Daily Archives: June 1, 1999

The Velocity Of Gary (not His Real Name)

Every bit as awkward as its title, this feature written by James Still and directed by Dan Ireland (The Whole Wide World) might have worked as a solo theater piece, its original form, though it’s so lugubrious one can’t be sure even of that. The title street hustler (Thomas Jane) is picked up by a porn star (Vincent D’Onofrio) in New York, and winds up in a menage a trois with a doughnut shop waitress (Salma Hayek). The hustler and waitress are rivals who hate each other, but when the porn star winds up in a hospital with AIDS and the waitress becomes pregnant, they’re forced to renegotiate their relationship. There’s an effort to poeticize the milieu of these characters, but they all come across more as types than as individuals. With Olivia d’Abo. (JR)… Read more »

Drop Dead Gorgeous

A TV writer (executive producer Lona Williams) and a first-time director (Michael Patrick Jann) join forces with Kirstie Alley, Ellen Barkin, Kirsten Dunst, and Denise Richards in a uniquely mean-spirited skewering of teen beauty pageants. An intermittently enjoyable bad movie that never knows when to stop, this heaps scorn not only on every aspect of (and participant in) the pageant but also on mental defectives, signing for the deaf, and Japanese-Americans eager to assimilate. All the leads play their roles like strident amateurs (only Allison Janney, as Barkin’s best friend, emerges relatively unscathed), and the film’s so aggressive about its bad-taste agenda that the early John Waters seems a pussycat by comparison. There’s something bracing about the unleashing of so much unbridled negativity, especially for anyone who’s ever suffered through small-town pettiness and mediocrity, but this 1999 release eventually outstays its welcome. Still, if you come to it in a sufficiently foul mood, it might cheer you up. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Edge Of Seventeen

A coming-of-age gay story, set in Sandusky, Ohio, during the summer of 1984 and featuring a working-class teenager (Chris Stafford) struggling to define his relations with his alleged girlfriend (Tina Holmes) and his libido, as well as with what to tell his mother (Stephanie McVay). Apart from McVay and Lea DeLaria (as a lesbian who befriends and advises the hero), the actors mainly come across as movie types rather than characters, and despite the obvious sincerity of the project, deja vu seems written into the conception. (Writer-producer Todd Stephens admits that he wrote the first draft of the script fueled by a video marathon consisting of Risky Business, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and the John Hughes trilogythough even these models can’t be blamed for the film’s unceremonious dumping of Holmes’s character.) David Moreton directed; with Andersen Gabrych. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Universal Hotel & Universal Citizen

As filmmaker Peter Thompson puts it, this 1987 diptych deals with three main themes: the emotional thawing of men by women, the struggle to disengage remembrance from historical anonymity, and nonrecoverable loss. In the first film, Thompson describes his involved research about medical experiments in deep cold conducted on a Polish prisoner and a German prostitute by Dr. Sigmund Rascher at Dachau in 1942; photographs culled from seven archives in six countries, as well as a subjective dream set in the Universal Hotel, form the main materials. In the second film, the filmmaker’s offscreen meetings with a Libyan Jew and former inmate of Dachau who works as a smuggler in Guatemala yield a complex personal travelogue that leads us not only to the Universal Hotel (a real place, as it turns out), but also to the public square in Siena that appears at the beginning of the first film. These are all films that have grown out of years of reflection, and Thompson’s background as a still photographer serves him well in his haunting and original historical meditations; these works reverberate powerfully with a sense of the passage of time and the mysterious coalescence of disparate strands in a varied life.… Read more »

Crack-up

In this 1946 noir thriller, generally considered well above average, Pat O’Brien plays an art critic who remembers a train wreck that may have never taken place. Directed by Irving Reis from a John Paxton script; with Claire Trevor, Herbert Marshall, and Ray Collins.… Read more »

Buena Vista Social Club

The best Wim Wenders documentary to date and an uncommonly self-effacing one, this 1999 concert movie about performance and lifestyle is comparable in some ways to Latcho Drom, the great Gypsy documentary/musical. In 1996 musician Ry Cooder traveled to Havana to reunite some of the greatest stars of Cuban pop music from the Batista era (who were virtually forgotten after Castro came to power) with the aim of making a record, a highly successful venture that led to concerts in Amsterdam and New York. The players and their stories are as wonderful as the music, and the filmmaking is uncommonly sensitive and alert. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Strange Affair Of Uncle Harry

A 1945 thriller directed by Robert Siodmak and produced by Joan Harrison (who scripted several Hitchcock features during the 40s and produced his 50s TV show). A small-town bachelor (George Sanders) dominated by his two sisters plans to kill one of them after falling in love with a city woman. This has been described as a good melodrama marred by a cop-out ending that resulted from 40s censorship; Stephen Longstreet and Keith Winter wrote the script, adapted from a play by Thomas Job. With Geraldine Fitzgerald, Ella Raines, and Sara Allgood. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cornered

Dick Powell plays a French-Canadian pilot in Buenos Aires tracking down the collaborationist who killed his French wife during World War II. By reputation, an effective noir thriller (1945), adapted by John Paxton from a John Wexley story and directed by Edward Dmytryk; the same screenwriter, director, and star had filmed the Raymond Chandler adaptation Murder, My Sweet the previous year. With Micheline Cheirel, Walter Slezak, and Morris Carnovsky. (JR)… Read more »

The Loss Of Sexual Innocence

Mike Figgis contemplates the various stages of a filmmaker’s life, the Garden of Eden story, and guilt over the state of the third world in one of the most pretentious movies ever made, a textbook example of what James Agee used to refer to as rigor artis. Figgis, a sometimes (or at least onetime) enterprising filmmaker, deserves credit for using the freedom and commercial clout he won from Leaving Las Vegas to make relatively edgy and high-risk projects, but that, alas, doesn’t make them interesting or good. For an ambitious mess of this kind, Bill Forsyth’s Being Human (1995), even with all the studio tampering, is substantially more nourishing and original; this is gold-plated navel gazing in the worst 60s style. With Julian Sands, Saffron Burrows (as twins in the most bearable segments), Stefano Dionisi, Kelly Macdonald, and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. (JR)… Read more »