Daily Archives: February 1, 1990


Howard Brookner’s 1985 documentary profile of the now legendary avant-gardist William S. Burroughs, assembled from some 80 hours of interview footage. Overall an interesting, serious job, and the more controversial aspects of Burroughs’s past and personalitysuch as his misogyny and his slaying of his wifeare squarely confronted. (JR) Read more

Story Of Women

A bit mislabeled — the French title is Une Affaire de Femmes, which translates better as Women’s Business — Claude Chabrol’s accomplished and generally uncharacteristic period film (1988), loosely adapted from a nonfiction book by lawyer Francis Szpiner, gives a plausible and wholly unsentimental account of a housewife and mother in occupied France (Isabelle Huppert at her finest) who becomes an abortionist and is sent to the guillotine for it. Married to a French soldier (Francois Cluzet) who’s in a POW camp, she doesn’t want to sleep with him after his return; she soon becomes the family breadwinnera tough survivor who’s also helping other women out. Chabrol’s mise en scene and his handling of the period and performances are masterful. In French with subtitles. 110 min. (JR) Read more

Le Signe Du Lion (the Sign Of Leo)

Eric Rohmer’s uncharacteristic first feature (1959) is the flavorsome and poetic account of a musician (Jess Hahn) who finds himself homeless in Paris for a summer and turns into a street bum. Touching and often funny, and providing a memorable look at Paris during the summertime, this footloose film may be preferred to Rohmer’s better crafted but decidedly less funky subsequent work. With cameos by Jean-Luc Godard, Stephane Audran, and other French New Wave colleagues. (JR) Read more

The Hunt For Red October

Like many such efforts, this leaden 1990 cold-war thriller, adapted from Tom Clancy’s best-selling novel, tries to make the CIA more competent and sophisticated than it is. Here CIA analyst Alec Baldwin tries to figure out why the Soviet nuclear submarine Red October, commanded by renegade Sean Connery, is approaching North America’s eastern seaboard without authorization. Adapted by Larry Ferguson and Donald Stewart and directed by John McTiernan (Predator, Die Hard), the film mechanically uses the crosscutting technique made famous by Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove without any of its wit or focused energy. With Scott Glenn, James Earl Jones, Sam Neill, Joss Ackland, Tim Curry, Peter Firth, and Courtney B. Vance. 135 min. (JR) Read more

Young At Heart

Forgettable 1954 musical remake of Fanny Hurst’s Four Daughters, with Frank Sinatra and Doris Day as the leads, backed by Gig Young, Ethel Barrymore, and Dorothy Malone. Gordon Douglas directed. (JR) Read more

We’re No Angels

Offensive and inept treacle that shockingly demonstrates what a lot of talented or reputable peopleincluding actors Robert De Niro, Sean Penn, and Demi Moore, screenwriter David Mamet, and director Neil Jordanwill do for money. Set near the Canadian border in 1935 and very loosely based on a mediocre 1955 Hollywood comedy of the same title, which was in turn derived from a French farce, the film follows the misadventures of two escaped convicts (De Niro and Penn) who impersonate priests in order to elude a search party. It’s a reasonable enough premise for a comedy, but the filmmakers lazily treat it as what James Blish once called an idiot plota story in which everything happens because every character involved is an idiotwithout bothering to make it witty or even vaguely plausible, and solve most of their dramatic problems by unloading enough fake piety (including a contrived religious miracle) to exploit reverent and irreverent viewers alike. Mamet, of course, already has a record of doing hackwork on other people’s pictures, but not even the silliest and most cynical elements in The Postman Always Rings Twice or The Untouchables approach the amateurish exposition and dialogue here, which are made even dumber by all three cardboard leads and their improbable Brooklyn accents. Read more

Tragedy Of A Ridiculous Man

Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1981 film about a self-made cheese magnate (Ugo Tognazzi) in northern Italy whose son is apparently kidnapped by political terrorists. While his French wife (Anouk Aimee) tries to raise the money for the ransom, Tognazzi becomes friends with the two leftists (Laura Morante and Victor Cavallo) who have been sent to him as go-betweens. Perhaps the least known of Bertolucci’s features, it is far from the least interesting. In Italian with subtitles. 116 min. (JR) Read more

Top Secret!

This is the least well known of the madcap satirical comedies of Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker (Airplane!, The Naked Gun), and by all counts the weirdest. But the richness of its ideas makes it my favorite. The plot combines the rock musical with the spy thriller (not to mention assorted other genres), and the comic invention is fairly constant. With Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Christopher Villiers, Omar Sharif, and Peter Cushing (1984). (JR) Read more

The Mass Is Over

Writer-director-actor Nanni Moretti is one of the brightest stars in contemporary Italian comedy, and, in the opinion of many European critics, the most interesting Italian director to have come along in years. This 1985 feature is less formally and thematically audacious than his subsequent Palombella rossa, about the political and ideological soul-searching of an Italian communist water-polo player, but it still gives one some idea of what makes Moretti distinctive: here he’s a former 60s radical converted to the priesthood who bumbles his way through well-intentioned encounters with parishioners that usually end in mutual incomprehension. 96 min. (JR) Read more

The Last Tycoon

Elia Kazan now admits that he directed this adaptation, his last Hollywood film, for the money. Unfortunately, it looks it. Not that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s overrated fragment about Hollywood in the 30swhich trains its rather indiscriminate hero worship on Monroe Starr, a producer modeled after Irving Thalbergis a gem to begin with. But given the talented castRobert De Niro (especially good as Starr), Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson, Donald Pleasence, Ingrid Boulting, Ray Milland, Dana Andrews, Theresa Russell, John Carradine, and Anjelica Hustonit does seem like a bit of a waste. Harold Pinter’s cold and gnomic script seems partly to blame, as well as interfering producer Sam Spiegel; but if you forget that you’re supposed to be seeing something meaningful or important, this is pretty watchable (1976). (JR) Read more

Last Train From Gun Hill

Kirk Douglas plays a sheriff determined to bring in the man who raped and killed his wifewho turns out to be the son of an old friend (Anthony Quinn). Better on suspense than character, this John Sturges western doesn’t leave a very strong memory. James Poe wrote it, and Earl Holliman, Carolyn Jones, and Brian Hutton costar (1959). (JR) Read more

The Girlfriends

This strong early feature (1955) by Michelangelo Antonioni, based on a novel by Cesare Pavese, focuses on a woman who returns to her native Turin to open a fashion salon, and on the troubled wealthy young men and women she gets to know. Masterfully directed in Antonioni’s choreographic manner, with strong melancholic undertones. With Eleanora Rossi Drago, Valentina Cortese, Yvonne Furneaux, Madeleine Fischer, and Franco Fabrizi. In Italian with subtitles. 97 min. (JR) Read more

Cotton Comes To Harlem

A likable 1970 action comedy set in Harlem, adapted from Chester Himes’s novel and directed by Ossie Davis. With Godfrey Cambridge (as Gravedigger Jones), Raymond St. Jacques (as Coffin Ed Johnson), Calvin Lockhart, Judy Pace, Red Foxx, Emily Yancy, and Cleavon Little. R, 97 min. (JR) Read more

Cooley High

Uneven but generally funny and lively memories of growing up black on Chicago’s west side in the mid-60s, styled after American Graffiti and directed by Michael Schultz from an autobiographical script by Eric Monte (1975). With Glynn Turman, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Garrett Morris, Cynthia Davis, Corin Rogers, and Maurice Leon Havis. 107 min. (JR) Read more

Bloodhounds Of Broadway

The last film of the late Howard Brookner (Burroughs) and his only Hollywood feature was adapted from four Damon Runyon stories written in 1928. This lighthearted look at the prohibition era stars Matt Dillon, Jennifer Grey, Julie Haggerty, Rutger Hauer, Madonna, Anita Morris, Randy Quaid, and Esai Morales (1989). (JR) Read more