Daily Archives: June 1, 1990

Strapless

An American doctor (Blair Brown) living and working in London meets a mysterious and romantic stranger (Bruno Ganz) while vacationing on the Continent, and he proceeds to woo her back in London. Eventually she discovers he’s not everything he seems to be, and under the additional pressures of Thatcher cutbacks in national health and a faltering relationship with her younger sister (Bridget Fonda) who lives with her, her life gradually spins out of control. Written and directed by David Hare (Plenty), this is the sort of so-called woman’s picture that could only have been conceived by a man; although it remains sincere, fairly watchable, well acted, and otherwise competent throughoutat least up to a somewhat muddled conclusionit proves to have more windup than delivery. With Alan Howard and Hugh Laurie (1989). (JR)… Read more »

History Of The World, Part I

Hit-or-miss is Mel Brooks’s middle name, and this set of period sketches runs the gamut from wonderful to awful, as is usual with his work. But the wonderful stuff is so funny that it makes most of the awful stuff tolerable; the big production number called The Inquisition, for instance, goes beyond The Producers‘s Springtime for Hitler in outrageousness. Keep in mind that Brooks is more verbal than visual in orientation and you’ll be amply rewarded. With Brooks, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, Harvey Korman, Ron Carey, Sid Caesar, Pamela Stephenson, Henny Youngman, and Orson Welles (as narrator). (JR)… Read more »

Without You I’m Nothing

A distinctive adaptation of Sandra Bernhard’s off-Broadway show, directed and coscripted by John Boskovich. Bernhard’s acta mixture of comic monologues and songs that parody such figures as Nina Simone, Diana Ross, and Patti Smithis planted in a black nightclub in Los Angeles similar to the places she played at the beginning of her career, where she performs for a totally unenthusiastic audience. A parody of show-biz mannerisms and phoniness that at times seems as slick and fabricated as what’s being attacked, this is certainly entertaining and provocative. It’s a matter of debate how deep this movie digs, but you won’t be bored for an instantand it’s entirely possible that your hair will be raised (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Through The Wire

A shocking and powerful documentary (1990) by Nina Rosenblum about the experimental torture and attempted brainwashing of three women prisoners in a federal prison in Lexington, Kentucky. Each woman was arrested for political activity, given an unusually long prison sentence, and then isolated in a basement cell for almost two years, kept under 24-hour surveillance, periodically awakened several times a night, and strip-searched daily. Though this horrific unit was eventually shut down by court order after the protests of human-rights groups, the ruling was then overturned. The three prisoners who underwent this ordeal because of their radical political involvement (in support of civil rights, Puerto Rican nationalism, and the antiwar movement) show a great deal of lucidity and resilience about their ordeal, in spite of the severely debilitating psychological and physical effects of the torture. One regrets the use of simulations, even though they’re identified as such, to demonstrate some of the prisoners’ treatment, because their use shows so little trust in the imagination of the audience. But this is still a remarkable look at part of what Bush the elder’s kinder, gentler nation was (and still is) up to, and something you aren’t likely to hear about elsewhere. Narrated by Susan Sarandon; the cinematographer is Haskell Wexler.… Read more »

Three Seats For The 26th

For viewers like me who harbor passionately fond memories of Jacques Demy’s 1967 tribute to the American musical, The Young Girls of Rochefort, Demy’s 1988 musical (his last film) is clearly worth seeing, even if the recommendation has to come with reservations. While Michel Legrand’s score for The Young Girls of Rochefort is one of the greatest for any musical, his comparably jazzy and airy work for the this one is only a pale reflection of his best. Similarly, the references to touchstones such as Silk Stockings, Singin’ in the Rain, and The Band Wagon are all too fleeting, in striking contrast to the full-scale tributes in the earlier film to West Side Story, An American in Paris, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The difference between the two is partly a matter of scale and budget, and partly that the more recent film centers on Yves Montand, an eminence grise who looks more and more like Milton Berle. Playing himself, Montand arrives in Marseilles to launch an autobiographical musical revue that he plans to take on a world tour. He spends his spare time looking for an old lover, a onetime prostitute now a baroness (Francoise Fabian), whose husband is in jail for theft and whose 22-year-old daughter (Mathilda May), who knows nothing of her mother’s past, has a burning desire to make it in show biz.… Read more »

My Left Foot

The remarkable Daniel Day-Lewis plays the remarkable Christy Brown, an Irishman born with a severe case of cerebral palsy who eventually taught himself to paint and write with his left foot. Director Jim Sheridan and Shane Connaughton adapted this 1990 film from Brown’s autobiography, but far from milking the subject for conventional sentimentality, they use it as the basis for an engaging and idiosyncratic character study. Day-Lewis’s performance is necessarily a bit showyone has to strain at times to understand all his dialogue because of the character’s contorted featuresbut he puts on a terrific drunk scene, and for all his character’s travails the film as a whole winds up surprisingly upbeat. With Alison Whelan, Kirsten Sheridan, Declan Croghan, Fiona Shaw, Cyril Cusack, and Brenda Fricker, also fine as Brown’s mother. (JR)… Read more »

Monsieur Hire

A heartbreaking French melodrama (1990), adapted from a novel by Georges Simenon (Les fiancailles de M. Hire) about a shy and reclusive tailor (Michel Blanc) obsessively spying on a beautiful neighbor (Sandrine Bonnaire), who discovers and is touched by his voyeuristic interest. The plot also involves the mysterious death of a girl in the neighborhood. Paradoxically, director Patrice Leconte, who collaborated with Patrick Dewolf on the script, filmed this elegant, affecting, and highly claustrophobic chamber piece in ‘Scope; Michael Nyman contributed the haunting score. With Luc Thuillier and Andre Wims. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

Marquis

This very bawdy 1989 collaboration between cartoonist Roland Topor and director Henri Xhonneux gives us human actors in elaborate animal masks (designed by Topor) enacting a story rather similar to that of the Marquis de Sade during the French Revolution. (The marquis is a dog who carries on long philosophical dialogues with his equally talkative penis; his principal adversaries are a rooster prison governor and a Jesuit camel.) I’ve only seen portions of this odd, poker-faced Belgian-French production, but it’s unique, intelligent, and often funny. (JR)… Read more »

Gremlins 2: The New Batch

This 1990 sequel to the beastie movie of 1984, directed like its predecessor by the irreplaceable Joe Dante, relocates the hero and heroine (Zach Galligan and Phoebe Cates) in New York, where they’re both working for a vain tycoon named Daniel Clamp (John Glover)an obvious conflation of Donald Trump and Ted Turnerin a midtown skyscraper, where the gremlins manage to run loose and cause all sorts of mischief. Solid, agreeable entertainment that basically consists of plentiful gags and lighthearted satire spiked with Dante’s compulsive taste for movie references, humorously scripted by Charlie Haas but without the darker thematic undertones and the more tableaulike construction of the original. You may want to see this more than once in order to catch all the peripheral details, but there aren’t any depths to explore, just a lot of bright, free-floating comic invention. With Robert Prosky, Robert Picardo, Christopher Lee, Kathleen Freeman, and many cameos (including Daffy Duck and Leonard Maltin). 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Gang Of Four

Bulle Ogier runs an all-female acting school, many of whose students (newcomers Laurence Cote, Fejria Deliba, Bernadette Giraud, and Ines de Medeiros) share a suburban house and get involved with the same creepy guy (Benoit Regent), who’s either a cop or a criminal. In short, it’s conspiracy time once again in Jacques Rivette’s highly charged and scary world, where a fanatical devotion to theater and paranoia are often viewed as the only viable alternatives in a tightly closeted universe. This 1988 feature was the best Rivette to reach the U.S. in at least a decade, full of the sexual tensions and female cameraderie found in his Celine and Julie Go Boating (though without much of the comedy), as well as the kind of haunting and chilling aftereffects that are common to his work. More classical and less experimental than his previous features, it’s almost a summary and compilation of his major themes and preoccupationsan ideal introduction to his work. In French with subtitles. 160 min. (JR)… Read more »

Die Hard 2

If your idea of a good time is watching a lot of stupid, unpleasant people insult and brutalize one another, this is right up your alley. Bruce Willis is back as detective John McClane, an off-duty cop who once again turns into a civilian Rambo and single-handedly defeats a slew of terrorists. (This time they’re causing planes to crash at Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., and making unwitty wisecracks before they shoot people.) This protofascist, violent, and gory nonsense was directed by the talented Renny Harlin (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master), but I wonder if even D.W. Griffith could have transcended a script as insulting, as mean-spirited, and as dehumanizing as the one concocted by Steven E. de Souza and Doug Richardson. Bonnie Bedelia is again playing McClane’s wife, this time stuck in a plane that can’t land; others include William Atherton, Reginald Veljohnson, and Franco Nero. (JR)… Read more »

Days Of Thunder

In 1990 the people who brought you Top GunTom Cruise, director Tony Scott, and producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimerfigured out a way to take more of your money, and it involved stock-car racing. With Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Nicole Kidman, and Cary Elwes; scripted by Robert Towne from a story he authored with Cruise. (JR)… Read more »

Born To Win

This ironically titled 1971 comedy-drama may be Ivan Passer’s best American film after Cutter’s Way. George Segal gives one of his finest performances as a former New York hairdresser with a $100-a-day heroin habit, and the remainder of the cast, which includes Karen Black, Paula Prentiss, Jay Fletcher, Hector Elizondo, and a pre-Mean Streets Robert De Niro, shines as well. David Scott Milton’s script makes the rather subversive suggestion that junkies’ lives are purposeful and even fulfilled in a way because they’re so highly motivateda provocative alternative to the usual wisdom on the subject. Check this one out. (JR)… Read more »

Betsy’s Wedding

As writer-director-actor, Alan Alda isn’t remotely the equivalent of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Vincente Minnelli, or Spencer Tracy, but this is still an attempt to update Father of the Bride 40 years later. The setting is once again comfortable suburbia, and the father’s headaches concerning his daughter’s upcoming wedding are still the main focus, but there’s a world of difference between, say, the genuinely disturbing nightmare in the Minnelli movie and Alda’s embarrassing experiments with dry ice to simulate anxiety. The young couple this time is a New Age pair played by Molly Ringwald and Dylan Walsh; the father this time (Alda) is a building contractor from an Italian background married to a Jew (Madeline Kahn), which paves the way for some extremely broad ethnic caricatures, particularly when it comes to the wife’s brother (a slum landlord played by Joe Pesci) and his Mafia business associates (Burt Young and Anthony LaPaglia) who become involved with a building project the father is working on to pay for the big-scale wedding. To complicate matters, the crook charmingly acted by LaPaglia happens to be smitten with the bride-to-be’s sister (Ally Sheedy), a cop. This is a fairly decent comedy about contemporary mores if you aren’t looking for too much; with Catherine O’Hara, Julie Bovasso, Nicolas Coster, and Bibi Besch.… Read more »

Beat Girl Goes Calypso

If it matters, this is also known as Bop Girl Goes Calypso. Judy Tyler and Bobby Troup star; the musical groups include Lord Flea, the Goobers, the Cubanos, and the Titans. Ed James wrote the script; Howard Koch directednot the Howard Koch who scripted Casablanca and certainly not the director of The President’s Analyst or the 1978 Heaven Can Wait, as the Psychotronic Film Society claims in its publicity (1957). (JR)… Read more »