Daily Archives: January 1, 1989

Something Wicked This Way Comes

After all the free advertising Ray Bradbury had given Walt Disney over the years, the Disney studio finally returned the compliment in 1983 by letting him write his own adaptation of his fantasy novel and giving his script a polished, respectful treatment, including tasteful direction by Jack Clayton. The plot concerns a mysterious carnival outside a small town in the early 1900s that grants the wishes of the town’s citizens, with dark consequences. With Jason Robards, Jonathan Pryce, Diane Ladd, James Stacy, Pam Grier, and Royal Dano. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Nanou

Imogen Stubbs plays a young English photographer vacationing on the continent who gets involved with a radical French activist (Jean-Philippe Ecoffey) in a small town in Lorraine. This first feature by Conny Templeman, produced by Simon Perry (Nineteen Eighty-Four), is an Anglo-French production, but for all practical purposes it is an English realist film with French dialogue and French and Swiss settings. It’s sensual and absorbing, although at times the ambiguities about the characters are a little more than the plot can withstand. Striking cameos are provided by Daniel Day-Lewis and Lou Castel, and the locations are used effectively. (JR)… Read more »

Husbands

Made soon after his first commercial success (Faces), this 1970 film is John Cassavetes’s most irritating, full of the male braggadocio and bluster that mar even some of his best work. But it’s impossible to dismiss or shake off entirely, and the performancesas is usually the case in his workare potent. Three middle-aged pals (Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk) take off for Europe when their best friend dies; they gamble, booze, womanize, and generally try to have a good time, eventually slouching back home to their spouses and children. The sadness of suburbanites trying to liberate themselves, already the subject of Faces, is given some further inflections here. With Jenny Runacre, Jenny Lee Wright, and Noelle Kao. 131 min. (JR)… Read more »

We The Living

An unauthorized Italian adaptation of Ayn Rand’s first novel made in Italy in 1942 without Rand’s knowledge, suppressed by the Mussolini governmentwhich considered it antifascist in spite of its anti-Soviet materialand reedited by Rand herself before her death. Based on Rand’s youth in 1920s Russia, the plot concerns a melodramatic triangle made up of a counterrevolutionary engineering student (The Third Man’s Alida Valli), a dispossessed aristocrat she falls in love with (Rossano Brazzi), and a loyal party member (Fosco Giacchetti) who befriends and falls in love with her. Directed by Goffredi Alessandrini, this 170-minute film (it was originally about an hour longer) remains engrossing throughout. Roughly speaking, it registers as an Italian Gone With the Wind, with postrevolutionary Russia taking the place of the postbellum south. Highly atmospheric and romantic, and rich with well-defined secondary characters, it manages to combine Rand’s distinctive brand of hero worship and anticommunism with a great deal of narrative fluidity, effective schmaltz, and showmanship. (JR)… Read more »

Vincent: The Life And Death Of Vincent Van Gogh

A 1987 feature from Paul Cox (Lonely Hearts, Man of Flowers), a Dutch filmmaker based in Australia, combining John Hurt’s offscreen readings of Vincent van Gogh’s letters to his brother Theo from 1872 until his suicide in 1890 with shots of his works and the places he lived in and painted, as well as occasional period re-creations of his milieu, using actors but no dialogue. (Most of the visuals are depicted from the artist’s viewpoint, and van Gogh himself is seen only through his self-portraits.) This is certainly more than an illustrated slide lecture, but often comes across as something less than a fully articulated filmalthough Cox’s reticence about certain matters (such as van Gogh’s celebrated severing of his ear) is arguably defensible. The film doesn’t ignore van Gogh’s bouts with madness, but its overall emphasis is on his sensibility as a conscious artist. It is to the film’s credit that a wide range of his work is shown, including many pieces that are not readily available, and that some of the letters are newly translated by Cox. On the other hand, the perennial problem of how to show paintings in a film is not wholly solved here: Cox’s conventional use of details and a panning camera has a somewhat touristic effect, and we’re seldom allowed to linger on any single work.… Read more »

Three Fugitives

Nick Nolte plays a bank robber in Tacoma who has just been paroled when he finds himself taken hostage by an inept amateur (Martin Short), desperate to raise money to care for his disturbed little girl (Sarah Rowland Doroff). These are the three fugitives in Francis Veber’s literal (apparently shot-by-shot) remake of his own French comedy Les fugitifs, which starred Gerard Depardieu and Pierre Richard. I haven’t seen the original, but nothing in this crude, mainly unfunny farce makes me want to. Short’s usually effective comic persona is lamentably milked here for Chaplinesque pathos, while Nolte looks like he’d rather be somewhere else (a sentiment easy to share); Doroff, on the other hand, is effectively nonsentimental in her mainly silent part, although the film manages to maul her talents as well. The gags veer from Three Stooges head knocking to dressing Short in women’s clothes; James Earl Jones, as Detective Dugan, starts out as an important character and then is absentmindedly forgotten; Alan Ruck and the late Ken McMillan also put in appearances. Haskell Wexler (of all people) is the cinematographer, and David McHugh provided the awful Muzak score. (JR)… Read more »

Project A

Jackie Chan directs a lavish comedy set at the turn of the century that involves pirates and the British navy (1983). Chan stars as a marine cadet who eventually quits his job to attack the pirates, and his frequent comic sidekick Samo Hung plays a criminal boss who helps him out. As usual, Chan performs many spectacular and death-defying stunts, one of which (screened under the film’s final credits) nearly finished him off. With Maggie Cheung. (JR)… Read more »

Peking Opera Blues

Set in Hong Kong in 1914, Tsui Hark’s highly energetic and quickly paced comedy-thriller (1987) pits three daughtersof a housemaid and the warlord owner of the Peking Operaagainst a group of powerful warlords. The lighting and nonstop pacing smack of Spielbergfor better and for worse. In Cantonese with subtitles. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Medea

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s disappointing 1970 version of the Greek tragedyshot in Syria, Turkey, and Italyoffers soprano Maria Callas in her only film role, playing the lead part but not singing it. Pasolini’s Marxist, Catholic, and pagan impulses infuse the film with some life, but it’s a step backward after Oedipus Rex (1967). It’s worth seeing nevertheless. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Hurrah

John Ford’s lifelong disaffection for Boston may have something to do with the peculiar detachment of his 1958 adaptation of Edwin O’Connor’s novel about the final campaign of a political boss of the old school (Spencer Tracy). The results are recognizably Fordian, but not as energetic as his best work, despite the interesting secondary cast: Pat O’Brien, Jeffrey Hunter, Basil Rathbone, Edward Brophy, James Gleason, Dianne Foster, John Carradine, Ricardo Cortez, Frank McHugh, and Jane Darwell. 121 min. (JR)… Read more »

King Of Hearts

This piece of whimsy from Philippe De Broca has become a perennial cult favorite since its release in 1967. It’s about a World War I soldier (Alan Bates) and an abandoned French village taken over by lunatics from an asylum after the institution’s staff has departed. To swallow it at all, you have to accept a totally false view of insanity and an outrageous anachronism or two. It’s the kind of comic allegory about war that depends on muddleheadedness in order to make much sense, but if you’re feeling muddleheaded, you might find yourself charmed and enchanted by the conceit. With Genevieve Bujold, Pierre Brasseur, and Philippe Noiret. (JR)… Read more »

The Iron Triangle

An honorable failure, this Vietnam-war drama and action film tries to do something that, to the best of my knowledge, none of its commercial predecessors had attempted: represent the point of view of the Vietcong as well as of American soldiers. Given this ambition, it’s regrettable that director and cowriter Eric Weston leans as heavily as he does on previous Vietnam films: acerbic offscreen commentary (as in Apocalypse Now), choral music over action (as in Platoon), and a division between pure good and pure evil to describe soldiers in the same platoon (American sergeants in Platoon, Vietcong fighters here). The film also gets into some trouble by conveying all of the dialogue in English, despite the fact that the American officer who narrates the story (Beau Bridges), and who eventually comes upon the diary of his Vietcong counterpart (Liem Whatley)based on the actual diary of an unknown Vietcong fighterspeaks and reads Vietnamese. But the film has unmistakable virtues as well, including a good handling of the action sequences and a beautiful use of landscape. With Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields), Johnny Hallyday, James Ishida, Ping Wu, and Iilana B’tiste; coscripted by John Bushelman and Larry Hilbrand. (JR)… Read more »

Insignificance

Nicolas Roeg’s 1985 film adaptation of Terry Johnson’s fanciful, satirical play — about Marilyn Monroe (Theresa Russell), Albert Einstein (Michael Emil), Joe DiMaggio (Gary Busey), and Senator Joseph McCarthy (Tony Curtis) converging in New York City in 1954 — has many detractors, but approached with the proper spirit, you may find it delightful and thought-provoking. The lead actors are all wonderful, but the key to the conceit involves not what the characters were actually like but their cliched media images, which the film essentially honors and builds upon. The Monroe-Einstein connection isn’t completely contrived. Monroe once expressed a sexual interest in him to Shelley Winters, and a signed photograph of Einstein was among her possessions when she died. But the film is less interested in literal history than in the various fantasies that these figures stimulate in our minds, and Roeg’s scattershot technique mixes the various elements into a very volatile cocktail — sexy, outrageous, and compulsively watchable. It’s a very English view of pop Americana, but an endearing one. (JR)… Read more »

Eastern Condors

Sammo Hung’s 1986 feature is often referred to as the movie that introduced Hollywood to the new Hong Kong cinema. Shot in Panavision, it concerns military convicts joining up with Cambodian guerrillas to destroy an abandoned ammo dump in Vietnam before the Vietcong can get to it, and features a lot of rapid action, bone-crunching violence, and spectacular stunts. The results are kinetically alive and pictorially striking, but plot interest tends to be relatively minimal. With Hung, Yuen Biao, and Haing S. Ngor. (JR)… Read more »

Deepstar Six

A submarine with a coed crew encounters an obscure sea monster in a lousy, cliche-ridden thriller, scripted by Lewis Abernathy and Geof Miller in an apparent effort to emulate Alien and the original version of The Thing, and directed with dutiful clunkiness by Friday the 13th’s Sean S. Cunningham. Among the actors who repeatedly get wet are Nancy Everhard and Miguel Ferrer. (JR)… Read more »