Daily Archives: June 1, 1991

Strand: Under The Dark Cloth

A fascinating and intelligent Canadian documentary by John Walker about the life and career of the great American photographer Paul Strand that includes interviews with Georgia O’Keeffe, Milton Brown, Fred Zinnemann, Leo Hurwitz, and Virginia Stevens, as well as tantalizing clips from Strand’s films (including Manhatta, arguably the first American experimental film, The Wave, Heart of Spain, and Native Land). The film does a good job with both the work and the enigmatic personality of Strand, and for people like me whose acquaintance with Strand’s work is limited, this makes an ideal introduction (1989). (JR) Read more

Straight Out Of Brooklyn

This straight-from-the-gut message film from the Brooklyn ghetto (1991) by writer-director-producer-actor Matty Rich (who was only 19 at the time) is raw and unfinished in terms of craftbut it’s certainly heartfelt, and it lacks the usual exploitation frills. Seething with rage about the racism that has made him a professional failure (he works at a filling station), a man living in a Red Hook housing project (George T. Odom) regularly gets drunk, smashes dishes, and mercilessly beats his wife. His daughter is appalled that her mother accepts these beatings, and his son, bent on saving his family and escaping from Brooklyn, plans to rob a drug dealer with his two best friends (Mark Malone and Rich), over the objections of his girlfriend. Winner of a special jury prize at Sundance, this movie’s urgency very nearly makes up for what it lacks in polish; Rich may not have mastered certain skills, but he has so much to say about his subject that some irreducible street wisdom still gets across. R, 79 min. (JR) Read more

Seance On A Wet Afternoon

The underrated (albeit uneven) Bryan Forbes directed this 1964 British thriller cum melodrama about a fake medium (Kim Stanley) who gets her husband (Richard Attenborough) to kidnap a child so she can demonstrate her psychic powers finding it. Adapted by Forbes from Mark McShane’s novel; with Nanette Newman and Patrick Magee. 115 min. (JR) Read more

Native Land

A fascinating relic from 1942, codirected, cowritten, and partially shot by the great still photographer Paul Strand in collaboration with Leo Hurwitz. Narrated by Paul Robeson and with a score by Marc Blitzstein, this documentary feature uses newsreel footage, still photographs, and extended reenactments to dramatize the findings of the U.S. Senate’s La Follette Committee regarding union busting and corporate labor spying; more generally, it’s concerned with everyday violations of the Bill of Rights that most citizens knew (and know) nothing about, including those fostered in the south by the Ku Klux Klan. Made over a three-year period, this is the most ambitious work of Strand’s Frontier Films collective, but because it was released shortly after Pearl Harbor, its impact was severely blunted, which discouraged Strand from doing further work in film. If you subscribe, as I do, to the notion that the most dated films are often the ones that have the most to teach us about their respective periods, you shouldn’t miss this singular work. 88 min. (JR) Read more

The Naked Gun 2: The Smell Of Fear

A feeble sequel to The Naked Gun that’s about one and a half rungs down from its predecessor and a good four or five down from Airplane! Still, if you have nothing better to do, you might laugh a few times. Directed and cowritten by David Zucker and starring Leslie Nielsen as Lieutenant Frank Drebin; with Priscilla Presley, O.J. Simpson, George Kennedy, and Robert Goulet. Pat Proft collaborated on the script. (JR) Read more

Heaven Can Wait

Not the sublime Ernst Lubitsch masterpiece, but a 1978 comedy that had the brass to steal its title. Warren Beatty’s first flight out as a director was codirected by Buck Henry, but Beatty’s also around as producer, cowriter (with Elaine May), and star, so you can’t exactly accuse him of lacking confidence. A charming but not very profound comedy about a football player (Beatty) accidentally killed before his appointed time who gets fixed up with a new body formerly owned by an eccentric millionaire, this is actually a remake of Alexander Hall’s Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), with football substituting for prizefighting. It’s certainly likable enough and was a big hit when it came out, but one could hardly call it an auspicious artistic debuta crafty commercial entertainment with a certain amount of intelligence is more like it. With Julie Christie, Jack Warden, James Mason (as the archangel Mr. Jordan), Dyan Cannon, Charles Grodin, Buck Henry, and Vincent Gardenia. 100 min. (JR) Read more

Tatie Danielle

A French comedy about a nasty old lady (Tsilla Chelton) who is taken in by her well-intentioned great-nephew (Eric Prat) and his family in Paris, then challenged by a teenager (Isabelle Nanty) hired to watch over her while the family leaves on vacation. This movie is intermittently funny, but virtually strangled at birth by the sort of bourgeois complacency that it makes a few token gestures toward satirizing. Directed by Etienne Chatiliez (Life Is a Long Quiet River) from a script by Florence Quentin; with Catherine Jacob and Laurence Fevrier (1990). (JR) Read more

The Rocketeer

Bill Campbell stars as a test pilot working in southern California in 1938 who discovers an experimental rocket pack that enables him to fly; Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) directed. After a promising, nicely paced, and well-edited beginning, this fantasy-adventurewhich initially suggests an action version of Tucker, complete with Howard Hughes (Terry O’Quinn)settles into the more familiar packaged goods of an Indiana Jones or Back to the Future rip-off, complete with eccentric mechanic (Alan Arkin), loyal girlfriend (Jennifer Connelly), Nazi spy (Timothy Dalton playing a fanciful version of Errol Flynn), central casting hoods (Paul Sorvino, Jon Polito, and others), and an outsized blimp for a climax. The whole thing is good-natured enough, but increasingly mechanical. Screenplay by Paul De Meo and Danny Billson, based on a graphic novel by Dave Stevens. (JR) Read more

Picture Snatcher

A breezy little James Cagney vehicle (1933), made at Warners during his best and busiest period, about an ex-racketeer who becomes a scandal photographer and manages to get a picture of a woman in the electric chair. Allen Rivkin and P.J. Wolfson’s script reportedly has some basis in fact; Ralph Bellamy, Patricia Ellis, and Alice White costar. (JR) Read more


Endangered by their activism in Poland’s Solidarity struggle in 1981, a mother (Elzbieta Czyzewska) and son (John Cameron Mitchell) leave Warsaw for the U.S., staying with relatives (Viveca Lindfors, Deirdre O’Connell, John Christopher Jones) until they can move into an apartment of their own; their problems in adjusting to a new culture are exacerbated somewhat when the teenage son can’t accept the mother’s affair with their blue-collar landlord (Drew Snyder). This semiautobiographical independent film, written and directed by Louis Yansen (Thomas DeWolfe collaborated on the script), has persuasive performances by American actor Mitchell, Polish actress Czyzewska (the model for Sally Kirkland’s Anna), and the Swedish-born Lindfors, as well as a few awkward moments with some of the secondary players. One overall strength is its taboo-breaking position on the behavior of Americans toward foreigners. The mother and son initially encounter rudeness and unfriendliness almost everywhere they turn before their talentsthe mother as a Voice of America announcer, the boy as a violinisthelp them find some acceptance. (JR) Read more

The Match Factory Girl

Except for Juha nine years later, this 1990 feature is the best thing I’ve seen by Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki. The conclusion of his proletarian trilogy, which began with Shadows in Paradise and Ariel, it centers on a meek, morose assembly-line worker (Kati Outinen) who’s brutalized by her mother and stepfather and usually ignored by everyone else. After she’s picked up and impregnated by a well-to-do architect who coolly exploits her, she plots and executes a rather extravagant revenge. Basically a postmodernist reshuffling of Robert Bresson and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this doesn’t hold a candle to the best work of either, but on its own terms it has an unmistakable minimalist elegance. In Finnish with subtitles. 70 min. (JR) Read more

Jungle Fever

Spike Lee’s high-powered, all-over-the-place 1991 movie about interracial romance (Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra), crack addiction (a remarkable turn by Samuel L. Jackson), breaking away from one’s family (a theme that crops up in at least five households, with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Anthony Quinn, and Frank Vincent among the parents), and corporate advancement for blacks (Snipes again), chiefly set in two New York neighborhoods (Harlem and Bensonhurst). The disparate themes never quite come together, but with many fine performancesJohn Turturro and Lonette McKee are especially goodyou won’t be bored for a minute. Overall the film suggests a kind of living newspaper, with stories and subplots crowding one another for front-page space. There are so many voices you may think you’re swimming through a maelstrom, but thanks to Lee it’s all superbly orchestrated. 131 min. (JR) Read more

Crime And Punishment

The first feature (1983) of Finnish hipster filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki is a very loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novel, set in contemporary Helsinki, in which a solitary slaughterhouse worker murders the man who killed his fiancee in a hit-and-run accident. In Finnish with subtitles. 93 min. (JR) Read more

City Slickers

Three urban buddies (Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby) suffering through various midlife crises take off for a southwest dude ranch and a real-life cattle drive. What starts out as pure farce turns momentarily into a straight western adventureafter a number of calamities increase the heroes’ responsibilitiesbefore once again becoming a comedy-drama about midlife crisis. Director Ron Underwood (Tremors) does a fair job navigating all the key changes proposed by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s script, and with the actors’ help he makes this a diverting if bumpy ride (1991). With Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Noble Willingham, Josh Mostel, Tracey Walter, and Jack Palance as an old-time trail boss. (JR) Read more

The Big Store

The Marx Brothers, in their last film for MGM, are let loose in a department store; regrettably, so are Tony Martin and Virginia Grey (1941). Charles Riesner directed, and Margaret Dumont is around to take up part of the slack. Not the brothers at their best, but there are some delightful moments. (JR) Read more