Daily Archives: August 1, 1988

Tartuffe

If you think you know all there is to know about F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu, Sunrise, Tabu)and it’s not likely that you would, because he never repeated himself, and major portions of the work of this consummate master of the silent era are now losttake a look at this underrated 1926 adaptation of the Moliere comedy, framed with a modern story. The mise en scene is beautifully modulated and the performancesby Emil Jannings, Lil Dagover, and Werner Krauss, among othersare first-rate. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Stealing Home

An aging ball player (Mark Harmon) comes home to his New Jersey town after a rebellious childhood friend (Jodie Foster) commits suicide and entrusts him in her will with the disposition of her ashes; after a long period of living in obscurity, he begins to relive memories of his youth. What this uneven nostalgia piece mainly has going for it is sincerity; alternately mawkish and touching, it has plenty of feeling, but only intermittently does it come up with a very clear sense of what to do with it. Written and directed by the team of Steven Kampmann and Will Aldis; with Harold Ramis, Jonathan Silverman, Blair Brown, William McNamara, and John Shea. (JR)… Read more »

A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Robert Englund is back as Freddy Krueger in this 1988 installment of the popular horror series; erstwhile Finnish filmmaker Renny Harlin directed from a story by William Kotzwinkle and Brian Helgeland. Having missed the three previous installments in the cycle, I found much of the story only semicomprehensibleeven after a few explanatory plot points were thrown my way about 40 minutes into the filmbut it’s hard to think of many other movies where narrative is so thoroughly beside the point. This is a series of extravagant visual set pieces, one right after the other, drawing upon such sources as Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. and Through the Looking Glass, with the usual collection of Silly Putty special effects that one expects from 80s horror films. Harlin’s arsenal of conceits and visual effectspirouetting overhead angles, dancing trigonometry formulas, a pizza flavored with tiny human heads, a lot of fancy play with a water bed, and much, much morekeeps it consistently watchable and inventive. With Lisa Wilcox, Andras Jones, Tuesday Knight, Ken Sagoes, Danny Hassel, and Toy Newkirk, and the combined special effects talents of Steve Johnson, John Buechler, Kevin Yagher, and Screaming Mad George. R, 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Hungarian Fairy Tale

Gyula Gazdag’s 1986 Hungarian feature follows the adventures of Andris (David Vermes), who is searching for his father, and Antal (Frantisek Husak), a local clerk who once persuaded Andris’s mother to assign her son an imaginary father in order to acquire a birth certificate. The film starts out as a satire about Hungarian bureaucracy and gets progressively stranger and more unpredictable as it proceeds, finally winding up as a wide-eyed fantasy with provocative allegorical overtones about Hungarian identity. Elemer Ragalyi’s superb black-and-white cinematography and Gazdag’s very personal handling of editing and mood somehow hold it all together. With Maria Varga and Eszter Csakanyi. (JR)… Read more »

The Wizard Of Loneliness

Lukas Haas stars as a 12-year-old boy sent to live with his grandparents in Vermont during World War II, after his mother dies and his father joins the army. This is the third adaptation of a John Nichols novel (after The Sterile Cuckoo and The Milagro Beanfield War); Nancy Larson scripted, and Jenny Bowen directed. What appears to be a very careful and conscientious adaptation is enhanced by location shooting and able performances (John Randolph is especially good as the grandfather, and Haas certainly holds his own as the lead), but the overall focusan alienated, morbid, and bookish boy gradually comes to accept and cherish the humanity of those around himnever strays very far from the obvious. When the film tries for something more, in the deranged character of Duffy (Dylan Baker), the overall American Playhouse ambience proves to be more of a hindrance. Bowen’s direction is thoughtful and often affecting, but it never digs very deeply, and there are moments when one can almost see the chalk marks in the calculated staging. With Lea Thompson. (JR)… Read more »

Uncommon Senses

Jon Jost’s 1988 essay film, also known as Plain Talk & Common Sense, is in effect his state-of-the-union address, shot largely during a drive across the country and back, and articulated through an impressive variety of means. Overall the message is pessimistic but honestly and meticulously arrived at, and the Whitman-esque rhetoric of America’s multiplicity is both used and critiqued in a highly original fashion. This sequel of sorts to Jost’s ground-breaking Speaking Directly lives up to its predecessor as a multifaceted self-portrait and as a highly nuanced political statement. Even if you don’t agree with what Jost has to say about the U.S. in the 80s, there’s a lot to chew on; the film offers a veritable workshop of ideas about filmmaking as well as precise applications of these ideas. (JR)… Read more »

This Is The Night

Cary Grant’s feature film debut was in this urbane sex comedy of 1932 set in Paris and Venice. Scripted by George Marion Jr. and Benjamin Glazer from two or more plays of the period, the film benefits from its racy precode dialogue (I’m just a young girl living by her hips) and costumes, and the sets are attractively lush. Unfortunately, director Frank Tuttle was no Ernst Lubitsch or Rouben Mamoulian (who were making similar films at the same studio, Paramount, around the same time), and although the movie has its period charms, a unifying style that might make it something more is missing. Still, the playful use of incidental music is appealing, as is the cast, which includes Lily Damita, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young, and Thelma Todd. (JR)… Read more »

My Sister Eileen

A pretty good 1955 musical remake of the 1942 hit based on Ruth McKenney’s stories of bohemian life in Greenwich village. Janet Leigh and Betty Garrett are the Ohio sisters trying to make their way in the big city, and Jack Lemmon and Bob Fosse (who also choreographed) are among their suitors. Richard Quine, the underrated director, had appeared as an actor in the original film; Blake Edwards contributed to the screenplay. One of the few decent musicals to have emerged from Columbia Pictures during the 50s. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

My Friend Ivan Lapshin

Alexei Guerman’s 1984 film, based on short stories by his father Yuri Guerman and scripted by Eduard Volodarsky, is set in a remote and impoverished Russian village in 1937, where as a boy the narrator shared a cramped apartment with five men, including Ivan Lapshin, the head of the local police. The film alternates between black and white, sepia, and a few shots in color, though without any rationale that I could discern. Despite a supple and original camera style, some powerful acting, and a refreshing absence of sentimentality, the loose, episodic structure makes for a certain dullness, at least for spectators with no more than a glancing acquaintance with the Stalinist period that this film meticulously re-creates and addresses. Guerman has expressed some doubts that this film can be properly understood in the West, and it does pose difficulties for spectators who don’t know much about the historical context. But anyone with a serious interest in Soviet cinema won’t want to pass it up. 100 min. In Russian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Motorama

Up until the cop-out finale, Barry Shils’s first feature, scripted by Joseph Minion (After Hours, Vampire’s Kiss), is so genuinely weird and outlandish in its midnight-movie-like delirium that you may have trouble believing your eyes and ears. The ten-year-old Candide-like hero (Jordan Christopher Michael) runs off with $20 and his father’s Mustang and becomes obsessed with a card-collecting game called Motorola promoted by filling stations along the highway. Barreling through imaginary states and encountering a lot of screwy individualsincluding cameos by Jack Nance, Shelley Berman, Michael J. Pollard, Susan Tyrrell, Garrett Morris, Flea, Mary Woronov, Vince Edwards, Meat Loaf, and Dick Millerhe gets mauled and mutilated but never loses sight of the prize promised at the end of the game. This movie constantly threatens to break loose into something wild and wonderful like The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., but it never does; instead it eventually backpedals its way into total incoherence. (JR)… Read more »

A Married Woman

Jean-Luc Godard originally titled this The Married Woman, but the French censors took exception to the article, afraid that the foreign public would reach the wrong conclusion about French marriages in general, and also saw fit to remove a shot of a bidet. Otherwise, this is still Godard’s view of life in France in 1964, and one of his most sociological films, as well as one of his most formally accomplished. Macha Meril stars as a woman who oscillates between her husband (an airplane pilot) and her lover (an actor); beautiful use is made of Beethoven’s ninth quartet, of a rather elliptical and abstract depiction of lovemaking, and of the wisdom of Roger Leenhardt, a neglected director and film critic of the 40s and 50s who figures here as one of Godard’s resident sages. (JR)… Read more »

Married To The Mob

When her husband gets bumped off by his gangster boss (Dean Stockwell), Angela (Michelle Pfeiffer) moves from her Long Island house to a railroad flat on the Lower East Side, hoping to start a new life; but neither the boss nor an FBI agent (Matthew Modine) posing as her neighbor will let her alone. Director Jonathan Demme’s farcical and broad 1988 comedy, written by Barry Strugatz and Mark R. Burns, doesn’t really work, but there are plenty of enjoyable compensations: Demme’s feel for loud, bad-taste decor is as good as it ever was, and there are a fair number of other laughs (even if his efforts to turn Modine into a Stan Laurel figure are doomed from the start), as well as a respectable amount of energy. Pfeiffer is at her best, and there’s plenty of action, although you may feel that some of the gags involving a scorned and vengeful wife (Mercedes Ruehl) are a bit shopworn. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Le Grand Chemin

France’s biggest domestic box-office success of 1987 stars Anemone, Richard Bohringer, Antoine Hubert, and Vanessa Guedj, and was written and directed by Jean-Loup Hubert. The film is a family melodrama concerning marital discord, rape, and other kinds of violence, much of which ensues when a childless couple in the country (Anemone and Bohringer) take in a nine-year-old boy from the city and he befriends a neighboring tomboy. Interestingly, this theme of a little boy from the city coming of age through his exposure to harsh country ways has a lot more resonance in France than it does here; Hubert’s conventional direction of this semiautobiographical tale, in which his own son is cast as the little boy, is sincere but plodding, and only the performance of Bohringer (the Zen master in Diva) provides a few sparks. (JR)… Read more »

Girltalk

This documentary feature made by Kate Davis with Alyson Denny explores the lives of three female runaways, all in their teens and living in Boston. Pinky, a 14-year-old Puerto Rican truant in flight from the juvenile courts, is now living with her mother, but the other twoan 18-year-old stripper named Mars, who left home five years after her stepbrother raped her, and a young mother named Martha, also 18, who ran away at 12 to escape sexual abuseleave little doubt that they’re better off away from home. On the whole, this is a serious, hard, no-nonsense look at what all three have to contend with. One may question the amount of attention paid to Mars’s strip acta bizarre Lolita routine using props such as a lollipop and a tricyclealthough even here, the film implies that Mars is only perpetuating the problems she is running away from and living the childhood she never had. A grim film, but also a very human one; the intimate to-camera monologues are illuminating. (JR)… Read more »

Eight Men Out

This 1988 feature recounts the 1919 Black Sox scandal, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox were persuaded by gamblers to throw the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. Baseball fans might find this marginally absorbing; for anyone else it’s as conscientious and stylistically pedestrian as director John Sayles’s other films, and a mite overlong to boot. Sayles seems more comfortable with the ballplayers than with the gangsters; his handling of the narrative is more dutiful than inspired. On the whole this is well intentioned to the point of tedium. Sayles adapted Eliot Asinof’s 1963 book of the same title; the competent cast includes John Cusack, Clifton James, Michael Lerner, Christopher Lloyd, John Mahoney, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn, D.B. Sweeney, Richard Edson, Kevin Tighe, Barbara Garrick, Studs Terkel enjoying himself as journalist Hugh Fullerton, and Sayles himself playing Fullerton’s pal Ring Lardner. PG, 119 min. (JR)… Read more »