2 items from 1998
Humorous and sensual in its playful portrayal of mismatched lovers and solemn in its conclusions about self-destructive passions, director Adrian Lyne's reasonably faithful adaptation of novelist Vladimir Nabokov's controversial masterwork "Lolita" is more a downbeat character study than a sensational journey into illicit love between a willing minor and her moody stepfather.
Shunned by distributors until cable network Showtime picked it up for an Aug. 2 unveiling, the R-rated "Lolita" opens today in one Los Angeles cinema for a week, with theatrical distributor Samuel Goldwyn Films planning a more substantial release starting in September. With minimal advertising support, the current playdates are aimed mainly at Oscar voters and the industry. Overall, interest in "Lolita" should be strong among literate viewers who have read the book, but boxoffice receipts will amount to only a fraction of the $58 million budget.
Looked at as a thoughtful adaptation of a once-banned literary classic, "Lolita" is fairly tame given the subject matter. While it's still far more racy than Stanley Kubrick's 1962 version, Lyne and screenwriter Stephen Schiff stay focused on the often funny and eventually poignant interplay between 14-year-old Lolita (Dominique Swain) and fortysomething college professor Humbert Humbert (Jeremy Irons) as they graduate from serious flirtation to full-on sexual relations.
The challenge for the filmmakers and performers is to make these characters endearing, which they accomplish. The challenge for moviegoers is to not rush to judgment but let the lyrical filmmaking lead them away from the lurid details and moral issues. Make no mistake, Humbert suffers. Humbert is aware of his role in the death of Lolita's mother (Melanie Griffith). And he becomes murderously jealous when Lolita is lured away by another cultured pedophile (Frank Langella).
But if you're a haunted lonely heart like Humbert, Lolita is a hard-to-resist combination of seductress and goofy teenager. Indeed, in the effective opening sequences that shift between fugitive Humbert weaving slowly in a car down a country road and the character as a 14-year-old boy in love for the first time, it's made clear that he never got over the shock of a youthful tragedy involving a girl Lolita's age.
It takes a talent like Irons working with such brilliant material to pull off this tricky scenario so well, but there are also plenty of things to praise about newcomer Swain, who made the film at age 15. From comical moments with jawbreakers to mature attitudes about sex to heart-rending reactions to Humbert's occasional violent outbursts, the charismatic Swain is in the same league as a young Jodie Foster and delivers a brave, complex performance.
Set in 1947, "Lolita" boasts superb cinematography, production design and costumes and a strong score by veteran composer Ennio Morricone
Samuel Goldwyn Films
A Pathe production
Director: Adrian Lyne
Producer: Joel B. Michaels
Screenwriter: Stephen Schiff
Executive producer: Mario Kassar
Director of photography: Howard Atherton
Production designer: Jon Hutman
Editors: Julie Monroe, David Brenner
Costume designer: Judianna Makovsky
Music: Ennio Morricone
Humbert Humbert: Jeremy Irons
Lolita: Dominique Swain
Charlotte Haze: Melanie Griffith
Clare Quilty: Frank Langella
Running time -- 137 minutes
MPAA rating: R
The problem with doing a parody of Quentin Tarantino movies is that the filmmaker has already inspired an onslaught of inferior copycats that have beaten, albeit unintentionally, "Plump Fiction" to the punch line.
While the Rhino Films debut production is not without its pointedly amusing moments, this is the kind of stuff that more effectively lends itself to a segment of "Saturday Night Live" or "Mad TV" -- not to mention the three-minute "Swing Blade", the Billy Bob Thornton-meets-"Swingers" parody short that will precede it in theaters. Even a Mel Brooks or a Zucker brother would be hard-pressed to sustain the humor over a feature-length running time.
Expect marginal college-town, midnight-movie business.
A goofy blending of Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" and "Reservoir Dogs" (known here as "Reservoir Nuns") with a little Oliver Stone added to the mix, the hit-and-miss spoof follows the intertwining paths of exterminator/hit men Jimmy Paul Dinello) and Julius (Tommy Davidson) doing the John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson thing. Along the way they meet up with Mimi (Julie Brown), the food-addicted wife of feared crime boss Montello (Robert Costanza), not to mention "Natural Blonde Killers" Nicky Matthew Glave) and Vallory (Pamela Segall), who do some wicked "Stone" throwing.
Among the more inspired bits is the Independent Cafe, the picture's take-off on Jack Rabbit Slim's, which is populated by familiar characters from the world of indie film. It's presided over by hostess Priscilla, Queen of the Desserts (Tim Kazurinsky) and highlighted by a mute waitress fresh out of "The Piano" (Molly O'Leary) with Kane Picoy doing a killer Christopher Walken. Lezlie Deane, meanwhile, skewers Jodie Foster's "Nell" with a devastatingly dead-on impression.
Being a former comic, writer-director Bob satirical instinct is fairly sharp, but his timing is way off. This type of material needs to be delivered in blink-and-you'll-miss-it triple time rather than attempting to emulate Tarantino's characteristically deliberate pacing.
As a result, viewers will find themselves pining for a fast-forward button. Given what will most likely be a tiny theatrical window, they should soon have their wish.
A Rhino Films production
Executive producer:Stephen Nemeth
Director of photography:Rex Nicholson
Production designer:Jacques Herbert
Costume designer:Vincent Lapper
Bunny Roberts:Sandra Bernhard
Running time -- 85 minutes
MPAA rating: R
2 items from 1998
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