Yearly Archives: 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 »

Comedy!

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 »

Barfly

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 »

Sign o’ the Times

Prince’s concert film–deftly and seamlessly integrating live performances in Antwerp and Rotterdam last summer with thematically related interludes shot in his Minneapolis studio–starts fairly effectively and builds steadily from there. Leroy Bennett’s lighting and production design and Peter Sinclair’s cinematography both help to make this a rousing show, full of sound and fury and signifying plenty, but Prince remains the undisputed auteur. The rapid editing recalls the scattershot method of certain rock videos, but the cinematic and musical savvy with which this is done avoids the coitus interruptus of The Cotton Club: the overall spectacle is enhanced, not curtailed or compromised. Dancer Cat Glover and (especially) drummer Sheila E. shine in these razzle-dazzle surroundings; Dr. Fink (keyboards) and Atlanta Bliss (trumpet) play “Now’s the Time” much too fast and still manage to swing; and Prince himself, passing through a spectrum of costumes and sexual roles, is never less than commanding, as performer, composer, and director. Songs include “Hot Thing,” “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” “The Cross,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Play in the Sunshine,” “Forever in My Life,” and the title tune; see this in Dolby if you can. (Forest Park, Oakbrook, Plaza, Ridge, River Oaks, Water Tower, Woods, Evergreen, Hyde Park)… Read more »

Nuts

Before he was blacklisted in 1951, director Martin Ritt received much of his training in live television, and the virtues as well as limitations of 50s TV drama at its best are still reflected in his movies. This all-star courtroom drama, adapted by Tom Topor, Darryl Ponicsan, and Alvin Sargent from Topor’s play, centers on a hearing held to determine whether high-class hooker Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand), arrested on a manslaughter charge, is insane or not. Richard Dreyfuss is her appointed lawyer, Robert Webber is the prosecutor, and James Whitmore is the judge; Eli Wallach plays her appointed psychiatrist, and Maureen Stapleton and Karl Malden portray her grief-stricken parents. While the movie holds one’s attention throughout, and its liberal message is compelling, we are clued into certain facts about the heroine so early on that the audience is never really tested along with the characters. What might have been a sharper existential confrontation of our received ideas about sanity merely comes across as an effective courtroom drama, with strategically placed revelations and climaxes. Streisand produced, developed the script, and composed most of the music for this showpiece, and her efforts, as usual, pay off, above all in her angry and lively performance.… Read more »

Hey Babu Riba

Based on the personal memories of Yugoslavian writer-director Joven Acin and executive producers George Zecevic and Petar Jankovic, this nostalgic account of growing up in Belgrade in the early 50s centers on a mystery: Miriana (Gala Videnovic), the beautiful mascot of an inseparable male rowing team, becomes pregnant, and the four loyal youths, all of whom love her, row her illegally across the border to her father in Italy, but jointly refuse to declare who the father of the child is. In the course of solving this mystery through an extended flashback, the film offers a fresh and evocative look at the political and cultural tensions of the period, when American incursions like black-market blue jeans and jazz were vying against the lingering, Soviet presence. Two movies of the period figure significantly in this conflict: Bathing Beauty, an Esther Williams musical that furnishes the five friends with their theme song and Miriana with her nickname, Esther; and One Summer of Happiness, a soft-core Swedish art film (mislabeled She Only Danced One Summer by the English subtitler), which plays a role in Miriana’s eventual pregnancy. Like The Last Picture Show, Hey Babu Riba is sentimental, saccharine in spots, and affecting–a bit simplistic in some of its moral shadings, but a heartfelt account of a time, place, and group of friends nonetheless.… Read more »

Family Life/La pirate

In its latest act of trail blazing, the Film Center is offering the first U.S. retrospective devoted to Jacques Doillon, a post-New Wave French director whose singular movies have received next to no attention here. Emotionally unbridled and extreme in their depictions of passion and familial tensions, they are not for every taste, but it’s hard to think of many other films like them. La pirate (1984), probably the wildest in the bunch, centers on the amour fou of an anguished lesbian couple (Jane Birkin and Maruschka Detmers) reigniting their affair, with the former’s husband (perversely played by Birkin’s brother), a mysterious little girl, and an eccentric friend named Number Five (Philippe Leotard) all in tow. Family Life (1985), which begins with a comparable amount of screaming and thrashing around, eventually settles down into a quieter study–this time of a broken family and the efforts of an estranged father (Sami Frey) to establish rapport with his ten-year-old daughter (Maro Goyet) during an extended car trip to Spain. Aiming for the intensity of a Racinian tragedy, La pirate sticks so closely to the hothouse atmosphere generated by its five characters that we’re made to feel like intruders on a cryptic, brutal psychodrama; the more naturalistic Family Life allows us and the characters to breathe more freely, but a sense of emotional impasse is equally present.… Read more »

The Epic That Never Was

If it had ever been completed, Josef von Sternberg’s big-budget 1937 adaptation of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius for Alexander Korda might have been his masterpiece. But a series of calamities plagued the production, and all we have left today are some tantalizing rushes–and this excellent 1968 British documentary about the doomed project hosted by Dirk Bogarde, which includes many of these rushes and interviews with surviving participants, including Graves, Sternberg, Merle Oberon, and Emlyn Williams. But the best reason for seeing this film is the glimpse we get of Charles Laughton’s extraordinary performance as the crippled, stuttering, and otherwise afflicted Claudius. An actor who underwent torturous preparations for some of his roles, Laughton drove Sternberg and others crazy with his agonizing over getting this part right. But when he finally locked Claudius into place, he produced what is arguably the greatest piece of acting in all of sound cinema: better than Brando, better than Olivier, better even than Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux. The evidence is there to be seen (and heard) in two stunning scenes–Claudius’s groveling at the feet of Caligula to save his own life, and, even better, his assuming power over the Roman senate–and the wonderful thing about this documentary is that it allows us to see him building and refining this monumental role step-by-step.… Read more »

Slamdance

The virtual effacement of a promising talent is the regrettable consequence of this muddled 1987 thriller from onetime independent director Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing, Dim Sum). Apart from a few incidental flickers of Wang’s sidelong humor, there’s little of his personality evident in this film about a divorced underground cartoonist (Tom Hulce) finding himself enmeshed in a murder plota story that steadily loses coherence and interest the longer it proceeds. The script is credited to Don Opper, although reportedly Aaron Lipstadt worked on some of the earlier drafts. With Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Virginia Madsen, Millie Perkins, Adam Ant, and Harry Dean Stanton. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »