From the Chicago Reader (September 16, 1988). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Written by Allan Scott
With Oliver Reed and Amanda Donohue.
ASSAULT OF THE KILLER BIMBOS
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Anita Rosenberg
Written by Ted Nicoleau, Rosenberg, and Patti Astor
With Christina Whitaker, Elizabeth Kaitan, Tammara Souza, Mike Muscat, Nick Cassavetes, Dave Marsh, and Patti Astor.
A RETURN TO SALEM’S LOT
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Larry Cohen
Written by Cohen and James Dixon
With Michael Moriarty, Samuel Fuller, Andrew Duggan , Ricky Addison Reed, June Havoc, Evelyn Keyes, and Ronee Blakley.
The three movies listed above are all probably playing in Chicago this week, but not in any local theaters; they’re available in video rental stores and playing on home screens. Recent releases that have never opened theatrically, and presumably never will, they represent a growing breed of movie, at once omnipresent and unacknowledged.
Ever since the fairly recent time when the amount of money spent in this country on video rentals began to exceed the amount spent on movie tickets, notions about moviegoing have become even more specialized and limited. In contrast to moviegoing in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, when individual movies provided national experiences that were public and shared, moviegoing in the 60s, 70s, and 80s has increasingly become a less communal activity.
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Another of Henry Jaglom’s let-it-all-hang-out gabfests, this one set in a beautiful, about-to-be-destroyed Los Angeles theater, where Jaglom invites his friends on Valentine’s Day. It certainly has its momentsmost of them provided by Orson Welles (in one of his last extended film performances), his vivacious long-time companion Oja Kodar, and the venerable Sally Kellermanbut most of this largely improvised movie, as critic Elliott Stein has pointed out, is pretty much the equivalent of the Donahue show, with all the strengths and limitations that this implies, and Jaglom’s own earnest inquiries about what makes so many people lonely can get a bit cloying after a while. However, Welles, as the equivalent of a talk-show guest, is very much in his prime, and his ruminations about feminism, loneliness, drama, and related subjects certainly give the proceedings an edge and a direction that most of the remainder of this floundering movie sadly lacks. Among the other participants in this encounter session are Jaglom’s brother Michael Emil, Andrea Marcovicci, Ronee Blakley, and Monte Hellman. (JR)… Read more »
Mae West’s swan song to cinema at age 86 is one of the world’s all-time worst movies, but that doesn’t detract at all from its immense charm and lewd fascination. Based on West’s own play, produced by two wealthy English fans in their early 20s, directed after a fashion by Ken Hughes (reportedly many hands were involved), and including such standbys as Timothy Dalton, Tony Curtis, Dom DeLuise, Ringo Starr, George Hamilton, Alice Cooper, Keith Moon, Walter Pidgeon, Rona Barrett, and George Raft, this inept but heartfelt 1978 tribute to West’s talent and worldview often defies description. It’s amateur filmmaking at its most delirious, complete with a rousing production-number version of Hooray for Hollywood; West herself remains visibly sedated but indefatigably game throughout. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »
The rather crazed conceit of this rock ‘n’ roll fable by writer-director Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting) goes something like this: in a small town in Ohio in 1972, teenager Johnny Wolfe (Charlie Schlatter) decides that the only way he can straighten out the lives of his sister (Angela Goethals), his single mother (Tuesday Weld), and himself is to bring together his mother, a passionate Elvis fanatic, and Elvis himself (David Keith). So with the help of some friends, he kidnaps the King after a Cleveland concert, brings him home, and sure enough, after a bit of irritation, Elvis turns into a Capra hero and brings a bit of light into the lives of everyone: he teaches the little girl how not to be afraid of the dark, romances the mother, fixes the lawn mower, gets Johnny’s rock group into his high school talent show, improvises a fully choreographed version of Ready Teddy in the local cafe, punches out a villain, redecorates the family’s hotel (appropriately called Flaming Star), and dispenses his patriarchal country wisdom to everyone in sight. Most movies, of course, are supposed to be fantasies, and one would like to think that Tuesday Weld was in on the absurdity of this enterprise, but this one treats it all straight, with a solemnity that may have you rolling in the aisles.… Read more »
Flawed but fascinating, Nicolas Roeg’s direction of an original script by Dennis Potter (Pennies From Heaven, The Singing Detective) yields a provocative and multilayered depiction of American infantilism. In a North Carolina town Theresa Russell plays a bored, alcoholic, and frustrated housewife married to a doctor (Christopher Lloyd) who prefers playing with his model railroad to dallying with her. Into the picture comes an enigmatic young English stranger (Gary Oldman)possibly the long-lost son forcibly taken from her at childbirth who, like much else in the film, may or may not be real. Roeg and Potter’s grasp of Americana may be flawed in certain details, but the overall drift of their parable carries an undeniable charge. Russell’s southern accent works only intermittently, and it’s a pity to see actors as interesting as Sandra Bernhard and Seymour Cassel wasted (Colleen Camp fares somewhat better as Russell’s best friend). But Roeg’s talent as a stylist, purveyor of the bizarre and kinky, and poet of disturbed mental states (as experienced from within) keeps this alive and humming. This is definitely worth a visit (1988). (JR)… Read more »
Errol Morris’s third documentary feature (after Gates of Heaven and Vernon, Florida) is an absorbing but problematic 1988 reconstruction of and investigation into the 1976 murder of a Dallas policeman. As an investigative detective-journalist who spent many years on this case, Morris uncovered a disturbing miscarriage of justice in the conviction of Randall Adamswho came very close to being executed. Morris goes so far in his talking-head interview technique that he eventually goads David Harris, Adams’s companion the night of the murder, into something very close to a confession. But Morris’s highly selective approach also leaves a good many questions hanging. The issue of motive is virtually untouched, and the quasi-abstract re-creations of the crime, accompanied by what is probably the first effective film score ever composed by Philip Glass, give rise to a lot of metaphysical speculations that, provocative as they are, only obfuscate the issues. The results, while compelling, provide an object lesson in the dangers of being influenced by Werner Herzog; the larger considerations and film noir overtones detract too much from the facts of the case, and what emerges are two effective half-films, each partially at odds with the other. (JR)… Read more »
Multiple superimpositions and double exposures create ghostly effects in Victor Sjostrom’s 1920 masterpiece. The story, told through a complex flashback structure, resembles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: a self-destructive and irresponsible man has a brush with the carriage of death, which allows him to review his life. With Sjostrom, Hilda Borgstrom, Tore Svennberg, and Astrid Holm; also known as The Phantom Chariot. (JR)… Read more »
Ruy Guerra’s attempt to do a kind of version of The Threepenny Opera, set in Rio de Janeiro in the 40s and adapted from a play by singer-composer Chico Buarque (Bye Bye Brazil), is surprisingly slickvisually striking, but on the whole a disappointing effort from an important director. (JR)… Read more »
Director Harvey Keith and producer Stuart Shapiro take a walk on the wild side through the seamier byways of New York life in this documentary inspired by the 1963 Mondo Cane. It features cockfights, junkies, street hookers, habitues of S and M clubs, and a number of outre performance artistsAnn Magnuson beating a dead horse, Karen Finley decorating herself with raw eggs and glitter, Joe Coleman biting the head off a mouse while nearly exploding himself with firecrackers, and Dean Johnson performing in drag with his band, the Weenies (1988). (JR)… Read more »
When the bank forecloses on their famous and once-prosperous farm in Iowa, which Nikita Khrushchev visited and praised in 1959, Frank Roberts (Richard Gere) and his younger brother Terry (Kevin Anderson) burn the place to the ground and become fugitives from the law. While Frank continues to be full of violence and rage about their fate, Terry begins to think about cutting loose and settling down with a woman he loves named Sally (Penelope Ann Miller). Seemingly as slow-witted and as sincere as its semiarticulate characters, this movie draws on a lot of talent from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatredirector Gary Sinise, and such actors as Anderson, Terry Kinney, Francis Guinan, Laurie Metcalf, John Malkovich, and Randy Arneybut despite the earnestness and conscientiousness of their efforts, the script by Chris Gerolmo never gives them quite enough to work with, and the heaviness of Gere’s performance sinks this movie like a ton of beef. Elliot Davis’s cinematography makes the most of the midwest settings, and the actors (also including Helen Hunt, Judith Ivey, and Brian Dennehy) mainly acquit themselves admirably, but the ponderous pacing of the action and the thinness of the materialdespite the potential resonance of the subjectregrettably dissipates most of the interest.… Read more »
In this 1983 English comedy, directed by Richard Eyre from a script by Maggie Brooks, three women custom-build the car they plan to drive to Munich, where one of them, Sally (Lindsay Duncan), plans to attend a feminist convention. When the two other women have to drop out of the trip, Sally advertises for a female, vegetarian driving partner, and the only worthy candidate proves to be Harry (Stephen Rea), a working-class man from Liverpool who claims to be gay, vegetarian, and a car expert. This is a reasonably pleasant and intelligent picture that never gets very far beyond a feature-length sitcom; the location work is attractive, and both of the leads are good, but despite a large number of plot twists, none of it adds up to very much. A gentle depiction of class and sexual warfare, the movie has a few things to say, but is pitched too squarely at a middle-class audience to dig very deep into its material. If you’re not expecting too much, you might find this worth a look. (JR)… Read more »
Alternately distressing, instructive, contestable, and fascinating, Juliet Bashore’s 1986 documentary about a lesbian couple working in the porn industrya cynical older woman (Sharon Mitch Mitchell), who is a seasoned porn star, and her lover (known as Tigr), who is an uneasy newcomer to this world, where drugs play a significant roleoffers a disturbing glimpse of the modification of bodies, feelings, and lives. The camera’s presence has a shifting role in the film, moving from seemingly impartial witness of certain events to stimulus and catalyst for certain others, and this tends to confuse and change one’s relationship to both the film and its characters. Rarely has the alienation implicit in the porn business been so tellingly exposed, but in the process of exposing the film raises a few questions about its own tactics and complicity. And it isn’t only porn that gets deconstructed; the central relationship between Mitch and Tigr seems to have been figuratively and literally taken apart. (JR)… Read more »
The first part of Claude Berri’s two-part adaptation of a Marcel Pagnol novel, with Gerard Depardieu as a noble hunchback trying to start a new life as a farmer in southwest France, Yves Montand as a wily local peasant out to cheat him out of his property, and Daniel Auteuil as the latter’s naive nephew. Not really a complete work without Manon of the Spring, the sequel, but Bruno Nuytten’s cinematography and Berri and Gerard Brach’s script keep things moving along pleasantly and professionally (1986). (JR)… Read more »
The earliest surviving film by Swedish director Victor Sjostrom is his sixth feature, also known as Give Us This Day (1913). A controversial attack on the welfare system of the period that separated mothers from their children and required forced labor from both, the film follows the widow of a grocer (Hilda Borgstrom) whose bankruptcy leads her and her children through a series of tragedies. (JR)… Read more »
This first feature by Catalan director Agustin Villaronga, which made the top of Village Voice critic Elliott Stein’s 1987 ten-best list, may not be for everyone, but it is certainly disturbing, powerful, and accomplished in what it sets out to do. The plot focuses on the sadomasochistic relationship between a former concentration camp doctor, who has retired to Spain in an iron lung, and the obsessive and ultimately murderous male nurse who takes care of him. A somber mixture of suspense, grim humor, and baroque perversity, it builds to a frightening conclusion. (JR)… Read more »