Daily Archives: July 1, 1993

Histoire(s) Du Cinema

Jean-Luc Godard’s ten-part video series, made for French TV. Daunting, provocative, and very beautiful, it looks at the history of the 20th century through cinema and vice versa, mainly through a rich assortment of film clips (sometimes several at once), sound tracks, poetic commentary (with plenty of metaphors), and captions. Indispensable. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Tom And Jerry: The Movie

Given that the famous cartoon cat and mouse speak and sometimes play second fiddle to a little-girl heroine, this doesn’t have much to do with the old Tom and Jerry cartoons. It has a lot more to do with screenwriter Dennis Marks and producer-director Phil Roman trying to imitate the late-80s animation successes of Disney. Overplaying wealth and villainy, it has a so-so Henry Mancini score that may remind you of his work on Hatari! and overall a better feeling for action than character (1992). 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Robin Hood: Men In Tights

More mud pies and occasional musical numbers from Mel Brooks in his parodic Blazing Saddles mode (has he any other?)predictably slapdash but indefatigably good-natured and sometimes funny to boot. Completely disregarding the PC guidelines of left and right alike, this medieval romp features gags about Jews, blacks, gays, blind people, and the clergy, among others, but none of it seems mean spirited. Dom DeLuise does a very funny impersonation of Brando impersonating Don Corleone; with Cary Elwes, Amy Yasbeck, Isaac Hayes, Roger Rees, Tracey Ullman, and Brooks himself as a rabbi. Evan Chandler and J. David Shapiro collaborated with Brooks on the script. (JR)… Read more »

Rising Sun

Some of my colleagues criticized this Philip Kaufman cop movie for softening the anti-Japanese feeling of the Michael Crichton novel it adaptsfor coming down on corporate capitalism in general more than Japanese capitalism in particular, and diluting or at least complicating the racial implications by making the principal hero black instead of white. But I found it pretty entertaining, as well as provocative in some of its comments about contemporary life. Just about everyoneincluding Wesley Snipes and Sean Connery as a couple of LA cops uncovering a business conspiracy while investigating a murderturns out to be somewhat corrupt, and the Connery character’s pithy explanations for the cultural and behavioral differences between the Japanese and American characters help to ameliorate some of the traces of xenophobia that remain. I’d rather see Kaufman upgrading the hackwork of Crichton than degrading the good work of Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) or Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being). While most of the opportunities to make this a first-rate thriller are wasted, it’s still a pretty good second-rater. Written by Kaufman, Crichton, and Michael Backes; with Harvey Keitel, Cary-Horoyuki Tagawa, Mako, Ray Wise, and Tia Carrere. (JR)… Read more »

Poetic Justice

Though it’s not unlikable, John Singleton’s second feature (Boyz N the Hood was his first) is an unholy mess in almost every respect. There’s a line in the final credits saying that, for the purposes of copyright, Columbia Pictures is the author of this film, so maybe Columbia and not Singleton should be held accountable for the meandering and badly told (if occasionally suggestive) love story about a hairdresser-poet (Janet Jackson) and a postman (Tupac Shakur) from South Central LA who take a trip up to Oakland in a mail truck with another couple, bringing all their ghetto-bred problems with them. The title comes from the poet’s name, Justice, and though Jackson shows a lot of charm in the role, it’s often hard to relate the poetry she’s supposed to have written (which is read mainly offscreen) to her character. (In fact, the poems are by Maya Angelou, who’s around to play a bit part.) After a deceptively funny and offbeat beginning, the movie keeps restarting; each new start shows some promise, and Singleton’s talent never really deserts himbut the parts don’t come together to create a unified story. With Regina King, Joe Torry, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Tyra Ferrell. (JR)… Read more »

The Outlaw

One of the weirdest westerns of all time, reflecting the eccentricities of its producer and credited director, Howard Hughes, who completed it only after firing Howard Hawks. When it came out in 1943 it was trumpeted and sometimes banned for its sexual audacity (Jane Russell debuts in a brassiere designed by Hughes himself), yet much of the plot now makes it seem like a closet gay movie. Made two years prior to release, it was scripted by Jules Furthman and shot by Gregg Toland, which gives it some classbut by and large it’s enjoyable today chiefly as a camp hoot. With Jack Buetel (the forgotten lead, who seems to care more about his horse than Russell), Walter Huston, and Thomas Mitchell. (JR)… Read more »

Orlando

Sally Potter’s well-appointed fashion show and pithy, symmetrical period spectacle (1993, 92 min.), loosely adapted from Virginia Woolf’s fanciful novel, which follows the adventures of the eponymous protagonist (Tilda Swinton)a man who eventually turns into a womanfrom 1600 to the present. Compared with Potter’s bold, beautiful, original, and witty (albeit unpopular and seldom seen) first feature, The Gold Diggers, this is safe, crowd-flattering stuff, the Driving Miss Daisy of art picturesa film with practically no ideas at all, but lots of fancy trimmings (including Peter Greenaway’s production designers and Derek Jarman’s costume designer) and plenty of attitude. As a drag show, it’s far from inspired (though Quentin Crisp’s Queen Elizabeth I is a lot more convincing than Swinton’s male Orlando), and as upscale entertainment it’s about as radical as Woody Allen. Yet Potter’s musical score, written in collaboration with David Motion, is lovely. With Billy Zane, Lothaire Bluteau, John Wood, Charlotte Valandrey, and Heathcote Williams. (JR)… Read more »

Mozart Quartier

In Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s 1992 comedy-fantasy charmer from Cameroon, a young girl betrays too much curiosity for her age, and a witch transforms her into a man. He/she promptly joins a male gang and starts romancing the daughter of a neighborhood copherself. The plot carries a few echoes of George Axelrod’s play Goodbye Charlie, but what’s most notable about this first feature is how much its eclectic style owes to Spike Lee, even though its folkloric content and sexual politics are quite different. Bekolo’s overall handling of his cast is delightful. With Sandrine Ola’a, Serge Amougou, Jimmy Biyong, and Essindi Mindja. (JR)… Read more »

Move Over, Darling

This comedy, about a wife returning from five years on a desert island to discover that her husband has remarried, began as Something’s Got to Give, the last feature Marilyn Monroe worked on, directed by George Cukor. It wound up as a Doris Day vehicle with James Garner, Thelma Ritter, and Polly Bergen, directed by Michael Gordon (1963). (JR)… Read more »

Montparnasse 19

A transitional film (1958, 108 min.) between the French tradition of quality and the New Wave, this slick biopic about the last year or so in the life of the painter Amedeo Modigliani (the title alludes to the bohemian quarter and the year, 1919) is a highly personal effort by one of the idols of the New Wave generation, the neglected Jacques Becker (Casque d’or, Le trou). At once clunky, overproduced, and naive, it’s also sincere and moving, in spite of its faults as a statement about the gulf between serious artists and marketers. It’s both helped and hindered by its glamorous cast: Gerard Philipe, Anouk Aimee, and Lilli Palmer. Jean-Luc Godard memorably defended this film when it came out by writing, Everything rings true in this totally false film. Everything is illuminated in this obscure film. For he who leaps into the void owes no explanations to those who watch. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Modesty Blaise

Joseph Losey’s adaptation of the comic strip, starring Monica Vitti as a spya deliriously campy and at times angry parody of James Bond films, pop art, op art, and a lot else that was modish in 1966. It’s too perverse at times to work entirely on its own terms, but the lively castincluding Dirk Bogarde, Terence Stamp, and Harry Andrewskeeps it watchable. It certainly survives as an interesting period piece. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Memoirs Of A River

Hungarian filmmaker Judit Elek’s ambitious and serious, but also ponderous, long (147 minutes), and mainly slow-moving account of the last Jewish ritual murder trial in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which took place in 1882 after several Jewish raftsmen in the Carpathian Mountains were accused of murdering a girl. The film lingers over the beautiful settings, Jewish rituals, the torture of many Jews to extract false testimonies, and the subsequent trial, during which one 14-year-old boy accused his own rabbi father of participating in a ritual murder. Also known as The Raftsmen (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Long Day Closes

The 1992 conclusion of Terence Davies’s second autobiographical trilogy may not achieve the sublime heights of parts one and two (which comprised 1988′s Distant Voices, Still Lives) , but it’s still a powerful film, possibly even a great onethe sort of work that can renew one’s faith in movies. Part three chronicles his life in working-class Liverpool between the ages of 7 and 11, a period he compresses into the years 1955 and 1956, but Davies focuses less on plot or memory as they’re usually understood than on the memory of emotions and subjective consciousness. Music, lighting, elaborate camera movements, and the sound tracks of other films are among the tools he uses in relation to the basic settings of home, street, school, church, pub, and movie theater. Davies emphasizes the continuities and discontinuities between these places and the emotions they evoke, creating a consistent sense of religious illumination and transfiguration. What he does with the strains of Tammy in one climactic sequence and with the drift of moving clouds in another are alone worth the price of admission. (JR)… Read more »

Goldfinger

This 1964 entry is the most enjoyable of the James Bond thrillers starring Sean Conneryperhaps because it’s the most comic and cartoony in look as well as conception. Still, it’s every bit as imperialist and misogynistic as the other screen adventures based on Ian Fleming’s books (among John F. Kennedy’s favorites). Guy Hamilton directed; with Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, and Harold Sakata. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Delivered Vacant

This documentary feature about gentrification is uncommonly goodmade by School of the Art Institute graduate Nora Jacobson over eight years in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the neighborhood where she still lives. Alert and lucid without a trace of sentimentality, Jacobson focuses on a number of related events, including the torching of rent-controlled buildings (and subsequent condo conversions), and interviews local residents, landlords, developers, activists, and others about what’s going on. An eye-opener (1992). (JR)… Read more »