Daily Archives: September 1, 1989

Lawrence Of Arabia

This is the 202-minute version of David Lean’s 1962 classic, 14 minutes shorter than the restored 70-millimeter versionstill a good movie, though you may want to hold out for another chance to see it bigger and longer. Peter O’Toole plays the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence; Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, and Omar Sharif are among the Arabs he lords it over, and Jose Ferrer plays a nasty Turk. There’s also a lot of sand, spectacle, and homoeroticism. (JR) Read more

Johnny Handsome

Mickey Rourke plays a disfigured convict who gets a new face from plastic surgeon Forest Whitaker so he can settle down in New Orleans and get even with Ellen Barkin and Lance Henriksen, who were responsible for his going to prison. Walter Hill directed this 1989 feature from a pulpy script by Ken Friedman (based on John Godey’s novel The Three Worlds of Johnny Handsome), and its nasty, predictable plot and unpleasant characters aren’t made any more bearable by Hill’s customary smoke, sweat, funk, and neon. Practically everyone registers as a silly central-casting gargoyle; even the talented Barkin is twisted out of shape by her grotesque character, and while Elizabeth McGovern fares somewhat better, the only standouts are Morgan Freeman and the imperturbable Whitaker. 94 min. (JR) Read more

The Girl In A Swing

Alan (Rupert Frazer), a wealthy English antique ceramics dealer, becomes smitten with a German secretary named Karin (Meg Tilly) during a business trip in Copenhagen, proposes to her, and marries her after she joins him in England. Although they’re passionately in love, a number of unsettling and seemingly supernatural eventsincluding dreams and apparent hallucinationsbegin to raise the question of Karin’s mysterious past, which continues to trouble her. Writer-director Gordon Hessler’s erotic psychological thriller, adapted from Richard Adams’s novel, isn’t an unqualified success (some choppy editing and miscalculated slow-motion occasionally interfere with the trancelike rhythms), but it shares with the memorable horror films of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourneur a preference for suggestion and understatement over explicitness, developing a gripping narrative and some disquieting and evocative moods in the process, along with some fairly steamy sex. (JR) Read more

Forevermore: Biography Of A Leach Lord

A highly distinctive pseudodocumentary by Eric Saks, an environmentalist based in Los Angeles. At once novelistic and poetic, this achronological collage of diary entries between the 1940s and 1990s by a fictional toxic-waste dumper named Isaac Hudakthe different stages of his life are played by three actors, including Sakscreates a haunting portrait of an alienated drifter’s existence that comprises the underside of our national heritage. Behind the dry recitation of ecological facts in the narration, there is a powerful overall sense of the poetics of waste (a register that recalls Thomas Pynchon), with writers as diverse as E.M. Cioran and Peter Handke used to flesh out some of the diary entries. Highly original in its form, its subject, its funereal tone, and its ghostly sensibility, this is a remarkable and memorable first feature, full of haunting ideas and eerie aftereffects. (JR) Read more

Family Viewing

Atom Egoyan’s striking and haunting Canadian feature (1987) concerns family ties and video technology, and the strange relationships between them. The plot concerns an alienated young man (Aidan Tierney) who lives with his father (David Hemblin) and his father’s mistress in a fancy high rise full of video equipment. The young man becomes increasingly worried about the fate of his grandmother, whom the father has shunted off to a convalescent home. At the institution he becomes acquainted with an ailing woman and her daughter (Arsinee Khanjian), an equally alienated individual who works as a purveyor of phone sex, which his father uses as a stimulus for his lovemaking. The use of video as a tool of voyeurism and as a means of sustaining distance punctuates the narrative with an eerie persistence; Egoyan’s measured style makes the most of it, while constructing a spellbinding plot that weaves a curious web of complicity and deceit around the major characters. (JR) Read more

A Dry White Season

First-rate agitprop about the ruthlessness of South African apartheid, directed by Euzhan Palcy (Sugar Cane Alley) and adapted from Andre Brink’s novel by Palcy and Colin Welland. Like Cry Freedom and A World Apart, this 1989 film concentrates on white rebels in South Africa, but it goes substantially further in its depiction of black oppression, and of violence in particular, which makes it the most powerful of the three. Donald Sutherland stars as a liberal but blinkered schoolteacher who gradually becomes radicalized after a series of brutal events affecting his gardener that eventually splits his family apart. Susan Sarandon plays a sympathetic journalist, and Marlon Brando, in a juicy comeback cameo that evokes Orson Welles’s Clarence Darrow impersonation in Compulsion, plays an antiapartheid lawyer. The relentless plot is effectively set up and expertly pursued, and Hugh Masekela makes some striking contributions to Dave Grusin’s musical score. With Janet Suzman, J Read more


Oliver Hockenhull’s experimental documentaryinspired by the arrest and sentencing of the Toronto Five, members of the Vancouver Direct Action anarchist groupcalls to mind the multifaceted questioning of media information and language in general in some of Godard’s more radical works of the late 60sparticularly Le gai savoirthat featured different forms of collage. All sorts of elements are woven into the mixture, including documentary footage, interviews, dialogues, punk rock, images from TV, performance art involving slides and silhouettes, and many different kinds of image processing. Alternately thoughtful and chaotic, it gives one a lot to chew overalthough some viewers may feel that they’ve already been here before, in spite of the sincerity and urgency of the expression (1988). (JR) Read more


A father and daughter (Peter Falk and Emily Lloyd) with a volatile relationship are pitted against both the mob and the cops in a comedy directed by Susan Seidelman (Desperately Seeking Susan) from a script by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. Also on hand are Dianne Wiest, Michael V. Gazzo, Brenda Vaccaro, Ricki Lake, Lionel Stander (as a Mafia chieftain), and Jerry Lewis (as an Atlantic City real estate developer). While the cast as a whole makes this intermittently likable (though both Stander and Lewis are unaccountably wasted), the film is defeated by an inadequate script that makes both the convoluted plot and most of the characters (particularly the title heroine) thin and inadequately motivated. Falk, Wiest, and Vaccaro are especially deft at using their talents to make us overlook this deficiency, but eventually the bum script catches up with them (1989). (JR) Read more

Citizen P.

Jerzy Stefan Stawinski adapted his own novel, Piszczyk’s Sad Destiny Continued, for Andrzej Kotkowski’s film about a hard-luck hero in postwar Poland. Early in his adult life, Piszcyk gets thrown in prison by postwar communist authorities for supposedly not adapting to the new ways of life; later, his girlfriend hails him as a victim of Stalinism and a revolutionary activist, which leads to another arrest. Where are you going? Right or left? asks a stranger toward the end of the film, after the hero has related all his mishaps in flashback formthe tragicomic misadventures of a man who usually gets in trouble for doing what he thinks is expected of him. I don’t know, Citizen P. replies, and the film’s wry position is not to know either. Watchable if predictable, as well as bit contrived in spots, this dark comedy is certainly Polish to the core in its caustic ironies. (JR) Read more

China Is Near

It’s possible that Marco Bellocchio’s second feature, La Cina e vicina, a lively comedy about sex, class, and politics, is still his best film. Two scheming working-class lovers contrive to get themselves married into the same wealthy family, which includes a professor running for a municipal office as a socialist, his promiscuous sister, and a 17- year-old Maoist. Comic sparks fly out in every direction, pushed along by an exciting camera style. With Glauco Mauri, Elda Tattoli (who also serves as art director and collaborated with Bellocchio on the script), and music by Ennio Morricone (1968). (JR) Read more

Break Of Dawn

A docudrama about Pedro J. Gonzalez (Oscar Chavez), the first Spanish-language broadcaster in the U.S. and a former revolutionary who defended his fellow Mexicans from racial attacks during the Depression and who was eventually sent to prison on trumped-up rape charges as a means of silencing him politically. Written and directed by Isaac Artenstein, the film, which is largely in English, benefits from its careful attention to period detail (including an interesting use of color archival footage). There’s some awkwardness in the two-dimensionality and declamatory acting style of the gringo villainsan unsavory bunch headed by LA district attorney Kyle Mitchell (Peter Henry Schroeder), who bears a striking resemblance to George Bushbut the interest of the story keeps the film watchable. With Maria Rojo, Tony Plana, and Pepe Serna (1988). (JR) Read more

Born In Flames

Set in a future New York City that ideologically and practically bears a close resemblance to the present (the film’s budget was minuscule), Lizzie Borden’s radical feminist feature focuses on two clandestine radio stations and the announcers who speak for thema black woman named Honey, who espouses cooperation and community, and a white punk anarchist named Isabel, whose message is more negative and divisive. For all their differences, both women and both radio stations wind up seeming united in relation to the repressiveness of the mainstream media, which also figure substantially in the plot. Made piecemeal over a number of years and first released in 1983, this 90-minute comic fantasy has lost little of its radical edgein contrast to Borden’s subsequent Working Girls, which accommodated itself to a wider audience. (JR) Read more

Border Radio

Not connected with the nonfiction book of the same title, this is a low-budget, black-and-white independent feature (1987) written and directed by three UCLA film-school graduates (Allison Anders, Dean Lent, and Kurt Voss) about the rock scene in Los Angeles. After cutting a new album, a rock star named Jeff Bailey (Chris D.) steals some money owed to him and heads for his trailer in Ensenada. Most of the story concentrates on the efforts of his wife (Luanna Anders) to fend off the press and find out her husband’s whereabouts, as well as her involvement with Bailey’s roadie (Chris Shearer); various documentary-style interviews with a groupie (Iris Berry) and other hangers-on, which appear to be improvised, are periodically intercut with the relatively lax narrative flow. The movie has a good feel for the LA rock milieu, and some of the arty effects of the cinematography and editing are striking. But there’s very little sense of narrative rhythm, and the overall pacing seems needlessly sluggish. With Texacala Jones, John Doe, and the music of Dave Alvin, the Divine Horsemen, Green on Red, Los Lobos, the Lazy Cowgirls, and Chip Kinman. (JR) Read more

Black Rain

Michael Douglas plays a rude New York cop who penetrates the Japanese underworld in order to return a murder suspect to the Osaka police. Ridley Scott directed this 1989 feature, and while there’s a lot of his characteristic atmosphericssmoke, fog, neon, yellow light, rain, and squalorto fill all the dead spaces, he’s still a long way from the splendors of Blade Runner. The script by Craig Bolotin and Warren Lewis doesn’t give him or Douglas very much to chew on, apart from a lot of unpleasant xenophobia about Japanese gangsters, and the plot never gets far beyond the formulaic and the forgettable, hammered into place by Hans Zimmer’s pounding and numbing score. With Andy Garcia, Kate Capshaw, and Ken Takakura; produced by Sherry Lansing and Stanley R. Jaffe (Fatal Attraction, The Accused). (JR) Read more

The Bear

A 1989 adventure story about bears, produced by Claude Berri, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (Quest for Fire), and adapted by Gerard Brach from James Oliver Curwood’s novel The Grizzly King. Closer to the realities of animal behavior than what you generally find in Disney films, and aided by stunning scenery (the Bavarian Alps doubling here for British Columbia), the movie still aims for and intermittently achieves a certain anthropomorphism in the male bonding of an orphan cub and a huge grizzly, but at least they haven’t learned how to ham like their Hollywood counterparts. Jack Wallace, Tcheky Karyo, and Andre Lacombe play the humans, and Annaud doesn’t seem very comfortable with them; the movie is generally best when the bears are calling the shots. (JR) Read more