Daily Archives: May 1, 1991

Swan Lake–the Zone

Yuri Illyenko, the master Ukrainian cinematographer who shot Sergei Paradjanov’s Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1965) and directed the long-banned A Spring for the Thirsty (1965) and The Eve of Ivan Kupalo (1968), based this striking 1990 allegorical film on stories by Paradjanov that were inspired by his long sojourns in prison. The film was shot at the prison where Paradjanov was confined, using contemporary prisoners as extras, and it might be said that the documentary and poetic-symbolic aspects of this movie are equally germane to its overall impact. Three days before his sentence is to end, a prisoner (Victor Solovyov) escapes and hides out inside a giant hammer and sickle that borders the prison grounds, where he is discovered and nursed back to health by a beautiful woman (Liudmyla Yefymenko, Illyenko’s wife) who becomes his lover, until her resentful son (Illyenko’s son) betrays his whereabouts to the prison authorities. One of the first independent Soviet productions, partially financed in Sweden and Canada, the film tells its story with a minimum of dialogue and very striking imagery. (JR) Read more


The unlikely team of Carole Lombard and Randolph Scott costar in this rarely shown 60-minute chiller by Victor Halperin (White Zombie) about an executed strangler (Vivienne Osborne) whose spirit threatens to overtake Lombard (1933). It starts off with quotes from Confucius, Muhammad, and Saint Matthew (and a wild montage shortly afterward), and features a fake spiritualist (Alan Dinehart) with a poison ring as well as a genuine psychologist experimenting with ultraviolet rays. This is too good to be camp, though not quite accomplished enough to qualify as a classic. It does, however, manage to generate some creditable acting and a fair amount of atmosphere. (JR) Read more


The eponymous heroine, a mysterious stranger, enters the life of Francoise, a suicidal young woman, and they share an intense fantasy life together. This 1984 French film, directed by 19-year-old Christine Ehm, has been praised for its subtle wit and imaginative use of color. Read more


This lively and enjoyable Indonesian feature (1982) in ‘Scope, directed by Gautana Sisworo Putra from a screenplay by Ignatius Sukardjasman, is based on an ancient Sunda legend with oedipal overtones; the hero accidentally kills his father (although sometime after the latter has been turned into a dog) and almost marries his mother. It’s full of enchantment, alternately campy and exhilarating in its employment of fantasy and magic (with some beautifully choreographed martial arts that include Superman-like flights), but unfortunately censored somewhat for stateside consumption. (JR) Read more

Saint Joan

Jean Seberg’s screen debut and one of Otto Preminger’s most underrated features (it was slaughtered by reviewers and ignored by moviegoers when it came out). This 1957 adaptation by Graham Greene of George Bernard Shaw’s famous play was shot in black and white and has a strong secondary cast, including Richard Widmark as the dauphin, John Gielgud as the earl of Warwick, Richard Todd, Anton Walbrook, and Felix Aylmer. (JR) Read more

Hurry Sundown

Otto Preminger’s grappling with rural Georgia during the civil rights movementan adaptation by Thomas C. Ryan and Horton Foote of K.B. Gilden’s southern gothic novelmight seem hopelessly dated in its depiction of decadent whites and noble blacks. In fact, it seemed hopelessly dated when it was released in 1967, though this doesn’t prevent it from having an enjoyable over-the-top quality at various junctures (catch Jane Fonda performing fellatio on Michael Caine’s alto saxophone, for instance). The last of Preminger’s overblown adaptations of best-sellers (his later films became smaller-scale and much weirder), this may have a lot more juice than sustenance, but at least Preminger keeps the juices flowing. With Rex Ingram, Diahann Carroll, Burgess Meredith, John Phillip Law, Robert Hooks, and Faye Dunaway. (JR) Read more

Hugh Hefner: Once Upon A Time

For at least its first half-hour or so, when the beginnings of a genuine psychological profile seem to be promised, this is a fascinating look at the life, fantasies, and empire of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, directed by Robert Heath and written by Heath, Gary H. Grossman, and Michael Gross. But the rest of the film bears such a resemblance to an authorized version that it might as well have been subsidized by Hefner himself; it’s fawning in its hushed tones and so minimal in acknowledging feminist objections to Hefner’s worldview that they are made to seem like distant thunder. Shot on video and transferred to film, this is an industrial in almost every sense, though certainly a well-made example of the genre. David Lynch’s erstwhile partner Mark Frost served as executive producer and James Coburn delivers the reverential narration. (JR) Read more

Home Less Home

This is a personal documentary about the homeless in New York City that raises a lot of important issuesincluding media perceptions of the homeless, middle-class mythology about them, and the legacy of Reagan-era cutbacks in social serviceswithout pursuing any of them to the point of yielding a political position or agenda. Despite serious intentions, director Bill Brand’s self-consciousness about his middle-class vantage point tends to get in the way of the material, often serving more as an apologetic disclaimer than as a basis for sustained analysis. Most of the homeless people interviewed are articulate and intelligent about their plight on a day-to-day level, but apart from some telling statistics and familiar generalities, the larger question of what produces homelessnessor what can be done to alleviate itnever coheres into a clear and urgent statement. Still, the film certainly has value as a preliminary discussion. Edited and cowritten by Joanna Kiernan, who also served as associate producer. (JR) Read more


The title hero of this first feature from Japan by Go Riju is a former rock star (Yoshito Nakamura) who’s living in a warehouse on the Tokyo waterfront and basically diddling his life away by shooting a sort of video diary while his admiring friends wait in vain for him to make a comeback. Visually and stylistically inventive, this film about existential alienation depends rather heavily on one finding this hero sufficiently interesting to warrant all the fuss. I didn’t, though I must admit that writer-director Riju does a very good job of handling the milieu. With Masumi Miyazaki (1989). (JR) Read more

What About Bob?

A superneurotic (Bill Murray) becomes the patient of a vain, up-and-coming psychoanalyst and author (Richard Dreyfuss) about to leave on his summer vacation; he pursues the doctor to his New England summer house, befriends his family, and ultimately drives him mad. Basically a high-concept comedy, scripted by Tom Schulman from a story by Alvin Sargent and producer Laura Ziskin and directed by Frank Oz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), this cruel but effective black comedy violates credibility at almost every turn, but the concept itself is so strongparticularly as a revenge fantasy for anyone who’s ever resented hypocritical exploitative shrinksthat it winds up working pretty well anyway. A key factor in this is Dreyfuss’s finely tuned tight-ass performance, one of the strongest expressions of repressed domestic frustration since the salad days of W.C. Fields. (Murray, by contrast, is relatively hamstrung by inadequate scripting.) With Julie Hagerty, Charlie Korsmo, and Kathryn Erbe. (JR) Read more

A Wedding

Ostensibly Robert Altman’s aim in this 1978 comic free-for-all was to top his own Nashville by doubling his cast of leading players from 24 to 48. The film concentrates on the aftermath of an upscale Chicagoland wedding, and it certainly has its moments. But the facileness of this “exposé” of the upper middle class adds up to a lot of cheap shots—watchable enough, but considerably less than the sum of its parts. Among the 48: Carol Burnett, Desi Arnaz Jr., Amy Stryker, Vittorio Gassman, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley, Lillian Gish, Lauren Hutton, John Cromwell, Pat McCormick, Howard Duff, Dina Merrill, Nina Van Pallandt, John Considine, and Viveca Lindfors. PG, 125 min. Read more

An Unremarkable Life

Amin Q. Chaudri’s U.S. features costars Shelley Winters and Patricia Neal as elderly sisters whose lives are changed when one of them starts dating a Korean-American. We don’t have a review of this film, but word of mouth from colleagues hasn’t been good. Read more

Truth Or Dare

A candid and entertaining look at Madonna’s 1990 Blond Ambition tour that mainly alternates between grainy black-and-white backstage/offstage footage and certain numbers from the touring show that were shot in color. The young director, Alek Keshishian, had been directing music videos since 1986, and this movie looks it, for better and for worse: there’s a nervous tendency to crosscut between scenes and between onstage and offstage footage that keeps things constantly moving but often prevents the numbers and certain documentary segments from being appreciated in their entirety. It generally works better as a mosaic self-portrait (Madonna served as executive producer) than as a concert film, andnot too surprisinglywhat comes across is mainly the star’s likable desire to be both naughty and responsible, conscientious and silly: she’s a prima donna who plays mother hen with her troupe, stoutly defends her show against censors (but seems perfectly willing to have it cut to shreds for the purposes of this movie), and is energetically on at every minute. Warren Beatty, Kevin Costner, and Sandra Bernhard are among the brief celebrity walk-ons (1991). (JR) Read more

Truly Madly Deeply

An English feature written and directed by playwright Anthony Minghella, about a young woman (Juliet Stevenson) stricken by the death of her cellist lover (Alan Rickman) who appears to be revisited by his ghost, this comes across as an English realist variation on the sort of quasi-supernatural stories that producer Val Lewton specialized in during the 40s: that is, the supernatural elements are used to enhance the realistic psychology rather than the other way around. If the relatively prosaic Minghella, making his movie debut, lacks the suggestive poetic sensibility of Lewton, he does a fine job in capturing the contemporary everyday textures of London life, and coaxes a strong performance out of Stevenson, a longtime collaborator. Full of richly realized secondary characters and witty oddball details (e.g., the home video tastes of her late lover’s ghostly male companions), this is a beguiling film in more ways than one. PG, 107 min. (JR) Read more

To Kill A Priest

This film in English by the gifted Polish writer-director Agnieszka Holland (A Woman Alone) is based on the real-life assassination of Solidarity chaplain Father Jerzy Popieluszko by secret police in 1984. While there’s a certain awkwardness inherent in making what is essentially an English-language Polish film on a Polish subject in France with English and American actors, this is a far cry from simple Solidarity agitprop. Holland is interested in exploring the moral complexity and ambiguity of Poland in the early 80s, and sets about this task with a great deal of intelligence and imagination, devoting even more attention to the police captain (Ed Harris in one of his better performances) who kills the priest (Christopher Lambert) than she does to the priest himself. In contrast to the kindergarten-level philosophizing of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, this is a film of some depth with a genuine sense of ethical nuance. Holland is generally well served by her cast, which also includes Joanne Whalley, Joss Ackland, Tim Roth, and Peter Postlethwaite (the father in Distant Voices, Still Lives). (JR) Read more