Daily Archives: July 1, 1988

The Old Man And The Sea

John Sturges’s 1958 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s famous short novel encountered a lot of technical difficulties on its way to the screen, and while Spencer Tracy provides a solid performance in the title role and Dimitri Tiomkin won an Oscar for his score, the overall effect of trying to film this rather unfilmable novel is a bit like an illustrated slide lecture. With Harry Bellaver and Felipe Pazos. (JR)… Read more »

Monkey Shines: An Experiment In Fear

Despite a hokey prologue and ending (the latter imposed by producer Charles Evans), this 1988 feature is one of George Romero’s most effective and interesting horror thrillersnot as profound as his remarkable Living Dead trilogy, but unusually gripping and provocative. Based on Michael Stewart’s novel of the same title, the plot concerns Allan (Jason Beghe), a law student who becomes a quadriplegic. His best friend (John Pankow), a scientist who has been experimentally injecting human brain tissue into a monkey named Ella, decides to have the monkey trained by a professional (Kate McNeil) to take care of Allan. But Allan, who becomes involved with the monkey trainer, gradually discovers that Ella is both tapping into and acting upon his repressed ragewith dire consequences for his overbearing mother, shrewish nurse, and former fiancee among others, climaxing in a highly suspenseful confrontation. Like other Romero films, this is both crude and powerful on the level of genre and sophisticated and subtle in its social and psychological implications (which, in this case, mainly have to do with sexual undertonesthe competition of various females, including the monkey, for the hero’s care and affection). Certain characters, like the nurse and the mother, are crudely drawn, but their functions in the overall scheme are shrewdly orchestrated, and what emerges represents an interesting variation on themes from Val Lewton (mainly Cat People) and Alfred Hitchcock (mainly Rear Window).… Read more »

Mr. North

Not having read Thornton Wilder’s 1973 novel Theophilus North, it’s difficult for me to guess why this adaptation by Danny Huston (son of John) seems as pointless as it does, although on the basis of Wilder’s earlier Heaven’s My Destination, I suspect that satiric aspects in the original have somehow eluded the filmmakers. Janet Roach (Prizzi’s Honor) coscripted with the late John Huston, who was executive producer. John Huston also acted in the film, but after his death his scenes were reshot with Robert Mitchum as his replacement. The setting is Newport, Rhode Island, 1926, and the eponymous hero (Anthony Edwards) is a young man mistaken for a healer because of the electricity his body contains; he changes the lives of many around him, particularly the well-to-do in Newport. Despite an all-star cast including Lauren Bacall, Harry Dean Stanton, Anjelica Huston, David Warner, Virginia Madsen, Tammy Grimes, and Mary Stuart Masterson, the film falls rather flat. The director seems interested in a respectable literary adaptation in the tradition of many of his father’s films, but his technique regrettably isn’t up to it; the pacing is sluggish, and although nice use is made of the sumptuous period settings, all that results is a vague sort of Pollyanna story, with Edwards especially weak in the lead part.… Read more »

A Man Like Eva

A must-see for all Rainer Werner Fassbinder fans. Radu Gabrea’s campy 1983 biopic about the late director stars the very talented Eva Mattes in drag in the title role, manipulating his Munich stock company in a variety of perverse ways while coming on as a slob enfant terrible. Funny, insightful, and packed with inside references that enthusiasts of the director and his myth will particularly enjoy, this is good, decadent fun even for spectators with only a casual acquaintance with Fassbinder; Mattes’s hallucinatory performance has a fascination all its own. (JR)… Read more »

The Lost Weekend

Billy Wilder’s celebrated adaptation of the Charles Jackson novel about an alcoholic (Ray Milland) going off the wagon on a frightening weekend binge. The film won a whole slew of Oscars when it came out in 1945; today it’s less impressive but not without its virtues, including the location photography of lower Manhattan, the performances (by Milland, Jane Wyman, and Frank Faylen, among others), and a chilling sequence devoted to the DTs. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Jumpin’ Night In The Garden Of Eden

A new feature-length documentary by Michael Goldman about the revival of klezmer musica form of Jewish eastern European music that originated about 500 years ago and that has incorporated Gypsy, Greek, and other Balkan influences along with a Yiddish beat. Unlike most such documentaries, this one gives a welcome amount of technical and cultural information without ever seeming esoteric; in many respects, this is a film about rediscovering Jewish and Yiddish roots, but the general appeal of the music is also emphasized. Included are performances by New York’s Kapelye Band and the Boston Klezmer Conservatory Band. (JR)… Read more »

Johnny Flash

A rather affectless (and feckless) low-budget comedy by experimental filmmaker Werner Nekes about a no-talent rock singer (Helge Schneiderthe Johnny Flash of the title), which might be enjoyed if one is in a sufficiently giggly mood. Set in Mulheim (in the Ruhr district), the movie features one actor, Andreas Kunze, in multiple parts ranging from theater manager to music store clerk to delivery man to doctor to the hero’s mother; there are also some occasional flashes of Nekes’s avant-garde background: successive takes of the same shot, jump cuts, achronological double exposures. A healthy contempt for both the rock scene and narrative film in general seems to lurk behind this curiosity item; unfortunately, Nekes is no Frank Tashlin, and his technique lacks even the dry wit of a Luc Moullet; the film does, however, feature the breasts of Heike Melba-Fendel (as a glitzy TV impresario) whenever it gets a chance. (JR)… Read more »

Johnny Be Good

Film editor Bud Smith makes his directorial debut with this comedy about a spectacular high school quarterback having to fend off unscrupulous college recruiters, written by Revenge of the Nerds’s Jeff Buhai and Steve Zacharias. Robert Downey Jr., Paul Gleason, Seymour Cassel, newcomer Uma Thurman, Howard Cosell, and Jim McMahonthe latter two playing themselvescostar.… Read more »

John Huston & The Dubliners

Lilyan Sievernich’s intimate documentary about John Huston at work on his last film, The Dead, is unusual as a production account in the degree to which it actually shows a director working (as opposed to talking about working, which this film also shows). Affectionately and judiciously put together, it is an affecting tribute. (JR)… Read more »

Ishtar

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1988). — J.R.

Treated as a debacle upon release, partially as payback for producer-star Warren Beatty’s high-handed treatment of the press, this Elaine May comedy was the most underappreciated commercial movie of 1987. It isn’t quite as good as May’s previous features, but it’s still a very funny work by one of this country’s greatest comic talents. Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, both cast against type, play inept songwriters who score a club date in North Africa and accidentally get caught up in various international intrigues. Misleadingly pegged as an imitation Road to Morocco, the film is better read as a light comic variation on May’s masterpiece Mikey and Nicky as well as a prescient send-up of blundering American idiocy in the Middle East. Among the highlights: Charles Grodin’s impersonation of a CIA operative, a blind camel, Isabelle Adjani, Jack Weston, Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, and a delightful series of deliberately awful songs, most of them by Paul Williams. 107 min. (JR)

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The Flamingo Kid

Professionally made, quite entertaining, and disappointingly hollow. In a mythically rendered early 60s, city kid Matt Dillon gets a job as a cabana boy at a posh Long Island resort for the nouveau riche, and falls under the influence of a slick, self-confident car dealer (Richard Crenna) while ignoring the counsel of his poor but honest father (Hector Elizondo). Though the director is TV sitcom king Garry Marshall (Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days), the film doesn’t have a television feel: the 60s details are dense and wittily chosen, and the large cast of accomplished character actors makes this world seem fully populated. But TV technique creeps in in the way Marshall lightens and diffuses the class and psychological conflicts that are at the center of the script, replacing dramatic substance with plot tricks and pat moral lessons. Crenna, in the late phase of a long career, is superbly meticulous and imaginative, and Jessica Walter is as sharp as a tack in a brief appearance as his wife. (JR)… Read more »

The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T.

One of the most underrated of all children’s musical fantasies and conceivably the most interesting movie Stanley Kramer ever produced (1953). Dr. Seuss wrote the screenplay (with Allan Scott); his wartime buddy Carl Foreman was originally supposed to direct, but the Hollywood witch hunts soon made this impossible, and Roy Rowland took Foreman’s place. The plot basically consists of the florid nightmare of a ten-year-old boy (Tommy Rettig) about his authoritarian, prissy, and vaguely foreign piano teacher (Hans Conried), who forces 500 boys to play his monotonous exercise on a continuous keyboard located in his gargantuan palace, while the boy’s mother (Mary Healy) is locked, hypnotized, in a gilded cage. A very inventive form of delirium, with songs by Frederick Hollander and choreography by Eugene Loring; the use of Technicolor is especially impressive. If you’ve never seen this, prepare to have your mind blown. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Fish Called Wanda

Charles Crichton, the veteran British director who made his biggest mark with The Lavender Hill Mob in 1950, teams up with actor, writer, and executive producer John Cleese in a madcap caper comedy (1988) about another large-scale robbery that’s every bit as funny as its predecessor. Like many of the best English comedies, much of the humor here is based on character, good-natured high spirits, and fairly uninhibited vulgarity (a speech impediment and dead dogs supply the basis for some of the gags). The superlative cast includes Americans Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis (at her sexiest), as well as Michael Palin and Cleese; Crichton keeps the laughs coming with infectious energy. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

A well-mounted but otherwise disappointing version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classicinferior to Rouben Mamoulian’s 1932 version with Fredric March, but shown much more frequently. This one costars Spencer Tracy and Ingrid Bergman and is more concerned with cruelty than with horror per se; directed by Victor Fleming, with Lana Turner and Donald Crisp (1941). (JR)… Read more »

Die Hard

Bruce Willis plays a New York cop visiting Los Angeles to see his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia), an ambitious executive working for a Japanese company; he arrives at her company’s Christmas Eve party in Century City just as a band of a dozen terrorists, headed by Alan Rickman, are taking over the building. A serviceable if rather overextended and overblown adventure thriller (1988), with Willis stripped for action like Rambo and doing his best as the only hope of the hostages held captive, this features a spectacular Cecil B. De Mille-like conclusion and makes good use of its skyscraper set (portions of which exhibit a Frank Lloyd Wright influence), but the script by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza, adapted from Roderick Thorp’s novel Nothing Lasts Forever, is fairly routine, and most of the wit consists of showing the naivete of police and FBI officials outside and characters calling one another dickhead. John McTiernan, who directed, manages to keep this monolith moving. With Reginald Veljohnson, Paul Gleason, and Hart Bochner. (JR)… Read more »