Daily Archives: April 1, 1996

Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam

Faux-naif documentarian Nick Broomfield hits pay dirtand meets his matchin this encounter with Hollywood’s favorite madam and Ivan Nagy, her lover, pimp, and alleged blackmailer, who also directs movies and markets pornographic CD-ROMs. Other participants in the hype sweepstakes, made for the BBC in 1995, include former LA top cop Daryl Gates; Victoria Sellers (daughter of Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland), Fleiss’s former best friend and employee; and a good many other double-talkers. You may end up scratching your head about who’s telling the truth about whom (and why) or you may not care; either way this is an enjoyable slice of yellow journalism. (JR)… Read more »

The Celluloid Closet

Loosely derived from the book of the same title by the late Vito Russo, Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s entertaining and instructive 1995 documentary about filmic representations of gays and lesbians goes beyond its source in equating the movies with mainstream Hollywood. But the clips and the intelligence of the commentariesfrom two dozen interview subjects, including actors Harvey Fierstein, Farley Granger, Shirley MacLaine, Tom Hanks, and Susan Sarandon, and writers Richard Dyer, Susie Bright, Arthur Laurents, Gore Vidal, and Paul Rudnickkeep this lively and absorbing. Lily Tomlin delivers the narration, which was written by Armistead Maupin. (JR)… Read more »

Satantango

How can I do justice to this grungy seven-hour black comedy (1994), in many ways my favorite film of the 90s? Adapted by Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr and Laszlo Krasznahorkai from the latter’s 1985 novel, this is a diabolical piece of sarcasm about the dreams, machinations, and betrayals of a failed farm collective, set during a few rainy fall days (two of them rendered more than once from the perspectives of different characters). The form of the novel was inspired by the steps of the tangosix forward, six backwardan idea reflected by the film’s overlapping time structure, 12 sections, and remarkable choreographed long takes and camera movements. The subject of this brilliantly constructed narrative is nothing less than the world today, and its 431-minute running time is necessary not because Tarr has so much to say, but because he wants to say it right. In Hungarian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Touchez Pas Au Grisbi

The French title of Jacques Becker’s 1953 gangster thriller translates as Hands Off the Loot, but a much better English title used for this film is Honor Among Thieves. Jean Gabin wasn’t yet 50 when he starred as a big-time, high-style gangster hoping to retire, but he still looks pretty wasted, and this pungent tale about aging and friendship, adapted from a best-selling noir thriller by Albert Simonin, would be hard to imagine without his puffy features. Jeanne Moreau, in one of her first parts, plays a showgirl who two-times Gabin’s similarly aging partner (Rene Dary), and future star Lino Ventura also puts in an appearance. But it’s Gabin’s show all the way, anticipating the melancholy, atmospheric gangster pictures of Jean-Pierre Melville that started to appear a couple years later. In French with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Young Poisoner’s Handbook

A schoolboy living in the suburbs of London in the 1960s experiments with murder and is packed off to a hospital for the criminally insane for eight years in this black comedy by first-timer Benjamin Ross, who collaborated with Jeff Rawle on the screenplay. I’ve tried twice to get to the end of this glib, formulaic exercise and failed both times. With Hugh O’Conor, Antony Sher, Ruth Sheen, Roger Lloyd Pack, and Charlotte Coleman. (JR)… Read more »

Land And Freedom

Ken Loach, perhaps the most accomplished and intelligent Marxist practitioner of social realism left in England, stretches his impressive talents in this 1995 film, depicting the Spanish civil war from the perspective of a young unemployed communist from Liverpool (Ian Hart) who joins the Republican anti-Franco forces. Scripted by Jim Allen, who also wrote Loach’s Raining Stones, this is historically convincing as well as grippingLoach near his passionate bestand, far from offering a standard defense of the communist position, it presents a detailed revisionist critique of the party’s betrayal of other leftist factions in Spain. With Rosana Pastor, Iciar Bollain, Tom Gilroy, and Frederic Pierrot. 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Neon Bible

After showing himself a master at juggling autobiographical material in Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes, both dealing with his childhood in Liverpool during the 50s, Terence Davies adapts a novel by John Kennedy Toole about growing up in the rural deep south in the late 30s and 40sand it’s remarkable how persuasively he handles this milieu while making it wholly his own. Two substantial assists are provided by Gena Rowlands (starring as the narrator-hero’s disreputable aunt, a onetime torch singer) and the ‘Scope format, both of which boost some of the mythological possibilities in the material. Davies’s special gifts as a filmmaker have much more to do with expressing and sculpting passages of pure feeling than with telling a story. Diana Scarwid, as the hero’s fragile mother, is almost as good as Rowlands (both actresses sing in this movie, and Davies turns their songs into incandescent experiences). Neither Toole’s novel nor Davies’s faithful version of it adds up to anything more than a period mood piece, but some of the passages in this movie are so beautiful and potent that you may carry the moods around with you for weeks. With Jacob Tierney, Denis Leary, and Leo Burmester.… Read more »

Primal Fear

A semiabsorbing courtroom thriller, based on William Diehl’s novel, about a poor Chicago altar boy (Edward Norton) accused of murdering an archbishop and defended by a hotshot defense attorney (Richard Gere). Scripted by Steve Shagan (Hustle) and Ann Biderman (Copycat) and directed by first-timer Gregory Hoblit, the movie coasts along reasonably well as a mystery until it gets snarled in some double-talk about psychopathology toward the end. The leading charactersincluding the prosecutor (Laura Linney), the judge (Alfre Woodard), and a corrupt government official (John Mahoney)never quite convince, but this matters as little as characterizations do in most mysteries, and the plot keeps one interested in any case. With Frances McDormand. (JR)… Read more »

Faithful

Chazz Palminteri adapts and stars in his own comic play, about a businessman (Ryan O’Neal) who hires a hit man (Palminteri) to bump off his wife (Cher) on their 20th wedding anniversary; Paul Mazursky, who plays the hit man’s shrink, directed, and Robert De Niro served as coproducer. The story has more twists than a rattlesnakeperhaps too many to sustain believability throughoutbut I must say I found at least two-thirds of it enjoyable and funny, and the remainder at least tolerable, thanks to lively performances by Palminteri, Cher, and Mazursky, all of whom shine (as does the cinematography by Fred Murphy); with Amber Smith. (JR)… Read more »

Volere Volare

A disappointing 1990 collaboration between comic actor and writer-director Maurizio Nichetti (The Icicle Thief) and animator Guido Manuli combining animation and live-action. It’s a comedy in which Nichetti plays a sound-effects man working on cartoons who finds himself turning into a cartoon version of himself after the sound studio he works for starts working on porno movies. There’s a fair amount of ingenuity on display here, and there are some laughs, but the conceit never really takes off. With Angela Finocchiaro and Patrizio Roversi. (JR)… Read more »

Citizen Ruth

An irreverent, politically incorrect 1996 satire about the abortion debate by writer-director Alexander Payne, an independent (at least before he signed up with Miramax) who considers activists on both sides of the debate equally ridiculous. As a comedy, this has its audacious moments, but I was more offended than impressed by Laura Dern’s award-winning performance as a pregnant, glue-sniffing slacker who becomes an unwitting symbol for both pro-life and pro-choice factions, because, like so much else in the movie, it reeks of class condescension. When her character finally musters the gumption to fight for her own interests, she becomes more palatable; but she’s still just another version of Alex in A Clockwork Orangesimply a pawn of the author’s thesis. If you’re alienated from politics and maybe from humanity in general, you might like this. I didn’t. With Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith, Mary Kay Place, Kelly Preston, Tippi Hedren, and Burt Reynolds. (JR)… Read more »