Monthly Archives: April 1997

Commandments

Ludicrous as morality or theology but passable as light entertainment (despite the lame try at jaunty theme music), writer-director Daniel Taplitz’s comedy-drama concerns a man (Aidan Quinn) who loses his wife, home, and job and is even hit by a bolt of lightning. He then resolves to defy God by breaking all of the Ten Commandments. Since this, like most commercial American movies, is about capitalist male ownership, the bad luck of the hero’s wifenot to mention the welfare of his community relative to his lossesis never remotely at issue; what’s at stake is God’s respect for a man’s private property. With Courteney Cox and Anthony LaPaglia. (JR)… Read more »

Shall We Dance?

Its paper-thin characters turned into caricatures by egregious hamming, this 1996 Japanese comedy drama about shy ballroom dancers is sentimental goo and downright interminable. Clearly pitched to the Strictly Ballroom market, it’s strident and glib enough to corner it. Good luck and all that, but count me out. Written and directed by Masayuki Suo. In Japanese with subtitles. PG-13, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion

Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow play best friends who decide with some trepidation to attend their high school reunion. Despite the aggressive silliness of this enjoyable comedy, the emotional focus on the painful social experience of high school makes the film real and immediate, and the flavorsome dialogue in Robin Schiff’s script gives the leads a lot to work (as well as play) with. Directed fairly well by David Mirkin, though this movie really belongs to the actresses and screenwriter. With Janeane Garofalo. Evanston, Ford City, Lake, Lincoln Village, Norridge, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Traveller

The subject’s nice — a clan of Irish con artists operating in the rural south — but the movie breaks down into separate pieces, some fresher than others, without much cumulative force. Directed by former cinematographer Jack Green (who’s shot eight Clint Eastwood movies as well as Twister) from a script by Jim McGlynn, the story centers on the adventures of a seasoned scam veteran (coproducer Bill Paxton) and his young protege (Mark Wahlberg), though a love interest eventually turns up in the form of a single mother (Julianna Margulies) who becomes the target of one of the duo’s schemes. James Gammon is around for additional grit, and there’s loads of country music on the sound track. (JR)… Read more »

The Cyclist

Made between The Peddler and Marriage of the Blessed, this 1989 Iranian feature by the highly talented Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a filmmaker comparable in some ways to Martin Scorsese, follows the exploitation of an Afghan refugee who embarks on a bicycle marathon in order to raise money for his wife’s medical expenses. A searing expressionist work about man’s inhumanity, filmed in a hypnotic and feverish style. With Moharram Zaynalzadeh and Esmail Soltanian. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, April 24, 6:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo from “The Cyclist”.… Read more »

Chasing Amy

After running off the rails in Mallrats, writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks) not only returns to form but surpasses himself in this touching romantic comedy about comic book artists. The immature hero (Ben Affleck) falls in love with a bisexual woman (Joey Lauren Adams) with a promiscuous past, then struggles to come to terms with his own hang-ups. Neither PC nor crudely anti-PC, this tough and tender movie, like its characters, is prepared to take emotional risks, and the comic book milieu is deftly sketched in. With Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, and Smith himself, who recounts an anecdote near the end explaining the film’s title. Evanston, Golf Glen, Lake, Norridge, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo of “Chasing Amy”.… Read more »

Paradise Road

Inspired by history, writer-director Bruce Beresford’s story about European, Australian, and American women who try to flee from Singapore during World War II but wind up as POWs of the Japanese in Sumatra is worthy but rather pedestrian stuff. Frances McDormand gets to show off by playing a German Jew, and Glenn Close, Pauline Collins, Cate Blanchett, Joanna Ter Steege, and Wendy Hughes do creditable jobs of their own. But the inspirational aspects of the talewhich mainly has to do with the determination of Close to form a vocal orchestra at the camp, despite the class divisions between the womennever quite carry the dramatic impact they’re supposed to. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chasing Amy

After running off the rails in Mallrats, writer-director Kevin Smith (Clerks) not only returned to form but surpassed himself with this touching 1997 romantic comedy about comic book artists. The immature hero (Ben Affleck) falls in love with a bisexual woman (Joey Lauren Adams) with a promiscuous past, then struggles to come to terms with his own hang-ups. Neither PC nor crudely anti-PC, this tough and tender movie, like its characters, is prepared to take emotional risks, and the comic book milieu is deftly sketched in. With Jason Lee, Dwight Ewell, Jason Mewes, and Smith himself, whose anecdote near the end explains the film’s title. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Anaconda

If snakes give you the willies, and big snakes even more of them, and having the willies is a desired state, this 1997 adventure about a documentary film crew doing battle with a 40-footer in the Brazilian rain forest may be just what you’re looking for. But you’re going to have to put up with a lot of silly characterizations and labored plot turns, not to mention some fast cutting that doesn’t mesh well with the picture’s ‘Scope format and a ridiculous shot looking out through the snake’s jaws. Jon Voight, the all-purpose villain, does a pretty good job of imitating Marlon Brando imitating a Paraguayan snake expert, but the rest of the playersincluding Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube, Eric Stoltz, Owen Wilson, Vincent Castellanos, Jonathan Hyde, and Kari Wuhrerseem to be in a hurry to pick up their checks. Luis Llosa directed the makeshift script by Hans Bauer, Jim Cash, and Jack Epps Jr. (JR)… Read more »

Murder At 1600

One reason I prefer this mystery thriller about murder in the White House to Absolute Power is that its politics are liberal rather than neocon, and there’s no gratuitous Hillary bashing. But hey, it’s also a better mystery and a better thriller toonothing that makes undue claims for itself, but entertaining and put together with craft and economy. Wesley Snipes (a D.C. homicide detective) and Diane Lane (a dissident Secret Service agent and former Olympic sharpshooter) team up to solve the mystery; others in the cast include Alan Alda, Daniel Benzali, Ronny Cox, and Dennis Miller. Dwight Little directed the script by Wayne Beach and David Hodgin. (JR)… Read more »

Grosse Pointe Blank

Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Minnie Driver, and Joan and John Cusack star in this 1997 comedy directed by George Armitage (Miami Blues), about a hit man who returns home for a high school reunion. The odd premise is promising, but despite some early indications from the two Cusacks and Arkin that it’s going to be funny, it winds up an unholy mess that becomes steadily more incoherentmorally, dramatically, and conceptually. Alas, not even an ace like Armitage can save it. Written by Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, and John Cusack, who also coproduced; Barbara Harris appears in a cameo as the hero’s mother. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

That Old Feeling

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 Hollywood–closer to Hollywood of the 30s and 40s than to that of today–but 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 has its share of broad characterizations and predictable plot turns, but Reiner and his actors know what they’re doing every step of the way–and they have a ball with it. With Gail O’Grady, David Rasche, Jamie Denton, and Danny Nucci. Ford City, Gardens, Lake, Lincoln Village, 900 N. Michigan, Norridge, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Strictly Dishonorable

A rarely screened and reportedly faithful adaptation of a Preston Sturges play, directed by John Stahl in 1931, with Paul Lukas, Sidney Fox, and Lewis Stone.… Read more »

Nora Helmer

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s shortened 1973 version of Ibsen’s A Doll’s Houseshortened to the extent that the heroine (Margit Carstensen) no longer leaves home at the end, a change Fassbinder defended as more realistic. As in Martha (also 1973), Carstensen seems to elicit a baroque mise en scene from Fassbinder; despite a bleached-out look from having been shot on video, it’s still an eyeful. (JR)… Read more »

Breakdown

Kathleen Quinlan is kidnapped in the southwest, and Kurt Russell, playing her yuppie husband, maniacally pursues the abductors. Jonathan Mostow directs from his own script (written with Sam Montgomery), and J.T. Walsh costars. At first this comes across as an atmospheric and efficient thriller that might have been a B film back in the 40s or 50s, and it’s certainly well crafted in terms of individual sequences. But plot and characterinitially spurred by class resentmentbecome less and less interesting or even relevant as stunts and action crowd them out. In the end the mean-spiritedness of today’s generic action picturein which most people are viewed as scumbags and the only kind of conflict worth following is the grudge matchreigns supreme, and story logic counts for nothing. If you harbor homicidal fantasies you might get a chuckle or two out of this; otherwise it might just make you sick. (JR)… Read more »