Monthly Archives: June 1997

Men In Black

Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith play secret agents who take care of immigrant extraterrestrials in this amiable 1997 SF satire directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Addams Family Values) and loosely adapted by Ed Solomon (a veteran of both Bill & Ted movies) from a comic book series. At times the ambience evokes the work of Gremlins director Joe Dante; don’t expect any psychological depth here, but the cool wit and fun (derived partly from the premise that the cheap tabloids are the only newspapers telling the truth) are deftly maintained, and Sonnenfeld provides a bountiful supply of both fanciful beasties and ingenious visuals. With Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn, and Tony Shalhoub. 98 min. (JR) Read more

The Bridegroom, The Comedienne and The Pimp and other short films

“The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp” and other short films

This may be the most exciting and revealing program in the Film Center’s entire Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective. It includes Fassbinder’s two earliest surviving shorts, City Tramp (1966) and Little Chaos (1967), to be shown without subtitles, and a subtitled 1977 interview with the filmmaker–none of which I’ve seen. But I can’t recommend highly enough the selections I have seen: Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s 23-minute The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp (1968) is a multifaceted poetic provocation (starring Fassbinder as the pimp) that consists of only a dozen shots, one of them an 11-minute condensation of a 1926 play by Ferdinand Bruckner staged by Straub. Also a startling eye-opener is Fassbinder’s searingly and touchingly confessional episode from the 1978 sketch film Germany in Autumn, which shows him with his lover and his mother and is probably the most candid of all his self-portraits. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, June 22, 4:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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


Try to imagine a Russ Meyer porn movie about LA teenagers crossed with an early scatological John Waters opus and punctuated with outtakes from Natural Born Killers; you’ll have a rough idea what Gregg Araki is up to in this hyper, scattershot movie, whose own publicity compares it to a Beverly Hills 90210 episode on acid. Even if the compulsively kaleidoscopic visual style (ten times too many close-ups for my taste) and scuzzy dialogue are such that only one moment out of seven makes much of an impression, there’s still plenty to be amused or nauseated by: phrases like Whatev (a reductio ad absurdum of west-coast verbal sloth), Dogs eating people is cool, and You smell like a wet dog; a face getting beaten to a pulp by an unopened can of tomato soup (making one wonder if Campbell’s paid for the product placement); blood-spattered walls color coordinated with a tacky floral bedspread; flashes of kinky straight sex and tender homoeroticism; periodic appearances by the Creature From the Black Lagoon; and so onadding up to loads of flash and minimal substance. The cast includes James Duval, Rachel True, Christina Applegate, Debi Mazar, and Chiara Mastroianni, and there are loads of guest appearances. Read more

Illustrious Corpses

A 1976 Italian feature by Francesco Rosi adapted from Leonardo Sciascia’s novel Il contesto. Like most of Rosi’s films during this period, it’s a political expose in the form of a detective thriller. With Lino Ventura, Tino Carraro, Alain Cuny, Tina Aumont, Fernanado Rey, and Max von Sydow. (JR) Read more

Chronicle Of A Death Foretold

Francesco Rosi adapts Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel about twin brothers plotting to kill a man with the complicity of their small town. This 1987 film, shot on location in Colombia, uses a mosaic flashback structure common to both the novel and many of Rosi’s previous features. (JR) Read more

Batman & Robin

Try not to leave a mess when you die, intones Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman) in this loud, uninspired, and interminable third sequel; but the movie doesn’t take her advice. There’s a lot of designer leather and designer heavy metal and one designer disco set after another, plenty of tacky camp references to Marlene Dietrich and Mae West, plus Star Wars beasties, AIDS metaphors, computer details, stupid cold puns from Arnold Schwarzenegger (playing villain Mr. Freeze), and dollops of insincere sentimentality involving the heroes’ butler (Michael Gough). But it’s clear that writer Akiva Goldsman and director Joel Schumacher are bereft of ideas and using the MTV clutter as a cover-up. A few nice moments are offered by spunky Alicia Silverstone, but the standard for humor and ingenuity is set by Robin (Chris O’Donnell) calling Batman (George Clooney this time around) a dick. With Pat Hingle and Elle Macpherson. (JR) Read more

Speed 2: Cruise Control

Speed made millions on mindless, empty thrills; this laborious sequel is just as mindless and empty but lacks the thrills. Peter Bogdanovich discovery Sandra Bullock is back, her low-key lifelikeness all but defeated by a script (courtesy of Randall McCormick, Jeff Nathanson, and producer-director Jan De Bont) that flounders interminably. In place of Keanu Reeves we get Jason Patric, at his dullest yet as the cop; in place of the bus we get a luxury liner in the Caribbean; and in place of mad bomber Dennis Hopper we get disgruntled computer whiz Willem Dafoe, who’s really a good actor when he’s actually given a character to play. But there’s nary a character to speak of herejust one good explosion and one spectacular and extended disaster, badly directed. Both come too late in the game to carry much of a wallop. Even Andrzej Bartkowiak’s deft cinematography, which gave Speed much of its spark, is replaced by the shaky, semiunwatchable work of Jack N. Green. Do yourself a favor and see a movie instead. (JR) Read more

For Roseanna

Lots of Italians, or actors playing Italians, scream in English and wildly gesticulate for the benefit of the American tourists (meaning us) in this mainstream comedy about a villager (Jean Reno) trying to secure a plot for his terminally ill wife (Mercedes Ruehl) in an overcrowded local cemetery. The ambience here is amiable enough, though the plot also manages to get playful chuckles out of such complications as a character shooting himself. Paul Weiland directed from a script by Saul Turteltaub; with Polly Walker and Mark Frankel. (JR) Read more

Hard Eight

A pared-down crime thriller set mainly in Reno, this first feature by writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is impressive for its lean and unblemished storytelling, but even more so for its performances. Especially good is Philip Baker Hall, a familiar character actor best known for his impersonation of Richard Nixon in Secret Honor, who’s never had a chance to shine on-screen as he does here. In his role as a smooth professional gambler who befriends a younger man (John C. Reilly), Hall gives a solidity and moral weight to his performance that evokes Spencer Tracy, even though he plays it with enough nuance to keep the character volatile and unpredictable. Samuel L. Jackson and Gwyneth Paltrow, both of whom have meaty parts, are nearly as good, and when Hall and Jackson get a couple of good long scenes together the sparks really fly. (JR) Read more