Daily Archives: September 1, 1996

The Bloody Child

Inspired by a real incidenta U.S. marine just back from the gulf war murdered his wife and was caught digging her grave in the Mojave Desert by a military patrolthis radical 35-millimeter experimental feature by Nina Menkes (Magdalena Viraga, Queen of Diamonds) searches for neither psychological motives nor sociological explanations. Cutting achronologically between stages of the marine’s arrest and details involving a marine captain (Tinka Menkes, the director’s sister and creative collaborator) and other soldiers on the scene, as well as incorporating 16-millimeter footage shot by the Menkes sisters much earlier in Africa, the film is fundamentally concerned with the overall climate of American violence and how this affects women. Apart from Tinka Menkes, all the cast members are actual Desert Storm veterans recruited from the marine base in Twentynine Palms, California, and this authenticity is part of what gives the film power. (More debatable are passages from Macbeth periodically chanted by offscreen women’s voices, the source of the film’s title.) Beautiful and difficult, haunting and frustrating, this uncompromising feature may drive you up the wall, but you aren’t likely to forget it. (JR)… Read more »

Paradise Lost

A fascinating, revealing, and deeply disturbing if highly imperfectdocumentary feature (1996) by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, codirectors of the excellent Brother’s Keeper, about the trials and convictions resulting from the brutal murder and mutilation of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Most of what we see persuades us that two teenage boys have been convicted of these crimes more because of their nonconformity within the community than from any hard evidence (the likeliest suspect, the stepfather of one of the boys, had never been charged). Unfortunately, the filmmakers refuse to deal with their own role in the proceedings, which makes for an incomplete version of the story. Adding to the confusion is the film’s popular assumption that seeing excerpts of a trial somehow qualifies one to reach an independent verdict. Moreover, there are times when the intrusiveness and callow exploitativeness of TV reporters (one early on asks a bereaved mother whether she’s contemplating suicide) seem to be matched by the moves of the filmmakers: though it appears that one of the defendants is being railroaded in part because of his taste for heavy metal, the use of music by Metallica behind much of the documentary footage seems obscene rather than ironic.… Read more »

The First Wives Club

Tolerable revenge comedy (1996) starring Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bette Midler as the spouses in question; you’ve seen it all before, but the three stars perform with style. Directed by Hugh Wilson (Police Academy) from a script by Robert Harling; with Maggie Smith, Dan Hedaya, Bronson Pinchot, and Marcia Gay Harden. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Halfmoon

This 1995 sketch film, which adapts three Paul Bowles storiesMerkala Beach, Call at Corazon, and Allalwas written and directed by the German team of Frieder Schlaich and Irene von Alberti, with dialogue in English and Arabic. It calls to mind the English features Quartet (1949) and Trio (1950), which adapted stories by Somerset Maugham, in its use of the original author as host and narrator. Basically the sections are mood pieces, and how you respond to them will have a lot to do with how much you’re seduced by their exoticism, strangeness, and atmosphere. I wasn’t much. (JR)… Read more »

Rendezvous In Paris

Another relatively lightweight sketch film from Eric Rohmer (1994)shot, like the 1986 Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle, in 16-millimeter. The three sketches all involve romantic meetings in public places, bridged by a cornball singer and accordion player; their charm lies in the Paris exteriors and the unknown but adept youthful cast. Though the stories are all well crafted, the film seems slighter and a bit more smug than most other Rohmer pictures. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Low Life

George Hickenlooper, codirector of the popular documentary Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, was once quoted as saying that he purchased the rights to Orson Welles’s unrealized script The Big Brass Ring in order to direct it himself, because he was basically an auteurist at heart; I’ve been wondering ever since how an auteurist could be interested in making somebody else’s work. If you want to know what a Hickenlooper movie consists of, there’s this 1995 feature set in Los Angeles. It’s about an aspiring novelist (Rory Cochrane), his roommate (Sean Astin), a father-and-son slumlord team (J.T. Walsh and James LeGros), and one of their tenants (Kyra Sedgwick); John Enborn collaborated on the script. This Generation X exercise doesn’t have much identity of its own, though the cast is pretty good. And I guess it has some minimal bite if your expectations aren’t too high. (JR)… Read more »

A Perfect Candidate

An absorbing, instructive, and entertaining documentary by R.J. Cutler (producer of The War Room) and David Van Taylor about the 1994 Virginia senatorial campaigns of incumbent Charles Robb and his main opponent, Oliver North. In addition to some delicious detailsNorth’s victory speech, for example, was converted with hardly any changes into a concession speechthis offers lots of depressing but useful information about how contemporary political campaigns are masterminded and executed. (JR)… Read more »

The Asthenic Syndrome

A great movie (1989), but not a pleasant or an easy one. Directed by the transgressive Kira Muratova in her mid-50s, it has been rightly called the only masterpiece of glasnost, though it was banned by the Russian government for obscenity. Beginning as a powerful black-and-white narrative about a middle-aged woman doctor in an exploding, aggressive rage over the death of her husband (who resembles Stalin), the film eventually turns into an even more unorthodox tale in color about a schoolteacher (cowriter Sergei Popov) who periodically falls asleep regardless of what’s happening around him. (The title alludes to a form of disability that encompasses both the doctor’s aggressiveness and the schoolteacher’s passivity.) Though this tragicomic epic has plenty to say about postcommunist Russia, it also deals more generally with the demons loose in today’s world. It may drive you nutsas it was undoubtedly meant tobut you certainly won’t forget it. In Russian with subtitles. 153 min. (JR)… Read more »

Make Way For Tomorrow

With the possible exception of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, this 1937 drama by Leo McCarey is the greatest movie ever made about the plight of the elderly. (It flopped at the box office, but when McCarey accepted an Oscar for The Awful Truth, released the same year, he rightly pointed out that he was getting it for the wrong picture.) Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play a devoted old couple who find they can’t stay together because of financial difficulties; their interactions with their grown children are only part of what makes this movie so subtle and well observed. Adapted by Vina Delmar from Josephine Lawrence’s novel Years Are So Long, it’s a profoundly moving love story and a devastating portrait of how society works, and you’re likely to be deeply marked by it. Hollywood movies don’t get much better than this. With Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, and Porter Hall. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

Manny & Lo

A rather tedious kidnapping movie (1996) by writer-director Lisa Krueger, despite the novelty of the kidnappers being sisters, one of whom is pregnant, and the kidnapped person being a nurse (Mary Kay Place) needed to help with the birth. At least Place turns in a lively performance. With Scarlett Johansson and Aleksa Palladino. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Wings

A lovely and nuanced character study of a once famous World War II fighter pilot named Nadezhda Petrovna (Maya Bulgakova) who becomes a provincial schoolmistress, raising her adopted daughter as a single mother. Larissa Shepitko’s 1966 black-and-white feature is stately and reflective in a way that reminds me of some of the late films of John Ford; its commentary on the pervasive effect of Stalinism on postwar Russia is multilayered and provocative. Written by Natalia Ryazantseva and Valentin Yezhov. In Russian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Inside Daisy Clover

Natalie Wood is an adolescent who goes from rags to riches as a Hollywood movie star in the 30s. Gavin Lambert wrote the screenplay for this 1965 feature, adapting his own satirical novel; the talented director Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird), apparently engulfed by studio overproduction, falters at times, not always knowing whether to play things straight or for laughs. Andre Previn wrote the sometimes memorable score, and Herbert Ross choreographed the musical numbers. With Robert Redford, Christopher Plummer, Ruth Gordon, and Roddy McDowall. 128 min. (JR)… Read more »