Daily Archives: September 1, 1990


Martin Scorsese collaborated with Nicholas Pileggi on this 1990 adaptation of Wiseguy, Pileggi’s nonfiction book about gangsters in Brooklyn, and in terms of narrative fluidity it may well be the most accomplished thing Scorsese’s ever done. Set between the mid-50s and the mid-80s, the semifictionalized story centers on a half-Irish, half-Sicilian Mafia recruit (Ray Liotta)who narrates along with the Jewish woman (Lorraine Bracco) he eventually marriesand the other gangsters in his immediate circle (Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, and Paul Sorvino). Paradoxically, the violent, amoral world the film depicts may be the darkest Scorsese has ever shown, but the surface mood is lighter than any Scorsese film since Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Stylistically, it’s a remarkable effort, but the sociological insights never go very far beyond the obvious. R, 146 min. (JR) Read more

Time Of The Gypsies

In this fanciful and folkloric 1989 film by Emir Kusturica (Underground), a young Gypsy falls in with an amoral gang of thieves. Pleasantly Felliniesque, and at times a bit more penetrating in its energetic magical realism, this deserves more attention than it got from most quarters (here included) when it was first released. Ljubica Adzovic and Davor Dujimovic head a cast that’s composed mainly of nonprofessionals. In Romany and Serbo-Croatian with subtitles. 138 min. (JR) Read more

The Tall Guy

Jeff Goldblum stars as an American actor living in London and working as a stooge to a hateful but popular stage comic (Rowan Atkinson). He falls in love with a nurse (Emma Thompson) and finds himself playing the lead in a musical version of The Elephant Man, in an enjoyable English comedy written by Richard Curtis and directed by Mel Smith. Atkinson, Curtis, and Smith all worked on BBC TV’s Not the Nine o’Clock News, and much of this has the free-form giddinessas well as some of the hit-or-miss qualityof some of the best English TV comedy. I’ve never seen Goldblum have a chance to stretch out as a comic actor before, and he certainly helps keep things lively. With Emil Wolk, Hugh Thomas, Anna Massey (in a funny bit as Goldblum’s agent), and Timothy Barlowe (1990). (JR) Read more

Tales From The Winnipeg Film Group

If Guy Maddin’s Tales From the Gimli Hospital whetted your appetite for more comic/nostalgic/facetious strangenessor if you haven’t seen the Maddin film but have such an appetite anywayyou’ll probably get a kick out of this entertaining assortment of shorts by Maddin’s neighbors and colleagues, all members of the Winnipeg Film Group of Manitoba, Canada; producer Greg Klymkiw will introduce and discuss their work. The ones I’ve been able to sample include Tracy Traeger and Shawna Dempsey’s We’re Talking Vulva, a funny rap-music video featuring performance artist Dempsey in a vulva suit; John Paizs’s hilariously deadpan evocations of 50s educational shorts in Springtime in Greenland and The Obsession of Billy Botski; and Lorne Bailey’s memorable The Milkman Cometh, about a businessman who becomes so entranced by the Alpine landscape on a can of evaporated milk that his life gradually becomes overtaken by it. Also to be shown are films by John Kozak (Two Men in Search of a Plot) and the Winnipeg Film Group as a whole (Rabbit Pie). (JR) Read more

The Power And The Glory

Preston Sturges’s screenplay for this 1933 film and its achronological flashback structure (billed as a new technique called narratage when the film opened) are often cited as important influences on Citizen Kane. But Orson Welles never saw the film, and in fact it seems rather flat and dated today, unlike most of Sturges’s other scripts. Spencer Tracy plays the tycoon with the power and glory, and fine as he is, this isn’t one of his best pictures. Nor does it represent the full talent of its interesting director, William K. Howard. With Colleen Moore, Helen Vinson, and Ralph Morgan. 76 min. (JR) Read more

The Playgirls And The Bellboy

Francis Coppola’s 1962 overhaul of Fritz Umgelter’s 1958 West German sex comedy Mit Eva Fing die Sunde. Four years before Peter Bogdanovich’s Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women and Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?, which employed similar procedures, Coppola redubbed an original black-and-white movie, giving it new dialogue and adding voice-overs and new 3-D color segments, which featured June Wilkinson and other topless starlets. (JR) Read more

Peggy And Fred In Hell: The Complete Cycle

Leslie Thornton’s remarkable, mind-boggling experimental feature-length cycle of short films, worked on and released in episodes over a period of yearsa postapocalyptic narrative about two children feeling their way through the refuse of late-20th-century consumer culture; the films employ a wide array of found footage as well as peculiar, unpredictable, and often funny performances from two found actors. Apart from one startling and beautiful color shot in the penultimate episode, Whirling, the whole cycle is in black and white. Highly idiosyncratic and deeply creepy, this series as a wholewhich includes passages in both film and video, sometimes shown concurrentlyrepresents the most exciting work of the 80s American avant-garde that I know, a saga that raises questions about everything while making everything seem very strange. Don’t miss this. (JR) Read more

Pacific Heights

Like Fatal Attraction, this is a sort of horror thriller about encroachment on yuppie property and yuppie revenge for same; screenwriter Daniel Pyne and director John Schlesinger remove the misogyny, and occasionally muster some irony about the theme, but to little avail. Melanie Griffith and Matthew Modine play an unmarried couple who purchase and restore a Victorian house in San Francisco and rent out a couple of apartments; their downstairs tenant, Michael Keaton, never pays rent or security, refuses to leave, and thanks to his exploitation of tenants’ rights, makes their life a living hell. Part of what keeps this from working is that Modine’s character is almost as obnoxious as Keaton’sGriffith proves to be the pluckiest member of the trioand matters are not improved by a lot of gratuitous camera movement and an especially lousy dream sequence. With Mako, Nobu McCarthy, Laurie Metcalf, Sheila McCarthy, and an almost unrecognizable Tippi Hedren. (JR) Read more

The Minstrel Man

Low-budget curiosity from the underrated Joseph H. Lewis (Gun Crazy), though in fact the most expensive movie he made for the cut-rate studio PRC. A dramatic musical, with sets by Edgar G. Ulmer (1944). (JR) Read more

Love Happy

Mary Pickford produced the last Marx Brothers feature (1949), which is far from their best, even though both Ben Hecht and Frank Tashlin worked on the script. Marilyn Monroe appears in a bit, and a good many product plugs figure in a climactic rooftop scene involving neon signs. With Ilona Massey, Vera-Ellen, Eric Blore, and Raymond Burr. (JR) Read more

Legend Of The Seven Golden Vampires

This combination kung fu and vampire film (1973) is the offspring of a marriage of convenience between the British Hammer studios and Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers. Directed by Roy Ward Baker; with Hammer regular Peter Cushing, as well as David Chiang, Julie Ege, and John Forbes Robertson. Thanks to the extreme violence, it wasn’t released to U.S. audiences for six years, and then only in highly cut versions. (JR) Read more

Last Exit To Brooklyn

A very earnest 1990 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s celebrated short-story collection about violence and suffering in the lower reaches of Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the early 50s, directed by German filmmaker Uli Edel (Christiane F.). The stories encompassed the 40s as well, but screenwriter Desmond Nakano has attempted, with mixed results, to compress all six of them into a single tale set in 1952. By attempting to deal with street gangs, prostitution, drug use, homosexuality, and union corruption, the film ends up having a scattered, mosaic effect. The castincluding Stephen Lang, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Burt Young, Peter Dobson, and Jerry Orbachis excellent, and Edel’s stylized mise en scene purposefully frames and distances much of the action; but despite his obvious sincerity and goodwill, and the intrinsic interest of a very European handling of an American subject, the movie’s bleakness and despair aren’t accompanied by the unified vision that this sort of material requiresa problem that can be traced in part back to the print source, which at times wallows in violence and misery. (JR) Read more

Jaguar And Les Maitres Fous

Much as history is written by survivors, film history is frequently written by distributors. So the greatness of the serials of both Louis Feuillade and Jacques Rivette must remain a postulate for Americans who can’t see them, and the towering importance of the fascinating ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch is usually something U.S. viewers can only read about. Rouch was a pioneer in working with sync sound and in mixing fiction and narrative with documentary, usually through the creative intervention of the subjects being filmedaspects that were to fundamentally influence the French New Wave. Fortunately, one of Rouch’s finest (and earliest) features has been unearthed for a rare screening: shot in the 50s and completed in 1967, Jaguar is a semifictional story about three young men who leave Niger to find work in Ghana prior to its independence. Rouch invited the major characters to improvise a narrative over the footage, which is an amazing and often funny document in its own right. If you care about cinema and haven’t yet encountered Rouch, this shouldn’t be missed. Perhaps even greater is Les maitres fous, Rouch’s seminal ethnographic short of 1955 about the Hauka of West Africa, whose violent trance rituals imitate and mock British colonialism, apparently purging them of their fury so that they can return to their dull labors afterward. Read more

Last Images Of The Shipwreck

Argentinean filmmaker Eliseo Subiela’s third feature is in many respects a worthy successor to his second, Man Facing Southeast, and even more difficult to synopsize. A writer saddled with a dull job and an unhappy marriage encounters a woman on the subway. As he gradually becomes acquainted with her and her eccentric family, he pays her for the story of her life, which he wants to use as material for his novel in progress. Following a somewhat novelistic and rambling mode of exposition, Subiela has a good many quirky ideas about mise en scene and magical realismunexpected camera placements, surrealist interludes, and offbeat conceits (Jesus Christ is a character the heroine visits periodically)that never quite cohere, though they certainly reveal a singular sensibility. Thoughtful, provocative, and highly original, this 127-minute film requires a certain amount of patience, but one is well rewarded for the effort. With Lorenzo Quinteros, Noemi Frenkel, and Hugo Soto (1989). (JR) Read more

I Married A Witch

Produced by Preston Sturges and directed by Rene Clair, this 1942 adaptation of The Passionate Witch, the last novel of Thorne Smith (who also wrote the novel that Topper was based on), is a light bit of whimsy about a Salem witch (Veronica Lake) and her sorcerer father (Cecil Kellaway) haunting the descendant (Fredric March) of the Puritan who had them burned. (As spirits, they’ve been hiding mainly inside a couple of wine bottles.) Smith, who’s been adapted here by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly, once was considered fairly ribald, and while some of the erotic material from the original has been dry-cleaned, fans of Veronica Lake won’t be disappointed; the special effects are nicely done too. With Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, Elizabeth Patterson, and Robert Warwick. 82 min. (JR) Read more