Daily Archives: September 1, 1991

The Snake Pit

A woman (Olivia de Havilland) has a breakdown and winds up in a mental hospital in one of the first Hollywood pictures (1948) to deal seriously with the subject of insane asylums. The film was directed by Anatole Litvak, the story adapted by Frank Partos and Millen Brand from a novel by Mary Jane Ward. De Havilland didn’t win the expected Oscar for her performance (it went to Jane Wyman for her role as a deaf-mute in Johnny Belinda), but (if memory serves) this grim drama packs a punch. With Mark Stevens, Leo Genn, Celeste Holm, and Beulah Bondi. (JR)… Read more »

Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll

A brilliant series of impersonations and comic monologues by Eric Bogosian, performed before a live audience (over nine nights in Boston), and directedfor the most part effectively, though rather fussilyby John McNaughton (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). Bogosian’s characters, all of them pretty self-absorbed, include a subway panhandler, a vain English rock star, an entertainment lawyer, a New York street tough, a spaced-out posthippie, and a millionaire in a New Jersey suburb. As pointed as these monologues are, one hopes by the end that they’ll all add up to a single statement, but they never quite do; the larger conceptual framework seems to hover in the background, slightly out of focus and never pulled into full clarity. But from moment to moment, this 1991 feature is worth anyone’s time. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Naked City

A first-rate police thriller (1948) directed by Jules Dassin when he was still in his prime and before he was blacklisted, shot memorably in New York locations. It influenced many other documentary-style thrillers of the period and even launched a TV series. With Barry Fitzgerald, Howard Duff, Dorothy Hart, and Ted de Corsia; both the cinematography (William Daniels) and editing (Paul Weatherwax) earned well-deserved Oscars. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hangin’ With The Homeboys

A beautiful movie. Joseph B. Vasquez’s American independent feature focusing on four young friends from the south Bronxtwo of them black (Doug E. Doug, Mario Joyner), the other two Puerto Rican (John Leguizamo, Nestor Serrano)over one long Friday night is so superbly written, acted, and directed that not a single detail rings false. Evocative of early Cassavetes in its sensitivity to what makes its four heroes tick, this comedy drama allows itself only enough plot to make its dramatic points, which proves to be plenty for its purposes. (One can even tolerate the outlandish coincidences involving a couple of female characters because of the insights and developments they make possible.) It’s rare indeed that a commercial picture offers characters with this much substance and understanding (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Victim

Basil Dearden’s 1961 British thriller caused something of a flurry because of its subject: a lawyer (Dirk Bogarde) risks his reputation by tracking down a blackmailer who murdered his former male lover. It’s supposed to be pretty good, too. Scripted by Janet Green and John McCormick; with Sylvia Sims, Dennis Price, Nigel Stock, and Hilton Edwards. (JR)… Read more »

Rambling Rose

During the Depression, a sexy orphaned teenager (Laura Dern) from a sharecropper family moves in with a well-to-do southern family (including Robert Duvall, Diane Ladd, and Lukas Haas) to take care of the kids and help with the housework. Adapted by Calder Willingham from his own autobiographical novel and directed by Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl), this is a beautifully realized, finely felt period piece with strong characters and nuanced performances (all four of the leads shine) and an acute sense of the diverse incursions that female sexuality makes on southern gentility. While the film may not be fully achieved in every particularJohn Heard is a mite awkward as the grown-up son in the film’s framing storythe ensemble playing and the overall attention to detail are first-rate (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Paradise

For the record, Paradise is a town in Michigan where a young married couple whose child has died take in a little boy, who helps them to get over their grief. Mary Agnes Donoghue wrote and directed this remake of Jean-Loup Hubert’s domestically profitable but unmemorable autobiographical French feature Le grand chemin (1987), and while she manages to coax (or at least doesn’t interfere with) decent performances from real-life couple Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, her dialogue for the little boy (Elijah Wood) and his tomboy pal (Thora Birch) strains credibility at every turn and her direction of them is correspondingly ham-fisteda compounded failure that effectively sabotages the picture. (JR)… Read more »

My Mother’s Castle

Yves Robert’s 1990 follow-up to My Father’s Glory continues his adaptation of Marcel Pagnol’s memoirs about his childhood in Provence, with basically the same cast and locations; much of the story concerns Marcel’s passing infatuation with an affected little girl and his family’s visits to a local chateau. Like many sequels, this is a bit of a step down from its predecessor; while the story, narration, and settings still carry a certain charm, the comedy and acting are somewhat broader. With Philippe Caubere, Nathalie Roussel, and Didier Pain. (JR)… Read more »

Livin’ Large!

A curious little comedy (1991), directed by Michael Schultz (Cooley High, Car Wash) from a script by William M. Payne, about a black youth in Atlanta (a likable debut by T.C. Carson) who gets a job in local TV news. In part a small-scale remake of Network, with a similarly shrikelike, ratings-mad female producer (Blanche Baker) and some funny satirical jabs at white biases in reporting inner-city news, this uneven romp goes over the top as often as not but generally manages to hold one’s interest. With Lisa Arrindell, Nathaniel Afrika Hall, and Loretta Devine. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Late For Dinner

Two young men (Brian Wimmer and Peter Berg) in flight from the law in 1962 unwittingly travel through time to 1991, where they try to reenter the lives of their relatives and friends in Santa Fe. The first feature by W.D. Richter after The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai is an inauspicious comeback, with a script (by Mark Andrus) that dawdles endlessly in making its points and stumblebum heroes who are often even slower than the lethargic direction in registering them. With Marcia Gay Harden, Colleen Flynn, Peter Gallagher, and Bo Brundin. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Command

Josef von Sternberg’s first encounter with Emil Jannings, which led to their collaboration on The Blue Angel two years later, was in this late silent Hollywood masterpiece about a Russian general (Jannings) reduced to the status of a Hollywood extra in a film about the Russian Revolution. Lajos Biros wrote the story, Jannings’s performance here and in The Way of All Flesh won him an Oscar, and Sternberg’s direction makes this second only to The Docks of New York as the most accomplished of his silent films. With Evelyn Brent and William Powell (1928). (JR)… Read more »

The Indian Runner

Two brothers in a small Nebraska towna gentle, well-adjusted cop (David Morse) with a Mexican wife (Valeria Golino) and a child, and a ne’er-do-well (Viggo Mortensen) who enlisted in the army to fight in Vietnamare reunited in 1968. Before long, the veteran impregnates his girlfriend (Patricia Arquette) and starts getting involved in drunken brawls. Sean Penn’s first film as writer-director, steeped in sullen Method acting, pretentious symbolism, and mannered slow motion, is obviously a sincere and considered effort, but I found it insufferably tedious, self-indulgent, and reeking with self-pity. A few sparks of interest are contributed in all-too-brief cameos by Charles Bronson and Sandy Dennis as the brothers’ parents and Dennis Hopper as a bartender. (JR)… Read more »

The Golden Boat

Raul Ruiz’s first American feature is characteristic in terms of visual style (bargain-basement Welles), shaggy-dog plot, irreverent humor, and metaphysical themes (mainly oriented around random violence in New York’s Lower East Side), but it’s still a far cry from his best work. Hampered in part by the outsize cast and crew (reflecting the eagerness of Ruiz’s New York fans to play some part in the proceedings), this mordant comedy, shot over two or three long weekends, is hindered as much as helped by the jokey cameos (Jim Jarmusch, Vito Acconci, and Kathy Acker, among others)the self-conscious local color tends to distract from the witty yet monotonous gratuitousness of Ruiz’s run-on dialogue. In effect, New York’s downtown punk coalition meets Ruiz’s dreamy doodling, and a certain amount of querulousness on both sides grows out of the brief encounter (1990). (JR)… Read more »

The Fisher King

An arrogant New York disc jockey (Jeff Bridges) loses his soul after a brash remark of his to a phone-in listener triggers a mass murder. He meets a visionary street bum (Robin Williams), a former professor of medieval history traumatized by the same tragedy, and the two lost spirits manage to save each other, with help from their girlfriends (Mercedes Ruehl and Amanda Plummer). Directed by Terry Gilliam (Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen) from an original script by newcomer Richard LaGravenese, this enormously entertaining and wonderfully acted but compromised New Age comedy spectacular represents Gilliam’s bid to prove his commercial mettle, and the results are simultaneously highly personal and extremely corrupta shameless attempt to give the public what it wants that is shot full of brilliance. If you check your brain at the concessions counter, you won’t have any problems; if you treasure Gilliam at his best and take his ideas seriously, you’ll probably be infuriated as well as delighted. Powerhouse performances by Bridges, Williams, and Ruehl help disguise the crassness of the commercial manipulations by intermittently suggesting real people (Plummer, on the other hand, is hamstrung by a cartoon part), and Michael Jeter and an uncredited Tom Waits enliven the street life.… Read more »

Deceived

Paradoxically, this would be a pretty good little thriller if it didn’t have any charactersor, rather, if it did have some characters who weren’t strictly slaves to the thriller mechanics. Instead, it starts off with characters and winds up with some rather effective jolts that make them evaporate. We begin with Goldie Hawn happily married to John Heard; what happens after that is best left to screenwriters Mary Agnes Donoghue and Derek Saunders; Damian Harris directed, and Ashley Peldon, Robin Bartlett, Tom Irwin, and Amy Wright costar. (JR)… Read more »