Daily Archives: April 1, 1990

The Little Thief

An engaging if minor Claude Miller film (1989), misleadingly billed on U.S. release as the last story from Francois Truffaut (the original story was written by Truffaut with Claude de Givray, though the final screenplay, apparently including only a line or two of Truffaut’s original dialogue, is the work of Luc Beraud with Claude and Annie Miller). In 1950 a 16-year-old petty thief and shoplifter (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who lives in a small French village with her aunt and uncle, is caught with her loot and sent away. She goes to work as a live-in maid for a wealthy couple, begins an affair with a man in his 40s (Didier Bezace), and then falls in love with a younger man (Simon de la Brosse) who is also a thief; later she winds up in reform school. The film is very good in evoking the early 50s and in fashioning a gracefully elliptical style, but its main source of charm is the lead performance of Charlotte Gainsbourg (daughter of Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg). The original film was modified somewhat for American distribution. (JR) Read more


Theresa Russell plays an LA narcotics cop who also works as a member of the undercover vice squad and becomes involved with an assistant DA (Jeff Fahey) in a rather sluggish thriller directed by Clint Eastwood protege Sondra Locke (Ratboy), whose work often suggests Eastwood both thematically and stylistically. The script by John De Marco and Leigh Chapman, as is par for the course, is based on some rather outlandish coincidences, and the specter of Klute as well as Eastwood’s movies hovers over much of the proceedings. With George Dzundza (1990). (JR) Read more

Imagine The Sound

The first feature of Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann (Poetry in Motion, Comic Book Confidential) may still be the best documentary on free jazz that we have. Produced with Bill Smith, editor of Coda magazine, the film consists mainly of interviews with and performances by four key musicians: solo pianists Cecil Taylor and Paul Bley, trumpet player Bill Dixon (performing with a trio), and tenor saxophone player Archie Shepp (playing with a quartet); Taylor and Shepp also read some of their poetry. Mann is attentive to the visual impact of the music (Taylor’s piano playing, for instance, virtually qualifies as a form of dancing) and its diverse biographical, musical, and ideological underpinnings (the musicians are all highly articulate). Essential viewing and listening for free-jazz devotees (1981). 91 min. (JR) Read more

I Love You To Death

Rosalie (Tracey Ullman), the wife of an Italian pizza parlor owner (Kevin Kline), is fed up with her husband’s constant infidelities and sets out to murder him with the help of her crotchety Yugoslav mother (Joan Plowright), a friend (River Phoenix), and two novice hit men (William Hurt and Keanu Reeves). Lawrence Kasdan directed this fair-to-middling black comedy from a script by John Kostmayer, and although the pacing is sluggish in spots, people with a taste for acting as impersonation will enjoy some of the scenery chewingespecially by Plowright, Kline, and Hurt, with the others not far behind. With James Gammon, Jack Kehler, and Victoria Jackson, and a bouncy Italianate score by James Horner. (JR) Read more

The Great Ecstasy Of The Woodcarver Steiner

This 1975 documentary about the reckless champion ski jumper Walter Steiner has pretty much the same voyeuristic morbidity as Herzog’s other personal documentaries: it’s skillfully realized, but without the sort of reflection that might encourage an audience to think about its own freak-show interest in what it’s watching. (JR) Read more

The Crying Woman

Filmmaker Jacques Doillon plays the lead in his 1978 feature about familial discord, the archetypal Doillon subject. The hero returns to his wife (Dominique Laffin) after a prolonged absence and they try to effect a reconciliation, largely because of their daughter; Haydee Politoff plays the husband’s mistress. In keeping with the intimate treatment of an intimate subject, the characters’ first names are the same as the actors’. (JR) Read more


John Waters’s disappointing 1990 follow-up to Hairspray is another musical about Baltimore teenagers, this time about class warfare in 1954 rather than racial integration in 1962the juvenile delinquents versus the upscale squares. But Waters’s inspiration and precision seem to have deserted him, and the death of Divine left a gaping hole in his work, what might be called the absence of a moral center (something that also troubled his other feature without Divine, Desperate Living). Despite a likable and varied castJohnny Depp, Amy Locane, Susan Tyrrell, Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake, Traci Lords, and Polly Bergen, with cameos by many othersWaters’s feeling for the mid-50s doesn’t really match his sense of the early 60s (the problems start with the old-fashioned Universal logo at the beginning, which belongs to the 40s and earlier rather than to the 50s), and his plot moves seem increasingly formulaic. Otherwise, this is agreeable enough as a minor effort. 85 min. (JR) Read more

The Crazy Ray

Rene Clair’s first feature (1923), known in French as Paris qui dort, is a remarkable early SF effort about a mad scientist who immobilizes Parisexcept for a watchman on the Eiffel Tower and a group of airplane passengers, who roam about the city while everyone and everything else is frozen. A brilliant meditation on some of the differences between film and still photography as well as an engaging comic story that is full of poetic notions, this is one of the landmarks of French silent cinema. (JR) Read more

Crazy People

Dudley Moore plays an adman who has a nervous breakdown, which provokes him to tell the truth in his ads, in this comedy written by Mitch Markowitz (Good Morning, Vietnam) and directed by Tony Bill (Five Corners). This leads to some fairly amusing gags involving surreal ads for actual products (e.g., for Jaguar: Sleek and smart. For men who’d like hand jobs from beautiful women they hardly know). Moore’s boss is so horrified by this development that he sends him to a sanitarium, at which point the movie takes an abrupt nosedive into the sort of tacky media lies it is supposedly attacking. Within five minutes at the asylum, Moore encounters beautiful copatient Daryl Hannah, who immediately falls in love with him. Then Moore’s ads accidentally make it to the marketand prove enormously successful; he starts his own highly successful ad agency among the sanitarium patients, and so on, ad nauseam. Most offensive of all is the movie’s absurd notion of what sanitariums and mental patients are like (this sanitarium seems to have a total of nine patients), although spectators who like the similarly fanciful King of Hearts may find the conceits of this comedy palatable. With Paul Reiser and Mercedes Ruehl. Read more

The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover

Peter Greenaway’s programmatic and schematic 1989 dark comedy about conspicuous consumption isn’t very funny, although it offers a nearly unbroken string of obnoxious verbal abusemisogynist, racist, scatologicalfrom a crook (Michael Gambon) who runs an expensive gourmet restaurant. Similarly, it isn’t very erotic, although it features a great deal of nudity, and there’s also fair amount of unpleasant (if otherwise affectless) violence. The film is mainly set in the canyonlike rooms of the restaurantimmaculately lit and shot by master French cinematographer Sacha Vierny in ‘Scope, with elaborate color coding, extended tracking shots, and a striking neoclassic score by Michael Nyman. Greenaway has suggested that this is supposed to be an attack on Thatcher England, but while his film certainly has the nastiness of satire, it doesn’t have much political focus; petty malice rather than anger is the main bill of fare, with deep-dish notations about food and sex thrown in for spice. 124 min. (JR) Read more

The Clock

Vincente Minnelli’s first nonmusical (1945) is a charming and stylish if somewhat sentimental love story about a soldier (Robert Walker) on a two-day leave in New York who meets and marries an office worker (Judy Garland). Filmed on a studio soundstage with enough expertise to make it seem like a location shoot, the film is appealing largely for its performances and the innocence it projects. (Similar qualities can be found, at a half-century remove, in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise.) In addition to Walker and Garland, Keenan Wynn and Moyna Macgill are well used. Screenwriters Robert Nathan and Joseph Schrank adapted a story by Paul and Pauline Gallico. (JR) Read more


A Korean war veteran (Gary Oldman) has a violent nervous breakdown and is committed to the state mental health facility in Chattahoochee, Florida, where the brutal and primitive conditions compel him to fight against mistreatment. Based on a true story, Mick Jackson’s film has good performances but a rather slipshod and fairly unsatisfying construction; good intentions, alas, prove to be not nearly enough. With Dennis Hopper (as another mental patient), Frances McDormand, Pamela Reed, and a cameo by Ned Beatty. (JR) Read more

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Something of a departure for Martin Scorsese, this 1974 drama is a stylistically flashy account of a widow and mother (Ellen Burstyn) pursuing a new life, which includes singing in southwestern saloons and Kris Kristofferson. Not always successful, but packed with energy and a lively Oscar-winning performance by Burstyn. Scripted by Robert Getchell; with Billy Green Bush, Alfred Lutter, Diane Ladd, a very young Jodie Foster, and Harvey Keitel doing his tormented maniac number. PG, 113 min. (JR) Read more