Monthly Archives: January 1990

Mystery Train

Jim Jarmusch’s fourth feature gives us three separate stories occurring over the same day in a sleazy section of Memphis: “Far From Yokohama,” about the visit of a young Japanese couple (Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase) to the shrines of their demigods, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins respectively; “A Ghost,” about an Italian woman (Nicoletta Braschi) whose husband has just died on their honeymoon, who shares a hotel room with an American woman (Elizabeth Bracco) who has just left her English boyfriend, and who glimpses the ghost of Elvis himself; and “Lost in Space,” about the grief of the English boyfriend (Joe Strummer) alluded to in part two, who hangs out with two buddies (Rick Aviles and Steve Buscemi) and shoots a clerk in a liquor store. All three stories gravitate toward the same locations, including a rundown hotel presided over by night clerk Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and bellboy Cinque Lee, and Jarmusch gets a lot of mileage out of the formal satisfactions to be found as the three separate stories periodically pass over the same places and moments in time. There’s also some thoughtful work in the selective color of Robby Muller’s cinematography, and a great deal of the wit, poetry, and sensitivity to character that made Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise and Down by Law so appealing.… Read more »

Hotel Monterey

This early experimental feature, slightly longer than an hour, by Chantal Akerman (1972), shot silently and brilliantly by Babette Mangolte, explores the corridors, lobby, elevators, and rooms of a cheap New York hotel. Occasionally the rooms’ solitary occupants are glimpsed, but this only increases the overall atmosphere of eerie isolation and quiet, and reveals perhaps more than any other Akerman film how central an influence Edward Hopper has had on her work. On the same program, two very early Akerman shorts: Saute ma ville! (1968) and Lachambre (1972). Saute ma ville!–Akerman’s first film, made when she was still a teenager–is a hilarious and appropriately claustrophobic forerunner of Jeanne Dielman, starring Akerman herself as a neurotic individual who creates apocalyptic havoc in her own kitchen. An illuminating and luminous program, not to be missed. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Monday through Thursday, January 15 through 18, 7:00, 281-4114)… Read more »

Glory

A historically fascinating picture about the Civil War’s 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, made up of black enlisted men and headed by a white colonel named Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). Directed by TV award winner Edward Zwick (thirtysomething, Special Bulletin) from a script by Kevin Jarre (Rambo: First Blood Part II), the film suffers from some of the war-movie and liberal-movie cliches that one might expect from filmmakers with these credits, but the cast–which also includes Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, and Cary Elwes–is strong, and the training and battle scenes seem carefully researched. Lurking somewhere in the background of this true-life tale, derived from two books (Lincoln Kirstein’s Lay This Laurel and Peter Burchard’s One Gallant Rush) and the letters of Robert Gould Shaw, is some caustic irony about the outcome of the black soldiers’ desire to fight that the movie never confronts directly enough. But this is still a pretty watchable and always interesting period film, well photographed by English cinematographer Freddie Francis. (Webster Place, Evanston, Evergreen, Hyde Park, Hillside Square, Norridge, Yorktown, Water Tower, Lincoln Village)… Read more »

Solaris

After being circulated in various truncated versions in this country, Andrei Tarkovsky’s beautiful, enigmatic, and highly idiosyncratic SF spectacle has finally been restored to its original 167 minutes. Although Tarkovsky regarded this 1972 feature (his third), beautifully composed in ‘Scope, as the weakest of his films, it holds up remarkably well as a soulful Soviet “response” to 2001: A Space Odyssey that concentrates on the limits of man’s imagination in relation to memory and conscience. Sent to a remote space station poised over the mysterious planet Solaris in order to investigate the puzzling data sent back by an earlier mission, a psychologist (Donatis Banionis) discovers that the planet materializes human forms based on the troubled memories of the space explorers–including the psychologist’s own beautiful wife (Natalya Bondarchuk), who killed herself many years before and is repeatedly resurrected before his eyes. More an exploration of inner space than of outer space, Tarkovsky’s eerie mystic parable is given substance by the filmmaker’s boldly original grasp of film language and the remarkable performances by all the principals; while it may not be the equal of such masterpieces as Andrej Roublev and Stalker, it remains one of the key Russian films of the 70s, charged with poetry, passion, and mystery.… Read more »

Sidewalk Stories

Disarming in the simplicity and sentimentality of its basic conception, this mainly silent black-and-white comedy reworks the basic coordinates of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid in terms of the homeless in contemporary lower Manhattan. Written, directed, produced by, and starring Charles Lane, the movie focuses on a young black sidewalk portrait artist who finds himself caring for a two-year-old girl after her father is murdered in an alley. The comparisons provoked by Lane between himself and Chaplin are not always fortunate; in spite of his obvious talent and sincerity, the filmmaker-performer doesn’t come across as any sort of genius. It’s just as clear that 1921, the year of The Kid, is not 1989; the gags tend to be both more modest and less plentiful, and the characters are even simpler than Chaplin’s. Nevertheless, Lane’s conceit is handled with such unassuming sweetness and charm that it never comes across as presumptuous or pretentious, and the simple authority of his conclusion–which uses dialogue in order to point out what most of us refuse to hear when we’re walking down the street–is unimpeachable. One should also credit Marc Marder with a memorable jaunty score that subtly enhances the pantomime without belaboring it. With Nicole Alysia, Sandye Wilson, and Darnell Williams.… Read more »

Sweetie

Those lucky enough to have seen Jane Campion’s eccentric and engaging shorts had reason to expect her first feature to be a breakthrough for the Australian cinema. But nothing prepared one for the freshness and weirdness of this 1989 black comedy about two sisters (Genevieve Lemon and Karen Colston) locked in a deadly struggle. Practically every shot is unorthodox, unexpected, and poetically right, and the swerves of the plot are simultaneously smooth, logical, and so bizarre you’ll probably wind up pondering them days later. The mad behavior of both sisters may make you squirm, and there are plenty of other things in this pictureincluding the other charactersto make you feel unbalanced, but Campion does so many beautiful, funny, and surprising things with our disquiet that you’re likely to come out of this movie seeing the world quite differently. In short, this is definitely not to be missed. With Tom Lycos, Jon Darling, Dorothy Barry, and Michael Lake. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Street And The Student Of Prague

Karl Grune’s 1923 silent German feature combines expressionist lighting with a naturalistic middle-class drama about a kind but confused middle-aged protagonist who gives in to the temptations of the city streets. 74 min. Henrik Galeen’s The Student of Prague (1926), one of the most famous doppelganger films in the silent German cinema, is actually a remake of a 1913 feature said to be the earliest surviving German expressionist film; this version stars Conrad Veidt in the title role. (JR)… Read more »

Solaris

Although Andrei Tarkovsky regarded this 1972 SF spectacle in ‘Scope as the weakest of his films, it holds up remarkably well as a soulful Soviet response to 2001: A Space Odyssey, concentrating on the limits of man’s imagination in relation to memory and conscience. Sent to a remote space station poised over the mysterious planet Solaris in order to investigate the puzzling data sent back by an earlier mission, a psychologist (Donatas Banionis) discovers that the planet materializes human forms based on the troubled memories of the space explorersincluding the psychologist’s own wife (Natalya Bondarchuk), who’d killed herself many years before but is repeatedly resurrected before his eyes. More an exploration of inner than of outer space, Tarkovsky’s eerie mystic parable is given substance by the filmmaker’s boldly original grasp of film language and the remarkable performances by all the principals. In Russian with subtitles. 165 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sidewalk Stories

Disarming in the simplicity and sentimentality of its basic conception, this mainly silent black-and-white comedy reworks the basic coordinates of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid in terms of the homeless in late-80s lower Manhattan. Written, directed, produced by, and starring Charles Lane, the movie focuses on a young, black sidewalk portrait artist who finds himself caring for a two-year-old girl after her father is murdered in an alley. The comparisons provoked by Lane between himself and Chaplin are not always fortunate; in spite of his obvious talent and sincerity, the filmmaker-performer doesn’t come across as any sort of genius. It’s just as clear that 1921, the year of The Kid, is not 1989; the gags tend to be both more modest and less plentiful, and the characters are even simpler than Chaplin’s. Nevertheless, Lane’s conceit is handled with such unassuming sweetness and charm that it never comes across as presumptuous or pretentious, and the simple authority of his conclusionwhich uses dialogue in order to point out what most of us refuse to hear when we’re walking down the streetis unimpeachable. One should also credit Marc Marder with a memorable jaunty score that subtly enhances the pantomime without belaboring it. With Nicole Alysia, Sandye Wilson, and Darnell Williams.… Read more »

Scar Of Shame

Lucia Lynn Moses and Harry Henderson star in this silent melodrama about class divisions within black society, produced by the Colored Players Film Corporation in 1927. The story of a successful concert pianist who marries a darker-skinned, working-class woman, it was one of the first black independent features made in this countrythough it’s worth noting that Frank Peregini, the director, was white. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

Nuts

Before he was blacklisted in 1951, director Martin Ritt received much of his training in live television, and the virtues as well as limitations of 50s TV drama at its best are reflected in his movies. This all-star courtroom drama, adapted by Tom Topor, Darryl Ponicsan, and Alvin Sargent from Topor’s play, centers on a hearing held to determine whether high-class hooker Claudia Draper (Barbra Streisand), arrested on a manslaughter charge, is insane or not. Richard Dreyfuss is her appointed lawyer, Robert Webber is the prosecutor, and James Whitmore is the judge; Eli Wallach plays her appointed psychiatrist, and Maureen Stapleton and Karl Malden portray her grief-stricken parents. While the movie holds one’s attention throughout, and its liberal message is compelling, we are clued in to certain facts about the heroine so early on that the audience is never really tested along with the characters. What might have been a sharper existential confrontation of our received ideas about sanity merely comes across as an effective courtroom drama, with strategically placed revelations and climaxes. Streisand produced, developed the script, and composed most of the music for this showpiece, and her efforts, as usual, pay off, above all in her angry and lively performance.… Read more »

Nothing But A Man

A sincere, intelligent, and effectively acted independent feature from 1964, about a black worker (Ivan Dixon) and his wife (Abbey Lincoln) struggling against prejudice and trying to make a life for themselves in Alabama. Directed by the able and neglected Michael Roemer (who made The Plot Against Harry five years later) from a script written in collaboration with Robert Young, who served as cinematographer; with Gloria Foster, Julius Harris, Martin Priest, and Yaphet Kotto. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

Night Shift

Henry Winkler, directed by his old Happy Days partner Ron Howard, plays a shy financial wizard working the graveyard shift at a morgue whose loose coworker and friend (Michael Keaton) convinces him to turn the place into a brothel. This isn’t as snappily directed or as caustically conceived as the subsequent Risky Business, which has a similar theme, but it’s arguably just as sexy and almost as funny. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; with Shelley Long, Gina Hecht, Pat Corley, and Bobby DiCicco (1982). (JR)… Read more »

Window Shopping

Chantal Akerman’s French-Belgian musical, set in a shopping mall, and patterned more after the rondelets of Jacques Demy, such as Lola and The Young Girls of Rochefort, than after Hollywood models. It has a touching score and a likable cast (including Delphine Seyrig, Charles Denner, Fanny Cottencon, Myriam Boyer, John Berry, and Jean-Francois Balmer), but it never ignites to the degree it wants to. Part of the problem is that Akerman’s considerable talentsher eye for composition and her penchant for melancholic moodsare not especially suited to the musical form, and the strain shows. The crisscrossing characters and multiple mini-plots carry some interest and feeling, but the movie aches for the sort of movement and rhythm that is beyond its grasp; the absence of choreography hardly helps. But this is still worth seeing as one of the most ambitious efforts of a strikingly original independent. Script by Akerman, Jean Gruault, Pascal Bonitzer, Henry Bean, and Leora Barish (1986). (JR)… Read more »

Where The Heart Is

An oddly fanciful comedy from John Boorman, scripted with his daughter Telsche. Dabney Coleman plays a New York demolition tycoon who decides to teach his three spoiled kids (Suzy Amis, David Hewlett, and Uma Thurman) a lesson by letting them fend for themselves in a run-down Brooklyn tenement, where they’re joined by various eccentric boarders and, eventually, by their mother (Joanna Cassidy) and father after his business collapses. Fatally miscalculated on many levels (the players are all encouraged to overact stridently, the dialogue is stilted, the storytelling is flabby, and Peter Martin’s score is truly insipid), the movie is nevertheless far from unsympathetic, and is clearly a personal work on just as many levels. It harks back to the playful whimsy of some of Boorman’s earliest moviesHaving a Wild Weekend (1965) and, even more to the point, Leo the Last (1970)while carrying over some of the family sitcom antics of the more recent Hope and Glory (1987), with a similarly pastoral finale. It’s hard to know the precise reasons for all that goes wrong here, but one might venture that Boorman’s previous American picturesPoint Blank, Deliverance, and Exorcist II: The Hereticdidn’t start from his own scripts. Also the mythical underpinnings of his best work, such as Point Blank and Zardoz, are missing; perhaps they can’t find roots in such apparently alien soil as contemporary America.… Read more »