Daily Archives: October 1, 1991

The Garden

Derek Jarman’s lyrical visionary 1990 moviemade after he tested HIV positive and before he made his highly political version of Marlowe’s Edward IIalternates views of himself sleeping and dreaming and his seaside home and garden with enigmatic and apocalyptic images of the life of Jesus, the state-endorsed persecution of homosexuals (among other horrors of post-Thatcher England), and diverse fancies and fantasies that often combine these themes. Deftly mixing video and film shot with different stocks and in various gauges, this kaleidoscopic reverie also makes room for a mordant restaging of the Think Pink number from Funny Face, many glimpses of children and nature, offscreen recitations of poetry, and such Jarman regulars as actress Tilda Swinton and composer Simon Fisher Turner. For all its virtuosity and beauty (especially apparent in some of the editing patterns), this complex meditation intermittently depends on a fascination with sadomasochism that many viewers won’t share. But even if you find yourselfas I didwaiting out these sequences and bemused by portions of the personal symbolism, you’re likely to be transfixed by much of the rest. (JR)… Read more »

The Super

A greedy slum landlord (Joe Pesci), whose bigoted father (Vincent Gardenia) is even less compassionate, gets sentenced to house arrest in one of his own ghetto buildings until proper improvements are made, in a comedy directed by Rod Daniel (K-9) from a script by Sam Simon. While no sort of miracle, this movie goes surprisingly far in criticizing the greed and glibness of Reagan-era ghetto landlords, at least by pulling no punches when it comes to showing the squalor that their tenants are forced to live in; and Daniel’s serviceable direction manages to get some good laughs out of Pesci’s hard education and comeuppance. Pesci himself does his utmost to carry this feature on his shoulders, and though his success is hampered in part by a happy ending that seems more compromised than it absolutely needs to be, this is still more plausible as a social critique than the other yuppie self-help movies released about the same time (Regarding Henry, The Doctor, The Fisher King, et al). With Madolyn Smith Osborne and Ruben Blades. (JR)… Read more »

Stepping Out

Liza Minnelli stars in this stilted film adaptation of Richard Harris’s play about a tap dancing class in Buffalo, New York, directed by Lewis Gilbert (Educating Rita, Shirley Valentine) in such a way that the obviousness and staginess of the material are underlined rather than minimized. Neither Minnelli nor the supporting casther tap dance students (Ellen Greene, Julie Walters, Bill Irwin, Robyn Stevan, Jane Krakowski, Sheila McCarthy, Andrea Martin, and Carol Woods) and rehearsal pianist (Shelley Winters)can be faulted for the flatness of the proceedings, which seems to emerge both from the writing and from a standard Broadway-show premise (professionals pretending to be amateurs pretending to be professionals) that requires a great deal of pizzazz to bring off. Minnelli herself is effective in a couple of dance numbers (despite some underlighting in the first of these), and Peter Matz’s background score is bouncy, but the thinness of the story and characters makes this a hopeless enterprise. (JR)… Read more »

Shattered

Easy to watch, easier still to forget, Wolfgang Petersen’s thriller, which he adapted from Richard Neely’s novel The Plastic Nightmare, starts off with an elaborate car crash that renders the wealthy hero (Tom Berenger) amnesiac. Nursed back to health by his beautiful wife (Greta Scacchi), who survived the same accident unharmed, he begins to uncover disturbing facts about both her and himself. As usually happens with such exercises, this turns out to be very surprising and very implausible in about equal proportions; the settings are in and around San Francisco, but Vertigo this ain’t. Bob Hoskins plays a likable detective and pet shop owner, and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer and Corbin Bernsen contribute a few smidgens of additional intrigue. (JR)… Read more »

Homicide

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

homicide

David Mamet shares with Ernest Hemingway a mannerist style of macho dialogue made up of short sentences and repeated phrases that lends itself to self-parody as well as parody. In this second step down the ladder from the promise of his first picture (House of Games), he seems to be approximating Hemingway in his mawkish For Whom the Bell Tolls period. Joe Mantegna plays an alienated cop who implausibly discovers his Jewish roots through a couple of cases he’s assigned to, and finds himself manipulated as much by Jewish terrorists as by his superiors on the police force. Despite the occasional snap and crackle of Mamet-talk at its most surreal (“They couldn’t find Joe Louis in a bowl of rice”), the movie is just plain silly when it isn’t merely unbelievable (the usually astute Mantegna, alas, never once springs to life), with a good many unsuspenseful suspense sequences and apolitical political ruminations. W.H. Macy, Natalija Nogulich, Ving Rhames, Rebecca Pidgeon, and Vincent Guastaferro are among the costars (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Home Of The Brave

This is one of the earliest features produced by Stanley Kramer (1949), an updated adaptation by Carl Foreman of an Arthur Laurents play about the traumatic effects of prejudice on an American soldier during World War 1. In the play the character who undergoes psychiatric treatment after being taunted by his fellow soldiers is a Jew; the film makes him a black man (James Edwards) during World War 2. Though the drama has its moments of power, the treatment of its subject now seems cautious and dated. With Frank Lovejoy, Lloyd Bridges, Douglas Dick, and Steve Brodie; Mark Robson directed. (JR)… Read more »

Year Of The Gun

An American reporter in Rome (Andrew McCarthy) in 1978, covertly writing a novel about a well-known terrorist group, gets unwittingly involved in an intricate web of treachery, in a disappointing thriller directed by John Frankenheimer, adapted by David Ambrose from a book by Michael Mewshaw. Among the characters in the hero’s immediate circle are a former mistress (Valeria Golino), a professor friend (John Pankow), and an aggressive American photojournalist (Sharon Stone). Most surprising, given Frankenheimer’s previous record as a liberal, is the crudely xenophobic portrait accorded the terrorist Red Brigades; whatever else may be found here, don’t expect much edification or insight into European politics. (JR)… Read more »

Whore

Theresa Russell not only stars in Ken Russell’s adaptation of David Hines’s play Bondage but dominates it from beginning to end, and considering the narrowness of the character she’s playing, it’s an impressive performance. The material, adapted by the director and Deborah Dalton, is as relentlessly deglamorized and brutal a look at a street hooker’s existence as one can find in commercial movies, and virtually all of its interest resides in this fact; as drama or as character study it is fairly threadbare. A good deal of it consists of the heroine addressing the camera (her pimp, played by Benjamin Mouton, gets in an extended soliloquy as well) or supplying offscreen narration to flashbacks. Ken Russell, as usual, can’t quite trust the material to speak for itself and generally delivers it in shrieking neon (whenever someone bleeds in one of his films, you can always count on a hemorrhage), but he hasn’t prevented the overall message from coming through loud and clear. With Antonio Fargas, Sanjay, and Elizabeth Morehead (1991). (JR)… Read more »

What Do Those Old Films Mean?

Noel Burch’s fascinating and well-made (if at times historically contestable) six-part BBC television series, about early silent cinema in Denmark, England, the Soviet Union, France, Germany, and the U.S., mixes beautiful clips of rare films with various social theories about their significance. (JR)… Read more »

Uranus

Claude Berri (Jean de Florette, Manon of the Springs) directed and authored (with Arlette Langmann) this adaptation of Marcel Ayme’s jaundiced novel about postliberated France in 1945, as observed from the vantage point of a single village. The charactersincluding some Stalinist communists eager to settle scores by accusing their old enemies of collaboration, certain fascists in hiding, and at least one socialist (Philippe Noiret) with his head in the cloudsall wind up looking less than honorable in this nasty little account of small-town purges. The main performance is a bombastic turn by Gerard Depardieu as an alcoholic ex-wrestler and Racine buff who runs the local bar and gets wrongly accused of harboring a fascist; also on hand are Jean-Pierre Marielle, Michel Blanc, Michel Galabru, and Gerard Desarthe. At times difficult to follow, this unpleasantly cynical but carefully crafted film at least has the virtue of teaching us something about the moral disarray France was in after World War II, although Ayme’s own collaborationist sympathies arguably make him less than ideal as a witness and commentator (1991). (JR)… Read more »

1000 Pieces Of Gold

Based on a true story, Nancy Kelly’s fascinating American independent feature, written by Anne Makepeace and set in the 1880s, portrays a beautiful young Chinese woman (Rosalind Chao) sold into slavery by her destitute father and auctioned off in San Francisco to a mule skinner, who purchases her for a saloon keeper in a mining town in the northern Rockies. She and the mule skinner fall in love en route to their destination, but he delivers her to the saloon keeper nonetheless, and the ensuing story, with dialogue in Cantonese as well as English, depicts the woman’s courage and resourcefulness in creating a life for herself (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Requiem For Dominic

This Austrian docudrama by Robert Dornhelm, shot only weeks after the events it shows, is a political thriller and a mystery story that has been compared to both Z and The Thin Blue Line, although one could also perhaps establish certain links with Medium Cool. The Romanian-born Dornhelm (played by cowriter Felix Mitterer) returns to his homeland to meet a childhood friend, only to discover that this friend is accused of being a terrorist who killed 80 of his colleagues. Costarring Viktoria Schubert as a journalist who proceeds to investigate what happened, this movie certainly gains in immediacy through its frequent cuts to documentary video footage of the real events, but also creates a certain zone of uneasiness (as do Z and The Thin Blue Line) in the halfway house it inhabits between straight reportage and entertainment (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Red And The White

This 1967 feature was one of the first by Hungarian filmmaker Miklos Jancso to have some impact in the U.S., and the stylistic virtuosity, ritualistic power, and sheer beauty of his work are already fully apparent. In this black-and-white pageant, set during the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the reds are the revolutionaries and the whites are the government forces ordered to crush them. Working in elaborately choreographed long takes with often spectacular vistas, Jancso invites us to study the mechanisms of power almost abstractly, with a cold eroticism that may suggest some of the subsequent work of Stanley Kubrick. If you’ve never encountered Jancso’s work, you shouldn’t miss this. He may well be the key Hungarian filmmaker of the sound era, and certain later figures such as Bela Tarr would be inconceivable without him. In Hungarian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Opening Night

For all of John Cassavetes’s concern with acting, this 1977 film is the only one of his features that takes it on as a subject; it also boasts his most impressive cast. During the New Haven tryouts for a new play, an aging star (Gena Rowlands), already distressed that she’s playing a woman older than herself, is traumatized further by the accidental death of an adoring teenage fan (Laura Johnson). Fantasizing the continued existence of this girl as a younger version of herself, she repeatedly changes her lines onstage and addresses the audience directly, while the other members of the companythe director (Ben Gazzara), playwright (Joan Blondell), costar (Cassavetes), and producer (Paul Stewart)try to help end her distress. Juggling onstage and offstage action, Cassavetes makes this a fascinating look at some of the internal mechanisms and conflicts that create theatrical fiction, and his wonderful castwhich also includes Zohra Lampert as the director’s wife, assorted Cassavetes regulars, and cameos by Peter Falk and Peter Bogdanovich as themselvesnever lets him down. 144 min. (JR)… Read more »

Morocco

This 1930 feature was Josef von Sternberg’s first American film with Marlene Dietrich, and some purists might declare it the best; certainly the visual exoticism is thick enough to tastein layers yet. Gary Cooper at his most effective costars as a foreign legionnaire who wins Dietrich’s heart, and Adolphe Menjou plays a wealthy rake who competes for her affection; Dietrich, as a cabaret singer, does three numbers. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »