Monthly Archives: August 1989

The Package

A rather unthrilling but otherwise serviceable thriller (1989), directed by Andrew Davis from a script by John Bishop. The package in question is a court-martialed U.S. serviceman (Tommy Lee Jones) whom Gene Hackman is supposed to deliver from Europe to a prison in the U.S. But the prisoner breaks free in order to try to assassinate a Soviet leader visiting the U.S. and thus put the skids on detente, and Hackman takes off after him. Reasonably well crafted, and Hackman is good as usual, although one continues to feel that he’s been slipping in his choice of projects. Shot largely in the Chicago area, which is partially made to stand in for Berlin and Washington; with Joanna Cassidy and John Heard. (JR)… Read more »

Films By Frederick Marx

Films by one of the directors of Hoop Dreams, an Illinois-based film and video maker whose experimental and political interests sometimes inform each other. House of Un-American Activities (1983) is a documentary that mixes personal and public history as it describes the 1956 persecution of Marx’s fathera Jewish refugee from Germany who joined the Communist Party in 1945. Dreams From China was shot while Marx was working as an English teacher in China between 1983 and 1985; the portrait of China it presents is highly personal, full of fascinating details, and, given Marx’s leftist background, unfashionably negative. Also on the program: Higher Goals and Jail Vision. Marx will attend the screening. (JR)… Read more »

Lock Up

A personal feud between a prisoner (Sylvester Stallone) and a vengeful warden (Donald Sutherland) forms the core of this simpleminded, sub-Neanderthal, bone-crushing 1989 action drama, directed by John Flynn from a script by Richard Smith, Jeb Stuart, and Henry Rosenbaum. It would be excessive to claim that the two leads play characters in any ordinary sense; Sutherland is simply Evil, while Stallone, as usual, is the Indomitable Human Spirit. For torture and violence freaks, every clank and thud is duly and hyperbolically registered. With John Amos, Darlanne Fluegel, Frank McRae, and Sonny Landham. 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Killing

Arguably Stanley Kubrick’s most perfectly conceived and executed film, this 1956 noirish thriller utilizes an intricate overlapping time structure to depict the planning and execution of a plot to steal $2 million from a racetrack. Adapted by Kubrick from Lionel White’s Clean Break, with an extraordinary gallery of B players: Sterling Hayden, Marie Windsor, J.C. Flippen, Elisha Cook Jr., Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Ted de Corsia, Joe Sawyer, and the unforgettable Timothy Carey. Orson Welles was so taken with this film that after seeing it he declared Kubrick could do no wrong; not to be missed. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

Face To Face

Ingmar Bergman at his most painful, pretentious, and empty invites Liv Ullmann to pull out all the stops in depicting the nervous breakdown of a psychiatrist (1976). Thankfully, this torture machine runs for only 136 minutes; originally it was a four-part Swedish miniseries. With Erland Josephson, Gunnar Bjornstrand, and more angst than you can shake a stick at. I’d recommend The Silence or Persona as examples of tortured Bergman psychodrama that lead to more edifying places. (JR)… Read more »

Eddie And The Cruisers Ii: Eddie Lives

Jean-Claude Lord directs this delayed sequel to Eddie and the Cruisers (1983), in which the supposedly dead rock star hero (Michael Pare) proves to be living incognito in Montreal, and gradually essays a comeback under a different name while record-company executives continue to exploit his legend. Eddie seems an utterly boring conventional rock musician, projecting the kind of purist artistic scruples that would seem excessive even if he were Igor Stravinsky. The film gamely tries to have it otherwise by enlisting Bo Diddley, Larry King, and Merrill Shindler (among others) for cameos and having all the major characters assert that Eddie is a driven genius, but it won’t wash: the character is ornery enough, but his music sounds thoroughly unexceptional. With Marina Orsini, Bernie Coulson, and Matthew Laurance. (JR)… Read more »

Distant Voices, Still Lives

It’s hard to say what Terence Davies’s powerful masterpiece is aboutgrowing up in a working-class family in Liverpool in the 40s and 50swithout making it sound familiar and lugubrious. In fact, this beautiful memoir, conceivably one of the greatest of all English films, is so startling and original that we may not have the vocabulary to do it justice. Organized achronologically, so that events are perceived more in terms of emotional continuity than of narrative progression, the film concentrates on family events like weddings and funerals and on songs sung at parties and the local pub. It’s clear that Davies’s childhood, which was lorded over by a brutal and tyrannical father, was not an easy one, yet the delight shown and conveyed by the well-known songs makes the experience of this film cathartic and hopeful as well as sorrowful and tragic. (There are some wonderful laughs as well.) Much of the film emphasizes the bonds between the women in the family and their female friends, although there’s nothing doctrinal or polemical about its vision, and the purity and intensity of its emotional thrust are such that all the characters are treated with passion and understanding. The sense of the periods depictedranging from the blitz to a mid-50s screening of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing at the Futurist Cinemais both precise and luminous.… Read more »

Daughters Of Darkness

Harry Kumel’s stylish Belgian vampire film with a cult reputation (1971) is worth seeing for several reasons, not least of which is Delphine Seyrig’s elegant lead performance as a lesbian vampire who operates a luxury hotel. The baroque mise en scene is also loads of fun; with Daniele Ouimet and Andrea Rau. (JR)… Read more »

Cinderella

Along with Alice in Wonderland (1951), arguably the last of the great Disney animated features. This 1950 effort shows Disney at the tail end of his best period, when his backgrounds were still luminous with depth and detail and his incidental characters still had range and bite. The opulent palace settings are somewhere between Ernst Lubitsch and Leni Riefenstahl in their monumentality. The serviceable songs include Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo. (JR)… Read more »

Casualties Of War

Brian De Palma’s Vietnam drama (1989), based on a true incident about the kidnapping, gang rape, and murder of a Vietnamese civilian (Thuy Thu Lee) by a squad of American soldiers. One of the five soldiers, a new recruit (Michael J. Fox), protests the kidnapping, refuses to participate in the rape, and subsequently gets the other four members of his squad court-martialed, despite official resistance. The story is basically told in flashback from his viewpoint, with particular emphasis on his own feelings of remorse for not having saved the woman’s life. The results are obviously sincere and relatively serious for De Palma (with a fresh handling of wide-screen composition that plays on some of the moral conflicts and ambiguities), but the entire film is predicated on a fairly unquestioning acceptance of the morality of the U.S. involvement in Vietnamthe issue of whether the highly principled hero enlisted or was drafted isn’t even brought upas well as a refusal to link this war with other U.S. involvements in the third world. So the feeling of helplessness that the film honors and provokes amounts to a moral cop-out rather than a genuine confrontation with what the war meant and continues to mean. Sean Penn, as the sergeant in the squad, chews up a lot of scenery, and Ennio Morricone pours on the tragic music to make sure that we get the point (and don’t linger on the wider issues that the film avoids); with Don Harvey, John C.… Read more »

Andrei Rublev

Andrei Tarkovsky’s first major film (1966, though banned and unseen until 1971), 185 minutes long, cowritten by Andrei Konchalovsky, about a 15th-century icon painter. This medieval epic announced the birth of a major talent; it also stuns with the sort of unexpected poetic explosions we’ve come to expect from Tarkovsky: an early flying episode suggesting Gogol, a stirring climax in color. Not to be missed. In Russian and Italian with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

All Of Me

Pairing of two goofy comics with independent styles might seem like a recipe for disaster, but the wacky plot premise of this hilarious Carl Reiner comedy makes it work, and Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin are seen pretty much at their peak (1984). A sick and self-indulgent heiress facing death (Tomlin) plans to have her soul transplanted into a healthy female body, but after a mix-up she winds up inhabiting the right-hand side of a male lawyer (Martin), which leads to some of Martin’s wildest spastic effects. All in all, an unusually amiable and well-made comedy; with Victoria Tennant and Madolyn Smith. PG, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Abyss

The third collaboration of writer-director James Cameron and producer Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens, the Terminator movies) is a big-budget action thriller about a group of underwater oil diggers who go looking for a lost nuclear submarine and wind up encountering extraterrestrials. Shot largely underwater and with direct sound, this has a visceral kick to it that enhances Cameron’s flair for high-tech special effects and streamlined storytelling, but the attempt to extract the essences of several genres (cold-war submarine thriller, love story, Disney fantasy, pseudomystical SF in the Spielberg mode) and mix them together ultimately leads to giddy incoherence. Before the movie collapses, however, there are several highly effective suspense sequences, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is especially fine as the feisty, volatile heroine. With Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, Todd Graff, and John Bedford Lloyd. 140 min. (JR)… Read more »