Daily Archives: September 1, 1987

Summer Night

The full title of this Lina Wertmuller effort is Summer Night With Greek Profile, Almond Eyes & Scent of Basil. It’s more or less Swept Away II, with Michele Placido’s Sicilian kidnapper replacing Giancarlo Giannini’s deckhand, and Mariangela Melato playing an even richer member of the ruling class, who has the kidnapper kidnapped and brought to her lushly appointed island to launch some retribution and, eventually, some sexual games. Wertmuller remains as cheerfully cynical and vulgar as ever about class warfare, but to call her a thinking director, as some American critics were wont to do in the 70s, would be like applauding Sylvester Stallone for his semiological insights. Try to imagine an Ayn Rand epic recast as bawdy farce and you might get a rough idea of the sensibility on view; the lack of self-consciousness, which lends a certain thrust to the opening reels, eventually leads to tedium as the central conceit gets spun out endlessly. With Roberto Herlitzka and Massimo Wertmuller. (JR)… Read more »

Second Wind

A first feature by Dutch filmmaker Gerrard Verhage, previously known for his social documentaries, follows a group of intellectuals, confined by a thunderstorm to a house on the outskirts of Amsterdam, through an afternoon and evening, as long-suppressed emotions and problems begin to surface. A film that has been compared to Scenes From a Marriage as well as The Big Chill and The Decline of the American Empire, with a distinguished cast drawn from the Dutch stage.… Read more »

Nice Girls Don’t Explode

Don’t be fooled by the promising title: despite the presence of Barbara Harris, this 1987 effort was one of the unfunniest youth comedies in years. A protective mother (Harris) who doesn’t want to part with her daughter April (Michelle Meyrink) secretly rigs up explosives so that she’ll think it’s her hormones that are telekinetically starting the fires. Whatever comic premises Paul Harris’s script might have had, we’ll never know, because the leaden direction of first-timer Chuck Martinez sinks them without a trace. With the ubiquitous Wallace Shawn, more lugubrious than usual, as a friendless, eccentric arsonist, and William O’Leary as the boyfriend. (JR)… Read more »

Hellraiser

What ever happened to movie plots? This 1987 first feature by celebrated English horror writer Clive Barker starts off with a potentially viable one, and shows some flair with cutting and framing that bodes well for the future. But at the point where the characters in this magic box/haunted house tale should be turning into something more than cardboard, Barker turns them into chocolate puddingpulling out all the stops, letting Bob Keen’s jazzy special effects take over, and asking plot, character, and logic to take an aimless walk around the block. None of this is the fault of the actors: Andrew Robinson, Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, and Sean Chapman are uniformly good for the little they’re asked to do. Minor grisly fun, but don’t expect the movie to linger when it’s over. R, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hamburger Hill

The three critical questions to be asked of any movie are (1) what does it try to do? (2) does it succeed? and (3) is it worth doing? This film tries to make a conventional, apolitical combat story out of one of the most brutal battles fought in Vietnam, and succeeds impressively. Writer/coproducer Jim Carabatsos, drawing on his own Vietnam combat experience, trots out most of the cliches we remember from 40s and 50s war films and still manages to give them some ring of truth; director John Irvin leads 14 unknown actors through gritty action sequences and deft ensemble playing (Courtney B. Vance’s angry black medic is a particular standout). The question that remains is whether it’s worth doing another uncritical war-is-photogenic-hell excursionaccommodating the Vietnam experience to the same unquestioning, grunt-level perspective that sustained us through World War II and Korea while priming us for still more noble sacrifices by steadfastly refusing to look any further. Less pretentious than Platoon and more attentive to the Vietnamese than The Deer Hunter, this picture proposes with a great deal of skill and sincerity that we honor and respect the men who suffered on our behalf without even beginning to consider why they did so, or to what effect.… Read more »

Wolf At The Door

The wolf in question is painter Paul Gauguin, played by Donald Sutherland, and director Henning Carlsen is at pains to make him something of a stud. This French-Danish coproduction shot in English restricts its focus to Paris and Copenhagen, 1893-’94, between Gauguin’s two extended sojourns in Tahiti, when he is trying unsuccessfully to sell his work, hanging out with other Parisian artists (including August Strindberg, played with owlish wit by Max von Sydow), and coping with four womenhis former and present models (both of whom he is sleeping with), his unforgiving wife, and a 14-year-old neighbor with a powerful crush on him. Thoughtful and occasionally thought provoking, despite a rather patronizing treatment of the women, the film examines Gauguin’s jaundiced views of civilization and the high price paid for his own bohemianism. With Valerie Morea, Sofie Graboel, Fanny Bastien, Merete Voldstedlund, and a virtually unrecognizable Jean Yanne. (JR)… Read more »

The Wannsee Conference

A meticulous reconstruction of the meeting of 14 top German officials in a Berlin suburb on January 20, 1942, that set the Final Solution in motion. (Among those present were Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann.) Directed by Heinz Schirk from a screenplay by Paul Mommertz, this docudrama was financed largely by German and Austrian TV and shown overseas in 1984. Convincingly done and predictably chilling, though it isn’t clear from the credits how much of the meeting is drawn from existing records and how much comes from the filmmakers’ imaginations. But it doesn’t teach us anything we haven’t already learned from much better films on the subject, such as Shoah. In German with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Riverbed

Rachel Reichman’s independent black-and-white feature is a moody landscape piece that stays in the mind less for its minimal narrative (an alliance between a couple of drifters) than for its brooding, melancholy images. This could be termed school of Jim Jarmusch, but without the urban humor. (JR)… Read more »

Rita, Sue And Bob Too

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1987). This film is now available on Blu-Ray from Twilight Time. — J.R.

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Rita (Siobhan Finneran) and Sue (Michelle Holmes), two teenagers in the north of England who are the best of friends, lose their virginity to Bob (George Costigan), a suburban husband they sometimes baby-sit for, and before long their amicable three-way relationship is scandalizing the neighbors and members of their families, including Bob’s wife Michelle (Lesley Sharp). Shot in and around the town of Bradford in long, loping takes, this sprightly comedy, adapted by Andrea Dunbar from her own play, has some of the energy that one associates with the better exploitation films that used to be produced by Roger Corman. Television director Alan Clarke has a fine time showing how the working-class white and Pakistani communities rub shoulders with the middle class, and although the plot has curious omissions — we never discover, for instance, what Bob does for a living — the spirited acting and direction turn this into something of a lark (1987). (JR)

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A Prayer For The Dying

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Mickey Rourke is an IRA terrorist tired of killing and looking for a way out of the United Kingdom; Alan Bates is a London mobster doubling as a mortician who offers him an escape route if he bumps off another crook; Bob Hoskins is a priest who witnesses the latter murder. It’s theoretically possible that there was once something more to this than the disjointed thriller now on view: director Mike Hodges and Rourke have both disowned producer Peter Snell’s extensive reediting of Hodges’s cut, which apparently strips down the atmospherics for action, and Bates and Hoskins have gone on record as preferring the original version as well. In the film as it stands, Bates is ghoulishly good, Rourke impossibly angelic, and Hoskins seemingly bemused by his part; neither intimations of The Informer and Odd Man Out nor Bill Conti’s wallpaper score can redeem the awkward cross-purposes. With a screenplay by Edmond Ward and Martin Lynch. (JR)… Read more »

Orphans

Alan J. Pakula’s spellbinding 1987 film of Lyle Kessler’s play, adapted by the playwright himself from a Steppenwolf production, focuses on three powerhouse performancesby Matthew Modine and Kevin Anderson as orphaned brothers holed up in a decrepit house in Newark, and Albert Finney as a big-time gangster who enters their world and transforms it. While the material never fully sheds its stage origins, Pakula and the actors play this all-male family romance for all it’s worth, and the tantalizing sense of unreality that hovers around the edges of the plot works as a kind of compression device for concentrating on the hermetically sealed world conjured up by the actors and decor, which begins in Algren-esque squalor and winds up as something resembling a middle-class household. Pakula works at his peak, and Finney has seldom been better. (JR)… Read more »

Matewan

Try as he might, writer John Sayles has never been a natural filmmaker. But this sincere 1987 account of a coal miner strike and subsequent massacre in West Virginia in 1920 is so conscientiously detailed and so keenly felt and imaginedas well as attractively shot, by Haskell Wexlerthat he deserves at the very least an A for effort. Simpleminded yet stirring, his depiction of a community of local whites, migrant blacks from the deep south, and immigrant Italians gradually joining forces against the company bosses and their henchmen, under the leadership of a pacifist organizer, offers a bracing alternative to complacent right-wing as well as liberal claptrap. If Sayles’s bite were as lethal as his bark, he might have given this a harder edge and a stronger conclusion. But the performances are uniformly fine: Chris Cooper, Mary McDonnell, Kevin Tighe (perfect in dress and physiognomy, but strictly one-dimensional as scripted), James Earl Jones, and Sayles; the regional accents are especially well-handled. 133 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Man In Love

Diane Kurys’s first English-language film concerns an adulterous love affair between a young American actor (Peter Coyote, resembling a young J.D. Salinger with Henry Fonda’s voice), playing the novelist Cesare Pavese in an Italian biopic, and an Italian-American actress (Greta Scacchi), whom he picks to play the last woman Pavese was involved with. Simultaneously romantic and silly, sincere and campy, the movie coasts along on the attractiveness of its leads and the flavor of its milieu, until it gets derailed by an oddball conclusion that conveniently sidesteps all the preceding dramatic conflicts. With Jamie Lee Curtis as the actor’s wife, Claudia Cardinale and director John Berry as the actress’s parents, and occasional weird echoes of Minnelli’s The Bad and the Beautiful and Two Weeks in Another Town, as well as Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Israel Horowitz assisted Kurys on the script. (JR)… Read more »

In The Mood

The real-life teenager Ellsworth Sonny Wisecarver inspired outraged headlines in 1944 by running off with two older married women. Written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams), this 1987 comedy about Wisecarver’s misadventures seems loosely modeled after Woody Allen’s period forays, even down to Ralph Burns’s pleasantly energetic score of big band hits. A lot of sincere effort on the part of the filmmakersincluding actors Patrick Dempsey, Talia Balsam, Beverly D’Angelo, and some veteran character players like Michael Constantine and Kathleen Freemanpays off intermittently, but the wise-guy humor gets cloying, and even the noble attempts at period ambience within a modest budget are occasionally undercut by reversions to contemporary slang. Wisecarver himself puts in a cameo appearance as a cranky postman in a mock newsreel. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Fourth Protocol

Why is it that paranoid cold-war spy films were more numerous in the mid-80s than at any other period since the worst days of McCarthyism? Mulling this question over makes for a better use of time than sitting through this glib, repulsive thriller, another Frederick Forsyth special. Adapted from his fifth novel by Forsyth himself (who also coproduced), the picture concerns a Soviet spy who is smuggling an atomic bomb into England piece by piece while a British agent tries to track him down. Overlong, alternately nasty and tedious, with uniformly colorless and humorless characters; neither director John Mackenzie nor actors Michael Caine, Pierce Brosnan, Ned Beatty, and Joanna Cassidy can juice up the proceedings. (JR)… Read more »