Monthly Archives: March 1990

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It seems like a marriage was made in heaven between Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest Films and Jim Henson’s Muppetry. The delightful offspring is a live-action romp based on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s comic book characters, scripted by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck with the sort of goofy wit that suggests that Thomas Pynchon could have made pseudonymous contributions to the dialogue, and directed with skill and assurance by Steve Barron. The plot involves a TV investigative reporter (Judith Hoag), a rise in thievery in Manhattan occasioned by a teenage gang known as the Foot (masterminded and exploited by a ninja villain called the Shredder), and the noble adversaries of the thieves — four teenage turtles and their rat ninja master who dwell in the sewer system and reached their abnormal size through exposure to radioactivity. Also involved is the reporter’s son (Michael Turney), split between no less than three rival father figures, and an independent vigilante (Elias Koteas) who joins the turtles. The results are high-spirited martial arts and comedy, with heavy doses of Star Wars and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and music by M.C. Hammer, Johnny Kemp, Hi Tek 3, and Orchestra on the Half Shell.… Read more »

A Major Talent [on SWEETIE]

Top-of-the-Lake-011

From the Chicago Reader (March 30, 1990). I must confess that  I was disappointed for a long time that none of Campion’s subsequent films lived up to the promise of Sweetie, in spite of the virtues of some of them, at least until her wonderful 2014 miniseries Top of the Lake, which I’ve just belatedly caught up with. (I’ll never forget a bitter comment Jean-Luc Godard made to me in Toronto in 1996, citing Campion as a perfect example of a talented filmmaker “completely destroyed by money”.) But then again, to cite someone cross-referenced in this review (and also significantly cross-referenced in Top of the Lake, a kind of feminist response to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks), it’s also hard to think of many David Lynch films that have lived up to the promise of Eraserhead, at least prior to Inland Empire….I suspect that the collaboration of writer Gerard Lee on Passionless Moments, Sweetie, and Top of the Lake has something to do with what makes all three of them stand out so vividly in Campion’s oeuvre.– J.R.

SWEETIE

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jane Campion

Written by Gerard Lee and Campion

With Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, Dorothy Barry, Jon Darling, Michael Lake, and Andre Pataczek.… Read more »

The Fourth War

John Frankenheimer still hasn’t regained his stride since his black-and-whlite films of the 60s, but he’s settled down into being a pretty good director of thrillers, and this is one of his best for some time–comparable to the kind of lean, purposeful work he used to do for such 50s TV shows as Studio One and Playhouse 90. On the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia in November 1988, American and Soviet border control commanders Roy Scheider and Jurgen Prochnow, embittered veterans of Vietnam and Afghanistan, get embroiled in a petty personal war of their own. That’s about all that the plot–adapted by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross from Peters’s novel–consists of, but Frankenheimer handles it tersely and professionally, and coaxes an exceptionally good performance out of Harry Dean Stanton as an American general. Gerry Fisher handled the cinematography, and Tim Reid and Lara Harris also costar. (Commons, Oakbrook Center, Golf Glen, McClurg Court, Plaza, Norridge, Ford City, Harlem-Cermak)… Read more »

Sweetie

Those lucky enough to have seen Jane Campion’s eccentric and engaging shorts (such as Passionless Moments and A Girl’s Own Story) have reason enough to expect her first feature to be a breakthrough for the Australian cinema. But nothing quite prepares one for the astonishing freshness and sheer weirdness of this black comedy about two sisters (Genevieve Lemon and Karen Colston) locked into a deadly struggle. Practically every shot is unorthodox, unexpected, and poetically right, and the swerves of the plot are simultaneously smooth, logical, and so bizarre you’ll probably wind up pondering them days later. Some critics have compared Campion to David Lynch, but apart from a similar taste for the offbeat and a flair for painterly composition, she’s too good and original to be passed off as secondhand–and it’s worth adding that her acute grasp of character and a family’s psychological dynamics is well beyond Lynch’s range. The mad behavior of both sisters may make you squirm, and there are plenty of other things in this picture–including the other characters–to make you feel unbalanced, but Campion does so many beautiful, funny, and unexpected things with our disquiet that you’re likely to come out of this movie seeing the world quite differently than you did before.… Read more »

Love at Large

Alan Rudolph at his second best is still better than most other American filmmakers around, and this dreamy, romantic comedy-thriller is in many ways his most graceful picture since Choose Me. Tom Berenger plays a private eye hired by a mysterious and glamorous woman (Anne Archer) to follow a man; he sets off after the wrong man (Ted Levine), who has a fascinating secret life of his own, and meanwhile the detective himself is being followed by another woman (Elizabeth Perkins). As usual with Rudolph, the gentle kidding of movie cliches doesn’t preclude a capacity to enjoy them for all they’re worth; Mark Isham once again handles the music (a blend of jazz and pop that partially gravitates around “You Don’t Know What Love Is”), Elliot Davis executes the sliding camera movements, and kissing couples keep popping up as a kind of leitmotiv. Berenger, who intermittently recalls the punkish charm of John Garfield, has never been used to better effect, and the secondary cast–which includes Kate Capshaw, Annette O’Toole, Ann Magnuson, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Ruby Dee–is uniformly fine. The plot has a tendency to wind down rather than keep building, but Rudolph still manages to keep it pleasurable every step of the way.… Read more »

How the West Was Butchered [PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID]

From the Chicago Reader (March 16, 1990). — J.R.

PAT GARRETT AND BILLY THE KID

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

Written by Rudolph Wurlitzer

With James Coburn, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, Jason Robards, John Beck, Barry Sullivan, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Jack Elam, Harry Dean Stanton, and Chill Wills.

Sometimes it’s hard to know if the film you’re seeing is the one its director intended you to see. Some recent foreign-language releases are cases in point. In fact, if there’s anyone left who takes the Academy Awards seriously — as an indication of a film’s quality rather than its capacity to turn coin — it’s worth pointing out that at least two of the foreign-language features nominated for Oscars aren’t being shown in their original forms in this country. The version of Camille Claudel showing here now is 21 minutes shorter than the original one shown in Europe. This apparently means that the edited-down version — presumably the one that Academy members were shown as well — is worthy of an Oscar while the complete version is not, and the same strictures seem to apply to Cinema Paradiso, opening this week, which has been reduced by about an hour from the two-part version originally shown in Italy, apparently on the assumption that American audiences are more fidgety than their European counterparts.… Read more »

Pynchon’s Prayer

From the Chicago Reader (March 9, 1990). — J.R.

The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. . . . The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. –Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (1845-46)

A good many newspapers and magazines have accompanied their reviews of Vineland, Thomas Pynchon’s fourth novel, with the same 37-year-old photograph of the author grinning goofily from his high school yearbook. Given Pynchon’s refusal to be photographed or interviewed, there are touches of both desperation and petty vindictiveness in this compulsion to objectify and visualize, however inadequately, a novelist who chooses to be identified only through his writing.… Read more »

The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Frank Capra’s very atypical drama about an American missionary (Barbara Stanwyck) being taken prisoner by a Chinese warlord (Nils Asther) is not only his masterpiece, but one of the great love stories to come out of Hollywood in the 30s–subtle, delicate, moody, mystical, and passionate. Joseph Walker shot it through filters and with textured shadows that suggest Sternberg; Edward Paramore wrote the script, adapted from a story by Grace Zaring Stone. Oddly enough, this perverse and beautiful film was chosen to open Radio City Music Hall in 1933; it was not one of Capra’s commercial successes, but it beats the rest of his oeuvre by miles. With Walter Connolly and Lucien Littlefield; Stanwyck and Asther, both extraordinary, have perhaps never been better. A newly struck 35-millimeter print will be shown. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, March 10 and 11, 4:15, 443-3737) … Read more »

Joe Versus the Volcano

Scriptwriter John Patrick Shanley (Five Corners, Moonstruck) makes his directorial debut in a whimsical, contemporary fairy tale with romance and adventure that doesn’t quite come off, but it’s sufficiently fresh, charming, and unpredictable to deserve special marks for trying. Tom Hanks plays a former fireman now stuck in a depressing job who is told by his doctor (Robert Stack) that he has only a short time to live. A wealthy businessman (Lloyd Bridges) appears, offering him red-carpet treatment and a bunch of credit cards if Hanks will sail to a remote Pacific island (where the businessman wants to gain mineral rights) and dive into a volcano in order to appease the natives. Meg Ryan plays all three leading ladies in the plot–a secretary and both of the businessman’s daughters–and Abe Vigoda, Amanda Plummer, Barry McGovern, and Ossie Davis are around for other offbeat parts. In the course of borrowing liberally from Delmer Daves’s Bird of Paradise, Shanley manages to achieve some striking (if fanciful) pictorial effects and a few goofy gags and plot turns; he also tries for some uplift that may be less convincing but is easy enough to take. There’s nothing profound going on here, but the results are imaginative and fun.… Read more »

Stalker

Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, like his earlier Solaris, is a free and allegorical adaptation of an SF novel, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. After a meteorite hits the earth, the region where it’s fallen is believed to grant the wishes of those who enter and, sealed off by the authorities, can be penetrated only illegally and with special guides. One of them (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), the stalker of the title, leads a writer and a professor through the grimiest industrial wasteland you’ve ever seen. What they find is pretty harsh and has none of the usual satisfactions of SF quests, but Tarkovsky regards their journey as a contemporary spiritual quest. His mise en scene is mesmerizing, and the final scene is breathtaking. Not an easy film, but almost certainly a great one. In Russian with subtitles. 161 min. (JR)… Read more »

Speaking Parts

Interesting yet maddening, Atom Egoyan’s third feature (1989) is a sustained meditation on the uses and meanings of video and TV in personal relationsinformed by theoretical work on the subject that links it with such matters as narcissism, voyeurism, sexual obsession, power relations, alienation, and death. The nonrealistic plot concerns a disturbed hotel chambermaid (Arsinee Khanjian) obsessed with a coworker who’s an aspiring actor (Michael McManus), a scriptwriter obsessed with her brother’s death, a worker at a video rental store who videotapes weddings, and a TV producer. The intricate relations among these figuresone hesitates to call them charactersare mediated mainly by video; even the mechanical crosscutting between them suggests switching channels. There’s a lot of food for thought here but very little drama. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Nuns On The Run

Switch the action of Some Like It Hot to contemporary London and substitute a convent for an all-women band and you have the rough scenario for this good-natured if rather silly English farceexcept for the fact that writer-director Jonathan Lynn is a far cry from Billy Wilder, and a nearsighted Camille Coduri suggests Marilyn Monroe only in patches. Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane as two small-time hoods on the run aren’t bad, however, and the hard-sell music by Yello and Hidden Faces is fairly bouncy. With Janet Suzman, Tom Hickey, Doris Hare, and Lila Kaye. (JR)… Read more »

House Party

A day in the life of a black teenager (Christopher Reid) who sneaks away from home to attend a house party given by his best friend (Christopher Martin). Reid and Martin compose the rap duo Kid ‘n Play, and the movie also features Full Force (the George Brothers), A.J. Johnson, Tisha Campbell, Martin Lawrence, and Robin Harris in a wonderful performance as the hero’s hardworking father; Reginald Hudlin scripted and directed. There’s a lot more energy and social reality in this picture than one is accustomed to finding in teen exploitation movies; the cutting is often dynamic, and Hudlin generally does a good job of keeping things moving. (The rap numbers are serviceable, but it’s one sign of the film’s liveliness that these songs tend to slow things down.) One wishes, however, that this movie was as hip about homophobia as it is about safe sex, casual racism, sexual rivalry, and the other matters it incidentally takes up (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Hands Of Orlac

Robert Wiene’s legendary 1924 silentabout a pianist (Conrad Veidt) who gets a hand transplant and then discovers he has an impulse to killplays a significant role in Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano. The film’s been remade several times, but reportedly this first version is the best of the lot. (JR)… Read more »

The Handmaid’s Tale

A 1990 adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about the near future in which, after a right-wing fundamentalist takeover of the U.S. government and a series of ecological disasters that have rendered most women infertile, the female population of the U.S. is herded like cattle and assigned the obligatory roles of wives, domestics, or child bearers called handmaids. Scripted by Harold Pinter and directed by Volker Schl… Read more »