Monthly Archives: April 1999

The Dreamlife of Angels

This first feature by Erick Zonca is more typical than exceptional as an example of French cinema’s recent trend toward realistically depicting regional life, and its sex scenes have been trimmed to satisfy the puritanical, studio-run Motion Picture Association of America (which wouldn’t dream of interfering with the genocidal mayhem of the blockbusters). But this story of the wavering friendship between two young working-class women who meet at a clothing factory in Lille (Elodie Bouchez and Natacha Regnier) is well worth a look, above all for its nuanced performances. Bouchez and Regnier deservedly shared the best-actress prize at Cannes last year, and most of the secondary characters are equally well realized (I especially liked the concert and nightclub bouncer played by Patrick Mercado). But what really holds this film together is its fidelity to the ways people live and relate to one another, a realism seldom offered by commercial American fare. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, April 30 through May 6.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Friends And Lovers

A father invites his estranged son and the son’s friends to a weekend at his ski lodge, in a stupefyingly awful, in-your-face independent comedy that makes Where the Boys Are look like Love’s Labour’s Lost. Robert Downey Jr. turns up sporting a very phony and unfunny Bavarian accent that is exercised, like our patience, at great length, and the sophomoric sex gags (gay as well as straight) would do dishonor to a frat-house video. Directed by George Haas, who scripted it with Neill Barry. With Stephen Baldwin, Danny Nucci, George Newbern, Claudia Schiffer, Alison Eastwood, and Suzanne Cryer. (JR) Read more


Sean Connery remains the closest thing we have to Cary Grant, which helps to explain why he often gets teamed with leading ladies a third his age. But he brings off the conceit with more polish than Clint Eastwood, and it’s the romantic sparring with Catherine Zeta-Jones as another glamorous thiefnot the unsuspenseful heiststhat makes this silly thriller lightly bearable. The multiple double crosses tend to be more fun, if no less predictable, than the hyperbolic action sequences because the stars are more at ease (and we’re not watching stunt doubles). Some of the locations (London, rural Scotland, Kuala Lumpur) add spice to the mixture, and Ving Rhames and Will Patton provide the formulaic secondary cast. Jon Amiel directed the script by Ron Bass and William Broyles. (JR) Read more

Time Traveler

It Happened Here

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo

Written by Brownlow and Mollo

With Pauline Murray, Sebastian Shaw, Honor Fehrson, Rex Collett, Nicholas Moore, and Colin Jordan


Rating *** A must see

Directed by Kevin Brownlow

Written by Brownlow and Andrew Mollo

With Miles Halliwell, Alison Halliwell, David Bramley, Dawson France, Phil Dunn, and Terry Higgins.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

The Music Box will be showing the only two features by English film historian Kevin Brownlow Tuesday through Thursday, April 27 through 29. Both are low-budget independent efforts in black and white, and both have been virtually lost to history because they fall outside what’s usually regarded as the history of English cinema, though their modesty makes them English to the core.

Brownlow is best known for his excellent English TV series, codirected by David Gill, about silent cinema (including Hollywood, Unknown Chaplin, Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, D.W. Griffith: Father of Film, and Cinema Europe) and for his books (including The Parade’s Gone By… and Behind the Mask of Innocence). He’ll never be remembered as a major filmmaker, because his methods of historical reconstruction are too fanatical to allow for the sort of dramatic shaping demanded of major period films. Read more

Pushing Tin

Though this comedy-drama about a macho feud between two New York air-traffic controllers (John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton) is never entirely believable, it’s consistently lively, offbeat, and unpredictable, suggesting at times the improbable fusion of Howard Hawks and Sigmund Freud. Inspired by an article by Darcy Frey in the New York Times Magazine, the screenplay by brothers Glen and Les Charles (creators of the TV show Cheers) piles hyperbole on top of frenzy in spelling out the heroes’ frenetic lifestyle. In particular, it focuses on the putative wife swapping (involving Cate Blanchett and Angelina Jolie) that emerges from the rivalry. Cusack may be called upon to hog too much of the limelight, if only because the story is mainly told from his point of view, but director Mike Newell’s flair for mixing and matching his entire cast seldom falters. (JR) Read more

La Cucaracha

From the looks of it, screenwriter and costar James McManus based his story and its details on a sizable reading list of novelists: not only Malcolm Lowry and Graham Greene (both cited in the dialogue), but also James M. Cain and probably David Goodis to boot. The story involves a would-be American novelist (Eric Roberts) who finds himself broke and stranded in a Mexican village. He falls in love with a 17-year-old local (newcomer Tara Crespo) he’s never met, and gets hired by another gringo (McManus), who’s working for a local philanthropist (Joaquim de Almeida), to settle a grudge match by killing another wealthy local (Victor Rivers). The dialogue tends to be wordy and pretentious, but the actors are resourceful enough to keep this watchable and the plot has a reasonable number of twists; Jack Perez is the director. (JR) Read more


Funny as well as poignant, this 1999 comedy stars Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence as New York bootleggers sentenced to life in a Mississippi prison after being framed for murder in 1932. This might be better than anything either comedian has done before; at least it made me laugh more. A movie about black men in prison comes dangerously close to being a movie about contemporary reality, and part of what I like about Robert Ramsey and Matthew Stone’s episodic screenplay and Ted Demme’s mainly self-effacing direction is how many real-life issues it manages to broach without ever threatening to become pompous. Character humor growing out of adversity has a long and venerable tradition, and if this in part suggests a street-smart Forrest Gump, it also recalls the euphoric gusto of W.C. Handy’s song Long Gone as performed by Louis Armstrong. As is expected by now in a Murphy movie, the makeup effects (handled by the ace Rick Baker) are elaborate, but little of this is asked to replace performance; Murphy and Lawrence and the secondary cast, which includes Obba Babatunde, Bokeem Woodbine, Ned Beatty, and R. Lee Ermey, all do a fine job. (JR) Read more

Cookie’s Fortune

Developed from a screenplay by Anne Rapp, best known as a script supervisor, this is an uncharacteristically subdued as well as (mainly) good-natured effort by Robert Altman, set in the new south but without the more bogus trimmings of Nashville and Come Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. At the center of the doings in Holly Springs, Mississippi, is the friendship between an oddball matriarchal widow (Patricia Neal) and a middle-aged black man (Charles S. Dutton); other important characters include the widow’s two estranged nieces (Glenn Close and Julianne Moore), the daughter of one of the nieces (Liv Tyler), a catfish supplier (Lyle Lovett), and a sheriff’s deputy (Chris O’Donnell). Most of what transpires is low-key, affectionate comedy and a fair amount of fun. (JR) Read more

A Man Escaped

A Man Escaped

Based on a French lieutenant’s account of his 1942 escape from a gestapo fortress in Lyons, this stately yet uncommonly gripping 1956 feature is my choice as the greatest achievement of our greatest living filmmaker, Robert Bresson (rivaled only by his more corrosive and metaphysical Au hasard Balthazar a decade later). The best of all prison-escape movies, it reconstructs the very notion of freedom through offscreen sounds and defines salvation in terms of painstakingly patient and meticulous effort. Bresson himself spent part of the war in an internment camp and subsequently lived through the German occupation of France, experiences that inform his magisterial grasp of what concentrated use of sound and image can reveal about souls in hiding. Thanks to the untiring efforts of the Cinematheque Ontario’s James Quandt, the Film Center is presenting a nearly complete retrospective of Bresson’s work in new 35-millimeter prints this spring (missing only his 1934 short Affaires publiques); it offers a unique opportunity to experience this awesome talent, whose artistry is severely compromised on video. If you follow only one film series this year, you couldn’t do much better than this one. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, April 8, 8:00, 312-443-3737. Read more


Comic film essayist Nanni Moretti may be an acquired tastea taste acquired by a good many viewers in Italy and France, where he’s a major cult figurebut I can’t think of a better introduction to his work than this 1998 feature about his struggles with fatherhood and Italian politics and how they interface. I don’t know if this means Aprile is his best film, but either because familiarity breeds affection or because his style is becoming fleeter, this is the Moretti feature I’ve found easiest to enjoy. The month of April is when his son is born and when Italy’s first left-wing government is elected; it’s also when Moretti decides to delay his favorite film projecta musical centered on a Trotskyite pastry chefto make a documentary about the upcoming election. Neither movie gets made, but we wind up getting tantalizing glimpses of both and learning a lot about contemporary Italyand Moretti’s special blend of the personal and the politicalin the process. 78 min. (JR) Read more

Shorts International Film Festival

I’ve seen five of the seven short films in this touring program, reportedly culled from a thousand entries representing 32 countries (though except for Canadian and Belgian entries and a Spanish-language film shot by an American student in Ecuador, everything here is from the U.S.). Most of them are pretty good, even if the categories under which they are listed (and presumably were submitted) can be enough to drive you bonkers. Bill Cote’s cutesy time-lapse account of his wife’s entire pregnancy, 17 Seconds to Sophie, is inexplicably termed experimental, while a genuinely experimental found-footage itemJay Rosenblatt’s Human Remains, a funny, creepy, and obviously speculative film on the lives of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Mao, and Stalinis perversely labeled documentary. The best direction is found in Enrique Chediak’s El rio, the funniest sensibility in Debra Solomon’s animated and satirical Everybody’s Pregnant. Also included: Sylvie Rosenthal’s Canadian film La bombe au chocolat ( a quirky look at information overload), Martine Doyen’s Belgian film Christmas in the Air, and Scott and Adam Fields’s The Script Doctor. (JR) Read more

The Winslow Boy

It’s hard to imagine a more uncharacteristic David Mamet project: an adaptation of a genteel Terence Rattigan play from the mid-1940s about family affection and loyalty (previously adapted for a 1948 film directed by Anthony Asquith), which is based in turn on the 1910 trial of English naval cadet George Archer-Shee for a minor theftan event that became a national scandal due to the intransigence of both the government and the boy’s father. But this may be the most accomplished Mamet movie since House of Games, not only because he works so fruitfully with his excellent cast (Nigel Hawthorne, Jeremy Northam, Rebecca Pidgeon, Gemma Jones, Guy Edwards, and Matthew Pidgeon), but also because he offers a sturdy object lesson in how to attack period material of this kind without self-serving irony or condescension. 110 min. (JR) Read more


Czech filmmaker Gustav Machaty’s erotic 1929 silent feature is less impressive than his subsequent and most famous film, Ecstasy (1933), but it remains a striking mannerist work with affecting poetic touches. Chronicling a Prague playboy’s one-night stand with a provincial stationmaster’s daughter and the aftermath when she becomes pregnant, the film is somewhat dated in its conventional morality, yet its camera work is fluid and free, and overall the film vibrates with sensuality. (Credited as scene designer is Alexander Hackenschmied, who years later collaborated with Maya Deren on her early films under the name Alexander Hammid.) Machaty, a former assistant to Griffith and Stroheim, never fulfilled the promise of his early work and wound up making classy commercials for European TV, but he’s still a key figure in early Czech cinema, and the richer sections of this picture show why. (JR) Read more


Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo’s passionate 1975 account of the nonviolent efforts of Gerrard Winstanley (Miles Halliwell) to form a commune in Surrey, England, in 1649 is a quixotic yet hardy attempt to change the way we think about history. Made independently between the late 60s and early 70s and shot in black and white, the film strives for a period verisimilitude so uncompromising and multifaceted that the filmmakers made strenuous efforts to use species of birds, cows, and pigs similar to those that populated 17th-century Surrey. The style is deliberately patterned after silent cinema (Brownlow’s specialty as a film historian), though the script is partly derived from a contemporary novel about Winstanley, David Caute’s Comrade Jacob. Refusing to make facile links between Winstanley’s religious sect, the Diggers, and the English hippies of the 70s, Brownlow and Mollo regard the past with the same sort of awe that SF writers and directors commonly show regarding the future, and the results, while frequently dedramatized, are hauntingly mysterious and often beautiful. This may not be sufficiently achieved to deserve the label masterpiece, but it’s stayed with me longer than most period masterpieces have; in some ways, despite its meager budget, its only peer is Stanley Kubrick’s similarly underrated Barry Lyndon, made during the same period. Read more