Monthly Archives: July 1990

Godfather and Son [on THE FRESHMAN]

From the Chicago Reader, July 27, 1990. –J.R.

THE FRESHMAN

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Andrew Bergman

With Matthew Broderick, Marlon Brando, Bruno Kirby, Penelope Ann Miller, Frank Whaley, Maximilian Schell, and Bert Parks.

“The overwhelming attractiveness of the screwball comedies involved more than the wonderful personnel. It had to do with the effort they made at reconciling the irreconcilable. They created an America of perfect unity: all classes as one, the rural-urban divide breached, love and decency and neighborliness ascendant. –Andrew Bergman, We’re in the Money (1971)

Most reviews of The Freshman have understandably focused on Marlon Brando. After all, everybody knows Brando, while hardly anyone is familiar with Andrew Bergman, the writer-director. But a movie as outlandish as this needs to be seen in some sort of context if one is going to make any sense of it, and it seems to me that Bergman is more important to this context than Brando is. It was his script, after all, that lured Brando into his first major role in a decade.

Bergman was born in Queens, the son of a New York Daily News radio and TV columnist named Rudy Bergman, and was an early fan of TV comics like Ernie Kovacs, Victor Borge, and Bob and Ray.… Read more »

Presumed Innocent

This adaptation of Scott Turow’s best-selling novel–about an idealistic prosecutor (Harrison Ford at his best) who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a colleague (Greta Scacchi) with whom he had an adulterous affair–is a top-notch courtroom drama that will keep you guessing if you haven’t read the book; even if you have, it is still a very well crafted story, directed by Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men), who collaborated on the script with Frank Pierson, and effectively shot by Gordon Willis. While it never reaches the level of Anatomy of a Murder, which is probably the high point in this genre, it shares with that film a rather complex view of the judicial system that makes the multiple plot twists all part of an overall vision, and Paul Winfield here rivals Joseph Welch in the earlier film by making the most of (read hamming up) his juicy part as the judge. The remainder of the cast–including Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, and John Spencer–is never less than capable, and Pakula and Ford are especially good in handling the nuances of sexual obsession. (Ford City, Evanston, Norridge, Webster Place, Burnham Plaza, Edens, Golf Mill, 900 N.… Read more »

Love Your Mama

After a long and successful career in day care, Ruby L. Oliver made this, her first feature, originally known as Leola, in her late 40s. It’s a remarkable debut: assured, highly focused, surprisingly upbeat considering the number of problems it addresses without flinching–and the best low-budget Chicago independent feature that I’ve seen. Set in contemporary Chicago, it concerns a 17-year-old girl from the ghetto whose plans for the future are jeopardized when she finds herself pregnant. In addition, her brothers are gradually drifting into a life of crime, her mother is having difficulty maintaining a day-care center without a license, and her stepfather is an alcoholic and philanderer. The plot line is concentrated and purposeful, and the cast–including Carol E. Hall, Audrey Morgan (particularly impressive as the mother), Earnest Rayford, Andre Robinson, and Kearo Johnson–is uniformly fine. In addition to writing, directing, producing, and financing the film, Oliver is also credited with casting, served as set decorator and location manager, and sang as well as wrote the lyrics to the film’s theme song (1989). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 27, 6:00 and 8:00; Saturday, July 28, 3:00; Sunday, July 29, 1:00; and Monday through Thursday, July 30 through August 2, 6:00; 443-3737) … Read more »

Chicago Joe and the Showgirl

Although it’s based on a disturbing true story–the so-called cleft-chin murder case that swept the English press in 1944–this period drama, written by David A. Yallop and directed by Bernard Rose, is served up in the form of fanciful and stylish nostalgia (evocative at times of both The Singing Detective and Bonnie and Clyde), perhaps because the power of fantasy is mainly what it’s about. Emily Lloyd and Kiefer Sutherland star as an aspiring 18-year-old movie star and a 22-year-old American serviceman who claims to have Chicago gangster connections. They meet during the London bombings and spur on each other’s fantasies until they’ve embarked on a life of crime. The results aren’t uniformly successful, but the film’s production design (by Gemma Jackson) is a knockout, and Lloyd and Sutherland make a pretty steamy couple. With Patsy Kensit and Keith Allen. (Esquire)… Read more »

Kiss Me Kate

From the Chicago Reader (July 22, 1990). — J.R.

One of the classiest and most experimental 3-D efforts from Hollywood — as well as one of the best MGM musicals of the 1950s that didn’t come from the Arthur Freed unit. Adapted by Dorothy Kingsley from the successful 1948 Cole Porter stage musical and directed by the underrated George Sidney, this 1953 feature does interesting things with mirrors, windows, and the relationship between stage and audience, playing on the differences between theatrical and film space and, paradoxically, exploiting 3-D as an artificial and antirealistic effect. Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel play an estranged couple who uneasily join forces in a musical version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, with much comic confusion between life and art. The cast (including Ann Miller, Tommy Rall, Bobby Van, Bob Fosse, and Carol Haney) and score are consistently pleasurable. 109 min. (JR)

Read more »

Quick Change

A delightful “small” picture in an era when such things are no longer supposed to exist, this quirky comedy follows the adventures of a trio of bank robbers (Bill Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid) who pull off an ingenious and successful job but then find it difficult to get out of New York City; Jason Robards plays the police chief who is alternately hot and not so hot on their trail. Based on a novel by Jay Cronley, the screenplay by Howard Franklin, codirected by Franklin and Murray (both of them making directorial debuts), manages to live up to the demands of a thriller without sacrificing character to frenetic pacing, and the film exudes a kind of sweetness that never threatens to become either sticky or synthetic. All the lead actors are funny and creative while keeping their characters life-size (to my taste, this is Murray’s best work), and they’re given a very pleasant backup by Bob Elliott (of the former radio team Bob and Ray), Philip Bosco, Saturday Night Live’s Phil Hartman, Kathryn Grody, and Tony Shalhoub, among others. (Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Forest Park, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, 900 N. Michigan, Evanston, Webster Place, Ford City East)… Read more »

Documentary Expressionism: The Films of William Klein

From the English magazine Creative Camera (No. 1, 1990). This is mainly derived from a catalog that was  put together about Klein for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis the previous year, consisting of an essay and interview which will eventually be posted here separately. -– J.R.

One of the limitations of conventional film history, with its subdivisions of schools and movements, is that many interesting filmmakers who are unlucky enough to exist apart from neat categories tend to disappear between the cracks. The case of William Klein, whose film work has received negligible commentary (especially in English), can partially be explained by pointing to the things he is not — or at least not quite.

He is not quite “American” — although he was born in New York City in 1928, grew up near the intersection of 108th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, and has devoted a substantial part of his film work to American subjects. He is not quite “French” — although he moved to Paris in 1948 to study painting with Fernand Léger and has been based there ever since. He began making films in the 1950s, around the same time the French New Wave was gaining prominence, and he might provisionally be regarded as a member of the so-called Left Bank group, which included Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnes Varda.… Read more »

Meat, John, Dough [PRETTY WOMAN]

From the Chicago Reader (July 13, 1990). I wish I could remember now which Reader staffer thought up the brilliant headline; it wasn’t me. — J.R.

PRETTY WOMAN

(Worthless)

Directed by Garry Marshall

Written by J.F. Lawton

With Richard Gere, Julia Roberts, Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, Laura San Giacomo, Alex Hyde-White, and Hector Elizondo.

Having missed Pretty Woman when it opened more than three months ago, I figured I would just let it pass, but ultimately curiosity got the better of me. I’m not a big fan of either Richard Gere or Julia Roberts, but finally I had to see for myself how a movie that seemed to celebrate prostitution (at the same time it trashes prostitutes) — brought to us by the Disney studio, the same people responsible for such squeaky-clean family entertainments as Dick Tracy and the rerelease of The Jungle Book — could become one of the biggest hits of the year.

Now that I’ve seen it, I still think Pretty Woman celebrates prostitution while trashing real-life prostitutes, but not in the way that I originally imagined, and not in a way that is readily apparent. In fact the film manages to espouse prostitution while cleverly concealing the fact that it is doing so.… Read more »

How Hip We Are [WITHOUT YOU I'M NOTHING]

From the Chicago Reader (July 6, 1990). — J.R.

WITHOUT YOU I’M NOTHING

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by John Boskovich

Written by Sandra Bernhard and Boskovich

With Sandra Bernhard, John Doe, Steve Antin, Lu Leonard, Ken Foree, and Cynthia Bailey.

Once upon a time, before postmodernism came along, art tended to be about reality and the world — not always, to be sure, but more often than today. Then a group of professors and hucksters (as well as huckster-professors) got together and said, “What are reality and the world except particular versions of what we used to call art? And anyway what do we know about the world apart from what we see on TV, which is a form of popular art? The subject of art has always been other art, and postmodernism — unlike modernism, which is old hat by now, and all art prior to modernism, which is even older hat — is up-to-date art about other art. And what’s up-to-date is what sells.” Or words to that effect.

If capitalism is devoted in part to developing new markets, and advertising and journalism are devoted to promoting them, then postmodernist criticism is a means of backing up that promotion with hard intellectual currency.… Read more »

How To Make Love To A Negro Without Getting Tired

An amiable but otherwise fairly aimless French Canadian picture about bohemian life in Montreal that centers on a Haitian emigre (Isaach de Bankole) writing his first novel, his intellectual African roommate (Maka Kotto), and the numerous white women they attract (including, among others, Roberta Bizeau and Miriam Cyr). The bohemian ambienceand, alas, the sexual politicssuggest the late 50s and early 60s. An adaptation by Dany Laferriere of his own lightly satirical autobiographical novel, coscripted by coproducer Richard Sadler and directed by Jacques W. Benoit (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Witches

A minor but very enjoyable Nicolas Roeg fairy taleadapted by Allan Scott from Roald Dahl’s novel, and one of the last films on which Muppet master Jim Henson workedabout a very wicked Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) in contemporary England with a plan to turn all that country’s children into mice. She hatches this plot at a plush seaside resort, where the other main characters are staying, including a nine-year-old American orphan (Chicagoan Jasen Fisher)one of the witch’s first victimsand his Norwegian grandmother (Mai Zetterling). Forsaking the scattershot cutting of his usual work, Roeg seems to regard this as a relatively impersonal project, but he and the actors (especially Huston) still seem to be having a great deal of fun with it. One of many clear advantages this funny and scary 1989 fantasy-adventure has over most Disney products is its live-action visual bravado, evident in both the stylization of the witches and the profusion of mouse-point-of-view shots. PG, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Unbelievable Truth

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1990). — J.R.

TheUnbelievableTruth

A highly intriguing if not always fully successful first feature (1990) by independent writer-director Hal Hartley, shot in his hometown on Long Island, gives us, among other characters, a mechanic mistaken for a priest (Robert Burke) returning from a prison sentence, a politically alienated teenager (Adrienne Shelly), and the teenager’s mercenary redneck father (Christopher Cooke). Fantasies about global annihilation obsess the teenager, fantasies about money obsess her father, and fantasies about a pair of murders apparently committed by the mechanic obsess almost everyone else. The unvarnished quality of some of the acting limits this effort in spots, but the quirky originality of the story, characters, and filmmaking keeps one alert and curious. With Julia McNeal, Mark Bailey, and Gary Sauer. (JR)… Read more »

Quick Change

A delightful small picture in an era when such things are no longer supposed to exist, this quirky comedy follows the adventures of a trio of bank robbers (Bill Murray, Geena Davis, and Randy Quaid) who pull off an ingenious job but then find it difficult to get out of New York City; Jason Robards plays the police chief who is alternately hot and not so hot on their trail. Based on a novel by Jay Cronley, the screenplay by Howard Franklin, codirected by Franklin and Murray (both making directorial debuts), manages to live up to the demands of a thriller without sacrificing character to frenetic pacing, and the film exudes a kind of sweetness that never threatens to become either sticky or synthetic. All the lead actors are funny and creative while keeping their characters life-size (to my taste, this is Murray’s best work), and they’re given a very pleasant backup by Bob Elliott (of the former radio team Bob and Ray), Philip Bosco, Phil Hartman, Kathryn Grody, and Tony Shalhoub, among others (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Presumed Innocent

This adaptation of Scott Turow’s best-selling novelabout an idealistic prosecutor (Harrison Ford at his best) who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a colleague (Greta Scacchi) with whom he’s had an adulterous affairis a top-notch courtroom drama that will keep you guessing if you haven’t read the book; even if you have, it is still a very well crafted story, directed by Alan J. Pakula (Klute, All the President’s Men), who collaborated on the script with Frank Pierson, and effectively shot by Gordon Willis. While it never reaches the level of Anatomy of a Murder, which is probably the high point in this genre, it shares with that film a complex view of the judicial system that makes the multiple plot twists part of an overall vision, and Paul Winfield rivals Joseph Welch in the earlier film by making the most of (read hamming up) his juicy part as the judge. The remainder of the castincluding Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, and John Spencerare never less than capable, and Pakula and Ford are especially good in handling the nuances of sexual obsession (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Philosopher

A frankly outrageous comedy from West Germany by Rudolph Thome, part two of his Forms of Love trilogy. Odd yet entertaining in a head-scratching sort of way, the poker-faced plot concerns a young, serious, and rather inexperienced male philosopher who is loved and catered to by three beautiful young women, all of whom eventually devote their lives to taking care of and pleasing him (1988). (JR)… Read more »