Monthly Archives: October 1989

Toby Dammit

This extravagant Fellini phantasmagoria, about 40 minutes long, was the best episode of Spirits of the Dead, a 1968 anthology of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. It’s usually shown dubbed in English. With Terence Stamp. (JR) Read more

The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

More memorable for its title than for anything elsethe Harvard Lampoon once suggested pairing it with Inside Daisy Clover on a double billthis mild Norman Jewison comedy about what happens when a Russian submarine turns up off the New England coast features Alan Arkin (in his film debut), Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, Paul Ford, and Theodore Bikel. (JR) Read more

Report

Bruce Conner’s remarkable and disturbing 1965 treatment of the John F. Kennedy assassination is simultaneously a personal account of a national tragedy and a challenging analysis of the media that uses startling repetitions and juxtapositions to reformulate the event in all its complex horror. 15 min. (JR) Read more

On Tour With Pina Bausch

Perhaps the most conventional work of the gifted Belgian experimental filmmaker Chantal Akerman, this documentary about the 1983 tour of Italy and France by German choreographer Pina Bausch is still personal and interesting. (JR) Read more

Old Gringo

Like much of Reds, this is a very old-fashioned Hollywood blockbuster that is supposed to be progressive, although the sentimentality and simplicity of the conception tend to drag it down. An American spinster (Jane Fonda) goes to Mexico in 1913 to teach English, but finds herself in the midst of the Mexican revolution, and drawn to both a neurotic general in Pancho Villa’s army (Jimmy Smits) and a crochety, 71-year-old former journalist from the U.S. (Gregory Peck), the old gringo of the title, who turns out to be Ambrose Bierce. Directed and cowritten by Luis Puenzo (The Official Story), this adaptation of Carlos Fuentes’s novel, a long-nurtured project developed over eight years by Fonda, ultimately founders due to a surfeit of old Hollywood thinking: a rather soggy conception of Bierce and an unconvincing performance by Peck that both smack of shameless Oscar-mongering, a cliched view of Mexicans (including such standbys as the life-enhancing prostitute), and a surprisingly drab and uninteresting performance by Fonda that seems intended to stir us with its simplicity. Not entirely uninterestingsome of the crowd scenes and location shooting is watchable, and Peck can be charming when he doesn’t try too hardbut Fonda’s soupy offscreen narration tends to drown the film’s occasional virtues in unearned pieties (1989). Read more

Love, Mother

Janos Rosza’s Hungarian comedy-drama about a contemporary family whose members are too busy to talk to each other, written by Miklos Vamos, begins promisingly with witty notations about the various ways the members of the family get up in the morning, avoid each other, and go about their business. The plot gets fairly convoluted after that, and as its various strands build to a climaxthe mother wants a divorce, the father cheats on her, the son plays hooky and spies on the other family members and neighbors through a periscope, the daughter has no one to talk to and eventually attempts suicide, and all of them neglect a grandmother who is dying in a hospitalthe pacing becomes more willful and leaden, and the film seems especially unsure about when to stop. But there’s still enough humor and observation to keep one interested much of the time. Dorotyya Udvaros, who plays the mother, won the best-actress prize at the Moscow film festival, and the film won the grand prize at Budapest’s film festival (1988). (JR) Read more

Limit Up

Nancy Allen plays a runner at the Chicago Board of Trade who seemingly sells her soul in order to become a successful soybean trader; Dean Stockwell is her evil and greedy employer who later becomes her rival. Writer-director Richard Martini tries to dress this premise up in cutesy behavior and some pithy moral adages about the state of the world, but delivers it in such a listless, uninvolving manner that it’s hard to be carried along by the movie’s honorable intentions. Brad Hall is rather likable as the romantic lead, and Danitra Vance and Ray Charles are around to deliver most of the moral lessons; Sally Kellerman does a bit as a nightclub singer. (JR) Read more

La Lectrice

Miou-Miou works as a professional reader in a French comedy directed by Michel Deville, adapted from two books by Raymond Jean. Lots of not very whimsical whimsy and not very erotic eroticism make up the bulk of this minor effort, which pivots around the various eccentricities, desires, and imaginations of the heroine’s various clients, who include an invalid (Regis Royer), a general’s widow (Maria Casares), and a businessman (Patrick Chesnais). This is Deville’s 24th feature; every once in a while he turns out an interesting film (e.g. Le paltoquet), but this isn’t one of them (1989). (JR) Read more

Keeper Of The Flame

The flame that Katharine Hepburn keeps is for the memory of her late husband, a millionaire industrialist-politician whom reporter Spencer Tracy is trying to debunk. In spite of the creative teamHepburn, Tracy, and director George Cukorthis curiously flat 1943 melodrama redeems itself only from moment to moment. 100 min. (JR) Read more

La Jetee

One of the best of all SF films is this haunting, apocalyptic 27-minute French short by the great Chris Marker (1962) about a man sent into the future—a story that is told almost exclusively in still frames. In French and German with subtitles. (JR) Read more

An Innocent Man

Tom Selleck plays someone who’s accidentally busted by two crooked narcotics cops (David Rasche and Richard Young) and is then sentenced to six years in a maximum security prison when the cops stick to their charges to cover up their mistake. Once inside, he gets a brutal education in how to survive prison life, and after he’s paroled and returns to his devoted wife (Laila Robins), he decides to get even with the cops. Written by Larry Brothers and directed by Peter Yates, this is a halfway decent formula action film that is periodically made unbearable by Howard Shore’s ghastly Muzak score and some moments of camp stolidity in Selleck’s performance. More interesting, from an actorly standpoint, are F. Murray Abraham and, in a regrettably brief part, Todd Graff. (JR) Read more

Gross Anatomy

Christine Lahti, Matthew Modine, and Daphne Zuniga, all deserving much better, are asked to prop up a formulaic, cliche-ridden comedy-drama about first-year medical studentsa sort of Paper Chase clone with Lahti assuming the John Houseman part. Written by Ron Nyswaner and Mark Spragg and directed by Thom Eberhardt, the film remains pretty hopeless, and not even Modine and Zuniga can do enough to make it otherwise. Lahti, however, as gifted an actress as we have, is so astonishingly good in her impossible part that she doesn’t so much transcend her role as make it seem irrelevant. All things considered, seeing her in the part of Dr. Rachel Woodruff, a stern medical professor, is like hearing Charlie Parker play I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles with Guy Lombardo; even she can’t transform the material, but what she does with it is a wonder to behold. With Todd Field, John Scott Clough, Alice Carter, and Zakes Mokae. (JR) Read more

Great Balls Of Fire

After The Big Easy, Dennis Quaid and director Jim McBride reunited for this 1989 musical biopic about rock icon Jerry Lee Lewis. More fanciful than factual, less likable than either The Big Easy or Breathless, McBride’s previous two features, the movie tries hard to re-create the euphoria of 50s rock films, but the poor-white milieu is treated with such crude derision that all the characters wind up seeming like two-dimensional geeks. Winona Ryder turns in a particularly fresh performance as Lewis’s teenage bride, Myra, but the filmmakers’ remoteness from their real-life models (including Lewis’s cousin Jimmy Swaggart, played by Alec Baldwin) eventually lands the movie in confusionby the end, we don’t even know for sure whether the Killer is triumphing or going down in flames. Still, there are a few striking touches and entertaining broad strokes, and the musical sequences are lively. Scripted by McBride and Jack Baran and very loosely based on the biography Myra Lewis wrote with Murray Silver; with John Doe, Lisa Blount, Stephen Tobolowsky, Trey Wilson, and cameos by Steve Allen and Joe Bob Briggs. (JR) Read more

Fat Man And Little Boy

The surprising thing about Roland Joffe’s movie about the building of the first atomic bomb is that, for all its unevenness as filmmakingwith a fragmented story line, unconvincing period dialogue, and a soupy Ennio Morricone score that would be more appropriate in a Sergio Leone epicit still comes across as an unusually intelligent and provocative treatment of its subject. Concentrating on the power relationship between General Leslie R. Groves (Paul Newman in a carefully crafted performance) and J. Robert Oppenheimer (newcomer Dwight Schultz), with plenty of time left for Oppenheimer’s feisty wife Kitty (Bonnie Bedelia), the romance between a young scientist (John Cusack) and a nurse (Laura Dern), and various other subplots, the movie starts off as scattered, and never fully recovers from the splintered interests of Joffe and Bruce Robinson’s ambitious script. (The corny handling of Oppenheimer’s relationship to his communist mistress, played by Natasha Richardson, is especially unfortunate.) But the film steadily grows in complexity and power, assisted by Vilmos Zsigmond’s superb cinematography, and winds up saying something persuasive and troubling about the network of forces that ultimately produced the bomba vast improvement on such earlier commercial treatments as The Beginning or the End (1947), which gave us Brian Donlevy as Groves and Hume Cronyn as Oppenheimer, without a trace of irony about either character. Read more

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, this 1932 screen adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic is a remarkable achievement that deserves to be much better known. Fredric March won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance as the lead, and Miriam Hopkins and Rose Hobart play the two women who match the opposite sides of the hero’s nature. The transformations of Jekyll are a notable achievement for March and Mamoulian alike, and the disturbing undercurrents of the story are given their full due (as they weren’t in the much inferior 1941 Victor Fleming version with Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner). Mamoulian was at his peak in the early 30s, as this film shows. 97 min. (JR) Read more