Monthly Archives: August 2000

Steal This Movie

Whatever might be said for or against Abbie Hoffman, the radical founder of the yippies, he wasn’t the glib figure that Vincent D’Onofrio presents him as, in this misshapen and obfuscating biopica picture that invests practically all its intelligence in chronicling how Hoffman’s life was destroyed by the FBI and CIA after he was forced into hiding. The relative candor about the damage wreaked by J. Edgar Hoover is pretty small compensation for the lack of any clear sense of what Hoffman did in the 60s and why it meant something. With Janeane Garofalo as Hoffman’s wife and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his mistress; produced and directed by Robert Greenwald, from a script by Bruce Graham that Paul Krassner should have written. 108 min. (JR) Read more


It’s obvious that Ben Berkowitz and Benjamin Redgrave were thinking of John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1960) when they made this impressive Chicago-based feature. Both features grew out of acting classes and were written by their leads, and both even have titles that relate allegorically to their themes, with sexual orientation playing a role in Straightman similar to that of race in Shadows. Berkowitz (who also directed) plays the heterosexual manager of a comedy club, and Redgrave plays his best friend, a construction worker; the two become flatmates after losing their girlfriends, and only later does Redgrave admit that he’s gay. The actors’ delicacy, originality, and depth are what make this sensitive movie so affecting and justify the comparison to Cassavetes. But only up to a point: the two Bens dominate the proceedings, for better and for worse, making this more a two-man show than a genuine ensemble piece. None of the other able actors is given enough time or leeway to establish herself or himself as fully as one might like, and at times this even limits our understanding of how the two leads handle their various relationships. The plot, moreover, doesn’t seem fully shaped and concludes rather awkwardly and arbitrarily. But both these demurrals are minor next to the sizable achievements of this feature, a recipient of the 1999 Chicago Underground Film Fund. Read more

Way Of The Gun

A lot of uninteresting and unpleasant people torture, abuse, and fire guns at a lot of other uninteresting and unpleasant people, in a repulsive, interminable would-be crime thriller by writer-director Christopher McQuarrie. The central intrigue involves the kidnapping of a pregnant surrogate mother (Juliette Lewis) by a couple of hoods, who head for the Mexican border so they can do more unpleasant things. The pretentious narration and dialogue includes one memorable line: “There’s always free cheese in a mousetrap.” Unfortunately, this piece of cheese will cost you money to see. With Benicio del Toro, Taye Diggs, Ryan Phillippe, and James Caan. 119 min. (JR) Read more


A woman (Juliette Binoche) with an illegitimate young daughter moves to a French village in 1959 and opens a confectionary shop across from the church. She’s an imaginative confectioner and even something of a mind reader in guessing her customers’ tastes; the villagers give in to temptation, and controversy rages. The director (Lasse Hallstrom) and cast (which also includes Judi Dench, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Peter Stormare, Johnny Depp, and Leslie Caron) are all excellent, though the material of this comedy-dramaRobert Nelson Jacobs’s adaptation of a novel by Joanne Harrisis a bit on the smarmy side, predicated mainly on the audience feeling very wise and moral. 121 min. (JR) Read more

Finding Forrester

A 16-year-old scholar-athlete (Rob Brown) in inner-city Manhattan who’s more or less Michael Jordan and James Joyce rolled into one (although this doesn’t account for his having memorized the first three or four words of famous lines by Kipling, Coleridge, and several other poets) gets to be tutored by a Scottish J.D. Salinger who’s a reclusive genius (Sean Connery aiming to win the Robin Williams sweepstakes). The young hero gets a scholarship at an exclusive New York school, where he’s bullied by a ludicrously spineless teacher (F. Murray Abraham), and he has a budding interracial romance with the daughter (Anna Paquin) of the school’s biggest donor that confusedly goes nowhere (I presume because it test-marketed poorly). If director Gus Van Sant had always been a hack it wouldn’t matter so much, but personally I find this form of licking the audience’s cheeks like an obsequious puppy deeply offensive. 133 min. (JR) Read more

Killer’s Kiss

Stanley Kubrick’s second feature (1955, 67 min.) is one of only two with a New York setting, and unlike Eyes Wide Shut, it was shot entirely on location, on what looks like the lowest of low budgets. A noirish thriller with experimental trimmings that holds back most of the emotions, sensitive as well as otherwise, that threatened to make Kubrick’s first feature mawkish, it views all its low-life characters from a considerable distance. Starring Frank Silvera (as a boxer), Irene Kane, and Jamie Smith. (JR) Read more

30 Frames A Second: The WTO In Seattle And Trade Off

The Seattle uprising in December 1999, occasioned by the World Trade Organization’s convention there, seems to have politicized Rustin Thompson, director of the highly watchable personal video documentary 30 Frames a Second (2000). His analysis of the issues behind the demonstrations is minimal, but the sense of what it was like to be there is pungent throughout, and Thompson includes brief clips from Medium Cool, Godard’s Le petit soldat, and The Grapes of Wrath to pinpoint his own subjectivity. His main discovery, which he conveys in affecting detail, is the continuing capacity of all sorts of Americans to feel passionate about political issues; his principal blind spot is treating opposition to the WTO, and multicorporate greed in general, as an American phenomenon rather than as a global movement. (As a corrective, check out Naomi Klein’s recent book No Logo.) 73 min. (JR) Read more

Live Nude Girls Unite!

Stand-up comic and stripper Julia Query collaborated with Vicky Funari on this 1999 documentary, about unionizing Query’s coworkers at San Francisco’s Lusty Lady, a North Beach peep show. However groundbreaking the labor struggle, at no point does the resulting movie ever threaten to become truly interesting, perhaps because the feminist discourse, prostripping and antistripping alike, remains fairly primitive and sound-bitey. This is somewhat more serious than the recent Sex: The Annabel Chong Story, but the exhibitionism trivializes and vulgarizes the investigative journalism, so that when Query decides to videotape herself telling her feminist mother for the first time that she’s a stripper, at a conference on prostitution at which they’re both giving presentations, the ploy makes her look fairly shallow and heartless while her mother comes across with considerable dignity. The closing epigraph from Emma GoldmanIf I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolutionepitomizes this documentary’s tendency to piggyback on the serious work of others to score its not terribly well-defined points. 70 min. (JR) Read more

Six Easy Pieces

A major American independent who has lived in Europe for the past several years, Jon Jost has recently been reinventing himself in digital video, with results that have ranged from the soporific (London Brief) to the endlessly fascinating and beautiful (the silent Muri Romani). Six Easy Pieces evokes both these extremes. In his films, Jost has worked in narrative, essayistic, and experimental modes. Here the mode is mainly experimental, albeit with some strong documentary elements. Shooting in Portugal and Italy, training his camera on such subjects as a museum, a car trip, street kids, cobblestones, and little girls swimming, and employing various kinds of narration and music, Jost is exploring video as a sort of painting. At times the material seems either touristic or alienated to a fault; at its most engaging, Jost Read more

Diary Of A Madman

Guy de Maupassant’s brilliantly unsettling Le Horla, transmuted into a routine 1963 horror picture with Vincent Price. Directed by Reginald Le Borg. 96 min. (JR) Read more

Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man

Better than you might imagine, though it still has its silly aspects. Bela Lugosi plays the Frankenstein monster and Lon Chaney Jr. is the wolf man; Roy William Neill directed. With Maria Ouspenskaya and Lionel Atwill (1943). 72 min. (JR) Read more

Madame Dubarry

Not the German silent extravaganza by Ernst Lubitsch but William Dieterle’s 1934 remake, with Dolores Del Rio as the courtesan of Versailles. Considered daring when it came outthe Legion of Decency condemned itit has mainly been noted since then for its period decor. With Reginald Owen (as Louis XV), Victor Jory, Anita Louise, and Osgood Perkins (Tony’s father); Edward Chodorov wrote the script. 77 min. (JR) Read more

The Little Girl Who Sold The Sun And Le Franc

Senegalese master Djibril Diop Mambety made these two 45-minute films as parts of a triptych called Tales of Little People but died of cancer before he could make the third. They’re closer to neorealism and less intellectually complex and ambitious than his remarkable features Touki Bouki and Hyenas, but these stories about the urban poor are still pungent, buoyant, and often funny, with wonderful performances by nonprofessionals. Le franc (1994) follows the misadventures of an impoverished musician with a winning lottery ticket, and The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (1999), described by Mambety as a hymn to the courage of street children, is a fable about a crippled 12-year-old who sells newspapers in Dakar despite her male competitors’ cruel efforts to discourage her. (The title is a pun on the newspaper she sells, Le soleil.) If you’re unfamiliar with Mambety, one of the greatest of all African filmmakers, these excellent featurettes may whet your appetite for his stunning features. (JR) Read more

The Whitman Boys

I didn’t get to the end of this morbid tale when I went to a festival screening, but I can’t say that what I saw was badly done. Based on a story by Geza Csath, the 1997 film focuses on two young brothers in 1914 who lose their father and become obsessed with death; shortly before I split, they began their research by murdering a cat. Janos Szasz directed. (JR) Read more

Lesbian Erotica

A program devoted to erotic films by lesbian filmmakers, including Maria Beatty’s The Black Glove, a celebrated S-M work, as well as several contemporary short films and excerpts. (JR) Read more