Daily Archives: May 1, 1991

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 »

Hugh Hefner: Once Upon A Time

For at least its first half-hour or so, when the beginnings of a genuine psychological profile seem to be promised, this is a fascinating look at the life, fantasies, and empire of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, directed by Robert Heath and written by Heath, Gary H. Grossman, and Michael Gross. But the rest of the film bears such a resemblance to an authorized version that it might as well have been subsidized by Hefner himself; it’s fawning in its hushed tones and so minimal in acknowledging feminist objections to Hefner’s worldview that they are made to seem like distant thunder. Shot on video and transferred to film, this is an industrial in almost every sense, though certainly a well-made example of the genre. David Lynch’s erstwhile partner Mark Frost served as executive producer and James Coburn delivers the reverential narration. (JR)… Read more »

Home Less Home

This is a personal documentary about the homeless in New York City that raises a lot of important issuesincluding media perceptions of the homeless, middle-class mythology about them, and the legacy of Reagan-era cutbacks in social serviceswithout pursuing any of them to the point of yielding a political position or agenda. Despite serious intentions, director Bill Brand’s self-consciousness about his middle-class vantage point tends to get in the way of the material, often serving more as an apologetic disclaimer than as a basis for sustained analysis. Most of the homeless people interviewed are articulate and intelligent about their plight on a day-to-day level, but apart from some telling statistics and familiar generalities, the larger question of what produces homelessnessor what can be done to alleviate itnever coheres into a clear and urgent statement. Still, the film certainly has value as a preliminary discussion. Edited and cowritten by Joanna Kiernan, who also served as associate producer. (JR)… Read more »

Zazie

The title hero of this first feature from Japan by Go Riju is a former rock star (Yoshito Nakamura) who’s living in a warehouse on the Tokyo waterfront and basically diddling his life away by shooting a sort of video diary while his admiring friends wait in vain for him to make a comeback. Visually and stylistically inventive, this film about existential alienation depends rather heavily on one finding this hero sufficiently interesting to warrant all the fuss. I didn’t, though I must admit that writer-director Riju does a very good job of handling the milieu. With Masumi Miyazaki (1989). (JR)… Read more »

A Woman Is A Woman

Jean-Luc Godard’s third feature and first studio production (1960) starts with a subversive premise: a neorealist musical in which the major characters (Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, and Jean-Claude Brialy) can’t really sing and dance, much as they’d like to. Periodically ravishing to look at (it’s Godard’s first foray into both color and ‘Scope) and listen to (Michel Legrand did the nonsinging score), it’s also highly deconstructive in the way it keeps jostling us away from these pleasures and in the general direction of indecorous reality. (It’s also packed with both subtle and obvious references to other movies.) While its slender plot (stripper Karina wants a baby and turns to Belmondo when her boyfriend Brialy won’t oblige her) can irritate in spots, the film’s high spirits may still win you over. It’s perhaps most memorable for being a highly personal documentary about Karina and Godard’s feelings about her at the time, brimming with odd details and irreverent energies. In French with subtitles. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

What About Bob?

A superneurotic (Bill Murray) becomes the patient of a vain, up-and-coming psychoanalyst and author (Richard Dreyfuss) about to leave on his summer vacation; he pursues the doctor to his New England summer house, befriends his family, and ultimately drives him mad. Basically a high-concept comedy, scripted by Tom Schulman from a story by Alvin Sargent and producer Laura Ziskin and directed by Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), this cruel but effective black comedy violates credibility at almost every turn, but the concept itself is so strongparticularly as a revenge fantasy for anyone who’s ever resented hypocritical exploitative shrinksthat it winds up working pretty well anyway. A key factor in this is Dreyfuss’s finely tuned tight-ass performance, one of the strongest expressions of repressed domestic frustration since the salad days of W.C. Fields. (Murray, by contrast, is relatively hamstrung by inadequate scripting.) With Julie Hagerty, Charlie Korsmo, and Kathryn Erbe. (JR)… Read more »

A Wedding

Ostensibly Robert Altman’s aim in this 1978 comic free-for-all was to top his own Nashville by doubling his cast of leading players from 24 to 48. The film concentrates on the aftermath of an upscale Chicagoland wedding, and it certainly has its moments. But the facileness of this expos… Read more »

An Unremarkable Life

Amin Q. Chaudri’s U.S. features costars Shelley Winters and Patricia Neal as elderly sisters whose lives are changed when one of them starts dating a Korean-American. We don’t have a review of this film, but word of mouth from colleagues hasn’t been good.… Read more »

Truth Or Dare

A candid and entertaining look at Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour that mainly alternates between grainy black-and-white backstage/offstage footage and certain numbers from the touring show that were shot in color. The young director, Alek Keshishian, had been directing music videos since 1986, and this movie looks it, for better and for worse: there’s a nervous tendency to crosscut between scenes and between onstage and offstage footage that keeps things constantly moving but often prevents the numbers and certain documentary segments from being appreciated in their entirety. It generally works better as a mosaic self-portrait (Madonna served as executive producer) than as a concert film, andnot too surprisinglywhat comes across is mainly the star’s likable desire to be both naughty and responsible, conscientious and silly: she’s a prima donna who plays mother hen with her troupe, stoutly defends her show against censors (but seems perfectly willing to have it cut to shreds for the purposes of this movie), and is energetically on at every minute. Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, and Sandra Bernhard are among the brief celebrity walk-ons (1991). (JR)… Read more »