Big Night (1996), Bound (1996), The Associate (1996), Brother of Sleep (1996)
In this issue of Eclectica: Feeling Minnesota (1996), The Rich Man's Wife (1996), Fly Away Home (1996), First Wive's Club (1996), Extreme Measures (1996), 2 Days in the Valley (1996), That Thing You Do! (1996)
One reality in this world is certain: nice guys finish last. And while the case can be made that Primo and Secondo aren't the nicest guys around, it's pretty clear from the beginning of BIG NIGHT that they are doomed to be taken advantage of.
This little gem, a darling of the festival circuit and cause for a huge rebirth in star, co-writer, co-producer, and co-director Stanley Tucci's career, tells the beautiful and touching story of two brothers (Tucci as Secondo, and "Wings" cab driver Tony Shalhoub as Primo) trying to make it as restaurateurs, straight off the boat from Italy.
Primo, the head chef, refuses to compromise on the tiniest detail regarding the food, while Secondo does battle on the business end. The meals they serve are second to none, but all the customers go down the street to their rival's (an Italian Ian Holm) thanks to his singing waiters. With the bank ready to foreclose, Primo and Secondo try to turn things around, and they put all they've got into one last feast in honor of jazz great Louis Prima, who may or may not actually be showing up. A big night indeed.
Intertwining the restaurant drama with the brothers' unsatisfying personal lives, Tucci and co-writer Joseph Tropiano tell a beautiful and touching story that resonates with a authenticity rarely found in today's films. Tucci, Shalhoub, and Holm are all excellent, as are Isabella Rossellini and CIRCLE OF FRIENDS's Minnie Driver as Secondo's love interests. Tucci and co-director Campbell Scott (co-star of SINGLES) also do excellent work considering their amateur status.
While the film can get a bit talky at times (beware of the scenes with subtitles), it's overall a very moving and delightful first work for these guys. Deserving special notice are the exquisite cooking/dining scenes, which do for Italian food what EAT DRINK MAN WOMAN did for Chinese. All-in-all, it's a warm, funny, and at the same time heartbreaking look at one big night in the company of some truly interesting people.
Does anyone else out there have a terrible time taking Jennifer Tilly seriously, no matter what role she plays? Well, I do, and her performance in BOUND is no exception to the rule.
Here, Tilly plays Violet, a mobster's wife with a plan to make off with $2 million of the Mafia's money. Enlisting the aid of Corky (SHOWGIRLS's Gina Gershon), your everyday laborer/lesbian-next-door, the two ladies play a game of double-cross with the mob, with Violet's husband Caesar (RISKY BUSINESS's Joe Pantoliano) set to take the fall.
As you might expect, it doesn't quite go according to plan, and as the bodies stack up, the stakes get higher and higher. If this sounds familiar, you're probably recalling FARGO, which is structured almost identically, but which is realized to a level of near-perfection that BOUND is sorely lacking.
BOUND is a stylish thriller, emphasis on style. Writers-directors-brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski use an avant-garde and downright bizarre photographic motif of the extreme close-up variety. On the one hand this is interesting, and on the other it is quite annoying. The Wachowskis' style is so dynamic that it literally feels like the viewer is being pushed around, making BOUND a participative experience, like it or not.
And to be perfectly honest, I'd rather not. Placing much more energy into "looking cool," the script ends up falling a bit flat in areas where a little more complexity could have been used. Most notable in this regard is a dropped-in-your-lap ending that feels as if someone just forgot about it until the last second.
But there's a lot of meat between the opening credits and that -- Pantoliano is a lot of fun as his now-instantly recognizable trollish tough guy, and the noirish feel to the picture really keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fans of the thriller genre will probably be moderately pleased, as I was, but will leave hungry for more.
There's a few legendary scripts among screenwriting circles -- scripts that people would *love* to rip off, if they could figure out how: WITNESS, CHINATOWN, NETWORK. And then there's TOOTSIE, the queen mother of comedy scripts, that gets ripped off all the time.
THE ASSOCIATE is boilerplate TOOTSIE, lifting the entire plot structure from Dorothy's television world and dropping it on Wall Street, where Whoopi Goldberg finds herself forced to impersonate a man (named Cutty after Cutty Sark scotch) in order to be taken seriously.
If you want to know all about it, just rent TOOTSIE, and you'll meet the principals of THE ASSOCIATE -- the confident (Dianne Wiest), the would-be-if-I-weren't-the-same-sex lover (Bebe Neuwirth), the rival (Tim Daly), and the wacky gang who fall for the trick. And you'll see familiar scenes -- Cutty is almost exposed, Cutty evades woman on the prowl, Cutty's big finish.
Whatever. If THE ASSOCIATE were a *lot* funnier this might be forgivable, accent on might. As it is, THE ASSOCIATE is a relatively juvenile hit-and-miss affair that makes sexism look like it's just wacky hijinks. And more demerits for using stupid, not-remotely-realistic technology as a plot device.
Thank God the cast is good, with the exception of a miscast Daly (as a cutthroat Wall Street guy?). Dianne Wiest is awfully appealing in a Mrs. Claus sort-of way, and let me say right now that I see Bebe Neuwirth (you know, Frasier Crane's stodgy ex-wife) in a *completely* different light. And Goldberg... is Goldberg. If you like her, in general, you'll probably like her here, too.
Well, this is already more ink than this film deserves. Three stars on its merits; docked a half for blatant shamelessness.
Occasionally a film is conceived more as a series of images than as a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. BROTHER OF SLEEP may not have been intended this way, but that's certainly how it came out.
Gorgeous Cinemascope photography (which is done no justice whatsoever on the videotape copy from which I reviewed this film) is what makes BROTHER OF SLEEP a standout. Shot in the still-untouched-by-time Austrian Alps, this picture is difficult to describe in two paragraphs. But I'll try.
Elias (André Eisermann) is born a mystery. Mystically imbued with a gift for music -- an innate talent capable of causing his listeners to see and become one with heaven, however briefly -- Elias finds his childhood a hard one. Considered a devil by the inhabitants of his tiny mountain village, he has only two friends -- similarly outcast Peter (Ben Becker) and his Elias's sister Elsbeth (Dana Vávrová).
As they grow to adulthood, the three find themselves in a bizarre sort of love triangle, still outcasts from the rest of the village. As things go from bad to worse, culminating in a jealousy-fueled catastrophe, the three are torn apart... and come back together one last time.
BROTHER OF SLEEP has "artsy" stamped all over it, and I realize it sounds *really* corny, but there's a lot more to it than what I've briefly described. While it has, in my opinion, an overly pessimistic view on life, the subtleties of theme about one's search for God away from the walls of the church and a spiritual link with the natural world make it all worthwhile. (As I mentioned before, the cinematography (by Joseph Vilsmaier [STALINGRAD], who also directed and produced) would certainly be outstanding on the big screen.) Also of note is the music, mostly on pipe organ (scored by Norbert J. Schneider), which equals any classical pieces I've ever heard.
Certainly not for everyone and likely to be inaccessible to many, thanks to its introspective and subtle style, BROTHER OF SLEEP is still a fine film that deserves to be seen.
In German with English subtitles.