Daily Archives: July 1, 1988

Cocktail

Beyond the Valley of the Color of Money might be a more appropriate title. Tom Cruise plays a flashy bartender on Manhattan’s Upper East Side who falls in love with an artist (Elisabeth Shue) and begins to doubt the wisdom of his ways. Cruise prances behind a bar, flips bottles, and knocks over a couple of expensive sculptures in order to prove his macho credentials. Directed by Roger Donaldson (No Way Out) from a script and book by Heywood Gould; with Bryan Brown as Cruise’s mentor (the Paul Newman part). Very, very stupid. (JR)… Read more »

Candy Mountain

This directorial collaboration between Robert Frank and Rudy Wurlitzer, working from an original screenplay by Wurlitzer, yields a quintessential road movie that moves from New York City to the eastern edge of Canada. A young musician (Kevin J. O’Connor) is hired to track down a legendary guitar maker named Elmore Silk, who has been missing for about two decades. Encountering a series of characters (including Silk’s younger brother, a daughter living in a trailer park, and a former lover) and adventures on the road, he gradually comes closer to solving the mystery of his prey’s disappearance, a process that is eventually completed by the enigmatic Silk himself. Ambling along like a wry, laid-back Heart of Darkness, this likable and touching film makes good use of Frank’s remarkable photographic eye and Wurlitzer’s witty, acerbic, and quasi-mystical handling of myth that has served him well in his novels. The results are a resonant reflection on the music business and a memorable ode to wanderlustwith lots of good music (by Dr. John, Joe Strummer, David Johansen, Tom Waits, and others) on the sound track. With Tom Waits, Harris Yulin, Bulle Ogier, David Johansen, Dr. John, Rita MacNeil, Wayne Robson, and Mary Margaret O’Hara (1987).… Read more »

Cadillac Man

A promiscuous luxury-car salesman (Robin Williams) in New York finds himself in the middle of a crisis when the hysterical, demented husband (Tim Robbins) of the lot’s secretary holds the entire dealership hostage, and the salesman has to use his special skills in order to save everyone’s life. Theoretically, the setup has some possibilities, but virtually none of them are realized in Ken Friedman’s hackneyed script (which even pilfers one of the corniest ideas in Rebel Without a Cause for its climax) and Roger Donaldson’s extremely poor direction. There’s nothing worse in movies than inauthentic regional flavor, and somebody’s decision to turn all the characters into screaming, strident caricatures makes this a pain to sit through; it’s a comedy-thriller only in aspiration. The material cries out for the Sidney Lumet of Dog Day Afternoon, and what it gets instead is so crude and swaggering that all the actors, including Williams and Robbins, are bent grotesquely out of shape. With Pamela Reed, Fran Drescher, Zack Norman, Annabella Sciorra, Lori Petty, and a brief cameo by Elaine Stritch. (JR)… Read more »

By The Sword

To the best of my knowledge, the first feature about fencing, costarring F. Murray Abraham and Eric Roberts as respective older and younger maestros of the sport. Directed by Jeremy Kagan from a script by John McDonald and James Donadio, this suffers from overdone, mannerist performances by the two leads as well as pretentious dialogue, but the climactic showdown duel between the two is certainly well handled as an action sequence, and if you can hold out until then, you may be glad you did. With Mia Sara, Chris Rydell, Elaine Kagan, and Brett Cullen. (JR)… Read more »

The ‘burbs

Joe Dante directs a black comedy about suburban husband and father Tom Hanks, who wants to spend a quiet vacation at home but whose plans are irrevocably shattered by the presence of a very weird new family next door. Costars include Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore, Wendy Schaal, and comedian Rick Ducommun. This isn’t a major Dante effort, but his ability to make a good-natured satire that allows an audience to read it several ways at once is as strong as ever, and many of the sidelong genre notations are especially funny. Part of the gag here is that it’s the snoopy, suspicious neighbors who are actually the weird ones. (JR)… Read more »

Brightness (yeelen)

Souleymane Cisse’s extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerizing fantasy is set in the ancient Bambara culture of Mali (formerly French Sudan) long before it was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century. A young man (Issiaka Kane) sets out to discover the mysteries of nature (or komo, the science of the gods) with the help of his mother and uncle, but his jealous father contrives to prevent him from deciphering the elements of the Bambara sacred rites and tries to kill him. Apart from creating a dense and exciting universe that should make George Lucas green with envy, Cisse has shot breathtaking images and accompanies his story with a spare, hypnotic, percussive score. Sublimely mixing the matter-of-fact with the uncanny, this wondrous work provides an ideal introduction to a filmmaker who is, next to Ousmane Sembene, probably Africa’s greatest director. In French and Bambara with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Birdman Of Alcatraz

Made during John Frankenheimer’s best period as a director, this biopic about convicted killer Robert Stroud (Burt Lancaster), who used his life sentence to teach himself ornithology, works with some fairly unpromising cinematic material, but does a pretty interesting job, especially considering that the film runs for 148 minutes; despite the built-in stasis of the subject, the filmmakers make it compelling. With Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Edmond O’Brien, and Telly Savalas (1962). (JR)… Read more »

Big Top Pee-wee

In his second feature, Pee-wee Herman runs a farm (or, rather, owns a farm that apparently runs itself), shares his bed with a talking pig named Vance, and courts a local schoolteacher (Penelope Ann Miller). When a traveling circus run by Kris Kristofferson turns up on his property, the hostile locals decide that they don’t want a show, but the circus goes on with it anywayand once Pee-wee serves everyone cocktail wieners grown on his hot dog tree, the townsfolk turn into kids who want to attend. Meanwhile, Pee-wee has jilted his fiancee for a sexy Italian circus performer (Valeria Golino). While the peculiar synthetic fantasies of Paul Reubens had a certain nightmarish logic on his TV kiddie show Pee-wee’s Playhouse, at least as a reflection of TV itself as a synthetic medium, the social reality behind this feature is so tenuous that the giggly humor is never allowed to build. With real-life farmers in a state of crisis, it obviously requires a special imperviousness to concoct a barnyard comedy set in no particular time where money and work scarcely exist even as minor issues. Most of the circus freaksincluding the miniature Midge (Susan Tyrrell), a hermaphrodite, a dog-faced boy, and a mermaidare as synthetic as Pee-wee himself, and while the level of imagination here is scaled to the bite-size dimensions of TV, the sense of an alternate universe felt in Herman’s TV show is woefully lacking.… Read more »

Bambi

While it isn’t nearly as inventive as the Disney features that preceded and followed it (Dumbo and Saludos Amigos respectively), this animated feature based on Felix Salten’s book about the coming of age of a fawn and his various forest friends (including the beloved Thumper) does convey some of the primal emotional power of Disney’s features during this period. The handling of patriarchal authority here has some queasy echoes of Leni Riefenstahl’s treatment of Nazi officials in Triumph of the Will, reminding one that Disney was the only Hollywood figure to befriend Riefenstahl when she visited in the 30s; but the adroit mixture of pantheism and sentimentality continues to be sufficiently timeless to allow Disney’s heirs to recycle this picture endlessly (1942). (JR)… Read more »

All Night Long

Basil Dearden’s neglected 1961 British film tells the story of Othello in jazz terms. Richard Attenborough plays a wealthy jazz buff who throws an all-night party at a warehouse in London’s East End to celebrate the wedding anniversary of jazz player Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and his wife, a white singer. Among the musical highlights is a rare duet by Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck; among the other musicians are John Dankworth and Tubby Hayes. A rare treat for jazz buffs. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Da

Hugh Leonard’s adaptation of his autobiographical play of the same title, partially based in turn on his book Home Before Night, offers a charming mix of childhood memoir and speculative wish fulfillment. An Irish playwright living in New York (Martin Sheen) returns to Ireland to attend the funeral of his father (Barnard Hughes), and then proceeds to have lengthy conversations with the old codger, with his younger self (Karl Hayden), his mother (Doreen Hepburn), and a former employer (William Hickey) all becoming a part of the discussion. As touching as most of this is, one’s tolerance for good-natured, sentimental blarney is occasionally stretched–as in some of John Ford’s depictions of Irish life, such as The Quiet Man–but the actors and director Matt Clark manage to keep most of it fluid and likable. (Fine Arts)… Read more »

Aria

The idea must have seemed like a natural to producer Don Boyd: invite ten filmmakers to select an operatic aria and make a short film interpreting the music independent of the opera’s original story line. The results are decidedly mixed, but the best segments are worth waiting for. To take them in ascending order of preference: Bill Bryden provides an uninteresting “wraparound” using Leoncavallo that links the various segments; Nicolas Roeg’s use of Verdi in depicting a plot to assassinate King Zog of Albania in Vienna in 1931 (with Theresa Russell as Zog) is disappointingly pointless, and Bruce Beresford’s matching of a “love duet” and Korngold seems equally thin. Robert Altman’s view of the audience at the opening night of Paris’s Ranelagh Theater in 1734 (where a Rameau opera was premiering) is ambitious but sluggish, and Franc Roddam’s version of a young couple’s suicide pact in Las Vegas to the strains of Wagner is thoughtful but corny. More experimental sections by Charles Sturridge (lyrical black-and-white shots of children playing hooky, used with Verdi) and Derek Jarman (an elderly opera singer on stage in 35-millimeter recalls her romantic childhood in Super-8, all to a Charpentier aria) are arresting but rather unsatisfying. Ken Russell’s surreal depiction of a car-crash victim’s fantasies of her wounds becoming jewels in a lush ritual done to Puccini, seems to benefit from Russell’s previous experience in matching music to action.… Read more »