Daily Archives: March 1, 1990

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 »

Yaaba

Idrissa Ouedraogo’s second feature (1989), from Burkina Faso, focuses on a young boy (Noufou Ouedraogo) and his female cousin (Roukietou Barry) as they befriend an old woman in their village (Fatimata Sanga) who’s treated as an outcast and accused of being a witch. The locations are attractive, the performances are natural, and the details about local folkways are interesting, but the plot is a bit dull in spots, if only because the moral divisions are fairly simplistic. This is certainly not a bad film, but don’t expect anything comparable to the African cinema of Cisse or Sembene. (JR)… Read more »

Pretty Woman

A corporate mogul from Wall Street (Richard Gere) rents, woos, and wows a street hooker from Hollywood Boulevard (Julia Roberts) in this 1990 romantic comedy, which proves that the Disney people can sell just about anythingincluding a misogynistic celebration of big business and prostitution. In this case, prostitution’s OK because the hooker’s a likable bimbo who works without a pimp or a boss, grateful for the little crumbs of high culture the suave company buster can sweep her way, and perfectly willing to offer a little therapy for his patriarchal hang-ups in return. He pays her $3,000 and they fall in loveain’t Hollywood grand? Garry Marshall directed a script by J.F. Lawton; with Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, and Laura San Giacomo. 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid

Sam Peckinpah’s cut of his last major western (1973) runs 15 minutes longer than the originally released version, and it is structured differently. Filmed in ‘Scope and originally scripted by Rudy Wurlitzer (though his script was much revised under the supervision of Peckinpah and others), this story about the last days of Billy the Kid, framed by the death of Pat Garrett in 1908, is perhaps Peckinpah’s most elegiac picture and certainly one of his most romantic. Peckinpah’s cut is a lot more coherent, though it’s still a film of uneven pieces. The movie tends to be stronger in its handling of secondary charactersSlim Pickens’s death scene is a classic, and Katy Jurado, Jason Robards, Chill Wills, Jack Elam, Gene Evans, and Harry Dean Stanton all acquit themselves memorablythan in its treatment of the three leads; James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson have their moments, but the mythic heft of the story seems at times to weigh them down, and Bob Dylan is too clearly Bob Dylan to portray anyone else convincingly. 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

Opportunity Knocks

Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey stars as a small-time con man who impersonates an executive, in a comedy written by Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein and directed by Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza). The story, while familiar, has some comic possibilities, but Carvey manages to squelch them with leaden clowning and warmed-over impersonations (George Bush, a Japanese businessman) that never seem to be keyed to the surrounding movie. With Todd Graff, Julia Campbell, Milo O’Shea, James Tolkan, and Robert Loggia. (JR)… Read more »

Mountains Of The Moon

Bob Rafelson’s ambitious and elusive 1990 account of the African explorations of Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin) and John Speke (Iain Glen) in the mid-19th century, based on the biographical novel Burton and Speke by William Harrison and the journals of Burton and Speke, and scripted by Harrison and Rafelson. The search for the source of the river Nile, filled with adventures and hardships, makes up most of the film, and it works fairly well (with attractive location photography by Roger Deakins). What works less well is the elliptical account of the two men’s troubled friendship, which eventually supplants the first storysome debatable liberties have been taken with the historical facts to further muddle matters. (Making Burton an anticolonialist and Speke a repressed homosexual are two examples; the depiction of Burton’s wife Isabelnicely played by Fiona Shawis a third.) Rafelson appears to be attempting to make a comment on Burton’s heroic distance from Victorian England, but only certain parts of this strategy register with any persuasiveness. With Richard E. Grant, John Savident, and James Villiers. (JR)… Read more »

The Miracle Woman

Frank Capra’s 1932 film about a thinly disguised Aimee Semple McPherson (Barbara Stanwyck), adapted by Jo Swerling from Bless You Sister, Robert Riskin and John Meehan’s popular satirical play about the famous evangelist. The movie never goes quite as far in its exposure of religious confidence games as you want it to, but Stanwyck is wonderful, and the gritty punch of Capra’s early 30s work certainly keeps this lively. With Sam Hardy and David Manners. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lord Of The Flies

For roughly its first half, this second film adaptation of William Golding’s parable novel about English schoolboys stranded on an island after a plane crash and eventually reverting to savagery works pretty well as a straight adventure story, thanks to director Harry Hook’s eye and the lush Jamaican locations. But around the time that Philippe Sarde’s score is overtaken by pretentious, uncredited, and distorted derivations from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the movie becomes similarly overburdened by its hectoring themea sort of pseudoanthropological schema whereby the rational intellectuals in possession of the means to make fire are opposed by the crude blood lust of the huntersand the decision to turn Golding’s public-school boys into American military-school cadets, while theoretically defensible, throws the characters and situations slightly out of kilter. Peter Brook’s 1963 black-and-white version worked better as drama; this one gets all dressed up, but finds it has no place to go. Scripted by Sara Schiff; with Balthazar Getty, Chris Furrh, Danuel Pipoly, and Badgett Dale. (JR)… Read more »

The Gold Diggers

Sally Potter’s surrealistic and metaphorical epic about women, gold, and cinemashot in ravishing black and white by Babette Mangolte on location in Icelandis a good deal wittier and more fun than its checkered career would lead you to expect. Starring Julie Christie and Colette Laffont, this feminist fantasy-musical, set in the past and the future, was financed by the British Film Institute in 1983 and has a relatively lavish budget for an experimental feature. What keeps it aliveapart from the arresting music and uncanny, haunting imagesis Potter’s imaginative grasp of film history: odd references to Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Kuleshov’s By the Law are recalled in the mise en scene, but the ambience may also remind you a little bit of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Not a film for everyone, but if you like it, chances are you’ll like it a lot. (JR)… Read more »

The Fourth War

John Frankenheimer still hasn’t regained his stride since his black-and-white films of the 60s, but he’s settled down into being a pretty good director of thrillers, and this is one of his more recent bestcomparable to the 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 plotadapted by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross from Peters’s novelconsists 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. (JR)… Read more »