Peter Watkins documents a decisive step in England’s conquest of the Scots with this impressive early feature (1964). Like many of his other films, including The Commune, it’s a period film done in the style of a TV news broadcast. (JR)
This 1995 film works so well as storytelling and action adventure that you may want to overlook the dubious if well-intentioned premise: the slaughter of the Burmese populace becomes significant only to the degree that an American tourist (Patricia Arquette), seeking to overcome a tragedy in her own life, becomes personally involved with it. Ace director John Boorman took over this project from other hands, and he shows his customary flair with ‘Scope compositions, gorgeous sunsets, and suspenseful, exotic spectacle. What left me a little uneasy is epitomized by Hans Zimmer’s hack score, which aims at sounding vaguely Southeast Asian (wooden-sounding flutes and the like) rather than specifically Burmese to get us all in the right paternalistic frame of mind. But if you don’t mind such casual insults, you’re likely to be glued to your seat. Alex Lasker and Bill Rubenstein wrote the script; with Frances McDormand, Spalding Gray, and U Aung Ko. 99 min. (JR)
A singularly unconvincing parable, ultimately hamstrung by awkward, choppy storytelling. Mark Harmon plays a divorced radio psychiatrist in Seattle who reluctantly takes his son and daughter on a holiday to a lakeside community in British Columbia where, according to Indian legends, a sea monster is lurking; by the time you discover whether it is or not it’s pretty hard to care as much as the characters, who undergo all sorts of improbable changes by listening to their inner selves. Directed by Rick Stevenson, from a script he wrote with Icel Dobell Massey and Ninian Dunnett; with Joshua Jackson, Harley Jane Kozak, and Sarah Wayne. (JR)
Apart from Crumb, this film by Steven M. Martin may be the best American documentary feature of 1994. It’s certainly one of the most fascinating, taking as its subject the electronic musical instrument known as the theremin; Leon Theremin, the Russian visionary who created it; and all the remarkable things that have happened to inventor and invention over the past seven decades. In a way, the film also describes the complex history of a concept in this country: how a particular sound gave birth to electronic music (Robert Moog is one of the many people interviewed here, along with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and various classical musicians) and wound up being used in Hollywood, mainly in SF films. Then there’s the hair-raising story of Theremin being kidnapped by Soviet agents in 1938, his romance with a Russian violin prodigy, and much, much more. I shouldn’t leave out the fascination of watching a theremin being played; just as it’s difficult to play a vibraphone without dancing, it’s hard to play a theremin without “conducting.” Martin will attend the screening. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, August 19, 8:00, 443-3737.