Yearly Archives: 1990

Vincent & Theo

Pared down from an English miniseries by the director himself, this 1990 feature by Robert Altman about Vincent van Gogh and his art dealer brother Theo, scripted by Julian Mitchell, is basically an extended reflection on the uneasy relationship between art and commerce that has relatively little to do with painting per se. It opens with a videotape of a present-day auctioning of a van Gogh canvas, and the bulk of what follows concentrates on the quirky acting styles of Tim Roth as Vincent and Paul Rhys as Theo. As in Alan Rudolph’s The Moderns, there is little effort to create a persuasive European period flavor, and the ambience is strictly postmodern. Still, this was Altman’s most watchable theatrical feature in about a decade, and the actors always keep you guessing. With Jip Wijngaarden, Johanna Ter Steege, and Jean-Pierre Cassel. 138 min. (JR)… Read more »

Three Men And A Little Lady

A sequel to a remakethat is, part two of Three Men and a Baby, which was a remake of 3 Men and a Cradle. Five-year-old Mary (Robin Weisman) and her mother (Nancy Travis) are now living with the three bachelors (Steve Guttenberg, Ted Danson, and Tom Selleck), who have trouble adjusting when the mother opts for a marriage and job in London. The utopian sense of family love central to the original premise is still present here, but it’s upholstered with the sort of unfelt, mechanical sitcom characters and gags that one would expect to find in the lamest Bob Hope vehiclesfrom the mother’s snooty English fiance to the repressed and predatory female director of an upper-crust English girls’ school. Consequently, just about the only fitful life to be found here is in the dregs of the original conception as fleshed out by the five stars. Directed by Emile Ardolino from a script by Charlie Peters (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Route One/usa

I’ve only seen about half of Robert Kramer’s 253-minute epic, but I can certainly recommend it very highly on that basis. This is a fictional documentary in which a character named Doc (Paul McIsaac), who figured in two earlier Kramer films, travels with cinematographer-director Kramer from Fort Kent, Maine, to Key West, Florida, looking for a job and a home, as well as noticing what’s been happening to his country. Doc attends a Pat Robertson for president meeting in New Hampshire, visits Walden Pond, and is interviewed for a job in a Manhattan ghetto school. Kramer is an American independent with a background in radical documentaries whose political fiction films (including The Edge and Ice) made a decisive mark in the 60s, but since 1979 he’s made most of his films Europe, which has regrettably kept his work out of general circulation in the U.S. This multifaceted road movie represents both a return to his sources and a striking out in fresh directions (1989). (JR)… Read more »

Rocky V

Having suffered irreversible brain damage from his last bout in the Soviet Union, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) returns to Philadelphia and discovers that he has lost all his money through the scams of a crooked accountant. After his wife (Talia Shire) persuades him to retire, a young fighter named Tommy Gunn (Tommy Morrison) convinces Rocky to train him; Tommy rises to fame on a steady stream of knockouts (his opponents appear to be exclusively nonwhite) while Rocky neglects Rocky Jr. (Sage Stallone) in order to live vicariously on Tommy’s triumphs. Meanwhile, a Mephistophelian black promoter (Richard Gant) lures Tommy away from Rocky, and only after a climactic street fight between Rocky and Tommy are things set right again. John G. Avildsen directs Stallone’s primitive script with the corn it calls for, hoping to distract from the simplicity with a few fancy montages, and does a fairly good job with the climactic slugfest; but the dramatic moves are so obvious and shopworn that not even the star’s mournful basset-hound expressions can redeem them. With Burt Young (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Mahabharata

Peter Brook’s nearly three-hour condensation and adaptation of his own nine-hour stage version of the national epic of India, a 100,000-stanza poem in Sanskrit written more than 2,000 years ago. Written by Brook, Jean-Claude Carriere, and Marie-Helene Estienne, the film features a mode of narration in which past and present, story and storytelling coexist within the same space. Unfortunately, this space is clearly that of a soundstage, and one of the major limitations here, as in earlier film adaptations by Brook of his own stage works, is that the theatrical and often declamatory style of acting never quite jells with the filmic presentation. Although the story has certain contemporary movie elementssuch as gore, fantasy, and the odd special effect or twothe action sequences are too ceremonial to carry much suspense; the sustaining source of interest is the introduction offered to the original material, which is undeniably fascinating. In the dual role of Ganesha and Krishna, Bruce Myers gives the most striking line readings in an extremely varied (and variable) cast (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Little Theater Of Jean Renoir

Renoir’s challenging and lovely last feature (1969) consists of three sketches and a brief song sung by Jeanne Moreau, with Renoir himself appearing to introduce each section. At the time of this film’s release critics tended to glide over or dismiss everything but the final sketch, a warm account of an old man learning to accept his young wife’s infidelity that summed up the generous and realistic manner that was all more conservative spectators expected from Renoir. But the film as a whole is a complex manifesto of his pluralistic approaches to both realism and style, and the other sketchesa highly artificial and sentimental fairy tale about a homeless couple and a bizarre, aggressive contemporary opera about a housewife’s burning desire for an electric waxerare essential. Indeed, what is most remarkable about Renoir’s swan song is the subtle interaction between these facets of his vision. Far from being a grab bag of unconnected pieces, as most critics have contended, it’s a musical suite in four movements, with each movement illuminating the others. If you want some notion of this great filmmaker’s range and breadth, here’s an essential key. (JR)… Read more »

Landscape In The Mist

Theo Angelopoulos (The Travelling Players), a Greek filmmaker of stature and talent whose works are scarcely known in this country, captured many hearts and minds with this melancholy road picture (1988), including those of many critics I respectbut not, I’m afraid, my own. If back in the 70s Angelopoulos seemed like an intelligent disciple of Antonioni, here he seems more like an intelligent disciple of early Fellini (which is not necessarily an improvement). There are some visually striking and dramatically effective moments in this film about two children who leave home for Germany in search of their father, but the 126 minutes seemed to last forever. With Tania Paleologou, Michalis Zeke, and Stratos Giorgioglou. In Greek with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Juliet Of The Spirits

Federico Fellini followed up his magisterial 8<4 with a similar stream-of-consciousness exercise (1965), this one in color and dealing with the alienation of a middle-aged housewife (Giulietta Masina, Fellini’s wife and the star of his earlier La strada and Nights of Cabiria). The results are unwieldy, uneven, and overlong to say the least. The charming fantasy sequences and use of psychedelic color can’t make up for the structural looseness, which became the fatal flaw in many subsequent Fellini features, and one never feels that Fellini understands his heroine with any depth. With Mario Pisu, Sandra Milo, Valentina Cortese, and Sylva Koscina. 137 min. (JR)… Read more »

Johanna D’arc Of Mongolia

I’ve only sampled this nearly three-hour 1989 extravaganza by German filmmaker and performance artist Ulrike Ottinger (Ticket of No Return, Freak Orlando), but most of what I saw whetted my appetite for more. The film centers on four female travelers on the Trans-Siberian RailwayLady Windermere (one of the last performances by the great Delphine Seyrig), a German botanist (Fassbinder regular Irm Hermann), the Broadway star Fanny Ziegfeld, and a beautiful young student. (Peter Kern is also on board as a Catskills comic.) They get kidnapped by a band of wild Mongolian women riding camels, and what follows has been described as documentary combined with ironic narrative. In German with subtitles. 165 min. (JR)… Read more »

James Baldwin: The Price Of The Ticket

This 1989 documentary by Karen Thorsen touches on various aspects of James Baldwin’s life and writing. From a literary standpoint, one occasionally regrets the film’s efforts to illustrate some of its commentaries (including footage from various dramatizations of his work), which tends to shortchange the viewer’s imagination. (An ideal Baldwin documentary might have juxtaposed passages from his neglected and fascinating book about film, The Devil Finds Work, with clips from the films he writes about, which would have been more to the point.) Despite the value of many of these commentaries (from former lovers, friends, relatives, and colleagues, such as Ishmael Reed), which testify to the love and lucidity that Baldwin inspired, the material drawn from numerous interviews with the writer himself is the most beautiful: Baldwin was usually his own best explicator, and his passion and power as a speaker are given full rein. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dances With Wolves

Kevin Costner stars, coproduces, and makes his directorial debut in a three-hour epic (1990), adapted by Michael Blake from his novel of the same title, about a Union lieutenant in the 1860s who gradually becomes a member of a Sioux tribe in the Dakotas. In reward for an act of heroism in Tennessee, the lieutenant is allowed to select his own reassignment, and he chooses the western frontier. Finding himself in an abandoned fort, he slowly makes the acquaintance of the nearby Sioux (as well as of a prairie wolf, which eventually leads to his Sioux name, Dances With Wolves) and helps them find buffalo; eventually he falls in love with and marries Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman adopted by the tribe as a child, who serves as interpreter. By the time he’s arrested as a traitor by the army, he has fully assumed a Sioux identity. Sincere, capable, at times moving, but overextended, this picture is seriously hampered by its tendency to linger over everythingespecially landscapes with silhouetted figures, and not excluding its own good intentions. For all the film’s respect for the Sioux, it has surprisingly little to tell us about their culture, and the implicit link between the hero’s wolf friend and his Sioux friends is rather emblematic of the sentimentality behind the overall conception.… Read more »

C’est La Vie

C’est la vie bourgeoise would be a better title, not only for this filmDiane Kurys’ autobiographical version of her parents’ breakup (also treated in Peppermint Soda and Entre nous)but for Kurys’ work as a whole. Like many other depictions of French middle-class life from within, it’s a view that equates this life with life in general, as the title implies. Set in the summer of 1958 in the French resort town of La Baule les Pins on the coast of Brittany, where the families of two half-sisters (Nathalie Baye and Zabou) are vacationing, the plot is mainly shaped around the viewpoint of Frederique (Julie Bataille), whose father (Richard Berry) is mainly away due to a marital crisis, and whose mother (Baye) turns up only belatedly, with a boyfriend (Vincent Lindon) in tow. While Kurys is adept as usual in handling the surface details of this world, the overall vision is neither fresh nor especially insightful, only familiar. Written with Alain Le Henry; with Jean-Pierre Bacri, Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, and Didier Benureau (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Brig

A transitional work between Jonas Mekas’s beat and arty Guns of the Trees (1961) and his diary films (which began around 1966), this 1964 filming of the Living Theatre’s production of Kenneth H. Brown’s gritty and disquieting stage play about military discipline in a Marine Corps prison, utilizing cinema verite techniques, was a last-ditch effort to preserve the production after the theater was forcibly shut down. Widely mistaken abroad for a documentary about an actual prison. (JR)… Read more »

Blue Sunshine

Ten years after a group of Stanford students take some bad LSD, they lose their hair and become psycho killers. Jeff Leiberman wrote and directed this nonsense, which stars Zalman King, Robert Walden, Mark Goddard, and Alice Ghostley (1978). (JR)… Read more »

Blue Steel

Kathryn Bigelow’s stupid serial-killer movie (1990) dispelled the hopes of Near Dark and proved that a Dirty Harry rip-off, even one made by a woman and featuring a female cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) who happens to be dating the raving lunatic killer (Ron Silver with bulging eyes), is still just a Dirty Harry rip-off. The plot, coscripted by Bigelow with Eric Red, is based on a string of ridiculous premises leading up to a ludicrously protracted finale; suspense is generated in spots, but only by the characters uniformly behaving like imbeciles. Some effort is made to give the visuals (including the usual phallic gun worship) a bit of razzle-dazzle, but Bigelow never knows when to stop: the numerous close-ups have a deadening effect, and even the more perverse elements in the story are made to seem recycled and obligatory. With Clancy Brown, Elizabeth Pe… Read more »