Monthly Archives: May 1991

The Enchantment

A fascinating and masterful melodrama from Japan, written by Goro Nakajima and directed by former independent Shunichi Nagasaki, that may remind you in spots of both Vertigo and Lilith, although the treatment is strictly Japanese. A Tokyo psychiatrist (Masao Kusakari) who is engaged to his receptionist (Kiwako Harada) becomes fascinated to the point of obsession with a beautiful tourist guide (Kumiko Akiyoshi) who claims to have been beaten by her lesbian lover; further events reveal that this lover is dead and that her identity is being schizophrenically re-created by the tourist guide. A film that juxtaposes two kinds of obsession and implicitly asks the spectator to determine which is sicker (or healthier); it’s all done with effective plot twists and a sure story-telling hand (1989). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, June 1, 8:00, 443-3737) … Read more »

Truly Madly Deeply

An English feature written and directed by playwright Anthony Minghella, about a young woman (Juliet Stevenson) stricken by the death of her cellist lover (Alan Rickman) who appears to be revisited by his ghost. This comes across as an English realist variation on the sort of quasi-supernatural stories that producer Val Lewton specialized in during the 40s: that is, the supernatural elements are used to enhance the realistic psychology rather than the other way around. If the relatively prosaic Minghella, making his movie debut, lacks the suggestive poetic sensibility of Lewton, he does a fine job in capturing the contemporary everyday textures of London life, and coaxes a strong performance out of Stevenson, a longtime collaborator. Full of richly realized secondary characters and witty oddball details (e.g., the home video tastes of the dead lover’s ghostly male companions), this is a beguiling film in more ways than one. (Piper’s Alley) … Read more »

Thelma & Louise

A coffee shop waitress (Susan Sarandon) and a beleaguered housewife (Geena Davis) in the southern sticks take off for a weekend holiday and eventually find themselves fleeing from the law and society in a buoyant and satisfying feminist road movie directed by Ridley Scott from a script by Callie Khouri. Scott, who usually offers a style in search of a subject, makes the most of the southwestern landscapes in handsome ‘Scope framing and shows an uncharacteristic flair for comedy in fleshing out Khouri’s script with a memorable cast of male rednecks (including Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt, and Timothy Carhart); his eye may get a little fancy and fussy in spots, but this is still his best picture since Blade Runner, and Sarandon and Davis bring a lot of unpredictable verve and nuance to their parts. Classic genre movies are a scarce commodity nowadays (Miami Blues is probably the most recent one), and this gutsy crime thriller and female buddy movie qualifies in spades. See it. (Ford City, Golf Glen, 900 N. Michigan, Norridge, Old Orchard, Webster Place) … Read more »

The Man Who Fell to Sleep [SWITCH]

From the Chicago Reader (May 17, 1991). — J.R.

SWITCH

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed and written by Blake Edwards

With Ellen Barkin, Jimmy Smits, JoBeth Williams, Lorraine Bracco, Tony Roberts, Perry King, Lysette Anthony, and Victoria Mahoney.

In a review of Blake Edwards’s S.O.B. ten years ago, I was skeptical enough about his reputation as a trenchant social satirist that I called him the Perry Como of slapstick. Stylistically I think the comparison still holds — Switch, Edwards’s latest comedy, bears it out with a grim vengeance — but thematically the description may do Edwards’s work less than full justice. However Hollywood-style and boringly upscale the mid-life crises of the self-regarding womanizers in 10, S.O.B., The Man Who Loved Women, and Skin Deep may be, these are still troubled and neurotic movies; not for nothing did Edwards assign partial script credit to his own psychiatrist in The Man Who Loved Women.

I’m not saying that this element of disturbance makes Edwards a better writer or director, only that it gives him certain characteristics that belie the Perry Como comparison, including a taste for the grotesque and a penchant for self-analysis. Victor/Victoria and That’s Life! show a certain sweetness in dealing with middle-aged characters, and most of Edwards’s movies at least flirt with troubled reflections about sex rather than simply coast along on their Malibu-style furnishings.… Read more »

Hollywood Unchained [SPARTACUS]

From the May 10, 1991 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

SPARTACUS

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Written by Dalton Trumbo

With Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, and John Ireland.

“It has acres of dead people, more blood and gore than you ever saw in your whole life.

“In the final scene, Spartacus’s mistress, carrying her illegitimate baby, passes along the Appian Way with 6,000 crucified men on crosses.

“That story was sold to Universal from a book written by a Commie and the screen script was written by a Commie, so don’t go to see it.”

Despite these dire warnings from gossip columnist Hedda Hopper — and another from the American Legion, which sent a letter to its 17,000 local posts urging people to boycott the movie — Spartacus, released in 1960 and reportedly the most expensive movie ever shot in Hollywood, eventually turned a profit. It was even the top money-maker of 1962 after it went into general release — thereby, I suppose, making Commie symps of all of us who went to see it. It was the Kennedy era, and the blood and gore on view were pretty tame by today’s standards; for the record, the number of crucified men — rebel slaves — while high, is a good bit shy of 6,000.… Read more »

Daddy Nostalgia

Not only is Jane Birkin at her best in this low-key, realistic drama; she’s also the element that ties everything else together. Directed by Bertrand Tavernier from a script by his ex-wife, Colo Tavernier O’Hagan (he wrote some of the dialogue), this is basically a chamber piece for three voices about a Parisian screenwriter (Birkin) separated from her husband who visits her ailing English father (Dirk Bogarde) and her French mother (Odette Laure) in a small villa on the Cote d’Azur, trying to create a closeness with her father that she has never felt. She mainly speaks English with her father and French with her mother (from whom she feels even more remote), and the characteristic strength of Tavernier’s direction is its capacity to take these unexceptional people as he finds them. A few fleeting flashbacks and snippets of offscreen narration barely intrude on the relatively eventless but finely nuanced action. Contributing to Antoine Duhamel’s score is jazz pianist Jimmy Rowles, and Birkin herself and Rowles sing “These Foolish Things.” (Fine Arts) … Read more »

Love and Money, Mostly Money

From the Chicago Reader (May 3, 1991). — J.R.

A RAGE IN HARLEM

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Bill Duke

Written by John Toles-Bey and Bobby Crawford

With Forest Whitaker, Gregory Hines, Robin Givens, Zakes Mokae, Danny Glover, Badja Djola, and John Toles-Bey.

THE OBJECT OF BEAUTY

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Michael Lindsay-Hogg

With John Malkovich, Andie MacDowell, Joss Ackland, Rudi Davies, Peter Riegert, Lolita Davidovich, and Ricci Harnett.

OSCAR

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by John Landis

Written by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland

With Sylvester Stallone, Peter Riegert, Joey Travolta, Elizabeth Barondes, Tim Curry, Vincent Spano, Ornella Muti, and Joycelyn O’Brien.

With at least three new comedies around at the moment — four counting the semicomic Impromptu – it seems like the silly season is fully upon us. Although the three urban comedies under review are set in different decades (Oscar in the 30s, A Rage in Harlem in the 50s, The Object of Beauty in the present), they all appear at first to be equally concerned with money — the thing that keeps the wheels of their complicated farcical plots turning. All have something to do with sex and romance as well, but it’s clearly money that holds the sex and romance in place.… Read more »

Spartacus

It seems appropriate that the blockbuster that broke the Hollywood blacklist in 1960–by crediting a blacklisted filmmaker (screenwriter Dalton Trumbo) and adapting a best-selling novel by leftist Howard Fast–should be the apotheosis of Kennedy liberalism, to the same degree that The Ten Commandments (1956) was the apotheosis of Eisenhower conservatism. This movie is special in other ways as well: perhaps the most literate of all the spectacles about antiquity, it is probably the first major Hollywood film with a central character who is bisexual (a fact made more evident in this restoration, which includes a scene originally cut by the censors); and it is the only movie on which Stanley Kubrick has served as a hired gun, having been brought in after Anthony Mann (who directed the first sequence) was fired. Kubrick has remarked that he enjoyed the most freedom in the scenes without dialogue, and one can spot eye-filling, dynamic sketches for both the battle scenes in Barry Lyndon (albeit realized here on a much larger scale) and the training sequences in Full Metal Jacket. Executive producer Kirk Douglas stars as the eponymous rebel slave, and he and Jean Simmons are both appealing as the romantic leads; no less juicy is the Roman triumvirate of Laurence Olivier, Charles Laughton, and Peter Ustinov; the embarrassing accents and performances of Tony Curtis, John Dall, and Nina Foch, among others, and some outright kitschy stretches are some of the drawbacks.… Read more »

Swan Lake–the Zone

Yuri Illyenko, the master Ukrainian cinematographer who shot Sergei Paradjanov’s Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1965) and directed the long-banned A Spring for the Thirsty (1965) and The Eve of Ivan Kupalo (1968), based this striking 1990 allegorical film on stories by Paradjanov that were inspired by his long sojourns in prison. The film was shot at the prison where Paradjanov was confined, using contemporary prisoners as extras, and it might be said that the documentary and poetic-symbolic aspects of this movie are equally germane to its overall impact. Three days before his sentence is to end, a prisoner (Victor Solovyov) escapes and hides out inside a giant hammer and sickle that borders the prison grounds, where he is discovered and nursed back to health by a beautiful woman (Liudmyla Yefymenko, Illyenko’s wife) who becomes his lover, until her resentful son (Illyenko’s son) betrays his whereabouts to the prison authorities. One of the first independent Soviet productions, partially financed in Sweden and Canada, the film tells its story with a minimum of dialogue and very striking imagery. (JR)… Read more »

Supernatural

The unlikely team of Carole Lombard and Randolph Scott costar in this rarely shown 60-minute chiller by Victor Halperin (White Zombie) about an executed strangler (Vivienne Osborne) whose spirit threatens to overtake Lombard (1933). It starts off with quotes from Confucius, Muhammad, and Saint Matthew (and a wild montage shortly afterward), and features a fake spiritualist (Alan Dinehart) with a poison ring as well as a genuine psychologist experimenting with ultraviolet rays. This is too good to be camp, though not quite accomplished enough to qualify as a classic. It does, however, manage to generate some creditable acting and a fair amount of atmosphere. (JR)… Read more »

Soapdish

Backstage backstabbing and other forms of skulduggery on a daytime soap opera called The Sun Also Sets are the main bill of fare in this 1991 satirical farce, written by Robert Harling (The First Wives Club) and Andrew Bergman (Honeymoon in Vegas) and directed by Michael Hoffman. It’s full of bizarre twists designed to prove that the cast of such a soap opera would generate juicier material than anything a writer could come up with. As the star of both the soap and this movie, Sally Field can’t quite keep up with the hamming of the rest of the frenetic castKevin Kline, Robert Downey Jr., Cathy Moriarty, Whoopi Goldberg, Elisabeth Shue, Carrie Fisher, Garry Marshall, and Teri Hatcherbut as the center of a hurricane, she does nicely enough. This movie certainly has its dopey moments, but if you’re feeling indulgent you’re likely to have a good time with it. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Simone

The eponymous heroine, a mysterious stranger, enters the life of Francoise, a suicidal young woman, and they share an intense fantasy life together. This 1984 French film, directed by 19-year-old Christine Ehm, has been praised for its subtle wit and imaginative use of color.… Read more »

Sangkuriang

This lively and enjoyable Indonesian feature (1982) in ‘Scope, directed by Gautana Sisworo Putra from a screenplay by Ignatius Sukardjasman, is based on an ancient Sunda legend with oedipal overtones; the hero accidentally kills his father (although sometime after the latter has been turned into a dog) and almost marries his mother. It’s full of enchantment, alternately campy and exhilarating in its employment of fantasy and magic (with some beautifully choreographed martial arts that include Superman-like flights), but unfortunately censored somewhat for stateside consumption. (JR)… Read more »

Saint Joan

Jean Seberg’s screen debut and one of Otto Preminger’s most underrated features (it was slaughtered by reviewers and ignored by moviegoers when it came out). This 1957 adaptation by Graham Greene of George Bernard Shaw’s famous play was shot in black and white and has a strong secondary cast, including Richard Widmark as the dauphin, John Gielgud as the earl of Warwick, Richard Todd, Anton Walbrook, and Felix Aylmer. (JR)… Read more »

Hurry Sundown

Otto Preminger’s grappling with rural Georgia during the civil rights movementan adaptation by Thomas C. Ryan and Horton Foote of K.B. Gilden’s southern gothic novelmight seem hopelessly dated in its depiction of decadent whites and noble blacks. In fact, it seemed hopelessly dated when it was released in 1967, though this doesn’t prevent it from having an enjoyable over-the-top quality at various junctures (catch Jane Fonda performing fellatio on Michael Caine’s alto saxophone, for instance). The last of Preminger’s overblown adaptations of best-sellers (his later films became smaller-scale and much weirder), this may have a lot more juice than sustenance, but at least Preminger keeps the juices flowing. With Rex Ingram, Diahann Carroll, Burgess Meredith, John Phillip Law, Robert Hooks, and Faye Dunaway. (JR)… Read more »