Daily Archives: April 1, 1991

The Deadman

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1991). — J.R.

Running 37 minutes, Peggy Ahwesh and Keith Sanborn’s free and liberating (as well as liberated) 1989 adaptation of Georges Bataille’s untranslated story Le morte is one the most exciting and accomplished experimental film I saw during the 1990s. It charts the adventures of a nearly naked heroine who leaves the corpse of her lover in a country house, goes to a bar, and sets in motion a scabrous free-form orgy before returning to the house to die. The film manages to approximate the transgressive poetic prose of Bataille while celebrating female sexual desire without the usual patriarchal-porn trimmings. Equally remarkable for its endlessly inventive sound track and its beautiful black-and-white photography, it bears the earmarks of an authentic classic. The relationship between the visual storytelling, the ornate printed titles, and the occasional voice-over is both subtle and complex, mixing tenses and cross weaving modes of narration with a unique fusing of abandon and rigor. (JR)

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Switch

A womanizing male chauvinist (Perry King) is killed by three of his former conquests, reincarnated in the body of a woman (Ellen Barkin), and told he can enter heaven if he can find one female who likes him. Writer-director Blake Edwards in a burned-out mode seems so taken with this rickety concept that he hasn’t bothered to flesh it out with characters or much of a plot; it’s merely a soapbox from which he can deliver a few would-be feminist gibes. Ellen Barkin copes resourcefully with the limited material, but the rest of the castJimmy Smits, JoBeth Williams, and Lorraine Braccois left high and dry (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Superstar: The Life And Times Of Andy Warhol

Chuck Workman’s entertaining 1990 documentary about Andy Warhol disappoints only if you’re looking for something more than a good, breezy account of the life and times of Warhol, as well as the scene and mystique — don’t expect much information about or insight into the specifics of his art, his filmmaking, or his intelligence. Among the many people interviewed are Bob Colacello, Henry Geldzahler, Dennis Hopper, Sally Kirkland, Fran Leibowitz, Roy Lichtenstein, Gerard Malanga, Taylor Mead, Sylvia Miles, Bobby Short, Ultra Violet, Viva, and Holly Woodlawn, as well as several members of Warhol’s family. (JR)

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Six In Paris

Also known by the French title Paris vu par . . . , this is probably the best of the French New Wave sketch films (1964). Six directors are assigned separate sections of Paris, and each sketch is shot in 16-millimeter. The most powerful episodes are those by Jean Rouch (one of his few purely fictional works, shot documentary style in only one or two takes and costarring the future director of Reversal of Fortune, Barbet Schroeder) and Claude Chabrol (a convulsive bourgeois family melodrama featuring Chabrol himself and his then-wife Stephane Audran). Eric Rohmer contributes a mordant and well-crafted story set around l’Etoile, and the interesting if uneven Jean-Daniel Pollet, whose other films are woefully unavailable in the U.S., is represented by a bittersweet comic short starring the Harry Langdon-like Claude Melki. Jean Douchet (best known as a Cahiers du Cinema critic) offers a fairly undistinguished depiction of a Left Bank seduction, and Jean-Luc Godard presents a more detailed version of a story told in his feature A Woman Is a Woman, shot by Albert Maysles and starring Joanna Shimkus. Like most sketch films, this is patchy, but the Rouch, Chabrol, and Rohmer segments shouldn’t be missed. (JR)… Read more »

No Way Out

Not the Kevin Costner feature or the Alain Delon Mafia thriller, but a much better movieJoseph L. Mankiewicz’s hard-hitting, action-packed 1950 melodrama about a young black doctor (Sidney Poitier in his film debut) and a white gangster (Richard Widmark) who provokes a race riot after Poitier fails to save his brother’s life. Made long before such a theme was fashionable in Hollywood, this benefits from Mankiewicz’s flair for snappy dialogue and strong performances by the leads and secondary cast, which includes Linda Darnell, Stephen McNally, Ruby Dee, and Ossie Davis. 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

Night Of The Ghouls

Edward D. Wood Jr.’s 1960 follow-up to Plan 9 From Outer Space is a grade-Z effort about the walking dead featuring Kenne Duncan (a stunt man in serials), Valda Hansen, and Tor Johnson. The film remained in the lab for 23 years because Wood couldn’t afford to pay for the processing. Also known as Revenge of the Dead. 69 min. (JR)… Read more »

Whirlpool

This peculiar 1949 thriller by Otto Preminger about a kleptomaniac (Gene Tierney) under the control of a Mabuse-like hypnotist (Jose Ferrer) hasn’t much of a reputation in America, and the acting (which includes Richard Conte as Tierney’s psychoanalyst husband) and cornball script (by Andrew Solt and Ben Hecht hiding under a pseudonym) help explain why. But the French enthusiasm for this moody and creepy melodrama, sparked mainly by Jacques Rivette and Jean-Luc Godard, isn’t without defenses: Preminger’s ambiguous relation to his characters and his sense of moral relativity have seldom been put to such haunting use. Based on a Guy Endore novel; with Charles Bickford, Constance Collier, and Fortunio Bonanova. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Where The Sidewalk Ends

The last of Otto Preminger’s studio pictures at Fox, this 1950 feature has many of the noirish qualities of Laura and Fallen Angel: Dana Andrews, ambiguity about the characters’ dark undertones, and a fluid, fascinating mise en scene. Andrews plays a brutal New York cop who accidentally kills someone while investigating a murder and then proceeds to cover his tracks. Ben Hecht, writing under a pseudonym, adapted William Stuart’s novel Night Cry; Gene Tierney, Gary Merrill, and Karl Malden costar. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Up Against The Wall

A 14-year-old inner-city kid (Catero Alain Colbert) enters a good school in the suburbs, but gets into trouble when he decides to live with his older, drug-dealing brother (Stoney Jackson), encounters racism from a white member of his running team, and becomes involved with a classmate (Sallie Richardson) who gets exasperated with his lack of sexual experience. Other surprises are in store in this sincere and well-intentioned if flawed locally made independent featurewhich also features director Ron O’Neal, Oscar Brown Jr. (especially good and likable as the school coach), and L. Scott Caldwell in central rolesbut the naivete of the hero is so extreme that it may exasperate the spectator as well. Based on a story by executive producer Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu and scripted by Emma Young, Songodina Ifatunji, and Chuck and Zuindi Colbert. (JR)… Read more »

True Colors

A principled yuppie (James Spader) and an unprincipled upstart (John Cusack) become roommates and best friends at the University of Virginia’s law school in 1983, and eventually lock horns in Washington after the upstart pursues a political career and the yuppie goes in pursuit of justice. It’s questionable whether Kevin Wade’s muddled script would have carried much conviction under any circumstances, but the fatal miscasting of the two leads kills off any believability at the outset, and neither director Herbert Ross nor composer Trevor Jones (who contributes an aggressively bland score) can add enough punch to distract one from the overall incoherence. It’s nice, however, to see Richard Widmark back in gritty style as a wily senator. With Imogen Stubbs and Mandy Patinkin. (JR)… Read more »

Toy Soldiers

Colombian terrorists take over an exclusive boys prep school in an attempt to free a big-time drug dealer, in a silly but enjoyable thriller that studiously crossbreeds about six box office hits. Director Daniel Petrie Jr. and David Koepp adapt the novel of the same title by William P. Kennedy, and among the cast are Sean Astin, Wil Wheaton, Keith Coogan, Andrew Divoff, R. Lee Ermey, Denholm Elliott, Louis Gossett Jr., and an uncredited Jerry Orbach. (JR)… Read more »

Touki Bouki

This 1973 first feature by Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety is one of the greatest of all African films and almost certainly the most experimental. Beautifully shot and strikingly conceived, it follows the comic misadventures of a young motorcyclist and former herdsman (Magaye Niang) who gets involved in petty crimes in Dakar during an attempt to escape to Paris with the woman he loves (Mareme Niang). The title translates as Hyena’s Voyage, and among the things that make this film so interesting stylistically are the fantasy sequences involving the couple’s projected images of themselves in Paris and elsewhere. (JR)… Read more »

A Rage In Harlem

A delightful rendering of a Chester Himes novel with a 50s setting, adapted by costar John Toles-Bey and Bobby Crawford, directed by the adroit and resourceful TV director (The Killing Floor) and actor (Predator) Bill Duke, and featuring the gifts of coproducer Forest Whitakerwho plays a sort of bemused Jerry Lewis to Robin Givens’s sizzling Marilyn Monroein a funny, sexy, and violent crime comedy teeming with colorful Harlem types. Danny Glover is especially good as a kingpin named Easy Money, and Gregory Hines, Zakes Mokae, and Badja Djola are also lively in important roles. The characters may be more memorable than the plot, which involves the fate of some gold stolen in Mississippi, but they’re more than enough to carry this happy ride. Elmer Bernstein composed the score (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Perfectly Normal

A likable Canadian buddy comedy that teams Michael Riley as a withdrawn brewery worker with Robbie Coltrane as a flamboyant con artist who becomes his boarder; their dreams coincide when Coltrane convinces Riley to invest in a fancy operatic restaurant called La Traviata. The main interest here is the characters rather than the plot, and director Yves Simoneau does a good job of guiding the players through a quirky if ultimately predictable script by Eugene Lipinski (who plays a disgruntled brewery worker) and Paul Quarrington; Deborah Duchene also stands out as an aggressive waitress with designs on Riley, and Kenneth Welsh does what he can with the overly fancy part of the brewery foreman and company hockey coach. Richard Gregoire keeps things humming with his eclectic score, although you may be distracted by his vulgar and uncredited appropriations of Stravinsky (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Pawnbroker

The pawnbroker of the title is an emotionally frozen Jewish concentration-camp survivor (Rod Steiger) whose remoteness from the life around him in Harlem is severely tested, in an ambitious but pretentious adaptation of Edward Lewis Wallant’s novel by David Friedkin and Morton Fine, directed by Sidney Lumet. As usual, Lumet has a good feel for New York locations, enhanced here by Boris Kaufman’s superb black-and-white cinematography, and works well with the actors (Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sanchez, Thelma Oliver, Juano Hernandez, and Raymond St. Jacques). But this 1965 film was made at the height of the French New Wave’s influence on American art cinema, and Lumet’s clumsy appropriations of Alain Resnais’ distinctive way with editing and flashbacks only increases the stridency of the material. Quincy Jones furnished the score. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »