Monthly Archives: May 1991

A Woman Is A Woman

Jean-Luc Godard’s third feature and first studio production (1960) starts with a subversive premise: a neorealist musical in which the major characters (Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina, and Jean-Claude Brialy) can’t really sing and dance, much as they’d like to. Periodically ravishing to look at (it’s Godard’s first foray into both color and ‘Scope) and listen to (Michel Legrand did the nonsinging score), it’s also highly deconstructive in the way it keeps jostling us away from these pleasures and in the general direction of indecorous reality. (It’s also packed with both subtle and obvious references to other movies.) While its slender plot (stripper Karina wants a baby and turns to Belmondo when her boyfriend Brialy won’t oblige her) can irritate in spots, the film’s high spirits may still win you over. It’s perhaps most memorable for being a highly personal documentary about Karina and Godard’s feelings about her at the time, brimming with odd details and irreverent energies. In French with subtitles. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

What About Bob?

A superneurotic (Bill Murray) becomes the patient of a vain, up-and-coming psychoanalyst and author (Richard Dreyfuss) about to leave on his summer vacation; he pursues the doctor to his New England summer house, befriends his family, and ultimately drives him mad. Basically a high-concept comedy, scripted by Tom Schulman from a story by Alvin Sargent and producer Laura Ziskin and directed by Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), this cruel but effective black comedy violates credibility at almost every turn, but the concept itself is so strongparticularly as a revenge fantasy for anyone who’s ever resented hypocritical exploitative shrinksthat it winds up working pretty well anyway. A key factor in this is Dreyfuss’s finely tuned tight-ass performance, one of the strongest expressions of repressed domestic frustration since the salad days of W.C. Fields. (Murray, by contrast, is relatively hamstrung by inadequate scripting.) With Julie Hagerty, Charlie Korsmo, and Kathryn Erbe. (JR)… Read more »

A Wedding

Ostensibly Robert Altman’s aim in this 1978 comic free-for-all was to top his own Nashville by doubling his cast of leading players from 24 to 48. The film concentrates on the aftermath of an upscale Chicagoland wedding, and it certainly has its moments. But the facileness of this “exposé” of the upper middle class adds up to a lot of cheap shots—watchable enough, but considerably less than the sum of its parts. Among the 48: Carol Burnett, Desi Arnaz Jr., Amy Stryker, Vittorio Gassman, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley, Lillian Gish, Lauren Hutton, John Cromwell, Pat McCormick, Howard Duff, Dina Merrill, Nina Van Pallandt, John Considine, and Viveca Lindfors. PG, 125 min.… Read more »

An Unremarkable Life

Amin Q. Chaudri’s U.S. features costars Shelley Winters and Patricia Neal as elderly sisters whose lives are changed when one of them starts dating a Korean-American. We don’t have a review of this film, but word of mouth from colleagues hasn’t been good.… Read more »

Truth Or Dare

A candid and entertaining look at Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour that mainly alternates between grainy black-and-white backstage/offstage footage and certain numbers from the touring show that were shot in color. The young director, Alek Keshishian, had been directing music videos since 1986, and this movie looks it, for better and for worse: there’s a nervous tendency to crosscut between scenes and between onstage and offstage footage that keeps things constantly moving but often prevents the numbers and certain documentary segments from being appreciated in their entirety. It generally works better as a mosaic self-portrait (Madonna served as executive producer) than as a concert film, andnot too surprisinglywhat comes across is mainly the star’s likable desire to be both naughty and responsible, conscientious and silly: she’s a prima donna who plays mother hen with her troupe, stoutly defends her show against censors (but seems perfectly willing to have it cut to shreds for the purposes of this movie), and is energetically on at every minute. Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, and Sandra Bernhard are among the brief celebrity walk-ons (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Truly Madly Deeply

An English feature written and directed by playwright Anthony Minghella, about a young woman (Juliet Stevenson) stricken by the death of her cellist lover (Alan Rickman) who appears to be revisited by his ghost, this comes across as an English realist variation on the sort of quasi-supernatural stories that producer Val Lewton specialized in during the 40s: that is, the supernatural elements are used to enhance the realistic psychology rather than the other way around. If the relatively prosaic Minghella, making his movie debut, lacks the suggestive poetic sensibility of Lewton, he does a fine job in capturing the contemporary everyday textures of London life, and coaxes a strong performance out of Stevenson, a longtime collaborator. Full of richly realized secondary characters and witty oddball details (e.g., the home video tastes of her late lover’s ghostly male companions), this is a beguiling film in more ways than one. PG, 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

To Kill A Priest

This film in English by the gifted Polish writer-director Agnieszka Holland (A Woman Alone) is based on the real-life assassination of Solidarity chaplain Father Jerzy Popieluszko by secret police in 1984. While there’s a certain awkwardness inherent in making what is essentially an English-language Polish film on a Polish subject in France with English and American actors, this is a far cry from simple Solidarity agitprop. Holland is interested in exploring the moral complexity and ambiguity of Poland in the early 80s, and sets about this task with a great deal of intelligence and imagination, devoting even more attention to the police captain (Ed Harris in one of his better performances) who kills the priest (Christopher Lambert) than she does to the priest himself. In contrast to the kindergarten-level philosophizing of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, this is a film of some depth with a genuine sense of ethical nuance. Holland is generally well served by her cast, which also includes Joanne Whalley, Joss Ackland, Tim Roth, and Peter Postlethwaite (the father in Distant Voices, Still Lives). (JR)… Read more »

Three Shorts

A program of three experimental shorts, all of them seminal: Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema (1926), George Landow’s Institutional Quality (1969), and Hollis Frampton’s Zorns Lemma (1970).… Read more »

Three Bewildered People In The Night

Described as a beatnik movie for the 80s, this new feature by writer-director Gregg Araki concerns an alienated gay performance artist named David, a video artist named Alicia, and a would-be actor and photographer named Craig who is ambivalent about his sexuality. Set in Los Angeles locations and made on a shoestring budget, this first feature was recently acclaimed at the Locarno Film Festival, and will be receiving its first U.S. showing here, with director Araki present to answer questions.… Read more »

Thelma & Louise

A coffee-shop waitress (Susan Sarandon) and a beleaguered housewife (Geena Davis) in the southern sticks take off for a weekend holiday and eventually find themselves fleeing the law and society in a buoyant feminist road movie (1991) directed by Ridley Scott from a script by Callie Khouri. Scott, who usually offers a style in search of a subject, makes the most of the southwestern landscapes in handsome ‘Scope framing and shows an uncharacteristic flair for comedy in fleshing out Khouri’s script with a memorable cast of male rednecks (including Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt, and Timothy Carhart); his eye may get a little fancy and fussy in spots, but this is still one of his better pictures after Blade Runner, and Sarandon and Davis bring a lot of unpredictable verve and nuance to their parts. R, 129 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ten Little Indians

The second of three movie versions of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, directed by George Pollock in England in 1965. (Rene Clair did the first version in 1945; Peter Collinson did the third in 1975.) This one stars Hugh O’Brian, Shirley Eaton, Fabian, Leo Genn, Stanley Holloway, Wilfrid Hyde-White, and Daliah Lavi.… Read more »

Quo Vadis

MGM’s opulent version of ancient Rome circa 1951, with Peter Ustinov at his most whimsical doing honors as the mad Nero. A lot of Christians are persecuted too. With Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Leo Genn, Patricia Laffan, and a Miklos Rozsa scores, one of his better ones as I recall. Directed with some pizzazz by Mervyn LeRoy. (JR)… Read more »

Quintet

High allegory in the icy north from Robert Altman; I haven’t seen this 1979 drama, but practically everyone except Altman’s diehard fans seems to find it a grueling slog. Set in a frozen city of the future, it takes its title from a board game using dice that Paul Newman, seeking to avenge some family deaths, winds up playing. With Bibi Andersson, Fernando Rey, Brigitte Fossey, and Vittorio Gassman. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Paint Your Wagon

Joshua Logan directed this Lerner-Loewe musical about the California gold rush, casting largely nonsingers and nondancersLee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Jean Sebergand some people accused him at the time (1969) of helping to kill off the movie musical in the process. Paddy Chayefsky, of all people, was put in charge of the script; Harve Presnell and Ray Walston costar.… Read more »

Only The Lonely

A lonely Chicago cop (John Candy) who lives with his widowed mother (Maureen O’Hara), a female Archie Bunker type who dominates his life, falls in love with an introspective funeral parlor worker (Ally Sheedy) and tries to break free of his mother’s hold. A loose 1991 remake of Marty by writer-director Chris Columbus (Home Alone) that proves that Candy is no Ernest Borgnine and Columbus neither a Paddy Chayefsky writer nor a Delbert Mann director, this mechanical piece of emotional manipulation is phoniest when it is making the biggest show of being sincere. While it’s nice to see O’Hara back and in fine form, the film insists on reminding us of the worst aspects of her performances with John Ford rather than allowing her to work independent of this legacy. Typically, this movie is brave enough to indicate that the hero and heroine have premarital sex but too gutless to show them in bed together, and shameless enough to work in a product placement for Florsheim shoes in the midst of Candy’s most emotional speech. Also on hand, and meant to be as cute as bugs, are Anthony Quinn, Jim Belushi, Kevin Dunn, Milo O’Shea, and Bert Remsen. (JR)… Read more »