Daily Archives: February 1, 1993

Sweet Love, Bitter

Though not a success, this independent black-and-white drama about the friendship between a down-and-out but brilliant jazz musician loosely based on Charlie Parker (Dick Gregory in his first film appearance) and a onetime professor (Don Murray) is an unusual and thoughtful effort. Adapted from John Williams’s novel Night Song by director Herbert Danska and Lewis Jacobs, with a good secondary cast, including Diane Varsi and Robert Hooks (1967). (JR)… Read more »

Strictly Ballroom

A festival favorite in 1992, this flamboyant Australian crowd pleaser and first feature by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) struck me then as one of the more horrific and unpleasant movies I’d seen in quite some timea glib, brassy, and strident Rocky-style comedy about a 21-year-old ballroom champion who teams up with a flamenco dancer. With Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, and lots of show-offy ballroom dancing. R, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

He Ran All The Way

Shortly before he was driven into exile by the Hollywood blacklist, the talented and neglected John Berry made this 1951 film, the last of John Garfield, who died of a heart attack at 39 (many believe because of pressures related to the blacklisting). It’s a fitting and powerful testament to the actor’s poignancy and power as a working-class punk. Here he plays a hoodlum fleeing a bungled robbery, falling for a young woman (Shelley Winters), and desperately holding her family hostage while oscillating wildly between mistrust and a desire to be part of this family circle. Enhanced by an effective script (Guy Endore and Hugh Butler adapted a Sam Ross novel), superb cinematography by James Wong Howe, and a keen sense of working-class manners, this is a highly affecting thriller that draws us relentlessly into its plangent moral tensions; with Wallace Ford, Selena Royale, Gladys George, and Norman Lloyd. 77 min. (JR)… Read more »

Transatlantic

A rarely shown early talkie directed by the neglected William K. Howard and shot by James Wong Howe in a pre-Citizen Kane style featuring deep focus, wide angles, and claustrophobic sets with ceilings. The episodic plot involves a con man and gambler (Edmund Lowe) on an ocean liner; with Lois Moran, Myrna Loy, and Jean Hersholt (1931). (JR)… Read more »

Rich In Love

I don’t get what the title is supposed to mean precisely, but it’s characteristic of the nuzzling vagueness of the movie as a wholea reunion of Driving Miss Daisy’s producers (Richard D. and Lili Fini Zanuck), screenwriter (Alfred Uhry, here adapting a novel by Josephine Humphreys rather than his own work), and director Bruce Beresford, who again make plentiful use of an idyllic southern location (this time Charleston, South Carolina) and eccentrics in domestic settings. The plot focuses on the responsibilities assumed by a teenage girl (Kathryn Erbe) in taking care of her unemployed father (Albert Finney) after her mother (Jill Clayburgh) unexpectedly walks out on themresponsibilities that are both lessened and complicated when her older sister (Suzy Amis) suddenly turns up pregnant and with a Yankee husband (Kyle MacLachlan) in tow. Not much else happens, so most of what this movie has going for it is the resourceful cast (which also includes Piper Laurie, Alfre Woodard, and Ethan Hawke) and color-calendar settings. I found the charm a bit calculated in spots, but the actorly talents on view provide plenty of distraction. (JR)… Read more »

Prince Of The City

Director Sidney Lumet flourishing on his home turf and in his generic speciality, the New York police thriller. Clocking in at 167 minutes, scripted by Lumet regular Jay Presson Allen, and starring Treat Williams as a corrupt narcotics cop turned informer, this movie swims freely in the moral ambiguities Lumet seems to thrive on; the secondary castJerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy, Don Billett, Kenny Marino, Carmine Caridi, Lindsay Crouse, and Bob Balabanhelp hold one’s interest. (1981). (JR)… Read more »

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky And The Media

A first-rate Canadian documentary (1992) by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick about the brilliant linguist and radical political commentator Noam Chomsky, probably the best living critic of American foreign policy as viewed through the media. Chomsky is so articulate and intelligent that this extended look (167 minutes) remains compulsively watchable, and the filmmakers pull off the unlikely feat of making the film genuinely humorous in spots. (JR)… Read more »

Lenz

The first feature of Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup), based on Georg Buchner’s short story about a young schizophrenic sent to live with a country pastor (also one of the sources of Herzog’s Every Man for Himself and God Against All), transposed here to a New York punk milieu. Rockwell’s budget was only $12,000 (1981). (JR)… Read more »

Island In The Sun

Back in 1957 this adaptation of Alec Waugh’s novel about racial and sexual strife in the West Indieswritten by Alfred Hayes and directed by Robert Rossenwas banned in most of the deep south because Harry Belafonte kisses or almost kisses Joan Fontaine. As far as I know, that’s the only time anyone ever showed the slightest bit of excitement about this ‘Scope melodrama. With James Mason, John Williams, Dorothy Dandridge, Joan Collins, and Michael Rennie. (JR)… Read more »

Intolerance

D.W. Griffith’s 1916 masterpiece, described by Pauline Kael as perhaps the greatest movie ever made and the greatest folly in movie history, cuts among four stories linked by images of Lillian Gish and a quote from Whitman (Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking… ). The Nazarene stars Bessie Love, The Medieval Story involves the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots, The Fall of Babylon features Constance Talmadge, Elmo Lincoln, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, and eye-popping sets, and The Mother and the Law is an exciting contemporary story starring Mae Marsh and Robert Harron. Probably the most influential of all silent films after The Birth of a Nation, Intolerance launched ideas about associative editing that have been essential to the cinema ever since, from Soviet montage classics to recent American experimental films. And in the use of crosscutting and action to generate suspense, the film’s climax hasn’t been surpassed. 178 min. (JR)… Read more »

Indochine

Some people have called this 155-minute piece of French colonialist nostalgia by Regis Wargnier (1991) the French Gone With the Wind, which seems grossly unfair to both Victor Fleming and David O. Selznick. More accurately, this overripe epic about a Frenchwoman (Catherine Deneuve at her most flamboyant) lording it over a rubber plantation and worrying about her adopted Indo-Chinese daughter (Linh Dan Pham) between 1930 and 1954 is a fairly enjoyable camp melodrama with overblown acting, great scenery, and characters who all seem to have stepped out of daytime soaps. With Jean Yanne (a long, long way from his starring part in Godard’s Weekend), Henri Marteau, and Vincent Perez. (JR)… Read more »

Falling Down

On the verge of retirement, a Los Angeles police officer (Robert Duvall) sets out to solve an escalating series of vigilante crimes committed by a former defense worker (Michael Douglas) estranged from his middle-class family. Written by Ebbe Roe Smith and directed by Joel Schumacher, this string of violent though petty wish fulfillments (1993) is cynically contrived to exploit male middle-class dissatisfactions without exploring the basis for any of them. On a surface level, it’s fairly well realized as storytelling, cutting back and forth between the separate trajectories of Douglas and Duvall until they finally meet. But none of the characters ever rises beyond the level of his or her generic functions, and by the end the overall emptiness of the conception becomes fully apparent. With Barbara Hershey, Rachel Ticotin, Frederic Forrest, and Tuesday Weld. R, 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Danzon

A single mother (Maria Rojo) who’s pushing 40 spends every Wednesday night dancing in a Mexico City ballroom with a 50ish partner (Daniel Rergis); when he mysteriously runs away to Veracruz, she goes looking for him. In the course of her search she redefines herself through her friendship with a drag queen and her affair with a younger man. This 1991 feature, the second by Mexican filmmaker Maria Novaro, is leisurely paced and unemphatic but firmly conceived and executed, with a lot of feeling for female solidarity. It deliberately wanders, getting your mind to wander as well before finally taking you somewherean agreeable if far from earthshaking experience. It may also serve as an antidote to Strictly Ballroom, another picture about ballroom dancing that puts me in mind of chalk scraping across a blackboard. With Carmen Salinas, especially good as a world-weary landlady. In Spanish with subtitles. PG-13, 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Films By Craig Baldwin

If you find filmic depictions of history alienating, these highly accomplished, bitterly and parodically funny, and justly praised experimental films may be something of a revelation. Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991) and O No Coronado! (1992) both make extensive use of campy found footage from a variety of sources to illustrate a kind of all-American delirium that is heard on the sound track: in Tribulation 99 this delirium relates to paranoid fantasies of the fundamentalist right, while in O No Coronado! (which, along with the decomposing archival selections, includes some newly shot documentary and fiction footage with performers Nao Bustamante, Matthew Day, and Gina Pacaldo) it relates to the 16th-century conquistador Coronado’s fruitless search for the seven cities of gold in what is today Arizona and New Mexico. I find these ingenious postmodernist, antiimperialist rants alienating in an unhelpful way, but my position is a minority one. (JR)… Read more »

Army Of Darkness

Sam Raimi’s lively third installment (1993) in his Evil Dead series begins with the hero, Ash (Bruce Campbell), crash-landing in the year 1300 along with his car, his chain saw, and his 12-gauge shotgun, then battling skeletons and engaging in other forms of sword and sorcery to get back to the present. Mercifully clocking in at 81 minutes, this enjoyably campy hokum combines A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Three Stooges slapstick, and frenetic comic-book pacing with special effects that seem like hand-me-downs from Ray Harryhausen’s Jason and the Argonauts; it’s calculated for ten-year-old boys of all ages and persuasions, whose howls of glee are programmed into the mock-macho material at regular intervals. This is old-fashioned fun until the climactic battle, which almost comes across like routine bone piling after all the flights of fancy. Written by the director and Ivan Raimi, and costarring Embeth Davidtz, Marcus Gilbert, Ian Abercrombie, and Richard Grove. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »