Monthly Archives: March 1988

Patti Rocks

A sequel to director David Burton Morris’s Loose Ends that is set about a dozen years later, this film consists mainly of Billy (Chris Mulkey) and Eddie (John Jenkins), the two buddies of the previous film, meeting up again in Saint Paul, Minnesota and taking an all-night drive to see Billy’s girlfriend, Patti Rocks (Karen Landry). Patti has become pregnant and wants to have the baby; Eddie insists it’s about time that Billy tell her he’s already married and has a kid. In overall ambience if not in style, this macho bonding exercise recalls the kind of behavior on display in Cassavetes’s Husbands; eventually it adds up to something when Patti Rocks has her say and the plot thickens. But it’s a long haul getting to her apartment, and director Morris can only sustain the long stretches of talkscripted by himself and the three lead actorsin snatches. An independent effort of this kind has its momentsone appreciates, in particular, the local detailsbut it’s hard to find the characters as interesting as the filmmakers want them to be; we’ve been down this long road and heard the equivalent of Billy’s misogynistic raps too many times before. (JR) Read more

Paloma Fair

A charming, romantic Spanish musical of 1935, this lighthearted example of zarzuela recalls such early musicals as Under the Roofs of Paris, Love Me Tonight, and The Love Parade in its graceful employment of the medium: one song is sung in superimposed images, another gets passed around an urban neighborhood like a fluffy piece of gossip. Also known as Our Lady of the Dove, Benito Perojo’s movie is set in 1893 and moves around a wedding, a dressmaker’s shop, a printing press, a pharmacy, and the city fair of the title; flamenco dancing is featured in one of the numbers, and a 30s emphasis on working-class labor is often present. With Charito Leonis, Miguel Ligero, and Raquel Rodrigo. (JR) Read more

Off Limits

Yet another Vietnam picture, set in Saigon in 1968. This one is a mystery thriller about two plainclothes cops (Willem Dafoe and Gregory Hines) assigned to investigate the murders of half a dozen local prostitutes whose babies were fathered by American servicemen; a high-ranking American officer proves to be one of the suspects. Directed and cowritten by TV veteran Christopher Crowe, and shot on location in Bangkok, the film has the singular virtue of giving more vent to Vietnamese attitudes about the U.S. than is usually found in such pictures, and the dialogue is often pungent and lively. One regrets the hokey finale as the film eventually succumbs to overly familiar generic patterns, but before this happens, some of the complexity of the American presence in Vietnam gets touched upon. (JR) Read more

Metamorphosis Of Unidentified Flying Objects To The Subject

Hungarian experimental filmmaker Andras Szirtes (Lenz) made this short science fiction feature in the U.S. last year, utilizing a good many visual devices ranging from optical printing to rapid cutting. The plot describes an extraterrestrial alien who falls in love on earth while disguised as a human and thereby gets into trouble with his home planet. On the same program, Szirtes’s recent short Rap Letters, also made in the U.S.a series of letters in diary formwill be shown. Szirtes will be present after the screening of both films to answer questions. Read more

The Manchurian Candidate

One of the strangest and most mercurial movies ever made in Hollywood (1962). A veritable salad of mixed genres and emotional textures, this exciting black-and-white cold war thriller runs more than two hours and never flags for an instant. Produced by director John Frankenheimer and screenwriter George Axelrod, the film was made with an unusual amount of freedom, which pays off in multiple dividends. It’s conceivably the only commercial American film that deserves to be linked with the French New Wave, full of visual and verbal wit that recalls Orson Welles. Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey, both brilliantly cast, have never been better; Sinatra and Janet Leigh have never been used as weirdly; and the talented secondary castincluding James Gregory, James Edwards, Leslie Parrish, John McGiver, and Khigh Dhieghis never less than effective. A powerful experience, alternately corrosive with dark parodic humor, suspenseful, moving, and terrifying. 126 min. (JR) Read more

A Lonely Man’s Voice

Alexander Sokurov’s first feature, dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky, is every bit as slow, ponderous, and stylistically eccentric as the films of his mentor, though its shape and feel are quite differentand alas, nowhere near as compelling. Still it’s an interesting departure in relation to other Soviet features. Adapted from two short stories by Andrei Platonov and oscillating between black-and-white and color, the film recounts the unsuccessful marriage of a former Red Army soldier (Andrei Gradov), who comes from the working class, and his girlfriend (Tatyana Goryacheva), whose family once belonged to the middle class. The postwar disillusionment of both characters, leading to suicide attempts by each, implies a bleak reading of postrevolutionary Russian life that differs sharply from previous versions. But the most curious aspect of this film is that it unfolds mainly in the margins of the plotit is more attentive in some ways to the settings (an industrial small town in the Ukraine, surrounded by mountains) than to the characters, whom we barely get to know in any conventional sense, and focuses more on moods than incidents. The results are lugubrious but singularan attempt to render depressive internal states cinematically, using everything from slurred motion to brooding inspections of old photographs. Read more

Little Nikita

An intermittently watchable but ultimately rather thin and bewildering attempt to update the communist spy thrillers of the 50s, this movie with a San Diego setting teams Sidney Poitier as an FBI agent with River Phoenix as the son of onetime Soviet agents who gradually discovers his parents’ secret. For all his misguided red-baiting, Leo McCarey created a deep and troubling melodrama out of a related scenario in 1952 with My Son John, but here the filmmakersscreenwriters John Hill and Bo Goldman (working from a story by Tom Musca and Terry Schwartz) and director Richard Benjaminaren’t concerned with digging very deeply into much besides a few timeworn conventions, leavened by a few traces of Yankee glasnost (the parents are redeemed by being former agents, while the Soviet villains are strictly formulaic). Marvin Hamlisch contributes a pleasant score, and Laszlo Kovacs handles the cinematography capably, but Phoenix can’t give the material any emotional depth, and the story never rises much beyond TV tepid. (JR) Read more

The Last Stand In The Philippines

Without a doubt our best patriotic film, wrote Spanish film historian Emilio Sanz de Soto of this 1945 film directed by Antonio Roman. The film concerns Captain Las Moreras and his small squadron, who resisted the conquering U.S. and Filipino armies for almost a year after the end of the Spanish-American War; the film was a big success with critics and audiences in Spain when it came outas well as a triumph of propaganda for the Franco regime. (JR) Read more

The Lady With The Dog

The perfect antidote to Nikita Mikhalkov’s Dark Eyes, Josif Heifits’s 1959 Soviet film about adultery, adapted from the same story, may be the best Chekhov adaptation on film: subtle, exquisite, a perfect miniature. With Iya Savvina, Alexei Batalov, and Ala Chostakova. (JR) Read more

The Gruesome Twosome

Just about the only distinctive thing about drive-in auteur Herschell Gordon Lewis is his unlimited capacity for gore, most of it usually directed against women for all-male yahoo audiences. This minor and obscure piece of his oeuvre, written, oddly, by a woman (Louise Downe), concerns a wig maker and her retarded son (Rodney Bedell), who scalps young women unfortunate enough to be boarding in their house. (JR) Read more

The Good Love

Francisco Regueiro’s 1963 Spanish feature El buen amor, his first film, follows a coupleSimon Andreu and Marta del Valwho take a vacation from university classes in Madrid to travel together to Toledo. A humorous love story with serious undertones by the director of the recent comedy Padre nuestro. Read more

From The Pole To The Equator

A remarkable feature (1987) by Italian avant-gardists Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, made up exclusively of footage shot by Luca Comerio, an official documentarian to the Italian royal family, around 1910tinted, step-printed into slow motion, and accompanied by an effective, wordless sound track. The images, as suggested by the title, come from all overAfrican jungles, Indian villages, European landscapes, polar icebergsand the overriding themes are photography as imperialism and imperialism as photography. At once mesmerizing, haunting, and thoughtful, this fascinating and unique compilation, edited by D.A. Pennebaker, stays in the mind for a long time. 96 min. (JR) Read more

55 Days At Peking

Nicholas Ray’s last commercial film and second blockbuster for Samuel Bronston (after King of Kings) effectively ended his career as a Hollywood director, and the unwieldiness of this spectacular about the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 Peking helps in part to explain why. Not really a personal film, compared with the works that preceded it, although Ray himself puts in a fleeting appearance as an ambassador in a wheelchair. Scripted by Philip Yordan and Bernard Gordon, scored (bombastically) by Dmitri Tiomkin, and starring Charlton Heston, David Niven, Ava Gardner, and Flora Robson. (JR) Read more

Dominick And Eugene

The lachrymose scenario runs as follows: In Pittsburgh, Dominick Luciano (Tom Hulce), a young man who is retarded from a childhood injury, works on a garbage truck to put his twin brother Eugene (Ray Liotta) through medical school. When Eugene gets a scholarship to attend Stanford, he faces the problem of having to abandon his beloved brother. Alvin Sargent and Corey Blechman’s script from a story by Danny Porfirio, far from avoiding the sentimental excess of such a situation, lays it on with a trowel–the death of Dominick’s pet dog is neatly timed to coincide with the news that his brother is leaving him–and the subsequent plot revelations smack of middle-level TV drama, while Jamie Lee Curtis is enlisted to provide Eugene’s semigratuitous love interest. Director Robert M. Young (Alambrista) does some creditable things with the local neighborhood, and Todd Graff as Dominick’s coworker turns in a refreshing, nonstereotyped working-class portrait. But the film’s shameless efforts to reach for the jugular mainly land in bathos. (JR) Read more

Dark Eyes

Once upon a timein 1959, to be preciseSoviet director Josef Heifits filmed a lovely, exquisite, and by now all but forgotten adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s story The Lady With the Dog, which wisely restricted itself to Chekhovian dimensions, giving the plot and characters their full due but never any more. By grotesque contrast, writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov’s elephantine set piece for Marcello Mastroianni (1987)which came about through Mastroianni’s desire to work with the Soviet filmmakerloosely adapts that Chekhov story along with elements from three others (My Wife, The Birthday Party, and Subjugated Anna) to produce a film so sprawling and ungainly that Chekhov is turned into chopped liver. Atrociously out-of-sync dubbing, shameless mugging and prancing from Mastroianni, and an unearned (and decidedly un-Chekhovian) grandiosity are the main elements on the bill of fare, all working overtime to register life’s little ironies; Elena Sofonova, Marthe Keller, Silvana Mangano, and a cute little dog are on hand to teach Mikhalkov and Mastroianni a few lessons in restraint, but alas, to no avail. (JR) Read more