Nicolas Cage plays a surveillance specialist hired to determine whether a snuff film found in the safe of a recently deceased Pennsylvania millionaire is authentica job that leads him into the seamier recesses of the porn industry on both coasts. The director of this creepy wide-screen thriller is Joel Schumacher, who will surely live in infamy for Batman and Robin; he seems much more in charge this time, maybe because he has something to work with. The sturdy script is by Andrew Kevin Walker, the former Tower Records cashier who also wrote Seven, and there’s a similar impulse here to rub our noses in terminal slime and evil. The desire for retribution that’s honored so unambiguously may be morally based, but it’s the morality of Mickey Spillane, and I wonder if the defense of vigilante justice in Schumacher’s earlier A Time to Kill is more than just a coincidence. I can’t say I warmed to the results, but I was solidly held for the film’s two hours, and the secondary castincluding Joaquin Phoenix, Peter Stormare, Amy Morton, and James Gandolfiniis unusually sharp; with Catherine Keener, Anthony Heald, and Chris Bauer. (JR)
Raul Ruiz’s first mainstream release, which is getting its Chicago premiere at an art house rather than a multiplex, may not be one of his best — given his hundred or so shorts and features, there’s a lot of competition, and this is one of the rare Ruiz movies scripted by someone else. But it certainly provides some provocative and enjoyable jolts. Anne Parillaud plays a professional assassin in Seattle who dreams she’s a vulnerable newlywed honeymooning in the Caribbean and recovering from a rape; she also plays a vulnerable bride who dreams she’s an assassin. William Baldwin plays the significant other of both women, bearing the same name, and the contrapuntal play between Parillaud the victimizer and Parillaud the victim is pushed to dizzying extremes. Beautifully shot by Robby Muller, with periodic allusions in the score (by Ruiz regular Jorge Arriagada) to Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock, this head-scratching thriller should keep you entertained throughout, at least if you’re feeling adventurous. Ruiz didn’t even have final cut, but he clearly enjoyed himself making this film. Duane Poole wrote the distinctly Ruizian script, featuring twists at every turn, and the costars include Graham Greene and Bulle Ogier. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, February 5 through 11. – Jonathan Rosenbaum
This neglected feature is one of Samuel Fuller’s most energetic–his own personal favorite, in part because he financed it out of his own pocket and lost every penny (1952). It’s a giddy look at New York journalism in the 1880s that crams together a good many of Fuller’s favorite newspaper stories, legends, and conceits and puts them in socko headline type. A principled cigar smoker (Gene Evans) becomes the hard-hitting editor of a new Manhattan daily, where he competes with his former employer (Mary Welch) in a grudge match full of sexual undertones; a man jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge trying to become famous; the Statue of Liberty is given to the U.S. by France, and a newspaper drive raises money for its pedestal. Enthusiasm flows into every nook and cranny of this exceptionally cozy movie; when violence breaks out in the cramped-looking set of the title street, the camera weaves in and out of the buildings as through a sports arena, in a single take. “Park Row” is repeated incessantly like a crazy mantra, and the overall fervor of this vest-pocket Citizen Kane makes journalism sound like the most exciting activity in the world, even as it turns all its practitioners into members of a Fuller-esque military squad. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films, 1212 E. 59th St., Tuesday, February 9, 7:00, 773-702-8575.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.