Daily Archives: February 1, 1991

Sleeping With The Enemy

An abused wife (Pretty Woman’s Julia Roberts) escapes from her psychopathic investment-counselor husband (Patrick Bergin) by faking her death, changing her name, and moving from Cape Cod to a university town in Iowa, only to find that he’s still hot on her trail. Although it’s directed by the at times estimable Joseph Ruben (The Stepfather), who does what he can with the script, the script itselfcredited to Ronald Bass, and adapted from Nancy Price’s novelis a tissue of so many stupid and implausible contrivances that the only possible way of enjoying it is by taking your brain out to lunch. It’s the sort of movie where all of the characters and plot moves (if one wants to call them that) are tailored to the thriller mechanics and have no existence apart from their crude functionality. Kevin Anderson costars as a young drama teacher who provides the alternative love interest. (JR)… Read more »

The Silence Of The Lambs

An accomplished, effective, grisly, and exceptionally sick slasher film (1991) that I can’t with any conscience recommend, because the purposes to which it places its considerable ingenuity are ultimately rather foul. Like Thomas Harris’s novel, which screenwriter Ted Tally adapts here, Jonathan Demme’s film proposes that the psychotic serial killer is the essential religious figure of our time: saint, guru, seer, and soothsayer rolled into one. In fact, this characterization applies literally to only one of the two serial killers here, a psychiatrist (Anthony Hopkins) who cannibalizes his victims and is now held in maximum security. The heroine (Jodie Foster), an FBI trainee, appeals to him for insight in tracking down another mad killer (Ted Levine), who flays his victims (and is a transvestite to boot, allowing Demme to cash in on the homophobia market). In the course of parceling out his wisdom, the psychiatrist also analyzes the trainee, becoming an even more commanding father figure to her than the boss (Scott Glenn) who sends her on this mission. The radical premise that our society implicitly worships as well as fears serial killers underlies the queasy impact of this gory thriller without becoming its overriding thesis, and while Demme has said that this story takes some really good pokes at patriarchy, this is mainly wishful thinking.… Read more »

Shadey

A black comedy about a mind reader, this new feature, directed by Philip Saville, with Antony Sher, Katherine Helmond, and Patrick Macnee, is being presented as a special sneak preview.… Read more »

Scenes From A Mall

A middle-aged couple (Woody Allen and Bette Midler) in southern California celebrating their 15th anniversary go to a shopping mall, and they proceed to decompose and recompose their relationship on the basis of various revelations. Although this only runs for about 90 minutes, it’s the emptiest and most long-winded movie Paul Mazursky (working here with his frequent cowriter Roger L. Simon) has ever made, a disappointingly steep descent after his Enemies, a Love Story. The characters never come to life, and restricting almost all of the action to a gigantic mall only makes the narrowness and boredom of the movie more obvious. Mazursky has returned with a vengeance to his special universe where the upper middle class is the only thing that exists, and this time he has absolutely nothing to say about it. (JR)… Read more »

Nine Months

If you can put up with the tinny drone of the theme music (why do so many sensitive east European films have scores that belong on ski lifts?), there’s a lot to recommend this beautifully shot and tactile feminist love story by Hungarian filmmaker Marta Meszaros. The camera takes possession of unexceptional industrial landscapes so that we remember them afterward like places we know firsthand, and the characters — including the strong-willed, independent heroine (well played by Lili Monori) — tend to improve with familiarity as well. With Jan Nowicki (1976). (JR)… Read more »

Next Of Kin

The 1985 first feature of Canadian writer-director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) is probably his least-known work. But thanks to its dynamic camera style and bizarre premise, it’s in some ways his most immediately engaging. In the course of undergoing family therapy with his parents, a young Canadian WASP (Patrick Tierney) comes across a video of an Armenian family (Berge Fazlian, Sirvart Fazlian, and Egoyan regular Arsinee Khanjian) who put their son up for adoption 20 years before. Flying to the city where this family lives, the hero poses as the missing son and becomes much better integrated into their family than his own. As in most of Egoyan’s subsequent films, video not only has an important function in the plot but is also employed metaphorically. Egoyan’s use of realistic details often proves deceptive; just as we’ve settled into accepting his plot on a literal level, he starts unhinging our expectations with ambiguities and details that don’t fit comfortably within a realistic scenario. (One particular ambiguity that is never resolved is the young man’s relationship with his sister.) The result is a very impressive debut, beautifully acted by all the leads and engaging and provocative in its treatment of the differences (as well as the similarities) between role-playing and pretending.… Read more »

He Said, She Said

Try to imagine Siskel and Ebert not as Chicago film critics but as a heterosexual couple in Baltimore, both of them general interest reporters whose combative instincts and political and temperamental differences become the focus of a TV show, and you more or less have the premise of this romantic comedy. Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins play the leads, and a real-life couple (Ken Kwapis and Marisa Silver) direct the separate versions of their story (both scripted by Brian Hohlfeld). The attempt to tell the same story twice from separate viewpoints a la Rashomon or Les Girls doesn’t always yield as much ambiguity or complexity as one might wish. But on the whole this is an honorable attempt to revive the feeling and ambience of a Hollywood comedy of the 50s, complete with sumptuous romantic music (score by Miles Goodman), ‘Scope framing, and a magical last-minute resolution; as such, it’s pretty pleasurable to watch. With Sharon Stone. (JR)… Read more »

Roger Corman: Hollywood’s Wild Angel

A disappointing hour-long profile (1978) of the maverick producer-director by Christian Blackwood that unhappily never strays far from a strictly promotional skim job. The interviews with various Corman regulars and alumniAllan Arkush, Paul Bartel, David Carradine, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda, Ron Howard, Jonathan Kaplan, and Martin Scorseseas well as Corman himself never dig very deeply. And the decision to restrict the film mainly to Corman’s then-recent films leaves many lacunae; early interesting effortssuch as Rock All Night and The Stranger, Corman’s one serious venture into social problems, specifically racism and the civil rights movementgo completely unmentioned. (JR)… Read more »

Private Conversations On The Set Of Death Of A Salesman

A fascinating 1985 documentary by Christian Blackwood about the shooting of a TV film of Death of a Salesman, focusing on the creative deliberations of director Volker Schlondorff, actor Dustin Hoffman, and playwright Arthur Miller (the latter two served as executive producers). Blackwood mainly addresses some of the technical and aesthetic problems involved in translating a stage work into film, although the personalities and quirks of the participants (including actors John Malkovich, Charles Durning, Stephen Lang, Kate Reid, and Miller’s Crossing’s Jon Polito, as well as cinematographer Michael Ballhaus) also play a substantial role. The presence of Blackwood’s camera and microphone raises the question of how much this documentary is producing or alteringas opposed to merely recordingthe behavior and deliberations that we’re privy to. (JR)… Read more »

Princes In Exile

A gifted, asocial teenager with a brain tumor (Zachary Ansley) spends a summer at a camp for children with cancer and gets his attitudes turned around, in a sensitive, touching, and far from depressing drama from Canada, directed by Giles Walker from a screenplay by Joe Wiesenfeld, adapted from Mark Schreiber’s novel of the same title. The characters (all of them campers and staff members) are realized with a great deal of depth and feeling, and the film never caves in to sentimentality or cliche; the thematic focus is how to deal purposefully and honestly with cancer, but what really commands respect here is the varied group of people we’re introduced to. The cast, uniformly effective, also includes Nicholas Shields, Stacie Mistysyn, Andrea Roth, Gordon Woolvett, Alexander Chapman, and Chuck Shamata. (JR)… Read more »

My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys

A battered rodeo bull rider (Scott Glenn) returns to his hometown in Oklahoma and tries to settle down, removing his father (Ben Johnson) from an old folks home, despite the objections of his sister (Tess Harper), and resuming a relationship with his high school girlfriend (Kate Capshaw), now a widow with two kids. Most of this is very familiar stuff, with rodeo sequences serving as the story’s bookends, but some of the performanceswhich also include turns from Gary Busey, Mickey Rooney, Clarence Williams III, and Balthazar Gettykeep it moderately watchable if your expectations aren’t too high. Stuart Rosenberg (Cool Hand Luke, The Pope of Greenwich Village) directed from a script by novelist and songwriter Joel Don Humphreys, with location cinematography by Bernd Heinl. (JR)… Read more »

Lines Of Fire

At the end of a day when more than 1,000 allied bombing missions had been carried out against Iraq and Kuwait, ABC’s Ted Koppel said, Since that Scud missile hit Tel Aviv earlier today, it has been a quiet night in the Middle East. A comparable deafness and blindness to the fate of nonwhites led the former personal secretary of Nancy Reagan to give airplanes and 2,4-D herbicide to Burma’s brutally repressive, totalitarian military regimesupposedly to wipe out opium fields. In fact, the gifts were also used against students and ethnic rebels of the National Democratic Front; food crops, cattle, people, and water supplies were sprayed in an effort to quell the civil war that has been raging in Burma for decades. The complexity of a situation in which one of the most prominent apparent rebels is an opium warlord commanding about 12,000 troops in his fight for the independence of the Shan state wasn’t lost on Brian Beker, the producer, director, and narrator of this fine hour-long documentary, filmed at great risk in 1989. The film also offers videotape coverage of the 1988 uprising, when around 15,000 civilians were slaughtered by government troops. As an introdution to some of the intricacies of a revolution in the largest country in Southeast Asia, with a population of 40 millionas well as some insight into what the noble intentions of the U.S.… Read more »

King Ralph

John Goodman is a sleazy Las Vegas piano player who winds up as king of England, in a rather Neanderthal comedy written and directed by David S. Ward, adapted from Emlyn Williams’s novel Headlong, that relies more on easy jokes (including a racist episode involving a spear-chucking African king) than anything resembling inventiveness. A very tired looking Peter O’Toole stars as the new king’s personal secretary, and an equally uncomfortable John Hurt plays a lord who plots his downfall; Camille Coduri plays the commoner and would-be stripper whom the hero falls in love with. I certainly have no objections to low comedy, and Goodman is game enough, but the script and direction are so witless that by the end I was longing for Rodney Dangerfield and Jim Belushi. (JR)… Read more »

Iron & Silk

Set in a city 100 miles southwest of Shanghai, this is the autobiographical story of an American kung-fu expert (cowriter and star Mark Salzman) who comes to mainland China in 1982 to teach English. He falls for a young doctor (Vivian Wu), is tutored in Chinese customs and t’ai chi by a widow (Jeanette Lin Tsui), and eventually gets to study wushu (a form of martial arts) with a master (Pan Qingfu playing himself); he also encounters various difficulties as a foreigner coping with an alien society. Based on Salzman’s book of the same title, produced and directed by Shirley Sun (who collaborated with Salzman on the script), and filmed on location in China, this is in part an embarrassing vanity productionat least in appearancein which Salzman, a somewhat awkward actor, gets to show off his wushu, his cello playing, and diverse other skills and charms at length. However, the account of his difficulties adjusting to Chinese life is fascinating for what it reveals about contemporary China (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Goodbye Columbus

Larry Peerce’s coarsened adaptation of Philip Roth’s early satirical novella about a poor New Jersey Jew (Richard Benjamin) falling in love with the daughter (Ali MacGraw) of an upscale suburban Jewish family. With Jack Klugman, Nan Martin, and Michael Meyers (1969). (JR)… Read more »