Monthly Archives: March 1997

Liar Liar

Liar Liar

After breaking its back trying to persuade us it isn’t another Cable Guy, this Jim Carrey comedy settles on its central premise–a crass lawyer and neglectful father can’t tell a lie for 24 hours–and becomes pretty funny, except when it turns to goo. Carrey’s attempted self-immolation in a men’s room, which weirdly recalls certain Fred Astaire routines, may be a small classic. The irony is that audiences who despise Jerry Lewis and roar at Carrey probably don’t realize how close the two comics are; Tom Shadyac’s direction is closer to Lewis’s early films than his later and more personal work, but everything from the crazy grimaces to the sentimentality to the outtakes behind the final credits can be traced back to him. Written by Paul Guay and Stephen Mazur; with Maura Tierney, Jennifer Tilly, Swoosie Kurtz, Amanda Donohoe, and Cary Elwes. Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Ford City, Golf Mill, Hyde Park, Lincoln Village, Old Orchard, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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


David Cronenberg wrote and directed this 1996 film, a masterful minimalist adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1973 neo-futurist novel about sex and car crashes, and like the book it’s audacious and intensethough ultimately somewhat monotonous in spite of its singularity. James Spader meets Holly Hunter via a car collision, and they and Spader’s wife (Deborah Kara Unger) become acquainted with a kind of car-crash guru (Elias Koteas) and his own set of friends (including Rosanna Arquette). Sex and driving are all that this movie and its characters are interested in, but the lyrical, poetic, and melancholic undertones are potent, the performances adept and sexy, the sounds and images indelible. If you want something that’s both different and accomplished, even if you can’t be sure what it is, don’t miss this. 100 min. (JR) Read more

The Devil’s Own

An Irish terrorist from Belfast (Brad Pitt) becomes a boarder in the house of an Irish-American policeman (Harrison Ford) in New York City, in a thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula from a script by David Aaron Cohen, Vincent Patrick, and Kevin Jarre. As a well-directed star vehicle with a couple of good action sequences, this is good, effective filmmaking, but I was periodically bored; when Ford and Pitt aren’t lighting up the screen nothing much happens. Gordon Willis is the cinematographer; with Margaret Colin, Ruben Blades, Treat Williams, and Natascha McElhone. (JR) Read more

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina

Of all the egregious fashion spreads and sops to cultural intimidation and middlebrow guilt that have been derived from highly respected 19th- and 20th-century novels over the past few yearsas dubious a cycle of art movies as I can think ofthis has got to be the dumbest and most offensive. Writer-director Bernard Rose’s compost heap of arch poses from the Tolstoy novel has absolutely none of the elements that make the book memorable or even worth reading; for starters, forget about the opening lines about happy and unhappy families, Vronsky’s toothache after Anna’s suicide, and Levin’s exhilaration in the fields. In fact, Levin is now the tale’s narrator, even though a good half of the plot has little to do with himthe parallel stories in Tolstoy’s novel are now parallel only in the sense that unrelated books shelved together areand even the inspired notion of casting Alfred Molina in the part can’t make up for what he’s called upon to say and do. The disastrous casting decision for Anna is Sophie Marceau, complete with incomprehensible French accent, and Sean Bean plays Vronsky as if he wishes nobody would notice, a sentiment I can sympathize with. Occasional and seemingly arbitrary snippets of writing and dialogue are given in Russian, apparently to remind us that this isn’t a story about people speaking English, and the flourish of handwriting at the end is supposed to make us think that Levin is simply Tolstoy’s stand-in. Read more

Hu Du Men

Hu Du Men

The title of this entertaining 1996 Hong Kong movie, also known as Stage Door, is a Cantonese opera term for the imaginary line separating the stage from backstage, which becomes emblematic of the divisions in the story. That story, adapted by Raymond To Kwok-wai from his own play, concerns the producer and star of a Cantonese opera company (Josephine Siao) who’s about to abandon her career to emigrate to Australia with her husband and adopted daughter. (The anticipation of Hong Kong’s return to China is a major theme here, as it is in many recent Hong Kong films.) The adopted daughter is showing lesbian tendencies, and the heroine, a specialist in male roles, is experiencing some gender confusion of her own. Director Shu Kei–the most outspoken film critic of the Hong Kong film scene, as well as a programmer, novelist, and prolific screenwriter who’s worked for the likes of Anne Hui, Yim Ho, and John Woo–navigates issues of genre and gender with wit and aplomb. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, March 15 and 16, 4:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Return Of The Jedi: Special Edition

Episode VI (1983) in George Lucas’s still-unfolding Star Wars toy catalog and clip collection, complete with its own set of Monarch Notes and marginally upgraded by a few images filched from Blade Runner, a few improvements on the special effects, and an occasional inflation of the music. In keeping with the prissiness of the trilogy as a whole, oedipal rage and incest are briefly flirted with and then strategically avoided, but there are enough cute, fluffy animals to stock a planet. The late Richard Marquand was in charge of direction (that is, realizing the storyboards), but if a few robots had carried out the same task we wouldn’t know the difference; similarly, we don’t see a human being in the flesh for the first 20-odd minutes of this movie, but the affective landscape hardly changes when we do. If the trilogy has grown at all over its course, Dave Kehr wrote of the original, unspecial edition, it’s in terms of commercial calculationeven the confusions of the narrative seem deliberately planted to encourage repeat viewings. Merchandising protocol deems that I consider Jedi superior to Fritz Lang’s sublime pulp extravaganza and 1959 diptych The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb, which isn’t even available in this country and has the disadvantage of coming across as poetry, but the sad fact is that this movie isn’t even developed enough to qualify as prose. Read more


Richard Linklater, adhering to the same 24-hour frame of his first three features (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise), directs a fine adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s tragicomic play about the frustrated lives of several 20-year-old suburbanites, spent mainly in parking lots and pushed to a crisis point when an old friend who’s made it big as a rock star (Jayce Bartok) stops by for a visit. Though the material is conventional to the point of generic–even in its surprises–and remains obstinately stage bound in overall ambience, the cast of mainly unknowns is so good, and Linklater is so adept at playing them off each other, that the two-hour playing time never seems overextended or inflated. With Giovanni Ribisi (especially impressive), Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!), Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Ajay Naidu, Samia Shoaib, and the ubiquitous Parker Posey. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, March 7 through 13. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Private Parts

Howard Stern plays himself in an adaptation of his autobiographical best-seller, with the members of his radio teamRobin Quivers, Fred Norris, Jackie Martling, and Gary Dell’Abatepitching in as well. The results are somewhere between the idealized biopic tradition of The Benny Goodman Story and the anarchic comedy represented by Mr. Roberts, in which defiance of authority is virtually the only kind of gag. Directed by Betty Thomas (whose former media spin-off was The Brady Bunch Movie) from a script by Len Blum, this is basically a selective account of Stern’s radio career, with Stern narrating and playing himself from his college days on and boy actors briefly showing him at ages 7, 12, and 16. The defiant libertine who’s actually a dyed-in-the-wool family man is an American myth with a lot of staying power, and this film makes the most of it; it isn’t very good but I had a pretty good time watching it. With Mary McCormack as Stern’s wife Alison. (JR) Read more

Pictures And Sounds Ii

The kind of postmodernist exercise designed to set purists’ teeth on edge, though perhaps it will interest others: a series of silent films, including some experimental works, will be shown to the improvised accompaniment of some local bands. David Grubbs will improvise music to go with new, untitled works by Chicagoan Braden King (Dutch Harbor), Clay Harper will do something with Ernie Gehr’s Wait, Salome will accompany three films (Flip Johnson’s The Roar From Within, Tony Conrad’s Film Feedback, and Barbara Hammer’s Vital Signs), and the Flying Luttenbachers will play along with Otto Muehl’s Materialaktionsfilm. I’m not entirely sure that all these films are silent; but a previous program of this kind with many of the same performers, included a sound film with a score by Maya Deren that presumably had to be suppressed, so I suppose anything is possible. (JR) Read more

Cinema Cinema

A 1996 video documentary by Maani Petgar, an Iranian emigre based in Australia, about the making of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Salaam Cinema (see separate listing). Almost an adjunct to Makhmalbaf’s film rather than a commentary on it (it’s only three minutes shorter), this makes an interesting companion piece. (JR) Read more

That Old Feeling

The underrated Carl Reiner (All of Me) directed this carnivalesque romantic farce, written by Leslie Dixon expressly for Bette Midler. The form and style are traditional Hollywoodcloser to Hollywood of the 30s and 40s than to that of todaybut the film comes across as positively rebellious in the present conservative climate. The long-divorced and feuding parents (Midler and Dennis Farina) of a straitlaced bride (Paula Marshall) desert their spouses at the wedding party to go off on a fling, and before the picture’s over, bounds of propriety concerning marital fidelity, class, and age have all been joyously crossed. This celebration of middle-age sex and paean to irresponsibility works with broad characterizations and predictable plot turns, but Reiner and his actors know what they’re doing every step of the wayand they have a ball. With Gail O’Grady, David Rasche, Jamie Denton, and Danny Nucci. (JR) Read more

Das Boot: The Director’s Cut

I haven’t seen the original release version of Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 U-boat thriller, so I can’t compare it to this 210-minute version, which is 65 minutes longer. But even though it’s easy to respond to the epic sweep of this claustrophobic World War II adventure, which is well crafted in terms of both sound and image, atmosphere and suspense, I preferred the first and last hours to the middle 90 minutes when most of the action takes place. Oddly enough, the overall themethe courage of Nazi soldiers not as Nazis but as German patriotsbears a certain resemblance to a controversial blockbuster that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been trying to launch for years (albeit with Austrians instead of Germans). J Read more

Angel Baby

This won a slew of major Australian Film Institute awards (their Oscar equivalents) in 1995best picture, director, actor, actress, original screenplay, cinematography, and editing, no less. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with it, because despite many appealing elementsincluding sizable performances by John Lynch and Jacqueline McKenzie and a fair amount of charm and gritwriter-director Michael Rymer aims so doggedly to please in this love story about two psychotics that he all but hands you a bouquet of flowers on your way out of the theater. This is probably at least as good as the similarly themed David and Lisa, and it certainly gives you an emotional workout. But I can’t say the memory of it lingers. (JR) Read more

Po Di Sangui

Flora Gomes’s beautiful 1995 feature from Guinea-Bissaua beguiling piece of African folklore that equates human lives and trees, both traversed by lyrically choreographed pans and cranes. (JR) Read more

The Great Mcginty

Preston Sturges’s first film as writer-director (1940) and one of his most cynical comediesa cut below his best work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it. Brian Donlevy plays a bum who cheats and lies his way into the office of the governor of his state, then is toppled when he’s tempted to become honest. As in a lot of Sturges’s work, the funniest lines and moments tend to come from the secondary players; Akim Tamiroff and William Demarest are particular treats. 81 min. (JR) Read more