Daily Archives: May 1, 1997

The Moment Of Truth

Francesco Rosi’s 1965 feature is widely (and plausibly) considered the best movie about bullfighting, in part because of its irony and finesse in capturing how the sport springs from and plays against the social reality of Spain. The young hero is played by Miguel Mateo Miguelin, Spain’s third-ranking matador at the time. (JR)… Read more »

Hands Over The City

This 1963 Italian film by Francesco Rosi features Rod Steiger as a real estate developer in Naples, one of whose tenement buildings collapses. Like many of Rosi’s films, this is an intricate political and social analysis, and Rosi actually managed to cast some real-life Neapolitan town councillors as deputies. (JR)… Read more »

Coloring Outside The Lines: Films By Robert Breer

To my taste, Robert Breer is the greatest living experimental filmmaker working in animation, and this program of 11 short films spanning his careerfrom A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957) to Sparkill Ave! (1992)is essential viewing. I’ve seen everything here but Sparkill and the 1986 Bang!; the brilliant LMNO (1978) is probably my favorite, but all the others66 (1966), Gulls and Buoys (1972), Fuji (1974), Rubber Cement (1976), 77 (1977), Swiss Army Knife With Rats and Pigeons (1981), and Trial Balloons (1983)are well worth seeing and reseeing. (JR)… Read more »

Night Falls On Manhattan

Director Sidney Lumet and the New York legal system seem to go together like ham and eggs, and in one way or another Lumet has been periodically remaking and refining his own Serpico, about police corruption, over the past quarter of a century, in pictures like Prince of the City and Q & A. Night Falls on Manhattan, which he adapted from Robert Daley’s novel Tainted Evidence, may well be his best effort yet in this direction. Even if Andy Garcia as an honest rookie cop turned DA is no Al Pacino, the overall New York ambience and the street-smart grasp of the way this world operates keep this movie potent throughout. And some of the performancesespecially by Ron Leibman and James Gandolfinivirtually knock you out of your seat. With Ian Holm, Lena Olin, Richard Dreyfuss, and Shiek Mahmud-Bey. (JR)… Read more »

Children Of The Revolution

For a notion of how cockeyed the cold war and its aftermath look to an Australian, this bubbly comedy, written and directed by newcomer Peter Duncan, is a good place to start. Judy Davis plays a fervent Australian communist who writes passionate letters to Stalin in the early 50s, is invited to the Soviet Union to see him, and appears to go to bed with him just before he dies. Back in Australia she gives birth to a son she names Joe, who grows up to become a radical labor organizer. A spy (Sam Neill) who may also be Joe… Read more »

Short Films By Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The two earliest surviving films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (the very first, in 8-millimeter, no longer exists), as well as his powerful half-hour self-portrait in the collective 1978 feature Germany in Autumn. The City Tramp (1966), in 16-millimeter, is about a tramp who finds a gun in an alley; The Little Chaos (1967), in 35-millimeter, is about three young people attempting a swindle. Fassbinder appears in all three. (JR)… Read more »

Fathers’ Day

Billy Crystal and Robin Williams costar in yet another Hollywood remake of a Francis Veber boulevard comedy, this one taken from Les comperes (1984). A mother trying to recover her runaway son recruits two of her ex-lovers in the search (Crystal as a big-time lawyer and Williams as a weepy neurotic) by telling each that he’s the boy’s real father. Ivan Reitman directs Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s adaptation like standard-issue sitcom, inviting Williams to pursue his usual overacting shtick and Crystal, who seems much closer to an actual human being, to adhere to his terse one-liners. What Dave Kehr wrote here about Les comperes applies equally to the recycling: The mechanical possibilities are worked out with precision and relish, but [the director] is careful not to allow the comedy to linger too long in the realm of real feelings. A platitudinous ending restores a safe and sane emotional order. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nastassja Kinski. (JR)… Read more »

Rio Das Mortes

The first of seven features directed (and in most cases written) by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1970, this early work makes one wonder if his prolific output was always worth the trouble. Two young workers scheme to leave Germany and go after a treasure they believe is hidden in Peru, but a lot of this movie simply fills up space. In contrast to the painterly qualities of the director’s best work, this has the pasty, overlit look of a Bavarian sex comedy. On the other hand, Hanna Schygulla is great in a featured part. (JR)… Read more »

The Curse Of The Cat People

Though not the best of Val Lewton’s superb B movies of the 40s, this putative sequel to Cat People presents a finely shaded poetic and psychological portrait of childhood lonelinessthe fantasies of a little girl about her father’s mysterious first wife (Cat People’s Simone Simon). Beautifully atmospheric and suggestive, this 1944 film runs for 70 minutes, and hardly a moment is wasted. Written by DeWitt Bodeen and codirected by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise (the latter’s directorial debut); with Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, and Elizabeth Russell. (JR)… Read more »

Recruits In Ingolstadt

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s updated adaptation (1970) of a 1929 play by Marieluise Fleisser that Bertolt Brecht is said to have liked; it’s about the relationships between women in a provincial German town and soldiers who are building a wooden bridge. As elsewhere in his work, Fassbinder’s simplicity in framing the action is often a tonic, but the lip-smacking depictions of cruelty remain as problematic as ever. With Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann, Harry Baer, and Gunther Kaufmann. (JR)… Read more »

Flipping

Most of this arty crime movie by writer-director-costar Gene Mitchell, heretofore mainly an actor and writer, is clumsiness and excess in search of post-Tarantino stylishnessdeveloped (read: underdeveloped) from a one-act play, which means that stagy actor’s shtick tends to crowd out logic and meaning in almost every scene. (A notable exception is Keith David playing the cool gang leader, at least when he isn’t defeated by the hectoring script.) Although the emergence of a couple of gay relationships among the hoods promises a certain freshness, the rhetoric of gory violence and other show-offy moves quickly takes over. With David Amos, David Proval, Shant Benjamin, Barry Primus, Paul Klar, Tony Burton, and Mike Starr. (JR)… Read more »

The Picture Of Dorian Gray

The underrated Albert Lewin (Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The Moon and Sixpence), a sort of Val Lewton who had the run of the MGM backlot, adapted Oscar Wilde’s novel and directed his own script in a skillfully somber and haunting version of the metaphysical fable about a man whose painting ages and records his moral corruption while he retains his youthful appearance. With Hurd Hatfield memorably playing the title part, this 1945 film also includes juicy performances by George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, and Donna Reed. Deeper and creepier (that is to say, better) than anything turned out by Merchant-Ivory, this is both very Hollywood and very serious in a manner calculated to confound the Hey, it’s only a movie! crowd. (JR)… Read more »

My Name Is Ivan

Andrei Tarkovsky’s powerful 1962 first feature, also known as Ivan’s Childhood and The Youngest Spy, is his most conventional as narrative, though it contains some remarkable dreamlike interludes that anticipate his later work. Shot in black and white, it follows the adventures of a boy serving as a spy on the front lines during World War II. In Russian and German with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Katzelmacher

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s second feature (1969) is something like the decanted essence of his work. There’s less plot than usual, but the portraiture already seems firmly in place. Based on his own play, the film consists largely of a lot of deadbeats standing around on the street in a Munich suburb, abusing women and showing one another how macho they are. (The title is Bavarian slang for stud.) Eventually a Greek immigrant (played by Fassbinder himself) turns up and becomes the target of their xenophobia. Hanna Schygulla is also present in one of her earliest roles. In German with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »