Daily Archives: May 1, 1992

The Station

A charming but fairly lightweight Italian comedy-drama by Sergio Rubini, who stars as a shy stationmaster taking care of his mother every day and working at the railway station every night. The plot concerns his nightlong encounter with a wealthy and beautiful young woman (Margherita Buy) fleeing from a weekend party and an exploitative and abusive boyfriend (Ennio Fantastichini). Apart from some efforts to goose up the story’s climax with American-style suspense, this is basically a chamber piece whose dimensions seem ideally suited for TV: not bad for a first feature, though not likely to linger long in one’s memory (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Sister Act

Simpleminded, slapdash fare (1992) about a two-bit Reno lounge singer (Whoopi Goldberg), the girlfriend of a ruthless mobster (Harvey Keitel), who accidentally witnesses a murder and flees for her life. With the help of the police’s witness protection program, she winds up posing as a nun in a convent, and comes into her own when she starts conducting the convent choir. If you’re one of those people who think that nuns behaving slightly irreverently is hysterically funny, then this is the movie for you, and it must be admitted that Goldberg shines in her part. Directed by Emile Ardolino (Dirty Dancing, Chances Are) from a script credited to Joseph Howard (though apparently the work of many hands); with Maggie Smith, Kathy Najimy, Wendy Makkena, and Bill Nunn, and a likable turn by Hollywood character actress Mary Wickes, who was doing comparable work in movies over 40 years ago. (JR)… Read more »

Night On Earth

Jim Jarmusch creates a comic sketch film (1991) out of five taxi rides and existential encounters occurring at the same time: a teenager (Winona Ryder) driving a Hollywood casting agent (Gena Rowlands) in Los Angeles at dusk; a former circus clown from Dresden (Armin Mueller-Stahl) chauffeuringor being chauffeured bya streetwise hipster (Giancarlo Esposito) from Manhattan to Brooklyn, with the hipster’s sister-in-law (Rosie Perez) getting corralled en route; an angry driver from the Ivory Coast (Isaach de Bankole) picking up a self-reliant blind woman (Beatrice Dalle) in Paris; a speedy cabbie (Roberto Benigni) in Rome delivering an obscene confession to an ailing priest; and a morose driver in Helsinki recounting a hard-luck story to three drunken passengers at dawn. There’s a fair amount of craft and subtlety in the results, though a certain sense that Jarmusch is replaying his own golden oldies (Tom Waits is in charge of the score) is never very far away. R, 129 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hallelujah, I’m A Bum!

This eccentric and soulful anarcho-leftist fantasy is probably the most underrated of all Depression-era musicals. Directed by Lewis Milestone in 1933 from a script by Ben Hecht and S.N. Behrman, with a score by Rodgers and Hart that features rhyming couplets, the film stars Al Jolson as a Central Park hobo who actually likes being homelessuntil he falls in love with an amnesia victim (Madge Evans) who’s a former mistress of the mayor (Frank Morgan) and has to get a job to support her. The overall conception owes something to Chaplin’s 1931 City Lights, but the editing and mise en scene are genuinely inspired and inventive. (The parodic Eisensteinian montage cut to the syllables of America must be seen to be believed, and a tracking shot past muttering customers in a spacious bank is equally brilliant and subversive.) Harry Langdon is memorable as a Trotskyite, and Richard Day’s art deco sets are striking. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

The X People

George Kuchar’s newest film, receiving its Chicago premiere, concerns UFOs and alien presences; a sequel to his Cattle Mutilations. To be shown with two other new films, Stephen Kirkly’s Playing With Blocks and Tony Venezia’s Revelation, along with a bunch of oldies: Bruce Torbet’s Super Artist Andy Warhol, Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo, Bruce Conner’s Mongoloid and America Is Waiting, Charles Braverman’s The Sixties, and Kenneth Anger’s Lucifer Rising. In short, a monster extravaganza to kick off the Experimental Film Coalition’s fall season.… Read more »

A Woman’s Tale

I’ve never been much of a Paul Cox fan, but this 1991 feature about a fiercely independent and passionate 79-year-old woman in Melbourne, Australia, is rather special, largely because Cox regular Sheila Florancewho, like the character she plays, was dying of cancer over the course of the filmis magnificent. Affirmative without being sentimental, this is a deeply absorbing movie with no false notes or wasted motion. With Gosia Dobrowolska, Norman Kaye, and Chris Haywood. (JR)… Read more »

The Waterdance

Don’t let the subjectthe interactions of three men (Eric Stoltz, Wesley Snipes, and William Forsythe) at a physical rehabilitation centerscare you away from one of the most intelligent, sensitive, serious, subtle, and gripping American movies of 1992. Directed by Neal Jimenez and Michael Steinberg from an excellent script by Jimenez (who wrote River’s Edge and cowrote For the Boys), this eschews the usual sentimental tactics for an honest look at what paraplegics have to deal with practically, sexually, and emotionally. Stoltz plays a novelist with a devoted girlfriend (Helen Hunt) married to someone else; Snipes is a hard-living teller of tales with a disintegrating marriage; Forsythe is a racist biker. All three actors are uncommonly good at keeping their characters unpredictable and lifelike. Elizabeth Pe… Read more »

Voyager

An adaptation by director Volker Schlondorff and American novelist Rudy Wurlitzer (Nog, Slow Fade) of Max Frisch’s existential Swiss novel Homo Faber, about a middle-aged engineer (Sam Shepard) in the 1950s who finds himself having an affair with a young woman (Julie Delpy) who may or may not be his daughter; the settings include Latin America, Switzerland, Greece, France, and Italy. It could have used a lot more of Wurlitzer’s humor (he’s very good on airline-hostess protocol) and a lot less of Shepard’s Marlboro Man inexpressiveness, which is indulged at great length and to relatively little purpose. Delpy (Europa Europa) is attractive but not especially resourceful in holding up her end of the screen; Barbara Sukowa does a better job in the smaller part of her mother. With Dieter Kirchlechner and Traci Lind (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Untamed Youth

Mamie Van Doren (the girl built like a platinum powerhouse, said the ads) sings no less than four songs and Eddie Cochran and the Hollywood Rock ‘n’ Rollers do another in this 1957 film about life on a juvenile prison work farm, where Van Doren and her sister (Lori Nelson) are sent after they’re picked up for hitchhiking. John Russell and Lurene Tuttle play the sinister villains who run the farm; Howard W. Koch directed.… Read more »

A Tale Of The Wind

This poetic masterpiece (1988) is the crowning work of Joris Ivens, the great Dutch documentarian and leftist, who made it in collaboration with his companion, Marceline Loridan, shortly before his death at age 90. (In fact there’s reason to believe the film was mainly written by Loridan, though this makes it no less Ivens’s own testament.) Neither a documentary nor a fantasy but a sublime fusion of the two, it deals in multiple ways with the wind, with Ivens’s asthma, with China, with the 20th century (and, more implicitly, the 19th and the 21st), with magic, and with the cinema. Ivens was born only two years after Georges Melies screened his first work, and this imaginative, freewheeling, and often comic film reflects on that fact, and on the near century of intertwining film, political, and personal history that made up Ivens’s life. For all its cosmic dimensions, it’s funny and lighthearted rather than pretentious and ponderous; it may even renew your faith in life on this planet. In French with subtitles. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »

Proof

Jocelyn Moorhouse’s sensitive and well-acted chamber drama focuses on a young man, blind since birth, who’s obsessed with taking photographs. Cared for by a frustrated young housekeeper who both loves and despises him, he strikes up a friendship with another young man, and the story turns into a subtly nuanced romantic triangle and power struggle that gains resonance as we learn more about the hero’s childhood. Thematically (if not stylistically) suggestive at times of Peeping Tom, this impressive first feature from Australia shows a remarkable amount of assurance in writing as well as direction, clearly marking Moorhouse as someone to watch. With Hugo Weaving, Genevieve Picot, and Russell Crowe (1991, 86 min.). (JR)… Read more »

Poison Ivy

Drew Barrymore stars in a melodrama that borders on high-class kiddie porn, playing an orphan named Ivy who befriends an unhappy schoolmate (Sara Gilbert) and winds up moving into her troubled household, where she becomes indispensable to the ailing mother (Cheryl Ladd) and seduces the father (Tom Skerritt). Directed by Katt Shea Ruben from a script she wrote with producer Andy Ruben, this starts off with some spark and drive, in part because of the writing and playing of Gilbert’s character, but gradually sinks into cliche and contrivance as the familiar genre moves take over, dragging down the characters, plot, and style. (JR)… Read more »

One False Move

Three coke dealersone black (Michael Beach), one white (cowriter Billy Bob Thornton), and one with a racially mixed background (Cynda Williams)flee a deal that entails the slaughter of many innocents in South Central Los Angeles. They head for Star City, Arkansas, the woman’s hometown, where the local sheriff (Bill Paxton), working with two LA cops (Jim Metzler and Earl Billings), hopes to catch them. There’s plenty to be impressed by while watching this 1992 noirish thriller, cowritten by Tom Epperson and directed by Carl Franklin, but not a great deal of aftertaste. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lunatics: A Love Story

A hallucinating recluse (Ted Raimi) in LA who doesn’t leave his apartment falls in love with an abandoned woman (Valley Girl’s Deborah Foreman) who thinks she brings bad luck in this independent feature made by a number of people who have worked on the films of Sam Raimi (Ted’s brother). Most of the effort here seems trained on tatty horror-movie foddermostly special effects for the hero’s obscurely connected hallucinations involving spiders and street rappersbut it’s the charm of the youthful leads that makes this intermittently watchable (1991). (JR)… Read more »

The Living Desert

One of the earliest of the Disney true-life adventures (1953), this won an Academy Award for best documentary, in spite (or because) of its celebrated use of square-dance music with footage of scorpions. James Algar directed. (JR)… Read more »