Daily Archives: December 1, 1991

Hook

Steven Spielberg’s $70 million post-Freudian, revisionist sequel (1994) to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with Wendy now 80 years old (played by Maggie Smith) and Peter (Robin Williams) married to her granddaughter (Caroline Goodall) and working as a Wall Street lawyera character, one suspects, who is rather like Spielberg himself. Tinkerbell (a miniature, matted-in Julia Roberts) carries him back to Neverland to confront Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) and his sidekick Smee (Bob Hoskins) after his kids (Charlie Korsmo and Amber Scott) are kidnapped. The drama centers on Peter’s efforts to remember his past and, with the help of the Lost Boys (now a gang of ghetto urchins), win his son back from Hook, who has usurped his paternal role. (Perhaps the biggest failure of imagination here concerns what little girls are supposed to do in Neverland.) In overall narrative sweep and directorial confidence it’s a decisive return to form for Spielberg, who borrows liberally from his own 1941 as well as Altman’s Popeye to get some of his best comic and pictorial effects. But conceptually speaking, the amount of mental machinery required to get Peter flying again yields an overall self-consciousness that the movie never quite recovers from, and the moment-to-moment inventiveness never fully compensates for the thinness of the characters.… Read more »

High Heels

The plot of Pedro Almodovar’s goofy 1991 melodrama has more twists than a rattlesnake, but whether it’s meant mainly for laughs or for more serious engagement isn’t always clear, because it keeps shifting back and forth between modes. The story centers on the reunion of an aging pop star (Marisa Paredes) and her grown daughter (Victoria Abril), a TV anchorwoman, after a 15-year separation. The daughter’s husband, who owns the TV station where she works, turns out to be the mother’s former lover, and after he’s found murdered a number of bizarre facts are brought to light, including the diverse involvements of a female impersonator (Miguel Bose) who specializes in tributes to the mother. The results oscillate between Almodovar’s characteristically flaky irreverence and a more solemn treatment of the relationship between mother and daughter that intermittently suggests Douglas Sirk without his ironies. It’s a lot more fun to watch than Almodovar’s previous Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, but those who miss the wildness of his premainstream work will probably be only partially appeased. In Spanish with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

A knockout thriller that succeeds brilliantly at just about everything Scorsese’s Cape Fear didn’t. It’s another revenge plot in which the villain (Rebecca De Mornay) attempts to destroy a family (Annabella Sciorra, Matt McCoy, Madeline Zima) from within, but there’s no pretentious art agenda on the filmmakers’ minds; they merely work the genre for all it’s worth, which proves in this case to be plenty: the suspense is masterfully controlled, and the story, which makes effective use of Seattle locations, builds to a terrifying climax. Curtis Hanson’s direction and Amanda Silver’s screenplay are both models of no-flab craft and intelligence, and all the actors (who also include Ernie Hudson and Julianne Moore) are believable from the first frame to the last (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Pattes Blanches

Perhaps the most neglected of all the major French directors, at least in the U.S., Jean Gremillon (1901-’59) was a figure of such versatility that it’s difficult to make generalizations about his work. (One can, however, speak about its close attention to sound and rhythmhe started out as a musicianand its frequent focus on class divisions.) Pattes blanches (aka White Shanks), made in 1949, is not one of his very best effortsI prefer Lumiere d’ete (1943) and Le ciel est a vous (1944). But this moody melodrama of adultery set on the Normandy coast is still full of punch and fascination, and shouldn’t be missed by anyone with a taste for the classic French cinema. Coscripted by Jean Anouilh (who originally intended to direct), it’s a noirish tale about a promiscuous flirt from the city (Suzy Delair) who marries a local tavern keeper and becomes involved with a plotting local malcontent (Michel Bouquet) and a faded aristocrat (Paul Bernard), nicknamed White Shanks because of his spats, who is the target of a revenge plot. A sensitive maid with a hunchback who loves the aristocrat rounds out this odd quintet, who are regarded with a caustic compassion that recalls Stroheim. The lovelycamera work is by Philippe Agostini, and the great Leon Barsacq is in charge of the sets.… Read more »

Rush

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric (After Dark, My Sweet) star as undercover narcotics agents, in a first feature directed by Lili Fini Zanuck from a script by Peter Dexter adapted from a book by Kim Wozencraft. The film addresses a serious subjectundercover agents who become implicated in the drug traffic they’re trying to stopbut while competent, it’s too routine to generate much interest. Leigh is effective as always, but has little to chew on; Patric has even less. With Sam Elliott, Max Perlich, Gregg Allman, Tony Frank, and William Sadler (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Madame Bovary

Isabelle Huppert stars in Claude Chabrol’s 1991 version of the Gustave Flaubert novel, previously adapted by Jean Renoir (1934) and Vincente Minnelli (1949). Chabrol claims to have opted for an overall faithfulness in terms of dialogue and details, and, on the face of it, Jean Yanne as Monsieur Homais seems inspired casting. With Jean-Francois Balmer (Charles Bovary) and Christopher Malavoy (Rodolphe). (JR)… Read more »

Father Of The Bride

Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett starred in the original 1950 classic comedy, scripted by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett from a novel by Edward Streeter and directed by Vincente Minnelli. This sad little 1991 remake stars Steve Martin and Diane Keaton under the direction of Baby Boom’s Charles Shyer, with a script by Shyer and Nancy Meyers that borrows liberally from the original. The main problem here is the gross inferiority of the new version to the old: compare Tracy’s handling of the opening monologue with Martin’s and you’ll get a fair indication of what’s become of commercial filmmaking over the past four decades. The more challenging elements of the original (e.g., the father’s highly upsetting nightmare) have been pared away, and most of the laughs come less from the material than from the outsize grimaces that Martin superimposes on his part; none of the characters register with any believability beyond the sitcom minimum, and Diane Keaton’s discomfort with her role is painful to watch. With Kimberly Williams as the bride and Martin Short working overtime as an Italian wedding consultant who doesn’t seem especially Italian. (JR)… Read more »

Bugsy

Warren Beatty delivers some of his best acting in years as Bugsy Siegel, the gangster responsible for the inception of Las Vegas as we now know it. His Flamingo Hotel, built with funds from his thriving Hollywood protection racket, was the first of its kind. Annette Bening plays the Hollywood extra who turns him into a fool for love. Barry Levinson (Avalon) directs capably from an intelligent and evocative script by James Toback (The Pick-Up Artist); Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley, Elliott Gould, and Joe Mantegna all effectively costar. A melancholy character study of romantic delirium and Napoleonic ambition with a nice sense of nuance, this is much more coherent than the general run of blockbusters (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Blood In The Face

A 1991 documentary by Anne Bohlen, Kevin Rafferty, and James Ridgeway about the white supremacy movement in the U.S., centered on a gathering of various groupsincluding the American Nazi Party, Aryan Nation, and the Ku Klux Klanin rural Michigan in 1986. Regrettably missing is much background information about what led to this particular gathering (some of which can be found in Ridgeway’s book of the same title); the filmmakers’ sense of a historical context is also restricted mainly to a few archival clips. Yet despite some occasional cutesy editing and a tendency to crosscut that often reduces the discourse of the speakers to sound bites, this is a fascinating and disturbing glimpse into an important subject. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »

Beatlemania

My idea of hell is being forced at gunpoint to resee this 1981 atrocity (also known as Beatlemania, the Movie) based on a terrible stage musical. The basic idea is to feature impersonators of John, George, Paul, and Ringo performing tenth-rate versions of their songs and to make pretentious commentaries about their historical significance. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Directed by Joseph Manduke; with Mitch Weissman, Ralph Castelli, David Leon, and Tom Teeley. (JR)… Read more »

America Becoming

A documentary by the great Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, My Brother’s Wedding, To Sleep With Anger) that focuses on immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and South America in half a dozen communities in the U.S., including Chicago, Houston, Miami, and Philadelphia. Considering that it comes from Burnett, this is far from being as distinctive as one might wish, but it remains both sympathetic and interesting. The narration is by CBS news correspondent Meredith Vieira. (JR)… Read more »