There’s enough here of what critic Manny Farber once called oily overdefinition of the working class to keep a service station running all year. Bette Midler plays the small-town virago whose car lands in the river when her brakes fail; everyone in town, including her husband and son, hates her so much that police chief Danny DeVito spends the whole movie careening from one suspect to the next. The problem is, why should we care who killed her? Everyone here is made to seem ugly and stupid, and the movie’s one joke is to slime them all over and over again. Though it pretends to be in love with its own bad taste, there’s a world of difference between this nasty piece of work and There’s Something About Mary, and it’s hard to believe that the characters’ economic bracket has nothing to do with the movie’s attitude. For whatever it’s worth, I didn’t laugh once. With Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck, and William Fichtner; Nick Gomez directed from a labored script by Peter Steinfeld. (JR)
A straight yoga instructor (Madonna) and a gay gardener (Rupert Everett) who are best friends get it on one drunken night and she becomes pregnant; she decides to have the kid, and they live together as parentsuntil she meets and falls in love with an east-coast investment banker. The first part of this opulent soap opera is well-intentioned and reasonably entertaining (if simplistic) propaganda about alternative lifestyles; then the whole thing becomes a very rickety and contrived tearjerker, with Everett playing the Joan Crawford part. The swank surroundings wind up signifying about as much as the characters, mainly because neither Thomas Ropelewski’s script nor John Schlesinger’s direction can establish a comfortable through line in terms of either style or content. With Michael Vartan, Josef Sommer, and Lynn Redgrave. (JR)
Though in certain respects debatable as an adaptation of the Franz Kafka novel, Orson Welles’s nightmarish, labyrinthine expressionist comedy of 1962–shot mainly in Paris’s abandoned Gare d’Orsay and various locations in Zagreb and Rome after he had to abandon his plan to use sets–remains his creepiest and most disturbing work, and it’s been a lot more influential than people usually admit. (Scorsese’s After Hours, for example, is deeply indebted to it, and arguably the two costume store sequences in Eyes Wide Shut are as well.) Anthony Perkins gives a somewhat adolescent temper to Joseph K, an ambitious corporate bureaucrat mysteriously brought to court for an unspecified crime. Among the predatory females who pursue him are Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, and Elsa Martinelli; Welles himself fills in as the hero’s tyrannical lawyer, and Welles regular Akim Tamiroff is his usual remarkable self as one of the lawyer’s oldest clients. Welles adroitly captures the experience of an unsettling and slightly hysterical dream throughout, and the dovetailing locations, disembodied sound, and dizzying shifts of scale add to the overall disorientation. A newly restored 35-millimeter print will be shown, and given the impact of screen size on what Welles is doing, you can’t claim to have seen this if you’ve watched it only on video. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, February 25, 6:00 and 8:15; Saturday, February 26, 4:00, 6:15, and 8:30; and Sunday, February 27, 3:30 and 6:00; 312-443-3737.
A Moment of Innocence
One of the best features by the prolific and unpredictable Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, this 1996 film also happens to be one of his most seminal and accessible–a reconstruction of a pivotal incident during his teens that landed him in prison for several years during the shah’s regime. A fundamentalist and activist at the time, Makhmalbaf stabbed a policeman; as a consequence he was shot and arrested. Two decades later his politics were quite different, but while he was auditioning people to appear in his film Salaam Cinema, he encountered the same policeman, now unemployed, and the two wound up collaborating on this film about the incident involving them, trying (with separate cameras) to reconcile their versions of what happened. Though no doubt prompted in part by Abbas Kiarostami’s remarkable Close-up (1990)–another eclectic documentary reconstructing past events with two cameras, in that case a hoax involving Makhmalbaf himself–this is no mere imitation but a fascinating humanist experiment and investigation in its own right, full of warmth and humor as well as mystery. The original Persian title, incidentally, translates as “Bread and Flower.” Music Box, Friday through Thursday, February 18 through 24.