Daily Archives: November 1, 1987

Slamdance

The virtual effacement of a promising talent is the regrettable consequence of this muddled 1987 thriller from onetime independent director Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing, Dim Sum). Apart from a few incidental flickers of Wang’s sidelong humor, there’s little of his personality evident in this film about a divorced underground cartoonist (Tom Hulce) finding himself enmeshed in a murder plota story that steadily loses coherence and interest the longer it proceeds. The script is credited to Don Opper, although reportedly Aaron Lipstadt worked on some of the earlier drafts. With Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Virginia Madsen, Millie Perkins, Adam Ant, and Harry Dean Stanton. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sign O’ The Times

Deftly and seamlessly integrating live performances in Antwerp and Rotterdam with thematically related interludes shot in his Minneapolis studio, Prince’s 1987 concert film starts fairly effectively and builds steadily from there. Leroy Bennett’s lighting and production design and Peter Sinclair’s cinematography both help to make this a rousing show, full of sound and fury and signifying plenty, but Prince remains the undisputed auteur. The rapid editing recalls the scattershot method of certain rock videos, but the cinematic and musical savvy with which this is done avoids the coitus interruptus of The Cotton Club: the overall spectacle is enhanced, not curtailed or compromised. Dancer Cat Glover and (especially) drummer Sheila E. shine in these razzle-dazzle surroundings; Dr. Fink (keyboards) and Atlanta Bliss (trumpet) play Now’s the Time much too fast and still manage to swing; and Prince himself, passing through a spectrum of costumes and sexual roles, is never less than commanding, as performer, composer, and director. Songs include Hot Thing, I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man, The Cross, If I Was Your Girlfriend, Play in the Sunshine, Forever in My Life, and the title tune. (JR)… Read more »

Hope And Glory

John Boorman’s account of the pleasures of the London blitz, mainly as experienced by himself as a seven-year-old (Sebastian Rice Edwards), is a lively look at the coziness of disaster filtered through nostalgia. The most thoroughly English film Boorman has made, it lacks the recklessness of his wide-screen adventures, but is an obvious labor of love that a superb castincluding Sarah Miles as the hero’s mother, Sammi Davis (a delight) as his volatile teenage sister, and Ian Bannen as his irascible grandfatherhelps to make funny and poignant. Anthony Pratt’s flavorsome production design, re-creating the quaint optimism in the lower-income suburban housing of the period, is also a strong asset, as is the cinematography of Philippe Rousselot (Diva, The Emerald Forest, Therese). But the love and enthusiasm that Boorman feels for his characters and subject carry the day here, and as evocative period re-creation, the film succeeds triumphantly in achieving everything that Radio Days set out (and failed) to do. The only lingering doubts one has concern the virtual absence of corpses, which is what makes Boorman’s rosy-eyed view of the war possible. (JR)… Read more »

Hiding Out

A crossbreeding of two genres, thriller and teen comedy, yields two mediocre movies for the price of one. A stockbroker (Jon Cryer) called as witness in a criminal case narrowly escapes death, and hides out incognito as a small-town high school student (thriller); his nerdy high school cousin (Keith Coogan) helps him out, and has various misadventures trying to get a driver’s license (teen comedy). Annabeth Gish plays the hero’s girlfriend; Bob Giraldi directed, after a fashion. (JR)… Read more »

Hey Babu Riba

Based on the personal memories of Yugoslavian writer-director Joven Acin and executive producers George Zecevic and Petar Jankovic, this nostalgic account of growing up in Belgrade in the early 50s centers on a mystery: Miriana (Gala Videnovic), the beautiful mascot of an inseparable male rowing team, becomes pregnant, and the four loyal youths, all of whom love her, row her illegally across the border to her father in Italy, but jointly refuse to declare who the father of the child is. In the course of solving this mystery through an extended flashback, the film offers a fresh and evocative look at the political and cultural tensions of the period, when American incursions like black-market blue jeans and jazz were vying against the lingering Soviet presence. Two movies of the period figure significantly in this conflict: Bathing Beauty, an Esther Williams musical that furnishes the five friends with their theme song and Miriana with her nickname, Esther; and One Summer of Happiness, a soft-core Swedish art film (mislabeled She Only Danced One Summer by the English subtitler), which plays a role in Miriana’s eventual pregnancy. Like The Last Picture Show, Hey Babu Riba is sentimental, saccharine in spots, and affectinga bit simplistic in some of its moral shadings, but a heartfelt account of a time, place, and friendship nonetheless.… Read more »

The Year One

Jacques Doillon’s first feature, adapted by political cartoonist Gebe from his own cartoon book, departs from a favorite French fantasy that grew out of the events of May 1968: going back to zero and starting the world over again from scratch. Developed episodically, with intermixed documentary and staged footage, this lighthearted comedy even makes room for brief sequences done by Alain Resnais and Jean Rouch that show the effects of the world revolution on Wall Street and Africa, respectively. I haven’t seen this black-and-white movie since it opened in Paris in 1973, but at the time it was sprightly fun; there’s also an opportunity to see Gerard Depardieu and Miou-Miou at the beginning of their screen careers. (JR)… Read more »

The Whales Of August

The ages of the five principal actors in Lindsay Anderson’s featureLillian Gish, Bette Davis, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern, and Harry Carey Jr.added up to just under four centuries, and this fact alone tended to tower over all the other particulars in this film. Adapted by David Berry from his own slender play about growing old gracefully, the film is set on an island off the coast of Maine where two sisters, Sarah (Gish) and Libby (Davis), have spent the past 60 summers. Very little happens, and the issue of whether the blind and cantankerous Libby is willing to spend the money to install a picture window becomes a major pivot in the plot. Obviously, Anderson jumped at the opportunity to use these two distinguished actresses, but unfortunately what he gives them to work with is so flimsy and sentimental that not even the awesome power of Gish (here in her early 90s) can transform the material. What seems missing, paradoxically, is a sufficiently developed sense of history; Anderson’s idolatry of John Ford, reflected in his use of Harry Carey Jr. (at 66, the youngest in the bunch), doesn’t emulate any of Ford’s power to evoke the past, and apart from Mike Fash’s pretty location photography, the story is so threadbare that it doesn’t even seem lived in.… Read more »

The Way Ahead

Originally released in the U.S. in a much-shortened version entitled The Immortal Battalion, this 1944 semidocumentary war film, directed by Carol Reed, will be shown in a nearly complete version. Scripted by Eric Ambler and Peter Ustinov, the film stars David Niven, Stanley Holloway, William Hartnell, and, in smaller parts, such stalwart regulars as Leo Genn, Trevor Howard, and Ustinov himself. Concerning a group of disparate civilians who learn to fight together in North Africa, this feature was originally intended as a training film, and has been much praised for its humor, spirit, and charm.… Read more »

Traffic

With his previous film, Playtime, Jacques Tati hoped to bid farewell to his character Monsieur Hulot by proving that the capacity to be funny belonged to everyone. But the financial disaster of Tati’s supreme masterpiece forced him to rethink this strategy. In order to get another film financed, Tati brought back Hulot one more time to star in this satirical 1971 comedy about a journey from Paris to Amsterdam to attend an auto show. Despite the compromise, and the few reflections of the bitterness that accompanies it, Traffic is a masterpiece in its own rightnot only for the sharp picture of the frenetic and gimmick-crazy civilization that worships cars, but also for many remarkable formal qualities: an extraordinary use of sound (always one of Tati’s strong points), a complex interplay of chance and control in the observations of everyday behavior, and, in some spots, a development of the use of multiple focal points to articulate some of the funniest gags. There’s also an elaborate highway accident choreographed like a graceful ballet, and a sweet contrast throughout between the unhurried touristic pleasures enjoyed and propagated by Hulot and a Dutch garage mechanic and the more blinkered and neurotic hyperactivity of some of Hulot’s associates.… Read more »

They Knew What They Wanted

Like most of the films directed by Garson Kanin, this 1940 melodrama, adapted by Robert Ardrey from Sidney Howard’s play, is a mixed bag. The performances of Charles Laughton and Carole Lombard keep it interesting, however, despite the fact that they hated each other and are both somewhat miscast. (It was Laughton and Lombard’s second teamingthe first was in the 1933 White Womanand also the third filming of Howard’s play, after 1928′s The Secret Love, with Pola Negri, and 1930′s A Lady in Love, with Edward G. Robinson.) The plot concerns an Italian who owns a vineyard in California and marries a waitress he meets through the mail; the secondary cast includes Harry Carey and a rather fey Frank Fay. (JR)… Read more »

Reform School Girl

They hate you! . . . And each one of them has a good reason! screamed one of the original ads (1957). Caged boy-hungry wildcats gone mad! shrieked another. Ed Kookie Byrnes takes Gloria Castillo on a joyride in a stolen car, and she gets framed when a pedestrian is killed; Luana Anders, another girlfriend, gets turned in for car stripping, and believes that Castillo is to blame. Other confined ladies participating in or watching the cat fights include Diana Darrin, Yvette Vickers, Donna Jo Gribble, and a very young Sally Kellerman; Edward Bernds (Return of the Fly, The Three Stooges in Orbit) directed. (JR)… Read more »

Moby Dick

One could have plenty of quarrels with this as an adaptation of the Herman Melville novel, but it’s still one of the better John Huston films of the 50s. Ray Bradbury collaborated with Huston on the script, and some of the poetry of the original is retained; Orson Welles is a strong Father Mapple, and his sermon about Jonah is one of the film’s high points; Richard Basehart makes a plausible Ishmael. But Gregory Peck’s Ahab, made up to resemble the head of a penny, is problematic, and the filmmakers’ notion of turning him into a Christ figure seems especially misguided. Oswald Morris’s cinematography gets some fine atmospheric effects out of muted colors. The range of the novel is (to say the least) shortchanged, but if one can accept a Classics Illustrated version this has its moments. With Leo Genn, Friedrich Ledebur, Royal Dano, James Robertson Justice, and Harry Andrews (1956). 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Leo The Last

Perhaps the most neglected of John Boorman’s films, and certainly one of the strangest, this 1969 feature stars Marcello Mastroianni as a withdrawn Italian aristocrat who has a voyeuristic relationship with the residents of the black London ghetto where he lives, until he eventually emerges from his cocoon. Written by Boorman and William Stair, the film also features Billie Whitelaw and Calvin Lockhart. Steeped in the syntax of the swinging 60s even more than Boorman’s previous Having a Wild Weekend and Point Blank, the film looks dated today, but interestingly and revealingly; and it shows a kind of originality and verve that has been Boorman’s stock-in-trade from the beginning. (JR)… Read more »

In The Realm Of The Senses

Nagisa Oshima’s depiction of the obsessive lovemaking between a prostitute and the husband of a brothel keeper, which leads ultimately to the death of the man (with his own consent), is one of the most powerful erotic films ever made, but it certainly isn’t for every taste. Based on a true story that originally made headlines in Japan in the 30s, which turned the woman into a tragic public heroine, the film concentrates on the sex so exclusively that a rare period shotthe man observing a troop of soldiers marching pastregisters like a brief awakening from a long dream. This 1976 feature is unusually straightforward for Oshima, and those who are put off are likely to be disturbed more by the content than by the style. But the film is unforgettable for its ritualistic (if fatalistic) fascination with sex as a total commitment. With Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda as the couple, and Aio Nakajima as the brothel keeper. In Japanese with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Glass Menagerie

Paul Newman aspires to make this film version of Tennessee Williams’s first play, one of the great works of the American theater, as definitive as Sidney Lumet’s 1962 film adaptation of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, but it’s seriously marred by some unfortunate decisions. Starring John Malkovich as Tom, Joanne Woodward as Amanda, Karen Allen as Laura, and James Naughton as the Gentleman Caller, the film is powerfully acted, but problematically rendered in film terms. Perhaps the biggest problem is that, despite claims that The Glass Menagerie is Williams’s most filmable play, it’s one of the most stagebound in overall conceptionone needs to see Amanda and Laura while Tom is delivering his monologues, not wait to rediscover them in flashbacks. Translating its essential textures into film requires a bolder stylistic approach and a more precise feeling of place (and space) than anything Newman has attempted, despite some rather adventurous and successful uses of camera movement in the second half. Another problem is the way Newman directs Woodward and Malkovich, which seems predicated on what might be termed the Meryl Streep Fallacy: encouraging or allowing the sort of showboating that draws more attention to the actors than to the characters they play.… Read more »