Monthly Archives: April 1992

Passed Away

A reluctant family reunion brought about by the death of a patriarch (Jack Warden) is the point of departure for this mildly engaging and fairly fresh comedy written and directed by Charlie Petersa screenwriter on such pictures as Three Men and a Little Lady and Blame It on Rio, here making his directorial debut. The capable and offbeat cast includes Bob Hoskins, Blair Brown, Tim Curry, Frances McDormand, William Petersen, Pamela Reed, Peter Riegert, Maureen Stapleton, and (especially good) Nancy Travis. (JR)… Read more »


For all the liberties taken with the play, Orson Welles’s 1952 independent feature may well be the greatest Shakespeare film (Welles’s later Chimes at Midnight is the only other contender)a brooding expressionist dream made in eerie Moorish locations over nearly three years, yet held together by a remarkably cohesive style and atmosphere. (The film looks better than ever in its 1992 restored version, though it sounds quite different thanks to the restorers’ debatable decision to redo the brilliant score and sound effects in stereo, altering them considerably in the process.) The most impressive performance here is Micheal MacLiammoir’s Iago; Welles’s own underplaying of the title role meshes well with the somnambulistic mood, but apart from some magnificent line readings he makes less of a dramatic impression. With Suzanne Cloutier (as Desdemona), Robert Coote, Fay Compton, Doris Dowling, and Michael Laurence. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Midnight Clear

Writer-director Keith Gordon sustains rather than fulfills the interesting promise of his first feature (The Chocolate War) in another taut novel adaptation that shows the influence of Stanley Kubrick. The novel this time is by William Wharton, who also wrote the source novels for Birdy and Dad; it’s a semiautobiographical account of the members of a young World War II infantry squad, stuck in a deserted French chateau during the Christmas season in 1944, who form a sort of perverse family (two of the soldiers are nicknamed Father and Mother) and make uncertain contact with a small German squad that may or may not want to surrender. This fable about the futility of the war benefits not only from fine performances but an intelligent and literate offscreen narration that enhances the movie’s conceptual integrity (for my money, it’s a much better model of what literary cinema should be than Howards End). With Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross, Ethan Hawke, Gary Sinise, Frank Whaley, and John C. McGinley. (JR)… Read more »

Locked Up Time

A fascinating German documentary by Sybille Schonemann about her return to the East German penitentiary where she spent a year as a political prisoner before Germany’s reunification. In addition to restaging portions of her own arrest and incarceration, she films her confrontations with the officials who brought unspecified charges against her, the secret police who arrested her, and the prison matrons and warden. It’s as if Kafka’s Joseph K. went back and tried to conduct rational and even-tempered interviews with the bureaucrats who condemned himmost of the people she speaks to are friendly, vague, evasive, and forgetful, and something about the state apparatus they were a part of courses through the film like a chilly draft (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Leaving Normal

Although I’m a sucker for just about everything Christine Lahti does, not even she can save this messy, incoherent movie about an abused housewife (Meg Tilly) and a hardened cocktail waitress (Lahti) who decide to start a new life together in Alaska after leaving the town of Normal, Wyoming. It’s possible that Edward Solomon’s script originally may have had something going for it, but in its present form, as directed by Edward Zwick (Glory), it’s a movie that seems less authored than deauthored by someone hacking at random into the original material. With Lenny Von Dohlen, Maury Chaykin, Patrika Darbo, and Eve Gordon. (JR)… Read more »

Last Chants For A Slow Dance

My own favorite among Jon Jost’s experimental narratives, this chilling portrait of an embittered, misogynistic lumpen proletarian (Tom Blair) driving through western Montana consists mainly of a series of virtuoso long takes. Jost’s highly original technique and Blair’s searing performance combine to create one of the most powerful and provocative psychological profiles of a motiveless killer to be found on film (1977). (JR)… Read more »


A black-and-white 1990 biopic about the last years of Henryk Goldszmit, aka Jan Korczak (Wojciech Pszoniak), the celebrated Polish Jewish saint — a children’s doctor and author of children’s books who accompanied 200 Jewish orphans to the gas ovens of Treblinka. It’s directed by Andrzej Wajda from a script by Agnieszka Holland, and shot by Robby Muller, but despite the talented people involved, the problems of dealing unsentimentally with a Polish national hero are not always solved, and the film has also been understandably criticized abroad (by Shoah‘s Claude Lanzmann, among others) for whitewashing the role played by Poland in facilitating the Nazis’ work. Apart from these serious caveats, the handling of locations and period detail is carefully done, and the film’s sincerity makes up at times for its oversimplifications. (JR)

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Not a prequel to K-9, but still a dog in every other sense. The story, adapted by Patrick Meyers and Scott Roberts from Meyers’s play, is basically an exercise in mawkish pretension with some pretty scenery, about two Americans (Michael Biehn and Matt Craven) who join an expedition to climb K2, the treacherous northern Pakistan peak. Franc Roddam directed, and Raymond J. Barry, Hiroshi Fujioka, Patricia Charbonneau, and Luca Bercovici costar. (JR)… Read more »

Ferngully . . . The Last Rainforest

This may be the most enjoyable animated feature I’ve seen since Walt Disney dieda passionate ecological fable that combines more wit and wonder than the entire output of some animation studios. Basically a collaborative effort between Australians and Americans, directed by Bill Kroyer (a Disney-trained animator) from a script by Jim Cox based on the FernGully stories by Australian writer Diana Young, it benefits greatly from the voices of Robin Williams, Tim Curry, Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater, Grace Zabriskie, Cheech Marin, and Tommy Chong, as well as from a canny sense of how to use them. The simple story involves the multiple creatures of an enormous rain forest and the grim encroachments of humans, one of whom gets shrunk to insect size and learns what toxic love (as one of the songs calls it) is all about. The rain forest itself is invested with an imaginative depth and variety and a sense of immensity that hark back to the best early Disney features, and the expressionist depiction of deforestation and pollution is equally rich and potent. The score (by several hands) isn’t as memorable as Beauty and the Beast’s, but the dialogue is arguably even funnier. In other words, you should see this (1992).… Read more »


John Cassavetes’s galvanic 1968 drama about one long night in the lives of an estranged well-to-do married couple (John Marley and Lynn Carlin) and their temporary lovers (Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel) was the first of his independent features to become a hit, and it’s not hard to see why. It remains one of the only American films to take the middle class seriously, depicting the compulsive, embarrassed laughter of people facing their own sexual longing and some of the emotional devastation brought about by the so-called sexual revolution. (Interestingly, Cassavetes set out to make a trenchant critique of the middle class, but his characteristic empathy for all of his characters makes this a far cry from simple satire.) Shot in 16-millimeter black and white with a good many close-ups, this often takes an unsparing yet compassionate documentary look at emotions most movies prefer to gloss over or cover up. Adroitly written and directed, and superbly actedthe leads and Val Avery are all uncommonly good (and the astonishing Lynn Carlin was a nonprofessional discovered by Cassavetes, working at the time as Robert Altman’s secretary)this is one of the most powerful and influential American films of the 60s. 129 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Double Life Of Veronique

An exquisite enigma by Krzysztof Kieslowski (Decalogue) following the parallel lives of two 20-year-old women, one in Poland and one in France, both played by the beautiful Irene Jacob. The Polish Veronika is a talented singer with a heart condition; the French Veronique quits her voice lessons and gets involved with a puppeteer who writes children’s books. Masterfully directed, this rather dreamlike 1991 French-Polish production explores a dual nature that seems to grow uncannily out of the coproduction situation itselfalmost as if Kieslowski were dreaming of a resurrected artistic identity for himself as Polish state financing went the route of Polish communism. With Philippe Volter, Halina Gryglaszewska, Kalina Jedrusik, and Aleksander Bardini. In French and Polish with subtitles. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »


Not surprisingly, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro, the directors of this 1991 postapocalyptic French comedy about a tenement and butcher’s shop, come from experimental video and animation, and Gilles Adrien, who helped them write the macabre script, comes from comic books. Some pale echoes here of French poetic realism (mainly Clair and Carne), Gilliam, Lynch, and the Coen brothers, but despite the singular appearance of the hero (Diva’s Dominique Pinon), there are no characters to care about or remember afterwardjust a lot of flashy technique involving decor, some glib allegorical flourishes, and the obligatory studied film-school weirdness. With Marie-Laure Dougnac, Karen Viard, and Jean-Claude Dreyfus. In French with subtitles. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Deep Cover

Larry Fishburne plays a cop who poses as a Hollywood drug dealer to infiltrate and destroy a cocaine cartel, but gradually discovers that the U.S. State Department has another agenda. Amply fulfilling the promise shown in A Rage in Harlem, director Bill Duke does a terrific job in spelling out the grim implications of this exceptionally violent 1992 picture, scripted by Henry Bean and Michael Tolkin (The Rapture). What emerges is a powerhouse thriller full of surprises, original touches, and rare political lucidity, including an impressive performance by Jeff Goldblum as a Jewish yuppie gangster. With Victoria Dillard, Charles Martin Smith, Sydney Lassick, Clarence Williams III, Gregory Sierra, and Roger Guenveur Smith. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

City Of Joy

Patrick Swayze stars in a Christian parable of sorts about a disgruntled American doctor who reluctantly resumes practicing at a combination school, clinic, and dispensary run by a middle-aged woman (Pauline Collins) in one of the poorest sections of Calcutta. This story alternates with and eventually joins that of a poor laborer (Om Puri) who brings his family to Calcutta, where he gets a job pulling a ricksha for the local godfather-extortionist (Shyamanand Jalan) while his wife works as the doctor’s assistant. Both characters wind up in violent conflict with the godfather and his son (Art Malik) after the clinic decides to treat lepers. Adapted by Mark Medoff from a book by Dominique Lapierre, this is a bit lumpy as narrative, as director Roland Joffe’s movies often turn out to be, but at times sincerity helps to make up for the long-windedness. With Shabana Azmi and Nabil Shaban. (JR)… Read more »


This 1978 feature about a slick Los Angeles coke dealer (Bob Glaudini), winner of the best of the festival award at the U.S. Film Festival, represents Jon Jost’s earliest effort to make a fairly straight commercial narrative film. For this reason, some viewers prefer it to his more experimental works, but I find it relatively familiar and literary in its existential conceitsthough nothing Jost does is wholly without interest. (JR)… Read more »