Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene An Unlikely Pair

Buddy flick offers mild entertainment.

By Noel Murphy and Rob Nelson

FEBRUARY 16, 1998: 

On the wall--recommended new releases

Box of Moonlight Having closed the loop on shaggy-dog indie comedies with Johnny Suede and its fictionalized "making of" companion Living in Oblivion, filmmaker Tom DeCillo heads off toward new frontiers with this amiable magical-realist buddy comedy. John Turturro plays Al Fountain, an uptight industrial engineer who talks to himself in original aphorisms and who longs to be a pal to his work crew. On an imposed mini-vacation, Al runs into "The Kid" (Sam Rockwell), a backwoods slacker who deals in stolen lawn ornaments and eats Hydrox cookies for breakfast. At first, the lonely Kid invents reasons to keep Al around, but soon Al is finding his own excuses to stay. This mild entertainment benefits from the chemistry of Turturro and Rockwell, as well as from the familiar Tennessee and Kentucky locations and DeCillo's newfound romanticism--he uses trick photography to touch and delight, not just comment ironically. (NM)

Schizopolis While Francis Ford Coppola gripes about making commercial crap like The Rainmaker because he can't get the money to finance his "dream project," whippersnappers like Stephen Soderbergh are out there making honest-to-God movies for beans. Granted, this oddball experiment is not as good as Soderbergh's King of the Hill or The Underneath, but it has its moments. A ramshackle hybrid of Godard and The Groove Tube, Schizopolis follows a speechwriter for an L. Ron Hubbard-esque guru for the first half, and an Italian-speaking "love dentist" for the second half. Both parts are played by Soderbergh himself, and the film implies that they are the same soul split in two bodies. The "story" itself is fragmented, as scenes repeat the same action but with different dialogue. Every so often, there are crude blackout gags and satirical news reports. Soderbergh basically clears his head of a half-dozen ideas--some funny, some intriguing, and some just incomprehensible or boring. The film as a whole, though, is far from boring--if nothing else, it offers the excitement of a filmmaker confident enough to freewheel. (NM)

La Scorta This routine mob drama is further proof of how mundane stories become strangely exotic when filmed in a foreign country (see also: Love and Human Remains). Ostensibly about the influence of the Mafia in local Italian politics, Ricky Tognazzi's film tracks a team of police escorts as they guard a judge who has shut down an illegal water-distribution business. The film plays like an episode of CHiPs directed by Eric Rohmer--lots of chat, little bang. What makes the picture work is the specificity of detail; we've seen police procedurals about bureaucratic red tape before, but we've never seen one set in the cradle of la cosa nostra. It's fascinating to observe the conflicted attitudes of a country where crime is woven into the fabric of the government--most of the citizens would rather the judge left well enough alone. The movie also gets juice from its score, by some guy named Morricone. (NM)

Ulysses' Gaze In this epic odyssey by director Theo Angelopoulos (Landscape in the Mist), a filmmaker known as A (Harvey Keitel) goes against commercial dictates to embark on an obsessive search for the rarest of movies--the Lumière-like footage known to be the first film ever shot in the Balkans. Clearly in love with cinema himself, Angelopoulos designs this autobiographical tale as a near-documentary travelogue of A's "personal journey" to the ends of the earth: that is, to Sarajevo from Greece, through Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania. As several people along the way fondly recall projecting tattered prints onto makeshift screens, Angelopoulos posits film as a gentler timetable of history next to the tumultuous realpolitik of the locations. (RN)

Off the wall--alternatives to new releases

Patti Rocks and Richard Pryor Live in Concert Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy has been praised for its frank, funny sex talk, but the vulgar dialogue seems to have emerged solely from Smith's dirty mind, not from the mouths of his one-dimensional characters. For a funnier and better-realized night of raunchy comedy, pick up this rowdy double feature. Patti Rocks is David Burton Morris' sloppily directed travelogue about two guys driving all night to meet up with a loose woman. The bulk of the film chronicles the journey and the hilariously profane conversation that passes the time until the men reach Patti's house; but the second part of the film is almost as revelatory, as we meet the title character (well played by Karen Landry) and get to know the person behind the dirty jokes. As for Pryor's first (and best) concert film, it's more than just a side-splitting look into humanity's racial and sexual hang-ups--it's also a tour-de-force performance, wherein Pryor moves around the stage like a prizefighter and slides in and out of characters like a changeling. And, unlike Chasing Amy, Pryor's riffs ring poignantly true. (NM)

Laserdisc

Life of Oharu (Voyager Co./The Criterion Collection) It's 45 years old and set in the late 17th century, but this bleak and beautiful portrait of a lady remains thoroughly contemporary. The slow downfall of a Kyoto woman (Kinuyo Tanaka) is charted by director Kenji Mizoguchi, who slipped his critique of modern Japanese society past would-be censors by dressing it in period costumes. By investigating the patriarchal forces that conspire to keep Oharu smoldering in a crucible of suffering, Mizoguchi suggests the short distance between his heroine's era and his own--or even ours. The Criterion Collection's laserdisc release (in a new digital transfer) coincides with a recent touring retrospective of Mizoguchi's films and a resurgence of interest in this still underappreciated Japanese master. While Akira Kurosawa is known among Western viewers for his samurai epics, and Yasujiro Ozu for his Zen Buddhist approach to visual style, Mizoguchi's sensibility has proven harder to peg. This is perhaps because the kinds of movies he most favored--intense melodramas about women's struggles against sexism--aren't as commonly included in our critical pantheon. How ironic it is, then, that Mizoguchi's films themselves urge us to take a look at those we ignore, and to show them the respect they deserve. (RN)


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