Daily Archives: August 1, 1993

Son Of The Pink Panther

Technically speaking, this feeble effort is the ninth Pink Panther or Inspector Clouseau comedy, but only the third without Peter Sellers. Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) does what he can as Inspector Clouseau Jr. (which isn’t much, given the degree of prominence accorded to a hackneyed kidnapping plot), and Blake Edwards, the presiding auteur of all the previous installments (apart from the 1968 Inspector Clouseau), directs from a script that he wrote with Madeline and Steve Sunshine; with Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, and Claudia Cardinale. (JR)… Read more »

Sofie

A sensitive and worthy if long (145 minutes) and occasionally dull account of a young Jewish woman (Karen-Lise Mynster) in Copenhagen at the end of the 19th century, Liv Ullmann’s directorial debut is her own adaptation (cowritten by Peter Poulsen) of Henri Nathansen’s 1932 Danish novel Mendel Philipsen & Son. The title heroine falls in love with a Christian painter (Jesper Christensen) who paints her parents’ portrait, but her family frowns on the match and forces her into a marriage with her cousin (Torben Zeller), a dull Orthodox Jew. After a move to the Swedish countryside, she has a son and her husband gradually descends into madness. The most interesting and accomplished performance here is given by Erland Josephson as Sofie’s father, but Ullmann does a creditable job with all the actors and the period settings are well handled (1992). (JR)… Read more »

The Secret Garden

Screenwriter Caroline Thompson and director Agnieszka Holland have turned Frances Hodgson Burnett’s rather gothic 1911 children’s book into an evocative, beautifully realized picture (1993). Three lonely and neglected children (Heydon Prowse, Kate Maberly, Andrew Knott) in a remote part of rural England discover a locked and equally neglected garden, and in the course of befriending one another they slowly bring it back to life. Maggie Smith plays the unfriendly, somewhat Dickensian housekeeper who blocks their way to freedom, and the lovely musical score is by Zbigniew Preisner. As a children’s movie with a fine sense of magic (without fantasy) and a great deal of feeling (without sentimentality), this beats the usual Disney junk hands down, and adults will find it an expert piece of storytelling. G, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Needful Things

Max von Sydow brings a great deal of elegance and wit to his part as the devil — posing as the proprietor of a nostalgia shop that he establishes in a small town in Maine– in this adaptation by W.D. Richter of the Stephen King novel. (Fostering feuds between the townspeople in exchange for magical goods that remind people of their pasts, he eventually goads the populace into outright warfare.) Unfortunately, the film’s elegance and wit more or less begin and end with this performance, and the pulpiness of the material, even when it veers into Christian parable, is never really transcended, despite a promising cast that also includes Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, and J.T. Walsh. The director is Fraser Heston, son of Charlton; this is his first theatrical feature. (JR)

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Heart And Souls

Four San Francisco bus passengers (Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Tom Sizemore, Kyra Sedgwick) perish in an accident in 1959, then watch over the growth of a baby born at the same instant, who becomes an adult played by Robert Downey Jr. With his assistance, the four are given one last chance to straighten out their lives on earth before they go to heaven. There’s enough whimsy and Capracorn here to choke a horse, and things get even more complicated when the four dead people enter the body of Downey in turnto help him help them. Fortunately the talents of the actorsespecially Downey and Woodardsometimes make this effective (i.e., funny or moving) in spite of all the goo. Ron Underwood (City Slickers) directed from a script by Erik Hansen, Gregory Hansen, S.S. Wilson, and Brent Maddock. (JR)… Read more »

Hard Target

The inauspicious U.S. debut (1993) of violent Hong Kong action director John Woo, starring Jean-Claude Van Dammeless amusing as a showcase for Van Damme than Universal Soldier and decidedly less balletic than Hard-Boiled, Woo’s previous picture. The setting is New Orleans and environs, where Van Damme is pitted against a group of sadists who hunt down homeless men for the fun of it. Aficionados of explosions and baroque mutilations may be appeased by the bones (not to mention ears, eyes, and groins) thrown their way by the childish script of Chuck Pfarrer (who plays the movie’s first victim), but the relative absence of homoeroticism and extended virtuoso action choreography, Woo’s two staples, places an inordinate burden on the sort of nasty one-liners only preteen boys are likely to find very enjoyable. With Lance Henriksen and Yancy Butler. (JR)… Read more »

The Wedding Banquet

A young Taiwanese businessman living in New York with his physical therapist boyfriend decides to marry a Chinese artist who needs a green card; the next thing he knows his parents from Taiwan, not knowing he’s gay, have decided to come to the wedding. Director Ang Lee collaborated on the script with Neil Feng and producer James Schamus; this 1993 feature, his second, is a very adroit and entertaining social comedy. Satire about and for the middle class with more heart than edge, it’s pitched mainly at liberal straight people, though the Chinese cultural details should be fascinating to all non-Chinese viewers. With Winston Chao, Mitchell Lichtenstein, Sihung Lung, May Chin, and Ah-leh Gua. In English and subtitled Mandarin. R, 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

Twist

An exemplary and entertaining history of a crucial decade in North American social dancing, roughly from the time of Arthur Murray ballroom lessons and the lindy hop in Harlem (both circa 1953) to freestyle dancing and the arrival of the Beatles in the U.S. in 1964. Ron Mannthe Canadian documentarist whose former features include investigations into free jazz (Imagine the Sound), poetry (Poetry in Motion), and comic books (Comic Book Confidential)combines a collector’s zeal for exhaustive inventories (all the ephemeral dance steps are duly noted) with a sharp sense of social history, so apart from the pleasure of watching all sorts of 50s and 60s film and TV clips and recent interviews with major participants (dancers as well as singers), one gets a sense of how dance styles developed and were merchandised. Among the provocative highlights are a white couple explaining how for their appearance on American Bandstand they were coached to claim credit for the strand, a dance developed by blacks, and an interview with Marshall McLuhan, who expounds on the twist being like conversation without words. A dry-cleaned version of this film has been shown on the Disney channel, shorn of certain lurid steps and ideological points; you owe it to yourself to see it without the cuts (1992).… Read more »

The Meteor Man

Writer-director-actor Robert Townsend hits pay dirt with the first black superhero (1993). An equivalent of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, the hero (Townsend) is a mousy inner-city schoolteacher and part-time musician in Washington, D.C., who assumes extraordinary powers after being hit by an emerald green meteor and proceeds to do battle against a big-time drug syndicate that’s menacing the ghetto. The results are very funny, delightfully stylized, and euphorically energeticalso a bit slapdash in the manner of Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, though I didn’t mind at all. With Robert Guillaume, Marla Gibbs, Eddie Griffin, James Earl Jones, Marilyn Coleman, Another Bad Creation, and loads of cameosby Big Daddy Kane, Bill Cosby, Nancy Wilson, and Frank Gorshin, among others. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Manhattan Murder Mystery

Woody Allen’s welcome return (1993) to straight-ahead entertainment, after 15 years of slogging through art-house hand-me-downs, happily coincided with a return to Diane Keaton as his leading lady, and she deftly steals the show. (Cowriter Marshall Brickmanwho hadn’t worked with Allen since Manhattanprobably makes a difference as well.) Allen and Keaton play Allen’s standard bored, upscale Manhattan couple; they get a jolt of adrenaline when they hear that the older woman next door has implausibly died of a coronary. As Keaton begins snooping compulsively around the woman’s husband (Jerry Adler), two friends (Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston) get drawn into the amateur sleuthing, and finally so does Allen. PG, 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lyrical Nitrate

A fascinating 50-minute compilation of fragments of fiction and nonfiction films made in various parts of the world between about 1905 and 1915, drawn from the collection of an Amsterdam movie-theater owner by Peter Delpeut. A lot of gorgeous stuff is on view heresome of it black and white, some of it tinted, and a little of it, believe it or not, in full or partial color (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Into The West

Mike Newell (Mona Lisa Smile, Four Weddings and Funeral) directed this 1992 comedy drama about two kids in Dublin (Ruaidhri Conroy and Ciaran Fitzgerald) who steal a white pony and ride through Ireland on it. This tries hardtoo hard, in factto be a lighthearted fantasy, though at least it compensates with some pretty scenery. Gabriel Byrne plays the boys’ father, and Ellen Barkinaccorded second billing, but around for barely more than a cameois a Gypsy he meets on his search for the boys. The script is by Jim Sheridan (In America, My Left Foot); with David Kelly. PG, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Fugitive

Though it’s a good half hour too long, this overblown 1993 spin-off of the 60s TV show otherwise adds up to a pretty good suspense thriller. In flight from the law after being wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) is pursued over a good many Chicago and rural locations by U.S. marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) while trying to clear up the mystery of who actually did the killing. The mystery itself is fairly routine, but Jones’s offbeat and streamlined performance as a proudly diffident investigator helps one overlook the mechanical crosscutting and various implausibilities, and director Andrew Davis does a better-than-average job with the action sequences. Written by Jeb Stuart and David Twohy; with Sela Ward, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, and Jeroen Krabbe. 127 min. (JR)… Read more »

Especially On Sunday

A diverting Italian feature (1992) consisting of three sketches (four before Miramax picked it up for distribution), all written by veteran screenwriter Tonino Guerra (Blowup, Amarcord), all set in the Marecchia Valley, and all having something to do with the quirkiness of human passions. The Blue Dog, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso), focuses on the love/hatred of a village shoemaker-barber (Philippe Noiret) for a stray dog that follows him around; the title sketch, directed by Giuseppe Bertolucci (Bernardo’s brother), concerns the edgy efforts of a suave middle-aged man (Bruno Ganz) to seduce a younger woman (Ornella Muti) who’s dating a troubled man her own age; and Snow on Fire, directed by Marco Tullio Giordana, is about a lonely widow (Maria Maddalena Fellini, Federico’s sister) who gets into the habit of spying on the lovemaking of her newly wed son and daughter-in-law. Ennio Morricone supplies a characteristically wistful score. (JR)… Read more »

Equinox

As a fan of both writer-director Alan Rudolph (Choose Me) and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket), I should have loved this dreamy metaphysical thriller, which casts Modine as identical twins separated at birth (one a shy car mechanic, the other a brash gangster). It has so many of the usual Rudolph tics that it often comes across as Rudolph squared, but maybe that’s the problem. Despite a likable cast, the movie drowns in its own stylishly self-regarding mannerisms and New Age pretensions. With Lara Flynn Boyle, Tyra Ferrell, Fred Ward, M. Emmet Walsh, Marisa Tomei, and Kevin J. O’Connor (1991). (JR)… Read more »