Daily Archives: February 1, 1989

Skin Deep

Although the title is descriptive and even self-critical, a more accurate label for this might be Blake Edwards’s Greatest Hits From Malibu. Characters, gags, and situations from 10, S.O.B., The Man Who Loved Women, and That’s Life! including a womanizing, alcoholic hero in therapy for a creative block (John Ritter), a series of comic car accidents, and a lot of old standards sung at the pianoare trotted out, and the overall sense of deja vu is intensified by the fact that, apart from a lazy ending that refuses to confront or resolve the hero’s problems, Edwards gives this comedy-drama pretty much the same degree of expertise and polish that he has its previous incarnations and variations. The movie certainly has its share of laughs, but don’t expect any sort of revelation, especially if you’ve seen one or more of its predecessors. With Vincent Gardenia, Alyson Reed (in the Julie Andrews part), Joel Brooks, Julianne Phillips, and Chelsea Field. (JR)… Read more »

Hell In The Pacific

During World War II, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune confront each other on an otherwise uninhabited island in the Pacific. Director John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance, The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory) makes very photogenic hay out of all the allegorical possibilities, with the help of cinematographer Conrad Hall and scriptwriters Alexander Jacobs and Eric Bercovici. This 1969 film is not one of Boorman’s best efforts, but fans of his other films will probably want to check it out. (JR)… Read more »

What’s Up, Doc?

Peter Bogdanovich’s bright 1972 screwball comedy, patterned after Bringing Up Baby and decked out with lots of references to silent slapstick, plants dim musicologist Ryan O’Neal and freewheeling kook Barbra Streisand in San Francisco and then piles on the comic complications, with assistance from Madeline Kahn, Austin Pendleton, John Hillerman, Randy Quaid, and Kenneth Mars. Much of the slapstick is deftly executed, but there is one unfortunate undertoneordinary, unassuming workers tend to be the fall guys more often than the pompous rich (a factor that distinguishes this comedy from most of Bogdanovich’s classic sources), although O’Neal’s character, who stays at the Hilton, certainly has his share of pratfalls. Streisand sings a fabulous version of You’re the Top behind the credits, and the busy script by Buck Henry, Robert Benton, and David Newman keeps things moving, but the spirit of pastiche keeps this romp from truly rivaling its sources. G, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Weekend At Bernie’s

Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman star as bumbling go-getters in a large Manhattan insurance firm who are invited by their corrupt boss Bernie (Terry Kiser) to his place in the Hamptons; Bernie gets murdered before they arrive, and for the rest of the picture they’re carting his corpse around, trying to pretend that Bernie is still alive. Most of this silly farce depends on the use of the corpse as a comic prop (which yields a few laughs, despite Kiser’s variable success in impersonating a stiff) and the appeal of McCarthy and Silverman’s strident jabbering (which I found nil); Catherine Mary Stewart plays the putative love interest, Robert Klane wrote the script, and Ted Kotcheff directed. (JR)… Read more »

El Topo

From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 1989). — J.R.

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 midnight cult hit from Mexico, which made quite a few waves in its time, is an extravagant hodgepodge of hand-me-down surrealism, mysticism, Italian westerns, theater of cruelty, and Buñuel — more enjoyable for its unending string of outrages than for its capacity to make coherent sense. The writer-director plays the lead, wandering through the Mexican desert in search of enlightenment from a series of enigmatic masters, and leaving behind (or experiencing) a great deal of grotesque violence. This was the first genuine midnight-movie hit, and if you’re looking for pure sensation with intimations of pseudoprofundity, this is the place to go. In Spanish with subtitles.… Read more »

36 Fillette

Precocious 14-year-old Lili wears the dress size of a child (36 fillette) but the bra size of a woman. During a summer beach holiday with her family, she becomes involved with a middle-aged playboy. This caustic, rather sub-Pialat coming-of-age tale with autobiographical elements, directed and cowritten by Catherine Breillat, is well observed but cold; your interest in it will depend largely on how much you can bear the heroineor, barring that, how edifying you find the process of her gradually losing her virginity. With Delphine Zentout, Etienne Chicot, Jean-Pierre Leaud, and Olivier Parniere. (JR)… Read more »

The Palm Beach Story

Rudy Vallee turns in his best performance as a gentle, puny millionaire named Hackensacker in this brilliant, simultaneously tender and scalding 1942 screwball comedy by Preston Sturgesone of the real gems in Sturges’s hyperproductive period at Paramount. Claudette Colbert, married to an ambitious but penniless architectural engineer (Joel McCrea), takes off for Florida and winds up being wooed by Hackensacker. When McCrea shows up she persuades him to pose as her brother. Also on hand are such indelible Sturges creations as the Weenie King (Robert Dudley), the madly destructive Ale and Quail Club, Hackensacker’s acerbic sister (Mary Astor), and her European boyfriend of obscure national origins (Sig Arno). The Hackensacker character may be the closest thing to self-parody in the Sturges canon, but it’s informed with such wry wisdom and humor that it transcends its personal nature (as well as its reference to such tycoons as the Rockefellers). With William Demarest, Jack Norton, Franklin Pangborn, and Jimmy Conlin. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

On The Road With Duke Ellington

Robert Drew produced this 58-minute TV documentary about Duke Ellington on the road in 1967the year he picked up honorary degrees at Yale and Morgan State and the year Billy Strayhorn, his principal collaborator, died. (Drew updated the film slightly in 1974.) It’s valuable mainly for the portrait it offers of Ellington as a person, pianist, and composer, in roughly that order, though not so much as a bandleader. Insofar as Ellington’s main instrument was his orchestra, this is a limitation, but On the Road is still valuable for giving us aspects of the man neglected elsewhere, and some of the musicmainly Duke on pianois great. (JR)… Read more »

Mississippi Burning

In this 1988 movie, Alan Parker’s taste for simpleminded, sordid fantasy is trained on the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, and the feast for the self-righteous that emerges has little to do with history, sociology, or even common sense. The glorification of the FBI (which conveniently ignores the FBI’s hostility toward the civil rights struggle), the obfuscation about jim crow laws, and the absurd melodramatics may all have been well-intentioned, but the understanding about the past and the present of racism that emerges is depressingly thin. (The blacks in the plot, for instance, are depicted exclusively as noble sufferers who sing a lot of spiritualsthey aren’t even accorded the status of characters.) Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe star as antagonistic FBI agents who disagree about how to proceed with their investigation; Brad Dourif, Frances McDormand, and R. Lee Ermey are among the local yokels, and Chris Gerolmo is responsible for the primitive script. (JR)… Read more »

Marty

This 1955 example of kitchen-sink realism about the awakening love life of a Bronx butcher (Ernest Borgnine) and his shy girlfriend (Betsy Blair), directed by Delbert Mann, has never been popular with auteurists, but Paddy Chayevsky’s script, adapted from his own TV play, shows his flair for dialogue at its best, and the film manages to be touching, if minor. Borgnine won an Oscar for his part, and he isn’t half bad. (JR)… Read more »

Magick Lantern Cycle

Kenneth Anger’s visionary magnum opus of the avant-garde, a work spanning 1947 almost to the present. Essential viewing. Approximately 150 minutes, at least at last count (the work is constantly being revised). (JR)… Read more »

Golub

Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn of Chicago’s Kartemquin Films focus for just under an hour on New York painter Leon Golub as he plans, executes, exhibits, and discusses one of his powerful canvases (1988). In the process Blumenthal and Quinn manage to make what is probably not only Kartemquin’s best film but also the best film account of the creation of a work of artan accomplishment that’s leagues ahead of such efforts as Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso and Paul Cox’s Vincent. Lucidly following the step-by-step process of Golub’s deliberations and creative work, the film also makes splendid use of TV news footage to pinpoint the social and political contexts of Golub’s artthe degree to which the violence and power relationships that he depicts with such clarity exist all around us. One of the inspirations of this highly concentrated and kinetic documentary was to eliminate the critical discourse of the art world entirely; what we get instead are the comments and reactions of ordinary spectators, many of which are penetrating and perceptive. Bristling with energy, movement, thought, and passion, and enhanced by an especially effective music score, this is essential viewing. 56 min. (JR)… Read more »

Farewell To The King

John Milius’s sincere but lachrymose adaptation of Pierre Schoendoerffer’s novel L’adieu au roi, set in Borneo during World War II, follows the adventures of one Sergeant Learoyd (Nick Nolte), a U.S. Army deserter and former communist who becomes king of the Dayaks, the headhunters of central Borneo, and his friendship with a British officer (Nigel Havers), who narrates the story and persuades the king to join forces with his troops against the Japanese. Like all of Milius’s best work, this is lush and romantic stuff, but the sentimentality about Learoyd’s freedom and nobility continually threatens to turn this Kipling-like tale into camp, and as in Milius’s infamous Red Dawn, grown men weep copiously throughout. For better and for worse, this is a 50s epic for ten-year-old boys, even down to the John Ford references (Learoyd teaches his tribesmen, whom he calls Comanches, how to sing The Rising of the Moon); the storytelling is clean, and even the watery flashback transitions reek of the writer-director’s movie boyhood. With Frank McRae, Gerry Lopez, Marilyn Tokuda, James Fox, and a cameo by John Bennett Perry as Douglas MacArthur (who also gets the hero-worship treatment). (JR)… Read more »

Exposed

James Toback’s third feature is marginally less silly and overblown than its two predecessors, Fingers and Love and Money, although Harvey Keitel as a Paris terrorist does manage to stretch this premise at times. Nastassia Kinski does remarkably well, however, with her American accent as a midwestern heroine who quits school, comes to New York, makes the big time as a fashion model, and then becomes involved with Rudolf Nureyev’s plot to kill Keitel. As usual with Toback, the proceedings are passionate, overripe, rhetorical, and undeniably kinetic. Whether or not you wind up hooting with disbelief largely depends on your capacities to share Toback’s macho conceits (1983). (JR)

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Eat The Rich

This British satirical farcedirected by Peter Richardson, written by Richardson and Peter Richens, and starring members of the Comic Strip Troupeconcerns a group of social outcasts waging class war against the jet set. Produced by Michael White (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), the movie includes cameos by Koo Stark, Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane, Bill Wyman, and Paul and Linda McCartney, as well as music by Motorhead. Much of the action centers on a fancy gourmet restaurant for the ultrarich (Excuse me, the baby panda, is it fried in honey?) that is eventually taken over by a team of revolutionary archers, including a disaffected black waiter. The campaign for prime minister by a home secretary called Nosh is another prominent narrative thread. While this film has its moments, it’s a sad commentary on the nature of late-80s political alienation that Richardson and company seem bent on ridiculing poor and rich alike without much of a coherent position of their own. The cannibalism metaphor that eventually becomes prominent seems to have been arrived at mechanically. (JR)… Read more »