Yearly Archives: 1989

The Little Mermaid

A Valley-girl mermaid, living underwater with an imperious king for a father and a diminutive black servant (a Jamaican crab), falls in love with a surfer-type above-water prince against the wishes of her dad and strikes a deal with a witch that entails giving up her voice in exchange for an all-human form. This is the premise of the Disney studio’s lively and tacky 1989 animated feature, very loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, with songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Other colorful characters include a befuddled seagull (with the voice of Buddy Hackett), a sadistic French chef, and a friendly fish called Flounder. The plot sticks pretty closely to the usual Disney formula, although a few concessions to contemporary traumas are worked in; e.g., when the wicked witch deprives the king and other characters of their powers, they turn into fetuses. Within the apparently necessary aesthetic and ideological limitations (such as making the hero and heroine Americans surrounded by foreign servants a la Pinocchio), the animation manages to be fairly energetic. (JR) Read more

Lethal Weapon 2

LA cops Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are assigned to protect a federal witness (Joe Pesci) in a follow-up to the 1987 hit, with the same director (Richard Donner) at the helm; Patsy Kensit and Joss Ackland also star. Despite the usual improbabilities and cliches that go with this brand of buddy-cop thriller, the action sequences are handled with some flair; Gibson, Glover, and Pesci all acquit themselves admirably, and Jeffrey Boam’s script has plenty of humor and a nice feeling for character. The movie overall may be routine, but Donner gives it some spark and polish (1989). (JR) Read more

Les Girls

Andrew Sarris has called this 1957 semimusical, adapted by John Patrick from a Vera Caspary novel, George Cukor’s version of Rashomon. As in the famous Kurosawa film, flashbacks relate alternate versions of the same storywhich involves the relationship of three show girls (Kay Kendall, Mitzi Gaynor, and Taina Elg) to hoofer Gene Kelly in a Paris setting. Nicely handled, and one of the better examples of Cukor’s flair for ‘Scope framing (after A Star Is Born and Bhowani Junction), although the Cole Porter songs aren’t very memorable; Kendall is a particular delight. (JR) Read more

Kung Fu Master!

Not a martial arts movie (the title refers to a video game) but a provocative 1988 French feature starring and based on a story by the talented English/French actress Jane Birkin, written and directed by Agnes Varda (Vagabond). Birkin plays a 40-year-old divorcee with two daughters who befriends, falls in love with, and eventually has a fleeting affair with a 14-year-old boy (Mathieu Demy, Varda’s son) who is also in love with her. The matter-of-fact treatment of this taboo subject ties in persuasively with the film’s comfortably domestic middle-class milieu and the surrounding cultural climate of France and England (in particular, the impact of AIDS). And to compound the personal (if not autobiographical) nature of the project, Birkin’s two daughters are played by her actual daughters. Varda’s serene and unrhetorical handling of the loaded subjectunderlined with sympathy and understanding for all of the characters, and full of both wit and tendernessis what gives this picture its charge. In French with subtitles. 80 min. (JR) Read more

Ghostbusters Ii

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Sigourney Weaver are back (along with producer-director Ivan Reitman) in this 1989 sequel to the hit comedy about self-appointed ghost catchers bent on saving New York from annihilation. Rather wan in its anything-goes spirit of invention, the movie has a surprisingly low number of laughs; some of the initial premises are goodthe original gang of ghostbusters starting out as a group of has-beens, a pink goo developing in the city sewage system because of the accumulation of bad vibesbut there’s very little energy in the follow-through, and this time Murray’s listlessness seems more anemic than comic. With Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts; written by Ramis and Aykroyd. PG, 102 min. (JR) Read more

Four Adventures Of Reinette And Mirabelle

Four tales about Reinette (Joelle Miquel), a country girl who paints and operates according to certain principles, and Mirabelle (Jessica Forde), her less rigorous friend from the city; they meet in the country in the first episode and share an apartment in Paris during the remaining three. This feature was shot in 16-millimeter by Eric Rohmer in 1986, shortly before he completed Summer in the same format and with the same method of letting his leading actors improvise dialogue rather than strictly following scripts. Not part of Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs series, and deliberately light and nonambitious (very little of consequence occurs in any of the tales), this nevertheless shows the filmmaker at nearly peak formsharply attentive to the sights and sounds of country and city alike and to the temperamental differences between his two heroines. (JR) Read more

A Few Days With Me

After a somewhat promising beginning, Claude Sautet’s adaptation of a novel by Jean-Francois Josselin about an eccentric, diffident heir to a department store chain (Daniel Auteuil) falling in love with a maid (Sandrine Bonnaire) becomes a rather ho-hum French melodrama (with an irritatingly tinny Philippe Sarde score) needlessly stretched out to 131 minutes. Sautet, best known for such tepid (if competent and popular) 70s pictures as Cesar and Rosalie and Vincent, Paul, Francois, and the Others, shows the same unadventurous stylistic assurance as before, and continues to be pretty good with actors (Auteuil’s repressed hero remains marginally interesting, and Bonnaire does her best with a two-dimensional part). But the sluggish complacency of his direction tends to squeeze most of the juice out of the plot, which perpetually threatens to explode with the passion of a La chienne or Scarlet Street but never really gets ignited. There’s a bit of comedy when the hero persuades the maid to move in with him and they throw a party designed to confound class divisions; but the film’s position toward most of its characters never seems much more than halfhearted, and when offscreen narration is introduced toward the end to take care of some exposition, one feels that formally, at least, Sautet is really grasping after straws. Read more


One of Luis Buñuel‘s more perverse low-budget Mexican features (1952), also known in this country as This Strange Passion. Arturo de Cordova plays a wealthy Catholic whose insane jealousy toward his wife (Delia Garces) first becomes apparent on their honeymoon. In some ways it’s a parody of machismo, full of anticlerical thrusts, but like many other Buñuel features of this period, the irreverence — consisting in part of such ghoulish, Sade-inspired notions as the hero wanting to sew up his wife’s vagina — tends to be almost parenthetical rather than the main focus. Buñuel remained true to his surrealist origins throughout his Mexican period, but the full command of his earliest and latest films, as well as such intermediate masterpieces as Los olvidados and The Exterminating Angel, resulted in stronger fare than this. Still, the hero’s wonderful crooked walk in the final shot seems the perfect emblem of Buñuel‘s own sly subversion in adverse circumstances. (JR) Read more


This 1971 first feature by Iranian playwright and scholar Bahram Beizai is a semisweet love story about a schoolteacher (Parviz Farnizadeh) who’s rumored to be involved with a pupil’s attractive older sister (Parvaneh Maassuumi) and winds up falling for her. Shot cheaply, in black and white and nonsynchronous sound, the film has been compared with some justice to certain early films of the French New Wave; Beizai’s handling of children and adult shyness, at least, suggest Truffaut. I haven’t seen the version being shown; it’s the only one edited by Beizai himself and runs 15 minutes longer than the commercial release, titled Downpour. (JR) Read more

Brand New Day

Amos Gitai’s 1987 documentary, with a stereo sound track, about a tour of the Eurythmics through Japan, focuses on the usual sort of concert footage as well as the interaction of the musicians with Japanese culture and music. More conventional as filmmaking than many of Gitai’s other works, but well crafted and tolerable enough as a concert film. 93 min. (JR) Read more

Bangkok Bahrain

Amos Gitai’s documentary about workers in Thailand, with an extended side-trip to Bahrain, features interviews with prostitutes, a former film censor who recruits workers, a company owner showing off his house, the manager of a luxury hotel, and others. A particularly strong aspect of Gitai’s informative, antitouristic approach is his original approach to sound recording and sound mixing; his densely layered sound track nearly always encompasses parts of the surrounding environment that are not visible on-screen, so that one’s perceptions of the various milieus being explored are constantly expanded beyond the borders of the frame (1984). (JR) Read more

Apartment Zero

Martin Donovan’s second feature (1988), set in Buenos Aires, is an exciting if occasionally overblown thriller centered on the relationship between a repressed cinephile (Colin Firth) and a charismatic American (Hart Bochner) who share a flat, a number of neighbors in the same building (including a lonely wife, two English ladies, and an abused transvestite), and a string of serial murders that seem linked to the Argentinean death squads. As various as all these strands may appear to be, Donovan ties them together into a provocative and haunting psychological horror story laced with black humor that is especially suggestive about the ambiguous profile of the American abroad. Baroque in style, with echoes of Hitchcock and Polanski (among others), and an impressively aggressive score by Elia Cmiral, this is a powerful, pungent work that shouldn’t be missed. (JR) Read more

Last Days of the Film Festival

“We were filling the gap in the 60s. We started changing people’s tastes in filmgoing to make them want to see more of this kind of product. And now the theaters that used to show it all have stopped showing it because the distributors do not buy foreign product anymore and foreign product is not being shown in the local theaters anymore. So, ironically, we’ve become the only source now, the festival, for this new kind of film.”

“I have always found that in Chicago, depending on the year, I find the critics to be a rather provincial lot, and they do tend to destroy their own [film festival] but they like seeing the very same film when they can get out of Chicago on a comp or a VIP tour to another festival. They seem to like it more when they can be extracted from their own city and relax and see films.”

“Kieslowski is a director we discovered, and the Decalogue would not exist without us, interestingly enough.”

These modest remarks by Michael J. Kutza, director of the Chicago International Film Festival, are quoted verbatim from John Callaway’s show Chicago Tonight on October 17. (In the interest of brevity, I’ve omitted Kutza’s groundless attacks on the aesthetic tastes of the programmers of the Toronto film festival and on the historical acumen of Dave Kehr.) Read more

Drugstore Cowboy

Set in Portland, Oregon, in 1971, this amiable, no-nonsense account of the exploits of a quartet of junkies who live together (Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, and Heather Graham) fully lives up to the promise of Mala Noche, director Gus Van Sant’s previous feature. Based on an unpublished autobiographical novel by James Fogle that Van Sant adapted with Daniel Yost, the movie has the kind of stylistic conviction that immediately wins one over, conveying something of a junkie’s inner life (in the film’s editing rhythms, unorthodox use of sudden close-ups, and Dillon’s offscreen narration, as well as in a few hallucinatory passages) and the outer necessities of the life-style (which, in this case, include many drugstore robberies and changes of address). The characters are all quirky and life-size (the Dillon character’s superstitiousness is one of the principal motors of the plot, and the story’s outcome doesn’t prove him wrong), and, as with the burglaries in Breaking In, the treatment of drugs is refreshingly free of either moralizing or romanticizing. It’s one indication of Van Sant’s ease and assurance that he’s the first director to successfully integrate the persona of William S. Burroughs in a fiction film: all of the actors are used expertly, but it’s Burroughs, cropping up near the end, who articulates the film’s sociopolitical moral in a contemporary context. Read more


This is my first encounter with Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr (Family Nest) and I hope it won’t be my last. People who don’t have much use for the existential gloom of Antonioni and Tarkovsky are advised to stay away, because many of the hallmarks of that relentless black-and-white style and vision–lots of rain, fog, and stray dogs; murky and decaying bars; artfully composed long takes made up of very slow and almost continuous camera movements; offscreen mechanical noises–are so forcefully present here that one might argue that the film makes a voluptuous fetish of gloom. The rather bare story line in the middle of this–a reclusive loner (Miklos Szekely) is hopelessly in love with a cabaret singer (Vali Kerekes), hopes to find salvation in her, and gets her husband involved in a smuggling scheme so he can spend some time with her–seems almost secondary to the formal beauty of Tarr’s spellbinding arabesques around the dingiest of all possible industrial outposts. The near miracle is that something so compulsively watchable can be made out of a setting and society that seem so depressive and petrified (1987). (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Saturday, October 28, 9:00, and Sunday, October 29, 7:30, 281-4114) Read more