Monthly Archives: December 1997


Tim Roth, the disturbed offspring of a well-to-do Charleston family, is a prime suspect in the brutal murder of a prostitute (Renee Zellweger), and two detectives (Chris Penn and Michael Rooker) hope that a series of polygraph interrogations will pin him down. This is a fair-to-middling psychological thriller by the writing-directing team of Jonas and Josh Pate, relatively easy to watch and even easier to forget. Watch for cameos by Ellen Burstyn, Rosanna Arquette, and Mark Damon. (JR) Read more

Deconstructing Harry

Woody Allen diehards won’t care, but for me this runs a close second to September as his worst feature to datemarginally more bearable only because it’s a comedy and a couple of gags are reasonably funny. Otherwise it’s a cluttered, unstructured Fellini-derived tale of a bitter New York-Jewish autobiographical novelist (played by guess who) reassessing his life and loves while hiring hookers and planning a trip back to his upstate alma mater. Given the limitations of the material, the all-star castincluding Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Eric Bogosian, Billy Crystal, Judy Davis, Hazelle Goodman, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, Stanley Tucci, and Robin Williamsproves more distracting than edifying. (JR) Read more

Good Will Hunting

Goodwill, in fact, is mainly what this muted drama has, along with premises that suggest a therapeutic fairy tale and the warmth of Gus Van Sant’s laid-back direction. Young mathematics genius Will Hunting (cowriter Matt Damon) works as a janitor at MIT, where a math professor (Stellan Skarsgard) discovers him and makes him see a therapist (a subdued Robin Williams). Scripted with Ben Affleck (who plays the hero’s best friend), and assisted by a charismatic performance by Minnie Driver, this is good, solid work that never achieves either the art or poignance of Van Sant’s earlier and more personal projects (Mala Noche, Drugstore Cowboy, My Own Private Idaho), though it’s clearly superior to something like Dead Poets Society. 126 min. (JR) Read more

Tomorrow Never Dies

The 18th James Bond movie features the usual saturation bombardment. There are a few amusing stunts, lots of explosions and one-liners, and a mad news baron (Jonathan Pryce) made up of equal parts Ted Turner, Rupert Murdoch, and Dr. No. But apart from the welcome grace and pluck of Asian action star Michelle Yeohwho all but steals the movie away from Pierce Brosnan’s Bond and single-handedly makes this a better wedding of Hong Kong and Hollywood than either Rumble in the Bronx or Face/Offthis film has no personality whatsoever. (As usual, the credits show more imagination than the narrative proper.) With Teri Hatcher, Joe Don Baker, and Ricky Jay. Roger Spottiswoode directed the computer-generated script credited to Bruce Feirstein. (JR) Read more

Mr. Magoo

If you really hate your kids, pack them off to this slapdash farce, whose only funny moment is the PC disclaimer at the end about the Disney company’s humanist concern for blind people (which even literate toddlers will have trouble understanding anyway). Leslie Nielsen seems a good two feet too tall for the unlamented UPA cartoon character of the 50s (who had a barely seen cartoon feature of his own back in 1964), but the real problems go beyond that. Director Stanley Tong (Supercop, Rumble in the Bronx, Jackie Chan’s First Strike) gets to recapture his Hong Kong action routines only in the abbreviated kickboxing assigned to Kelly Lynch or her stunt double; everything else is torturous formula. Written by Pat Proft and Tom Sherohman; with Malcolm McDowell, Ernie Hudson, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Miguel Ferrer (looking and sounding a great deal like his father Jose). (JR) Read more


Steven Spielberg’s skillful if stodgy 1997 feature, about the 1841 Supreme Court hearings that determined the fate of African slaves who’d broken free on a Spanish ship near Cuba, recalls some of the better Stanley Kramer productions of the 50s (even if the iconography of noble African males evokes certain Paul Robeson films). There’s some excellent comedy early on involving the mutual incomprehension of Africans and Americans, though this eventually gives way to solemn, ethnocentric mush about one African’s reading of the story of Jesus, demonstrating as usual that sustained subtlety is hardly Spielberg’s forte. The script is credited to David Franzoni, though other hands were involved; it seems to stick reasonably close to the historical record and doesn’t add any romantic subplots. With Anthony Hopkins (able if miscast as John Quincy Adams), Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, and Willie Amakye. 152 min. (JR) Read more

Wag The Dog

Robert De Niro plays a presidential spin doctor spurred into action after a sex scandal threatens to destroy his boss Read more

The Sweet Hereafter

Adapting a beautiful novel by Russell Banks, Atom Egoyan (Exotica) may finally have bitten off more than he can chew, but the power and reach of this undertaking are still formidable. At the tragic center of the story are the deaths of many children in a small town when a school bus spins out of control and sinks into a frozen lake (depicted in an extraordinary single shot that calls to mind a Brueghel landscape) and what this threatens to do to the community, especially after a big-city lawyer (a miscast, albeit effective, Ian Holm) turns up and tries to initiate litigation. Egoyan restructures Banks’s novel (which is narrated by several characters in turn and proceeds chronologically) into a kind of mosaic narrative used in his other features, and one that has potent things to say about communal ties and the repressive machinations of capitalism that can sever them. R, 110 min. (JR) Read more

From The Terrace

A tolerable (if interminable) piece of mediocrity from 1960, adapted by Ernest Lehman from John O’Hara’s lengthy novel about the rise to power of a young war veteran (Paul Newman) among wealthy Pennsylvanians. Directed by Mark Robson; with Joanne Woodward and Myrna Loy. This was made in ‘Scope, so beware of scanned prints. (JR) Read more

A Self Made Hero

Jacques Audiard (See How They Fall) directed this 1996 tale of a young man in France during the closing days of World War II (Mathieu Kassovitz) who fabricates a past for himself as a war hero. Clever, fashionably cynical, and entertaining, this moves along like a cabaret performancefor better and for worse. With Jean-Louis Trintignant, Anouk Grinberg, and Sandrine Kiberlain; Audiard and Alain Le Henry based their screenplay on a novel by Jean-Francois Deniau. 107 min. (JR) Read more

Captain Conan

Not a Schwarzenegger sword-and-sorcery epic but a nuanced 1996 drama based on a little-known episode of World War I, in which French troops were compelled to fight an undeclared war in the Balkans long after the armistice had been signed. The title hero (Philippe Torreton), who leads the scruffy guerrilla units, regards himself as more a warrior than a soldier; the only fellow officers he respects are a nobleman in the infantry (Bernard Le Coq) and a humane lieutenant assigned to a military tribunal (Samuel Le Bihan). Director Bertrand Tavernier has a keen eye for period detail, and his use of handheld cameras in the battle scenes is impressive. At times the film evokes Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, though its antiwar sentiments are more querulous than didactic. This is a fine prosaic account of a neglected subject, but don’t expect much poetry. Tavernier and Jean Cosmos adapted an autobiographical novel by Roger Vercel; Torreton Read more

As Good As It Gets

The fourth and best feature of writer-director-producer James L. Brooks (Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, I’ll Do Anything) focuses on a dysfunctional, obsessive-compulsive novelist in Greenwich Village (Jack Nicholson), the gay painter who lives next door (Greg Kinnear), and a waitress and single parent (Helen Hunt) who works nearby but lives in Brooklynall of whom get entangled through a number of personal catastrophes. Whether or not these characters add up to coherent individuals, what Brooks manages to do with them as they struggle mightily to connect with one another is funny, painful, beautiful, and basically truthfula triumph for everyone involved. Mark Andrus wrote the original story and collaborated on the script; with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Shirley Knight. (JR) Read more

Circuit Carole

Laurence Cote (Up Down Fragile, Les voleurs) plays the daughter of Bulle Ogier (L’amour fou, Irma Vep); both live in a northern suburb of Paris in this 1995 first feature by Emmanuelle Cuau. I sampled this a couple of years ago and liked what I saw; given the distinction of the two actresses involved, it should be well worth seeing. (JR) Read more

Full Speed

Directed by Gael Morel, the young lead of Andre Techine’s Wild Reeds (1996), this is a French feature about the sex lives of several 20-year-olds, gay as well as straight. I only stuck around for the first half-hour or so when I sampled this at Cannes last year and I wasn’t sorry to leave, but maybe I missed something. (JR) Read more

Sick: The Life And Death Of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist

Kirby Dick’s 1996 documentary about performance artist and writer Bob Flanaganborn with cystic fibrosis, an incurable disease that made pain a constant factor in his lifechronicles his masochism, graphically illustrated in his performance pieces, as a way he coped therapeutically with his condition. The film also deals at length with Sheree Rose, who became Flanagan’s dominatrix, companion, and artistic collaborator over the last 15 years of his life, drawing some of its material from her own videotapes as well as Dick’s film footage. What emerges is perhaps the first in-depth look on film at a long-term sadomasochistic relationship, though one might argue that the nature of Rose’s investment is often ambiguous. Overall, this is serious, powerful, and provocative stuff. I can’t recall a film that compelled me to look away from the screen more often. (JR) Read more