Daily Archives: October 1, 1988

Seven Women/seven Sins

On the whole, a disappointing episodic feature of seven shorts by women filmmakers, commissioned by German television. Perhaps the best parts are Ulrike Ottinger’s Pride with Delphine Seyrig and Chantal Akerman’s appropriately unassuming (though slight) Sloth. Maxi Cohen’s Anger is certainly striking and provocative, but also highly questionable and exploitative; Laurence Gavron’s Envy, Valie Export’s Voluptuousness, and Helke Sander’s Gluttony are relatively forgettable; and the worst of the lot, alas, is Bette Gordon’s feeble Greed. Certainly this is worth seeing if you want to keep up with the work of these filmmakers, but don’t go expecting any major revelations. (JR)… Read more »

What Maisie Knew

The first feature of Babette Mangolte, an American-based experimental filmmaker also known for her remarkable work as a cinematographer for Chantal Akerman, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Marcel Hanoun, Yvonne Rainer, Sally Potter, and others. This 1975 film is not a literal adaptation of Henry James’s novel, but it incorporates the idea of a little girl’s subjective view of the adult world in a relatively nonnarrative framework: a low-angle look at the sexual intrigues and other preoccupations of grown-ups in a country house, seen by a spectator who is virtually invisible herself. By implication, the viewer is invited to make his or her own imaginative contributions to this subjectivity. (JR)… Read more »

The Trial Of Joan Of Arc

The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) is perhaps the most extreme instance of Robert Bresson’s dedramatizing technique, exercised here in a rigorous treatment of its subject that couldn’t be further from Dreyer’s handling of the same subject. It’s been more than a quarter of a century since I’ve seen this spare, elliptical work, so it would be unfair to make a judgment, but as one of the most infrequently screened works of one of the greatest living filmmakers, I’m sure it warrants a look. (JR)… Read more »

Tommy Tricker And The Stamp Traveller

Michael Rubbo’s delightful Canadian fantasy-adventure about stamp collecting excels in several departments. The acting is first-rate, and the script and direction are unusually good. The fantasy elements occur some distance into the film, but are well worth waiting for. A magic formula permits two young stamp-collecting rivals to become miniaturized and to travel on stamps to the other side of the world in search of a precious stamp album hidden there by a young collector more than half a century ago. One of the rivals gets sent accidentally to Hong Kong, and both of them eventually converge in the Australian outback near Sydney. It’s a film that’s clever enough to give us several subjective shots from the viewpoint of postage stamps, and the characters are admirably fleshed out for a film of this genre. (JR)… Read more »

Things Change

David Mamet’s second feature as a director, coscripted with Shel Silverstein, was a bit of a letdown after House of Games, but as a Mafia fairy tale with a tour de force performance by Don Ameche (soft-pedaling all the way), it is certainly watchable and enjoyable enough. Over a weekend, a low-ranking Chicago mobster on probation (Joe Mantegna) is asked to coach and chaperone an elderly Sicilian shoe-shine man (Ameche) who, in exchange for money, has agreed to take the rap for a murder he didn’t commit. He decides to take the old man to Lake Tahoe for a final fling before he goes to prison, at which point a series of misunderstandings leads to the Sicilian being mistaken for a big-time Mafia chieftain. Basically a low-key comedy, this exhibits some of the same tart, triple-distilled flavor of Mamet’s dialogue in earlier efforts; what disappoints after the darker and harder edges of House of Games is a slight veering toward slickness and a touch of sentimentality. Despite some attempt to be cinematic here, Mamet’s talk is still his strongest suit. With Robert Prosky, J.J. Johnston, Ricky Jay, and Mike Nussbaum, who are all effective, as is Mantegna (1988). (JR)… Read more »

They Live

John Carpenter’s 1988 SF action-thriller about aliens taking over the earth through the hypnotic use of TV. The explicit anti-Reagan satirethe aliens are developers who regard human beings as cattle, aided by yuppies who are all too willing to cooperate for business reasonsis strangely undercut and confused by a xenophobic treatment of the aliens that also makes them virtual stand-ins for the Vietcong. Carpenter’s wit and storytelling craft make this fun and watchable, although the script takes a number of unfortunate shortcuts, and the possibilities inherent in the movie’s central conceit are explored only cursorily. All in all, an entertaining (if ideologically incoherent) response to the valorization of greed in our midst, with lots of Rambo-esque violence thrown in, as well as an unusually protracted slugfest between ex-wrestler Roddy Piper and costar Keith David. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tapeheads

A painful attempt to satirize the making of rock videos that runs aground with a puerile plot and bombastic, self-infatuated delivery. Two security guards (Tim Robbins and John Cusack) decide to go into the music video business, start out by making a fast-food commercial, and wind up involved in a plot to unmask a politician with deviant sexual tastes. Candor compels me to admit that there was a lot of laughter around me when I saw this upon its 1988 release, but I found it difficult to share in the fun. (If this were five times better, it just might qualify as a white man’s Hollywood Shuffle.) Bill Fishman directed a script by himself and Patrick McCarthy; with Katy Boyer, Mary Crosby, Clu Gulager, Jessica Walter, Sam Moore, Junior Walker, Connie Stevens, and Doug McClure. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Revolutions Happen Like Refrains In A Song

A remarkable and sensitive blend of the personal and the political, the conclusion of Nick Deocampo’s trilogy from the Philippines on the theme of poverty and prostitution, shot in Super-8 format, is both distinctive and powerful. Narrated by Deocampo in English, the film documents the anti-Marcos revolution, the life of Oliver (a transvestite who was the subject of the first film in the trilogy), child prostitution, and the filmmaker’s own personal history, including his homosexuality, his filmmaking, and his travels abroad. The tone is reflective, lyrical, and sufficiently impassioned to bridge the film’s occasional technical limitations. (JR)… Read more »

Pumpkinhead

If chills were stars, this lame horror effortdirected by Stan Winston, and scripted by Mark Patrick Carducci, Gary Gerani, Richard C. Weinman, and Winstonwould rate something close to a zero. A man (Lance Henriksen) whose son is accidentally killed by a teenage motorcyclist seeks revenge, and not even Bojan Bazelli’s OK cinematography can make us care. The rural accents are fake, the special effects pathetically cut-rate, and there’s not even a lead monster with a head like a pumpkin. With Jeff East and Kimberly Ross. (JR)… Read more »

The Possession Of Joel Delaney

Shirley MacLaine and Perry King star in this offbeat 1972 film about a wealthy divorcee who gets involved in the occult after her brother becomes possessed by an evil spirit. Waris Hussein directed. (JR)… Read more »

Me And My Gal

Manny Farber singles out this 1932 programmer as Raoul Walsh’s best film, and there’s a fair chance that he’s right. Spencer Tracy plays a New York cop and Joan Bennett is a waitress who serves as his sparring partner; they’ve never been better or funnier, and their working-class urban milieu is served up with glee and much gustoall aided and abetted by Arthur Kober’s wisecracking script. The plot involves the two leads and a paralyzed vet, who blinks his eyes in Morse code, joining forces to foil a bank robbery; the movie is rich in period evocation, including a hilarious reference to Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude. A small picture, but in many ways an ecstatic one. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »

Madame Sousatzka

Clearly director-writer John Schlesinger and cowriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s bid to do for classical music more or less what The Turning Point did for ballet, this inspirational and tearful movie is at least enlivened by an appealing performance from Navin Chowdhry (who intermittently suggests the young John Derek) as a 15-year-old Indian piano prodigy studying under the eponymous eccentric, fussbudget teacher (Shirley MacLaine, apparently emboldened by her ’85 Oscar and assorted best-sellers to let all the stops out), who does her utmost to mold him. The film benefits more from Chowdhry and the agreeable secondary castShabana Azmi, Twiggy, Peggy Ashcroftthan from MacLaine, who has mainly abandoned the lightness that sparked her earlier work for a tic-ridden arsenal of pile-driver techniques as the cantankerous music teacher. There’s a subplot about greedy real estate development (with some glancing anti-Thatcher swipes), and the classical piecesby Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Schumann, among othersare nicely played and recorded (1988). (JR)… Read more »

The King Of Marvin Gardens

Jacob Brackman scripted and Bob Rafelson directed this odd and affecting though not entirely successful 1972 art film about two brothers (Jack Nicholson and Bruce Dern) in Atlantic City. Nicholson is a radio talk-show host and Dern is his scheming and dreaming brother; Ellen Burstyn and Julia Anne Robinson are the two women who accompany them. The film is talky and often abrasive, but it sticks in the mind; Laszlo Kovacs handled the cinematography. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

21st International Tournee Of Animation

The most beautiful animation on view here is Frederic Back’s noncomic and pantheistic half-hour The Man Who Planted Trees, made for the National Film Board of Canada, which illustrates a Jean Giono story that is read offscreen by Christopher Plummer. Apart from that, the 13 other shorts from seven countries are mainly standard (if competent) stuff. The most impressive are two featuring nonstop, free-form metamorphoses (George Schwizgebel’s Swiss 78 Tours and Monique Renault and Gerrit van Dijk’s Dutch Pas a Deux), Bill Kroyer’s Avery-inspired Technological Threat from the U.S., and some English TV ads by Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Least interesting are the cutesy examples of Claymation, although Craig Bartlett’s brief American Arnold Escapes From Church has its moments. (JR)… Read more »

The Good Mother

One more nail in the coffin of the 60s. While I haven’t read the best-selling novel by Sue Miller that this movieadapted by Michael Bortman, directed by Leonard Nimoy (Three Men and a Baby), and starring Diane Keatonis based on, I assume that it is concerned in part with the bitter fate of bohemian lifestyles in a reactionary period like the present. Specifically, the heroine (played by Keaton here), a divorcee and devoted mother of a young daughter, has a nasty custody battle after her ex-husband learns about her going around nude with her Irish sculptor lover (Liam Neeson) in front of the daughter and teaching her about sex. The film, while obviously well intentioned, sabotages its project in classic Hollywood style by giving Keaton the sort of wardrobe and apartment that makes nonsense of her newly acquired Harvard Square bohemian lifestyle, and the morose defeatism of the plot by which Keaton and Neeson lose their case through compromise is reflected in the pussyfooting style of the movie itself, in more ways than one. With a start that’s like a combined remake of Baby Boom and An Unmarried Woman, the movie doesn’t adequately prepare one for the puritanical tragedy that follows, and Keaton’s skittish performance often detracts from the overall project by making her postliberated self seem every bit as repressed as her uptight ex-husband (James Naughton).… Read more »