Monthly Archives: June 1996

The Long Gray Line

John Ford’s first and only completed film in ‘Scope also happens to be one of his major neglected works of the 50s. A biopic of epic proportions (138 minutes) about West Point athletic instructor Marty Maher (Tyrone Power), who failed as a student at the academy but stayed on to become a much-beloved figure, this 1955 film is an almost paradigmatic example of the “victory in defeat” theme that comprises much of Ford’s oeuvre. Adapted by Edward Hope from Maher’s autobiography, Bring Up the Brass, the film is rich with nostalgia, family feeling, and sentimentality. It’s given density by a superb supporting cast (including Maureen O’Hara at her most luminous, Donald Crisp, Ward Bond, and Harry Carey Jr.) and a kind of mysticism that, as in How Green Was My Valley, makes the past seem even more alive than the present. Not for everyone, but a work that vibrates with tenderness and emotion. A Technicolor, adapted 16-millimeter ‘Scope print will be screened. LaSalle Theatre, 4901 W. Irving Park, Saturday, June 29, 8:00, 904-5549.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Independence Day

For better and for worse, this 1996 megahit is an archetypal 50s alien-invasion/disaster movie, though it contains dollops of Dr. Strangelove (without the 60s irony) and Star Wars (with equal nostalgia for old movie tropes). After invading bug-eyed monsters reduce New York, Washington, Los Angeles, and assorted unseen world capitals to rubble, a black and a Jew (Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum) set out to give humanity another chance. The earnestness, the effects, and the notion of a whole world forgetting its differences to defeat a common foe carry a certain charm, but like the U.S., this movie is so hamstrung trying to represent the whole worldor anything outside its own bordersthat it pretty nearly gives up at the start. Otherwise this is overlong but watchable. Roland Emmerich directed from a script he wrote with Dern Devlin; with Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Margaret Colin, Randy Quaid, Robert Loggia, and Bill Pullman as the U.S. president. PG-13, 145 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Nutty Professor

Eddie Murphy’s 1996 remake of Jerry Lewis’s most accomplished comedy narrative (1963) is most memorable for Murphy’s impersonation of the title hero, defined in this version as an obese science professor who undergoes a Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation, with his own formula turning him into the usual slim and narcissistic Murphy persona. (By contrast Lewis’s nutty professor, a mere klutz, turned himself into the real-life Lewis and made this complex and highly critical self-portrait the center of the movie.) Exploiting audience anxieties about food and overeating and never shying from vulgarity and excess, this remake has a touch of pathos derived from the original that is uncharacteristic of Murphy, though with none of the tragic undertones that Lewis found in the subject. I’m not much of a Murphy fan, but this movie made me laugh a lot. Tom Shadyac directed and collaborated on the script with many others; the costars are Jada Pinkett (in the sexist/alluring Stella Stevens part), James Coburn, Larry Miller, Dave Chappelle, and John Ales. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Phenomenon

Moribund, dopey stuff, about an all-American garage mechanic (John Travolta) who witnesses a strange light in the sky and turns into some sort of genius (the kind who excels in answering TV-quiz-show-style questions), with telekinetic and prophetic powers to boot. Isolated from the frightened folks in his small town, he moves toward death. I don’t doubt the noble motives behind this Disney parable, but the attempts at amiable, laid-back dialogue (script by Gerald DiPego) are painful, the pacing is sluggish, and the confused story’s poorly focused. Travolta is as charming as usual, but seems distinctly out of his element here as a nice-guy everyman who oozes significance. With Kyra Sedgwick, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Duvall; directed by Jon Turteltaub. (JR)… Read more »

Striptease

A mainly disappointing 1996 entry from comedy writer-director Andrew Bergman, who seems to be overwhelmed by both the contractual power of Demi Moore and unsuitable material (a crime novel by Carl Hiaasen). Moore plays a former FBI clerk who takes up topless dancing to make enough money to regain custody of her little girl (Rumer Willis, Moore’s real-life daughter), but about the only intriguing character is a bouncer of ambiguous sexuality played by Ving Rhames. Everyone else seems both underimagined and overblown, including Robert Patrick as the stripper… Read more »

Nelly And Monsieur Arnaud

The relationship between a 25-year-old Parisian woman (Emmanuelle Beart), recently separated from her husband, and the septuagenarian former judge and businessman (Michel Serrault) she works for as a typist and editor is at the center of this masterful 1995 feature by French writer-director Claude Sautet, but what’s important here is less a matter of literal events than sexual and emotional undercurrents. Sautet (Cesar and Rosalie, Un coeur en hiver) is a septuagenarian himself, but there’s an admirable detachment and sense of balance in the way that he attends and responds to his title characters, not merely defining one through the eyes of the other. The results are seamless and profoundnovelistic in the best sense. With Jean-Hugues Anglade, Claire Nadeau, and Michael Lonsdale. (JR)… Read more »

Eraser

Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a federal marshal dedicated to the witness protection programin this case he’s protecting Vanessa Williamsin an enjoyably paranoid kick-ass adventure romp (1996) with some giddily hyperbolic action moments. Charles Russell (The Mask, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) directs a limited but serviceable script by Tony Puryear and Walon Green and puts costars James Caan, James Coburn, and Robert Pastorelli through predictable paces. Schwarzenegger and Williams are regarded as blocks of decor that occasionally emit dialogue when they’re not diving out of airplanes, fighting off alligators in Central Park, evading fancy weapons and explosions in Washington, D.C., and on the Baltimore docks, and carrying out elaborate impersonations to defeat the treasonous feds on their tail. A few of the set pieces are fussy or overly extended, but the rest is tolerable bone-crunching diversion. (JR)… Read more »

The Hunchback Of Notre Dame

Roll over, Victor Hugo. This 1996 cartoon feature, based on Hugo’s 1831 Notre Dame de Paris, is surely one of Disney’s ugliest and least imaginative efforts. It’s especially unattractive in its fast editing and zooms. There’s a glib happy ending to replace the novel’s, a cute pipe-smoking goat, and politically correct positions on Gypsies and hunchbacksthough virtually no feeling for Paris or France, which might have interfered with all those commercial tie-ins. If your main aim is to find somewhere to park your kids, the familiar Disney formula is at your service. Among the voices used are those of Demi Moore, Tom Hulce, Kevin Kline, Jason Alexander, and Mary Wickes; Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise are the credited directors. (JR)… Read more »

Knocks at My Door

Adapted from a successful play, this tense and effective 1992 Venezuelan political thriller follows the story of a nun who decides to shelter a fugitive from armed rebels during a civil war, the ambivalent cooperation she elicits from another nun, and the price they both have to pay for their courage. Directed with craft and discretion by Alejandro Saderman, the film sticks to the claustrophobic feeling I assume the original play had while conveying a detailed sense of the surrounding community, from mayor to bishop to shopkeeper. Wisely, Saderman veers away from close-ups when he wants certain dramatic points to register; indeed, many of the finest moments–most of them related to the performance of Veronica Oddo, who plays the more committed nun–transpire in long shots. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday, June 14, 7:00 and 9:00; Saturday and Sunday, June 15 and 16, 3:00, 5:00, 7:00, and 9:00; and Monday through Thursday, June 17 through 20, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114. –Jonathan Rosenbaum … Read more »

Welcome To The Dollhouse

An intriguing and arresting dark comedy (1995) from American independent writer-director Todd Solondz, who focuses on an 11-year-old misfit in New Jersey but refuses to sentimentalize her. It’s worth pondering whether Solondz goes out of his way to pile on her miseries, but this isn’t as obvious a skewering of what it means to be American, adolescent, and unloved as it may first appear; it’s also about the interactions of a twisted world we all live in. Winner of the grand jury prize at the Sundance film festival; with Heather Matarazzo, Victoria Davis, Christina Brucato, and Brendan Sexton Jr. (JR)… Read more »

The Cable Guy

This curious piece of work (1996) starring Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick has been passed off as a comedy, and I suppose I laughed a few times during the first third or so; but it coheres only as a vaguely homoerotic nightmare patterned loosely after Fatal Attraction, with suggestive notations on TV pathology. As such it’s a fairly interesting effortmuch more ambitious than most Carrey vehicles. Broderick plays an architect recently evicted by his girlfriend and getting settled in a new flat; the technician (Carrey) who sets him up with free cable turns out to be a lonely, psychopathic control freak who makes his life miserable. Ben Stiller directs Lou Holtz Jr.’s script with plenty of unsettling edge, and Carrey throws himself into his part as if it meant something. With Leslie Mann, George Segal, Diane Baker, and Jack Black. PG-13, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Special Effects

This 40-minute Omnimax infomercial for the rerelease of the Star Wars trilogy (it also features visual effects from Independence Day, Jumanji, and Kazaam) received major funding from the National Science Foundation, which probably only demonstrates what suckers we all are as taxpayers. It calls Star Wars a major turning point in special effects history, though I’d argue that 2001, a movie that dissolves the very notion of the special effect by placing it in the service of some higher artistry, was more important in that regard. (Georges Melies, rightly singled out here as the father of the special effect, had the same idea, though he’s condescended to and represented by a terrible print of one of his films.) If you believe that special effects should consist of nothing but explosions, animal stampedes, and the like (they’re done mainly with scale models) and like the idea of movies selling other movies, then this is probably your cup of tea. This movie also boasts a second remake of the climax of King Kong; it’s vastly inferior to both its predecessors, though it still provides an eyeful in Omnimax. (JR)… Read more »

August

If you haven’t overdosed on versions of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, here’s one that’s quite intelligent. It transfers the action to Wales, and is directed by Anthony Hopkins (who also plays Vanya) from an adaptation by Julian Mitchell. The performances are first-rate, though this is neither cinema nor theater in any interesting sense, much less literature. (It might qualify as television, but then why put it on the big screen?) Certainly a respectable directorial debut, but not one that registers as necessary. With Leslie Phillips, Kate Burton, Gawn Grainger, and Rhian Morgan. (JR)… Read more »

Stealing Beauty

After years of filming abroad, Bernardo Bertolucci returned to Italyusing English dialogue primarilyto fashion a civilized, mellow, and generally graceful chamber piece (1996), literary in a good sense (and written by novelist Susan Minot), about a young American (Liv Tyler), the daughter of a deceased woman poet, who returns to a villa occupied by family friends in Tuscany hoping to lose her virginity and discover the identity of her father, two concerns the film regards as intimately intertwined. Switching cinematographers from standby Vittorio Storaro to Darius Khondji (Seven), Bertolucci seems less rhetorical and more assured than usual. Though the film tapers off a little toward the end, there’s a climactic scene of recognition between the heroine and her father that was one of the most exquisite pieces of acting I’d seen in ages. With Carlo Cecchi, Sinead Cusack, Jeremy Irons, Jean Marais, Donal McCann, D.W. Moffett, Stefania Sandrelli, and Rachel Weisz. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Multiplicity

Michael Keaton plays a family man who’s so busy that he has to clone himself three times to get everything done. Harold Ramis of Groundhog Day directed this comedy fantasy, which is badly in need of Bill Murray (or, barring that, more interesting characters for Keaton to play). Based on a short story by Chris Miller, who collaborated on the script with Mary Hale, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel; Andie MacDowell costars. The special effects are impressive, but they don’t add up to a movie. (JR)… Read more »