Daily Archives: February 1, 1992

State Fair

The first of two remakes of a 1933 Fox picture, this 1945 color musical features Rodgers and Hammerstein’s only film score (including the Oscar-winning It Might as Well Be Spring). The usually undistinguished Walter Lang directed; with Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine, and Charles Winninger. 100 min. (JR) Read more

How To Live In The Federal Republic Of Germany

A devastating 1989 documentary feature by Harun Farocki, one of the most interesting and original independent filmmakers in Germanya mordantly comic montage of short scenes taken from 32 instructional classes, as well as therapy and test sessions. The film alternates between two kinds of activity: simulations and exercises carried out by human beings (learning about everything from child care to striptease to war to sales techniques to auto safety) and products being tested without visible human intervention. The relationships between the two become increasingly disturbing, even chilling: dolls and dummies frequently figure in the simulations in a way that suggests people are being taught to treat other people like objects, while the products being tested are often accorded a kind of care and scrutiny denied to people. The thin line separating socialization from indoctrination is repeatedly traversedand the implication is that while diverse appliances are being tested for human use, humans are being trained and tested so they can aspire to the performance level of appliances. No offscreen commentary is needed to convey Farocki’s eerie message; the brilliant rhymes and contrasts of his montage say everything. (JR) Read more

Hear My Song

An English concert promoter (Adrian Dunbar) who hopes to revive a failing theater club as well as his relationship with his girlfriend (Tara Fitzgerald) books someone who might be the famous Irish tenor Josef Locke. Years earlier Locke fled the country after being charged with evading taxes, breaking the heart of the mother of the promoter’s girlfriend. The singer turns out to be an imitator and the promoter is denounced as a fraud, whereupon he and a friend (James Nesbitt) set out to find the real Locke (Ned Beatty), who’s now hiding out in Ireland, and bring him back to England. Peter Chelsom makes his directorial debut here; he wrote the screenplay with Dunbar (1991). (JR) Read more

Wayne’s World

Bill & Ted’s Aurora Adventures might almost serve as the subtitle for this very silly but enjoyable 1992 comedy, developed from characters introduced on Saturday Night Liveheavy-metal fans (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) with a cable access show in Aurora, Illinois. The first feature produced by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels, directed by heavy-metal specialist Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization) from a script authored by Myers, Bonnie Turner, and Terry Turner, this has a minimal plot relating to the attempted co-option and exploitation of the lead dudes by evil Chicago entrepreneurs (headed by Rob Lowe), but most of it is just Hellzapoppin-style gags, with a nice turn by Tia Carrere as a Chinese-born heavy-metal performer. Smaller parts are doled out to Brian Doyle-Murray, Lara Flynn Boyle, Colleen Camp, Meat Loaf, and Alice Cooper playing himself. 95 min. (JR) Read more

This Is My Life

Nora Ephron’s directorial debut, a film she scripted with her sister Delia, adapting the novel This Is Your Life by Meg Wolitzer, is a very personal effort, quite close to her own writinga mixed blessing in more ways than one. The cleverness and the cruelty come in equal doses, and I can’t recall another recent picture with so many unattractive Jewish characters. The plot involves a single mother (Julie Kavner) from New York making her way as a stand-up comic while raising two daughters (Samantha Mathis and Gaby Hoffmann). One sign of trouble is the fact that Mathis, wonderful as the female lead of Pump Up the Volume, is reduced to a ghost here as the awkward older sister. Other awkward presences include Carrie Fisher, Dan Aykroyd, Bob Nelson, and Marita Geraghty. Despite a few laughs and insights along the way, the casual mean-spiritedness leaves a sour aftertaste. (JR) Read more

35 Up

The fifth in a series of English documentaries made since 1964 that chart the lives of several people at seven-year intervals; Michael Apted, a researcher on the first film, directed all the subsequent films. As Dave Kehr has previously remarked, the series as a whole can be seen from an English perspective as a demonstration of the rigidity of the class system, though this is far from the only perspective one can bring to the material. Significantly, some of the participants declined to be interviewed for this installment, but what seems most conspicuously absent is any inquiry into the quality of the interviewers’ questions over the past 28 years. There’s certainly plenty of food for thought here, but most of it is served raw rather than cookedmost of the significance of the development of faces, physiques, aspirations, and attitudes over three decades is left to the subjects themselves (1992). (JR) Read more

Thank You And Goodnight

Many years in the making, Jan Oxenberg’s highly personal, often engaging, and suprisingly entertaining documentary about the death of her maternal grandmother has a lot to say about New York Jewish families, the meaning of home, memories of food, and the complex work of mourning. One sign of Oxenberg’s eclecticism is the frequent jokey uses of painted cutouts of herself and her grandmother to represent various themes and issues; they don’t always work, but it’s still interesting to see how much creative use she can make of them. We learn a lot about her grandmother and other family members over the course of the filmeverything from the meaning of life and death to the question of who inherits the grandmother’s TV gets pondered and negotiatedand their awareness that they’re being filmed adds a great deal to the emotional resonance. While there’s an occasional strain in the film’s efforts to remain cheerful at all costs, the overall achievement is impressive and full of reverberations (1991). (JR) Read more

Rhapsody In August

A beautiful reminder from octogenarian Akira Kurosawa that he’s still the master, despite the mixed evidence of his two previous films. The plot centers on four children spending the summer with their grandmother (Sachiko Murase) in the countryside outside Nagasaki while their parents visit wealthy relatives in Hawaii. Gradually the children learn from their grandmother about the atomic bomb dropped in 1945, which killed their grandfather and made an indelible mark on all the survivors. Learning that his uncle died because of the bomb, one of the Hawaiian relatives, a Japanese American (Richard Gere), comes to visit. The pastoral mood and performances of this film are both reminiscent of late John Ford, and Kurosawa’s mise en scene and editing have seldom been more poetically apt (1991). (JR) Read more

Die Puppe

An early masterpiece by Ernst Lubitscha hilarious farce introduced by Lubitsch himself, who appears as stage manager with a miniature of the opening set. The plot involves a spoiled young man persuaded to marry a life-size doll by greedy monks who want his fortune; things get a lot more interesting once the doll maker’s beautiful daughter starts impersonating the mechanical bride. With Ossi Oswalda and Victor Janson; not to be missed (1919). (JR) Read more

The Oyster Princess

Ernst Lubitsch’s first feature-length comedy (1919), about an American millionaire trying to acquire a noble title for his daughter by marrying her off to a Prussian prince, is an unalloyed delighta perfect rejoinder to those critics who maintain that the director only found the Lubitsch touch after moving to Hollywood in the 1920s. The satire is sharp, and the visual settings are sumptuous and gracefully handled. With Ossi Owalda, Harry Liedtke, and Victor Janson. 60 min. (JR) Read more

Memoirs Of An Invisible Man

Director John Carpenter (Halloween, They Live) meets Chevy Chase in an action comedy and both lose something in the encounterCarpenter his usual personality and freedom, Chase his usual ease with light comedy. Chase’s own production company made this movie, which seems to deal obliquely with Chase’s real-life estrangement from his standard comic persona; the alienation comes across, but not a genre context that meshes with the comedy or the suspense, both of which are somewhat strained rather than enhanced by the personal element. The setting is San Francisco, where Chase, a stock analyst, becomes invisible and the object of a manhunt after an industrial accident; he’s more depressed than liberated by the experience, and the audience may feel the same way. Inspired by a novel with the same title by H.F. Saint and scripted by Robert Collector, Dana Olsen, and William Goldman; Daryl Hannah is the love interest. With Sam Neill, Michael McKean, and Stephen Tobolowsky. (JR) Read more

The General’s Son

Im Kwon-taek ‘s 1990 gangster film, set in Seoul during the Japanese occupation of Korea, is loosely based on the life of Korean statesman Du-han; apparently it’s more an action picture than a standard biopic. In Korean with subtitles. 130 min. (JR) Read more

The Cry Of The Owl

Adapting the Patricia Highsmith thriller of the same title while transferring the action from an American small town to Vichy, Claude Chabrol returns to the mannerif not quite the distinctionof his late 60s work (e.g., La femme infidele, Le boucher). The plot concerns a solitary figure (Christophe Malavoy) fleeing a vengeful wife (Virginie Thevenet). He spies on a young woman (Mathilda May) from afar until she discovers and is drawn to him, which destroys her own relationship with her fiance (Jacques Penot). Things get much more complicated after that; Jean-Pierre Kalfon (L’amour fou) plays the police detective who eventually steps in. For viewers who enjoy the grim moral ironies of Highsmith, this can be highly recommended; those like myself who find her work gratuitously unpleasant won’t see any reason here to revise their opinion (1987). (JR) Read more

Close My Eyes

A remarkably accomplished and beautiful second feature by English playwright Stephen Poliakoff (Hidden City), this lyrical drama might be described as a period film about the present. The plot concerns an incestuous affair that suddenly develops between a grown brother (Clive Owen) and sister (Saskia Reeves) who grew up with separate parents; the sister, now married to a wealthy entrepreneur (Alan Rickman), insists on ending the affair after the brother becomes hopelessly smitten with her. There’s nothing prurient about Poliakoff’s handling of this subject, though the movie certainly has its erotic moments. The focus is rather on how we live our livesincluding the complications of sex and the chaos of real estate development, in which the brother is professionally involved: Poliakoff uses the incest theme as a pivot for an elegiac, quasi-apocalyptic, and ineffably sad reflection on life in the early 90s. (Though settings and tone are different, this film may remind one in spots of Richard Lester’s underrated Petulia.) Most of the story takes place during an unusually hot English summer, and the settings are almost surreally radiant; the acting of the three leads is edgy, powerful, and wholly convincing, with Rickman a particular standout. The haunting music is by Michael Gibbs (1991). Read more

Auntie Lee’s Meat Pies

Standard-issue trashthe sort of smirky horror exercise where the acting is supposed to be bad, which doesn’t necessarily mean it would have been good if the filmmakers had something other than facetiousness on their minds. In a small town in California, Auntie Lee (Karen Black) and her five sexy nieces have a thriving meat-pie business that depends on the nieces luring men (most of them young and handsome) to their gruesome deaths; most sequences take the form of lengthy seductions followed by decapitation, impalement, and devouring accompanied by ecstatic giggles. Director Joseph F. Robertson, who coscripted this with producer Gerald M. Steiner, is so bent on reminding us that this is meant to be camp that he doesn’t bother to make his film acceptable on any other level. Pat Morita plays the local police chief, and the Bowery Boys’ Huntz Hall turns up as a local farmer. (JR) Read more