Daily Archives: September 1, 1989

The Second Animation Celebration: The Movie!

It’s one sign of just how good and lively this international assortment is that arguably the weakest item in the bunch, John Lasseter and William Reeves’s Tin Toy, won an Academy Award for best animationand that one isn’t too bad either. My own favorites: Tony Collingwood’s metaphysical fantasy from England, Rarg, which plays with conceits worthy of Borges and Calvino; Susan Young and Mike Smith’s tropical extravaganza Umbabarauma, which gives The Three Caballeros a decent run for its money; and a Soviet tribute to the 60th anniversary of Mickey Mouse by Mikhail Tumelya and Alexander Petrov called The Marathon. Other highlights include Gavrilo Gnatovich’s original (if grotesque) Lazar, some weird blackout gags by Cuban animator Juan Padron, a salute to the Olive Jar Animation Studio, and several funny episodes with Matt Groening’s Simpson family, but this list is far from exhaustive, and the overall level of this collection is unusually high (1989). (JR)… Read more »

Sea Of Love

Al Pacino plays a divorced New York cop who gets involved with a prime suspect (Ellen Barkin) in a serial murder casethe victims are men that she’s met through personal ads. Harold Becker directed from a script by Richard Price (The Color of Money); with John Goodman. What sets this thriller apart from its fairly routine script and adequate direction are the wonderful performances of Pacino and Barkin: Pacino forsakes much of the bombast of previous roles for a portrait of a disheveled, awkward individual touchingly trying to hold himself together, while Barkin keeps us guessing with elegance, imagination, and grace. (JR)… Read more »

Near Dark

Back in 1982 Kathryn Bigelow collaborated with another writer-director (Monty Montgomery) on a small independent feature called The Lovelessa rather inert road movie that was too studied but nevertheless visually striking. In her first solo featurea 1987 hillbilly vampire movie set in very similar locationsshe makes a much more impressive mark. Beautifully shot by Adam Greenberg, this alternately grisly and poetic horror picture begins as a love story, with its hero (Adrian Pasdar) meeting a sexy and spaced-out creature of the night (Jenny Wright) who travels with an extended family of bloodsucking weirdos. Kidnapped by this entourage, he becomes a sort of half vampire himself, hooked on the blood supplied to him by his vampire girlfriend but unwilling to commit carnage, while his father and kid sister try to track him down. One regrets the pounding Muzak of Tangerine Dream, but this is on the whole a striking directorial debut, at once scary and erotic, with lots of sidelong touches in the casting, direction, and script (written by Bigelow and coproducer Eric Red). 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Henry V

One can pick plenty of bones with Laurence Olivier’s direction of the Shakespeare play, but this 1945 film is still a powerful production from many standpoints, including Olivier’s performance and his detailed re-creation of what a play at the Globe in Shakespeare’s day might have been like. As cinema this isn’t within hailing distance of any of Orson Welles’s Shakespeare films, but it’s certainly Shakespeare. With Robert Newton, Leslie Banks, and Ernest Thesiger. (JR)… Read more »

Wild And Woolly

Douglas Fairbanks plays a quixotic and wealthy easterner who goes out west to Bitter Creek, Arizona, where the citizenry attempt to honor his preconceptions about what the wild west is like. This 1917 comedy, scripted by Anita Loos and directed by her husband, John Emerson, is witty, sophisticated, and loads of fun. 47 min. (JR)… Read more »

When Worlds Collide

An apocalyptic fantasy produced by George Pal in 1951, adapted from a novel by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer, this probably looks about as stodgy now as it did back then, although the Oscar-winning special effects include the flooding of Manhattan. Rudolph Mate directed, and Richard Derr, Barbara Rush, and John Hoyt all make a game try at sounding like real peoplewhich is not always easy, given Sidney Boehm’s script. (JR)… Read more »

Vampyres, Daughters Of Dracula

Playboy centerfold Anulka and Marianne Morris star as fangless bisexual vampires whose victims are mainly men in this 1975 British sex-and-gore fest. Directed by Joseph Larraz, scripted by D. Daubeney; with Murray Brown. 84 min.… Read more »

True Love

Nancy Savoca’s ironically titled first feature (1989) covers the last stages of a two-year engagement and wedding of a Brooklyn couple (Annabella Sciorra and Ron Eldard) who don’t even like each other very much. (The groom continually neglects the bride because he wants to hang out with his male friends; the bride won’t back out of the engagement because of her concern for appearances.) Scripted by Savoca and Richard Guay, the film tries to make this semisatire into something of a social critique, but the characters are so unremittingly repulsive that it’s hard to care very much what happens to them, and Savoca is so steeped in the milieu she purports to criticize that her observations about it are superficial at best. Uninteresting as filmmaking and not very successful as comedy, the film claims superiority to its hapless characters without doing enough to earn it. (JR)… Read more »

A Taxing Woman’s Return

If Juzo Itami’s wonderful first two features, The Funeral and Tampopo, suggested the work of a Japanese Frank Tashlin at his funniest and brightest, A Taxing Woman and now its even slicker sequel suggest that he has settled for being, at best, the Japanese Blake Edwards. His second feature about the machinations of tax inspector Ryoko Itakura (Nobuko Miyamoto, Itami’s wife) as she takes off after gangsters and corrupt politicians was an enormous box-office draw in Japanwhich has a certain sociological interest but doesn’t make this movie any more than what it is: a conventional and not very exciting or interesting comedy-thriller. If you’re not expecting much you’ll probably be diverted (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Tales From The Gimli Hospital

Whatever else you might say about this weird, creepy, and funny independent item by Guy Maddin, it’s certainly different (1988). Although this is a black-and-white sound picture (with occasional sepia and tinting), the ambience is mainly neo-Nordic silent cinema crossed with surrealism; it’s basically played for deadpan laughs, with a fair amount of gore and black humor. Around the turn of the century two patients (Kyle McCulloch and Michael Gottli), who occupy adjacent beds at a primitive and impoverished hospital near Winnipeg, swap yarns about their lives, and strange coincidences coalesce from their separate stories. If you’re in search of something unusual, you should definitely check this out. With Angela Heck and Margaret-Anne MacLeod. 77 min. (JR)… Read more »

Rume’s

A remarkable achievement on an artisanal level, Chris Sullivan’s low-budget, homemade feature uses a cluttered environment of sets, marionettes, actors, painted backdrops, and a storehouse of props to create a grisly, surreal fantasy about a soap salesman trying to make his way to a class reunion. Full of dense, ingeniously constructed pictorial effects ranging from intricate split-screen compositions to toylike scale models, the filmmainly black and white, with occasional patches of coloris much more successful in generating an overall environment than it is in telling a story, pursuing a theme, or generating much dramatic interest. The choppy continuity, drifting dialogue, and mainly indifferent acting often give a feeling of randomness to the proceedings that interferes with the intermittent dreamlike moods and fairy-tale humor. But spectators looking for something genuinely different are likely to find this intriguing (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Romero

Raul Julia, often resembling Henry Fonda, is quite good as Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero in this docudrama about the events leading up to his assassination in 1980. Produced under Roman Catholic auspices and directed by Australian filmmaker John Duigan (The Year My Voice Broke) from a script by John Sacret Young, the film opts for a direct and fairly simple account of the events in El Salvadorthe role of the U.S., for instance, is restricted to a single line of dialogue in one of Romero’s sermonsbut the sincerity of the production is never in question. With Richard Jordan, Ana Alicia, Eddie Velez, Tony Plana, and Harold Gould. (JR)… Read more »

Return Trip Tango

Although it only runs for half an hour, Angelo Restivo’s cunningly ordered and well-crafted locally made adaptation of a Julio Cortazar story makes use of so many free-floating narrative signifiersincluding an adept use of sound and musicthat it comes across as an outline for a novel. Circling around an ambiguous murder mystery that isn’t so much solved as multiplied and varied like a musical theme, this tantalizing short provides a kind of do-it-yourself fiction kit; what you bring to it is what you get. With Marika Turano, Celia Lipinski, and Mark Dember (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Rembrandt Laughing

Jon Jost’s ninth feature focuses rather elliptically on the everyday lives of a group of friends in San Franciscochiefly Claire (Barbara Hammes), who works in an architect’s office, two of her former lovers (Jon A. English and Nathaniel Dorsky), who are close friends, and a recent boyfriend (Jim Nisbet). Masterfully shot and for the most part very persuasively acted, mainly by nonprofessionals (the film’s use of locals is one reason it captures the San Francisco milieu so perfectly), Rembrandt Laughing is a good deal more ambitious than it might first appear. A sense of the timeless and the cosmic hovers over the seemingly casual scenes, and the use of a Rembrandt self-portrait and Beethoven’s opus 132 string quartet is integral to the film’s overall projectto discover the universe in a bowl of miso soup. Part of Jost’s method, like Godard’s in A Married Woman, is to convert the dramatic into the graphic, and his various means of carrying that out are unexpected and frequently beautiful (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Onibaba

A creepy, interesting, and visually striking 1963 feature by Kaneto Shindo, set in the 16th century in the midst of a civil war, about two poor women who live in the marshes and support themselves by luring wounded samurai to their deaths and then selling their possessions. Things get more complicated when the partnership is threatened by the younger of the two women becoming romantically involved with a neighbor, and the film builds to a macabre and eerie climax. With Nobuko Otowa and Jitsuko Yoshimura. (JR)… Read more »