Daily Archives: December 1, 1992

Single White Female

Jennifer Jason Leigh plays the twisted and lonely roommate of Bridget Fonda in a psychological thriller directed by Barbet Schroeder, based on John Lutz’s novel SWF Seeks Same and adapted by Don Roos. As a psychological case study this is intelligent and adept, with fine performances by both of the lead actresses, and none of the Hitchcockian implications are lost on Schroeder. But there’s something dehumanizing about 90s horror thrillers that all but defeats the film’s impulses toward seriousness; no matter how much the filmmakers work to make the characters real, the genre contrives to turn them into functions and props. With Steven Weber and Peter Friedman. (JR)… Read more »

Scent Of A Woman

Al Pacino’s winning entry in the disability Oscar sweepstakes, with plenty of reminders of Dead Poets Society to take up the slack once it runs out of ways of emulating Rain Man. Among the able hands in this scurrilous, overlong enterprise are screenwriter Bo Goldman, producer-director Martin Brest, and costar Chris O’Donnell; the plot, a very loose Americanized remake of a 1975 Dino Risi comedy, transpires over a Thanksgiving weekend, when a scholarship student (O’Donnell) at an expensive New England prep school, wrestling with an anguished crise de conscience (he’s being pressured to inform on classmates), is hired to take care of a blind retired lieutenant colonel (Pacino), who drags him along to Manhattan on a wild, expensive weekend. An irascible bully who proves to have a heart of gold, Pacino’s character seems manufactured by a computer programmed with box-office grosses, and it’s disheartening to find a movie that professes to take a stand on behalf of personal integrity ripping off Chaplin’s theme song from City Lights without credit to generate some of its pathos. Given the talent on board, there’s an undeniable flair and effectiveness in certain scenes (such as Pacino dancing the tango with a stranger in a posh restaurant), but the meretricious calculation finally sticks in one’s throat.… Read more »

The Nation

A feature subtitled A Story of the Nation of Islam, produced, directed, and written by Juney Smith. Providing an alternative view to Spike Lee’s Malcolm Xit’s a much more accurate if dramatically and cinematically somewhat less pungent telling of the complex storyit concentrates on Elijah Muhammad’s relationship with Fard Muhammad as well as his influence on Malcolm X, Wallace Muhammad, and Louis Farrakhan; it also deals with the influence of various women on the Black Muslim movement. With Reed McCants, Michael Whaley, Smoky Campbell, and Ben Guillory. (JR)… Read more »

Hoffa

Handsomely mounted and stylishly directed but otherwise rather unpleasant, this grandiloquent 1992 biopic about controversial Teamsters leader James R. Hoffa (Jack Nicholson)written by David Mamet (in his trademark plug-ugly monosyllabic style) and directed by Danny DeVito (who costars as a fictional loyal employee of Hoffa’s)may be vague around the edges as history but it’s conceptually clear about its own Godfather-style ambivalence. Its dark hagiography mixes a prounion stance with a more conservative view of crime and violence, seeing them as disturbing but impossible to eradicate. The period settings, though nicely handled, are less an original conception than dutiful homages to other movies. With Armand Assante, J.T. Walsh, John C. Reilly, Frank Whaley, and Kevin Anderson as Robert Kennedy. (JR)… Read more »

The Young Lions

Adapted by Edward Anhalt from Irwin Shaw’s celebrated novel about World War II and directed by Edward Dmytryk, this 167-minute omnibus in ‘Scope holds interest largely because of its three lead actorsMarlon Brando as a conflicted Nazi officer, and Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin (in one of his few serious roles) as U.S. soldiers; with Hope Lange, Barbara Rush, Maximilian Schell, Mai Britt, and Lee Van Cleef (1958). (JR)… Read more »

Used People

Shirley MacLaine plays a Jewish widow with two unhappy daughters (Kathy Bates and Marcia Gay Harden) who’s wooed by an Italian widower (Marcello Mastroianni) in Queens in 1969. This delightful, affecting, and offbeat comedy-drama (1992), written by actor Todd Graff (The Abyss, Five Corners), and adapted from his own off-Broadway work, The Grandma Plays, has been directed with verve and sensitivity by Beeban Kidron (Antonia & Jane), who did most of her previous work for British TV but seems perfectly at home here. The relatively uncommon virtue on full display here is a sense of character, which extends beyond the principals to the heroine’s mother (Jessica Tandy), the mother’s best friend (Sylvia Sidney), and a grandson (Matthew Branton), but the filmmakers are no slouches when it comes to period ambience either. This is a good deal less obvious and more original than Moonstruckone of many reasons I prefer it (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Trespass

Two firemen (Bill Paxton and William Sadler) from rural Arkansas head for an abandoned building in East Saint Louis after hearing about a hoard of buried treasure, only to find themselves unwitting witnesses to a murder committed by a local mob (including Ice-T and Ice Cube). Walter Hill directed this economical action thriller from a script by executive producers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Like Hill, Gale and Zemeckis show much more aptitude for warming over old genre movesthey’re especially good here in honoring the Aristotelian ground rules for place and timethan for detailed social observation, and the movie is ultimately limited by a schematic conception of most of the characters. (The major exception to this is a homeless squatter played by Art Evans, who in more ways than one walks off with the picture.) Otherwise, resourceful use is made of the decor (production design Jon Hutman), the spare and jangling music score (by Ry Cooder), and the secondary cast (including De’Voreaux White, Bruce A. Young, and Glenn Plummer) (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Toys

In the Gospel According to Barry Levinson, it would appear that the universei.e., the world, i.e., America, i.e., Hollywood, i.e., Levinson’s own brainis nothing but one gigantic toy factory. When factory owner (Donald O’Connor) dies, he leaves the business not to his elfin and playful son (Robin Williams) but to his military brother (Michael Gambon), who proceeds to install security systems and manufacture war toys. This is a movie Levinson wanted to make for a dozen years, and it’s possible that in the long career slide from the promise and coherence of Diner he’s forgotten why. Maybe with a smaller budget and less solipsism at its center this project might have retained certain possibilities. But in its present monstrous, cacophonous, and semicoherent form it constitutes a prime example of everything it is attempting to satirize. Coscripted by Valerie Curtin; with Joan Cusack, Robin Wright, LL Cool J, Arthur Malet, and Jack Warden (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Tous Les Matins Du Monde

Alain Corneau directed this highly affecting and absorbing 1991 French feature about the legendary 17th-century classical musician and composer Sainte Colombe (Jean-Pierre Marielle) and his pupil Marin Marais (played by both Gerard Depardieu and his son, Guillaume Depardieu), who by the time he was 20 wound up playing in Lully’s orchestra at the court of Louis XIV. So little is known about Sainte Colombe that the film virtually invents him as a stubborn, eccentric idealist with two daughters (Anne Brochet and Carole Richert), one of whom becomes involved with Marais. Adapted by Corneau and Pascal Quignard from Quignard’s novel of the same title (which means all the mornings of the world), the film makes very good use of musical pieces by the main characters as well as by Lully, Couperin, and Jordi Savall (who conducts and helps perform the score). Winner of no less than seven Cesars and other prestigious French prizes, this is somewhat better than the middlebrow cultural monuments that usually get such awards; the characters remain fascinating throughout, and the handling of the period is both delicate and highly evocative. (JR)… Read more »

Peter’s Friends

Another indication that Wellesian wannabe Kenneth Branagh’s true taste as a movie director may lie not in the direction of Shakespeare (Henry V) but on the flip and trashy level of Dead Again. This stagy, overwrought English comedy-drama, adapted from an American script by stand-up comic Rita Rudner and Martin Bergman, is about a weekend reunion of eight friends at a country manor. Largely watchable because of its studied superficiality, like much of the actor-oriented boulevard fare in English theater, this invities each of the main playersincluding Branagh, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, and Stephen Fry, as well as Rudnerto go over the top and devour all the available scenery at least once. You probably won’t remember much of this after it’s over, but it passes the time rather nicely (1992). (JR)… Read more »

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Jim Henson is gone, but in the Disney spirit of immortality Jim Henson Productions lives on. Jim’s son Brian directed this 1992 musical version of the Dickens story, with Michael Caine as Scrooge and Muppets as practically everybody else, e.g., Kermit the Frog (Steve Whitmire) as Bob Cratchit and Miss Piggy (Frank Oz) as Emily Cratchit. This is the dullest and least successful adaptation of the Christmas chestnut I’ve ever seen, possibly because the mixture of Muppets and humans creates anomalies of scale and degrees of stylized behavior that the film tries to ignore rather than work with. (Casting a well-known Muppet Gonzo as Charles Dickens, who serves as the storyteller, is symptomatic of the problem; all the movie can muster in this area is a vague conceit in search of a concept.) Caine in particular seems defeated by the confusion, and his Scrooge — like the other characters, for that matter — seems all premise. Coproducer Jerry Juhl wrote the script, and the songs are by Paul Williams. 85 min. (JR)

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Leap Of Faith

A good example of what critic Robin Wood has called an incoherent text. After devoting most of its length and energy to a fascinating and entertaining exposition of the con games and fake miracles concocted by touring revivalists (including Steve Martin and Debra Winger) in a small town in Kansas, the picture suddenly goes gooey-eyed mystical or ironic or both and serves up a couple of genuine (i.e., Spielbergian) miracles, making nonsense of most of the preceding plot. Still, if you enjoy Martin and Winger as much as I do, you may not notice how egregiously miscast they are (not to mention Liam Neeson as a local sheriff courting Winger); Martin’s jumping-jack foot patter and Winger’s brains and eroticism are agreeable con games in their own right, and Lolita Davidovich and Lukas Haas are also fine (and actually well cast) as a local waitress and her crippled brother. Richard Pearce (The Long Walk Home) directed from a script by newcomer Janus Cercone, who seems better served by her research into tent preachers and con artists than by the ultimate meanings she gleans from her updated Elmer Gantry material (1992). (JR)… Read more »

The Greatest Story Ever Told

Late in his career, George Stevens banked everything on this 1965 opus about the life of Jesus, shot in Utah in 70-millimeter and originally released in a 260-minute version. By reputation, the results are so dull and so consistently undercut by a succession of star cameos (John Wayne proclaiming Truly this man was the son of God at the foot of the cross is the most cited example) that no one seems to mind the various shorter versions released since them, one of them less than half as long. Among the many stars are Max von Sydow (as Jesus), Dorothy McGuire, Claude Rains, Jose Ferrer, David McCallum, Charlton Heston, Sidney Poitier, and Pat Boone. (JR)… Read more »

Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg

A 1991 Swedish feature written and directed by Kjell Grede, starring Stellan Skarsgard as Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish businessman who saved the lives of many thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II and wound up being taken prisoner by the Russians. Well-intentioned in its desire to honor its factual basis and in its grimness about the Holocaust, the film inadvertently illustrates better than most the futility of trying to make such a subject imaginable or believable by conventional means (the enduring lesson of Shoah). Even when this film disturbs, it seldom has much of the sting of reality; it’s a sad irony that even some conventional entertainments render deaths more convincingly. (JR)… Read more »

The Glass Cell

Framed by a shady contractor for negligence that resulted in the collapse of a school building, an architect (Helmut Griem) plots his revenge. Hans Geissendorfer (Jonathan) directed this little-seen but watchable 1978 German feature, which was nominated for an Oscar, based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith and photographed by Robby Muller. With Brigitte Fossey and Dieter Laser. (JR)… Read more »