Daily Archives: October 1, 1987

Suspect

A fair to middling liberal courtroom thriller set in Washington, D.C., this Peter Yates picture takes a while to get started, and never tells us as much about its major characterspublic defender Kathleen Riley (Cher), juror and lobbyist Eddie Sanger (Dennis Quaid), and derelict and murder suspect Carl Wayne Anderson (Liam Neeson)as we’d like to know. But there’s some interesting material about the plight of the homeless (a subject not broached by many 80s movies), and effective performances by Joe Mantegna (as the prosecuting attorney) and John Mahoney (as a stern judge). (JR)… Read more »

Surrender

Talk about meeting cute: a much-divorced best-selling novelist (Michael Caine) and a production-line painter of tacky hotel room landscapes (Sally Field) both turn up at an art museum benefit, where a gang of terrorists orders them to strip and ties them together for several hours. She lives with a vegged-out yuppie boyfriend (Steve Guttenberg) and paints her own stuff in her spare time; the novelist has been through so many costly divorces that he’s reluctant to reveal his professional identity. Written and directed by TV veteran Jerry Belson, this light and sexy romantic comedy starts off as a fairly witty satire of southern California folkways (including styles of conspicuous consumption and dating), but eventually succumbs to complacency and a string of improbable plot twists. In between, Caine, Field, and Guttenberg put on a pretty good show, assisted by the owlish Peter Boyle as the writer’s lawyer and best friend, and Jackie Cooper as the painter’s country-club father. (JR)… Read more »

Someone To Watch Over Me

Ridley Scott’s 1987 feature takes a conventional romantic police thriller script, written by Howard Franklin, and dresses it up like a Christmas tree. A happily married rookie police detective from Queens (Tom Berenger) is assigned to protect a wealthy and attractive Manhattan woman (Mimi Rogers) who is the material witness to a homicide by (you guessed it) a psycho who’ll stop at nothing (Andreas Katsulas). Despite class barriers and the detective’s devotion to his plucky wife (Lorraine Bracco), he and the witness fall in love and have an affair. While the actors show some sensitivity and Scott works up a modicum of suspense and involvement, the real interest of this picture is the radiance of the imagesa mastery of lighting and decor second only to Scott’s Blade Runner, with atmospheric textures so dense you can almost taste them. Unfortunately, this mastery bears only the most glancing relationship to the story at hand, and Scott becomes guilty of the sort of formalism that used to be charged (less justly) against Josef von Sternberg. But even though the movie doesn’t leave much of a residue, it looks terrific while you’re watching it: Manhattan has seldom appeared as glitzy or as glamorous. With Jerry Orbach, John Rubenstein, and a nice rendition of the Gershwin title tune by Sting.… Read more »

The Sicilian

Despite the apparent havoc wreaked on this film by David Begelmanwho eliminated 29 minutes from Michael Cimino’s cut and reedited the remainder more for action than for the meditative rhythms the director (who reportedly used Visconti’s The Leopard as a model) had in mindthis is one of Cimino’s best films, with a fine sense of spectacle and landscape, following the bloody career of Salvatore Giuliano (effectively played by Christopher Lambert), the violent and idealistic Robin Hood of the Sicilian peasantry in the 40s. The rhetorical self-importance of Cimino’s films makes them resemble Stalinist epics, and the nonstop wallpaper music of David Mansfield certainly doesn’t help this one. But the uncredited dialogue of Gore Vidal has a cynical, bantering polish that helps to keep things in perspective, and the film’s visual sweep commands respect even when it becomes hyperbolic, which is fairly often. (Steve Shagan receives sole credit for the script, adapted from Mario Puzo’s novel.) What emerges might be described as great moments from Michael Cimino’s The Sicilian. With Terence Stamp, Joss Ackland, John Turturro, Richard Bauer, and Barbara Sukowa in her first English-speaking role. (JR)… Read more »

Sammy And Rosie Get Laid

Coming from the same director (Stephen Frears), writer (Hanif Kureishi), and producers (Tim Bevan and Sarah Radclyffe) who gave us My Beautiful Laundrette, this lively film about social and political turmoil in Thatcher England bears the same relationship to that earlier film as Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip has to Richard Pryor Live in Concerti.e., a spontaneous gathering of forces whose energies and inspirations hit a raw nerve is succeeded by a more deliberate and self-conscious effort to bring the same powers into play. In this case, the return of corrupt, old-fashioned Rafi (Shashi Kapoor) to London to visit his son Sammy (Ayub Khan Din) and daughter-in-law Rosie (Frances Barber) reveals to him the cataclysmic changes the country has been undergoingrace riots, sexual warfare, and political upheavalsand he never quite recovers from the shock, even after he goes to see his old girlfriend Alice (Claire Bloom). When Sammy throws a dinner party for Rafi, he remarks to Rosie, We’ll round up the usual social deviants, communists, lesbians, and blacks, with a sprinkling of the mentally subnormal, and the rather stylized landscape of interracial couples, bombed-out streets, and multisexual adventurers goes beyond the relative naturalism of My Beautiful Laundrette to create a world more akin to the scene of 50s turmoil in the underrated Absolute Beginners.… Read more »

Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s almost impossible to imagine an uninteresting film about Chuck Berry, but Taylor Hackford’s overextended and poorly edited documentary (1987) makes a stab at being one. There are, to be sure, some very enjoyable sequencesin particular some excerpts from a three-way conversation between Berry, Bo Diddley, and the volatile Little Richardbut a good deal of this film is devoted to a 60th birthday celebration concert for Berry that pairs him with Linda Ronstadt, Julian Lennon, Etta James, and others and tends to reduce him to a show-biz icon, the George Jessel of rock. What one misses most of all are some glimpses of the earlier Chuck Berry, as seen in the black-and-white rock movies of the 50s, when the intensity of his music and his jackrabbit moves had more satanic majesty. Berry is still a dynamite performer when he wants to be, but he’s done the same tunes so many times that he knows he can get away with relatively little, and too much of this film shows him at half-throttle. The film also skimps on certain portions of his careermost noticeably his brushes with the lawthat are treated in fuller detail in his autobiography. You won’t want to miss this if you’re a Berry fan, but don’t count on getting the full measure of the man and his music.… Read more »

Who’s That Girl

Madonna’s third feature is no masterpiece, but it deserves a lot more than the heaps of critical contempt and the quick playoff it received on its first run. A loose remake of Howard Hawks’s screwball comedy Bringing Up Baby, it charts the complications that ensue when Madonna’s street-smart character emerges from prison after taking the rap for a corporate crime, and straitlaced yuppie lawyer Griffin Dunne, due to be married soon, is ordered to drive her to the bus station. (A Rolls-Royce and a Patagonian cougar also figure significantly in the plot.) Directed by James Foley (At Close Range, Reckless), who shows a certain fitful flair for contemporary satire and elaborate sight gags. With John Mills, Haviland Morris, John McMartin, and an adroit animated prologue behind the credits. (JR)… Read more »

Weeds

It must have sounded good on paper. Director John Hancock, once involved with former convict Rick Cluchey’s San Quentin Drama Group, had for some time wanted to make a film loosely inspired by this experience. After developing a screenplay with his wife, Dorothy Tristan, about the subjecta group of ex-cons who put on a show about their life behind bars and take it on the roadhe struggled to get it financed, enlisting Nick Nolte to play the uneducated writer-director-actor who heads the group. But sadly, neither the script nor the direction is up to the job of telling the story coherently or effectively; the pacing and structure never click into place, and the film comes across like a sprawling rough cut, full of dangling threads and unrealized possibilities. Nolte, who starts out plausibly, is ultimately defeated by the film’s ellipses and discontinuities; John Toles-Bey, a promising newcomer who plays his jivey sidekick, gets killed off by the plot before his part can take full shape; and Angelo Badalamenti’s terrible score only adds to the general confusion. It all seems a genuine pity, because the ostensible themethe freedom and clarity that art can bring to confinementhasn’t been matched by the filmmaking. (JR)… Read more »

Three O’clock High

One hint that this is slightly more subversive than the average bland teenpic: Steven Spielberg, the executive producer, asked to have his name removed from the credits. First-time director Phil Joanou is such a show-off with his fancy camera angles and other gratuitous forms of visual workout that at first you suspect he’s trying to distract us from the formula scenario (by TV writing team Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi)a countdown routine about the 90-pound weakling (Casey Siemaszko) who has to fight the Charles Atlas bully (Richard Tyson) as soon as school lets out. But after it gradually becomes clear that the true villains of the piece are more the school authorities than the bully, the movie becomes a bit more interesting: the hero’s eventual rise to macho potency begins to resemble an anarchist’s progress rather than a Clark Kent turnaround. The film’s incessant cutting away to clocks gets needlessly corny, and while Joanou gets pretty broad in jazzing up the mythological aspects of the material (from David and Goliath to the Vigo-esque caricatures of the grown-ups), he does manage to pull off a few nifty sight gags. (JR)… Read more »

Then Nothing Was The Same Anymore

A debut feature by director Gerd Roman Frosch and screenwriter Edeltraud Rabitzer, set in Berlin, depicts the coming of age of a teenage bank employee (newcomer Zacharias Preen) who obsessively identifies himself with a murderer on trial. Shot by Jurgen Jurges (A Woman in Flames, Effi Briest).… Read more »

Prince Of Darkness

Genre specialist John Carpenter returns to the principle of confined space that he used as a disciplinary structure in Assault on Precinct 13 and The Thing in this horror thriller set in an abandoned church. The main difference here is the heavy metaphysical baggage: a team of graduate science students and teachers (including Lisa Blount, Victor Wong, and Jameson Parker) is summoned by a Catholic priest (Donald Pleasence) to study an ancient religious manuscript that proves to contain differential equations (written long before such equations were developed), and a canister containing a green liquid that proves to be seven million years old. Mathematics combines with demonology to produce a variant on Night of the Living Dead, and while the church is playfully called Saint Godard’s, the pivotal use and significance of mirrors spawned by the canister liquid might make Saint Cocteau’s more appropriate. While the dense significations of the script (credited to one Martin Quatermass) may get a bit thick in spots, Carpenter’s handsome ‘Scope images generally make the most of them. Some haunting poetic notions such as video images from the future that appear as recurring dreams to the church’s inhabitantsalso figure effectively in the plot (1987). (JR)… Read more »

Positive I.d.

A middle-class housewife (Stephanie Roscoe) recovering from a brutal rape decides to forge a series of separate identities for herself, borrowing the names and birth dates of various strangers. Produced, written, and directed by Andy Anderson, this low-budget independent production, shot and set around Fort Worth, displays a certain awkwardness in exposition and takes its time in spelling out the specifics of its mystery plot. But there’s something refreshing about the sheer unadorned, un-Hollywood look of the film, and in a style that is somewhat eclectic and at times lightly satirical, Anderson acquits himself respectably, as does the cast of unknowns, also including John Davies and Steve Fromholz. (JR)… Read more »

Maurice

Hot on the heels of A Room With a View, director James Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant adapted another E.M. Forster novel, posthumously published in 1914 (the quasi-autobiographical subject, a male homosexual in prewar upper-class England, prevented Forster from publishing it while he was alive). At Cambridge, Maurice Hall (James Wilby) develops a discreet, romantic, semiplatonic relationship with the aristocratic Clive Durham (Hugh Grant), a relationship that continues after Maurice is expelled and goes to live at the Durham estate. But after a former classmate is imprisoned for making homosexual advances (an addition to Forster), Clive takes a trip alone to Greece, renounces his relationship with Maurice, and winds up in a conventional marriage. Lonely and frustrated, Maurice seeks help in hypnosis, then begins an affair with Clive’s lusty gamekeeper, Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves). A kind of low-key, homoerotic Splendor in the Grass, this 1987 film weighs in at 140 minutes, and despite many fine actors in smaller partse.g., Billie Whitelaw, Ben Kingsley, and Denholm Elliottthe dissection of Edwardian repression never gets beyond the dutiful, tasteful obviousness of a BBC miniseries. With a script by Ivory and Kit Hesketh-Harvey, and postcard photography by Pierre Lhomme. (JR)… Read more »

Kismet, Kismet

This rather lackluster first feature by Ismet Elci, a disciple of West German independent filmmaker Lothar Lambert, has many of the same low-budget attributes as films by Lambertshort takes, semisynchronous soundbut little of the charm or energy. The plot concerns two young Turks in Berlin, a carpet seller who is trying to produce a film and a hustler who gets involved with drugs and robbery. Many Lambert regulars make appearances, including Lambert himself. (JR)… Read more »

Fatal Beauty

Whoopi’s back, and the LAPD’s got her. One has to wait about 90 minutes before the cartoonish slam-bang action, bloodbath gore, and Whoopi Goldberg’s wisecracks about the size and threatened fate of diverse penises subside long enough for her to act: one nice little scene to show her character’s vulnerability and preach the evils of hard drugs before the movie reverts to the same nonsensical overkill of violence and tough talk. The characters are uniformly cardboardincluding bits by Jennifer Warren and Brad Dourif, and a larger part with Sam Elliott as a crook’s bodyguard who turns into a pussycat in order to win the heart of Goldberg’s Dirty Harry cop. The notion of a black female detective who’s harder than anyone else in the Western Hemisphere seems to hark back to the fantasies of certain black exploitation films of the 70s, but the movie has too little imagination to do much with this conceit other than repeat it endlessly. Tom Holland directed from a script and story credited to three individuals, anyone could have knocked this one out during coffee break. The title, incidentally, refers not to Goldberg but to a brand of lethally cut cocaine, the ostensible pretext for all this mayhem.… Read more »