that he embodied in certain ways the intellectual European filmmaking tradition of the 60s while commenting directly on how we live today. The first film, illustrating “Thou shall have no other gods before thee,” is about trust in computers.… Read more »

Girl 6

Spike Lee directed (and reportedly did an uncredited rewrite on) this mainly comic script by playwright Suzin-Lori Parks, about an aspiring actress (Theresa Randle) who becomes a phone sex worker to pay the rent. Perhaps because Lee seems less ambitious here than in previous features I found myself enjoying this film more; for all its hit-or-miss quality it offers a dreamy playfulness and stylistic inventiveness as well as a satirical edge that kept me interested. (Lee is particularly provocative when he cuts between film and video in highlighting some of the ideological preconceptions we have about both media.) Lee himself and Isaiah Washington costar; among those in smaller roles are John Turturro, Jennifer Lewis, Debi Mazar, Ron Silver, Peter Berg, Richard Belzer, and, in cameo parts, Naomi Campbell, Halle Berry, Madonna, and Quentin Tarantino. (JR)… Read more »

It’s My Party

Expecting to die soon from AIDS, a Los Angeles architect (Eric Roberts) decides to end it all with pills, but not before throwing a two-day party for his friends and family. The bash consumes almost the entirety of this powerful comedy-drama by writer-director Randal Kleiser, who drew on personal experience. Among the architect’s party guests are his mother (Lee Grant), his sister (Marlee Matlin), his estranged lover (Gregory Harrison), his estranged father (George Segal), and others played by Olivia Newton-John, Bruce Davison, Roddy McDowall, Margaret Cho, Paul Regina, Devon Gummersall, and Bronson Pinchot. Sally Kellerman and Nina Foch are among the cameos. This may sound like the worst kind of Henry Jaglom movie, but despite a tendency to cut between sound bites that supports such a comparison it’s leagues ahead of that sort of New Age exercise. It’s a serious (albeit entertaining) movie about learning to die bravely, and the cast honors the concept with plenty of warmth and intelligence. (JR)… Read more »

Little Indian, Big City

A French boulevard comedy, dubbed into English and distributed by Disney, that should set your teeth on edge. A Paris businessman (Thierry Lhermitte), who needs to divorce his wife (Miou-Miou) after 13 years of separation in order to marry someone else (Arielle Dombasle), ventures to a South American rain forest to get her consent, only to discover that he has an Indian son (Ludwig Briand), whom he winds up bringing back with him to Paris, poisoned blow darts and all. The primitive third-world condescension here is calculated to warm your heart and fill your throat with chuckles; at least that’s what I assume writer-director Herve Palud had in mind. With Sonia Vollereaux; cowritten by Igor Aptekman. (JR)… Read more »

Diabolique

If you like basking in the star power of Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani as much as I do, you’ll probably stick it out through this ludicrous and slack remake of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s nasty but effective 1955 thriller; otherwise you shouldn’t go near this turkey. Set at an improbable boys school in Pennsylvania, where two teachers, one an ex-nun (Adjani) married to the sadistic headmaster (Chazz Palminteri), the other his mistress (Sharon Stone), plot the master’s murder, this at no point shows us any character or situation that seems remotely believable. There’s no evidence of any effort to adapt the story from 50s France to contemporary America. Indeed, thanks to the terrible script by Don Roos (Single White Female) and the floundering direction by Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon), there’s no evidence of any brain whatsoever behind the camera. The three lead actors are resourceful enough to keep us mildly interested anyway, but don’t expect chills, suspense, or coherent narrative development; not even Kathy Bates as a wisecracking detectivea character not found in the originalcan bring this twitching corpse to life. With Spalding Gray, Alan Garfield, and Adam Hann-Byrd. (JR)… Read more »

Chungking Express

If you haven’t seen a film by Wong Kar-wai, one of the most exciting and original younger Hong Kong filmmakers, this charming and energetic two-part comedy is a good place to start. Though less ambitious than Days of Being Wild or Ashes of Time, the Wong films that precede and follow it–Chungking Express is in many ways the most accessible of the three. (Quentin Tarantino selected this film as the first he would distribute through Miramax, though the fact that his name isn’t being featured in the ads and that Miramax is soft-peddling this important release makes one wonder how committed either of them is.) Both stories here are set in contemporary Hong Kong and deal poignantly with young policemen striving to get over unsuccessful romances and having unconventional encounters with other women–a mob hit woman in the first, an infatuated fast-food waitress in the second. Wong’s singular frenetic visual style and his special feeling for lonely romantics may remind you of certain French New Wave directors, but this movie isn’t a trip down memory lane; it’s a vibrant commentary on young love today, packed with punch and personality. With Brigitte Lin, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Tony Leung, and Faye Wong (1995). Fine Arts.… Read more »

Two Much

Or should we say knot enough? Antonio Banderas plays a frustrated painter and crooked art dealer who pretends to be twin brothers while romancing wealthy sisters played by Melanie Griffith and Daryl Hannah. Spanish director Fernando Trueba, who with his brother David Trueba has adapted a Donald E. Westlake novel, easily surpasses his comic work on the overrated and Oscar-winning Belle Epoque; but he fails to take the knotswhich might also be called the flabby stretchesout of an overextended farce. I could live with this movie because the cast (which also includes Danny Aiello, Joan Cusack, and Eli Wallach) is so agreeable, but Banderas, for one, has to strain too hard and too long for his laughs, and the relatively lackadaisical pacing forces him to do so. (JR)… Read more »

Fargo

Set mainly in the Coen brothers’ native Minnesota and harking back to the sordid themes of their first feature (Blood Simple), this 1996 crime story may be their best picture to date, but if you have the same problems with their movies as I do Fargo won’t brush them all away. Though the Coens combine their usual derisive amusement toward their characters with a certain affection and condescending appreciation for some of the local yokels (in particular a pregnant police chief played by Frances McDormand), their well-honed antihumanist vision remains as bleak as ever. A slimy car dealer (William H. Macy) sunk in debt hires two thugs (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare) to kidnap his wife so they can split the ransom from her wealthy father (Harve Presnell); the scheme leads to a good many pointless deaths that we aren’t expected to care too deeply about. Given the Coens’ taste for hoaxes, their claim that some version of the story actually happened may or may not be specious, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. What mainly registers is the quiet desperation and simple pleasures of ordinary midwestern lives, the fatuous ways that people cover up their emotional and intellectual gaps, and the alternating pointlessness and cuteness of human existence.… Read more »

The Star Maker

I’m probably in a distinct minority, but this 1995 feature struck me as the first halfway bearable feature from Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, A Pure Formality). It’s choppy and unsatisfying but has a certain bittersweet world-weariness that reminds me fitfully of novels about con men ranging from Dead Souls to Elmer Gantry. The central character (Sergio Castellittoalmost a dead ringer for John Turturro) drives around Sicily in 1953 in a van festooned with posters from Gilda and Notorious; he claims to be a talent scout for Universal Studios who’ll film screen tests (which usually consist of key lines from Gone With the Wind) for villagers for a fee. This scam seems a more honest rendering of the meaning of movies in the lives of everyday people than the more sentimental Cinema Paradiso, and though the movie goes nowhereeven after a local beauty (Tiziana Lodato) joins the hero in his travelsit has a nice picaresque sprawl. (JR)… Read more »

Institute Benjamenta

I’ve only sampled this black-and-white fantasythe first live-action feature by the Brothers Quay, the London-based American twins best known for their music videos and Prague-influenced puppet animationand I wasn’t terribly engaged, though if you’re looking for something more recent in the Eraserhead/Guy Maddin school of creepiness, this may be the only noteworthy candidate. Inspired by the novella Jakob von Gunten and other works by Swiss writer Robert Walser and cowritten by Alan Passes, this dark, obscure parable about a moldering absurdist boarding school for the training of servants, seen from the vantage point of a recently enrolled student, may strike you as vaguely Kafkaesque, but only if you haven’t read much Kafka. With Mark Rylance, Gottfried John, Daniel Smith, and Alice Krige. (JR)… Read more »

A Family Thing

Robert Duvall plays an Arkansas cracker in his 60s who discovers that his biological mother was black and drives to Chicago to meet his half-brothera policeman played by James Earl Jonesand other newly discovered relatives. Directed by Richard Pearce from an original script by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton (who also collaborated on One False Move), this picture is an obvious labor of love that glimmers with feeling and insights at every turn, above all in its performances. Duvall is wonderful and Jones is, quite simply, magnificent (the manner in which he assigns his character a slight stammer is only one example of the perfection of his playing), while Irma P. Hall as one of the relatives isn’t far behind. With Michael Beach, Regina Taylor, and David Keith. (JR)… Read more »