Daily Archives: March 1, 1994

Sirens

The charm, humor, and healthy eroticism of Australian writer-director John Duigan (The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting) are back in force in this pleasantly recounted tale, set in the 30s, about a newlywed Anglican clergyman and his wife, freshly played by Hugh Grant and Tara Fitzgerald, who stop off at the remote home of a controversial (i.e., erotic) painter (Sam Neill). The clergyman has been asked by his bishop to try to convince the painter to remove one of his sexy paintings from an upcoming exhibit, and when he and his wife unexpectedly have to extend their stay, the sensual lures of both the scenic setting and the bohemian householdwhich largely consists of females who pose nude for the painterhave a subtle but indelible effect on the couple, the wife in particular. With Elle Macpherson, Portia De Rossi, Kate Fischer, and Pamela Rabe; Duigan himself has a cameo as a local minister. (JR)… Read more »

The Scent Of Green Papaya

A beautiful first feature (1993) by Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung, shot on a French soundstage and set in two bourgeois Saigon households in 1951 and ’61. The central character, inspired by Tran’s mother, is a servant girl, played as a ten-year-old by Lu Man San and as a young woman by Tran’s wife, Tran Nu Yen-khe, and the main focus is on everyday household chores and sensual discoveries, all made mesmerizing by elaborately choreographed camera movements that link interiors and exteriors in the same fluid itineraries. The first household contains an unhappy family, the second a wealthy Europeanized composer, and, perhaps significantly, only the first seems to have much connection with the surrounding neighborhood. The Vietnam war is dealt with so elliptically that it figures only as offscreen sirens and overhead planes. This stylish period piece won the Camera d’Or at the 1993 Cannes film festival and was nominated for an Oscar. In Vietnamese with subtitles. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Naked Gun 33<6: The Final Insult

A step down from the first Naked Gun cop-thriller spoof, which was a step down from Airplane! and Top Secret!; but if you care about such fine distinctions, this may be marginally better than Naked Gun 2<4: The Smell of Fear. Or at least it is when the movie finally arrives at the climactic Academy Awards ceremony; prior to that, it’s mainly just one little-boy gag after anothertopical enough to include a reference to Tonya Harding, silly enough to make you laugh sometimes in spite of yourselfat least if you’re feeling like a little boy. With Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Fred Ward, Anna Nicole Smith, Kathleen Freeman, and Ellen Greene; directed by Peter Segal from a script by Pat Proft, David Zucker, and Robert LoCash. (JR)Read more »

The Hudsucker Proxy

The year is supposed to be 1958, but because the filmmakers are Fargo’s Joel and Ethan Coenthe Beavis and Butt-head of starstruck independents, who clearly consider themselves better than historywhat we get are various elements swiped from other movies made between 1929 and 1994, the year this was released. These massive borrowings, many from the screwball comedies of Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, Billy Wilder, and Terry Gilliam (plus a giant clock from Raoul Walsh’s The Horn Blows at Midnight), are mixed together with fancy sets to yield a jeering, dreamlike comedy with nothing much on its mind except how neat the Coen brothers are and how stupid or contemptible everybody else is, including everyone in the audience. This is a fantasy about the invention and mass marketing of the hula hoop as seen through the absurdist rise to executive power of a midwestern hayseed (Tim Robbins) gulled by both a cynical vice president (Paul Newman) and a cynical reporter (Jennifer Jason Leigh). At its best it’s a free-form fantasy with glitzy, well-executed effects and assorted metaphysical conceits but little feeling for any of the characters apart from derision (with a few touches of racism here and there). Sam Raimi collaborated on the script, and the supporting cast includes Charles Durning, John Mahoney, Jim True, and Peter Gallagher.… Read more »

Highway Patrolman

The anarchistic and unpredictable English director Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy, Walker) goes bilingual in this 1992 Mexican picture, the dialogue of which is all in Spanish. In some ways it’s his best worka beautifully realized tale about the life of a Mexican highway patrolman who’s neither sentimentalized nor treated like a villain: he takes bribes but has a sense of ethics. Wonderfully played by Mexican star Roberto Sosa, he’s a more believable cop than any Hollywood counterparts that come to mind. Starting off as a sad-sack comedy with black overtones, the film gravitates into grim neorealism, but Cox has a flair for surrealist filigree (worthy of Bu… Read more »

Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina

The songs are sappy (apart from Barry Manilow’s one good song here, Marry the Mole); the hero and heroine are bland master-race specimens; and some of the pastel effects are ugly and tacky. But most of the animation in this Don Bluth feature is fairly nice, if not exactly memorable to adults who’ve seen it all before. Kids should like it fine, I suspect. Gary Goldman codirected, and among the actors supplying the voices are Jodi Benson, Carol Channing, John Hurt, Gilbert Gottfried, Kenneth Mars, and Loren Michaels. (JR)… Read more »

The Tenth Victim

This witty, poker-faced 1965 Italian adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s memorable story The Sixth Victimabout licensed killing celebrated in the 21st-century media as a spectator sporthas probably dated badly, but that’s a good reason to see it. It’s derived from the mod S and M ethos of the James Bond films, which it simultaneously parodies and emulates with the help of Marcello Mastroianni (here a platinum blond) and Ursula Andress, both of whom play popular killers. Not nearly as good as Point Blank, but infinitely better than Barbarella. Directed by Elio Petri; the production design by Piero Poletto is pretty funny too. In italian with subtitles. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Paper

Director Ron Howard (Parenthood) scores with an old-fashioned entertainment about a day in the life of a New York tabloid like the Post or the News. The contrived climaxes are strictly over the top, and the Coca-Cola plugs are so frequent that the movie starts to seem like a feature-length commercial, but a bustling script by David and Stephen Koepp and fancy turns by Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close (as a snarling villain), Marisa Tomei, and Randy Quaid keep your adrenaline up even when your mind is on automatic pilot. There’s a very strong moment showing how a trumped-up police bust registers on the innocent party’s sister, a black girl doing her homework, and it’s easy to forgive the movie’s ham-handed depiction of the New York Times when its west-coast ribbing of Manhattan provinciality is so on target in other places. (Indeed, one suspects that the coolness many reviewers exhibited toward this picture and Greedy, the latter made by Howard’s production company, was similarly motivated: for all their good humor, both movies are just a little too skeptical about slimy aspects of the contemporary world too often unacknowledged.) This may not be The Front Page, but it understands what made early newspaper pictures so breezy.… Read more »

Monkey Troubles

A rather captivating if unlikely tale about a little girl, nicely played by Thora Birch, who winds up with a pet monkey that’s been trained to be a pickpocket and jewel thief. Real-life Gypsies undoubtedly have cause to be offended by Harvey Keitel’s greasy impersonation of one as the monkey-trainer villain, and Sam Fuller could lodge some legitimate beefs against this movie’s wholesale appropriation of the deprogramming theme from his White Dog, but the story’s kernel still carries some undeniable charm. With Mimi Rogers and Christopher McDonald; written and directed by Italian filmmaker Franco Amurri, a former assistant to Fellini, Zeffirelli, and Mazursky who’s best known for Da grande (the movie that inspired Big) and Flashback; Stu Krieger collaborated on the script. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Man On Earth

Vincent Price is the only survivor of a plague that turns its victims into vampires. Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkowin directed this 1964 Italian-American horror/SF item, shot in ‘Scope and adapted from Richard Matheson’s paranoid postapocalyptic novel I Am Legend. Some would consider this version better than the 1971 remake with Charlton Heston, The Omega Man, but that isn’t much of an achievement. With Franca Bettoia and Emma Danieli. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Joy Luck Club

A wonderful tearjerker (1993) about four young Chinese American women (Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, Tamilyn Tomita, and Ming-na Wen) in San Francisco and their Chinese immigrant mothers (Tsai Chin, Kieu Chinh, Lisa Lu, and France Nuyen). Adapted from Amy Tan’s best-selling novel by the author and Ron Bass, and directed by Wayne Wang, it’s a story (or more precisely, four interwoven stories) told mainly in flashbacks. Wang, whose previous work has reflected the influence of both Ozu (Dim Sum) and Godard (Life Is Cheap…but Toilet Paper Is Expensive), seems to have fallen under the spell of Mizoguchi here, and this model serves him well. At once fascinating for its detailed lore about Chinese customs and legacies and very moving in its realization, the film builds into a highly emotional epic about what it means to be both Chinese and American. (JR)… Read more »

Journey Into Fear

Contrary to rumor, Orson Welles did not direct this 1943 version of the Eric Ambler thriller, which is correctly credited to Norman Foster; Welles was off in Brazil while more than half the picture was shot. Yet he did produce and design the picture and wrote the script with the star, Joseph Cottenwhich certainly makes the film qualify as Wellesian. Unfortunately, RKO cut it almost as badly as The Magnificent Ambersons, which was in production at the same time, and what survives is basically a lot of claustrophobic atmosphere and some fair-to-middling suspense. The interesting cast includes Welles as the somewhat corny Turkish villain, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead, Dolores Del Rio, and Ruth Warrick. 69 min. (JR)… Read more »

Guarding Tess

As even the title suggests, this is an attempt to rekindle the sort of giggly, middlebrow, faded-empire charm of Driving Miss Daisy, seen here in the gradually warming relationship between an eccentric former first lady (Shirley MacLaine) living in a small Ohio town and a young, by-the-book Secret Service agent (Nicolas Cage) assigned to protect her. All this is supposed to be as cute as bugs and chock-full of worldly wisdom, but even with lead actors as likable and as resourceful as these, the material made me alternately want to gag and nod off. And when the filmmakerswriter-director Hugh Wilson (Police Academy) and cowriter Peter Torokveithrow in a ludicruous kidnapping toward the end in a futile effort to liven things up, they only make things worse. With Austin Pendleton (not so funny this time around), Edward Albert, James Rebhorn, and Richard Griffiths. (JR)… Read more »

Germinal

It seems grimly ironic that the most expensive French film ever made is about starving striking coal miners, though it’s not exactly surprising that this 158-minute, yawn-inducing Emile Zola adaptation from Claude Berri (1993) should seem so cosmically unnecessary. The film has neither the punch of a mining melodrama like Cecil B. De Mille’s early Dynamite nor the edification of a serious literary adaptationthough there’s plenty of ham acting from such coal-smeared French luminaries as Gerard Depardieu, Miou-Miou, Renaud, Jean Carmet, Judith Henry, and Bernard Fresson and one striking secondary performance by the underrated Laurent Terzieff. Berri, whose work in Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring has made him the James Ivory of the French peasantryor is it the French Stanley Kramer?brings all the pretension and impersonality required of such an enterprise, though little of the meaning or urgency that might make it worth sitting through. (For the record, Zola’s a lot better than this movie would suggest.) (JR)… Read more »