Daily Archives: November 1, 1988

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story

Todd Haynes’s 1985 short with Barbie dolls created something of a cult for its black-comedy treatment of anorexia nervosa, the 70s, and popular interest in the Carpenters. The film is certainly memorable, although for best ironic use of the Carpenters’ hit (They Long to Be) Close to You, Elaine May’s The Heartbreak Kid comes a close second. 43 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Summer Story

This adaptation by Penelope Mortimer of a John Galsworthy story has pretty country landscapes and a pretty heroine (Imogen Stubbs), but not much else. The story of a young, well-to-do barrister (James Wilby, in a part that’s much less sympathetic than it’s supposed to be) becoming involved with a country lass in 1922 is endlessly protracted, and neither Piers Haggard’s direction nor Georges Delerue’s portentous score (incongruously supplemented by a pop tune over the end credits) can do very much with the slender and mainly trite material. With Ken Colley, Sophie Ward, and Susannah York, the last regrettably wasted in an uninteresting part as the heroine’s aunt. (JR)… Read more »

Spike Of Bensonhurst

Chock-full of crude ethnic stereotypes and Italian pop songs on the sound track, Paul Morrissey’s semicomedy has as much affectionate contempt for people as most of his other movies, but not nearly as much wit. Sasha Mitchell, Morrissey’s sullen Joe Dallesandro replacement, stars as the eponymous lead, a young prizefighter who gets into trouble by romancing the daughter (Maria Pitillo) of a Mafia boss (Ernest Borgnine), leading to loads of complications. Talisa Soto is very appealing as a Puerto Rican woman the hero also gets involved with, and Sylvia Miles does a bit as a Jewish congresswoman. Alan Bowne collaborated with Morrissey on the script, but this is a far cry from this team’s Forty Deuce, much less Mixed Blood. (JR)… Read more »

Show People

A silent King Vidor comedy (1928, 82 min.) about a naive young actress (Marion Davies) who makes it in Hollywood. Most of the interest here is the generous number of cameos by stars of the period (Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Norma Talmadge, John Gilbert, and Mae Murray, among others), and the overall behind-the-scenes glimpses of moviemaking are often fresh and entertaining. (JR)… Read more »

Ship Of Fools

As glib as Stanley Kramer often is, there is probably nothing glibber in his entire output than this Abby Mann adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s novel about passengers on a German ocean liner in 1933. The cast, howeverwhich includes Oskar Werner, Vivien Leigh, Simone Signoret, Lee Marvin, Jose Ferrer, George Segal, Elizabeth Ashley, Jose Greco, and Michael Dunnis invited to act up a storm, which intermittently gives this self-congratulatory black-and-white allegory (1965) whatever distinction it has. (JR)… Read more »

Scrooged

A Christmas Carol variant with Bill Murray as a network TV president who hates Christmas and plans to exploit the holidays to the hilt until he’s visited by three ghosts who set him straight. Tacky in the extreme, this self-congratulatory 1988 film is an exercise in hypocrisy, indulging every form of Christmas exploitation that it pretends to attack, and many of the laughs are forced. Richard Donner directed a script by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue; with Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Carol Kane, and Alfre Woodard. PG-13, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

Roger Corman’s 1967 re-creation of the famous Chicago gang massacre of the 20s has had mixed reviews, but at least the cast sounds interesting: Jason Robards Jr., George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Jean Hale, Frank Silvera, and Bruce Dernas well as secondary parts by John Agar, Harold Stone, and Jack Nicholson, among others. (JR)… Read more »

Night Nurse

A William Wellman curiosity done for Warners in 1931, this gritty thriller, a favorite of film critic Manny Farber, is of principal interest today for its juicy early performances by Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Clark Gable. Hard as nails, with lots of spunk. 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad!

The team that brought us The Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane!, and Top Secret!Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker, assisted in this case by Pat Proftturn their attention to sending up the police thriller; David Zucker directs. The ill-fated 1982 TV series Police Squad by the same bunch serves as one of the sources. Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Nancy Marchand, John Houseman, and Reggie Jackson are among the cast. Not quite up to Airplane! or Top Secret!, but there are still laughs aplenty. (JR)… Read more »

Hoxsey: Quacks Who Cure Cancer?

A fascinating documentary by Ken Ausubel that starts off as provocative muckraking and winds up as an informative and thoughtful essay. The muckraking concerns former coal miner Harry Hoxsey and his virtually lifelong battle with the American Medical Association about his apparently effective folk remedies for cancer. The AMA and the U.S. government essentially outlawed Hoxsey’s practice in the U.S., but his remedies are still used today in a clinic in Tijuana. The essay, more historical in nature, concerns the ongoing battle between the established medical profession as we know it and the alternative practices of folk medicine. Along the way are some fascinating glimpses into the profitable aspects for doctors of conventional cancer treatment and the ambiguities about Hoxsey’s controversial and still scientifically untested methods (Hoxsey himself ultimately died of cancer). (JR)… Read more »

Hotel Terminus: The Life And Times Of Klaus Barbie

Running close to five hours with an intermission, Marcel Ophuls’s fascinating 1987 portrait of the Nazi Butcher of Lyons, who went on to work for the U.S. Counterintelligence Corps and to pursue a career as a drug and information trafficker in Bolivia, is a worthy successor to Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity. The format is basically talking-heads interviews with acquaintances and victims of Barbie that are arranged to give a lucid chronological account of his career, but Ophuls manages to treat his subject with a great deal of intelligence and ironyhouseholds with Christmas decor are plentiful among the settingsand only occasionally does he overplay his intermittent bent toward whimsy (e.g., looking under cabbages for a subject who doesn’t want to be interviewed). Nearly a hundred people were interviewed, but the film represents only about a 14th of what Ophuls shot, and there’s little sense of excess in the running time. Not a work of art in the sense that Shoah is, but investigative journalism at its best, solid and penetrating. (JR)… Read more »

High Spirits

Peter O’Toole plays the owner of a languishing country hotel in Ireland who decides to turn his establishment into a haunted castle; Daryl Hannah plays a ghost who falls in love with hotel guest Steve Guttenberg. Written and directed by Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Company of Wolves); with Beverly D’Angelo and Liam Neeson. What mainly seems to go wrong here is the clumsy effort to rework English material for the American market, which results in a certain amount of forced whimsy and slapstick, mechanical crosscutting, and an excessive reliance on second-rate special effects. Hannah is appealing as one of the ghosts, but most of the rest of the cast seem either strained or strident. (O’Toole, alas, seems to be engaging in the sort of stumbling self-parody that characterized the late performances of John Barrymore.) Intermittently diverting, but not much more. (JR)… Read more »

Yentl

Barbra Streisand’s 1983 musical adaptation of a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer gives us Streisand as a quadruple threat: director, producer, cowriter, and lead performer; she’s also the only character who gets to sing. The plot describes a young female Jew in eastern Europe at the turn of the century who dresses as a boy in order to secure an education. The results may be a little protracted, but Streisand gives it her best shot, and the music by Michel Legrand is memorable. With Mandy Patinkin and Amy Irving. PG, 133 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Year My Voice Broke

An Australian memory piece written and directed by John Duigan, set in New South Wales in 1962. Danny (Noah Taylor), a teenager, has an obsessive crush on Freya (Loene Carmen), an older childhood friend, and when she starts to become romantically involved with Trevor (Ben Mendlesohn), his loyalty is put to the test. Although most of this is rather familiar stuff, even in a small-town Australian setting, the treatment is sufficiently sincere and nuanced to give it a touch of poignancy; the overall modesty and sweetness of the performances helps. (JR)… Read more »

Tequila Sunrise

The long-awaited second feature of writer-director Robert Towne (Personal Best) is an action thriller about two former high school friends, played by Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell, who find themselves on opposite sides of the law; Michelle Pfeiffer is the woman caught between the two. Despite a good deal of witty, bantering dialogue and clever plotting, some interesting moral ambiguity about the relative corruption of a cop (Russell) and a drug dealer (Gibson), and a likable performance by Raul Julia, this film seems overinfected by the kind of southern California narcissism that makes all of the male characters a little too pleased with themselves, with Pfeiffer little more than a beanbag in the little-boy macho games. Towne’s knowingness about the setting and milieu hurts as well as helps; the terrain is so familiar he can’t distance himself from it, as Roman Polanski managed to do with Towne’s own Chinatown script. In a world where everyone is some kind of insider, the viewer may feel left out in the cold. (JR)… Read more »