The title of Alain Tanner’s melancholy 1985 film refers to the rural zone between Swiss and French customs, where a group of small-time smugglers eke out a precarious, in-between existence. Films about border tensions (Grand Illusion, Touch of Evil, Luc Moullet’s unjustly neglected Les contrebandieres) tend to treat their locations metaphorically, and this one is no exception, although it’s equally a Losers’ Club movie in the manner of The Asphalt Jungle about a band of assorted malcontents who dream of escape to a better life. Decorously framed and shot, with lingering landscape shots, stately camera movements, and a wonderful Terry Riley score, this movie glides along with a kind of graceful inertia that eventually defeats its spectators as well as its characters by gradually leading both to the same inconclusive impasse. With Hughes Quester, Myriam Mazieres, and Jean-Philippe Ecossey. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, August 28 and 29, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, August 30, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, August 31 through September 3, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114)… Read more »
Monthly Archives: August 1987
Coinciding with the Film Center’s Jim McBride retrospective (whose most provocative program, on Thursday, August 20, combined the flaky sex comedy Hot Times and a brilliant Twilight Zone episode about Elvis, The Once and Future King) is the release of McBride’s least personal and most commercial movie to date. Rewriting a hackneyed crooked-cop story by Beverly Hill Cop’s Daniel Petrie Jr., he gets tense, sexy performances from Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin and makes the most of his New Orleans locations. But as in some Cajun cooking, it’s the spices rather than the meat that imparts the essential McBride flavor: offbeat secondary casting (the late, great Charles Ludlam’s eye-rolling defense attorney) and a use of props ranging from the surreal (Mardi Gras floats in a warehouse) to the homey (Quaid’s squeaking gator doll). (Old Orchard, River Oaks, Water Tower)… Read more »
The problem with most jazz documentaries is combining talk with music without allowing either to ride roughshod over the other. Peter Bull’s recent feature about Thelonious Monk disciple and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy is a stirring object lesson in how to do this without compromising either the performances of Lacy’s inventive sextet or the interest in what Lacy has to say about his career. The mesh isn’t quite so fine in Ken Levis’s short about another postbebop saxophonist. Jackie McLean has some acute things to say about politics, racism, and the music business, but it’s a drag to hear them interrupting his solos; only in an outtake from Shirley Clarke’s The Connection is he allowed to stretch a little. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, August 23, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3737)… Read more »
Not for every taste, Donna Rosebud suggests at times a throwback to 60s Underground whimsy. But local independent J.P. Somersaulter, who shot this in high-contrast black and white over five years, has some rather novel fantasy notions up his sleeve. His eponymous heroine–mayor, musician, doctor, philosopher, and mother of seven, among other accomplishments–dreams about the real world while inhabiting a telepathic alternate universe where sync sound is unnecessary. Like other animators who’ve turned to live action Frank Tashlin, Walerian Borowczyk, David Lynch–Somersaulter has some pretty elastic notions about reality, and you might want to try bending along with him. (Music Box, Friday, August 14)… Read more »
One of my first long reviews for the Chicago Reader (September 11, 1987). Reseeing the movie almost three decades later, shortly before being flown to New York to be interviewed about it for a Japanese documentary, I liked it even more, and would give it four stars if I was reviewing it today. — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Juzo Itami
With Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Nobuo Nakamura, and Mariko Okada.
True, we eat to preserve ourselves from dying. But cooking, the moment of preparing foods . . . is a pause in the most relentless of natural processes, a moment when the process is retarded, when the food exists as itself, no longer a dead thing, not yet assimilated to a living thing. It exists in a moment out of time, and can therefore become a source of esthetic pleasure — small, fleeting, often deceptive, yet a true esthetic object. So brief is its moment of objectivity, this bit of food, that it quivers with the life it came from and with the life it goes toward — and yet, always, it partakes of a stillness that transforms time. The raw stuff has become food — worked upon, transformed by love and care, made proper with a name — and it is a part, if of a stew, of all other stews ever made and ever yet to be made.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1987). — J.R.
Kevin Costner, suffering as nobly here as in The Untouchables, plays a naval officer hired by the secretary of defense (Gene Hackman), whose mistress he has been unwittingly sharing. While credited as an adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel The Big Clock (which was already made into a movie in 1948, directed by John Farrow), this taut thriller adds so many twists of its own it might be more appropriately cross-referenced with The Manchurian Candidate, even though it isn’t nearly as daffy or as mercurial. Cornball Dolby effects aside, it’s the kind of intricately plotted suspense film with juicy secondary parts (Sean Young, Will Patton, George Dzundza, Iman, Howard Duff) that used to be churned out in the 1940s; Roger Donaldson, the New Zealand director of Smash Palace, The Bounty, and Marie, delivers coproducer Robert Garland’s efficient script with more bombast than brilliance, but at least it keeps you in your seat (1987). (JR)
A mild, romantic comedy-thriller, set in Austin, Texas, in 1954. If only the actors — Kim Basinger, Jeff Bridges, Rip Torn, and Gwen Verdon — had more to sink their teeth into, they could have had a field day; but writer-director Robert Benton gives them so little nourishment or stimulus that even a pro like Bridges seems somewhat bemused by the lack of material, while Rip Torn looks so bored with his own cardboard villain that he might as well be phoning in the part. Neither the setting nor the period is made distinctive, and apart from a few minor Hitchcockian jolts, the overall strategy seems to be banking everything on the behavioral cuteness of the two leads, who do the best they can with their condescendingly sketched-in southern working-class characters. Not even cinematography by Nestor Almendros can juice up the proceedings; the movie chugs along, but barely. Although Benton went to school in nearby Austin in the 50s, he seems to remember the movies he saw there better than the region, which is scaled down to sitcom proportions. (JR)
Masochistic, sub-Le Carre stuff about the dirtiness of spying, adapted by Julian Bond from a novel by John Hale. The performances are solid and subtle, with Michael Caine especially effective, but more valuable are the film’s insights into 80s English conservatism. With foreign news coverage in this country dwindling, even this stodgy 1986 thriller can tell us something about how the English middle class thinks. Simon Langton directed; with James Fox, Nigel Havers, Felicity Dean, and John Gielgud. (JR)… Read more »
While lack of feeling is ascribed more often to Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma qualifies more as a detached formalist. Here the relative absence of directorial emotion works hand in glove with the slickness and cynicism (as well as craft) of this big-scale 1987 adaptation by David Mamet of the 60s TV series, shellacked with a grandiloquent Ennio Morricone score. The results are watchable enough, with a particularly adept use of Sean Connery, Chicago locations, and period details. But De Palma’s vulgar habit of copying and thereby reducing sequences from better directors is even more offensive when he turns to Eisenstein instead of the usual Hitchcock; his Odessa Steps hommage to Potemkin is the worst kind of kitschy student exercise. There’s much more of Kevin Costner (as Eliot Ness) here than there is of Robert De Niro (as Al Capone), though Costner is quite effective in setting the Reaganite law-and-order tone. Still, it’s a pity to have Charles Martin Smith eliminated so early in the proceedings. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »
Mamie Van Doren stars with (get this) Mel Torme, Paul Anka, Ray Anthony, Gigi Perreau, Gloria Talbott, Jim Mitchum, Sheilah Graham, the Platters, and Harold Lloyd Jr., playing a bad girl who gets sent to reform school, where Maggie Hayes sets her straight. Charles Haas directed this 1959 film (also known as The Innocent and the Damned), and it’s every bit as junky and tawdry as one might hope. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »
Passionately lusting after her missing brother, the eponymous heroine (Tiziana Jelmini), a lonely provincial pharmacist, turns herself into a seductress at night, and, to deal with her frustration and amuse herself, perfects a poisioning technique which allows her to polish off an inordinate number of hapless men. Made in 16-millimeter as a graduation thesis at the Berlin Film Academy by Tania Sticklin and Cyrille Rey-Coquais, this somewhat stylish and dutifully perverse black comedy, a Swiss/West German coproduction, is fairly watchable, but really nothing specialthe sort of nihilistic exercice de style that invariably turns up as festival fodder because of its relative familiarity. You might have a little fun with it, but you can just as easily live without it. (JR)… Read more »
An independent feature from Florida, adapted from a story by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Victor Nunez’s film moves slowly, but with such a precise sense of period (prohibition) and place (the backwoods of central Florida) that it acquires a solid, sensual mass as it develops, aided and abetted by Nunez’s pleasurable camera work. A well-to-do widow (Dana Preu) marries and gets exploited by a slick, younger moonshiner (David Peck) who eventually brings home a teenage mistress (J. Smith, the title waif) until poetic comeuppance finally gets delivered. Preu and a wonderful ginger cat, both inspired nonprofessionals, jointly walk away with the movie (1979). (JR)… Read more »
Set mainly in and around an establishment called the Blue Water Grill in Texas, this is a small film, but within its own terms a delightful and virtually perfect one. The charactersthe dreamy grill owner (Gene Hackman), who compulsively watches home movies of his long-vanished wife; his grumpy yet serene father-in-law (Burgess Meredith); a slightly retarded handyman (Elias Kotias); and a bus driver (Teri Garr) who has her sights set on the grill ownerall seem to come out of Erskine Caldwell and Tennessee Williams, but Bill Bozzone’s capable script, Peter Masterson’s deft direction, and Fred Murphy’s handsome photography all show them off to best advantage, and the movie’s playlike story moves effortlessly. Funny and appealing, this is the kind of quiet and assured Hollywood movie that used to be more common in the 50s; the local flavor is caught perfectly, and every member of the cast shines. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1987). — J.R.
Stanley Kubrick shares with Orson Welles and Carl Dreyer the role of the Great Confounder — remaining supremely himself while frustrating every attempt to anticipate his next move or to categorize it once it registers. This odd 1987 adaptation of Gustav Hasford’s The Short-Timers, with script-writing assistance from Michael Herr as well as Hasford, has more to do with the general theme of colonization (of individuals and countries alike) and the suppression by male soldiers of their female traits than with the specifics of Vietnam or the Tet offensive. Elliptical, full of subtle inner rhymes (for instance, the sound cues equating a psychopathic marine in the first part with a dying female sniper in the second), and profoundly moving, this is the most tightly crafted Kubrick film since Dr. Strangelove, as well as the most horrific; the first section alone accomplishes most of what The Shining failed to do. With Matthew Modine, Adam Baldwin, Vincent D’Onofrio, and R. Lee Ermey. R, 116 min. (JR)
Richard Cheech Marin has expanded his video spoof of Bruce Springsteen’s anthem of the 80s, Born in the U.S.A., into a throwaway comedy that really delivers. Written, directed by, and starring Cheech himself and cheerfully indifferent to technique, the film follows a Mexican-American and his comic misadventures with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The picture gets a respectable number of laughs out of the parallel multiple misunderstandings of the non-Spanish-speaking hero stranded in Tijuana and his equally monolingual Mexican cousin in LA, with plenty of healthy digs at the crassness of white Americans in dealing with Latinos on both sides of the border; it’s down-home ethnic humor with lots of sentiment and sincerity. (Chong appears only as a painting of Christ on the cross with eyes that open and shut.) With a supporting cast including Daniel Stern, Kamala Lopez, Paul Rodriguez, and Jan-Michael Vincent. (JR)… Read more »