Daily Archives: November 1, 1989

Parade

Jacques Tati’s last filmhis least-known work, shot mostly on videotape for Swedish televisionis seldom shown, but it’s a far greater achievement than most accounts would lead you to expect. Ostensibly nothing more than a series of circus and music-hall acts (including several of Tati’s most famous pantomimes) hosted by Tati and performed for an ordinary family audience, it is in fact a powerful testament that further develops the radical formal and social ideas of his masterpiece Playtime in more modest terms without sacrificing any of that work’s revolutionary implications. It’s literally impossible to determine when one act ends and another one begins, because of a complex process of displaced emphasis and a graceful dovetailing of details; it’s equally impossible to tell from the brilliant and deceptively simple mise en scene how much is straight documentary and how much contrived fiction. All this proceeds so naturally and effortlessly that one might misread the film as nothing more than minor light entertainment (although it certainly succeeds on that level). But Tati is clearly after much morea vision of spectacle, of dexterity versus awkwardness, of seeing versus being seen that carries the filmmaker’s antielitism to the point of dissolving all distinctions between stars and stargazers, performers and spectators, accomplished acrobats and children at play.… Read more »

Ok Mister

Like his first feature, The Mongols (a bizarre, quasi-Godardian comedy about Iranian myths), Parviz Kimiavi’s OK Mister is a far cry from realism. In this 1978 farce about the Western exploitation of Iran for oil, an Englishman named D’Arcy (Farrok Gaffari) recruits an American journalist, an anthropologist, and none other than Cinderella herself, all of whom arrive via balloon, to assist him in gaining the support of a remote Persian village while he digs for oil; numerous American gadgets and productsTV, Coca-Cola, T-shirtsalong with other symbols of the American way of life, are used to convert the populace. The overall spirit behind this satiric whimsy is sympathetic, but unfortunately the arch toneincluding the facetious employment of several songs from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfsdoesn’t produce all the intended laughs, partially because the targets of Kimiavi’s ridicule seem loosely rather than pointedly conceived. Still, it must be admitted that the oddness of this movie (a distinct carryover from The Mongols) makes it a genuine novelty, particularly in relation to other Iranian pictures. (JR)… Read more »

Michelangelo: Self-portrait

Robert Snyder’s insufferably boring documentary about the life and career of Michelangelowith a commentary drawn by Michael Sonnabend from the artist’s diaries, letters, and poems, and various biographies, and anonymously intoned by someone who sounds a bit like Burgess Meredith. It follows the same basic scheme as Paul Cox’s Vincent, but the filmmaking skill is so meager that it makes Cox’s flawed film seem like a masterpiece in comparison. Predicated on the principle that nothing is worth looking atmuch less contemplating or thinking aboutlonger than about five seconds, the film dutifully runs through its material like a mechanized checklist, keeping the camera in almost perpetual motion (through pans and zooms) as it sweeps across paintings, sculptures, buildings, manuscripts, or (most often) fragments of the above, as if it were a package tour compiled for bored American vacationers. (The accompanying music by Monteverdi is also sliced into sound bites.) I don’t know Michelangelo’s writings, but it’s hard to believe that they’re as banal and as simpleminded as they’re made to sound here in collaged translation. The usual excuse for this sort of torture is that it’s educational and/or uplifting, but the notions of both art and education that are on display here are so alienated and alienating that the net effect is closer to antiart and antieducation.… Read more »

Looking For Langston

Isaac Julien’s frankly erotic black-and-white meditation on the Harlem renaissance of the 1930s. Part narrative, part polemical essay, part lyrical art film, part documentary on Langston Hughes, this 1988 British film employs clips from various kinds of archival footage (including three Oscar Micheaux films), quotes from Hughes, Essex Hemphill, Bruce Nugent, Hilton Als, and James Baldwin (the last read by Toni Morrison), and memorable glimpses of a period nightclub where black and white men in tuxedos dance together. The results are certainly strikingstylistically, intellectually, and sensually. 40 min. (JR)… Read more »

Look Who’s Talking

Amy Heckerling wrote and directed this romantic fantasy-comedy about an unwed pregnant woman of 35 (Kirstie Alley) who goes looking for an ideal father for her baby, which has ideas about the matter as well as an offscreen voice of its own (supplied by Bruce Willis). Heckerling still has some of the sensitivity she showed in handling actors in Fast Times at Ridgemont HighAlley, George Segal (as the selfish and adulterous father of the baby), John Travolta (as a boyish cabdriver, baby-sitter, and suitor), Olympia Dukakis (as the heroine’s mother), and Abe Vigoda (as Travolta’s grandfather) are all used well hereand she has a deft way of illustrating her heroine’s fantasies about possible mates without any fuss. But at the core of this movie, and providing the apparent reason for its immense popularity, is the smart-alecky baby-babble provided by Willis, which seems to prove that infantile male desirebeginning at the sperm level and continuing unabatedis still basically calling all the shots (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Long Weekend (o’ Despair)

Shot for the astonishing sum of $5,000, Gregg Araki’s second feature is accurately described by its writer-director-producer-cinematographer-editor as a minimalistic gay/bisexual postpunk antithesis to the smug complacency of regressive Hollywood tripe like The Big Chill. A college reunion of sorts takes place when Rachel (Maureen Dondanville), a lesbian, and Sara (Nicole Dillenberg), a hetereosexual, decide to visit their gay friend Michael (Bretton Vail) in LA for a weekend; their new lovers (Andrea Beane and Marcus D’Amico) are in tow, and Michael’s former lover Alex (Lance Woods) happens to turn up as well. All three couples quarrel and gripe to one another about how bored and directionless they are, and there’s a certain amount of tentative breaking up, infidelity, and coming back together again, but basically very litte happens. The characters chiefly talk, and Araki’s well-scripted and mainly well-synchronized dialogue essentially carries the movie. An authentic expression of the dead-end feeling of a generation, Araki’s film can be irritating in spots: the defeatist attitude towards politics (epitomized especially in the semiparodic treatment of Rachel’s girlfriend Leah) seems assumed rather than explored, and there are times when the overall existential angst seems as much a matter of fashion as it was 25 years ago in Antonioni films.… Read more »

The Little Mermaid

A Valley-girl mermaid, living underwater with an imperious king for a father and a diminutive black servant (a Jamaican crab), falls in love with a surfer-type above-water prince against the wishes of her dad and strikes a deal with a witch that entails giving up her voice in exchange for an all-human form. This is the premise of the Disney studio’s lively and tacky 1989 animated feature, very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, with songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Other colorful characters include a befuddled seagull (with the voice of Buddy Hackett), a sadistic French chef, and a friendly fish called Flounder. The plot sticks pretty closely to the usual Disney formula, although a few concessions to contemporary traumas are worked in; e.g., when the wicked witch deprives the king and other characters of their powers, they turn into fetuses. Within the apparently necessary aesthetic and ideological limitations (such as making the hero and heroine Americans surrounded by foreign servants a la Pinocchio), the animation manages to be fairly energetic. (JR)… Read more »

Lethal Weapon 2

LA cops Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are assigned to protect a federal witness (Joe Pesci) in a follow-up to the 1987 hit, with the same director (Richard Donner) at the helm; Patsy Kensit and Joss Ackland also star. Despite the usual improbabilities and cliches that go with this brand of buddy-cop thriller, the action sequences are handled with some flair; Gibson, Glover, and Pesci all acquit themselves admirably, and Jeffrey Boam’s script has plenty of humor and a nice feeling for character. The movie overall may be routine, but Donner gives it some spark and polish (1989). (JR)… Read more »

Les Girls

Andrew Sarris has called this 1957 semimusical, adapted by John Patrick from a Vera Caspary novel, George Cukor’s version of Rashomon. As in the famous Kurosawa film, flashbacks relate alternate versions of the same storywhich involves the relationship of three show girls (Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor, and Taina Elg) to hoofer Gene Kelly in a Paris setting. Nicely handled, and one of the better examples of Cukor’s flair for ‘Scope framing (after A Star Is Born and Bhowani Junction), although the Cole Porter songs aren’t very memorable; Kendall is a particular delight. (JR)… Read more »

Kung Fu Master!

Not a martial arts movie (the title refers to a video game) but a provocative 1988 French feature starring and based on a story by the talented English/French actress Jane Birkin, written and directed by Agnes Varda (Vagabond). Birkin plays a 40-year-old divorcee with two daughters who befriends, falls in love with, and eventually has a fleeting affair with a 14-year-old boy (Mathieu Demy, Varda’s son) who is also in love with her. The matter-of-fact treatment of this taboo subject ties in persuasively with the film’s comfortably domestic middle-class milieu and the surrounding cultural climate of France and England (in particular, the impact of AIDS). And to compound the personal (if not autobiographical) nature of the project, Birkin’s two daughters are played by her actual daughters. Varda’s serene and unrhetorical handling of the loaded subjectunderlined with sympathy and understanding for all of the characters, and full of both wit and tendernessis what gives this picture its charge. In French with subtitles. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ghostbusters Ii

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Sigourney Weaver are back (along with producer-director Ivan Reitman) in this 1989 sequel to the hit comedy about self-appointed ghost catchers bent on saving New York from annihilation. Rather wan in its anything-goes spirit of invention, the movie has a surprisingly low number of laughs; some of the initial premises are goodthe original gang of ghostbusters starting out as a group of has-beens, a pink goo developing in the city sewage system because of the accumulation of bad vibesbut there’s very little energy in the follow-through, and this time Murray’s listlessness seems more anemic than comic. With Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts; written by Ramis and Aykroyd. PG, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Four Adventures Of Reinette And Mirabelle

Four tales about Reinette (Joelle Miquel), a country girl who paints and operates according to certain principles, and Mirabelle (Jessica Forde), her less rigorous friend from the city; they meet in the country in the first episode and share an apartment in Paris during the remaining three. This feature was shot in 16-millimeter by Eric Rohmer in 1986, shortly before he completed Summer in the same format and with the same method of letting his leading actors improvise dialogue rather than strictly following scripts. Not part of Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, and deliberately light and nonambitious (very little of consequence occurs in any of the tales), this nevertheless shows the filmmaker at nearly peak formsharply attentive to the sights and sounds of country and city alike and to the temperamental differences between his two heroines. (JR)… Read more »

A Few Days With Me

After a somewhat promising beginning, Claude Sautet’s adaptation of a novel by Jean-Francois Josselin about an eccentric, diffident heir to a department store chain (Daniel Auteuil) falling in love with a maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) becomes a rather ho-hum French melodrama (with an irritatingly tinny Philippe Sarde score) needlessly stretched out to 131 minutes. Sautet, best known for such tepid (if competent and popular) 70s pictures as Cesar and Rosalie and Vincent, Paul, Francois, and the Others, shows the same unadventurous stylistic assurance as before, and continues to be pretty good with actors (Auteuil’s repressed hero remains marginally interesting, and Bonnaire does her best with a two-dimensional part). But the sluggish complacency of his direction tends to squeeze most of the juice out of the plot, which perpetually threatens to explode with the passion of a La chienne or Scarlet Street but never really gets ignited. There’s a bit of comedy when the hero persuades the maid to move in with him and they throw a party designed to confound class divisions; but the film’s position toward most of its characters never seems much more than halfhearted, and when offscreen narration is introduced toward the end to take care of some exposition, one feels that formally, at least, Sautet is really grasping after straws.… Read more »

El

One of Luis Buñuel‘s more perverse low-budget Mexican features (1952), also known in this country as This Strange Passion. Arturo de Cordova plays a wealthy Catholic whose insane jealousy toward his wife (Delia Garces) first becomes apparent on their honeymoon. In some ways it’s a parody of machismo, full of anticlerical thrusts, but like many other Buñuel features of this period, the irreverence — consisting in part of such ghoulish, Sade-inspired notions as the hero wanting to sew up his wife’s vagina — tends to be almost parenthetical rather than the main focus. Buñuel remained true to his surrealist origins throughout his Mexican period, but the full command of his earliest and latest films, as well as such intermediate masterpieces as Los olvidados and The Exterminating Angel, resulted in stronger fare than this. Still, the hero’s wonderful crooked walk in the final shot seems the perfect emblem of Buñuel‘s own sly subversion in adverse circumstances. (JR)… Read more »

Rainpour

This 1971 first feature by Iranian playwright and scholar Bahram Beizai is a semisweet love story about a schoolteacher (Parviz Farnizadeh) who’s rumored to be involved with a pupil’s attractive older sister (Parvaneh Maassuumi) and winds up falling for her. Shot cheaply, in black and white and nonsynchronous sound, the film has been compared with some justice to certain early films of the French New Wave; Beizai’s handling of children and adult shyness, at least, suggest Truffaut. I haven’t seen the version being shown; it’s the only one edited by Beizai himself and runs 15 minutes longer than the commercial release, titled Downpour. (JR)… Read more »