Daily Archives: June 1, 1992

Shoot For The Contents

This essay film by the U.S.-based, French-educated Vietnamese writer and filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha (Naked SpacesLiving Is Round, Surname Viet Given Name Nam) approaches Chinese culture from an outsider’s positionor, more precisely, through a series of contrasted outsider positions and layered perspectives. Shoot for the Contents, whose title alludes to a Chinese guessing game, was motivated by Trinh’s desire to explore her Vietnamese roots (she plans to make a companion film about India, the other major source of Vietnamese culture), but she’s more concerned with poetic evocation than journalistic information. This film may confound spectators looking for a thesis or the kind of false knowledge proffered by conventional documentaries; as usual, Trinh is interested in radically opposing the means by which documentaries generally claim to be authoritative. But the dispersed presentationwhich makes use of video as well as 16-millimeter footage and consists largely of speculative conversations with filmmakers and diverse kinds of visual displacementis provocative and compelling. Like Trinh’s other work, this could be described as the film of an accomplished and talented writer rather than the writing of a pure filmmaker, but it is no less commanding for that (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Nagisa Oshima: The Man Who Left His Soul On Film

Virtually a crash course on the most important and talented living Japanese filmmaker after Kurosawa and on related aspects of contemporary Japanese politics and culture. This superb feature-length documentary by Paul Joyce for England’s Channel Four offers an indispensable look at a fearlessly innovative and political filmmaker who is all but unknown in this country. Making intelligent use of Anglo-American commentators (writers Donald Richie, Roger Pulvers, and Paul Mayersberg) as well as Oshima himself, this film somehow manages to cover everything in Oshima’s career from his early youth shockers to In the Realm of the Senses and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrencewithout leaving out Oshima’s fame as a Japanese TV personality (at the outset we see him acting in a commercial for a bug spray). Essential viewing (1984). (JR)… Read more »

Housesitter

If you’re fond of Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn’s physical talents for comedy even when they have slender material to work with, this occasionally amusing fluff can pass the time. Martin plays a frustrated Boston architect who builds a dream house for the woman back home (Dana Delany) he’s smitten with, only to have his marriage proposal rejected. Enter Hawn, a waitress who encounters Martin, hears about the empty house, and promptly moves in, pretending to be Martin’s newlywed wife and foisting elaborate deceptions on his parents (Julie Harris and Donald Moffat) as well as his beloved. Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) directed fairly well from a rudimentary script by Mark Stein and Brian Grazer; among the secondary cast are Peter MacNicol, Richard B. Shull, Laurel Cronin, Roy Cooper, and, in a jokey cameo as a clergyman, playwright Christopher Durang. (JR)… Read more »

Highway 61

Director Bruce McDonald and writer-actor Don McKellar, who’d previously collaborated on Roadkill, reunited for this watchable 1991 Canadian feature. A rock ‘n’ roll roadie (Valerie Buhagiar) persuades a barber and aspiring musician (McKellar) to leave his small town in northern Ontario to transport her and the corpse of her alleged brother to New Orleans; pursuing them is a hillbilly (Earl Pastko) who thinks he’s Satan and wants the corpse for himself. The charm of McKellar and Buhagiar and the Canadian angle on various forms of U.S. craziness make this somewhat more appealing than the usual absurdist road movie. R, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Zentropa

Lars von Trier’s 1991 thriller is technically powerful, stylistically assured, and thematically provocative (if emotionally somewhat remote); at times it suggests a European equivalent of Barton Fink, though it’s even more impressive in certain ways. (The intricate camera movements and the combinations of color with black and white within single shots are often stunning.) A Danish-French-German-Swedish production in English that shared the jury prize at the Cannes festival, the film follows a young American traveling through Germany immediately after World War II as an apprentice to a railroad conductor; he becomes embroiled in intrigues involving a mysterious woman (Barbara Sukowa) and an underground group fighting against the Allies. Fascinating as a contemporary and rather mordant meditation on Common Market Europe and international coproduction, this is a key work whether one warms to it or not. Known as Europa until its U.S. distributor renamed it to avoid confusion with Europa Europa; with Jean-Marc Barr, Udo Kier, and narration by Max von Sydow. In English and subtitled German. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

To Lavoisier Who Died In The Reign Of Terror

A major experimental film by Michael Snow, probably the greatest living Canadian artist, made in collaboration with Carl Brown (1991). The title refers to the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier, and the film is intimately concerned with the sources and physical ingredients of film images, as well as the violence entailed in their production. Surprisingly close in some ways to the work of Stan Brakhage, at least in surface appearances, this is both provocative and beautiful, like most of Snow’s best films (e.g., Wavelength, La region centrale, So Is This). (JR)… Read more »

Russkies

Three army brats in Key West encounter a stranded Russian sailor, and their childhood games and fantasiesas well as those of their parentsare put to the test. Rick Rosenthal’s action comedy is positively dripping with good intentions, and although it has its moments of charm, this hands-across-the-waters gesture rarely gets beyond formula Disney material (how far can you get with humanism when the humans are made out of cardboard?). Made with lots of heart and very little head, the plot depends on such things as a flying machine and three little boys defeating a group of rednecks with karate. As nonsense it’s vastly preferable to Red Dawn, but don’t expect anything very profound. (JR)… Read more »

Rules Of The Road

Su Friedrich’s affecting and potent half-hour Rules of the Road recounts a former love affair in relation to an Oldsmobile station wagon in Brooklyn that she and her lover both used. While the filmmaker exposes some of her recollections and feelings offscreen, practically everything we see unfolds on streets and roads, in the city and country, where similar station wagons are glimpsed everywhere; it’s a heartbreaking demonstration of the precise ways that emotions and memories interact, obsessive and otherwise. (JR)… Read more »

A Room In Town

Jacques Demy’s highly personal aesthetic coincided with public taste exactly onceon the 1963 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, which became an international success. But later audiences never quite accepted Demy’s conception of a musical cinema, which combines location shooting, naturalistic narratives, and psychologically complex characters with the high stylization of sung dialogue. When released in France in 1982, A Room in Town died at the boxoffice, yet it is one of the most beautiful, assured, and cinematically inventive films of its period, a stylistic tour-de-force that doesn’t distort and destroy the real (as did Diva) but inflects and accentuates itthat brings out the lyricism, nobility, and tragedy inherent in ordinary situations. The action takes place in Nantes in 1955, during a violent ship-builders strike; one of the strikers (Richard Berry), though he is engaged to marry his pregnant girl friend, finds himself drawn to his landlady’s unhappily married daughter (Dominique Sanda). The epic, social background provides a counterpoint (literally, because the strike, too, is carried on in song), to the intimate domestic tragedy of the foreground, where the same broad issue (the relationship of workers and bourgeoisie) is replayed. But the simple material is not played simplistically: though Demy offers melodramatic figures of good (the innocent girl friend) and evil (Sanda’s husband, the cruel owner of a small electronics shop, played with operatic fury by Michel Piccoli), the emotional center of the film is an apparently marginal figurethe landlady, magnificently incarnated by Danielle Darrieux, who must witness the conflict, divided between her affection for Berry and her love for her daughter, between the romantic fulfillment that Berry promises and the financial security providedby Piccoli.… Read more »

Rooftops

A semichoreographed thriller about homeless kids who live on rooftops and crack dealers on New York’s Lower East Side, this is nicely cast with a group of relative newcomersJason Gedrick, Troy Beyer, Alexis Cruz, Eddie Velez, and Trisha Campbelland septuagenarian director Robert Wise (West Side Story, The Andromeda Strain) still knows a thing or two about razzle-dazzle action editing. But Terence Brennan’s script never gets beyond the formulaic, and the relentless wall-to-wall disco music, fancy dance sequences (with choreography by John Carrafa and Jelon Vieira), and other contrivances (including what looks like designer jeans, designer slum parties, and even designer blood) often make this come across as phony, despite the appealing performers. (JR)… Read more »

Rocco And His Brothers

An epic (1960) from Luchino Visconti about five brothers (Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Spiros Focas, Rocco Vidolazzi, Max Cartier) who, with their widowed mother (Katina Paxinou), leave their impoverished farm in southern Italy for the corruptions of Milan. This looks like a primary sourcebook for the overheated operatic styles, homoerotic intensity, quasi-incestuous delirium, and casual conceptual misogyny of Scorsese, Coppola, and Ciminoand you may have to value the ranker elements of those filmmakers more highly than I do to consider this precursor more than a mannerist touchstone. Visconti is an incontestable master in films as diverse as La Terra Trema, Senso, The Leopard, and The Innocent, but those films don’t employ women as unconvincingly or as insultingly as this one does. Still, you may be swept along by the sheer grace and stamina of the mise en scene and Nino Rota’s music. With Annie Girardot, Roger Hanin, Suzy Delair, Claudia Cardinale, and, in a smaller role, Adriana Asti. In Italian with subtitles. 180 min. (JR)… Read more »

Pinocchio

Along with Dumbo, which immediately followed it, this 1940 classic, the second of the Disney animated features, is probably the best in terms of visual detail and overall imagination as well as narrative sweep. Like Dumbo and Bambi, it might have given Dan Quayle cause for concern by validating single parenthood, but everyone else should be delighted. The richly and finely delineated characters include a cluster of European villains, an American hero and blue fairy, and a couple of father figures whose nationalities seem mid-Atlantic. The moral lessons include a literalization of metaphors about lying and other forms of misbehaving, and the grasp of a little boy’s emotions and behavior often borders on the uncanny. A razor-sharp restoration, with some stereo enhancement and vividly restored colors, appeared in 1992. (JR)… Read more »

Pictures Of Europe: European Cinema In The Nineties

A disappointing 1990 feature-length documentary, made over a three-year period for England’s Channel Four by the usually enterprising and discerning Paul Joyce. Given the array of interesting filmmakers on view — Chantal Akerman, Pedro Almodovar, Jean-Jacques Annaud, Jean-Jacques Beineix, Bernardo Bertolucci, Mike Figgis, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Paul Schrader, Istvan Szabo, Bertrand Tavernier, Agnes Varda, Paul Verhoeven, Wim Wenders, and Krzysztof Zanussi — this is certainly not devoid of interest, but the sound-bite format proves less than ideal for the exploration of ideas about the economic, aesthetic, and existential future of European films. Tavernier and Verhoeven are two of the livelier commentators. (JR)… Read more »

Peyton Place

Critics turned up their noses at this tear-jerking ‘Scope blockbuster of 1957, based on Grace Metalious’s lurid best-selling novel. But people came out in droves for it, and it’s not at all hard to see whyit’s corn in the grand style, much of it delivered with sweep and conviction, and the intrigues come thick and fast. At the center is Diane Varsi as a girl coming of age in a picturesque New England town; sizzling around the edges are Lana Turner, Hope Lange, Arthur Kennedy, Lloyd Nolan, Lee Philips, Terry Moore, Russ Tamblyn, Betty Field, Mildred Dunnock, David Nelson, Barry Coe, Leon Ames, and Lorne Greene. Onetime Hitchcock employee John Michael Hayes wrote the script, Mark Robson directed, and Franz Waxman composed the effective if syrupy score. (JR)… Read more »

Patriot Games

If you weren’t bored stiff by The Hunt for Red October, you may enjoy this even duller follow-up thriller based on another Tom Clancy novel. This time CIA analyst Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) has to protect his family (Anne Archer and Thora Birch) from Irish terrorists (Sean Bean, Patrick Bergin, Polly Walker) and if you can accept them as characters you may care whether they live or die. W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart wrote the script and Phillip Noyce, who has shown more skill on other occasions (Newsfront, Dead Calm), directed; James Earl Jones and Richard Harris are also around to periodically insert their ham (1992). (JR)… Read more »