Daily Archives: August 1, 1991

Slacker

Richard Linklater’s delightfully different and immensely enjoyable second feature (1991, 97 min.) takes us on a 24-hour tour of the flaky dropout culture of Austin, Texas; it doesn’t have a continuous plot, but it’s brimming with weird characters and wonderful talk (which often seems improvised, though it’s all scripted by Linklater, apparently with the input of some of the participants, as in his later Waking Life). The structure of dovetailing dialogues calls to mind an extremely laid-back variation of The Phantom of Liberty or Playtime. Every thought you have fractions off and becomes its own reality, remarks Linklater himself to a poker-faced cabdriver in the first (and in some ways funniest) scene, and the remainder of the movie amply illustrates this notion with its diverse paranoid conspiracy and assassination theorists, serial-killer buffs, musicians, cultists, college students, pontificators, petty criminals, street people, and layabouts (around 90 in all). Even if the movie goes nowhere in terms of narrative and winds up with a somewhat arch conclusion, the highly evocative scenes give an often hilarious sense of the surviving dregs of 60s culture and a superbly realized sense of a specific community. (JR)… Read more »

Secrets Of A Soul

Sigmund Freud refused to have anything to do with this early (1926) silent attempt to deal with psychoanalysis via German expressionism, directed by G.W. Pabst. The results are dated, but this is still an intriguing period piece. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man

Perhaps the first movie ever to incorporate two product plugs in its title (apparently without the approval of either company in question), not to mention two additional ones in the cast (Virginia Slim and Jack Daniels), this egregious collection of cock-waving cliches is the silliest piece of macho camp since Roadhouse. Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson play the shit-kicking bikers of the title; Simon Wincer directed the Don Michael Paul script. (JR)… Read more »

23rd International Tournee Of Animation

Apart from featuring a bit more weirdness than usual (Chel White’s Photocopy Cha Cha, Henry Selick’s Slow Bob in the Lower Dimensions, and David Fain’s Oral Hygiene are among the best), this is pretty much like previous editions of the International Tournee, so how you respond may depend on how many of these annual collections you’ve seen. (I’ve had enough of Bill Plympton’s poker-faced anatomical black comedynot to mention John Lasseter’s cutesy Luxo Jr.to last me several lifetimes.) But the last and longest of the shorts hereGarri Bardin’s Grey Wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, a macabre Soviet Claymation musical with familiar Western melodies and gruff asides on Walt Disney and Edith Piafis a special treat. Long on humor and short on beauty (with the exception of Daniel Suter’s Les saisons quatre a quatre), this package is otherwise easy to watch but not likely to be remembered. (JR)… Read more »

Trust

Hal Hartley’s second feature (1990), a decided improvement over his first (The Unbelievable Truth), returns to the same turf (a Long Island commuter town) and features the same lead actress (Adrienne Shelly) as an alienated teenager. This time around, Shelly plays a high school student who finds herself pregnant, provokes her father’s fatal heart attack, gets unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend and kicked out of the house by her mother (Merritt Nelson), is assaulted, witnesses a kidnapping, and meets an angry and disgruntled electronics whiz (Martin Donovan) all in the same day. It’s a credit to the film that this overflow of incident neither strains credibility nor becomes exploited for facile comedy; in fact the real story only begins once she and the electronics whiz become involved and their mutual adjustments (including the strains represented by their difficult parents) gradually transform both of them. Unpredictable while remaining honest to both its characters and its milieu, this flaky comedy-drama improves as it proceeds; with John MacKay and Edie Falco. (JR)… Read more »

True Identity

British comic Lenny Henry stars in this feature by Charles Lane (Sidewalk Stories) about an aspiring black actor who discovers that a supposedly dead Mafia boss is alive, disguised by plastic surgery; complications ensue when the actor has to pretend to be his own white executionera hit man from Las Vegasto uncover the boss. This starts off as an agreeably goofy farce, enlivened by Henry’s impersonations, and then gradually runs out of fun and energy as Andy Breckman’s script becomes increasingly gimmicky and contrived; by the end, not even the lively castwhich also includes Anne-Marie Johnson, Lane, Frank Langella, and J.T. Walshcan keep it propped up. (JR)… Read more »

The Three Worlds Of Gulliver

A first-rate British fantasy-adventure distinguished by the special effects of Ray Harryhausen, as well as a Bernard Herrmann score. Directed by Jack Sher; with Kerwin Mathews, Jo Morrow, and June Thorburn (1960). (JR)… Read more »

Riot In Cell Block 11

One of the best of all prison pictures, thanks not only to Don Siegel’s sharp direction and a good script (by Richard Collins), but also to the creative input of producer Walter Wanger, who had been an inmate himself and was concerned about making this as authentic and as commercially uncompromised as possible. (The picture was shot on location in California’s Folsom state prison, with many inmates cast in secondary parts.) The care taken with this grim 1954 drama paid off; it was Siegel’s first major hit. With Neville Brand, Frank Faylen, Leo Gordon, and Emile Meyer. (JR)… Read more »

Paris Is Burning

Jennie Livingston’s exuberant and loving 1990 documentary about voguing and the drag balls of Harlem is both a celebration and a canny commentary. Delving into the dance poses and acrobatic moves of black and Latino gay men, she enters this highly ritualized subculture with a genuine sense of curiosity and discovery, and is wise enough to let the participants themselves do most of the explaining. One emerges from this film not only with a new vocabulary and a fresh way of viewing the straight world but with a bracing object lesson in understanding what society role models are all about. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »

My Father’s Glory

Yves Robert’s adaptation of the first volume of Marcel Pagnol’s autobiography may be relatively academic and unexceptional as filmmaking, but the material itselfgrowing up in Provence at the turn of the centuryis so wonderful that the film is full of satisfying and unexpected pleasures. Although the nostalgic texture often verges on sentimentality, the wit and intelligence of Pagnolif not the loose directorial style that he employed in his own moviestriumphantly shine through. With Philippe Caubere, Nathalie Roussel, Didier Pain, Therese Liotard, and Julien Ciamaca (1990). (JR)… Read more »

A Little Stiff

Shot in black-and-white 16-millimeter for only $10,000, this delightfully deadpan comedy about unrequited romantic obsession scores through a combination of behavioral charm and compositional rigor. It was written and directed by UCLA film students Caveh Zahedi and Greg Watkinswho also play themselves in restaged real-life eventsand focuses on Zahedi’s nerdish and awkward but indefatigable campaign to gain the romantic interest of an art student. The camera keeps its distance, and the limited number of locations and situations only intensifies the tight focus of the plot and the single-mindedness of the hero (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Letter From Siberia

One of Chris Marker’s earliest documentaries (1957) and probably one of his best, the hour-long Letter From Siberia mixes new and found footage with inventive commentary, and is especially memorable for a passage in which footage is repeated while the offscreen commentary transforms its meaning with a different ideological interpretation. It is perhaps the earliest example we have of Marker’s inimitable essayistic manner, hence an indispensable work. (JR)… Read more »

Interrogation

A cabaret performer (Krystyna Janda) in 1951 Poland is arrested without explanation and interrogated about her relationship with an army officer in Ryszard Bugajski’s formerly banned 1982 feature about the nightmare of Stalinism, produced when the Solidarity movement was at its height. Well crafted and solidly actedJanda won a best-actress prize at Cannes, and her cohorts (who include Adama Ferencego, Janusz Gajos, and director Agnieszka Holland) are equally up to their partsthis is too thoughtful to qualify as simple propaganda (some attempt is made to humanize the torturers as well as their victims), yet it’s so relentless and unvarying in its portrait of suffering that its dramatic importance seems to lie mainly in its determination to bear witness to some grim historical facts. The results are certainly accomplished and intelligent, but clearly not for everyone. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Finzan: A Dance For The Heroes

A young widow dares to reject the West African practice of wife inheritance when her brother-in-law claims her as his third wife. Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s 1990 Malian feature has been highly recommended to me by colleagues. (JR)… Read more »

Defenseless

Martin Campbell (Criminal Law) directs a watchable but instantly forgettable mystery thriller, written by James Hicks and Jeff Burkhart, about a successful lawyer (Barbara Hershey) who discovers that her client and lover (J.T. Walsh) is married to a former friend (Mary Beth Hurt), shortly before he is mysteriously murdered. Sam Shepard does his usual poker-faced bit as the police detective assigned to catch the killer, and Sheree North turns up in a smaller part. (JR)… Read more »