Monthly Archives: February 2000

Drowning Mona

There’s enough here of what critic Manny Farber once called oily overdefinition of the working class to keep a service station running all year. Bette Midler plays the small-town virago whose car lands in the river when her brakes fail; everyone in town, including her husband and son, hates her so much that police chief Danny DeVito spends the whole movie careening from one suspect to the next. The problem is, why should we care who killed her? Everyone here is made to seem ugly and stupid, and the movie’s one joke is to slime them all over and over again. Though it pretends to be in love with its own bad taste, there’s a world of difference between this nasty piece of work and There’s Something About Mary, and it’s hard to believe that the characters’ economic bracket has nothing to do with the movie’s attitude. For whatever it’s worth, I didn’t laugh once. With Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck, and William Fichtner; Nick Gomez directed from a labored script by Peter Steinfeld. (JR) Read more

The Next Best Thing

A straight yoga instructor (Madonna) and a gay gardener (Rupert Everett) who are best friends get it on one drunken night and she becomes pregnant; she decides to have the kid, and they live together as parentsuntil she meets and falls in love with an east-coast investment banker. The first part of this opulent soap opera is well-intentioned and reasonably entertaining (if simplistic) propaganda about alternative lifestyles; then the whole thing becomes a very rickety and contrived tearjerker, with Everett playing the Joan Crawford part. The swank surroundings wind up signifying about as much as the characters, mainly because neither Thomas Ropelewski’s script nor John Schlesinger’s direction can establish a comfortable through line in terms of either style or content. With Michael Vartan, Josef Sommer, and Lynn Redgrave. (JR) Read more

The Trial

The Trial

Though in certain respects debatable as an adaptation of the Franz Kafka novel, Orson Welles’s nightmarish, labyrinthine expressionist comedy of 1962–shot mainly in Paris’s abandoned Gare d’Orsay and various locations in Zagreb and Rome after he had to abandon his plan to use sets–remains his creepiest and most disturbing work, and it’s been a lot more influential than people usually admit. (Scorsese’s After Hours, for example, is deeply indebted to it, and arguably the two costume store sequences in Eyes Wide Shut are as well.) Anthony Perkins gives a somewhat adolescent temper to Joseph K, an ambitious corporate bureaucrat mysteriously brought to court for an unspecified crime. Among the predatory females who pursue him are Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, and Elsa Martinelli; Welles himself fills in as the hero’s tyrannical lawyer, and Welles regular Akim Tamiroff is his usual remarkable self as one of the lawyer’s oldest clients. Welles adroitly captures the experience of an unsettling and slightly hysterical dream throughout, and the dovetailing locations, disembodied sound, and dizzying shifts of scale add to the overall disorientation. A newly restored 35-millimeter print will be shown, and given the impact of screen size on what Welles is doing, you can’t claim to have seen this if you’ve watched it only on video. Read more

A Moment of Innocence

A Moment of Innocence

One of the best features by the prolific and unpredictable Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, this 1996 film also happens to be one of his most seminal and accessible–a reconstruction of a pivotal incident during his teens that landed him in prison for several years during the shah’s regime. A fundamentalist and activist at the time, Makhmalbaf stabbed a policeman; as a consequence he was shot and arrested. Two decades later his politics were quite different, but while he was auditioning people to appear in his film Salaam Cinema, he encountered the same policeman, now unemployed, and the two wound up collaborating on this film about the incident involving them, trying (with separate cameras) to reconcile their versions of what happened. Though no doubt prompted in part by Abbas Kiarostami’s remarkable Close-up (1990)–another eclectic documentary reconstructing past events with two cameras, in that case a hoax involving Makhmalbaf himself–this is no mere imitation but a fascinating humanist experiment and investigation in its own right, full of warmth and humor as well as mystery. The original Persian title, incidentally, translates as “Bread and Flower.” Music Box, Friday through Thursday, February 18 through 24.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum Read more

Time Regained

Raul Ruiz’s adaptation of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past can’t be regarded even remotely as an adequate substitute for the original, even though the director sensibly concentrates on the last of its seven parts. But this 1999 film is still a lot more imaginative and entertaining than one might have thought possible. Ruiz ingeniously tries to convey the transports of Proust’s labyrinthine sentences through camera movement and the displacement of characters and scenery, almost as if he were constructing a theme-park ride. The result isn’t as emotionally potent as one might have wished, but it’s never boring, and its very inadequacy and occasional obscurity are part of its charm. Ruiz and Gilles Taurand wrote the script. With Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Beart, Vincent Perez, Pascal Greggory, Marie-France Pisier, Chiara Mastroianni, Marcello Mazzarella as Proust, and John Malkovich as the eccentric gay artistocrat Charlus. In French with subtitles. 165 min. (JR) Read more

Adrenaline Drive

A brisk and breezy if formulaic comedy-thriller from Japan about a shy car-rental employee (Masanobu Ando) and an equally timid nurse (Hikari Ishida) thrown together while fleeing with a lot of yen from yakuza thugs. Most of the thugs are amusingly played by the half-dozen members of a comedy troupe called Jovi Jova, and writer-director Shinobu Yaguchi seems to have as much fun standardizing their bumbling goofiness as he does standardizing the meekness of his hero and heroine. As disposable fun, this 1999 feature is every bit as enjoyable and forgettable as most Hollywood equivalents. In Japanese with subtitles. 112 min. (JR) Read more

Rules Of Engagement

For many years now, William Friedkinmacho director of The French Connection, The Exorcist, Cruising, and To Live and Die in L.A.has been languishing in relative obscurity, and this well-crafted courtroom drama with a couple of strong early action sequences may be his first good chance to reinstate himself. Retired lawyer Tommy Lee Jones defends his old pal Samuel L. Jackson, a much-decorated marine officer court-martialed for ordering his troops to fire on civilians storming the U.S. embassy in Yemen. The movie could be described as a thinking person’s version of The Ballad of Lt. Calley. It’s a highly effective piece of right-wing propaganda, though the villain isn’t a dove but a Washington bureaucrat, and Friedkin does a superb job of serving up the well-appointed script by James Webb and Stephen Gaghan. But in fact what we get is the illusion of thought, which is central to its ideological agenda. With Ben Kingsley and Anne Archer. 128 min. (JR) Read more

Beyond The Clouds

Michelangelo Antonioni’s farewell feature (1995, 115 min.), combining four sketches from his book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber, is minor only by his own standards. He made it when he was 83, after a stroke ten years earlier left him partially paralyzed and largely unable to speak; to placate the film’s insurers Wim Wenders collaborated on the script and direction, but only on the brief segments linked by a filmmaker (played by John Malkovich) who roams around looking for material. (One of these segments, featuring Jeanne Moreau and the late Marcello Mastroianni, focuses, ironically, on the theme of artistic imitation.) It’s the most directly erotic of Antonioni’s features, its stories all revolving around the possibility of sex between strangers, and Antonioni takes advantage of all the existential mysteries involved. It’s also set in different parts of Italy and France (with English, Italian, and French spoken at different junctures), and Antonioni characteristically intertwines his eroticism of the flesh with an even more precise eroticism of place. With Sophie Marceau, Irene Jacob, Vincent Perez, Peter Weller, Chiara Caselli, Fanny Ardant, Kim Rossi-Stuart, and Ines Sastre. (JR) Read more

Those Who Love Me Can Take The Train

Inspired in part by the death of French filmmaker Francois Reichenbach, this 1998 feature by Patrice Chereau focuses on the funeral of a bisexual Parisian painter (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who’d asked to be buried in the city of Limoges, adding Those who love me can take the train. The train takers consist of former lovers, friends, a brother (Trintignant again), and their current mates, and emerging from the crowded comedy-drama, mainly through the funeral’s preliminaries and aftermath, is a portrait of the painter and his largely gay circle. Cinematographer Eric Gautier won a deserved Cesar (French Oscar) for his graceful handheld ‘Scope camera work, which seems both spontaneous and assured, and the directorial orchestration of the portmanteau plot by Chereau (who also won a Cesar, along with supporting actress Dominique Blanc) is also impressive. Daniele Thompson and Pierre Trividic collaborated with Chereau on the script; with Pascal Greggory, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, Charles Berling, Bruno Todeschini, Sylvain Jacques, and Vincent Perez. (JR) Read more


Not to be confused with Alan J. Pakula’s 1987 film of the Lyle Kessler play, this is the directorial debut of Peter Mullan, the striking and charismatic Joe of Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe. Mullan also wrote the script, which seems semiautobiographical, but he doesn’t act in his movie. Four adult siblings in Glasgow (Gary Lewis, Douglas Henshall, Rosemarie Stevenson, and Stephen McCole) deal with their mother’s death, with varying degrees of inchoate rage and grief, the night before she’s buried. The view of life in general and working-class Scots life in particular is so grim that I was reminded at times of Last Exit to Brooklyn. There are comparable moments here when Mullan’s sense of the hyperbolic spills over into excess, but I was moved as well as shaken by the experience. (JR) Read more


A rather overextended and dull 1996 tale about a Spanish soil fumigator, his work at a vineyard, and his relationship to two women. Julio Medem directed. (JR) Read more


This 1934 feature is as silly and as sexy as much of Cecil B. De Mille, probably not as good as some of his other early talkies but considerably more fun than the four-hour Joseph L. Mankiewicz blockbuster of the 60s. Claudette Colbert plays that naughty lady of the Nile amid posh settings and Oscar-winning cinematography (by Victor Milner). As Dave Kehr suggested in an earlier Reader capsule, the actors, alas, are a bunch of stiffs (Warren William, Henry Wilcoxon, C. Aubrey Smith) spouting lofty sentiments in phony British accents, but you can’t have everything. 100 min. (JR) Read more

A Humble Life

This feature-length 1997 video from Russian master Alexander Sokurov is basically a documentary about Umeno Mathuyoshi, an old woman who sews and embroiders kimonos in an old house in the mountains in Nara, Japan, given a narrative and semifictional framework by Sokurov’s own presence as unseen visitor. Like much of Sokurov’s work this is quite slow but has the effect of taking the viewer somewhere and inviting him or her to savor the textures. 76 min. (JR) Read more

The Dark At The Top Of The Stairs

William Inge’s play about an Oklahoma family in the 1920s, directed on Broadway by Elia Kazan at his near best, was quintessential Inge psychodrama. But this 1960 film was marred by censorship, and Delbert Mann’s direction is less inspired. Screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. carried out the required cosmetic surgery. With Robert Preston, Dorothy McGuire, Eve Arden, Angela Lansbury, and Shirley Knight. (JR) Read more

Wonder Boys

There’s little about this likable movie that makes me want to read the Michael Chabon novel it’s adapted from; by all indications, it belongs to the grungy-artist-as-lovable-slob genre, a la The Horse’s Mouth, even if the screenplay (by the underrated Steve Kloves) makes it seem relatively fresh. The casting of Michael Douglas against type as an over-the-hill novelist and writing professor is the sort of clever move that wins undeserved Oscars, yet the realization of at least half a dozen of the other characters is full of unexpected pleasures. This movie about writers and editors hasn’t much of a clue about the processes of either profession, or even much feeling for literary types, but the storytelling is so good-natured and assured I didn’t really care. What’s finally so agreeable about this ambling farce, set over a sordid weekend in snowy Pittsburgh, is all the things it’s uncharacteristically relaxed about, including frumpy middle-aged adultery (between Douglas and Frances McDormand), smoking pot, gay sex between an editor (Robert Downey Jr.) and a much younger writer (Tobey Maguire), an interracial couple, and the laughs that can be derived from a dead dog. Producer-director Curtis Hanson’s follow-up to L.A. Confidential has all the warmth I missed in that movie and then some. Read more