Monthly Archives: September 1989

A Taxing Woman’s Return

If Juzo Itami’s wonderful first two features, The Funeral and Tampopo, suggested the work of a Japanese Frank Tashlin at his funniest and brightest, A Taxing Woman and now its even slicker sequel suggest that he has settled for being, at best, the Japanese Blake Edwards. His second feature about the machinations of tax inspector Ryoko Itakura (Nobuko Miyamoto, Itami’s wife) as she takes off after gangsters and corrupt politicians was an enormous box-office draw in Japanwhich has a certain sociological interest but doesn’t make this movie any more than what it is: a conventional and not very exciting or interesting comedy-thriller. If you’re not expecting much you’ll probably be diverted (1988). (JR) Read more

Tales From The Gimli Hospital

Whatever else you might say about this weird, creepy, and funny independent item by Guy Maddin, it’s certainly different (1988). Although this is a black-and-white sound picture (with occasional sepia and tinting), the ambience is mainly neo-Nordic silent cinema crossed with surrealism; it’s basically played for deadpan laughs, with a fair amount of gore and black humor. Around the turn of the century two patients (Kyle McCulloch and Michael Gottli), who occupy adjacent beds at a primitive and impoverished hospital near Winnipeg, swap yarns about their lives, and strange coincidences coalesce from their separate stories. If you’re in search of something unusual, you should definitely check this out. With Angela Heck and Margaret-Anne MacLeod. 77 min. (JR) Read more


A remarkable achievement on an artisanal level, Chris Sullivan’s low-budget, homemade feature uses a cluttered environment of sets, marionettes, actors, painted backdrops, and a storehouse of props to create a grisly, surreal fantasy about a soap salesman trying to make his way to a class reunion. Full of dense, ingeniously constructed pictorial effects ranging from intricate split-screen compositions to toylike scale models, the filmmainly black and white, with occasional patches of coloris much more successful in generating an overall environment than it is in telling a story, pursuing a theme, or generating much dramatic interest. The choppy continuity, drifting dialogue, and mainly indifferent acting often give a feeling of randomness to the proceedings that interferes with the intermittent dreamlike moods and fairy-tale humor. But spectators looking for something genuinely different are likely to find this intriguing (1988). (JR) Read more


Raul Julia, often resembling Henry Fonda, is quite good as Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero in this docudrama about the events leading up to his assassination in 1980. Produced under Roman Catholic auspices and directed by Australian filmmaker John Duigan (The Year My Voice Broke) from a script by John Sacret Young, the film opts for a direct and fairly simple account of the events in El Salvadorthe role of the U.S., for instance, is restricted to a single line of dialogue in one of Romero’s sermonsbut the sincerity of the production is never in question. With Richard Jordan, Ana Alicia, Eddie Velez, Tony Plana, and Harold Gould. (JR) Read more

Return Trip Tango

Although it only runs for half an hour, Angelo Restivo’s cunningly ordered and well-crafted locally made adaptation of a Julio Cortazar story makes use of so many free-floating narrative signifiersincluding an adept use of sound and musicthat it comes across as an outline for a novel. Circling around an ambiguous murder mystery that isn’t so much solved as multiplied and varied like a musical theme, this tantalizing short provides a kind of do-it-yourself fiction kit; what you bring to it is what you get. With Marika Turano, Celia Lipinski, and Mark Dember (1988). (JR) Read more

Rembrandt Laughing

Jon Jost’s ninth feature focuses rather elliptically on the everyday lives of a group of friends in San Franciscochiefly Claire (Barbara Hammes), who works in an architect’s office, two of her former lovers (Jon A. English and Nathaniel Dorsky), who are close friends, and a recent boyfriend (Jim Nisbet). Masterfully shot and for the most part very persuasively acted, mainly by nonprofessionals (the film’s use of locals is one reason it captures the San Francisco milieu so perfectly), Rembrandt Laughing is a good deal more ambitious than it might first appear. A sense of the timeless and the cosmic hovers over the seemingly casual scenes, and the use of a Rembrandt self-portrait and Beethoven’s opus 132 string quartet is integral to the film’s overall projectto discover the universe in a bowl of miso soup. Part of Jost’s method, like Godard’s in A Married Woman, is to convert the dramatic into the graphic, and his various means of carrying that out are unexpected and frequently beautiful (1988). (JR) Read more


A creepy, interesting, and visually striking 1963 feature by Kaneto Shindo, set in the 16th century in the midst of a civil war, about two poor women who live in the marshes and support themselves by luring wounded samurai to their deaths and then selling their possessions. Things get more complicated when the partnership is threatened by the younger of the two women becoming romantically involved with a neighbor, and the film builds to a macabre and eerie climax. With Nobuko Otowa and Jitsuko Yoshimura. (JR) Read more

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