Monthly Archives: October 1990

Hail The Conquering Hero

Preston Sturges’s last feature for Paramount (1944) takes on wartime patriotism with a brio and vengeance that may take your breath away. Woodrow Lafayette Pershing Truesmith (Eddie Bracken) gets discharged from the marines due to chronic hay fever, but some service buddies decide to present him to his hometown as if he’s a returning war hero. As usual, Sturges’s stock company of wonderful bit actorsincluding William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Raymond Walburn, and Jimmy Conlinis orchestrated and conducted like a pop symphony, and Ella Raines does duty as the love interest. A scathing delight. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

White Palace

A refined 27-year-old yuppie (James Spader) in Saint Louis, still grieving over the death of his wife in a car accident, gets involved in a passionate affair with an aggressive 43-year-old waitress (Susan Sarandon) at a White Palace hamburger joint, and their class differences pose even more problems for them than their age difference, especially when the yuppie’s mother and friends come into the picture. Neither character is especially well defined, particularly if one discounts the strident overdefinition of their respective milieus, but as an old-fashioned Hollywood romance in which anything can happen, this is reasonably watchable, and at times mildly funny. Adapted by Tedd Tally and Alvin Sargent from a novel by Glenn Savan, directed by Luis Mandoki (Gaby–A True Story), and costarring Jason Alexander, Kathy Bates, and Eileen Brennan (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Waiting For The Light

A charming period comedy set in 1962, chiefly during the Cuban missile crisis, written and directed by Christopher Monger and produced by the enterprising Edward R. Pressman. A single parent (Teri Garr) who lives with her semidelinquent kids (Hillary Wolf and Colin Baumgartner) and magician aunt (a relatively subdued Shirley MacLaine), whose influence often gets the kids into trouble, leaves Chicago for a small town in Washington after she inherits a run-down diner. After a scrape with their reclusive next-door neighbor (Vincent Schiavelli, a dead ringer for underground actor Taylor Mead), the kids and aunt secretly take revenge by manufacturing a miracle that the local community takes seriously, turning the diner into a thriving tourist location. Unfashionably leisurely and depending more on character and ambience than on plot and action, this is a pretty agreeable old-fashioned sort of picture, attractively shot by Gabriel Beristain. (JR)… Read more »

Tune In Tomorrow

A disconcerting (if occasionally intriguing) mixed bag, this Americanized adaptation of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Peruvian novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter has been transplanted to 1951 New Orleans by scenarist William Boyd. Directed by Jon Amiel (The Singing Detective, Queen of Hearts), the film suffers from a truly awful performance by Keanu Reeves as a reporter and aspiring literary writer who becomes involved with his worldly aunt (Barbara Hershey) and falls under the spell of an eccentric radio soap-opera writer (Peter Falk) who likes to manipulate reality in order to feed his own fiction. Falk has been encouraged to ham it up so shamelessly that even fans like myself are put to the test; the period flavor is uncertain, Wynton Marsalis’s score is disappointingly mediocre, and the film’s eagerness to milk laughs from the scriptwriter’s loathing of Albanians seems tacky and facile. What the movie has going for it are the freewheeling crossovers between fiction and reality that also sparked The Singing Detective and which the film generally handles with wit and imagination, as well as Hershey’s touching effortsvirtually at odds with those of the rest of the castto play a believable character. Otherwise, this movie tends to assault you like a hysterically affectionate Chihuahua, daring you to either recoil or capitulate (1990).… Read more »

The Third Generation

Bulle Ogier and Eddie Constantine join Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s stock company in a dark 1979 comedy predicated on the odd conceit that the West German state secretly supports a terrorist group to mask and offset its own repressions. Episodic, aurally and visually cluttered, and calculated to irritate, but like most Fassbinder films, worth a second look. In German with subtitled. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Pete’s Dragon

By reputation, one of the Disney studio’s feeblest efforts (1977). Set in Maine in 1900, it features a live-action boy and an animated dragon that no one but the boy can see. (DK) Directed by Don Chaffey; with Helen Reddy, Jim Dale, Mickey Rooney, Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Sean Marshall, and Jim Backus.… Read more »

The Pearl

This Mexican feature by Emilio Fernandez, based on John Steinbeck’s novel about a poor fisherman, is best known for its remarkable black-and-white cinematography by the masterful Gabriel Figueroa; with Pedro Armendariz and Maria Elena Marques (1948). (JR)… Read more »

Odd Man Out

A wounded Irish revolutionary (James Mason at his near best) on the run in Belfast encounters a cross section of human responsesself-interest, indifference, empathy, and charityin this arty 1946 English thriller directed by Carol Reed and adapted by F.L. Green and R.C. Sherriff from Green’s novel. This may be Reed’s most pretentious film, but it also happens to be one of his very best, beautifully capturing the poetry of a city at night (with black-and-white cinematography by Robert Krasker that’s within hailing distance of Gregg Toland and Stanley Cortez’s work with Orson Welles). It also has a splendid castincluding Robert Newton, Kathleen Ryan, F.J. McCormick, Cyril Cusack, and Dan O’Herlihythat wrings the utmost, and then some, out of the quasi-allegorical material. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Miller’s Crossing

The Coen brothers’ lush gangster melodrama (1990, 115 min.), set in an unnamed eastern city in 1929. Self-conscious and show-offy, with more portent than soul, the film shows some progress over the Coens’ earlier effortsif only because of the allure and energy of the cast. Yet it never fully convinces in terms of either period or plot. Gabriel Byrne plays an Irish gangster and pal of Irish city boss Albert Finney, and the two of them split over a Jewish moll (Marcia Gay Harden) whose brother (John Turturro) is set to be bumped off; Byrne then goes to work for the Italian kingpin in town (Jon Polito) who has taken over control of the mayor and chief of police from Finney. The novels of Dashiell Hammett were reportedly the main inspiration here, but if much of what’s best about Hammett came from personal acquaintance with his gangster milieu, the Coens’ only acquaintance is with Hammett’s novels. The film’s idea of sophistication is to play Danny Boy while the tommy guns splutter, pile on the gore, light the interiors like kitsch Rembrandts, and punctuate the action with significant fade-outs; the double crosses are so intricate and the cynicism so enveloping that it becomes increasingly difficult to care about the characters, although the actors (who also include the sinister J.E.… Read more »

Marriage Of The Blessed

A 1989 film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Peddler) about the upsetting discoveries made by a shell-shocked veteran of the Iran-Iraq war after he returns to his job as a photojournalist in Tehran and to his fiancee, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. As in The Peddler, Makhmalbaf shows considerable talent and passion for dealing with the contradictions of contemporary Iranian life, and the restless and eclectic style of his direction makes this one of his most penetrating and disturbing works. In Farsi with subtitles. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Man Inside

Based on the true-life story of German investigative journalist Gunter Wallraff (Jurgen Prochnow), who got hired incognito as a right-wing reporter for Germany’s leading newspaper in order to uncover its corrupt practices, this is a rather lackluster thriller that loses plausibility the minute that the overblown editor-villain (Dieter Laser) makes his first appearance, cackling like the meanie in a Flash Gordon serial. It’s a pity, because the subject is a vital one, but writer-director Bobby Roth is clearly out of his element. With Nathalie Baye and Peter Coyote, the latter clearly uncomfortable with his German accent. (JR)… Read more »

Life Is Cheap . . . But Toilet Paper Is Expensive

A wild, lively effort by Chinese American filmmaker Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing, Dim Sum, Slamdance) that might have been called Two or Three Things I Know About Hong Kong. Like Godard’s films in the late 60s, this beautifully shot essayistic poemputatively a thriller and full of scatological gags and conceits as well as macabre violence and humorevokes a contemporary city in all its contradictions and paradoxes with a great deal of eclecticism. (The film’s full title perfectly captures its jaundiced socioeconomic view and its stylistic irreverence.) The Hong Kong presented here is not only the city we know from films made there (with plenty of in-jokes and guest-star appearances, including Allen Fong as a cabdriver), but also the city that looks forward to joining the Chinese mainland in 1997. A satiric semidocumentary in which the locals periodically address the camera, Wang’s shocker also includes one of the longest (and surely the most dizzying) chase sequences ever filmed. Originally saddled with an X rating, this is a grown-up movie without the power of the Hollywood industry behind it, which suggests a freedom that Wang takes full advantage of (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Krays

The notorious Kray twins, gangsters who ruled London’s East End in the 50s and 60s, are legendary figures in England, and screenwriter Philip Ridley boasts that his account of their lives is blatantly unfactual, unsullied by a scrap of research. His ambitious script blames everything on the permissive matriarchy that reared the brothers, though it isn’t quite as simpleminded as it sounds. With Martin and Gary Kemp (from the pop group Spandau Ballet) as the twinsthe former straight, the latter gayand the remarkable Billie Whitelaw as their mother, this movie has a certain depth and class. But the macabre violencedished out strategically and qualitatively (with sabers) rather than quantitativelyis extremely unpleasant. Peter Medak (The Ruling Class) directed with some sweep and force, but the thoughtful dimensions of this English picture don’t entirely overcome or justify the general coldness and nastiness. With Tom Bell, Kate Hardie, and Susan Fleetwood (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Incredible Shrinking Man

A scientist (Grant Williams) exposed to radiation grows smaller and smaller in this faithful 1957 adaptation of a bad Richard Matheson novel; it’s a lot more interesting than its source, thanks to the special effects and Jack Arnold’s taut, no-nonsense direction. The surreal intensity of outsize objects that loom as the hero shrinks is handled effectively, and the mystical happy ending is a better payoff than one would expect of the genre. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Fox And His Friends

This 1975 melodrama by Rainer Werner Fassbinder is one of his better middle-period films. A fairgrounds worker (Fassbinder) who wins a small fortune in a state lottery is exploited and eventually destroyed by his effete bourgeois lover (Karlheinz Boehm) and the lover’s stuck-up friends. Very sharp about class and milieu, the film is limited only by Fassbinder’s characteristic enjoyment of the hero-victim’s pain. At one point the camera is even stationed on a floor a moment before the hapless hero slips and falls, in sadistic anticipation of his mishap. As with much of Fassbinder’s work, his cruelty complicates rather than negates his mordant, on-target social analysis. With Peter Chatel, Harry Bar, Ulla Jacobsson, and Kurt Raab. In German with subtitles. 123 min. (JR)… Read more »