The Austin Chronicle

12 Monkeys

October 4, 1996, Screens

D: Terry Gilliam; with Bruce Willis, Madeline Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer.
VHS Home Video
Waterloo Videom, 1016 W. Sixth

Time travel movies are infuriating, especially good ones. With 12 Monkeys, Gilliam keeps his audience from experiencing continuity anxiety by providing a decent mystery and allowing a semblance of deductive reasoning -- the information is dispersed in portions small enough so that each new understanding comes right when it should, just before it is spelled out clearly. Bruce Willis plays a prison inmate in the future who has "volunteered" to be a science experiment of sorts, traveling through time to gather information about the infectious disease that has wiped out most of the population, sentencing the remainder to an underground existence. The future holds many of Gilliam's famous (and nicely cinematic) oddball anachronisms, and both Willis and Pitt (who plays a deranged activist) are eccentric eyesores, almost too deliciously ugly to look at. -- Jen Scoville

La Jetée

D: Chris Marker.
VHS Home Video
Waterloo Video 1016 W. Sixth

This haunting little black-and-white film essay shot in 1962 entirely from still photographs is credited as inspiration for Terry Gilliam's recent 12 Monkeys. And rightly so, for the plot elements of elusive French director Marker's La Jetée (The Pier) are almost exactly identical with those of the remake. With a rhythm nearly poetic, the narrator describes the apocalyptic underground "world of rats" Paris has become after suffering World War III, and tells of the prisoner of this world who submits himself to time-travel experiments, returning again and again to the airport runway where as a child he witnessed a man's death. Somehow, the soft-spoken steadiness of the one voice in the film makes the character's plight even more desperate, and the halted motion of the stills provides an eerie metaphor for time taken out of context. The simple execution of Marker's futuristic tale allows deeper inspection of man's roles throughout time, and succeeds without the convolution associated with films of this genre. -- Jen Scoville

I, The Worst
of All

D: Maria Luisa Bemburg; with Assumpta Serna, Dominique Sanda, Hector Alterio.
VHS Home Video
Vulcan Video, 609 W. 29th

I, The Worst of All, tells the story of Sister Juana Ines de la Cruz (Serna), a 17th-century Mexican poet and the most renowned denizen of a convent in a remote outpost of the Spanish empire whose "unfortunate skill for writing poetry" is thought by her spiritual overlords to be in conflict with her monastic duties. Her more earthly superiors, the viceroy and vicereine, are far more supportive and protective of her, and the film plays masterfully upon this political tug-of-war between church and state. Juana's love poems to the vicereine amuse the viceroy and anger the archbishop to the point that he makes life troublesome for Juana. Serna, perhaps better known for her performance in Pedro Almodovar's Matador, shines with nervous strength and brilliance. For (or perhaps because of) the spare, haunting sets and the director's stylized storytelling, the film tells an absolutely riveting, lyrical tale.

-- Clay Smith

Tales of Manhattan

D: Julien Duvivier; with Charles Boyer, Rita Hayworth, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Fonda, Ginger Rogers, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, W.C. Fields.
VHS Home Video

The addition of 10 minutes of lost W.C. Fields footage to this 1942 film is reason for celebration. It would be even better if that excised scene's return could have made this movie into a complete, fully-realized masterpiece. Unfortunately, such is not the case. The film is an anthology, featuring seven separate stories as we follow a tail ("tale") coat from owner to owner. The opening tale, featuring Rita Hayworth and Charles Boyer is by far the best, but from there things start to slide, though the list of stars (Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Edward G. Robinson, etc.) remains impressive. Fields' scene is a treat, but, as the studio realized back in 1942, distracts from the flow instead of giving the film the boost it needs towards the end. I recommend watching the individual scenes separately for best effect. Be forewarned of the insulting, Green Pastures-style dialects in the all-black final sequence.

-- Ken Lieck

VR Soccer '96

Gremlin Interactive

Complete with bob-handed virtual reality fans and eight adjustable camera angles from which to view the game (including aerial), the 3D sensation of VR Soccer comes through. All aspects of "the other football" are covered, including substitutions, bookings (yellow and red cards), and an up-counting clock. The one drawback of the game may be the difficulty of play; it took my stacked Argentine team going up against Tunisia for me to finally win a match. League or cup play is possible with up to 20 people via modem and four people on the same machine. Just ignore the biting commentary, strap on your cleats, and you, too, can pummel a third-world country with a soccer dynasty. -- Carl Bacher

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