Monthly Archives: January 1990

Les Visiteurs Du Soir

An eerie and often beautiful medieval fantasy parable about the devil sending two messengers to earth to break up a court romance, directed by Marcel Carne during the French occupation from a script coauthored by Jacques Prevert (1942). An obscure antifascist message may have been intended, but it doesn’t come across with much clarity; more sustaining are the film’s memorable look and atmosphere, and the capacity of the messengers to freeze the action into tableaux that anticipate by nearly 20 years images in Last Year at Marienbad. Also known as The Devil’s Envoys. With Jules Berry (The Crime of Monsieur Lange), Arletty, Alain Cuny, Fernand Ledoux, and Marie Dea. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tom Jones

Popular, irreverent adaptation of Fielding’s classic novel, scripted by John Osborne and directed by Tony Richardson in 1963. Despite the fitful energy and the beauty of the settings, the ugliness of the mise en scene and the crudity of the editing tend to triumph. Aping the stylistic eclecticism of Truffaut and Godard during the same period, the movie is too lacking in grace and finesse to provide anything more than broad and mainly random vaudeville turns. The precredits prologuesupposedly done in the style of silent films but blithely introducing handheld camera movement and a zoomis all too typical. Not even the gifted castAlbert Finney, Susannah York, Hugh Griffith, Dame Edith Evans, Joan Greenwood, Diane Cilento, and George Devinecan survive all the willful jauntiness. which is aggressively underlined by John Addison’s score. 129 min. (JR)… Read more »


This evocative 1987 ghost story from Hong Kong, directed by Stanley Kwan, opens in the present, when a female ghost (Anita Mui) dressed in the style of a courtesan of the 30s turns up at the classified department of a newspaper, searching for her lover of half a century ago (Leslie Cheung). The young head of the department takes her home, where he encounters the wrath of his girlfriend. Eventually the young couple become enmeshed in the ghost’s search, which leads to an account of what happened in the mid-30s. Visually graceful and strongly atmospheric, this is one of the best Hong Kong films I’ve seen, though Kwan surpassed it in 1991 with Actress. (JR)… Read more »

Roger & Me

Michael Moore’s black-comedy documentary (1989) about the consequences of massive layoffs by General Motors in Flint, Michigan, and Moore’s unsuccessful attempts to buttonhole Roger Smith, the General Motors chairman, to bring him to Flint to see what his actions have wrought, is certainly impressive for a first feature, as well as bracing proof that movies can be both hugely entertaining and political at the same time. Mixed in with Moore’s justifiably lethal anger, however, is a certain sense of glib superiority over Flint’s victims as well as its corporate villains that one is invited to share, and the breezy results, while often exhilarating and never boring, are not exactly devoid of cheap shots and journalistic oversimplifications. (The cheerful heartlessness of Reaganism that is the film’s subject is not entirely irrelevant to its own methods.) By all means see this, but try not to feel quite as joyful about rampant stupidity, greed, and misery as this movie encourages you to. (JR)… Read more »

The Rise To Power Of Louis Xiv

Perhaps the greatest of Roberto Rossellini’s late historical films (1966), this beautifully mounted, witty, and slyly didactic account of what Louis XIV did at Versailles is about a good many things: the rise of the bourgeoisie, the king as director of staged events, the formation of the modern state, the precedence in politics of style over content. An endlessly thought-provoking masterpiece. 100 min. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Poseidon Adventure

An ocean liner turns over in the Mediterranean, and a lot of Hollywood starsGene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, and Arthur O’Connelldutifully go through their disaster-movie paces, some more adeptly than others. Ronald Neame directed this 1972 feature. 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Plot Against Harry

Writer-director Michael Roemer’s only well-known feature previous to this was the skillful Nothing but a Man (1964), about the experiences of a black couple living in Alabama. The Plot Against Harry was shot in black and white in 1969 but neither completed nor shown until 1989. A delightful, offbeat comedy, it follows a sad-eyed, small-time New York numbers racketeer named Harry Plotnick (Martin Priest) who has just emerged from prison after many years. Finding that life has passed him by, he gamely tries to buy his way into middle-class respectability, though his wife despises him and he’s a total stranger to his kids. In the course of conducting business, he passes through a picaresque succession of locations and noisy eventsbar mitzvah, fashion show, dog-training session, and an endless stream of partiesyet the movie’s pace is leisurely, the humor quiet and affectionate, in striking contrast to the brassy world Harry moves through. Beautifully shot (by coproducer Robert M. Young, a director in his own right) and featuring a wonderful cast of unknowns (including Ben Lang, Maxine Woods, Henry Nemo, Jacques Taylor, Jean Leslie, Ellen Herbert, and Sandra Kazan), this is both a lovely piece of filmmaking and an exquisitely detailed portrait of a milieu and period, like a time capsule recently opened.… Read more »

The Paper Chase

The drudgery and challenge of Harvard Law School for a beginning student (Timothy Bottoms) might not have seemed a promising subject for a commercial picture, but this was so popular it became a TV series. Assisted by Gordon Willis’s cinematography and John Houseman’s performance (which turned him from a stage and film producer into a popular actor) as the demanding Professor Kingsfield, director James Bridges manages to do a fair job with the semihokey material. Adapted from John Jay Osborn Jr.’s novel; with Lindsay Wagner, Graham Beckel, and Edward Herrmann (1973). (JR)… Read more »

Panic In The Streets

This best and most neglected of Elia Kazan’s early features (1950) is an expert and taut thriller about a public health doctor (Richard Widmark) trying to find a gang of thieves, one of whom may be infected with bubonic plague. Filmed on location in New Orleans with a superb secondary cast: Paul Douglas, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jack Palance, and Zero Mostel. Scripted by Richard Murphy and Edward and Edna Anhalt; the Anhalts won an Oscar for their original story. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

On The Waterfront

Not as good as its reputation would suggest, this Elia Kazan-directed 1954 melodrama about union corruption on the New York docks gets pretty pretentious in spotsand Leonard Bernstein’s tortured score doesn’t help. But it’s hard to deny that Marlon Brando’s performance as a dock worker and ex-fighter who finally decides to rat on his gangster brother (Rod Steiger) is pretty terrific. Budd Schulberg’s script has flavor and bite, and Boris Kaufman’s crisp black-and-white cinematography in Hoboken and environs is fairly strong as well. The main problem is that Kazan and Schulberg use waterfront corruption partially as a pretext for a more personal storytheir own ostracism by their colleagues after they agreed to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 50s and supply the names of former communists. Considering the content, making Brando into a Christlike martyr who suffers for informing on his coworkers seems a bit self-serving, but Eva Marie Saint, Karl Malden, and Lee J. Cobb are all as good as they’ve ever been. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mystery Train

Jim Jarmusch’s 1989 feature gives us three stories occurring over the same day in a sleazy section of Memphis: a young Japanese couple (Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase) visit the rock shrines of their demigods; an Italian woman (Nicoletta Braschi) whose husband has just died on their honeymoon shares a hotel room with an American woman (Elizabeth Bracco) who has just left her English boyfriend; and the English boyfriend (Joe Strummer) hangs out with two buddies (Rick Aviles and Steve Buscemi) and shoots a clerk in a liquor store. There’s some thoughtful work in the selective color of Robby M… Read more »

Music Box

The main excuse for this Costa-Gavras thriller (1989) about an attorney defending her Hungarian father against charges of brutal wartime crimes isn’t so much the investigation of Nazi atrocities that constitutes its plot as the all-stops-out star performance of Jessica Lange as the attorney. As a courtroom attention grabber the movie is just serviceable, but the script by Joe Eszterhas reeks with false piety (embodied largely in Frederic Forrest’s prosecuting attorney) and the kind of wobbly soapbox oratory that used to furnish Abby Mann scripts for Stanley Kramer vehicles on related subjects, and the final denouement is less than wholly persuasive. Armin Mueller-Stahl is commanding as the accused anticommunist patriarch and family man, and Donald Moffat is appropriately sinister as the heroine’s ex-father-in-law, but it’s Lange who commands most of the attention and interest, giving the material slightly more than it’s worth. With Lukas Haas and Cheryl Lynn Bruce. 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

Men Don’t Leave

Paul Brickman’s first film after Risky Business stars Jessica Lange as a recently widowed mother of two children (Chris O’Donnell and Charlie Korsmo) who has to raise her kids single-handedly, moving to Baltimore from a small town after selling their house to pay off debts, and encountering a number of emotional, familial, and economic difficulties as she struggles to keep her family whole and happy. Brickman’s handling of actors is sensitive and sure and his lyrical talents as a filmmaker continue to impress, but one wishes he’d come up with a more interesting script than Barbara Benedek’s loose adaptation of Moishe Mizrahi’s La vie continue. A sweet-tempered musician (Arliss Howard) who comes along to set the family right again seems a little too good to be true, and the picture seems to forget about most of the problems that it sets up rather than attempt to resolve them. The results are both appealing and supremely watchable, thanks to first-rate performances and inventive mise en scene, but not entirely satisfying. With Joan Cusack, Kathy Bates, and Tom Mason (1990). (JR)… Read more »

Man On A Tightrope

One of Elia Kazan’s weakest filmsconceivably his very worst, apart from The Sea of Grassthis 1953 anticommunist adventure about a circus troupe trying to escape from Czechoslovakia has a decent enough cast (Fredric March, Cameron Mitchell, Adolphe Menjou, Gloria Grahame, Terry Moore, and Richard Boone), which Kazan knows how to use effectively. But a pretty dated and uninteresting script by Robert Sherwood ultimately defeats their best efforts. (JR)… Read more »

Mack The Knife

Considering that this English-language adaptation of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera was written for the screen and directed by executive producer Menahem Golanwhose previous and highly uneven directorial credits include a Sylvester Stallone weepie (Over the Top) and such action pictures as The Delta Force and Enter the Ninjait’s surprising how inoffensive it turns out to be. Not inspired, mind you, and not terribly memorable if you’ve seen other versions, but a respectable enough reading of a classic pop opera. Raul Julia is MacHeath, Richard Harris and Julie Walters are Mr. and Mrs. Peachum, Julia Migenes is Jenny, and Roger Daltrey is the Street Singer; others in the mainly English cast include Clive Revill, Erin Donovan, and Rachel Robertson. (JR)… Read more »