Monthly Archives: June 1995

Ivan And Abraham

A striking, ambitious, and densely realized French feature (1993) in black and white by Yolande Zauberman, also known as Me Ivan, You Abraham, that re-creates life in a Jewish shtetl in eastern Poland during the 30s. A 9-year-old Jewish boy and a 13-year-old Christian boy decide to run away together, and the younger boy’s older sister and her communist boyfriend go looking for them. The dialogue is in Yiddish, Polish, and a Gypsy dialect, and the secondary cast includes some well-known Russian actors and Polish actor Daniel Olbryschki. (JR)… Read more »

Island Of The Dead

This 1993 follow-up to Russian film critic Oleg Kovalov’s feature-length compilation of eccentric found footage, Garden of Scorpions (1991), is as dreamy and experimental as its predecessor. It’s an intriguing reverie on prerevolutionary Russia, loosely organized around a tribute to the memory of silent superstar Vera Kholodnaya, who died in 1919 at the age of 35. Definitely worth checking out. (JR)… Read more »

Lady Be Good

Tuneful MGM musical of 1941 from the Arthur Freed unit, with Robert Young and Ann Sothern as married songwriters putting on a show; Eleanor Powell, Dan Dailey, Red Skelton, and the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra are among the featured entertainers. One of the songs, The Last Time I Saw Paris, won that year’s Oscar; Norman Z. McLeod directed. (JR)… Read more »

Smoke

Though Wayne Wang is the credited director, the real auteur of this interlocking set of Brooklyn miniplots is novelist Paul Auster, evidently trying to work off some white liberal guilt in his ambitious original script about fate and crisscrossing destinies. William Hurt plays a novelist mourning the death of his pregnant wife who temporarily adopts a fatherless black teenager (Harold Perrineau) who’s tracking down his real father (Forest Whitaker); Harvey Keitel is the philosophical owner of the local cigar store who takes a daily photograph on the street outside his establishment; and Stockard Channing is Keitel’s former girlfriend who reappears with a drug-addicted daughter in tow. Despite a certain grace in the dialogue and casual plot construction, this is positively reeking of a desire to be cheerful in the face of adversity; just about everything this movie has to say about black life and adversity seems strictly secondhand. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Bellboy

Jerry Lewis’s first feature as director as well as writer, producer, and performer (1960) already signals his distance from Frank Tashlin, his mentor, by concentrating on gags that are funny in the sense of peculiar rather than funny hilarious or satirical. A low-budget black-and-white effort shot in and around Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel, this resembles Lewis’s later Cracking Up in that it’s much freer of continuous narrative than his other pictures: just one idea after another, each stranger than the last, with the formal properties of the medium (sound, editing, frame lines, offscreen space, mise en scene) frequently highlighted. Milton Berle and Walter Winchell put in cameo appearances, and there’s some especially unwelcome footage from a slapstick hillbilly group shoehorned in as filler; but in general this is Lewis’s purest and most formally inventive feature, and probably his most experimental work. (JR)… Read more »

Gorilla Bathes At Noon

Without quite returning to his Yugoslav roots or regaining all the energy of his early features, Dusan Makavejev gets back to the sources of some of his best 60s and 70s work in this ironic comedy (1993), winner of the Berlin film festival’s critics’ prize, about a Soviet army major (Svetozar Cvetkovic) who finds himself a derelict in Berlin just before the wall comes down. Intercutting clips from the Soviet propaganda film Fall of Berlin and getting a lot of mileage out of the progressive dismantling of a huge statue of Lenin in East Berlin, Makavejev remains the brittle collage artist he was in WR: Mysteries of the Organism; with Anita Mancic. (JR)… Read more »

The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love

This sweet, tender, exciting 1994 feature by writer-director Maria Maggenti is about the puppy love that blossoms between two high school seniors: a rebellious tomboy pothead gas-station attendant who lives with her aunt in an all-lesbian household and a popular wealthy black intellectual. Maggenti doesn’t always have her technique togetherthere are some awkward voice-overs, and a couple of secondary performances are overblownbut her feeling for the lead characters and for adolescence in general is so energizing that these lapses seem minor. This movie triumphs even when it makes a sudden transition toward the end from romantic comedy to farce. With Laurel Holloman and Nicole Parker. (JR)… Read more »

Little Odessa

An impressive if uneven first feature (1994), strong on atmospherics and weak on certain family links and ethnic details, by young New York writer-director James Gray. Tim Roth plays a hit man for Brooklyn’s Russian Mafia; Vanessa Redgrave and Maximilian Schell play his elderly parents (quite impressively), and Edward Furlong is his kid brother. Up to a point, this is yet another crime picture; beyond that point are some style and feeling that make you remember it longer than most of the others. Moira Kelly costars. (JR)… Read more »

Bab El-oued City

The best Algerian film I’ve seen, Merzak Allouache’s feature contains one of the clearest and most persuasive depictions of the recent rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Shot in 1993 and completed in 1994, it offers an exciting, comprehensive cross section of contemporary urban Algerian life, with particular emphasis on the youth culture. The plot focuses on what happens after a young baker trashes a loudspeaker that’s blaring propaganda from the roof of his apartment house. With Nadia Kaci, Mohamed Ourdache, Hassan Abou, and Nadia Samir. (JR)… Read more »

Sixty Minutes

A fascinating and at times exciting one-hour video by Robert Frank, made in 1990 for French television and consisting of only one shot. It begins with the camera inside a van moving through lower Manhattanmainly Tribecca and environswith actor Kevin J. O’Connor and others. The camera emerges at various points to take in the street life, often passing in a matter of seconds from public to private in what it observes and capturing the experience of New York pedestrians like few other films or videos; eventually it proceeds down into the subway. Among those who turn up in this mild adventure are Peter Orlovsky and Taylor Mead. (JR)… Read more »

Me And My Brother

Robert Frank’s controversial, troubling 1968 feature is provisionally a documentary about Julius Orlovsky, the catatonic brother of Allen Ginsberg’s lover, but it also employs actors to depict both his subject (Joseph Chaikin) and Frank himself (Christopher Walken). Not an easy film to watch, but certainly an interesting one. (JR)… Read more »

Congo

Another Michael Crichton spin-off, reportedly budgeted at a cool $75 million, features a mysterious massacre, a climactic earthquake, a live volcano, rare diamonds, a lost African city, and lots of actors in gorilla suits; the recognizable cast includes Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Grant Heslov, and Joe Don Baker. I don’t know the novel, but judging from the script by Crichton and John Patrick Shanley, this must be scraping the bottom of the Crichton barrel. At first this moves along with a certain primitive charm by suggesting the naive African adventure pictures of the 30s; Ernie Hudson as the urbane tour guide conjures up memories of Clark Gable, David Niven, and Howard Keel, and Tim Curry seems at home here as a Romanian entrepreneur, but the script and the flat-footed direction by Frank Marshall repeatedly let them down, and none of the action sequences is as thrilling as it could be. Symptomatically, the 30s ingredient that seems most missing here is romanceunless one discounts the mutual admiration between a scientist and an ape. (JR)… Read more »

Whispering Pages

For long stretches Alexander Sokurov’s fever dream about 19th-century Russia (1994) doesn’t register as a narrative at all, though its layered visual textures and immense cavernous spaces are so enthralling you can lose yourself in the meditative drift, Dantean visions, and endless urban catacombs. There are passages where you can’t even be sure what you’re watching, whether it’s an interior or an exterior, in color or black and white; then gradually slow dissolves, light changes, or other transitions reveal the details of the awesome grottolike images. Despite these experimental aspects, there is a plot of sorts, consisting mainly of undigested chunks of Crime and Punishment, served up with Sokurov’s customary humorless reactionary pretensions. Happily these function mainly as passing interludes. (The film is purportedly derived from other Russian literature classics as well, including works by Gogol, but I couldn’t detect them.) It’s the only film I’ve seen by this lugubrious Tarkovsky disciple that profits from second viewing, thanks to its kaleidoscopic, painterly pleasures. (JR)… Read more »

The Bridges Of Madison County

Clint Eastwood resurrects the star system, the Hollywood love story, and middle-aged romance, but despite all his craft and sincerity, he and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese can’t quite turn Robert James Waller’s cardboard best-seller into flesh and bone. The one big exception is Meryl Streep’s beautiful and fresh performance as an Iowa housewife resigned to a disappointing life. Eastwood plays a National Geographic photographer who happens along while her family is gone, a fantasy figure who seldom adds up to anything more than his sketchy profile. As long as these two are on-screen one can forget the treacle that brought them theretheir first moment of physical contact is exquisite and unforgettableand the film makes a plausible conservative argument for adultery as a preserver of marriage. This self-styled relic (1995) only fitfully transcends the Reader’s Digest aura it seems so eager to honor and justify, but it’s earnest and it has the unfashionable courage to be slow. With Annie Corley, Victor Slezak, Jim Haynie, and a wonderful jazz sound track featuring singer Johnny Hartman. 135 min. (JR)… Read more »