Monthly Archives: November 1991

The Rapture

A so-so student film (1991), tacky and pretentious if somewhat unpredictable, that catapulted into national prominence simply because it takes some of the tenets of fundamentalist Christianity seriously and seriously questions certain othersproving yet again that all it takes to get some critics worked up is novelty, not accomplishment: there are no insights here that you couldn’t find on most street corners. A telephone operator in Los Angeles (Mimi Rogers) who indulges in freewheeling mate swapping with her boyfriend (Patrick Bauchau) has a religious experience, transforms her life, and fervently awaits the apocalypse, which the movie delivers in solemn, drive-in exploitation style, complete with low-budget special effects and strained acting. Written and directed by former Village Voice writer Michael Tolkin, this clunky exercise goes the standard puritanical route of aiming to be as tawdry as possible before the heroine starts to see the light, then turning solemn and pristine in order to cash in on the conversion, which is questioned (and flaunted) as glumly as the carousing was. I was mildly interested and mildly bored, occasionally intrigued but never convinced. With David Duchovny, Kimberly Cullum, and Will Patton. (JR)… Read more »

The Prince Of Tides

Barbra Streisand stars in her second feature as a director (after Yentl), an adaptation of Pat Conroy’s best-selling novel about the adulterous relationship that develops between the twin brother (Nick Nolte) and the New York psychiatrist (Streisand) of a tortured southern poet who attempts suicide (Melinda Dillon); Conroy and Becky Johnston collaborated on the script, and Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, Jeroen Krabbe, and Jason Gould (Streisand’s real-life son, here playing her movie son) costar. For better and for worse, Streisand’s directorial style calls to mind Delmer Daves in the 60s (Spencer’s Mountain, Youngblood Hawke), both in her delirious crane shots and in her willingness to place most of the emotional climaxes into the filmic equivalent of italics (which often means overproduced magazine-cover settings and soaring music). The results may seem overripe and dated in spots, but she coaxes a fine performance out of Nolte, and the other actors (herself included) acquit themselves honorably (1991). (JR)… Read more »

The People Under The Stairs

A horror film by writer-director Wes Craven about a 13-year-old ghetto boy (Brandon Adams), whose family is about to be evicted by an evil slumlord (Twin Peaks’s Everett McGill), stumbling into a group of brutalized kids held captive in the slumlord’s house, which the demented fellow shares with his equally deranged sister (Twin Peaks’s Wendy Robie) posing as his wife. Most of this works pretty well in terms of shocks, suspense, and cartoonlike violence, but less well as social metaphor. With A.J. Langer, Ving Rhames, Bill Cobbs, Kelly Jo Minter, Sean Whalen, and Jeremy Roberts (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Liebestraum

For those like myself who basically enjoyed Mike Figgis’s first feature, Stormy Monday, his third (he made Internal Affairs in between) begins promisingly as a thriller with the same hard-edged look, high-contrast lighting, and skeptical English view of American culture. An architecture professor (Kevin Anderson), adopted as a child then orphaned, is sent for by his real mother (Kim Novak), who’s dying. He encounters an old college friend (Bill Pullman) who’s supervising the demolition of a cast-iron department store that has been closed since an adulterous couple were murdered there in the early 50s. The hero starts to become involved with his friend’s wife (Pamela Gidley), who shares his architectural enthusiasms, and eventually the two plot strands come together. Unfortunately, by that time the sheer pretentiousness of the proceedingsreplete with brooding pauses, studied dialogue, and hothouse eroticism a la Two Moon Junctionand the occasional incoherence of the narrative (which appears to have lost at least one subplot, perhaps to studio recutting) have turned this whole farrago into borderline camp. And even though any appearance by Kim Novak is welcome, the story regrettably entails the use in flashbacks of a younger self who looks nothing like the Novak we know. (JR)… Read more »

Let Him Have It

The sober, relatively uninspired account of a real-life crime that shook postwar London, when a retarded epileptic of 17 was sentenced to death for his indirect role in the shooting of a policeman by a 16-year-old hoodlum. Directed by Peter Medak (The Krays) from a script by Neal Purvis and Robert Wade; with Christopher Eccleston, Paul Reynolds, Tom Bell, Eileen Atkins, Clare Holman, Michael Gough, and Tom Courtenay (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Larks On A String

Made in 1969, only three years after his Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains, Jiri Menzel’s lovely, sensual Czech satire waited 21 years to pass the censors, then went on to win the top prize at the Berlin film festival. Cowritten by Menzel and Bohumil Hrabal from a collection of Hrabal’s stories and set in the early 50s, the comic plot centers on a group of bourgeois dissidentsincluding a philosophy professor, a librarian who promoted Western literature, a Seventh-Day Adventist cook (Vaclav Neckar), a saxophonist, and a public prosecutorassigned to work on a scrap heap in the town of Kladno. Male and female political prisoners work in adjacent yards, and the flirtations between the two groups comprise much of the action of this surprisingly cheerful picture, which treats party officials and guards as hapless victims of the system along with the prisoners. The bureaucratic absurdities reach a sort of climax when the cook falls in love with a female prisoner (Jitka Zelenohorska); they wind up getting married, but the bride’s grandmother has to serve as her proxy. (JR)… Read more »

Freud

It’s become clear over the years that John Huston’s failed but fitfully interesting 1962 biopic about Freud’s early career (up to the point when he formulated the Oedipus complex) was scripted mainly by Jean-Paul Sartre — who withdrew his name from the project after his second draft, which would have made a much longer film, was radically condensed — rather than by Charles Kaufman and producer Wolfgang Reinhardt, who apparently received screen credit for their whittling. With a strained and somewhat ill Montgomery Clift trudging through the lead part, the film benefits from Douglas Slocombe’s black-and-white photography and an excellent secondary cast (Larry Parks, Susannah York, Susan Kohner); it suffers from Sartre’s dogged and fundamentally anticinematic literalism. Huston works hard on the dream sequences, but one feels the effort more than the results. (JR)… Read more »

For The Boys

This one took me completely by surprise. An epic musical about two USO entertainers (Bette Midler and James Caan) who form a nonromantic show-biz team and perform together over three wars and half a century, it has the sort of scope, pizzazz, and feeling we used to expect from Hollywood but haven’t seen in a good while. Caan plays an entertainer very much like Bob Hope (politically he supports the status quo, and his signature tune, I Remember You, recalls Thanks for the Memories); Midler’s character, who specializes in Mae West-style double entendres, is a more rambunctious sort with a gutsy liberal conscience. Both of them are quite effective, as are George Segal, as the acerbic wit who writes Caan’s jokes and winds up getting blacklisted, and Christopher Rydell, who plays Midler’s son. This is one of the corniest movies imaginable, and I’m not even sure it qualifies as art, but it’s a solid piece of entertainment that had me weeping buckets by the end. Mark Rydell (The Rose) directed from an uncommonly good script by Marshall Brickman, Neal Jimenez, and Lindy Laub. Not all of the dialogue is period perfect, but the production design (Assheton Gorton) and the makeup and score (both by many hands) deserve special thanks.… Read more »

Europa Europa

Agnieszka Holland’s slightly fictionalized 1990 account of the remarkable true story of Solomon Perel, a Jewish teenager who survived World War II first by hiding in a Soviet orphanage, then by impersonating a Hitler youth at the most prestigious and elite boys’ school in Germany. His circumcised penis was the only thing that gave away his true identity; Holland uses this fact, among others, to turn the tale into a picaresque tragicomedy about Germany, Poland, and the Soviet Union during the war years, full of dark but compassionate ironies about Jewish and European identities. Masterful in her handling of actors as well as in her sense of narrative sweep, she makes this a suspenseful and exhilarating parable. With Marco and Rene Hofschneider, Delphine Forest, Andre Wilms, Julie Delpy, Halina Labonarska, and Solomon Perel himself in the film’s closing shots. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Don Juan, My Love

A dopey Spanish comedy by Antonio Mercero about the ghost of Don Juan (Juan Luis Galiardo) emerging from his grave in contemporary Seville to replace a temperamental and arrogant stage actor (Galiardo again) who happens to be playing Don Juan and smuggling cocaine in his spare time. Full of whimsical conceitsopening credits that are sung, a choreographer (Loles Leon) who speaks only with her castanets (which are duly subtitled), numerous gags predicated on the fact that the ghost can’t be photographed and can walk through wallsthis is basically silly stuff, redeemed in part by a good-natured lack of pretension. (JR)… Read more »

Billy Bathgate

This is no masterpiece, but it’s still the first Robert Benton movie I’ve seen that I haven’t disliked. The well-ordered script by Tom Stoppard, based on the E.L. Doctorow novel, helps, as does a relatively restrained performance by Dustin Hoffman as Dutch Schultz; Patrizia Von Brandenstein’s production design (New York and environs in the mid-30s) and Nestor Almendros’s cinematography mesh agreeably as well. Loren Dean plays the title hero, an ambitious teenager from the South Bronx who manages to get hired by big-time racketeer Schultz; Steven Hill (especially good) and Bruce Willis play two of Schultz’s cohorts; and Nicole Kidman plays a moll who winds up in his entourage. Mark Isham supplied the fairly nondescript music (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Beauty And The Beast

Despite some excessive narrative streamlining, this 1991 release was the best Disney animated feature in years, full of charm and humor. It seems to have benefited from the influence of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, with anthropomorphized household objects managing the Beast’s castle like enlightened domestics, as well as the filmmakers’ fond memories of Busby Berkeley numbers and the torch-wielding villagers in Frankenstein. But the most fascinating buried textual references are to another Disney picture, Pretty Woman, which this trashes in agreeable ways: both the heroine, Belle, and the handsome-prince version of the Beast seem modeled after Julia Roberts, while the insufferably vain and boorish Gaston, who hopes to convert Belle into a kept woman, is a dead ringer for Richard Gere. Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise from a screenplay by Linda Woolverton, and featuring the voices of Robby Benson, Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Angela Lansbury, and Jerry Orbach. (JR)… Read more »

And You Thought Your Parents Were Weird

A demented movie that’s a fairly outrageous hoot (1991). Two inventor brothers (Joshua Miller and Edan Gross) build a robot named Newman out of spare parts only to find it speaks in the voice of their dead father (Alan Thicke), a former inventor himself. This reincarnation is made apparent only gradually to the widow (Marcia Strassman) and three slimy patent-swiping villains from central casting (John Quade, Eric Walker, and Gustav Vintas). In the meantime there’s lots of dreamy speculation, and much more New Age fun than in more serious camp like The Rapture. Written and directed by Tony Cookson; with Sam Behrens, A.J. Langer, Susan Gibney, and the soul of Albert Einstein (making two uncredited cameo appearances via a Ouija board). (JR)… Read more »

All I Want For Christmas

This 1991 feature is not for diabetics or connoisseurs of real people, but everyone else should have a ball. A well-to-do teenager (Ethan Randall) and his precocious kid sister (Thora Birch) gleefully lie, cheat, pull a sadistic prank on a moral inferior (Kevin Nealon), and sacrifice their pets in order to bring their estranged parents (Harley Jane Kozak and Jamey Sheridan) back together for Christmas. In smaller roles, Lauren Bacall, Leslie Nielsen (as Santa Claus), Andrea Martin (as a pregnant Armenian), and multiple plugs for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream are enlisted to bring some much-needed class to the proceedings, and Robert Lieberman directs it all with a straight face. G, 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Garden

Derek Jarman’s lyrical and visionary movie–made after he tested HIV positive and before he made his highly political version of Marlowe’s Edward II–alternates views of his own sleeping and dreaming figure as well as his seaside home and garden with apocalyptic or enigmatic images of the life of Jesus, the state-endorsed persecution of homosexuals (among other horrors of post-Thatcher England), and diverse fancies and fantasies that often combine these themes. Deftly mixing video and film shot with different stocks and in various gauges, this kaleidoscopic reverie also makes room for a mordant restaging of the “Think Pink” number from Funny Face, many glimpses of children and nature, offscreen recitations of poetry, and such Jarman regulars as actress Tilda Swinton and composer Simon Fisher Turner. For all its virtuosity and frequent beauty (especially apparent in some of the editing patterns), this complex meditation intermittently depends on a fascination with sadomasochism that many viewers won’t share. But even if you find yourself as I did–waiting out these sequences and bemused by portions of the personal symbolism, you’re likely to be transfixed by much of the rest (1990). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, November 1, 6:00, and Saturday, November 2, 8:00, 443-3737) … Read more »