Monthly Archives: December 1987

A Girl In Summer

Vitor Goncalves’s first feature is a tale of disillusionment: after an aimless summer, Isabel (Isabel Galhardo) returns to her father’s house and begins to contemplate a romantic involvement with Diogo (Diogo Doria), a radio director who directs her father’s scripts, but nothing much happens. Despite effusive praise for this film by Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal’s premier filmmaker, I was rather disillusioned along with the heroine; while the filmmaking itself is graceful and subtle in its handling of moods, the script left me feeling undernourished. (JR) Read more

The Computer Animation Show

The 37 items on view in this package include TV commercials and logos, music videos, abstract work, old-fashioned cartoons, and documentary bits that explain how several segments (the Amazing Stories logo, a sequence from The Great Mouse Detective, an ad for the National Canned Food Information Council) were made. Two disturbing aspects of 90 minutes of this stuff in one go are: an overreliance on the same formal devices and stylistic models (including the same tacky colors), and an obsessive thematic interest in objects resembling people/animals and people/animals resembling objects. Anthropomorphism has always been a basic part of animation, and Tanya Weinberger’s Kiss Me You Fool is a nice classic example: a funny version of the frog prince story. But most of the other animation seems hung up on robotics of one kind or another; after a while all that heavy metal starts to clank. The dehumanized climate even extends to the narrator’s voice in the documentary sections; and in Philippe Bergeron’s French-Canadian Tony de Peltriefeaturing a digitized pianist who resembles the Elephant Manthe posthuman tendency assumes truly nightmarish proportions. Three of the better worksLuxo, Jr., Red’s Dream, and Oilspot and Lipstickhave been shown in the International Tournee of Animation, and many others may be familiar from TV. Read more


The main problem with Jacques Doillon’s 1987 filmdevoted exclusively to the problems encountered by a couple when the woman starts to imagine the man’s previous affairs in his country houseis that the script doesn’t offer us or the actors more to work with. Jane Birkin and Alain Souchon both attack the premise gamely, but the fact remains that two-actor films are notoriously difficult to sustain, even with the best talent available: The Four Poster, Sleuth, and even Carl Dreyer’s seldom seen Two People all have related difficulties, and it doesn’t seem coincidental that all three are adaptations of plays. Comedy! was written for the screen, but nevertheless seems just as stagy as the others. Still, for those interested in following Doillon’s development, it remains an instructive and occasionally enjoyable experiment. (JR) Read more

Broadcast News

Writer-director-producer James L. Brooks’s romantic comedy, his first film after Terms of Endearment, takes on the world of network news in one of the best entertainments of 1987. Holly Hunter plays a gifted and idealistic producer, and her performance is something of a revelation: her short, feisty, socially gauche, aggressive-compulsive character may be the most intricately layered portrait of a career woman that contemporary Hollywood has given us. Albert Brooks as a bright, caustic behind-the-scenes reporter and her best friend, who hankers after something more in both departments, gives the performance of his career. Completing the triumvirate and romantic triangle is William Hurt, also at his best, as a rapidly rising anchorman who lacks the creativity and intelligence of his two colleagues, but beats them hands down in public charisma. The movie is at its finest when it shows all three working together to produce the evening newsan exciting and instructive look into the processes involvedand at its worst when it saddles them with a pat prologue and epilogue showing the characters years before and after the film’s main events. Shot entirely in Washington, D.C., the film is full of relevant insights into the kinds of compromises, trade-offs, and combinations of skills and personalities that produce media, and the personal stories are deftly integrated. Read more

Bell Diamond

The strengths of maverick independent Jon Jost’s seventh featurecharting the marital breakup of a Vietnam veteran (Marshall Gaddis) and his frustrated wife (Sarah Wyss) in Butte, Montanaare antithetical to what one would expect from a Hollywood feature on the same subject. Shot on a $25,000 budget, with a story developed by the filmmaker and cast and completely improvised dialogue, the film deals with characters who are neither articulate nor particularly attractive, but pays them the kind of respect and attention that they wouldn’t normally receive. Jost’s feeling for landscapes and domestic interiors remains fresh and unpredictable, and his mise en scene comprises a string of perpetual discoveries. Because Jost eschews the kind of dramatic developments and climaxes that commercial films have taught us to expect, the impact of the film’s original form of realism arrives only gradually, but once it registers, it becomes indelible. The title, incidentally, refers to the abandoned copper mine in Butte where a significant portion of the action is set. (JR) Read more

Batteries Not Included

Not long ago, Steven Spielberg was offering his own feel-good whimsies with movies like E.T.; now that he’s usually more in the throes of feel-bad Serious Art, he generally farms the lighthearted fantasies out to others. Matthew Robbins, coscripter of The Sugarland Express and director of Corvette Summer, Dragonslayer, and The Legend of Billie Jean, acquits himself honorably here as cowriter and director of a gentle fantasy about miniature spaceships that land on a tenement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and save the tenants from imminent expulsion and disaster at the hands of greedy real estate developers. The likable Capra-esque victims are Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, who run a cafe, a quiet ex-boxer (Frank McRae), a pregnant Hispanic (Elizabeth Pena), and a painter (Dennis Boutsikaris). The extraterrestrial elves, who thrive on electricity and replicate themselves out of scrap metal, are no less charming, and the special effects show them off gracefully. (JR) Read more


The first four letters say it all. Nostalgie de la boueliterally, nostalgia for mudtends to motivate Barbet Schroeder’s fiction films, which have focused on heroin addicts (More), hippies (The Valley Obscured by Clouds), masochists (Maitresse), and gamblers (Tricheurs). This 1987 treatment of flophouse drunks, his first American film, is no less voyeuristic. Working from an original and autobiographical screenplay by Charles Bukowski, Schroeder amasses a lot of talent to yield what is essentially a tourist’s-eye view of the lower depths, defended from within as a way of life. An unshaven Mickey Rourke delivers his lines like W.C. Fields and swaggers like a gutter prince, Faye Dunaway as a fellow alcoholic seems even more authentically disassembled, and Robby M Read more

And Then You Die

Quebec director Francis Mankiewicz’s crime thriller, his first feature in English, follows a power struggle in the Montreal underworld between an ex-con (Kenneth Welsh) dealing in soft drugs and a ruthless cop (R.H. Thomson). Based on real-life events, this comic and violent film was shot by Richard Leiterman, Canada’s best-known cinematographer. (JR) Read more

The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

None of the film versions of Mark Twain’s classic novel is anywhere near worthy of the original, which continues to be more radical than anything adapters can make of it. This 1960 version directed by Michael Curtiz is pretty much par for the course; the cast is a good one (Eddie Hodges, Archie Moore, Tony Randall, Patty McCormack, Neville Brand, and, in smaller roles, Buster Keaton, Judy Canova, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Mickey Shaughnessy, and Sterling Holloway), but the results are relatively tepid. (JR) Read more