Monthly Archives: June 1991

The Match Factory Girl

Except for Juha nine years later, this 1990 feature is the best thing I’ve seen by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. The conclusion of his proletarian trilogy, which began with Shadows in Paradise and Ariel, it centers on a meek, morose assembly-line worker (Kati Outinen) who’s brutalized by her mother and stepfather and usually ignored by everyone else. After she’s picked up and impregnated by a well-to-do architect who coolly exploits her, she plots and executes a rather extravagant revenge. Basically a postmodernist reshuffling of Robert Bresson and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this doesn’t hold a candle to the best work of either, but on its own terms it has an unmistakable minimalist elegance. In Finnish with subtitles. 70 min. (JR)… Read more »

Jungle Fever

Spike Lee’s high-powered, all-over-the-place 1991 movie about interracial romance (Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra), crack addiction (a remarkable turn by Samuel L. Jackson), breaking away from one’s family (a theme that crops up in at least five households, with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Anthony Quinn, and Frank Vincent among the parents), and corporate advancement for blacks (Snipes again), chiefly set in two New York neighborhoods (Harlem and Bensonhurst). The disparate themes never quite come together, but with many fine performancesJohn Turturro and Lonette McKee are especially goodyou won’t be bored for a minute. Overall the film suggests a kind of living newspaper, with stories and subplots crowding one another for front-page space. There are so many voices you may think you’re swimming through a maelstrom, but thanks to Lee it’s all superbly orchestrated. 131 min. (JR)… Read more »

Crime And Punishment

The first feature (1983) of Finnish hipster filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki is a very loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novel, set in contemporary Helsinki, in which a solitary slaughterhouse worker murders the man who killed his fiancee in a hit-and-run accident. In Finnish with subtitles. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

City Slickers

Three urban buddies (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby) suffering through various midlife crises take off for a southwest dude ranch and a real-life cattle drive. What starts out as pure farce turns momentarily into a straight western adventureafter a number of calamities increase the heroes’ responsibilitiesbefore once again becoming a comedy-drama about midlife crisis. Director Ron Underwood (Tremors) does a fair job navigating all the key changes proposed by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s script, and with the actors’ help he makes this a diverting if bumpy ride (1991). With Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Noble Willingham, Josh Mostel, Tracey Walter, and Jack Palance as an old-time trail boss. (JR)… Read more »

The Big Store

The Marx Brothers, in their last film for MGM, are let loose in a department store; regrettably, so are Tony Martin and Virginia Grey (1941). Charles Riesner directed, and Margaret Dumont is around to take up part of the slack. Not the brothers at their best, but there are some delightful moments. (JR)… Read more »

The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe

For his filmmaking debut, critic, actor, and stage director Simon Callow has taken on the celebrated novella of Carson McCullers, making some use of Edward Albee’s stage adaptation but paring away much of its dialogue, including the use of an onstage narrator. The grotesque plot, set in a southern mill town during the Depression, concerns a circle of unrequited love: an eccentric bootlegger and folk doctor (Vanessa Redgrave) dotes on a hunchbacked dwarf (Cork Hubbert) who in turn loves an embittered convict (Keith Carradine), once the bootlegger’s husband. The pain of all this builds to an excruciating and violent fist fight between the bootlegger and the convict, witnessed by the entire town. The three leads are superb, and Rod Steiger and Austin Pendleton are fine in small roles. If Callow accords his stars a few too many close-ups, he still does a creditable job of trying to get us to believe in a tale that is difficult to imagine without the fragile weave of McCullers’s prose (Callow evidently sees it as a fairy tale with elements of magical realism). His stage background helps as well as hinders: one never believes in the town as anything but a set populated by actors, but the concentration of his direction certainly solicits the utmost from his cast.… Read more »

The Architecture Of Doom

A two-hour Swedish documentary by Peter Cohen, narrated in German by Bruno Ganz, that addresses the fascinating subject of Hitler’s aesthetics, with particular emphasis on the art that he made, admired, bought, and commissioned; his taste for Greek and Roman antiquities and grandiose architecture; and the ideological relationship between this taste and his extermination programs. Regrettably missing from this historical survey is Hitler’s cinephilia (before the war, according to Albert Speer, he used to screen two movies a night) and the grander perspectives offered by Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s Hitler, a Film From Germany (1977). Solid (if a little stolid) as an essay film, it offers an excellent introduction to Nazi ideology. (JR)… Read more »


In style and overall approach, Amy Greenfield’s adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy (including some elements from Oedipus at Colonus) harks back to experimental filmmaking of the 60s and early 70s, particularly in the uses of modern dance and nature. Greenfield basically keeps the text offscreen, works with aggressive modernist music by several hands, and depends quite a bit on gestures, highly composed frames, and percussive, eclectic editing; at times the film seems divided between the idea that the tragedy is taking place in the deadpan faces and the idea that it’s happening in the bodies, settings, text, and music. (By and large, the music and dance are more compelling than the faces or the readings of the text, both of which aim at stoicism.) Not an easy film, nor one that entirely escapes the charge of rigor artis, but one that grapples constantly and seriously with the problem of translating dance into film, the camera playing as important a role in the choreography as Greenfield or any of the other dancers. (It lacks the humor and fleetness of The Red Shoes and Mammame, but given the source this is hardly surprising.) The ghost of Maya Deren seems to hover over the proceedings, for better and for worse.… Read more »