A review from the May 26, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
POULET AU VINAIGRE
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Dominique Roulet and Chabrol
With Jean Poiret, Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, Jean Topart, Lucas Belvaux, Pauline Lafont, Jean-Claude Bouillaud, and Caroline Cellier.
In 1985, after seeing Claude Chabrol’s Poulet au vinaigre at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, I remember thinking: At last! The petit-maître is back in form, doing what he knows how to do best; here’s a Chabrol movie that’s sure to get an American release. (At that point it had been about seven years since Violette Nozière – which wasn’t one of my favorite Chabrol films — had opened in the U.S.) Poulet au vinaigre had sex, violence, dark wit, a superb sense of both the corruption and meanness of life in the French provinces, a good whodunit plot, Balzacian characters (including an interesting detective), and very nice camera work by Jean Rabier, Chabrol’s usual cinematographer. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but at the very least it was a well-crafted and satisfying entertainment that surely, I thought, would be enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, it already was being enjoyed by the audience I was seeing it with in Toronto.… Read more »
A shy London hairdresser (Jesse Birdsall), still a virgin at 31, finds himself getting involved with three very different women (Lynn Redgrave, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jane Horrocks) in a very pleasant romantic comedy directed by Randal Kleiser. Adapted by Elizabeth Jane Howard from her own novel, the film seems modeled in part on such 60s “swinging London” films as Georgy Girl and Morgan!–as is suggested by the use of several actors associated with that period (Shirley Anne Field, Brian Pringle, Pat Heywood, and Nan Munro) and an overall ebullience in plot and performances. With Peter Cook and John Gielgud. (Golf Glen, Water Tower, Ridge, Oakbrook)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 19, 1989). — J.R.
WHO KILLED VINCENT CHIN?
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Christine Choy.
Item: The December 22, 1941, issue of Life magazine features a two-page spread headlined “How to Tell Japs From the Chinese: Angry Citizens Victimize Allies With Emotional Outburst at Enemy.” It begins: “In the first discharge of emotions touched off by the Japanese assaults on their nation, U.S. citizens have been demonstrating a distressing ignorance on the delicate question of how to tell a Chinese from a Jap. Innocent victims in cities all over the country are many of the 75,000 U.S. Chinese whose homeland is our stanch ally. So serious were the consequences threatened, that the Chinese consulates last week prepared to tag their nationals with identification buttons. To dispel some of this confusion, Life here adduces a rule-of-thumb from the anthropometric conformations that distinguish friendly Chinese from enemy alien Japs.” Around this text and the two paragraphs that follow are four large photographs with inscriptions that attempt to spell out distinguishing characteristics of Chinese and Japanese physiognomies and body types.
Item: In 1982 in Highland Park, Michigan, Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Chinese auto engineer, got into a fight with Ronald Ebens, a somewhat older Caucasian autoworker, in a topless bar called the Fancy Pants.… Read more »
Directed by Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire, Greystoke), this film about a troubled youth (Adam Horovitz) who is sent to a psychiatric hospital for middle-class teenagers, where he gradually grows to trust a caring doctor (Donald Sutherland), contains many echoes of liberal, socially conscious movies of the 50s and early 60s, such as Rebel Without a Cause and The Mark. Written (by Michael Weller), directed, and acted with some tenderness and sensitivity, it doesn’t always live up to its models, but is an intelligent and thoughtful treatment of its subject on many levels–in its grasp of adolescent confusions, troubled family situations, institutional cynicism and expediency, and the fallibility of even exceptional doctors. With Dan Bloomfield, Amy Locane, Kevin Tighe, and Celia Weston. (Ford City East, Golf Glen, Orland Square, Chicago Ridge, Oakbrook Center, Ridge, Water Tower, Woodfield, Forest Park, Webster Place, Norridge, Hyde Park, Old Orchard)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1989). I can happily report that this expertly realized tour de force — a brilliant adaptation of what is essentially highly theatrical material, rehearsed and blocked to the nines — is now out on a Twilight Time Blu-Ray. For all its nervy desire to wear its sordidness, black comedy, and sheer roughness on its sleeve, which kept it from having a commercial success in the 70s and may still alienate some viewers now, this is basically a comedy about sexual vulnerability and shifting power plays between jaded Hollywood types with more bark than bite, and a surprisingly sweet aftertaste shining through all the harsh pseudo-toughness. — J.R.
John Byrum’s controversial first feature, made in 1976, stars Richard Dreyfuss as a burned-out Hollywood genius director of the 20s, reduced in the 30s to making porn films in his own mansion. Wittily scripted and engagingly acted (by Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Veronica Cartwright, and Bob Hoskins), the film restricts all its action to a few hours in the director’s mansion, and is peppered liberally with inside movie references. Chances are you’ll either be bored stiff by the conceits or exhilarated; personally, I found it gripping throughout. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1989). — J.R.
Alain Resnais’ comeback in 1974 after five years’ absence (precipitated by the commercial failure of Je t’aime, je t’aime), and like many other of his films, it has improved with age. Scripted by Jorge Semprun (La guerre est finie, Z), it tells the true story of a notorious international financier (Jean-Paul Belmondo) whose ruin in 1933 led to a major political scandal and his own death. While the script isn’t always lucid — some attempts to counterpoint Stavisky’s destiny with that of Leon Trotsky, given political asylum in France during the time of the events covered, appear a bit forced — the power of Resnais’ evocative editing is as strong as ever. Using a gorgeous original score by Stephen Sondheim, elegant sets and locations, and beautiful color cinematography by Sacha Vierny, Resnais models his liquid, bittersweet style on Lubitsch, and the shimmering, romantic results are often spellbinding and haunting. With Anny Duperey, Charles Boyer (in what may be his last great screen performance), Michel Lonsdale, Francois Perier, Claude Rich, and, in an early cameo, Gerard Depardieu. (JR)
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In point of fact, the only real signs of life to be found in this top-heavy American Playhouse theatrical production, at once overloaded and undernourished, come from Arthur Kennedy’s performance as Owen Coughlin, an aging, cantankerous New England shipbuilder. All the other characters and intersecting miniplots seem to come straight from the American Playhouse pork barrel: a pathetically retarded adolescent (Michael Lewis) modeled loosely after Lennie in Of Mice and Men, a family man desperate for cash (Beau Bridges), two young workers who dream of salvage diving in Florida (Vincent D’Onofrio and Kevin J. O’Connor), the latter’s frustrated girlfriend (Mary Louise Parker), Coughlin’s practical-minded housekeeper (Kate Reid), and a gaggle of picturesque Portuguese fishermen. John David Coles directed this dusty material, scripted by Mark Malone, with the strained piety one expects in this sort of movie. (JR)… Read more »
Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder are back together, playing respectively a blind man and a deaf man who join forces to catch some murderous spies. This tasteless, formulaic, mainly unfunny, but otherwise harmless romp was scripted by five people (Earl Barret, Arne Sultan, Andrew Kurtzman, Eliot Wald, and Wilder) and is served up like meat and potatoes by hack director Arthur Hiller (Silver Streak), apparently following the surefire principle of scanning the market and concluding that the combination of disability (e.g., Rain Man), a buddy-movie plot, and Pryor plus Wilder gives us everything that we could possibly want. With Joan Severance, Kirsten Childs, and Anthony Zerbe. (JR)… Read more »
A breezy yet serious docudrama about the notorious John Profumo-Christine Keeler sexual scandal of 1963 that shook England’s Conservative government, written by Michael Thomas and directed by Michael Caton-Jones. At the center of this complex but deftly conveyed intrigue is the ambiguous figure of Dr. Stephen Ward (John Hurt), a society osteopath, portrait artist, and hedonist whose discovery and cultivation of Keeler, coupled with his friendly liaison with British intelligence, set all the essential wheels in motion. Hurt is at his best in suggesting the contradictory layers of this man, who proved to be the establishment’s scapegoat in the affair, but another part of what makes this movie so absorbing is its heady celebration of London during this period, as well as a healthy enjoyment of the erotic elementsdemonstrating overall that good, trashy fun doesn’t necessarily entail dumbness or irresponsibility. With Joanne Whalley-Kilmer as Keeler, Bridget Fonda as her friend and fellow playgirl Mandy Rice-Davies, Ian McKellen as Profumo, Leslie Phillips as Lord Astor, and Britt Ekland as the orgiastic party thrower Mariella Novotny. (JR)… Read more »
With his second feature as a director (after Withnail and I), Bruce Robinson, who previously scripted The Killing Fields, offers a genuine oddity. A successful English advertising executive named Dennis Bagley (Richard E. Grant) has a crise de conscience while suffering a creative block about how to launch a new pimple cream. A boil grows on the side of his neck and assumes the identity of an alter ego, speaking with its own glibly proadvertising voice and gradually overtaking his life, until Bagley’s own head is reduced to the size and status of a boil. What’s even odder than this story concept is the Kafkaesque literalism with which Robinson treats it, so that what emerges is not exactly (or purely) comedy or satire or allegory or horror-fantasy, but a daffy and at times wordy story with hints of all these elements that proceeds on its own terms. It’s hard to know whether to recommend this or not, but it must be conceded that nothing else is remotely like it, and Richard E. Grant certainly attacks his part with brio. With Rachel Ward, Richard Wilson, and Jacqueline Tong. (JR)… Read more »
John Savage, Rachel Ward, Massimo Troisi, and Robert Duvall on a slow road to hell paved with the best of intentionscourtesy of director Cinzia TH Torrini, and writers Enzo Monteleone and Robert Katz, who collaborated with her on the script. Savage flies to Colombia when he hears about the alleged suicide there of his brother, a former Red Brigades terrorist; from there he proceeds into the wilds on a sort of meandering Heart of Darkness quest, half-travelogue and half-polemic, regarding man’s inhumanity to man. Neither Savage nor the confused script is up to the task of expressing the moral outrage that this movie has in mind; the polyglot cast seems discombobulated, and not even Fellini cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno or Welles associate Alessandro Tasca (executive in charge of production) can bring much distinction to a project so helplessly adrift. (JR)… Read more »
Christine Choy and Renee Tajima’s 1987 documentary about the 1982 murder of a young Chinese-American engineer by a white autoworker, who thought the engineer was Japanese and who got off virtually scot-free, offers a fascinating and disturbing picture of overlapping concerns: racial attitudes, the auto industry, the media, Asian-Americans, and various legal issues. While the legal questions aren’t treated as thoroughly as one might like, this rapidly cut and provocative piece of investigative journalism never fails to hold interest. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »
Wendy Hughes plays a chameleonlike woman who takes care of her crippled brother (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), teaches at a Catholic girls’ school, and devotes her Sunday nights to working as a prostitute on a train, where she assumes a separate identity with each customer. Very well acted (the cast also includes Colin Friels, Norman Kaye, John Clayton, and Rod Zuanic) and competently written (by Bob Ellis and Denny Lawrence) and directed (by Ellis), this Australian film sustains interest over its mainly episodic structure, yet it never builds up much momentum or leads to anything more interesting than its separate scenes. (JR)… Read more »
A Manhattan literary agent (Nicolas Cage) who has problems with women imagines that he’s turning into a vampire. The script by Joseph Minion, his first to be produced since After Hours, reflects some of that earlier film’s obsessions with predatory or defenseless females and New York as expressionist landscape; the variable but generally competent direction is by British newcomer Robert Bierman. Practically nothing happens other than gradual deterioration of any distinction between reality and fantasy, and the theme is closer in some ways to Jekyll and Hyde (with the emphasis almost entirely on Hyde) than to Dracula or Nosferatu. What really makes this worth seeing is Cage’s outrageously unbridled performance, which recalls such extravagant actorly exercises as Jean-Louis Barrault’s in Jean Renoir’s The Testament of Dr. Cordelier and Jerry Lewis’s Buddy Love in The Nutty Professor. Even for viewers like myself who have never been especially impressed with Cage, his over-the-top effusions of rampant, demented asociality are really something to see, and they give this quirky, somewhat out-of-control black comedy whatever form and energy it has. With Maria Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Ashley, and Kasi Lemmons. (JR)… Read more »
The long-awaited film adaptation of Harvey Fierstein’s play proved to be one of the strongest and best-made dramatic films of 1988. Starring Fierstein himself as a professional female impersonator, and directed by veteran Paul Bogart, known mainly for his TV work, the film masterfully mixes comedy, tragedy, and music into a first-rate entertainment. Chronicling two of the hero’s love affairs with men (Brian Kerwin and Matthew Broderick) and his troubled relationship with his strong-willed mother (Anne Bancroft) in the 70s and early 80s, the movie is never preachy or moralistic in its depiction of gay life. Much of its power can be attributed to the high-voltage performances of Fierstein and Bancroft, as well as to a superb use of jazz and popular music. (Woody Allen could learn a lot from this movie.) Although the material shows some of its theatrical origins, the transfer to film is intelligent and effective. One would hate to find this film treated as a special interest picture because of its gay characters; its superb theatricality deserves to be enjoyed by everyone. (JR)… Read more »