Daily Archives: April 1, 1989

Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer

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

henry_portrait

This gory slasher movie was made in Chicago in 1986 but held in limbo until 1989 because of its disturbing content. Very capably acted (by Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, and Tom Towles), written (by Richard Fire and John McNaughton), and directed (by McNaughton), this, like every other slasher movie, has its roots in Psycho. The tensions developed here are more behavioral and psychological than those essayed by Hitchcock, though the insights into the personality of a compulsive killer are at best partial and perfunctory. What mainly registers is the nihilism of the warped ex-con (Rooker) and his dim-witted friend and accomplice (Towles), who joins him in a string of senseless murders, which the film makes chillingly believable. Certainly not for everyone, but if slasher movies are your cup of tea this is a lot better than most, and the use of Chicago locations is especially effective. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Song Without End

Weighing in at 141 minutes, this lush 1960 biopic about Franz Liszt (Dirk Bogarde) isn’t inaptly named. Director Charles Vidor (Gilda) died in the middle of shooting, and George Cukor took over. As often happens in this sort of picture, the musical sequences are absorbingMorris Stoloff and Henry Sukman received an Oscar for the scoringbut what comes between them tends to be relatively lethargic. Shot in ‘Scope by James Wong Howe; with Capucine, Genevieve Page, Martita Hunt, and Alex Davion as Chopin. (JR)… Read more »

See You In The Morning

Jeff Bridges gives one of his best performances in an absorbing romantic comedy-drama written and directed by Alan J. Pakula about the emotional confusions and adjustments that take place when a divorced psychiatrist (Bridges) and a widow/photographer (Alice Krige), both of whom have two children, decide to get married. The New York setting and the economic bracket and well-educated veneer of the characters (as well as the effective use of familiar songs) suggest the world of Woody Allen, but this is incomparably better in its insights and density than any of Allen’s efforts; the characters steadily grow in interest and complexity as the plot unfolds, and although the two-hour movie may be slightly longer than it has to be, it does a surprisingly deft job of acquainting us with about a dozen major characters, not one of whom is a stock figure. With Farrah Fawcett (as the psychiatrist’s former wife), Drew Barrymore, Lukas Haas, David Dukes, Frances Sternhagen, George Hearn, Theodore Bikel, and Linda Lavin. All these actors are very fine, but the always able Bridges surpasses himself his performance is a series of inventive and unexpected grace notes throughout. (JR)… Read more »

Seated Figures

Any film by experimentalist Michael Snow is a major event, and this 41-minute road movie of shifting landscapes shot from the bottom of a truck, and accompanied by the sounds of a film audience, is no exception. The title apparently stems from the common identity of Snow, who drove the truck, and the audience watching the film. Seated Figures lacks the pristine excitement of Snow’s monumental camera movement trilogy of the late 60s and early 70s (Wavelength, Back and Forth, and La region centrale), but it is full of different kinds of suspense and surprises for spectators who are prepared to experience a painterly film without a story line but with luscious Canadian landscapes, seen at close range and in motion. (JR)… Read more »

Say Anything . . .

At last, a teenage love story with real characters instead of cliches, poses, and attitudes (1989). The directorial debut of Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire), it follows two very different high school graduates in Seattleaspiring kickboxer Lloyd (John Cusack) and brilliant student Diane (Ione Skye), who’s just won a fellowship to study in Englandas, to everyone’s surprise, they gradually get involved. John Mahoney plays Diane’s devoted but demanding father. Produced by Polly Platt, with James L. Brooks serving as executive producer, the movie stands out mainly because its attention to detail is so precise; Cusack and Skye are especially fine, but the overall treatment of contemporary teenagers is so refreshing that it almost makes up for dozens of phony and superficial predecessors (and for once the adults aren’t viewed exclusively from the wrong end of the telescope). As in Brooks’s Broadcast News, it’s the characters and their interrelationships that make the story. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Winter People

Gallons of PBS-style piety are lavished here on a trite tale about a widowed clock maker (Kurt Russell) with a little girl who settles down with an unwed mother (Kelly McGillis) in a southern mountain community in the 30s, and then becomes involved in various intrigues involving the father of her child and two feuding families. Adapted by Carol Sobieski from a novel by John Ehle and directed by Ted Kotcheff, the film has a likable performance by Lloyd Bridges as the unwed mother’s father. McGillis strives hard to be believable in what is essentially an impossible role for her, while Kurt Russell is amiably professional but predictable. The film is shot (by Francois Protat) in ‘Scope, but the effort is essentially wasted by dull center framing that makes the format superfluous (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Perfect Model

This low-budget, Chicago-made romantic comedy by Darryl Roberts, written by Roberts, Theresa McDade, and Ivory Ocean, deals with the class conflicts that ensue when a black movie star (Anthony Norman McKay) becomes involved with a woman (Liza Cruzat) who still lives and works in the ghetto. To paraphrase Edmund Wilson on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, this movie commits almost every error that a movie can possibly commit (at least on a purely technical level), but it does not commit the unpardonable errorit does not fail to live. As Wilson put it, The whole preposterous farrago is animated with life. The issues that it deals with are real issues, and the fact that Roberts’s total shooting budget was only $31,000 commands respect and support. Consequently, if you can put up with dialogue scenes out of sync and other technical flaws, you may find that the sincerity, energy, and personality of this movie make it a lot more watchable and enjoyable than the technically more accomplished current releases that have no good reasons for existing; I certainly felt that way. With Stoney Jackson, Tatiana Tumbtzen, Catero Colbert, and Reggie Theus. (JR)… Read more »

Paris Vu Par . . . Vingt Ans Apres

Two young French filmmakers, Bernard Dubois and Philippe Venault, had the provocative idea of making a follow-up to the 1964 anthology film, Paris vu par, that became a manifesto for the emerging directors of the New Wave. Unfortunately, the unity of that movement is long gone, and this new project is wildly uneven, ranging from the brilliant (Chantal Akerman’s opening sketch, J’ai faim, j’ai froid, is an entire coming-of-age film compressed into 12 frenetic, hilarious, and ultimately touching minutes) to the intriguing (Philippe Garrel’s Rue Fontaine offers a rare Stateside opportunity to see the work of this acclaimed avant-gardist, whose work suggests a crossing of John Cassavetes with early German expressionism) to the mediocre (the segments by Dubois, Venault, and Frederic Mitterrand) to the unwatchable (Vincent Nordon’s Paris-Plage, certainly the longest 13 minutes in film history). A sad lesson emergesthat the French have no more new ideas than we dobut the Akerman itself is worth it all. (JR)… Read more »

Parents

The first feature directed by actor Bob Balaban (1989) brings back the late 50s in the form of a highly original comic nightmare. Mary Beth Hurt and Randy Quaid star as the parents of a disturbed little boy (Bryan Madorsky) who has bad dreams about his parents’ sex lives and carnivorous habits; Sandy Dennis does one of her best turns as the neurotic school psychologist. Some critics have compared Balaban to David Lynch, but the differences are revealing. Balaban’s sense of the awfulness of the physical and spiritual decor of the 50s is actually closer in some ways to John Waters, while his politics are virtually the reverse of Lynch’s in Blue Velvet: nostalgia for innocence and purity couldn’t be further from his agenda. The script runs out of ideas long before he does, and the film doesn’t build dramatically as much as it could. But it’s an impressive debut, full of bizarre imagination and visual flaira must for fans of offbeat horror films. R, 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Once Upon A Time

Cary Grant plays the promoter of a boy and his dancing caterpillar in this whimsical comic fantasy, adapted from a short story by Lucille F. Herrmann and a radio play by Norman Corwin, directed by Alexander Hall in 1944; Janet Blair, James Gleason, and William Demarest star. (JR)… Read more »

Miss Firecracker

In his first feature, TV director Thomas Schlamme films Beth Henley’s own adaptation of her play The Miss Firecracker Contest, with Holly Hunter (Broadcast News) re-creating her stage role as Carnelle Scott, determined to follow in the footsteps of her cousin Elain (Mary Steenburgen) and win the local Miss Firecracker Contest on July Fourth in Yazoo City, Mississippi; Tim Robbins plays another cousin who turns up before the event, an aspiring poet named Delmount. Schlamme has some intermittent problems in establishing a rhythmthere are a number of inconclusive and slightly awkward fade-outs at the ends of certain scenesbut the first-rate cast, which also includes Alfre Woodard and Scott Glenn (both at their best), helps considerably, as does the location shooting. (JR)… Read more »

Melody Time

A rarely shown Disney cartoon feature from 1948, split into seven sections that were subsequently distributed as shorts: Once Upon a Wintertime, Bumble Boogie, Johnny Appleseed, Little Toot, Trees, Blame It on the Samba, and Pecos Bill. The lively Bumble Boogie is probably the best of these, while the insipid Trees is probably the worst. Some of the voices are furnished by Frances Langford, Dennis Day, Roy Rogers, and the Andrews Sisters. (JR)… Read more »

Major League

A baseball movie set in Cleveland, with Tom Berenger as a seasoned catcher, Charlie Sheen as a rookie pitcher, and Corbin Bernsen as a third baseman, written and directed by David Ward. The plot suggests an unacknowledged remake of The Producers: the Cleveland Indians are inherited by a former showgirl (Margaret Whitton) who wants to move the team to Miami, but can only do so legally if it plays so badly in Cleveland that attendance collapses. The motley, eccentric team that she picks eventually gets wind of her scheme, and guess what? Unfortunately, this has none of the cynicism, humor, or energy of The Producers (or of Bull Durham, for that matter); slick predictability is about all it has in mind, down to the last trite freeze-frame. (JR)… Read more »

Magdalena Viraga: Story Of A Red Sea Crossing

Described by its maker as a hallucinogenic journey through the boundless vortex of unadulterated Female space, Nina Menkes’s experimental featureshot in East Los Angeles and starring her sister Tinka Menkes and Claire Aguilarcharts the spiritual evolution of a young prostitute who is charged with the murder of one of her clients. Ambitious and at times audacious, the film alternates between such settings as a prison cell, a cathedral, a dance hall, and a brothel bedroom, where the camera focuses at length on the heroine’s boredom and anguish as she services no less than nine separate customers. The performances range from straightforward naturalism to toneless recitations of unidentified fragments of texts by Anne Sexton, Mary Daly, and Gertrude Stein, with long wordless stretches in between. While Menkes has stated that she started from absolutely no cinematic reference, the overall ambience seems very close to certain minimalist German films of the 70s. The Los Angeles Film Critics Association declared this the best independent-experimental film of 1986, and other critics I admire speak highly of it, but I found it rather stultifying. (JR)… Read more »

Love Affair

On an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic, a cultivated European playboy (Charles Boyer) meets a woman from New York (Irene Dunne), and the romance that develops is threatened by a misunderstanding and a physical accident. Writer-director Leo McCarey was one of the true masters, able to transform cliche formulas to the richest art by imbuing them with a profound human insight. Characteristically mixing comedy with tragedy here (with Delmer Daves and Donald Ogden Stewart assisting him on a screenplay derived from a Mildred Cram story), he fashions one of the great love stories of the 30s. He remade this picture in the 50s as An Affair to Remember, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and while both versions have their claims to greatnessas powerful tearjerkers that earn their excesses almost every step of the waythe original is arguably the finer of the two. With Maria Ouspenskaya and Lee Bowman (1939). (JR)… Read more »