Daily Archives: May 1, 1993

Sliver

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1993). — J.R.

sliver

Basic Instinct‘s Sharon Stone and that film’s screenwriter, Joe Eszterhas, reunite in a much less dynamic, erotic, and suspenseful thriller, this one about voyeurism rather than bondage (1993). It’s an adaptation of an Ira Levin novel about a shy Manhattan editor (Stone) who moves into an upscale apartment where the last tenant, whom she resembles, was murdered. She attracts the romantic interest of two neighbors — a successful crime writer (Tom Berenger) and a younger man (William Baldwin) who owns the building. Despite misleading flackery about this being somehow like Rear Window, it’s actually a high-tech rip-off of various notions and even shots from the lesser-known The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse, Fritz Lang’s last film, about a hotel whose every room conceals a hidden TV camera. (In fact, this hasn’t a hint of the sexiness, style, or conceptual brilliance of either film.) Stone tries to prove she can act but only demonstrates that she can give good close-up; the script is full of holes and red herrings; and the direction of Phillip Noyce (Dead Calm, Patriot Games), who probably was hampered by producer Robert Evans and preview audiences breathing down his neck, never achieves much authority or coherence.… Read more »

The Story Of Qiu Ju

Zhang Yimou shifts gears from the upper-class formalism and cloistered period settings of his Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, and Raise the Red Lantern with this 1992 comedy about a pregnant farm wife (Gong Li) taking on the government bureaucracy after her husband is injured in an altercation with the village chief. Shot mainly with hidden cameras and nonprofessional actors (including government bureaucrats), this may contain more casual information about everyday life in China than all the other Chinese movies distributed in this country combined; it’s also an adroit piece of storytelling and mise-en-scene that shows at least as much of Zhang’s directorial talent as his previous features. Screenwriter Liu Heng freely adapts a novel by Chen Yuan Bin, shifting its setting from southern China to a region in the north where Zhang himself grew up. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Star Time

An exceedingly odd first feature by writer-director-producer Alexander Cassini about an infantile young man (Young Elvis’s Michael St. Gerard) who’s lured away from committing suicide after his favorite TV sitcom is canceled by a fatherly show-biz type (John P. Ryan) who persuades him that he can become a TV star by committing gratuitous mass murders. A more maternal and law-abiding response is provided by a social worker (Maureen Teefy). Played half as arty allegory, half as satiric comedy, and generally as some species of midnight madness, this gaga independent item is most daring in refusing to focus on the violence that’s its subject, while getting us to think plenty about what it means. Recommended (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Sodom And Gomorrah

Directed by Robert Aldrich in Italy in 1962, this isn’t really as awful or as campy as you might expect, but it’s not exactly a masterpiece either. Stewart Granger, Pier Angeli, Stanley Baker, Anouk Aimee, and Rossana Podesta all do what they can in elaborate settings meant to suggest the biblical cities of sin. (JR)… Read more »

The Skin Game

A rather stagy and creaky early talkie (1931) by Alfred Hitchcock, adapted from a John Galsworthy play; with Jill Esmond, Laurence Olivier’s first wife, and Edmund Gwenn, who later worked with Hitchcock on Waltzes From Vienna, Foreign Correspondent, and The Trouble With Harry. (JR)… Read more »

Silverlake Life: The View From Here

A video diary transferred to film, started by the late documentary filmmaker Tom Joslin after he and his lover of 22 years, Mark Massi, were diagnosed HIV-positive, and completed by Joslin’s friend and former student Peter Friedman, with Joslin’s consent, after Joslin’s death. This is a powerful and rewarding work that fully repays one for the pain of watching itfor its impact as a love story, its nobility, and its candor about coping with AIDS in today’s world. The relative absence of self-pity and self-indulgence in this daring testament are exemplary, as is the economy of expression (including wit) of the leading characters and the filming and editing. If you see only one movie about AIDS this should be it. (JR)… Read more »

Hot Shots! Part Deux

More Mad-style lampooning of Hollywood movies, with many fewer laughs, from the original’s basic team and cast: writer-director Jim Abrahams, cowriter Pat Proft, and actors Charlie Sheen, Lloyd Bridges, and Valeria Golino. My heart goes out to any movie that can revive a nice, corny tune like Innamorata from Tashlin’s Artists and Models and give away the surprise of The Crying Game. But it’s hard to find the gulf war an occasion for glib laughter, and the movie’s total indifference to Middle East topography and its mechanical straining for laughs get downright painful after a while. This is a long way from the inspirations of Airplane! With Richard Crenna, Brenda Bakke, and Miguel Ferrer. (JR)… Read more »

Wide Sargasso Sea

I haven’t read Jean Rhys’s much-celebrated novel, a sort of postgothic Caribbean rumination on Jane Eyre set in Jamaica in the 1840s, but the best and worst thing to be said about this 1993 adaptation by John Duigan, the highly talented Australian writer-director of The Year My Voice Broke and Flirting, is that it never entirely transcends its literary origins to become something independent. It certainly looks sensual and feels tormented, both of which seem right, and the fiery colors in Geoff Burton’s cinematography are memorably vibrant, but the deadly specter of Masterpiece Theatre hovers over the proceedings, even with an NC-17 rating. A white West Indian sugar heiress (Karina Lombard) entering an arranged marriage falls in love with her English groom (Nathaniel Parker), whose name happens to be Edward Rochester; when he abandons her out of fear she turns to voodoo to win him back. Coscripted by Jan Sharp (the producer) and Carole Angier, and costarring Rachel Ward and Michael York. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

Martin Scorsese’s first feature (1968), set in New York’s Little Italy and starring Harvey Keitel in his first role, can be read as a rather rough draft of Mean Streets, down to the use of rock music and Catholic guilt. With Zina Bethune and Anne Collette. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Various Techniques In The Avant-garde

Another varied program in a weekly series of experimental shorts, this one differs somewhat from its immediate predecessors in its highlighting of a single filmmaker, Peter Kubelka, four of whose films will be shown: Adebar, Schwechater, Arnulf Rainer, and Unsere Afrikareise. On the same program, another smorgasbord: Bruce Baillie’s To Parsifal (1962), Robert Breer’s delightful, animated 69 (1968), Louis Hock’s 1973 Zebra, Robert Fulton’s Path of Cessation and Patrick O’Neal’s Saugus Series (both 1974).… Read more »

Utz

A likable minor-key effort about a Czech baron (Armin Mueller-Stahl) who collects porcelain figures, adapted by Hugh Whitemore from a novel by Bruce Chatwin and directed by George Sluizer (the Dutch filmmaker best known for The Vanishing and its U.S. remake). This British-German production, with effective secondary performances by Paul Scofield, Brenda Fricker, and Local Hero’s Peter Riegert, is partially a wry satiric look at Eastern European communism and partially an exercise in fragmented storytelling. It shows a fair amount of wit and restraint in both departments and qualifies as a civilized entertainment, if not much more. (JR)… Read more »

This Boy’s Life

Thanks to its trio of sterling lead performances, by Robert De Niro, Ellen Barkin, and Leonardo DiCaprio, this adaptation by writer Robert Getchell (Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore) and Scottish director Michael Caton-Jones (Scandal) of Tobias Wolff’s memoir about growing up with a cruel and bullying stepfather in the 50s mainly triumphs over its own problems with aggressiveness and insecurityan unnecessary and tiresome pushiness in its use of period songs, some occasional uncertainties and false notes in the dialogue. Like the book, the film aims more for identification with Wolff’s plight than for detailed psychological analysis; the leads work overtime to make their characters and their relationships pungent, believable, and moving (though with regard to the rest of the cast, the movie seems less focused and confident). (JR)… Read more »

Posse

Not to be confused with the better-than-average western directed by Kirk Douglas in 1975, this 1993 movie about blacks in the west directed by and starring Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City) breaks with standard genre myth to come closer to historical truth. Pretty good in terms of action and character, but since historical verisimilitude is at issue I certainly could have done without the blatantly anachronistic music (I seriously doubt that chanteuses resorted to flatted fifths in turn-of-the-century saloons). The plot follows the exploits of veterans of the Spanish-American War (including Van Peebles, Charles Lane, Tone Loc, Tiny Lister Jr., and Big Daddy Kane), all but one of them (Stephen Baldwin) black, who have banded together to form a posse. As in New Jack City, Van Peebles displays a distinctive visual style of tilted angles and frequent camera movement, and the script by Sy Richardson and Dario Scardapane also keeps things moving, but perhaps the best sequence of all is the opening one, which features the great Woody Strode. With Billy Zane, Melvin Van Peebles, and Pam Grier. (JR)… Read more »

The Pickle

Paul Mazursky’s umpteenth remake of 8<4, which only goes to show that if you keep imitating the same movie you’re bound to get progressively staler, not fresher. And unlike such brittle 8<4 imitations as All That Jazz and Stardust Memories, this one starts out mushy and gets softer and softer as it develops. The story covers about 36 hours in the life of celebrated writer-director Harry Stone (Danny Aiello) after he arrives in New York from Paris for the preview of his new picture, a teen fantasy called The Pickle that he considers a sellout and fears will be a flop. Before long, we also meet his longtime agent (Jerry Stiller), 22-year-old French girlfriend (Clotilde Courau), and several relatives or ex-relatives (I’m your ex-wife, Ellen, Dyan Cannon announces to him and the camera at a surprise party, just in case he or we don’t remember.) Periodic black-and-white cutaways to Stone’s Jewish childhood in Brooklyn and clips from his new color movie show off cinematographer Fred Murphy’s talents much more than Mazursky’s, whose wit seems to have deserted him almost entirely; the final impression is much closer to Jaglom’s Venice/Venice than to Fellini. With Shelley Winters, Barry Miller, Christopher Penn, Spalding Gray, and, doing unrewarding cameos in the film-within-the-film, Ally Sheedy, Griffin Dunne, Little Richard, Dudley Moore, and Isabella Rossellini. (JR)… Read more »

Paths Of Glory

The 1957 film that established Stanley Kubrick’s reputation, adapted by Kubrick, Calder Willingham, and Jim Thompson from Humphrey Cobb’s novel about French soldiers being tried for cowardice during World War I. Corrosively antiwar in its treatment of the corruption and incompetence of military commanders, it’s far from pacifist in spirit, and Kirk Douglas’s strong and angry performance as the officer defending the unjustly charged soldiers perfectly contains this contradiction. The remaining cast is equally resourceful and interesting: Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Ralph Meeker, and the creepy Timothy Carey, giving perhaps his best performance. Banned in France for 18 years, this masterpiece still packs a wallop, though nothing in it is as simple as it may first appear; audiences are still arguing about the final sequence, which has been characterized as everything from a sentimental cop-out to the ultimate cynical twist. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »