Daily Archives: October 1, 1992

Johnny Stecchino

Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) first hit the U.S. market as a writer-director-star in this 1991 comedy. He plays both a Mafia hood placed on a hit list for turning state’s evidence and a mousy school-bus driver who gets fingered by the hood’s wife. Coscripted by Vincenzo Cerami; with Nicoletta Braschi (Benigni’s wife, also a Jarmusch semiregular), Paolo Bonacelli, and Franco Volpi. In Italian with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

1492: Conquest Of Paradise

It’s news to me that Christopher Columbus spoke English with a heavy French accent (courtesy of Gerard Depardieu). In fact, most of this lame effort is high camp that even director Ridley Scott’s gilt-edged pictorialism and screenwriter Roselyne Bosch’s research can’t save. A chief problem may be that a conflict of interests exists between creating something halfway serious in terms of history and creating something ideologically salable; we don’t get nearly enough about Columbus’s passionate belief in slavery, but thanks to lots of sound bites and a ludicrous opening title that makes him sound like Rocky, we know he’s a man with a dream. Cecil B. De Mille used to work wonders with guff like this because, rightly or wrongly, he at least had a vision; this merely has some dim memories of Apocalypse Now, an extended running time, and a score by Vangelis that can’t compare to the one in Blade Runner. With Armand Assante, Sigourney Weaver, Angela Molina, Fernando Rey, Frank Langella, and Michael Wincott. (JR)… Read more »

Feed

This starts out promisingly as a hilarious, if unsettling, look at George Bush preparing his face for a TV appearance, but before long it turns into just another documentary about the 1992 presidential primary in New Hampshire. Some of it’s interesting and relevant, some of it’s familiar and out-of-date. The filmmakersKevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway, the team that made Blood in the Faceperiodically return to Bush and a few other candidates getting ready for the cameras, but the project’s success at inquiring into media processes a la Bob Roberts is only sporadic; otherwise the filmmakers seem happy to supply their sound bites along with everyone else’s. (JR)… Read more »

The Decameron

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1971 film of ten tales from the Boccaccio classic represents the first part of his celebrated trilogy of life, which also includes the less enjoyable The Canterbury Tales and the more enjoyable (though equally questionable) Arabian Nights. Working with an Italian classic, he seems less inclined to transform his material, though what emerges is entertaining, if only in a mild wayrather like Playboy’s Ribald Tales. With Franco Citti and Pasolini regular Ninetto Davoli. In Italian with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Concerto For The Right Hand

Working almost entirely without dialogue, Michael Bartlett’s first feature, made in West Berlin, sounds like a very strange black comedy indeed. A park cleaner adopts a department store mannequin as his sole companion, but loses the mannequin’s right arm. A boutique owner who used to play concert piano finds it and uses it to replace his own missing right arm (lost in an accident), and it magically springs to life. Featuring music by director Bartlett’s employer, Berlin’s Radio Symphony Orchestra, the film is said to be modeled after Berlin chamber drama of the 20s.… Read more »

Close-up

A dense and subtle masterpiece from Iran (1990, 97 min.) by Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry), this documentaryor is it pseudodocumentary?follows the trial of an unemployed film buff in Tehran who impersonated acclaimed filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and became intimate with a well-to-do family while pretending to prepare a film that was to feature them. Kiarostami persuades all the major people involved to reenact what happened, finally bringing the real Makhmalbaf together with his impersonator for a highly emotional exchange. Much of the implicit comedy here comes from the way cinema changes and inflects the value and nature of everythingthe original scam, the trial, the documentary Kiarostami is making. Werner Herzog has called this the greatest of all documentaries about filmmaking, and he may not be far offif only because no other film does more to interrogate certain aspects of the documentary form itself. In Farsi with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

La Chienne

Jean Renoir’s first sound feature (1931) and one of his best, about a bored banker (Michel Simon) who becomes hopelessly smitten with a prostitute (Janie Mareze). This was later remade by Fritz Lang as Scarlet Street, a powerful film that nevertheless can’t hold a candle to the original. Strongly recommended. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Candyman

Like so many post-Val Lewton horror films, this 1992 feature starts out promisingly while the plot is mainly a matter of suggestion, but gradually turns gross and obvious as the meanings become literal and unambiguous. A University of Illinois grad student (Virginia Madsen) doing a dissertation on urban folklorespecifically on a legend about a killer with a hook (Tony Todd) associated with the Cabrini-Green public housing projectventures into the project for interviews and photographs and gets more than she bargained for, etc, etc. Adapted by writer-director Bernard Rose from a short story by executive producer Clive Barker that originally had an English setting, this depends for much of its shock and suspense on demonizing ghetto life beyond its real-life horrors, which is another way of saying that it exploits white racism to produce some of its kicks. Philip Glass contributed one of his monotonous hack scores; with Xander Berkeley and Kasi Lemmons. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Caine Mutiny Court-martial

A vast improvement on Edward Dmytryk’s 1954 The Caine Mutiny, directed by Robert Altman for TV in 1988. Both are adaptations by Stanley Roberts of Herman Wouk’s ultraconservative novel, but the Dmytryk essentially honors the promilitary message of the original (navy captains should be obeyed even if they’re insane) while the Altman version ridicules it. One of Altman’s best works of the 80s; with Eric Bogosian, Jeff Daniels, Brad Davis, Peter Gallagher, Michael Murphy, and Kevin J. O’Connor. (JR)… Read more »

Brain Damage

I haven’t been able to find a scrap of information about this feature, so its title will have to stand as its calling card.… Read more »

Life And Nothing More

Known less accurately as And Life Goes On . . . (to distinguish it from Bertrand Tavernier’s Life and Nothing But), this 1992 masterpiece by Abbas Kiarostami uses nonprofessional actors to restage real events. Accompanied by his little boy, a film director from Tehran drives into the mountainous region of northern Iran, recently devastated by an earthquake that’s killed more than 50,000 people. He searches through various villages for two child actors who appeared in Where Is the Friend’s House? (a 1987 Kiarostami feature), but what we find is more open-ended and mysterious: the resilience and in some cases the surprising optimism of people putting their lives back together, the beautiful landscapes, the alternating and overlapping viewpoints of the director and his son. A picaresque narrative with a profound sense of place and a philosophically weighted use of the long shot that occasionally calls to mind Tati, this haunting look at what does and doesn’t happen to people confronted by natural disaster won the Rossellini prize at the 1992 Cannes film festival, and it’s still one of the very best Iranian features I’ve seen. In Farsi with subtitles. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »