Director Ron Howard (Parenthood, Backdraft, Far and Away) scores with an old-fashioned entertainment about a day in the life of a New York tabloid like the Post or the News. The contrived climaxes are strictly over the top, and the Coca-Cola plugs are so frequent that the movie starts to seem like a feature-length commercial, but a bustling script by David and Stephen Koepp and fancy turns by Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close (as a snarling villain), Marisa Tomei, and Randy Quaid keep your adrenaline up even when your mind is on automatic pilot. There’s a very strong moment showing how a trumped-up police bust registers on the innocent party’s sister, a black girl doing her homework, and it’s easy to forgive the movie’s ham-handed depiction of the New York Times when its west-coast ribbing of Manhattan provinciality is so on target in other places. (Indeed, one suspects that the coolness of many reviewers to both this picture and Greedy, the latter made by Howard’s production company, is similarly motivated: for all their good humor, both movies are just a little too skeptical about slimy aspects of the contemporary world too often uncritically accepted.) This may not be The Front Page, but it understands what made those early newspaper pictures so breezy. With Jason Robards, Spalding Gray, and Catherine O’Hara. Bricktown Square, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, 900 N. Michigan, Ford City, Evanston, Webster Place.
Highly controversial and troubling but undeniably powerful and impossible to dismiss, this French feature cowritten (with critic Jacques Fieschi) by, directed by, and starring the late Cyril Collard follows the last reckless days and nights of a 30-year-old cinematographer and musician who discovers he is HIV positive but continues to have sex with strangers as well as with his two more regular lovers. Based on Collard’s autobiographical novel Les nuits fauves, Savage Nights won Cesars (the French equivalent of Oscars) for best picture, best first picture, most promising actress (Romane Bohringer), and best editing a few days after the 35-year-old filmmaker died of AIDS in March 1993. These honors can’t simply be written off as sentimental: stylistically and dramatically, this is an accomplished piece of work. If Collard’s driven hero often seems far from admirable–unconsciously misogynistic beneath his apparent bisexual “tolerance,” and, as his masochistic behavior often implies, full of self-loathing–the film seems admirably unpropagandistic in permitting spectators to make up their own minds about him. It also gives full voice to the agony of unrequited adolescent love (Bohringer’s volcanic performance), and, for better and for worse, offers a treatment of AIDS that’s the other side of the moon from Philadelphia–politically incorrect with a vengeance. Whether you like this or not, you’ll have a hard time shaking it loose. With Carlos Lopez. Pipers Alley.
The anarchistic and unpredictable English director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker) goes bilingual in this 1992 Mexican picture, spoken in Spanish throughout. In some ways it’s his best work to date–a beautifully realized tale about the life of a Mexican highway patrolman who’s neither sentimentalized nor treated like a villain: he takes bribes, but has a sense of ethics. Wonderfully played by Mexican star Roberto Sosa, he’s a more believable cop than any Hollywood counterparts that come to mind. Starting off as a sadsack comedy with black overtones, the film gravitates into grim neorealism, but Cox also displays a flair for surrealist filigree (worthy of Bunuel in spots) and straight-ahead action, and does some marvelous things with actors and the Mexican landscape. In some respects, this is a return to the funky, witty pleasures of Repo Man, but the virtuoso long-take camera style–there are only 187 cuts in the entire movie–and emotional depth show a more mature Cox. (I hope the other Mexican feature he made around the same time–a masterful, baroque black-and-white adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’s “Death and the Compass” done for the BBC, with a camera style suggesting Touch of Evil–will eventually be imported as well.) Music Box, Friday through Thursday, March 18 through 24.