Monthly Archives: April 1996

The Great White Hype

Maybe not quite as good as the title suggestsand the great hype proves to be black as well as whitebut this satire directed by Reginald Hudlin about the corruption of the boxing business (and of show business, for that matter) is lots of fun, thanks to a sharp script (by Tony Hendra and Ron Shelton) and juicy comic acting by Samuel L. Jackson, Damon Wayans, Jeff Goldblum, Peter Berg, Jon Lovitz, Corbin Bernsen, and Cheech Marin. I suppose one could argue that this movie is guilty of the sort of hoopla it’s lampooning, and I couldn’t share its amusement at the expense of homeless people, but I enjoyed myself most of the time. (JR) Read more

Larger Than Life

Bill Murray plays a guy who inherits a circus elephant; hoping to sell it, he takes off on a cross-country safari. Not terribly funny, but the intimations of an older, saltier America in the picaresque plot make this watchable. Humorist Roy Blount Jr. wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Pen Densham and Garry Williams, and is perhaps responsible for both the literary undertones and the absence of a unifying visual style. Howard Franklin directed; with Janeane Garofalo, Linda Fiorentino, Anita Gillette, Pat Hingle, and Lois Smith. (JR) Read more

Barb Wire

A 1996 SF action replay of Blade Runner, Batman, Tank Girl, True Lies, and (believe it or not) Casablanca; its main source is a comic book, but it might as well be a computer. Mercenary dominatrix Barb Wire (Pamela Anderson) doesn’t look human enough for actual sex, but she’s ready for violence of all kinds, and there’s plenty of rain, rust, and grime to furnish the proper settings. David Hogan directed a scipt by Chuck Pfarrer and Ilene Chaiken, and some of the human furniture is played by Temuera Morrison, Jack Noseworthy, Victoria Rowell, Xander Berkeley, Steve Railsback, and Udo Kier. R, 90 min. (JR) Read more

The Pallbearer

A college graduate (David Schwimmer) who still lives with his mother (Carol Kane) in Brooklyn comes into contact with the high school girl he used to have a crush on (Gwyneth Paltrow); he’s also asked to be a pallbearer and deliver the eulogy for a classmate he can’t even remember. He winds up having an affair with the deceased’s mother (Barbara Hershey, all but unrecognizable in a blond wig). The parallels with The Graduate are blatant, but this is only a fair-to-middling comedy by first-time director Matt Reeves with little sense of visual or satirical style. The actorly presences are pleasant and a few lines in the script (by Jason Katims and Reeves) are funny, but that’s about it; with Michael Rapaport, Toni Collette, and Bitty Schram. (JR) Read more

Carried Away

A crippled schoolteacher (Dennis Hopper) who’s waiting for his cancer-stricken mother (Julie Harris) to die before he marries his widowed childhood heartthrob (Amy Irving) is seduced by a 17-year-old student (Amy Locane), the daughter of a retired major (Gary Busey) and his alcoholic wife. Adapted by Ed Jones from Jim Harrison’s novel Farmer and directed by Bruno Barreto (Irving’s husband), this drama tries to imitate Badlands by using the same cinematographer (Declan Quinn), but it looks nothing like that masterpiece and is of no particular visual interest. Not only does it not do justice to its rural Texas setting, one can’t even be sure just when it’s supposed to be taking place. But the performances are sufficiently well modulated and sincere to inch this a bit beyond Peyton Place territory, and even if I can’t quite buy this movie’s (or is it Harrison’s?) notion of what teenage girls are like, the actors kept me interested; with Hal Holbrook. (JR) Read more

Frank And Ollie

An affectionate, informative, and, under the circumstances, not too drippy Disney documentary (1995) by Theodore Thomas, about two key Disney animators, Frank Thomas (the director’s father) and Ollie Johnston. They first met as art students at Stanford in 1932 and subsequently became roommates, coworkers, and/or neighbors, working on the major cartoon features at Disney from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on. This is an absorbing portrait of their singular collaboration and relationship. (JR) Read more

I Shot Andy Warhol

From the Chicago Reader (April 29, 1996). — J.R.


This 1996 American independent feature by Mary Harron, written with Dan Minahan, is so good at re-creating the appearance of Warhol and his 60s milieu that I was almost completely won over — that is, until a closing title called Valerie Solanas’s SCUM Manifesto a feminist classic. Having gone out out of its way to persuade the audience that Solanas was a raving lunatic, the movie ends by calling her a visionary. But having things both ways characterizes just about every facet and offshoot of the Warhol industry, so I guess this movie shouldn’t be castigated for the same principled (and often instructive) confusion. Lili Taylor turns in a good performance as Solanas, and almost as impressive are Jared Harris as Warhol, Stephen Dorff as Candy Darling, and Michael Imperioli as Ondine. If you want to know what the Warhol scene was all about, this is even better than the documentaries. With Martha Plimpton, Danny Morgenstern, and Lothaire Bluteau (as the nefarious Maurice Girodias). (JR)

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A meandering 60s-style movie (1994) by writer-director Anna Campion (sister of Jane), filmed in England and focusing on what happens when seven students decide to shoot a 16-millimeter horror movie in and around a crumbling country mansion; things start to unravel after they all decide to take acid (with the director serving up weird sounds and images, including animation, to suggest their experiences). On the whole Campion’s much better at directing actors than at telling a story. With Oliver Milburn, Dearbhla Molloy, Danny Cunningham, Catherine McCormack, Thandie Newton, Nick Patrick, Biddy Hodson, and Matthew Eggleton. (JR) Read more

Sunset Park

A spunky white woman (Rhea Perlman) becomes coach of an inner-city basketball team and eventually wins the players’ hearts, in another example of the sort of feel-good liberal Band-Aid for racial inequality that Benjamin DeMott exposed recently in a valuable book. (Other examples in this burgeoningor should I say bludgeoning?cycle include Dangerous Minds and The Substitute.) I don’t deny the sincerity of such a movie, but it’s questionable whether it accomplishes much beyond flattering the audience for its goodwill. Steve Gomer directed a script by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld and Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, and the costars include Fredro Starr, Carol Kane, Terrence Dashon Howard, Camille Saviola, and De’Aundre Bonds. (JR) Read more

Mulholland Falls

An odd kettle of fish, though a pretty alluring one. Lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors) directs a Pete Dexter and Floyd Mutrux script, a noirish crime story set in Los Angeles during the 50s; thanks in part to gorgeous cinematography by Haskell Wexler and a yearning Dave Grusin score, the lyrical style often recalls Chinatown. An elite police unit nicknamed the Hat Squad (Nick Nolte, Chazz Palminteri, Michael Madsen, and Chris Penn) finds a routine murder investigation leads to the Atomic Energy Commission, and the troubled personal involvement of Nolte in the case makes matters even more vexing. The cast includes Melanie Griffith (as Nolte’s wife), Treat Williams, Jennifer Connelly, Daniel Baldwin, Andrew McCarthy, John Malkovich, and an uncredited Bruce Dern. If some of the plot twists are predictable, the performances and dialogue do plenty to make up for them. This has craft, feeling, and atmosphere you can taste. (JR) Read more


Universal Pictures has soft-pedaled this psychological thriller in the Fatal Attraction-Sleeping With the Enemy mold by holding the only local press screening in Skokie, but I’m not sure why we’re expected to dislike it. James Foley (After Dark, My Sweet, Glengarry Glen Ross), working as uncredited cowriter with Christopher Crowe, is one of the best studio directors around; even if you feel ambivalent about the subgenre he adopts here, as I do, you can’t deny that he knows how to deliver the goods. A 16-year-old girl in Seattle (Reese Witherspoon) falls for a young man (Mark Wahlberg) with a troubled background who eventually becomes obsessed with her. Complicating the issue at least momentarily are the feelings of her father (William Petersen) about her budding sexuality. If you’re only looking for brutal jolts you’ll probably get impatient; the buildup is at least as gradual as in Hitchcock’s The Birds, and Foley has a fine sense of shading in depicting a slightly dysfunctional family. The problem with this subgenre is the way it has to demonize and dehumanize its villains to produce the desired effect, which brutalizes the spectator along with the story and characters. If you can accept this limitation, this is a very efficient piece of machinery. Read more

For The Moment

A very moving love story about an Australian airman in training in Canada during World War II and a prairie woman whose husband is already overseas. Canadian writer-director and coproducer Aaron Kim Johnston handles both the period ambience and the actors with great sensitivity; without much exaggeration one could say that this is the way they used to make good moviesespecially English movies in the Brief Encounter mode. With Russell Crowe, Christianne Hirt, Wanda Cannon, and Scott Kraft. (JR) Read more

Hate (la Haine)

A black-and-white 1994 French film by writer-director Mathieu Kassovitz (Cafe au Lait) about racism in the Paris suburbs. It focuses on three alienated youthsone black (Hubert Kounde), one North African (Said Taghmaoui), and one a working-class Jew (Vincent Cassel)who go on an all-night spree after a race riot sparked by police brutality. Though some of this might seem a bit old to Americans, Kassovitz has some things of his own to sayand he says them with nuance, feeling, and authority. In French with subtitles. 96 min. (JR) Read more

The Substitute

At first glance it’s just another entry in the series of delayed Blackboard Jungle spin-offs in which a principled teacherhere, ironically, a CIA mercenary (Tom Berenger)gains respect from a bunch of rowdy inner-city kids, in this case while substituting for his girlfriend (Diane Venora). But vying with this plotline, and ultimately overtaking it, are some kick-ass action sequences deriving from the fact that the principal is running a drug business out of the Miami school in question, in collusion with its leading gang. The results are lively if periodically silly; it’s too bad more use wasn’t made of the powerhouse Venora. With Ernie Hudson, Glenn Plummer, Richard Brooks, Marc Anthony, and Raymond Cruz; directed by Robert Mandel from a script by Roy Frumkes, Rocco Simonelli, and Alan Ormsby. (JR) Read more

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Whatever you think of the cable TV showa postmodernist recycling operation in which characters watching a 40s or 50s movie make teenage wisecracks about how terrible it isthis is a dreadful spin-off that starts out on the wrong foot by selecting one of the better SF movies of the 50s, This Island Earth, as its stinkburger. A kidnapped Mike Nelson (playing himself) and robot pals Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Crow are watching this color feature on the so-called Satellite of Love while mad scientist Dr. Forrester (cowriter Trace Beaulieu) monitors their responses. The running time here is actually 13 minutes shorter than This Island Earth, even with the projection breaking down twice and an exceptionally feeble prologue and epilogue tacked on; the 50s movie is also shown in the wrong aspect ratio, with the top and bottom of every frame cut off, perhaps because the filmmakers realized that showing it correctly and completely would render the effort to ridicule it even more pathetic. Six people are credited with the atrocious script, one of them director Jim Mallon. PG-13, 73 min. (JR) Read more