Daily Archives: February 1, 1994

The Second Circle

Alexander Sokurov’s 1990 Russian feature, in which a young man from Leningrad arrives in a Siberian village to deal with the local bureaucracy and dispose of his father’s corpse. The father was a prison-camp guard, and it’s been suggested that the plot can be read as a parable about Russia before and after glasnost. Some of the slow-as-molasses takes feel so extended that when Sokurov concludes them with rapid lap dissolves the sense of mulish transgression is intensified. (On principle, I prefer Sokurov’s leaden mannerism, with its purity and quirky intransigence, to most of Hollywood, though his spare content causes occasional doubts.) Not an easy experience, but intriguing and provocative. In Russian with subtitles. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

Reality Bites

When this movie was released in 1994, the novelty of seeing a romantic comedy written and directed by, as well as starring, people in their early 20s made for a certain freshness, but after a point this youthfulness consists of little more than TV referencesincluding plenty of imitation MTV, complete with lousy music. Set in Houston and written by Helen Childress, the story mainly concerns an ambitious video artist (Winona Ryder), fresh out of college, who works at a local TV station and is wooed, after a fashion, by a slick TV executive (Ben Stiller, who also directs) and a less demonstrative rock musician (Ethan Hawke); if you care whom she winds up with or why, you probably caught more of the TV references than I did. With Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, Swoosie Kurtz, Joe Don Baker, and John Mahoney. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sugar Hill

It’s hard to know why a picture like this got made, but apparently some Fox executives decided we hadn’t been getting enough movies linking blacks to drugs and violence or seeing enough of Wesley Snipes (Hey, New Jack City meets The Godfather!). Typically overproduced and undernourished, and directed by Crossover Dreams’s Leon Ichaso from a script by New Jack City’s Barry Michael Cooper, this is about rival brothers, played by Snipes and Michael Wright, in a Harlem crime empire, and apart from the standard unpleasant violence it’s every bit as vacuous as you might expect. The pseudojazz score is by jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. With Theresa Randle, Clarence Williams III, Abe Vigoda, and Joe Dallesandro. (JR)… Read more »

Storm Center

The only directorial effort of screenwriter Daniel Taradash (Don’t Bother to Knock, From Here to Eternity), this 1956 melodrama about a small-town librarian (Bette Davis) who’s fired when she refuses to remove a communist book from the shelves sounds better than it plays, though it certainly isn’t devoid of interest. It’s basically one of those black-and-white, issue-oriented town-in-an-uproar pictures the 50s seemed to specialize in, though there are many better examples (e.g., The Well, The Phenix City Story). This was originally planned as a comeback vehicle for Mary Pickford, though Davis is fine as her replacement; with Brian Keith and Kim Hunter. (JR)… Read more »

Smash-up, The Story Of A Woman

Susan Hayward received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of an insecure alcoholic who gave up her singing career to marry an up-and-coming radio star (Lee Bowman). Yet this grim, noirish 1947 melodramashaped by a powerful screenplay by soon-to-be-blacklisted John Howard Lawson, who adapted a story by Dorothy Parker and Frank Cavetthas never received its due. It cries out for revaluation. Directed by Stuart Heisler; with Marsha Hunt and Eddie Albert. (JR)… Read more »

Naked

Brilliant, problematic, and hyperbolic, Mike Leigh’s postapocalyptic look at post-Thatcher England may look like allegory, but only because the picaresque story line, this time involving lone individuals rather than families, seems to sprawl more randomly than usual (which, incidentally, makes the customary clash of acting styles all the more glaring). What passes for a plot involves the restless, random movements of a working-class pontificator on the dole who’s visiting his former girlfriend in London, to no clear purpose, and a number of the people he encounters, including his former girlfriend’s roommate, a homeless couple, a philosophical night watchman, and a couple of women who take him in. We also periodically follow a similarly misogynistic, sadistic yuppie whose path eventually crosses the hero’s; it’s here that Leigh’s occasional weakness for caricature seems most obvious. Though far from perfect, this 1993 film is galvanizing and disturbing, powerfully acted and teasingly unresolved. With David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Peter Wight, and Greg Cruttwell. 131 min. (JR)… Read more »

High And Low

I would nominate this authoritative 1962 adaptation of Ed McBain’s novel The King’s Ransom as Akira Kurosawa’s best nonperiod picture, though Ikiru and Rhapsody in August are tough competitors. It’s a 142-minute ‘Scope thriller in black and white, except for one partly colorized shot, about a kidnapping that goes awry: a chauffeur’s son is accidentally spirited away instead of the son of the businessman the chauffeur works for. The title refers to the topographical layout of the action as well as class divisions, and Kurosawa’s script and masterful mise en scene do a lot with both. Scorsese has been talking for years about doing a remake of this, but it’s hard to believe he could equal it. With Toshiro Mifune. In Japanese with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

You So Crazy

This stand-up-comedy concert film with Martin Lawrence (Boomerang) can’t really hold a candle to Richard Pryor Live in Concert, the precedent it seems most indebted to, but you might say there’s been nothing like it since Pryor’s landmark performance. One encounters the same uninhibited frankness about sex and physicality in general and ghetto experience in particular, and there’s a welcome absence of the sort of misogyny and homophobia one usually encounters in such circumstances. One never quite feels about Lawrence as one felt about Pryor, that he’s struggling to save his own soul, and there may be less poetry in his observations, but there’s honesty and boldness to spare and some wonderful laughs as well; chances are you’ll feel healthier on your way out of this show than you felt going in. The director is So I Married an Axe Murderer’s Thomas Schlamme. (JR)… Read more »

I Vinti

Commonly and to some extent unjustly written off as a failure, in part because of alterations imposed by censorship pressures that marred the first two episodes, Michelangelo Antonioni’s daring second feature (1952), originally released in England as Youth and Perversion, consists of three separate sketches chronicling senseless murders committed by young men in France, Italy, and Englanda contemporary existentialist document that could almost have been coscripted by Albert Camus. What’s most striking in all three parts of the film is the integration of incident with landscape without psychologizingsomething of an Antonioni stapleand the last and best segment strikingly anticipates Blowup by offering not only a corpse found in a park but a tennis match glimpsed in the final shot. Jean-Pierre Mocky, later a New Wave director, plays one of the French youths in the first section, and Fay Compton plays the murder victim in the last. In Italian with subtitles. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

La Vie De Boheme

I’m no expert on Aki Kaurismaki’s films, but this 1992 poker-faced black-and-white adaptation of Henri Murger’s novel Scenes de la vie de boheme (the source of Puccini’s opera La boheme) is certainly the most boring one I’ve seen. It shares with some of Kaurismaki’s better features the conviction that attitude is an adequate substitute for sensibility, and its employment of minimalism a la Jarmusch begins with the dubious notion that black-and-white cinematography is a minimalist technique. (In Jarmusch’s films the use of black and white is always highly functional.) The plot concerns an Albanian refugee painter, a French playwright, and an Irish composer on the fringes of Paris bohemian life; but Kaurismaki’s version is basically a series of dry-as-dust, cynical actorly and directorial poses, shot in a Paris suburb yet clearly set in neither the present nor the past. I guess it’s an acquired taste. With Matti Pellonpaa, Andre Wilms, Kari Vaananen, Evelyne Didi, and Jean-Pierre Wenzel. In Finnish with subtitles. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tito And Me

The chuckling style and nostalgic tone may be pure Neil Simon, but the content of this 1992 autobiographical feature by Goran Markovic is something else againa fascinating, pointed, satirical look at growing up in the former Yugoslavia in the mid-50s, obviously given more edge by the fact that it couldn’t have been made until fairly recently. The ten-year-old narrating heroan overweight worshiper of Marshal Tito sharing a cramped Belgrade apartment with his artistic parents as well as his grandparents, aunt, uncle, and cousindevelops a crush on an older girl who’s an orphan. He, along with the girl, is selected to go on a camping trip to Tito’s homeland after writing a dutiful essay declaring that he loves the ruler more than his own parents; but he hits it off poorly with the tour leader and eventually has some second thoughts about Tito as well. Entertaining and often illuminating, this offers a much more interesting reevaluation of the 50s than most Hollywood equivalents. (JR)… Read more »

My Girl 2

I didn’t see the original, but it must have had more juice and substance than this limping sequel, also set in the early 70s and directed by Howard Zieff. Valda Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky), now 13, decides to write a school paper about her mother, who died when she was born, and travels out to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania to stay with her Uncle Phil (Richard Masur) during spring break and learn what she can. Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis are back as her father and stepmother (the latter expecting a child), but the emphasis here is on Valda’s investigation, which Janet Kovalcik’s script makes into a fairly meandering and sprawling affair. With Austin O’Brien, Christine Ebersole, Angeline Ball, J.D. Souther, and Richard Beymer. (JR)… Read more »

Jamon Jamon

A juicy and deliciously over-the-top piece of Spanish raunchiness with melodramatic as well as erotic overtones, this won the Silver Lion at the 1992 Venice film festival. Bigas Luna’s comedywhose title might be roughly translated (with pun added) as Double Hammyis funnier to my taste than anything by Pedro Almodovar in his postpunk phase. (The fleshy and uninhibited satirical mode recalls Al Capp’s comic strip Li’l Abner in more ways than one.) Determined to prevent her son from marrying a prostitute’s daughter who works in a men’s underwear factory, the wife of the factory’s owner hires a stud to seduce her, then falls for the same hunk herself; in the ensuing fracas involving food, class, animals, passion, and porking, overripeness is all, right down to the climactic ham-bone duel. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Greedy

Jonathan Lynn, director of Nuns on the Run and My Cousin Vinnie, and Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, house writers of Ron Howard’s production company, collaborate on a Michael J. Fox comedy with lots of twists, about the mad scramble of various members of a family named McTeague (clearly named after the lead character in Erich von Stroheim’s Greed) and an English ingenue to win the favor of an aging, cantankerous scrap metal tycoon (Kirk Douglas) and thus inherit his estate when he dies. Part of what keeps one guessing is an ideological obstacle that’s kept in the wings but influences the action at every turn: the difficulty, after years of Reaganism, of representing unbridled greed in a Hollywood picture as something less than wholly admirable. While the results yield a few awkward moments, the movie generally exploits this difficulty to its own cynical advantage, and the castwhich also includes Nancy Travis, Olivia d’Abo, Phil Hartman, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., and Colleen Campgenerally whoops it up. (JR)… Read more »

Filming {Othello}

The last completed essay film of Orson Welles, and the last of his features to be released during his lifetime (1979), this wonderfully candid, rarely screened account of the making of his first wholly independent feature offers a perfect introduction to that movie and to Welles’s second manner of moviemaking that was necessary once he parted company with the studios and mainstream media. Significantly, the only part of Othello we see and hear in its original form is from the opening sequence; everything elseusually shown silently with Welles’s narrationinvolves an intricate reediting of the original material. Whether he’s addressing us beside his moviola, delivering new versions of Shakespearean speeches, chatting with his old Irish friends and collaborators Micheal MacLiammoir (his Iago) and Hilton Edwards, or speaking to college students, Welles is at his spellbinding best. (JR)… Read more »