Daily Archives: September 1, 1992

Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut

Far and away the best SF movie of the 80s, Ridley Scott’s visionary look at Los Angeles in the year 2019a singular blend of grime and glitter that captures both the horror and the allure of Reagan-era capitalism with the claustrophobic textures of a Sternberg filmwas a critical and commercial flop when it first appeared (1982). Loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the film follows the hero (Harrison Ford) as he tracks down and kills replicants, or androids. Much of the film’s erotic charge and moral and ideological ambiguity stems from the fact that these characters are very nearly the only ones we care about. (We never know for sure whether the hero is a replicant himself; in the director’s cut version that uncertainty is even greater.) The grafting of 40s hard-boiled detective story with SF thriller creates some dysfunctional overlaps, and the movie loses some force whenever violence takes over, yet this remains a truly extraordinary, densely imagined version of both the future and the present, with a look and taste all its own. With Rutger Hauer, Edward James Olmos, Joe Turkel, and William J. Sanderson. R, 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sneakers

Robert Redford plays a 60s radical hired to penetrate and test security systems with an eccentric team of expertsincluding a CIA veteran (Sidney Poitier), a computer whiz (River Phoenix), a gadget man (Dan Aykroyd), and a blind audio expert (David Strathairn). Forced to participate in a covert operation, they wind up enlisting the hero’s former girlfriend (Mary McDonnell) and matching wits with a friend of his from college (Ben Kingsley). It’s questionable whether this 1992 caper movie and thriller by Field of Dreams director Phil Alden Robinson (with help from producers Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes, who collaborated with Robinson on the script) is art, but it’s certainly well-crafted entertainment on a very high level, full of humor and character and with nice election-year running gags. Recommended. 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

School Ties

A working-class Jew from Scranton (Brendan Fraser) gets a football scholarship to an exclusive boys school in rural Massachusetts in 1955, and finds himself confronted by anti-Semitism. Produced by the calculating and often ideologically crass Sherry Lansing and Stanley R. Jaffe (Fatal Attraction, Black Rain, The Accused), and directed by Robert Mandel from a script by Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan, this is a bewildering mixture of fairly accomplished storytelling (I enjoyed it more than Dead Poets Society, which isn’t saying a lot), awkward contrivances in the script, and lies in the overall conception so egregious they undercut any pretensions the film might have to social seriousness. By far the worst of these lies is the notion that being Jewish at an expensive prep school is difficult in a way being working-class is not. (The film tells us again and again, with a kind of compulsion that seems demented, that class bias is not only inconsequential and unrelated to prejudice but nonexistent.) With Chris O’Donnell, Andrew Lowery, Matt Damon, Randall Batinkoff, Amy Locane, Peter Donat, Ed Lauter, and Kevin Tighe. (JR)… Read more »

Sarafina!

A 1992 movie version of Mbongeni Ngema’s inspirational stage musical about the struggle of Soweto high school students against apartheid, starring Whoopi Goldberg as a progressive teacher and Leleti Khumalo as the title heroine, one of her pupils. Apart from functioning as a rudimentary history lesson, this basically aims at uplift more than edification, and does a pretty good job of it. With Miriam Makeba, John Kani, and Dumisani Dlamini; directed by Darrell James Roodt, and filmed on location in South Africa. PG-13, 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

North On Evers

James Benning’s 1991 experimental feature, an account of a cross-country motorbike trip with continuously moving narrative subtitles that are most often either ahead of or behind the images. Difficult to digest as a whole but fascinating to grapple with, this film is rich with memories, political reflections, portraits of friends and family members, and comments on what’s been happening to this country. I wanted it to be a film of one-night stands, Benning has said, a statement that’s borne out by the dislocations and discontinuitiesas well as the locations and continuities, which include both flashbacks and flash-forwards. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Husbands And Wives

Woody Allen returns to his Manhattan and Hannah and Her Sisters mode, albeit with many fewer laughs and a completely different filmmaking stylewhich just goes to show how superficial his style usually is. The story concerns the vicissitudes of two married couples who are friends (Allen and Mia Farrow play one couple, Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis the other), and the pseudodocumentary style, which occasionally suggests certain aspects of 60s Godard, includes handheld camera movements, many jump cuts, monaural direct sound, and interviews with most of the major characters by an offscreen narrator (Jeffrey Kurland). Allen’s conception of character is as banal and shallow as ever, but the lively performances of some of his actorsmainly Davis, Pollack, and Juliette Lewis (as a creative writing student of Allen’s who has a brief flirtation with him)and the novelty of the film’s style make this more watchable than many of his features. With Liam Neeson, Blythe Danner, Lysette Anthony, Cristi Conaway, and in a cameo, fiction writer Bruce Jay Friedman (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Hero

If you liked the demystification of the hero in Unforgiven, you might enjoy this comedy with the same general theme written by the same screenwriter, David Webb Peoples, from a story he authored with Laura Ziskin and Alvin Sargent, directed with appropriate speed and cynicism by Stephen Frears. A small-time crook (Dustin Hoffman) on his way to the clink saves the lives of 54 passengers trapped inside a crashed plane, and a homeless derelict (Andy Garcia) decides to impersonate him in order to collect a million-dollar reward. Basically this is enjoyable Capracorn with a few dashes of Preston Sturgesthree parts Meet John Doe (with Geena Davis taking over the Barbara Stanwyck part of caustic star reporter) to two parts Hail the Conquering Heroand Hoffman extracts all the juicy ham he can out of it. The scattershot satire about the media suffers from overkill (though Chevy Chase is effective in an unbilled part as a hard-nosed editor), the movie as a whole has a slightly archaic feel (not surprising inasmuch as it’s largely built on situations and characters half a century old), and in spots there’s an irritating sentimentality and complacency about its own attack on sentimentality and complacency. But the basic messagethat heroism is a kind of role-playing created by the media for the gulliblecertainly comes across, and there’s lots of fun as well as bitter wisdom extracted from the premise.… Read more »

The Vagrant

An uptight junior executive (Bill Paxton) moves into a new home, and either he’s being driven out of his mind by a grotesque vagrant (Marshall Bell) or he’s blanking out and committing horrible murders while he’s unconscious. Unfortunately, Chris Walas’s direction of this Richard Jefferies script is so ham-fisted and hysterical that we aren’t likely to care even when we find out. With Michael Ironside, Mitzi Kapture, Colleen Camp, Patrika Darbo, Stuart Pankin, and Teddy Wilson. (JR)… Read more »

30 Door Key

Jerzy Skolimowski’s 1991 film, set in Warsaw in 1939, stars Crispin Glover as a 30-year-old who suddenly starts being treated by those around himhis former professor, a nymphet, a female cousinas if he had regressed back to childhood. Closer to a curiosity than to a successthe English dialogue and the period Polish setting make for an odd mesh at timesbut a curiosity by Skolimowski certainly isn’t like anyone else’s. (JR)… Read more »

A River Runs Through It

An admirable if frequently soporific 1992 adaptation of Norman Maclean’s account of life in Missoula, Montana, between 1910 and 1935, with particular concentration on the importance of fly fishing to the young Maclean (Craig Sheffer), his dissolute brother (Brad Pitt), and their father (Tom Skerritt), a Presbyterian minister. Though it’s made as a labor of love, with a carefully fashioned script by Richard Friedenberg and attentive direction by Robert Redford that takes full advantage of the area’s beautiful scenery, none of this ever quite compensates for the lack of a strong story line. Much better than Redford’s The Milagro Beanfield War though not quite as dramatic as Ordinary People, this may work for you if you settle at the outset for a nostalgic, all-American mood piece. With Brenda Blethyn, Emily Lloyd, Edie McClurg, and Stephen Shellen. PG, 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Panama Deception

Directed by Barbara Trent and written by David Kasper (Trent was the director-coproducer and Kasper the editor-coproducer of the excellent 1988 Coverup: Behind the Iran Contra Affair), this 1992 film about the U.S. invasion of Panama during the 1989 Christmas season is an even more persuasive exposition of governmental corruption, of the murderous and callous behavior of this country toward the third world, and of the collaborating deceitfulness of the media than Coverup was. Most of the well-researched and carefully documented information speaks cogently for itself, though one wishes at times that the analysis of the media coverage went further. Shot on video and transferred to film. (JR)… Read more »

Mr. Saturday Night

Under two tons of unconvincing makeup and three tons of schmaltz, Billy Crystal treats us to half a century in the life of a borscht belt comic who’s a cross between Milton Berle and Don Rickles, focusing on his complex relationship with his manager brother (David Paymer). In the process, Crystal surprisingly reveals that he may have more gifts as a director and writer (collaborating here with Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) than as an actor. The main dramatic subtext is that the title hero isn’t very nice, and despite a few sentimental retreats from this premise, it’s still what we’re left with. Crystal and company are especially good in handling the various Jewish details (a scene in which both brothers slurp glasses of tea is a near classic), and if they never seem to be entirely sure where their story is leading them, they’re pretty adroit at ducking the usual show-biz cliches. With Julie Warner, Helen Hunt, Jerry Orbach, and Ron Silverand watch for a brief but enjoyable cameo by Jerry Lewis. (JR)… Read more »

Mr. Baseball

Not being much of a fan of either Tom Selleck or baseball, I wasn’t looking forward to this comedy about a major league ballplayer who finds himself on a Japanese team, but it’s surprising how honestly and directly it handles American and Japanese attitudes colliding with each other. (Could this be the first instance of Japanese ownership of Hollywood studios affecting content? If so, the influence seems benign.) The producer-director, Fred Schepisi, already showed a lot of feeling for cultural clashes in his early Australian feature The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith; unlike that film, this one is no masterpiece, but it sustains interest on its own modest level. Selleck is used intelligently for what he is rather than asked to be someone he isn’trather as Howard Hawks used Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo. Written by Gary Ross, Kevin Wade, and Monte Merrick; with Ken Takakura, Aya Takanashi, Toshi Shioya, and Dennis Haysbert. (JR)… Read more »

Life On A String

Visually impressive and intellectually provocative, though at times emotionally uninvolving, Chen Kaige’s tale about two blind musicians in northwest China, master (Liu Zhongyuan) and apprentice (Huang Lei), is in part a reflection on the power of music and the libido, individually and in competition with each other; the relation of the two musicians to a feud between two clans and the younger musician’s affair with a village woman (Xu Qing) are also important elements in the plot. Somewhat self-conscious as spectacle and multifaceted parable, the film certainly offers a lot of food for thought, though the allegorical meanings are at times difficult to read. Outside the work of Douglas Sirk, blindness as a spiritual metaphor probably hasn’t been explored as exhaustively as here, and the metaphoric use of the banjolike sanxian and a kite flown by the master musician are equally suggestive. Adapted by Chen from a short story by Shi Tieshing (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Laws Of Gravity

In his first featurea cut-rate effort shot in only twelve days for $38,000writer-director Nick Gomez, the editor of Hal Hartley’s Trust, catches the surface behavior of Italian-American hoods in Bensonhurst so perfectly that you may not even care that you already know this material like the back of your hand. The inconsequential plot involves the efforts of a couple of petty criminals (Peter Greene and Adam Trese) to unload an illegal stash of handguns; what really matters are the dead-on performances and the overlapping dialogue with its compulsive four-letter words (Chill fuckin’ out is a typical remark) and the even more compulsive characters. It’s an impressive debut, though it would be nice to see what Gomez can do outside of Scorseseland. With Edie Falco, Arabella Field, Paul Schulze, and Saul Stein. (JR)… Read more »