Sign up for our free newsletter
If it’s possible for a movie that doesn’t have anything to say to be glib, then Equinox is glib. Indeed, the film is something of a charmer, though the literal-minded may grow irritable waiting for writer/director Alan Rudolph to make his point. Such viewers should relax: Rudolph doesn’t have much of a point, just some piquant connections and near-connections, elegant camera movements, and a good-natured absurdism.
Set on typical Rudolph turf—a fictional and blatantly stagy city—and featuring a typically overreaching array of roles and plot developments, Equinox follows three characters toward their eventual near-meeting. Two are inextricably, though unknowingly, linked: Henry Petosa and Freddy Ace (both played with apt emptiness by Matthew Modine) are twin brothers, separated as infants and set on very different courses. Henry is shy, awkward, and innocent; he works at the garage owned by his father (M. Emmet Walsh) and is tormented by his inability to pursue his interest in the equally shy and awkward Beverly Franks (a partially deglamorized Lara Flynn Boyle), the sister of his best friend. Freddy is outgoing, suave, and corrupt; an up-and-coming gangster, he has an attractive wife, Sharon (Lori Singer), two cute kids, and a sushi-eating lifestyle. Yet he’s as alienated from his glamorous life as his brother is from his plodding one. (He is, after all, a Rudolph character.)
The other side of the triangle has a smaller role, yet not necessarily a lesser one. Sonya Kirk (Tyra Ferrell) is a hospital worker and would-be writer who discovers a letter with the corpse of a homeless woman at the morgue. It’s the testament of the twins’ mother, and as Sonya pursues its clues the twins come together. She’s the artificer, Rudolph’s alter ego, and the one who watches the brothers collide—or perhaps causes the collision.
One thing that Sonya discovers is that Henry and Freddy are in line for a fortune, left them by the wealthy European father who abandoned their mother. This is appropriate, for the city of Empire—a brusque, steamy, Manhattanlike urb actually created in squeaky clean Minneapolis/St. Paul—is haunt ed by visions of instant wealth. Sharon obsessively scrapes lottery cards, and Lotto billboards are everywhere—even in the alley where the brothers see each other for the last time. When Henry tells his friend Russell Franks (Kevin J. O’Connor) that a developer wants to buy the garage, Russell wants to know the extent of the offer: “Is it a ton, Henry, like the lottery?”
As in most Rudolph films, the payout truly worth pursuing is true love, which must be seized at the right time and despite numerous distractions. For Henry, the distractions include the nice hooker who lives down the hall (Marisa Tomei), while Beverly is too bound by convention to make the break when Henry decides to flee Empire for the Grand Canyon. He must travel without either his twin or his other half.
One curious thing about Equinox is the depiction of Empire as a rotten place. The homeless are shunned (though not by Henry and Freddy), Henry and Russell get shoved by creeps on the bus, and neighborhood toughs steal Henry’s groceries. Yet Rudolph is no realist, and Empire is an enchanted sort of dump, one where everyone converges on the same neighborhood restaurant (which serves spaghetti, goulash, and turkey teriyaki) and an infomercial for “defense skills” shows up on Henry’s TV right after he loses his groceries. (Meanwhile, on the TV watched by Freddy’s boss Paris [Fred Ward], there’s a channel that combines topless dancing with a stock ticker.) Rudolph may think he’s portraying the essence of contemporary urban violence—asked where he got a gun, Russell replies, “Hey, this is America”—but the director was more convincing making a magical Paris out of Montreal (in The Moderns) than he is transforming Minneapolis into a hellish New York.
Yet making something out of not much is a Rudolph specialty, thematically as well as visually. Here he provides a cavalcade of twinnery—actual twins, twin images, even twin murders—and balances (like the equinox itself, which balances light and dark). The gliding, circling camera propels the film, giving a string of minor correspondences and oddball moments the rush of something bigger. In the final shot, Henry stands at canyon’s edge as the camera swoops all the way around him, taking flight and then descending to stare him in the face. Yeah, it’s another Alan Rudolph movie, and yeah, it’s the abyss again. But such vantage points make it look fresh.
Tokyo Decadence opens with its near-naked heroine, Ai (Miho Nikaido), harnessed to a chair, about to be gagged, blindfolded, and injected with an unidentified substance. Those curious about the sociocultural significance of this situation will have wait awhile; for most of its running time, Decadence seems designed for those who prefer merely to view Ai, a 22-year-old Tokyo prostitute with a speciality in S&M, play out a series of increasingly eccentric sexual scenarios.
Director Ryu Murakami, a best-selling Japanese novelist who’s been adapting his books to the screen since Almost Transparent Blue in 1978, obeys the Japanese ban on depicting genitals, but by American standards, Decadence(adapted from the writer’s Topaz) is nonetheless X-rated stuff. Ai is hired to hit and be hit, to bind and to be bound, to watch and be watched. She goes to a love hotel with one guy who selects a slide of Mount Fuji as the backdrop and then tells her wants to simulate a famous Fuji murder and rape: “My dream is to rape a dead woman,” says the client. “It’s the most beautiful form of sex in the world.” Ai walks out on that gig, but she and a colleague do agree to strangle another guy so he can achieve a more intense orgasm, only to momentarily fear that the climax will be his last.
Such encounters have their prurient fascination, but the film actually shows more personality during its between-sex interludes, in which Murakami fabricates a sleek, angular, blue-tinted contemporary Tokyo. (His stylized vision is no more Tokyo than Alphaville is Paris; the city’s actual streetscapes are wildly eclectic, not cleanly futuristic.) These scenes also tell us two or three things about Ai, who’s shy, absurdly polite, and superstitious. We see her mocked in a public restroom, when one of the tools of her trade slides out from the stall where she’s inventorying her belongings, and visiting a fortuneteller, whose ridiculous advice she follows. (Among other things, the soothsayer advises Ai that in order to achieve happiness she must put a phone directory under her TV.)
After joining a more experienced dominatrix, Saki (Sayoka Amano), in the film’s weirdest (and last) sex scene, Ai and her new pal adjourn for dinner, hard drugs, and an explication of Murakami’s theme. Japan has “wealth without pride,” explains Saki. “It creates anxiety, which drives our men into masochism.” Then she starts to lip- sync, demonstrating that—for all this flick’s whips and dildos—karaoke is still contemporary Japan’s most perverse practice.
When people speak of “our men,” some sort of jingoism is usually around the corner, but instead Decadence here turns into an Italian film—equal parts Antonioni and Fellini—as Ai ventures into an exclusive suburb (and into hysteria) in search of a man she hopes will redeem her life. These final minutes are as frustratingly vaporous as the others are resolutely physical, but neither aspect of the movie successfully conveys a larger theme. If Tokyo is really burning, it will take a more thoughtful work than this to reveal it.
feel good,” trumpets the voice of James Brown at the beginning of Mr. Jones, and the film’s eponymous character feels good and looks good too. As the world’s most glamorous manic-depressive, Richard Gere is attractive, charismatic, and full of vitality. In fact, as the opening montage predictably demonstrates, the doctor who will soon treat Jones—Lena Olin’s uptight, divorce-stricken, cat-owning Libbie Bowen—could use a little of Jones’ vigor and spontaneity.
The responsible one always learns something from the footloose one in movies like this, but few examples of the bourgeois-liberation genre are so dishonest as Jones. Mating I Never Promised You a Rose Garden and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, director Mike Figgis and scripters Eric Roth and Michael Cristofer have bred a brilliant, ebullient protagonist who’s a savant in music, mathematics, and accents as well as head cheerleader at the great game that is life. A charmer who hammers nails as true as he plays Bach, Jones is a little moody and occasionally suicidal but mostly just wonderful. The Übermensch of the Lithium set, he asks such loaded questions as, “Would you want me to be ordinary?”
Paired with an equally comely (of course) therapist, Jones is soon in love, if still a little too high-strung for his own good. The ethical quandaries of doctor/patient sex aside, it’s inevitable that the filmmakers offer Bowen as an anchor to the free-floating Jones, and that he—after one last manic spree—accept. As soon as Jones stands atop a roof-beam and prepares to fly in the movie’s opening minutes, it’s clear that he’ll return to that roof at film’s end. And as soon as Bowen expresses her fear of heights, it’s clear that she’ll be there with him for a final clinch. “I wanted to fly so much, but I can’t,” he realizes. “So, now what?” Well, hugs, kisses, swelling music, of course, and the credits.
Figgis wants to fly too, and he gives Jones tumultuous energy and his characteristic graininess. (Shoot ing in sunny Southern California rather than the rainy Newcastle of Stormy Monday, he frequently points his camera at the sun.) The cast is strong too, even when playing such rote roles as the Nice Black Family Man (Delroy Lindo). But neither the quick shots of genuinely unhappy mental patients that separate the events of the Jones/Bowen romance nor the spit on Gere’s chin in the climactic scene are enough to locate the film in the real world. Figgis’ stylishness is for real, but Roth and Cristofer’s script is a fraud.