Monthly Archives: August 1990

The Raggedy Rawney

Directorial debuts by actors are most often inauspicious, and films set in no particular country or period are usually worth avoiding. But Bob Hoskins’s first feature as a director, with an original script that he cowrote (with Nicole De Wilde), is a remarkable effort in many respects. During a long war in an unspecified European country, a young recruit named Tom (Dexter Fletcher) injures his officer during an enemy attack and flees from the camp. Disguising himself as a mute madwoman, he is taken in by a gypsylike band headed by Hoskins, whose daughter (Zoe Nathenson) becomes Tom’s lover. This film, which feels like a western in certain spots and a medieval fantasy in others (without ever really becoming either), belongs to no clearly established category, though the ambiguity about both genre and gender, as well as the picaresque and pastoral qualities, occasionally suggests the equally uncategorizable and even more exquisite Sylvia Scarlett (1935). From the opening shot, Hoskins shows a genuine camera sense, and he proves to have a fine sense of ensemble acting as well. He also knows how to take full advantage of the beauties of nature and landscape (the film was shot in Czechoslovakia, with production design by Jiri Matolin). Read more

My Blue Heaven

Steve Martin plays a mobster who turns state’s evidence against his buddies and hides out in a small town in California, where he and other squealers get back into business in a buddy comedy written by Nora Ephron and directed by Herbert Ross. Script and direction are both fairly slapdash, but the actors and the overall sweetness keep this chugging along on some level (in spite of the one-noted aspect of Martin’s funny but limited impersonation of an Italian hood). Rick Moranis plays the FBI agent in charge who winds up as Martin’s buddy; Joan Cusack (especially good) is an assistant district attorney a full head taller than Moranis whom he winds up romancing. With Melanie Mayron, Carol Kane, and Bill Irwin. (JR) Read more

The Laser Man

This comedy by Peter Wang (A Great Wall), a Chinese American filmmaker and former laser scientist, concerns a Chinese American laser scientist (Marc Hayashi) in New York, divorced and with a Jewish mother, who accidentally kills his assistant in a lab experiment and finds himself, through the influence of his brother-in-law (Tony Leung), dealing in arms on the international black market. Wang himself plays a jokey and philosophical police detective who narrates the story. Shot by Ernest Dickerson, Spike Lee’s usual cinematographer, this is a nice filmgently funny in some spots and wry in othersbut not a very dynamic one. With Sally Yeh (1988). (JR) Read more

Labyrinth Of Passion

This is an early and rather choice effort from Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovarhis second feature, made before he went slick and lost much of his funkiness. The varied cast of characters includes a onetime nymphomaniac named Sexilia who’s a member of a rock band, a gay Arab prince, a Lacanian psychotherapist, and assorted transvestites, punks, and Iranian fundamentalists. Cheerfully slapdash and high-spirited in the farcical John Waters manner, although one may get irritated at times with Almodovar’s wholesale rip-offs of other films’ musical scores (Miklos Rozsa is a particular favorite), his feeble flashbacks, and occasional heartlessness in choosing his sources of humor (e.g., a dry cleaner who periodically forces his daughter to have sex with him). Still, it’s much livelier than Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! With Cecilia Roth, Imanol Arias, Fernando Vivanco, Helga Line, and Marta Fernandez-Muro (1982). (JR) Read more


A group of medical students (Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt) decide to experiment with death by taking turns having their hearts and brains stoppedflatliningand then getting revived. They discover, however, that guilty secrets from their past come back to haunt them after they conduct these experiments. Despite the looniness and frequent silliness of Peter Filardi’s script, director Joel Schumacher manages to give the proceedings some of the hyped-up punchiness of an EC horror comic. But stylistically this is a mess. While the ersatz experimentalism of the death sequences has its moments, the meat-locker expressionism of the rest of the movieall red filters and demonic jets of steamfails to provide any sort of realistic anchor, and much of this results in lurid incoherence (1990). (JR) Read more

The Documentator

This fascinating, ambitious Hungarian picture about an upscale, middle-aged video bootlegger compiling a video history of the world, his beautiful girlfriend, and her youthful lover (who works as the bootlegger’s clerk) has more to say about the worldwide video revolution and the transformation of eastern Europe than any other film I can think of. Made by the talented couple Istvan Darday and Gyorgyi Szalai, it runs for 215 minutes, a large portion of which is made up of assorted video and TV materialfamiliar movies, historical documents, commercials, porn, and so on. Critic J. Hoberman has suggested that it may be the first genuinely post-Marxist Hungarian film. It bristles with wit, irony, and subtexts, and shows considerable flair in the mise en scene, nearly all of it set around the hapless hero’s sumptuous flat and the adjoining video-rental store. Strongly recommended; with Mihaly Des, Lilla Paszti, and Janos Agoston (1989). (JR) Read more

Dick Tracy

Warren Beatty’s second solo directing effort, and he still had a lot to learn. Based on the Chester Gould comic strip, this has an appealing two-dimensional comic-book look, but lacks the vision to go with it, not to mention an interesting hero or a feeling for action. Madonna is great as Breathless Mahoney, but the crosscutting plays such havoc with her musical numbers that it’s hard to tell if Stephen Sondheim’s songs are any good or not. As with the subliminal flashes of dancing in The Cotton Club (which appears to be an unfortunate influence in some of the old-fashioned montage sequences here), her presence is more implied than savored. Al Pacino as the head crook is even better (one suspects the uncredited hand of Elaine May in some of his crazed free-form monologues), and the complex makeup on him and the other thugs (including Dustin Hoffman, R.G. Armstrong, William Forsythe, and Paul Sorvino) does wonders with Gould’s grotesqueries; but too much of the story is unfelt and mechanicalthe grimly humorless Tracy (Beatty) is never very convincing as an object of desire or admiration for Breathless, Tess Trueheart (Glenne Headly), or Kid (Charlie Korsmo). Some of the ingredients of Tim Burton’s Batman seem deliberately apedparticularly in the lame action sequences, the main villain’s hammy acting, and the emotionally stunted herobut the film’s main source of originality, its two-dimensional approach, never gets much beyond a likable conceptual mannerism. Read more

David And Lisa

Probably not everything it was cracked up to be in 1963, this independent, low-budget first feature by Frank Perry, about two emotionally disturbed teenagers (Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin) who fall in love, was sufficiently sensitive to elicit the admiration of Jean Renoir at the time. I suspect he dream sequences haven’t stood up very well, but Howard da Silva does a good job as a sympathetic doctor. With Neva Patterson and Clifton James; written by Eleanor Perry. (JR) Read more


Writer-director Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead and its sequels) hit the big time with this 1990 fantasy-thriller about a scientist (Liam Neeson) disfigured by villains who transforms himself into a grisly avenger, unable to feel pain and getting angrier by the minute. Raimi’s flair for jazzy visual effects and extravagant action sequences, combined with direction that’s full of punch and energy, makes this the best pop roller-coaster ride around. Unlike Tim Burton’s Batman, this shows a sensibility that really likes and understands comic books (although echoes of such film classics as Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame aren’t far behind, and be prepared for a fair amount of nastiness and gore). Frances McDormand plays the hero’s dour girlfriend, and Raimi collaborated with Chuck Pfarrer, Ivan Raimi, Daniel Goldin, and Joshua Goldin on the script. With Colin Friels and Larry Drake. 95 min. (JR) Read more

Color Me Blood Red

Bloodbath impresario Herschell Gordon Lewis (The Blood Feast) directed and shot this stupid, gory, badly acted movie for $20,000. It’s about a beatnik artist (Don Joseph) who paints with his own blood, then starts killing his models to keep his business going (1965). (JR) Read more

Boyfriends And Girlfriends

The sixth of Eric Rohmer’s Comedies and Proverbs serieswitty and dry in the usual Rohmer manneris set in a wealthy Parisian suburb and focuses on two female friends, their boyfriends, and the shifting relationships among the four characters, which are handled with both tact and geometrical precision. A particular bonus here is the depiction of contemporary life in a kind of sterile suburban high-rise community that’s rarely seen in the French cinema but that seems very typical of recent French life; a direct correlation appears to be made between the shopping-mall sterility of the locations, where the characters generally meet, and the remoteness that they often seem to have from one another’s thoughts and feelings. The original French title translates literally as A Friend of My Friend. With Emmanuelle Chaulet, Sophie Renoir, Anne-Laure Meury, and Eric Viellard (1987, 102 min.). (JR) Read more

Blood Salvage

Inept redneck horror sleaze whose only narrative interest is in whether or not its crippled heroine (Lori Birdsong) gets raped by a hillbilly junk man (Danny Nelson) who, along with his geeklike sons (Christian Hesler and Ralph Pruitt Vaughn), slices up people to sell their body parts. So who cares if rape is celebrated and promoted as long as kids aren’t allowed to look at naked women. Hacks named Tucker Johnston (writer-director) and Ken C. Sanders (writer-producer) turned out this Georgia-made barf, and both Ray Walston and John Saxon, who must be really down on their luck, were persuaded to costar. (JR) Read more

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams

In the uneven career of Akira Kurosawa, two limiting factors were sentimentality and preachiness, and both come to the fore in this 1990 collection of eight dreams, some of which are more like parables or fairy tales. The dreams are often connected by themes and visual motifs, and the overarching theme is man’s ecological recklessness and foolishness, as evidenced by the building of nuclear weapons and our growing remoteness from the natural world. One could recommend the film without qualification to grammar school kids who haven’t been jaded by the pacing of TV or of Lucas and Spielberg (who helped produce this picture); older folks may find themselves growing fidgety over the simplicityif not the sincerity or aptnessof the Sunday-school lessons. With Martin Scorsese and Chishu Ryu. In Japanese with subtitles. 119 min. (JR) Read more

After Dark, My Sweet

Although there are times when one feels that the filmmakers have bitten off a little more than they can chew, this is a bold, watchable adaptation (by director James Foley and coproducer Robert Redlin) of a noirish thriller by Jim Thompson that comes surprisingly close to capturing the grisly, hard-boiled, and unstable world of that authorthanks in part to a sharp feeling for sensual detail that includes everything from wet, squishy kisses to a scummy unused swimming pool. (Cinematographer Mark Plummer works wonders with light and scenery in striking ‘Scope compositions.) Jason Patric, calling to mind a slightly heavier James Dean at a low flame, stars as a former boxer who has escaped from an insane asylum; whether he’s actually nuts or merely on the edge is one of the central ambiguities that keep the plot moving, and the fact that he narrates the story offscreen in classic noir fashion only complicates one’s uncertainty. He falls in with a salty, alcoholic English widow (Rachel Ward) and a small-time con man and ex-cop (Bruce Dern) in southern California who are plotting to kidnap a little boy from a wealthy family, and paranoia and other complications start to unravel the trio’s uneasy rapport. Read more