Monthly Archives: December 1988

Little Dorrit

Conceivably the best and most serious Dickens adaptation ever filmed, Christine Edzard’s two-part, six-hour English movie tells the story as the novel does, from two consecutive points of view. Perhaps the greatest strength of the picture is its remarkably dense rendering of 19th-century England; no single art director or production designer is credited, but the use of sets is especially fine. Derek Jacobi, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Roshan Seth, Cyril Cusack, and Sarah Pickering in the title role head a uniformly distinguished cast. This is a far cry from the polished competence of Masterpiece Theatre; Edzard’s Dickensian universe is one that sweats as well as breathes. (Fine Arts)… Read more »

The Sound of German

From the Chicago Reader (December 2, 1988); also reprinted in my collection Essential Cinema. — J.R.

empedocles

THE DEATH OF EMPEDOCLES

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet

With Andreas von Rauch, Howard Vernon, William Berger, Vladimir Baratta, Martina Baratta, and Ute Cremer.

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Three pretentious but relevant quotes: “Aesthetics are the ethics of the future” (Lenin). “To make a revolution also means to put back into place things that are very ancient but forgotten” (Charles Peguy). “When the Green of the Earth Will Shine Freshly for You” (Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s subtitle for The Death of Empedocles).

empedokles5

For spectators who don’t know what to do with their films, Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet offer a rigorous program that’s all work and no play — a grueling process of wrestling with intractable texts, often in languages that one doesn’t understand, without the interest provided by easy-to-read characters or compelling plots. But in fact every one of Straub-Huillet’s 15 films to date (10 features and 5 shorts) offers an arena of play as well as work, and opportunities for sensual enjoyment as well as analytical reflection. To find this arena of play and pleasure, one has to go beyond what we usually associate with the enjoyment of culture–beyond parameters that are usually limited by mutually exclusive notions of “art,” “entertainment,” “education,” and “scholarship,” notions that generally make us smile or groan in advance, regardless of what is placed in front of us.… Read more »

Ground Zero

This provocative, grim Australian adventure thriller, attractively shot in ‘Scope–written by Mac Gudgeon and Jan Sardi, and directed by Michael Pattinson and Bruce Myles–concerns the atomic bomb tests conducted by the British government on the Australian mainland between 1953 and 1964, and their disquieting aftereffects. A professional cameraman (Colin Friels) discovers that the death of his cameraman father in 1953 was not accidental, as he supposed, and most of the film focuses on his quest for the telltale footage shot by his father that led to his murder. Charges that thousands of aborigines died because of the tests, the unearthing of a radioactive World War II jet bomber, and the theft of home movies from the hero’s flat all become part of the disturbing mystery, much of it based on fact. With Donald Pleasence, Jack Thompson, and Natalie Bate. (Hillside Mall)… Read more »

Hellbound: Hellraiser Ii

Even if you’ve seen its predecessor, the plot of this gory horror movie is so incoherent that it’s not worth trying to figure out. Indeed, apart from a few stylish, M.C. Escher-influenced touches in Mike Buchanan’s production design, the only possible appeal of this adaptation by Peter Atkins of a Clive Barker story, directed by newcomer Tony Randel, is to fans of torture, gratuitous four-letter words, and immoderate amounts of blood. With Clare Higgins, Ashley Laurence, Kenneth Cranham, and Imogen Boorman. (JR)… Read more »

My Stepmother Is An Alien

Widower scientist Dan Aykroyd sends out radar signals to another galaxy, and alien Kim Basinger turns up to try to elicit more of the same. Written by many hands (Jerico and Herschel Weingrod, Timothy Harris, and Jonathan Reynolds), and directed by Richard Benjamin, this is an inordinately silly comedy that manages to be pretty likable if one can get past some of its harebrained premises (such as requiring Basinger to be simultaneously a member of a highly advanced civilization and a typical dumb blond). The movie pilfers from so many sources that it comes across as sub-Ron Howard as well as sub-Spielberg (Basinger essentially plays the Daryl Hannah part in Splash), but it’s interesting to discover that Basinger registers more effectively on-screen when exploited for her unreality, like Marilyn Monroe, than as a real person, as in Nadine. Alyson Hannigan plays Aykroyd’s 13-year-old daughter, and Jon Lovitz plays his brother. (JR)… Read more »

Little Dorrit

Conceivably the best and most serious Dickens adaptation ever filmed, Christine Edzard’s two-part, six-hour English movie tells the story as the novel does, from two separate points of view. Perhaps the greatest strength of the picture is its remarkably dense rendering of 19th-century England; no single art director or production designer is credited, but the use of sets is especially fine. Derek Jacobi, Alec Guinness, Joan Greenwood, Roshan Seth, Cyril Cusack, and Sarah Pickering in the title role head a uniformly distinguished cast. This is a far cry from the polished competence of Masterpiece Theatre; although Garry Wills has argued that this adaptation eliminates the novel’s revolutionary content, Edzard’s Dickensian universe is one that sweats as well as breathes. (JR)… Read more »

I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

Keenen Ivory Wayans wrote, directed, and plays hero Jake Spade in this 1988 parody of blaxploitation movies. In many respects this is a black counterpart to The Naked Gun, and very nearly as funny; the bounty of antimacho gags is both unexpected and refreshing. With Bernie Casey, Antonio Fargas, Isaac Hayes, Dawnn Lewis, and John Vernon. R, 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari

Robert Wiene’s groundbreaking 1919 silent, the most famous and influential work of the German expressionist cinema, involves a mad doctor (Werner Krauss) and the somnambulist who does his bidding (Conrad Veidt). Aided and abetted by one of Carl Mayer’s best scripts and remarkable, distorted sets painted by Hermann Warm, Walter R… Read more »

The Boost

Sincere but mawkish, this drama about the dangers of cocaine and downers seems to aspire to the seriousness of Days of Wine and Roses, but thanks to choppy continuity, it often comes closer to Reefer Madness. James Woods and Sean Young star as a couple who move from New York to Los Angeles to live life in the fast lane; part of the problem is that the script seems to want us to accept Woods (a frenetic real estate hustler) as normal before drugs intervene. Darryl Ponicsan’s script adapts Benjamin Stein’s book Ludes; Harold Becker directed, and the secondary cast includes John Kapelos, Steven Hill, Kelle Kerr, and John Rothman. (JR)… Read more »