Monthly Archives: March 1992

Paper Wedding

The unwary might regard this French Canadian feature as a blatant rip-off of Green Card, but in fact it’s the earlier filmand a much better one. Though lacking the yuppie preoccupations (such as real estate) and cute star mugging (Gerard Depardieu and Andie MacDowell) that were Green Card’s selling points, the basic plot is the same: a well-to-do single woman (Genevieve Bujold) is persuaded to marry a penniless Chilean (Manuel Arangiz) to save him from deportation, then is drawn to him while trying to convince the immigration authorities that their marriage is genuine. The director here is Michel Brault, best known for his brilliance as a cinematographer, and the sensitive low-key script is mainly the work of Jefferson Lewis. This isn’t a major work, but unlike Green Card it’s never a phony one; the characters and situations ring true throughout (1989). (JR)… Read more »

Overseas

French colonial life in Algeria for three grown sisters (Nicole Garcia, Marianne Basler, and writer-director Brigitte Rouan) and their families in the 40s and 50s is the focus of this skillful semiautobiographical first feature. Rouan is both a graceful storyteller and a capable handler of actors (including herself), though, as with Diane Kurys, there are times when her style may seem too facile for what she wants to get across. This impressed me as I watched it, but it didn’t stick to my ribs (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Once Upon A Time In China

Pyrotechnical action specialist Tsui Hark (Peking Opera Blues) delivers spirited choreography and humor in spades in this adventure epic set in 1875, when Western trade and the lure of California gold were both threatening Chinese culture. (The title points to a Sergio Leone influence.) The story involves a legendary kung fu fighter (Jet Li), his deadly opponent, his cousin (Rosamund Kwan) who was sold into prostitution, and a student (Yuen Biao) of his opponent who loves the cousin and hopes to save her; Jackie Cheung also figures in the cast (1991). In Cantonese with subtitles. R, 134 min. (JR)… Read more »

My Father Is Coming

A soft-core comedy by Monika Treut (The Virgin Machine) about the problems encountered by a German bisexual (Shelley Kastner) working as a waitress in New York’s East Village when her conservative Bavarian father (Alfred Edel) comes to visit. He believes she’s a successful actress, so she tries to hide her job and pretend that her gay roommate (David Bronstein) is her husband; thanks to a New Age porn entrepreneur (Annie Sprinkle), her father winds up having a sexual adventure of his own. If Treut had more of a sense of where to place her camera and when to cut, this brief cruise past the New York sexual underground might have passed as a minor variant of early Almodovar. But apart from the likable presence of Kastner, this is basically simpleminded sexual tourism addressed to rubes. With Michael Massee, Mary Lou Graulau, and enough leather to support a small cattle ranch (1991). (JR)… Read more »

My Cousin Vinny

Two college students from New York (Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield) are wrongly accused of killing a clerk in a convenience store in Wahzoo City, Alabama, and one’s Brooklyn cousina rookie lawyer (Joe Pesci)arrives with his fiancee (Marisa Tomei) to defend them in what proves to be his first court case. While it’s easy to imagine an infinite number of bad courtroom comedies based on this scenario, this movie turns out to be wonderfulbroad and low character comedy that’s solidly imagined and beautifully played. Far from having a bone to pick with either side of the cultural collision, writer-producer Dale Launer (Ruthless People) and director Jonathan Lynn (Nuns on the Run), both surpassing their earlier work, are clearly equal-opportunity caricaturists, with affection for both the southern and northern factions in the movie. The cast (which also includes a very wry Fred Gwynne and Austin Pendleton in a cameo role) is uniformly good, but Tomei is especially worth noting as the lawyer’s smart and feisty girlfriend; her performance triumphs over an improbable number of costume changes (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Mr. Coconut

A cheerful coconut picker (producer and cowriter Michael Hui) who lives on an island that belongs to mainland China comes to Hong Kong to live with his sister, who occupies a small flat with her husband and children. The cultural clash is catastrophic: the coconut picker’s smoking, eating habits, and overall yahoo behavior drive everyone, especially the brother-in-law, up the wall. But the focus of Hui’s satire is the corrupt city slicker as well as the innocent country bumpkin, and a lot of interesting points are made about the difference between mainland and Hong Kong values. Though directed by Clifton Ko, this film is full of Hui’s stylistic quirkssuch as sentimentality, food jokes, and dream sequences. It isn’t quite as funny as Hui’s best work, but it’s full of reverberations (1989). (JR)… Read more »

Meet The Parents

It’s tempting to call this low-budget, independent 1991 feature by Chicago stand-up comic Greg Glienna (who directed and cowrote the script) the ultimate worst-case-scenario comedy. Glienna plays an unassuming young adman who drives from Chicago to Indiana with his fiancee (Jacqueline Cahill) to meet her folks (Dick Galloway and Carol Whelan) and sister (Mary Ruth Clarke, Glienna’s cowriter). The cascade of nightmares that results may not always make you laugh, but you’ll be impressed by the singularity of Glienna’s dark approach. Some of the incidents work better than othersI could have done without the encounter with the fiancee’s former boyfriend, and there are bits about the maniacally starstruck sister that seem overworkedbut overall you’re likely to be taken with the purity and relentlessness of this picture’s vision. Remade in 2000 (to great commercial success) with Ben Stiller as the fiance and Robert De Niro as the father. (JR)… Read more »

Mediterraneo

Eight Italian soldiers under Mussolini are sent to guard a Greek island. Believing the island is occupied by the enemy, they have many comic mishaps and eventually find themselves cut off from both the war and Italy. A pleasant if minor pastorale, this won the 1991 Academy Award for best foreign film, apparently because of a widespread conviction that toothless charmers are the best things that furriners are capable of nowadays in moviesa notion about as innocent as this picture. Directed by Gabriele Salvatores and written by Vincenzo Monteleone. (JR)… Read more »

King Of Chess

Though writer-director Yim Ho (Homecoming) disowned this film after producer Tsui Hark took over the direction, it is still one of the most interesting and original Hong Kong pictures I’ve seen. Adapted from two different novels called King of Chess, by Chung Ah Shing and Cheung Hay Kwok, the story alternates between a rather bitter satire of capitalism centered on the Taipei TV industry and an equally critical look at the Cultural Revolution on the mainland many years earlier. Both stories involve the exploitation of chess mastersa boy with psychic powers in the Taiwanese story, a poor man in the mainland flashbacksand they are connected in terms of plot by the memories a character from Hong Kong in the Taipei story has about visiting a cousin in a reeducation camp. The powerful and talented Yim directed the mainland sections with a highly emotional lyricism that reminds me at times of Bertolucci; the slicker and more action-oriented Tsui handled the brittle Taipei sections. The results may not be what Yim wanted, but it’s still a singular and fascinating work, with a great deal of intelligence and feeling (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Finding Christa

Directed by Camille Billops and James Hatch, this moving and highly personal 1991 film, which shared the prize for best documentary at Sundance, charts the reconciliation of Billops with her grown daughter Christa, whom Billops put up for adoption four years after she was born. The complex reverberations that this has in the entire family are explored in some depth; this film is one of the rare ones in which the issues of life and those of art and representation become inseparable. (JR)… Read more »

The Famine Within

Misleadingly labeled by some as a documentary about anorexia and bulimia, Katherine Gilday’s highly provocative first feature from Canada (1990) might better be described as an essay on contemporary women’s obsession with body weight. A lot of intelligent women speak in this film, but perhaps the most impressive discourses are Gilday’s narration and her editing, both of which serve to link the disparate voices we hear into a powerful, unified statement. (JR)… Read more »

Color Adjustment

A feature-length video documentary by Marlon Riggs (1989) critiquing the representation of blacks on television from Amos ‘n’ Andy to the present. Among the talking heads are actresses Esther Rolle and Diahann Carrol, TV producers Norman Lear, David Wolper, and Steven Bochco, and scholars Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Alvin Pouissant; pointed use is also made of quotations from James Baldwin. It’s hard to fault any of this as ideological and social analysis, and Riggs should be credited for his willingness to be just as critical of more recent shows as he is of I Spy, Julia, and Roots. But the conventional, low-key, and at times dull talking-heads format of the presentationmaking all of its points through witnesses, participants, and expertssubtly undercuts the radicalism of what this historical survey is often saying and implying about mainstream TV. Considering that Riggs’s aim is largely to show us many of the ways that status quo racism is maintained through bland entertainment, it’s dispiriting that he should proffer some of this entertaining blandness himself as if it were a badge of honor, or at the very least a prerequisite to mainstream attention. (JR)… Read more »

Chicken And Duck Talk

Hong Kong comedy star and auteur Michael Hui has often been called the Chinese Jerry Lewis, but if rough Hollywood equivalents are needed, W.C. Fields or Rodney Dangerfield might come closer to the mark. Hui’s movies tend to deal with changing lifestyles in contemporary Hong Kong, and this time he’s the embattled owner of a traditional family barbecue restaurant who’s losing his customers to a new American-style fast-food chicken franchise across the street. The raucous feud that ensues, evocative at times of Zemeckis’s Used Cars, reaches one of its many paroxysmal climaxes when Hui, in a promotional duck suit, has a public brawl with a former employee (Ricky Hui), who’s working for the competition in a chicken suit. The staccato gags are vulgar, physical, and plentiful, and because Hui generally specializes in gags involving food, he has a bit of a field day here. He also incorporates some sitcom elements (including mother-in-law jokes) and a score that borrows riffs or strains from Tati’s Jour de fete and James Bond movies. Clifton Ko directed, and Sylvia Chang costars (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Blame It On The Bellboy

A hotel bellboy (Bronson Pinchot) in Venice mixes up the itineraries of three guestsan oppressed office worker (Dudley Moore), a hit man (Bryan Brown), and a hefty lord sneaking away for an adulterous weekend (Richard Griffiths)in a rather heartless and only half-funny English farce written and directed by newcomer Mark Herman. Though Herman’s schematic script has plenty of cleverness and the Venice locations are attractive, the cruelty and vulgarity of certain scenes, including those involving torture, obesity, and dead birds, point to a dark and specifically English conception of farce that doesn’t translate very readily into American notions of light fun, and the use of one-note characters to keep the plot legible tends to overmechanize things. With Patsy Kensit, Andreas Katsulas, Alison Steadman (Life Is Sweet), and Penelope Wilton. (JR)… Read more »

American Dream

Barbara Kopple’s lucid, detailed, and heartbreaking 1989 documentary about the protracted labor disputes at the Hormel Company in Austin, Minnesota, during the mid-80s, which ultimately turned the workers of Local P-9 against one another. Kopple uses this story to elucidate a more general picture of what’s been happening to trade unionism and working people in this country since corporate greed took overparticularly in the areas of job security, decent wages, and fairness. This Academy Award-winning movie tells you everything practical that Roger & Me never got around to explicating. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »