Because most of the acting is authentic and powerful (especially that of Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, and Jim True), the source (a Russell Banks novel) is more than respectable, and the subjectan all-around fuckup (Nolte) in a dying New England town becomes even more fucked-upand winter setting are unrelentingly grim, one has to admire writer-director Paul Schrader for having the guts to make this picture. But I found it more punishing than edifying. A brave effort to stare down the specter of American failure, it gets off on the wrong foot by pretentiously turning the doomed hero into a Christ figurea traffic cop with arms extended in crucifixion modebefore the story even gets started. Flashbacks come in two subjective stylesgrainy and handheld to recount the meanness and violence of the hero’s awful father (James Coburn, a bit out of his depth), black-and-white to reconfigure the recent past. The hero’s brother (Willem Dafoe), daughter (Brigid Tierney), and ex-wife (Mary Beth Hurt) all have their say, but the narcissism of wounded macho gets in the last word, and it’s last year’s groceries. (JR)
The Lovers of Pont-Neuf
This 1992 French feature by Leos Carax (Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood) could be the great urban expressionist fantasy of the 90s: like Sunrise and Lonesome in the 20s and Playtime and Alphaville in the 60s, it uses a city’s physical characteristics to poetically reflect the consciousness of its characters. Carax daringly and disconcertingly begins the film as a documentary portrait of the homeless in Paris, but it becomes a delirious love story between two people (Denis Lavant and Juliette Binoche) who live on one of Paris’s most famous bridges and experience the whole city as a kind of enchanted playground, a vision that reaches an explosive apotheosis during a bicentennial fireworks display over the Seine. To realize his lyrical and monumental vision, Carax built a huge set in the French countryside that depicted Pont-Neuf and its surroundings, making this one of the most expensive French productions ever mounted. So the film seems an ideal subject for a lecture by former Chicagoan Stuart Klawans, film critic for the Nation and author of Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order, a new book with a witty and highly original sense of film history. The Lovers of Pont-Neuf is Carax’s best work to date; it’s slated to open here commercially later this year. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, February 4, 6:00, 312-443-3737.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.
Playing by Heart
This charming romantic comedy with a Los Angeles setting cuts between seemingly unconnected miniplots the way some Robert Altman movies do. In the final scenes the connections become clear, but until then the links are strictly thematic, having to do with love of one kind or another. A distraught man (Dennis Quaid) offers contradictory hard-luck stories to different women (including one drag queen) in different bars; two couples (Gillian Anderson and Jon Stewart, Angelina Jolie and Ryan Phillippe) each encounter romantic difficulties caused by the fears of one member; a mother (Ellen Burstyn) comforts her son who’s dying of AIDS (Jay Mohr); an elderly couple (Sean Connery and Gena Rowlands) bickers; a younger couple (Madeleine Stowe and Anthony Edwards) pursues a clandestine and emotionless affair. This differs most strikingly from Altman’s work in that the overall thrust of the stories is optimistic–but even the most overly determined happy ending can seem welcome after Altman’s heavy cynicism. The writer-director, whose previous features (Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Runestone) are unknown to me, is Willard Carroll; cinematography is by former Altman collaborator Vilmos Zsigmond and music is by John Barry. Evanston, 600 N. Michigan, Webster Place.
Sidney Lumet’s misguided 1999 remake of the John Cassavetes feature about a pistol-packing woman who accidentally becomes the guardian of a six-year-old boy hunted by the mob. Cassavetes’s original script was designed to be commercial, and someone else was supposed to direct itthough Cassavetes wound up with the jobso the notion of a remake with Sharon Stone taking over the Gena Rowlands part sounds plausible. Unfortunately Stone reaches for 50s reference points like Marilyn Monroe and Judy Holliday that throw the whole conception out of kilter. Steven Antin wrote the screenplay; with Jean-Luke Figueroa, Jeremy Northam, Cathy Moriarty, George C. Scott, and Bonnie Bedelia. 108 min. (JR)