Daily Archives: May 1, 1994

Red Rock West

A rather ho-hum if watchable neo-noir, though it’s been treated in some quarters as something special. Given the competition, I suppose in some way it is; but don’t expect to remember it too vividly for long. Nicolas Cage winds up in a small town in Wyoming looking for an oil-rigging job and gets mistaken for a hit man (Dennis Hopper) hired by a bar owner (J.T. Walsh) to bump off his wife (Lara Flynn Boyle). You can figure out the rest. Directed by John Dahl and written by Dahl and his brother Rick (1993, 98 min.). (JR)… Read more »

The Flintstones

Considering the 32 writers (including Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein, and Steven E. de Souza) who worked on this live-action adaptation of the 60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon series about a Stone Age family, one might have expected a few funny lines here and there, but this is mirthless (and worthless) from top to bottom. If the original cartoon series was a bargain-basement rip-off of TV sitcoms like The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy, getting real actorsJohn Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, Rosie O’Donnell, and Elizabeth Taylorto imitate already derivative and reduced cartoon figures makes this an exercise in futility, and the cliched script doesn’t begin to justify the conceit. The architectural look of the moviemainly southern California tacky, with most of the stone made to resemble plastichas some minor novelty but it quickly wears off, and the morphing effects mainly seem motivated by a desire to fill the screen at all costs. Brian Levant directed, if that’s the word. (JR)… Read more »

Crooklyn

Spike Lee goes on automatic pilot in this 1994 drama, chewing over sweet-and-sour family memories with two of his siblings, cowriters Joie Susannah Lee and Cinque Lee, and it’s difficult to tell whether the problem here is lack of artistic distance or simple exhaustion. Either way, despite very good performances from Delroy Lindo and Alfre Woodard as the parents, this is anemic and uninspired filmmaking: shapeless as narrative, awkward and drifting as drama. Much as Lee’s compulsive avoidance of silence supersedes any creative decisions about his sound tracks (and for the record, Terence Blanchard’s score here is virtually interchangeable with the scores for most of Lee’s other pictures), his use of a distorting anamorphic lens for the daughter’s trip to visit an aunt and uncle isn’t so much a creative decision as a gimmick designed to free him from making real creative decisions. (Disappointingly, his role as an actor this time is kept to cameo proportions, as a neighborhood glue sniffer.) With Zelda Harris, Carlton Williams, Sharif Rashid, Chris Knowings, and David Patrick Kelly. 132 min. (JR)… Read more »

Serie Noire

A 1979 adaptation by French writer-director Alain Corneau of the Jim Thompson thriller A Hell of a Woman (which Orson Welles once adapted for an unrealized feature)one of those tales of desperation escalating into madness and murder that Thompson seemed to specialize in. The late Patrick Dewaere stars as an unsuccessful salesman living in a Paris suburb whose wife leaves him; he then becomes involved with a woman (Marie Trintignant) whose aunt is hiding a small fortune in her house. You can already hear those James Cain wheels turning. Georges Perec collaborated on the script. In French with subtitles. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Harvey

James Stewart plays an amiable drunk whose avowed constant companion is an invisible rabbit that’s over six feet tall, and the point, as in Don Quixote, is that a victim of delusions may be better off than the rest of us. The undistinguished Henry Koster directed this popular piece of whimsy (1950), adapted from a popular play; Josephine Hull, playing Stewart’s sister, won an Oscar for her pains. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Widows’ Peak

When it comes to Irish grudge matches, it’s conceivable there hasn’t been so much comic bluster and roustabout blarney in a film since John Ford’s The Quiet Man. The differences between this film and that, however, are as instructive as the similarities. The setting is an Irish lakeside village in the mid-20s; the antagonists this time are women, with Mia Farrow as an old-timer (and only nonwidow in the ruling oligarchy) who develops an immediate hostility to an American newcomer (the John Wayne part) played by Natasha Richardson, with Joan Plowright essaying a rough equivalent of Barry Fitzgerald. Adrian Dunbar and Jim Broadbent are among the costars, and everyone does a swell job. Scriptwriter Hugh Leonard has more than a few tricks up his sleeve, and John Irvin’s beautiful direction honors them all while doing everything you might hope with the location. There’s a lovely old-fashioned score by Carl Davis as well. See this. PG, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

When A Man Loves A Woman

Apart from a confusing and unnecessary beginning and slick and corny Hollywood ending, this is a fairly serious and honest (if a mite overlong) tearjerker about the delicate and subtle relationship between a family’s dysfunctionality and the wife’s alcoholism: not merely what unspoken forces drive her to drink, but also to what extent the husband relies on her weakness both before and after she stops drinking. The family consists of an airline pilot (Andy Garcia), schoolteacher (Meg Ryan), and two young daughters, and while no one in the cast can be accused of underplaying, everyone does a creditable enough job under the occasionally lax direction of Luis Mandoki (whose variable talent in such projects as White Palace and the atrocious Born Yesterday remake is fully evident here), despite the avalanche of syrupy music competing for attention. The script by Ronald Bass and Al Franken steers refreshingly clear of putting hard-won understandings into the mouths of clinical professionals, preferring to let the couple make their own discoveries; with Tina Majorino, Mae Whitman, Lauren Tom, and a cameo by Ellen Burstyn. (JR)… Read more »

Red Beads

Shot in black and white in and around a Beijing mental hospital, this maverick 1993 Chinese feature by writer-director He Yi, made completely outside the official system, focuses on the relationship that gradually develops between a male orderly and a female patient. Though less direct and obvious, it’s far more original than the other examples of Chinese outlaw cinema I’ve seenin part because its main effect isn’t to remind us of Western films but to suggest things about Chinese life we don’t already know. (JR)… Read more »

Lillian

An appealing first feature (1993) by Virginia independent David Williams, this somewhat fictionalized documentary chronicles a day in the life of its narrator, Lillian Folley, an extraordinary middle-aged African-American woman who devotes her life to foster parenting even as she cares for three elderly adults in the same house. The film succeeds mainly as a rich character study of Folley, a strong individual with a mind and will of her own; the plot is secondary. (JR)… Read more »

The Life And Times Of Allen Ginsberg

Proceeding by decades, this 1992 scrapbook documentary by Jerry Aronson about the great contemporary poet and activist is strictly routine as filmmaking, adhering fairly consistently to the sound-bite approach. But given the subject, there’s still a great deal of interest here about the life, art, milieu, and political activity of Ginsberg, including several readings (and singings) of his own work. I would have loved to have seen at least one of his wonderful musical performances of William Blake’s poetry, but on the whole Aronson’s decisions about what to include seem fairly judicious. Among those interviewed are Abbie Hoffman, Norman Mailer, Ken Kesey, Timothy Leary, Joan Baez, William Burroughs, Amiri Baraka, William F. Buckley, and various relatives. (JR)… Read more »

Kika

Aging Spanish enfant terrible Pedro Almodovar, working with a glitzier budget than usual, does his utmost to be camp and provocative, which includes showing an extended rape of the title heroine by a mentally retarded convict strictly for laughs. There’s also a lot of satire about exploitative media, voyeurism, gender roles, and consumerism, but the plot seems so carelessly thrown together that you may not always be sure which side you’re supposed to root for. As usual, Almodovar seems much more sympathetic to his female characters, though this 1993 picture reportedly whipped up a lot of misogyny (and homophobia) in Spain: not every feminist would want him as an ally. The cast includes Veronica Forque in the title role, Peter Coyote (dubbed into Spanish), Victoria Abril, Alex Casanovas, and Bibi Andersen. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Film About A Woman Who…

This second feature by former dancer and choreographer Yvonne Rainer (1974, 105 min.) is a witty, clunky, angry, inventive, stubborn, very New York, feminist experimental collage of soap-opera cliches and other textual, visual, and musical fragmentsall deeply marked by minimalism. Some of it may drive you up the wall, but you’ll probably come away with new things in your head. Beautifully shot in black and white by Babette Mangolte. (JR)… Read more »

Fast Times At Ridgemont High

This 1982 first feature by Amy Heckerling (Clueless), based on Cameron Crowe’s nonfiction book about teenagers at a southern California high school in the 70s, was never all it was cracked up to be. But it’s probably worth a look now for its early glimpses of Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Nicolas Cage (the last three in their film debuts, Cage under his real name, Coppola), not to mention Sean Penn. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

L’etrange Monsieur Victor

In his finest work, including this masterful 1938 noir, the remarkable French filmmaker Jean Gremillon (1901-’59), trained as a composer and musician, used mise en scene, script construction, editing, and dialogue delivery to explore the complex relationship between film and music. Raimu, one of the greatest French actors, plays the strange title hero, a respectable Toulon merchant who secretly operates as a fence for local thieves; after he murders a potential blackmailer, an innocent local shoemaker (Pierre Blanchar) is sent to prison for the crime. Seven years later the fall guy escapes and returns to Toulon to see his son; unaware of Victor’s guilt, he persuades the merchant to shelter him, then becomes involved with his wife. None of the moral ambiguities are lost on Gremillon, who eschews the usual distinctions between heroes and villains to make this a troubling and offbeat melodrama. Shot both in Toulon and at Berlin’s UFA studio, this potent dissection of appearance and reality may be less impressive than Gremillon’s subsequent Lumiere d’ete (1943), which benefits from Jacques Prevert’s dialogue, but it’s brilliant filmmaking all the same. With Madeleine Renaud and Vivianne Romance; coscripted by Albert Valentin, Charles Spaak, and Marcel Achard. In French with subtitles.… Read more »

Dream Lover

A sick, obnoxious, and poorly motivated kill the bitch thriller, written and directed by Nicholas Kazan (who also wrote Reversal of Fortune). In order for this tacky piece of male hysteria to work, it’s necessary for starters that James Spader’s version of a yuppie narcissist not make your teeth ache; I guess it also helps if you think the symbolic interludes set in a carnival sideshow should be taken seriously, likewise the villainess (Twin Peaks’s Madchen Amick) whom Spader decides to marry for some dumb reason. Spectators who instinctively feel that women are lying, scheming monsters probably will have a ball. With Bess Armstrong, Fredric Lehne, Larry Miller, and Kathleen York. (JR)… Read more »