Daily Archives: March 1, 1994


The charm, humor, and healthy eroticism of Australian writer-director John Duigan (The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting) are back in force in this pleasantly recounted tale, set in the 30s, about a newlywed Anglican clergyman and his wife, freshly played by Hugh Grant and Tara Fitzgerald, who stop off at the remote home of a controversial (i.e., erotic) painter (Sam Neill). The clergyman has been asked by his bishop to try to convince the painter to remove one of his sexy paintings from an upcoming exhibit, and when he and his wife unexpectedly have to extend their stay, the sensual lures of both the scenic setting and the bohemian householdwhich largely consists of females who pose nude for the painterhave a subtle but indelible effect on the couple, the wife in particular. With Elle Macpherson, Portia De Rossi, Kate Fischer, and Pamela Rabe; Duigan himself has a cameo as a local minister. (JR) Read more

The Scent Of Green Papaya

A beautiful first feature (1993) by Vietnamese filmmaker Tran Anh Hung, shot on a French soundstage and set in two bourgeois Saigon households in 1951 and ’61. The central character, inspired by Tran’s mother, is a servant girl, played as a ten-year-old by Lu Man San and as a young woman by Tran’s wife, Tran Nu Yen-khe, and the main focus is on everyday household chores and sensual discoveries, all made mesmerizing by elaborately choreographed camera movements that link interiors and exteriors in the same fluid itineraries. The first household contains an unhappy family, the second a wealthy Europeanized composer, and, perhaps significantly, only the first seems to have much connection with the surrounding neighborhood. The Vietnam war is dealt with so elliptically that it figures only as offscreen sirens and overhead planes. This stylish period piece won the Camera d’Or at the 1993 Cannes film festival and was nominated for an Oscar. In Vietnamese with subtitles. 103 min. (JR) Read more

Naked Gun 33<6: The Final Insult

A step down from the first Naked Gun cop-thriller spoof, which was a step down from Airplane! and Top Secret!; but if you care about such fine distinctions, this may be marginally better than Naked Gun 2<4: The Smell of Fear. Or at least it is when the movie finally arrives at the climactic Academy Awards ceremony; prior to that, it's mainly just one little-boy gag after anothertopical enough to include a reference to Tonya Harding, silly enough to make you laugh sometimes in spite of yourselfat least if you're feeling like a little boy. With Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, Fred Ward, Anna Nicole Smith, Kathleen Freeman, and Ellen Greene; directed by Peter Segal from a script by Pat Proft, David Zucker, and Robert LoCash. (JR) Read more

Hans Christian Andersen’s Thumbelina

The songs are sappy (apart from Barry Manilow’s one good song here, Marry the Mole); the hero and heroine are bland master-race specimens; and some of the pastel effects are ugly and tacky. But most of the animation in this Don Bluth feature is fairly nice, if not exactly memorable to adults who’ve seen it all before. Kids should like it fine, I suspect. Gary Goldman codirected, and among the actors supplying the voices are Jodi Benson, Carol Channing, John Hurt, Gilbert Gottfried, Kenneth Mars, and Loren Michaels. (JR) Read more

The Tenth Victim

This witty, poker-faced 1965 Italian adaptation of Robert Sheckley’s memorable story The Sixth Victimabout licensed killing celebrated in the 21st-century media as a spectator sporthas probably dated badly, but that’s a good reason to see it. It’s derived from the mod S and M ethos of the James Bond films, which it simultaneously parodies and emulates with the help of Marcello Mastroianni (here a platinum blond) and Ursula Andress, both of whom play popular killers. Not nearly as good as Point Blank, but infinitely better than Barbarella. Directed by Elio Petri; the production design by Piero Poletto is pretty funny too. In italian with subtitles. 92 min. (JR) Read more

The Paper

Director Ron Howard (Parenthood) scores with an old-fashioned entertainment about a day in the life of a New York tabloid like the Post or the News. The contrived climaxes are strictly over the top, and the Coca-Cola plugs are so frequent that the movie starts to seem like a feature-length commercial, but a bustling script by David and Stephen Koepp and fancy turns by Michael Keaton, Robert Duvall, Glenn Close (as a snarling villain), Marisa Tomei, and Randy Quaid keep your adrenaline up even when your mind is on automatic pilot. There’s a very strong moment showing how a trumped-up police bust registers on the innocent party’s sister, a black girl doing her homework, and it’s easy to forgive the movie’s ham-handed depiction of the New York Times when its west-coast ribbing of Manhattan provinciality is so on target in other places. (Indeed, one suspects that the coolness many reviewers exhibited toward this picture and Greedy, the latter made by Howard’s production company, was similarly motivated: for all their good humor, both movies are just a little too skeptical about slimy aspects of the contemporary world too often unacknowledged.) This may not be The Front Page, but it understands what made early newspaper pictures so breezy. Read more

Monkey Troubles

A rather captivating if unlikely tale about a little girl, nicely played by Thora Birch, who winds up with a pet monkey that’s been trained to be a pickpocket and jewel thief. Real-life Gypsies undoubtedly have cause to be offended by Harvey Keitel’s greasy impersonation of one as the monkey-trainer villain, and Sam Fuller could lodge some legitimate beefs against this movie’s wholesale appropriation of the deprogramming theme from his White Dog, but the story’s kernel still carries some undeniable charm. With Mimi Rogers and Christopher McDonald; written and directed by Italian filmmaker Franco Amurri, a former assistant to Fellini, Zeffirelli, and Mazursky who’s best known for Da grande (the movie that inspired Big) and Flashback; Stu Krieger collaborated on the script. (JR) Read more

The Last Man On Earth

Vincent Price is the only survivor of a plague that turns its victims into vampires. Ubaldo Ragona and Sidney Salkowin directed this 1964 Italian-American horror/SF item, shot in ‘Scope and adapted from Richard Matheson’s paranoid postapocalyptic novel I Am Legend. Some would consider this version better than the 1971 remake with Charlton Heston, The Omega Man, but that isn’t much of an achievement. With Franca Bettoia and Emma Danieli. 86 min. (JR) Read more

The Joy Luck Club

A wonderful tearjerker (1993) about four young Chinese American women (Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, Tamilyn Tomita, and Ming-na Wen) in San Francisco and their Chinese immigrant mothers (Tsai Chin, Kieu Chinh, Lisa Lu, and France Nuyen). Adapted from Amy Tan’s best-selling novel by the author and Ron Bass, and directed by Wayne Wang, it’s a story (or more precisely, four interwoven stories) told mainly in flashbacks. Wang, whose previous work has reflected the influence of both Ozu (Dim Sum) and Godard (Life Is Cheap…but Toilet Paper Is Expensive), seems to have fallen under the spell of Mizoguchi here, and this model serves him well. At once fascinating for its detailed lore about Chinese customs and legacies and very moving in its realization, the film builds into a highly emotional epic about what it means to be both Chinese and American. (JR) Read more

Journey Into Fear

Contrary to rumor, Orson Welles did not direct this 1943 version of the Eric Ambler thriller, which is correctly credited to Norman Foster; Welles was off in Brazil while more than half the picture was shot. Yet he did produce and design the picture and wrote the script with the star, Joseph Cottenwhich certainly makes the film qualify as Wellesian. Unfortunately, RKO cut it almost as badly as The Magnificent Ambersons, which was in production at the same time, and what survives is basically a lot of claustrophobic atmosphere and some fair-to-middling suspense. The interesting cast includes Welles as the somewhat corny Turkish villain, Everett Sloane, Agnes Moorehead, Dolores Del Rio, and Ruth Warrick. 69 min. (JR) Read more

Guarding Tess

As even the title suggests, this is an attempt to rekindle the sort of giggly, middlebrow, faded-empire charm of Driving Miss Daisy, seen here in the gradually warming relationship between an eccentric former first lady (Shirley MacLaine) living in a small Ohio town and a young, by-the-book Secret Service agent (Nicolas Cage) assigned to protect her. All this is supposed to be as cute as bugs and chock-full of worldly wisdom, but even with lead actors as likable and as resourceful as these, the material made me alternately want to gag and nod off. And when the filmmakerswriter-director Hugh Wilson (Police Academy) and cowriter Peter Torokveithrow in a ludicruous kidnapping toward the end in a futile effort to liven things up, they only make things worse. With Austin Pendleton (not so funny this time around), Edward Albert, James Rebhorn, and Richard Griffiths. (JR) Read more


It seems grimly ironic that the most expensive French film ever made is about starving striking coal miners, though it’s not exactly surprising that this 158-minute, yawn-inducing Emile Zola adaptation from Claude Berri (1993) should seem so cosmically unnecessary. The film has neither the punch of a mining melodrama like Cecil B. De Mille’s early Dynamite nor the edification of a serious literary adaptationthough there’s plenty of ham acting from such coal-smeared French luminaries as Gerard Depardieu, Miou-Miou, Renaud, Jean Carmet, Judith Henry, and Bernard Fresson and one striking secondary performance by the underrated Laurent Terzieff. Berri, whose work in Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring has made him the James Ivory of the French peasantryor is it the French Stanley Kramer?brings all the pretension and impersonality required of such an enterprise, though little of the meaning or urgency that might make it worth sitting through. (For the record, Zola’s a lot better than this movie would suggest.) (JR) Read more

Four Weddings And A Funeral

Mike Newell (Enchanted April) directs Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell in an English attempt at glitzy, Hollywood-style romantic comedy (1994). A grocery store would sell this on its generic shelf: the brittle upper-class British cleverness is strictly standard issue. Maybe you’ll enjoy it, but don’t expect to remember it ten minutes later, or even to believe in the characters while you’re watching them: as in the dreadful Sleepless in Seattle, it’s the idea rather than the fact of romance that’s supposed to make you feel all warm and tingly, along with the conspicuous consumption. Richard Curtis (Love Actually) wrote the script. With Simon Callow. R, 118 min. (JR) Read more

For A Lost Soldier

The sole interest of this rather flat-footed 1992 Dutch feature by Roeland Kerbosch, based on a novel by Rudi van Dantzig, is its taboo subject, a pederastic love story. A famous choreographer from Amsterdam, who’s having difficulty creating a ballet inspired by his memories of World War II, recalls his youth during the mid-40s, when he was sheltered by a fisherman and his family. Shortly after the liberation, he had a brief affair with a Canadian soldier (Andrew Kelley), which the film charts in detail. With Maarten Smit as the boy and Jeroen Krabbe as his older self. (JR) Read more