Daily Archives: June 1, 2000

Marty

This 1955 example of kitchen-sink realism about the awakening love life of a Bronx butcher (Ernest Borgnine) and his shy girlfriend (Betsy Blair), directed by Delbert Mann, has never been popular with auteurists, but Paddy Chayevsky’s script, adapted from his own TV play, shows his flair for dialogue at its best, and the film manages to be touching, if minor. Borgnine won an Oscar for his part, and he isn’t half bad.… Read more »

La Buche

The directorial debut of French screenwriter Daniele Thompson (Cousin, Cousine, Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train) is set in Paris over a few days before Christmas. (The title refers to a traditional holiday dessert, la buche de Noel.) A recent widow (Francoise Fabian) is consoled by the three daughters from her first marriage, to a Russian-Jewish violinist (Claude Rich). The plot turns on the complicated lives of the daughters, who are played by Sabine Azema, Emmanuelle Beart, and Charlotte Gainsbourg; they, Fabian, and Rich are the main reasons for seeing this picture. Michel Legrand composed the scorewhich is pleasant, though it resembles many of his other scores so closely it hardly sounds originaland we also hear a lot of American pop versions of traditional Christmas tunes. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Nick Zedd Retrospective, Program One

A program of films and videos by New York punk rebel Nick Zedd, described as a night of unbound political dissent. I’ve seen only the repugnant 18-minute Police Statewhich seems to replay the S and M strategies of Beth and Scott B.’s Black Box (1978) without Lydia Lunch, piling on brutality (with added offscreen mutilation) and unpersuasively calling it politically progressive. On the same program: They Eat Scum (75 min.), Ecstasy in Entropy (with Annie Sprinkle and Taylor Mead), Bogus Man, and Wild World of Lydia Lunch, which one hopes will compensate for her absence in Police State. (JR)… Read more »

Voodoo Woman

A mad scientist (Tom Conway) in cahoots with African witch doctors tries to turn a shady explorer (Marla English) into a monster. Edward L. Cahn directed this 1957 horror flick for American International Pictures. 77 min.… Read more »

Eve

A failure, but an endlessly fascinating one. Between making his only SF film (The Damned) and his first successful art movie (The Servant), blacklisted expatriate Joseph Losey directed this 1962 film, adapted by Hugo Butler and Evan Jones from a James Hadley Chase novel, about a washed-up Welsh novelist of working-class origins (Stanley Baker) who unsuccessfully pursues a high-class hooker (Jeanne Moreau) while effectively driving his wife (Virna Lisi) to suicide. The film is pretentious and plainly derivative; I’ve always regarded as unwarranted and philistine Pauline Kael’s ridicule of Antonioni, Resnais, and Fellini in an article of the period called The Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties, but she might well have included Losey’s film, with its clear debt to all three. It’s a painful testament of sorts (Losey himself can be glimpsed in a bar during a pan that also introduces the hero, showing his personal stake in the proceedings from the outset), though it makes wonderful use of locations in Venice and Rome and features an excellent jazz score by Michel Legrand (with a pivotal use of three Billie Holiday cuts). A decadent period piece and a sadomasochistic view of sexual relations, this singular, resonant, and at times even inspiring mannerist mess is far more interesting than a good many modest successes.… Read more »

Kikujiro

A real departure for Japanese writer-director and poker-faced comic performer Takeshi Kitano, paradoxically more experimental and more mainstream than one might expect from him. His recent movies (such as Sonatine and Fireworks) are known for both their sentimentality and their violence; this 1999 feature has a lot of the former and virtually none of the latter. The minimal and ambiguous story involves a ne’er-do-well (Kitano) accompanying a nine-year-old boy on the road to visit the mother he’s never met. One can’t tell if the trip is unfolding over days, weeks, or even months, which is part of this comedy’s abstract strangeness and ultimately points more to the boy’s tragic sense of loss than to any of the duo’s picaresque adventures. A haunting and sometimes beautiful movie, full of eccentric inventions and stoically repressed emotions. In Japanese with subtitles. PG-13, 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Grass

The Ontario Film Review Board banned this history of U.S. marijuana laws because it contains 20 seconds of archival footage showing rhesus monkeys and chimpanzees smoking dope in a lab experiment. Apparently this violates the Ontario Theatres Act, which forbids abuse of an animal in making a film, although the board showed no concern about mice falling off a table or fish swimming sideways in the same sequence (at least the simians seem to be enjoying themselves). A better example of animal abuse might be compelling a filmmaker to submit his work to censors or incarcerating untold thousands of kids for having harmless fun while hypocritical state agents and presidents show an almost total lack of interest in the truth or falsity of their own antidrug propaganda. Director Ron Mann specializes in documentaries celebrating countercultural forms and practices (Comic Book Confidential, Twist, Poetry in Motion, Imagine the Sound); this hilarious yet frightening piece of agitprop, using found footage, period music, jaunty animated titles, and narration by Woody Harrelson (written by Solomon Vesta), is as entertaining and informative as anything Mann’s ever done and as good an example of grass humor as you’re likely to find. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hanokmim

Danny Setton’s hour-long Israeli documentary (1996), also known as Revenge, focuses on the Kovner Group, a band of Holocaust survivors who wreaked revenge on the German people after the war by poisoning the water supplies of several large cities and then by poisoning Nazi officers incarcerated in a prison camp. Reportedly this film is concerned less with the historical facts than with the group’s emotional experience.… Read more »

Destroy All Monsters!

From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2000). — J.R.

“All” is right; Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and other apocalyptic Japanese SF monsters converge in this 1968 ‘Scope opus from Toho Studios. Inoshiro (aka Ishiro) Honda directed. 88 min.… Read more »

My Own Daughter And Son

Two medium-length Israeli films about difficult relationships between parents and children. Mooly Landsman’s My Own Daughter (1998, 50 min.) is a documentary in which a 22-year-old kibbutz member confronts memories of abuse from her father, and Nitzan Aviram’s Son (1997, 47 min.) is a fiction film about an aging poet and his son, who suffers from Down’s syndrome.… Read more »

The Stendhal Syndrome

In case, like me, you’ve never heard the title expression before, it refers to the psychological phenomenon of a work of art making the spectator swoon (which is apparently more common overseas). Italian horror director Dario Argento characteristically uses this condition as a pretext for fancy visual cadenzas, as a police detective who’s especially susceptible to paintings (the director’s daughter, Asia) tries to track down a serial rapist and killer, and they’re the main reason for seeing this poorly acted, over-the-top, and generally out-of-control bloodbath (1996, 114 min.). With Thomas Kretschmann. (JR)… Read more »

Meet Me At The Fair

Like the other small musicals Douglas Sirk directed at Universal in the early 50s, this is better than it was supposed to have been at the time, a nicely mounted and nostalgic turn-of-the-century story about a sideshow medicine man (Dan Dailey) who helps to hide a runaway orphan (Chet Allen) while romancing the woman who’s looking for him (Diana Lynn). Hugh O’Brian plays a corrupt politician, and Scatman Crothers is one of the performers in the musical numbers (1953, 87 min.). (JR)… Read more »

Claire Dolan

The disappointing second feature (1998) of Lodge Kerrigan (Clean, Shaven), starring Katrin Cartlidge as a New York prostitute: her performance is good, but the material is painfully familiar. With Vincent D’Onofrio and Colm Meaney. (JR)… Read more »

Purple Noon

A very elegant and watchable 1960 French thriller starring Alain Delon in his prime, this film was adapted from Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by director Rene Clement and screenwriter Paul Gegauff, best known as Claude Chabrol’s key script collaborator in the 60s and 70s. The Hitchcockian themetransference of personalityis given almost as much mileage here as in Hitchcock’s own Highsmith adaptation, Strangers on a Train, as Delon decides to take over the identity of a spoiled, wealthy playboy he’s been hired to bring home to his father. Henri Decae’s color cinematography is dazzling, and the Italian and Mediterranean locations are sumptuous. With Marie Laforet, Maurice Ronet, and Playtime’s Bill Kearns. 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mission: Impossible

Brian De Palma, who revitalized his box-office clout by glamorizing the FBI in The Untouchables, turned to glamorizing the CIA with this 1996 adaptation of another popular 60s TV series. Tom Cruise (who doubled as producer and assumed final cut) heads a team of intelligence operatives who do battle with Russian spies and arms dealers. Robert Towne and David Koepp did separate drafts of the script, and they might as well have been working on separate movies for all the narrative interest and concern for the characters that they generated, but I was entertained by the mise en scene and the action. With Emmanuelle Beart, Jon Voight, and Ving Rhames. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »