Monthly Archives: November 1988

Hoxsey: Quacks Who Cure Cancer?

A fascinating documentary by Ken Ausubel that starts off as provocative muckraking and winds up as an informative and thoughtful essay. The muckraking concerns former coal miner Harry Hoxsey and his virtually lifelong battle with the American Medical Association about his apparently effective folk remedies for cancer. The AMA and the U.S. government essentially outlawed Hoxsey’s practice in the U.S., but his remedies are still used today in a clinic in Tijuana. The essay, more historical in nature, concerns the ongoing battle between the established medical profession as we know it and the alternative practices of folk medicine. Along the way are some fascinating glimpses into the profitable aspects for doctors of conventional cancer treatment and the ambiguities about Hoxsey’s controversial and still scientifically untested methods (Hoxsey himself ultimately died of cancer). (JR) Read more

Hotel Terminus: The Life And Times Of Klaus Barbie

Running close to five hours with an intermission, Marcel Ophuls’s fascinating 1987 portrait of the Nazi Butcher of Lyons, who went on to work for the U.S. Counterintelligence Corps and to pursue a career as a drug and information trafficker in Bolivia, is a worthy successor to Ophuls’s The Sorrow and the Pity. The format is basically talking-heads interviews with acquaintances and victims of Barbie that are arranged to give a lucid chronological account of his career, but Ophuls manages to treat his subject with a great deal of intelligence and ironyhouseholds with Christmas decor are plentiful among the settingsand only occasionally does he overplay his intermittent bent toward whimsy (e.g., looking under cabbages for a subject who doesn’t want to be interviewed). Nearly a hundred people were interviewed, but the film represents only about a 14th of what Ophuls shot, and there’s little sense of excess in the running time. Not a work of art in the sense that Shoah is, but investigative journalism at its best, solid and penetrating. (JR) Read more

High Spirits

Peter O’Toole plays the owner of a languishing country hotel in Ireland who decides to turn his establishment into a haunted castle; Daryl Hannah plays a ghost who falls in love with hotel guest Steve Guttenberg. Written and directed by Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Company of Wolves); with Beverly D’Angelo and Liam Neeson. What mainly seems to go wrong here is the clumsy effort to rework English material for the American market, which results in a certain amount of forced whimsy and slapstick, mechanical crosscutting, and an excessive reliance on second-rate special effects. Hannah is appealing as one of the ghosts, but most of the rest of the cast seem either strained or strident. (O’Toole, alas, seems to be engaging in the sort of stumbling self-parody that characterized the late performances of John Barrymore.) Intermittently diverting, but not much more. (JR) Read more


Barbra Streisand’s 1983 musical adaptation of a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer gives us Streisand as a quadruple threat: director, producer, cowriter, and lead performer; she’s also the only character who gets to sing. The plot describes a young female Jew in eastern Europe at the turn of the century who dresses as a boy in order to secure an education. The results may be a little protracted, but Streisand gives it her best shot, and the music by Michel Legrand is memorable. With Mandy Patinkin and Amy Irving. PG, 133 min. (JR) Read more

The Year My Voice Broke

An Australian memory piece written and directed by John Duigan, set in New South Wales in 1962. Danny (Noah Taylor), a teenager, has an obsessive crush on Freya (Loene Carmen), an older childhood friend, and when she starts to become romantically involved with Trevor (Ben Mendlesohn), his loyalty is put to the test. Although most of this is rather familiar stuff, even in a small-town Australian setting, the treatment is sufficiently sincere and nuanced to give it a touch of poignancy; the overall modesty and sweetness of the performances helps. (JR) Read more

Tequila Sunrise

The long-awaited second feature of writer-director Robert Towne (Personal Best) is an action thriller about two former high school friends, played by Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell, who find themselves on opposite sides of the law; Michelle Pfeiffer is the woman caught between the two. Despite a good deal of witty, bantering dialogue and clever plotting, some interesting moral ambiguity about the relative corruption of a cop (Russell) and a drug dealer (Gibson), and a likable performance by Raul Julia, this film seems overinfected by the kind of southern California narcissism that makes all of the male characters a little too pleased with themselves, with Pfeiffer little more than a beanbag in the little-boy macho games. Towne’s knowingness about the setting and milieu hurts as well as helps; the terrain is so familiar he can’t distance himself from it, as Roman Polanski managed to do with Towne’s own Chinatown script. In a world where everyone is some kind of insider, the viewer may feel left out in the cold. (JR) Read more


Punchy James Cagney programmer from Warners, directed by Roy Del Ruth and costarring Loretta Young. This 1932 comedy drama afforded Cagney his only opportunity in movies to speak Yiddish, which comes early on; George Raft turns up briefly as a dance-contest rival. 70 min. (JR) Read more

Talking To Strangers

Rob Tregenza’s excitingly new Baltimore-made independent feature, shot in wide-screen 35-millimeter and Dolby sound, consists of only nine shots, each a ten-minute take. Each shot features the same character (Ken Gruz), a young man whose identity appears to shift somewhat from one sequence to the next (in terms of his occupation and whether he is a local or a drifter); in the first and last shots he is alone, and in the seven intervening sequencesthe order of which was determined at randomhe encounters one or more strangers. The existential suspense underlying this remarkably open work is a function of many factors operating at once. The sequences range from dramatic (a female potter who has slept with the hero the previous night provokes his ire by admitting that she used to be stripper and, possibly, a prostitute) and action packed (a nihilistic, punkish gang takes over a bus and rapes a passenger) to enigmatic (the hero tries to engage in conversation with fellow passengers on a taxi boat) and minimalist (the hero walks for several city blocks, and almost boards three separate buses). Each sequence was shot only once, so the possibility of accident and error hovers over every moment suspensefully, as in a jazz improvisation. Read more

The Power Of Emotion

Alexander Kluge’s 1983 West German Die Macht der Gefuehle, perhaps his most striking and interesting essay film, is a rigorous yet free-wheeling combination of fact and fiction that includes footage from silent films, opera, and such characters as a fire chief, a fur thief, and assorted lovers, murderers, victims, actors, and officials. Recommended. (JR) Read more

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

Vincente Minnelli’s last musical (1970) is not one of his bestthe film was hampered by studio cutting, depriving us of (among other things) a Jack Nicholson musical numberbut some of the master’s magic intermittently leaks through. The plot concerns a woman (Barbra Streisand) whose psychiatrist (Yves Montand) discovers that she led a previous life in 19th-century England. Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane furnished the score, and Bob Newhart and Nicholson round out the cast. Streisand certainly gives the title tune her (and its) maximum voltage. G, 129 min. (JR) Read more

Oliver & Company

Disney’s all-animated version of Oliver Twist (1988) translates Dickens’s novel into animal adventures set in New York: Oliver is an orphaned kitten taken in by a pack of pickpocket dogs, although Fagin, no longer Jewish or a villain, remains human. Ethnic characters are restricted to the animal kingdom, and the most enjoyable of these is Tito, a Chihuahua whose appeal is almost wholly a function of Cheech Marin’s voice. (Bette Midler similarly dominates Georgette, an upper-class poodle.) The animation is fairly unexciting though serviceable, and the overall mystification of class difference would probably have made Dickens shudder, but kids should find this tolerable enough. George Scribner directed, and among the other voices used are those of Joey Lawrence, Billy Joel, Roscoe Lee Browne, Dom DeLuise (as Fagin), and Robert Loggia. (JR) Read more

Occasional Work Of A Female Slave

Alexander Kluge’s 1973 West German feature, featuring Kluge’s sister Alexandra in the lead part, concerns a 29-year-old housewife who operates an illegal abortion clinic to support her family. Kluge’s third feature, one of his most Brechtian (and Godardian), reveals the writer-director as easily one of the best minds in the contemporary cinema, but not necessarily one of the best eyes: one often has the sense of a high-powered intelligence translating ideas into film rather an intelligence that thinks and creates in filmic terms. Political paradox is the central concern here, and while Kluge’s grasp of his heroine’s plight is witty and complex, his black-and-white images often have a second-degree quality about them. (JR) Read more

Midnight Run

Robert De Niro plays a former cop who’s hired by a bail bondsman to track down an accountant (Charles Grodin) who has ripped off the mob and then jumped bail; a five-day chase and numerous complications develop as they attempt to elude both the mob and the FBI. Martin Brest directed this comedy thriller from a George Gallo script. Considering all the shopworn materials used here, including the aggressive banality of Danny Elfman’s pop score, one’s expectations quickly sink to zero; but miraculously, De Niro and Grodin turn this sow’s ear into a plausible vehicle for a buddy movie, and thanks to both of them, this movie springs to life. (JR) Read more


Nacho Martinez plays a lame former bullfighter who longs for the thrill of sex that ends in murder; Assumpta Serna plays a successful criminal lawyer with related sexual predilections and a comparable list of corpses to her credit. With a nod to the last scene of Duel in the Sun, Spanish writer-director Pedro Almodovar builds his grisly black-comedy melodrama around these two, using a more innocent couple (Antonio Banderas and Eva Cobo) as contrast; Almodovar himself plays a bit part as a fashion designer. This 1986 film is one of Almodovar’s better features, although, like many of the others, it partially plays the role of popularizing stronger stuff (in this case, Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses), and resorts to some contrived plot devices (including mental telepathy and a solar eclipse) in order to fuse its diverse story elements. Nevertheless, Almodovar manages to do something fairly interesting and watchable with his material. In Spanish with subtitles. NC-17, 102 min. (JR) Read more

A Man’s Woman

This feature-length video by Laura Kipnis, which was funded by England’s Channel Four, takes the form of a pseudodocumentary about the career and assassination of Clovis Kingsley (Petrea Burchard), an antifeminist, profamily media personality who is investigated by reporter Connie Yu (well played by Chicago actress and formerReader staffer Lisa Tejero). On the plus side, Kipnis’s tape uses a pluralism of voices and some witty self-referential devices in order to raise some interesting questions about women, power, and the media. (One of the suggestions made is that Kingsley’s success in the media is both motivated and implemented by submerged feminist goals that aren’t acknowledged as such.) Unfortunately, the execution of the narrative isn’t always up to the ideas, and some of the secondary performances are unnecessarily broad. (A French psychoanalytical theorist, for instance, flaunts an accent that no French person would ever have.) The results are intermittently witty and frequently provocative, although the implied effort to find progressive elements in conservative rhetoric has at times a touch of desperation about it. (JR) Read more