Monthly Archives: March 1990

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It seems like a marriage was made in heaven between Hong Kong’s Golden Harvest Films and Jim Henson’s Muppetry. The delightful offspring is a live-action romp based on Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s comic book characters, scripted by Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck with the sort of goofy wit that suggests that Thomas Pynchon could have made pseudonymous contributions to the dialogue, and directed with skill and assurance by Steve Barron. The plot involves a TV investigative reporter (Judith Hoag), a rise in thievery in Manhattan occasioned by a teenage gang known as the Foot (masterminded and exploited by a ninja villain called the Shredder), and the noble adversaries of the thieves — four teenage turtles and their rat ninja master who dwell in the sewer system and reached their abnormal size through exposure to radioactivity. Also involved is the reporter’s son (Michael Turney), split between no less than three rival father figures, and an independent vigilante (Elias Koteas) who joins the turtles. The results are high-spirited martial arts and comedy, with heavy doses of Star Wars and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and music by M.C. Hammer, Johnny Kemp, Hi Tek 3, and Orchestra on the Half Shell. Read more

The Fourth War

John Frankenheimer still hasn’t regained his stride since his black-and-whlite films of the 60s, but he’s settled down into being a pretty good director of thrillers, and this is one of his best for some time–comparable to the kind of lean, purposeful work he used to do for such 50s TV shows as Studio One and Playhouse 90. On the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia in November 1988, American and Soviet border control commanders Roy Scheider and Jurgen Prochnow, embittered veterans of Vietnam and Afghanistan, get embroiled in a petty personal war of their own. That’s about all that the plot–adapted by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross from Peters’s novel–consists of, but Frankenheimer handles it tersely and professionally, and coaxes an exceptionally good performance out of Harry Dean Stanton as an American general. Gerry Fisher handled the cinematography, and Tim Reid and Lara Harris also costar. (Commons, Oakbrook Center, Golf Glen, McClurg Court, Plaza, Norridge, Ford City, Harlem-Cermak) Read more


Those lucky enough to have seen Jane Campion’s eccentric and engaging shorts (such as Passionless Moments and A Girl’s Own Story) have reason enough to expect her first feature to be a breakthrough for the Australian cinema. But nothing quite prepares one for the astonishing freshness and sheer weirdness of this black comedy about two sisters (Genevieve Lemon and Karen Colston) locked into 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. Some critics have compared Campion to David Lynch, but apart from a similar taste for the offbeat and a flair for painterly composition, she’s too good and original to be passed off as secondhand–and it’s worth adding that her acute grasp of character and a family’s psychological dynamics is well beyond Lynch’s range. The mad behavior of both sisters may make you squirm, and there are plenty of other things in this picture–including the other characters–to make you feel unbalanced, but Campion does so many beautiful, funny, and unexpected things with our disquiet that you’re likely to come out of this movie seeing the world quite differently than you did before. Read more

Love at Large

Alan Rudolph at his second best is still better than most other American filmmakers around, and this dreamy, romantic comedy-thriller is in many ways his most graceful picture since Choose Me. Tom Berenger plays a private eye hired by a mysterious and glamorous woman (Anne Archer) to follow a man; he sets off after the wrong man (Ted Levine), who has a fascinating secret life of his own, and meanwhile the detective himself is being followed by another woman (Elizabeth Perkins). As usual with Rudolph, the gentle kidding of movie cliches doesn’t preclude a capacity to enjoy them for all they’re worth; Mark Isham once again handles the music (a blend of jazz and pop that partially gravitates around “You Don’t Know What Love Is”), Elliot Davis executes the sliding camera movements, and kissing couples keep popping up as a kind of leitmotiv. Berenger, who intermittently recalls the punkish charm of John Garfield, has never been used to better effect, and the secondary cast–which includes Kate Capshaw, Annette O’Toole, Ann Magnuson, Kevin J. O’Connor, and Ruby Dee–is uniformly fine. The plot has a tendency to wind down rather than keep building, but Rudolph still manages to keep it pleasurable every step of the way. Read more

Joe Versus the Volcano

Scriptwriter John Patrick Shanley (Five Corners, Moonstruck) makes his directorial debut in a whimsical, contemporary fairy tale with romance and adventure that doesn’t quite come off, but it’s sufficiently fresh, charming, and unpredictable to deserve special marks for trying. Tom Hanks plays a former fireman now stuck in a depressing job who is told by his doctor (Robert Stack) that he has only a short time to live. A wealthy businessman (Lloyd Bridges) appears, offering him red-carpet treatment and a bunch of credit cards if Hanks will sail to a remote Pacific island (where the businessman wants to gain mineral rights) and dive into a volcano in order to appease the natives. Meg Ryan plays all three leading ladies in the plot–a secretary and both of the businessman’s daughters–and Abe Vigoda, Amanda Plummer, Barry McGovern, and Ossie Davis are around for other offbeat parts. In the course of borrowing liberally from Delmer Daves’s Bird of Paradise, Shanley manages to achieve some striking (if fanciful) pictorial effects and a few goofy gags and plot turns; he also tries for some uplift that may be less convincing but is easy enough to take. There’s nothing profound going on here, but the results are imaginative and fun. Read more


Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, like his earlier Solaris, is a free and allegorical adaptation of an SF novel, Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic. After a meteorite hits the earth, the region where it’s fallen is believed to grant the wishes of those who enter and, sealed off by the authorities, can be penetrated only illegally and with special guides. One of them (Aleksandr Kaidanovsky), the stalker of the title, leads a writer and a professor through the grimiest industrial wasteland you’ve ever seen. What they find is pretty harsh and has none of the usual satisfactions of SF quests, but Tarkovsky regards their journey as a contemporary spiritual quest. His mise en scene is mesmerizing, and the final scene is breathtaking. Not an easy film, but almost certainly a great one. In Russian with subtitles. 161 min. (JR) Read more

Speaking Parts

Interesting yet maddening, Atom Egoyan’s third feature (1989) is a sustained meditation on the uses and meanings of video and TV in personal relationsinformed by theoretical work on the subject that links it with such matters as narcissism, voyeurism, sexual obsession, power relations, alienation, and death. The nonrealistic plot concerns a disturbed hotel chambermaid (Arsinee Khanjian) obsessed with a coworker who’s an aspiring actor (Michael McManus), a scriptwriter obsessed with her brother’s death, a worker at a video rental store who videotapes weddings, and a TV producer. The intricate relations among these figuresone hesitates to call them charactersare mediated mainly by video; even the mechanical crosscutting between them suggests switching channels. There’s a lot of food for thought here but very little drama. 93 min. (JR) Read more

Nuns On The Run

Switch the action of Some Like It Hot to contemporary London and substitute a convent for an all-women band and you have the rough scenario for this good-natured if rather silly English farceexcept for the fact that writer-director Jonathan Lynn is a far cry from Billy Wilder, and a nearsighted Camille Coduri suggests Marilyn Monroe only in patches. Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane as two small-time hoods on the run aren’t bad, however, and the hard-sell music by Yello and Hidden Faces is fairly bouncy. With Janet Suzman, Tom Hickey, Doris Hare, and Lila Kaye. (JR) Read more

House Party

A day in the life of a black teenager (Christopher Reid) who sneaks away from home to attend a house party given by his best friend (Christopher Martin). Reid and Martin compose the rap duo Kid ‘n Play, and the movie also features Full Force (the George Brothers), A.J. Johnson, Tisha Campbell, Martin Lawrence, and Robin Harris in a wonderful performance as the hero’s hardworking father; Reginald Hudlin scripted and directed. There’s a lot more energy and social reality in this picture than one is accustomed to finding in teen exploitation movies; the cutting is often dynamic, and Hudlin generally does a good job of keeping things moving. (The rap numbers are serviceable, but it’s one sign of the film’s liveliness that these songs tend to slow things down.) One wishes, however, that this movie was as hip about homophobia as it is about safe sex, casual racism, sexual rivalry, and the other matters it incidentally takes up (1990). (JR) Read more

Hands Of Orlac

Robert Wiene’s legendary 1924 silentabout a pianist (Conrad Veidt) who gets a hand transplant and then discovers he has an impulse to killplays a significant role in Malcolm Lowry’s novel Under the Volcano. The film’s been remade several times, but reportedly this first version is the best of the lot. (JR) Read more

The Handmaid’s Tale

A 1990 adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel about the near future in which, after a right-wing fundamentalist takeover of the U.S. government and a series of ecological disasters that have rendered most women infertile, the female population of the U.S. is herded like cattle and assigned the obligatory roles of wives, domestics, or child bearers called handmaids. Scripted by Harold Pinter and directed by Volker Schl Read more


Idrissa Ouedraogo’s second feature (1989), from Burkina Faso, focuses on a young boy (Noufou Ouedraogo) and his female cousin (Roukietou Barry) as they befriend an old woman in their village (Fatimata Sanga) who’s treated as an outcast and accused of being a witch. The locations are attractive, the performances are natural, and the details about local folkways are interesting, but the plot is a bit dull in spots, if only because the moral divisions are fairly simplistic. This is certainly not a bad film, but don’t expect anything comparable to the African cinema of Cisse or Sembene. (JR) Read more

Pretty Woman

A corporate mogul from Wall Street (Richard Gere) rents, woos, and wows a street hooker from Hollywood Boulevard (Julia Roberts) in this 1990 romantic comedy, which proves that the Disney people can sell just about anythingincluding a misogynistic celebration of big business and prostitution. In this case, prostitution’s OK because the hooker’s a likable bimbo who works without a pimp or a boss, grateful for the little crumbs of high culture the suave company buster can sweep her way, and perfectly willing to offer a little therapy for his patriarchal hang-ups in return. He pays her $3,000 and they fall in loveain’t Hollywood grand? Garry Marshall directed a script by J.F. Lawton; with Ralph Bellamy, Jason Alexander, and Laura San Giacomo. 117 min. (JR) Read more

Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid

Sam Peckinpah’s cut of his last major western (1973) runs 15 minutes longer than the originally released version, and it is structured differently. Filmed in ‘Scope and originally scripted by Rudy Wurlitzer (though his script was much revised under the supervision of Peckinpah and others), this story about the last days of Billy the Kid, framed by the death of Pat Garrett in 1908, is perhaps Peckinpah’s most elegiac picture and certainly one of his most romantic. Peckinpah’s cut is a lot more coherent, though it’s still a film of uneven pieces. The movie tends to be stronger in its handling of secondary charactersSlim Pickens’s death scene is a classic, and Katy Jurado, Jason Robards, Chill Wills, Jack Elam, Gene Evans, and Harry Dean Stanton all acquit themselves memorablythan in its treatment of the three leads; James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson have their moments, but the mythic heft of the story seems at times to weigh them down, and Bob Dylan is too clearly Bob Dylan to portray anyone else convincingly. 123 min. (JR) Read more

Opportunity Knocks

Saturday Night Live’s Dana Carvey stars as a small-time con man who impersonates an executive, in a comedy written by Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein and directed by Donald Petrie (Mystic Pizza). The story, while familiar, has some comic possibilities, but Carvey manages to squelch them with leaden clowning and warmed-over impersonations (George Bush, a Japanese businessman) that never seem to be keyed to the surrounding movie. With Todd Graff, Julia Campbell, Milo O’Shea, James Tolkan, and Robert Loggia. (JR) Read more