Monthly Archives: September 1987

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 »

Fatal Attraction

A profoundly uninteresting married yuppie lawyer (Michael Douglas) has a weekend affair with a profoundly uninteresting unmarried yuppie book editor (Glenn Close), who proves to be insane and makes his life a living hell. This 1987 feature gradually turns into a sort of upscale remake of The Exorcist, with female sexuality (personified by Close) taking over the part of the devil and yuppie domesticity (personified by Douglas, wife Anne Archer, and daughter Ellen Hamilton Latzen) assuming the role of innocence. While billed as a romance and a thriller, the film strictly qualifies as neither, appealing to our prurience, guilt, hatred, and dread. With director Adrian Lyne shoving objects like a knife, a boiling pot, and an overflowing bath in the spectator’s face to signal that Something Awful’s Going to Happen, there’s little room for curiosity about the motivations of the spurned antiheroine, who eventually becomes a robotic killer. James Dearden wrote the screenplay, although producers Stanley R. Jaffe and Sherry Lansing, faced with dissatisfied preview audiences, are responsible for the totally dehumanized finale. (The original ending is now available on DVD, but I haven’t seen it.) 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Deadline

An American TV reporter (Christopher Walken) arrives in Beirut to cover the war in Lebanon, and receives an unexpected invitation to tape an exclusive interview with a major PLO official who speaks out against violence. Before long, the reporter is accused by other PLO officials of having perpetrated a hoax, and accused by the Christian Phalangists of working for the PLO. Equivalent in some respects to Oliver Stone’s Salvador, this well-intentioned and efficient thriller by Israeli filmmaker Nathaniel Gutman, partially financed by German TV, explores some of the complexities of a major trouble spot through the moral reeducation of a cynical and flippant outsider. Nothing major, but capably scripted by Hanan Peled and crisply cut by Peter Przygodda, Wim Wenders’s usual editor. (JR)… Read more »

Best Seller

While it may not add up to anything very profound, this paranoid thriller is put together with so much craft and economy that a significant part of its pleasure is seeing how tightly and cleanly every sequence is hammered into place. Brian Dennehy is Dennis Meechum, an incorruptible police detective who doubles as a successful crime writer; James Woods is Cleve, a hit man who doubles as a corporate executive, and who wants Meechum to write a nonfiction best-seller exposing his ruthless and respectable former boss — a philanthropist tycoon who has stealthily slaughtered his way to the top. Dennehy’s square and skeptical cop is an adroit reading of a dull part, but he makes a wonderful straight man for Woods’s fascinatingly creepy yet sensitive killer — modeled in part on Robert Walker’s Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train, with a comparable homoerotic tension between the two men. Tautly and cleverly scripted by Larry Cohen, crisply shot by Fred Murphy, and directed by John Flynn without a loose screw in sight, this is first-class action storytelling stripped to its essentials: no shot is held any longer than is needed to make its narrative point, and the streamlining makes for a bumpless ride.… Read more »

Amazon Women On The Moon

Virtually a sequel to John Landis’s Kentucky Fried Movie, this collection of comic sketches (1987), most of them TV and grade-Z movie parodies, was written by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland and directed by several hands: Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, Peter Horton, Landis, and producer Robert K. Weiss. Like most such ventures, it’s pretty hit-or-miss, with Dante and Weiss providing most of the energy; Horton is competent (in a single bit with Rosanna Arquette and Steve Guttenberg), Gottlieb routine, and Landis is OK with sight gags but somewhat adrift in satire. Overall, too many of the ideas –e ven some of the better ones — are paranoid derivations from either Sherlock Jr. (by way of Woody Allen) or Paul Bartel’s The Secret Cinema, and too many of the objects satirized are easy targets. The strongest aftertaste is left by Dante’s bad-taste rendition of movie critics reviewing a failed life, a sequence that eventually turns into a celebrity roast for the dead person, attended by Slappy White, Jackie Vernon, Henny Youngman, Charlie Callas, and Steve Allentoo sinister for comfortable laughs, but queasy in the best Dante manner. (Other stars in cameos include Ralph Bellamy, B.B. King, Griffin Dunne, and Michelle Pfeiffer.) 85 min.… Read more »

Absolute Beginners

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1987). Twilight Time is bringing out a lovely Blu-Ray edition of this, and it looks even better to me now than it did in 1987. — J.R.

absolute-beginners

A fascinating attempt by rock video director Julien Temple to do several things at once — adapt a Colin MacInnes novel, show the London youth scene in 1958 (while dealing at length with the racial tensions of the period), build on some of the stylistic innovations of Frank Tashlin, Vincente Minnelli, and Orson Welles, and put to best use a fascinating score by Gil Evans that adapts everything from Charles Mingus to Miles Davis. A mixed success, but an exhilarating try (1986). With David Bowie, Keith Richards, and James Fox. 107 min. (JR)

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