Monthly Archives: May 1994

Kika

Aging Spanish enfant terrible Pedro Almodovar, working with a glitzier budget than usual, does his utmost to be camp and provocative, which includes showing an extended rape of the title heroine by a mentally retarded convict strictly for laughs. There’s also a lot of satire about exploitative media, voyeurism, gender roles, and consumerism, but the plot seems so carelessly thrown together that you may not always be sure which side you’re supposed to root for. As usual, Almodovar seems much more sympathetic to his female characters, though this 1993 picture reportedly whipped up a lot of misogyny (and homophobia) in Spain: not every feminist would want him as an ally. The cast includes Veronica Forque in the title role, Peter Coyote (dubbed into Spanish), Victoria Abril, Alex Casanovas, and Bibi Andersen. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Film About A Woman Who…

This second feature by former dancer and choreographer Yvonne Rainer (1974, 105 min.) is a witty, clunky, angry, inventive, stubborn, very New York, feminist experimental collage of soap-opera cliches and other textual, visual, and musical fragmentsall deeply marked by minimalism. Some of it may drive you up the wall, but you’ll probably come away with new things in your head. Beautifully shot in black and white by Babette Mangolte. (JR)… Read more »

Fast Times At Ridgemont High

This 1982 first feature by Amy Heckerling (Clueless), based on Cameron Crowe’s nonfiction book about teenagers at a southern California high school in the 70s, was never all it was cracked up to be. But it’s probably worth a look now for its early glimpses of Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and Nicolas Cage (the last three in their film debuts, Cage under his real name, Coppola), not to mention Sean Penn. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

L’etrange Monsieur Victor

In his finest work, including this masterful 1938 noir, the remarkable French filmmaker Jean Gremillon (1901-’59), trained as a composer and musician, used mise en scene, script construction, editing, and dialogue delivery to explore the complex relationship between film and music. Raimu, one of the greatest French actors, plays the strange title hero, a respectable Toulon merchant who secretly operates as a fence for local thieves; after he murders a potential blackmailer, an innocent local shoemaker (Pierre Blanchar) is sent to prison for the crime. Seven years later the fall guy escapes and returns to Toulon to see his son; unaware of Victor’s guilt, he persuades the merchant to shelter him, then becomes involved with his wife. None of the moral ambiguities are lost on Gremillon, who eschews the usual distinctions between heroes and villains to make this a troubling and offbeat melodrama. Shot both in Toulon and at Berlin’s UFA studio, this potent dissection of appearance and reality may be less impressive than Gremillon’s subsequent Lumiere d’ete (1943), which benefits from Jacques Prevert’s dialogue, but it’s brilliant filmmaking all the same. With Madeleine Renaud and Vivianne Romance; coscripted by Albert Valentin, Charles Spaak, and Marcel Achard. In French with subtitles.… Read more »

Dream Lover

A sick, obnoxious, and poorly motivated kill the bitch thriller, written and directed by Nicholas Kazan (who also wrote Reversal of Fortune). In order for this tacky piece of male hysteria to work, it’s necessary for starters that James Spader’s version of a yuppie narcissist not make your teeth ache; I guess it also helps if you think the symbolic interludes set in a carnival sideshow should be taken seriously, likewise the villainess (Twin Peaks’s Madchen Amick) whom Spader decides to marry for some dumb reason. Spectators who instinctively feel that women are lying, scheming monsters probably will have a ball. With Bess Armstrong, Fredric Lehne, Larry Miller, and Kathleen York. (JR)… Read more »

Dialogues With Madwomen

A quirky but surprisingly watchable 1993 documentary by Allie Light in which seven women, including Light, speak to the camera at length about their former madness and incarceration. The forms of insanity range from multiple personality disorder to manic depression to schizophrenia, and Light adds fictional and semifictional illustrations of the women’s visions and experiences. Much of what keeps it interesting is the overall lucidity of these women about their earlier states and about the abusive and insensitive treatment many of them received from institutions. (JR)… Read more »

The Days

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this depressing black-and-white underground feature by Wang Xiaoshuai (1993) about two alienated young Beijing artists is how Western most of its reference points seem to benot only Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis playing in their apartment, but an overall arty style of filmmaking that resembles American independent work of the 60s. These marginal characters, whose minimal story is narrated in third person offscreen, often seem as tired of their own lives as they are of each other, and after a while the viewer is likely to feel they should be (one may be reminded of Jarmusch without the wit). Yet as a glimpse of contemporary Chinese life, this feature is undeniably fascinating. With Yu Hong and Liu Xiaodong. (JR)… Read more »

The Crow

A guitar player, guided by the title bird, comes back to life as a superhero in this 1994 action picture based on James O’Barr’s comic book of the same name. Brandon Lee, the lead, died while performing a stunt for the film, and many doubles were used in the remaining footage. Directed by Alex Proyas from a script by David J. Schow and John Shirley; with Ernie Hudson and Michael Wincott.… Read more »

Blue

Derek Jarman’s last feature (1993, 79 min.), made when he was dying of AIDS and losing his eyesight, has only a single, continuous image consisting of the color blue, but the sound track is unusually dense, making use of four separate speaking voices (including those of Jarman and Orlando’s Tilda Swinton), a multifaceted score by Simon Fisher Turner, other pieces of music, and numerous sound effects. (The sound track came out on CD, and the text has been published as a book.) Given Jarman’s previous work, it isn’t surprising that he didn’t go gently into that good night; much of the narration consists of him raging (or simply complaining), poetically and prosaically, about his worsening physical condition and other facets of his daily life. In effect the film becomes his own epitaph and tombstone. (JR)… Read more »

Being Human

Some of the precise meanings of this Bill Forsyth comedy eluded me, but the vibes couldn’t have been nicer. What’s off-putting at first is that both the title and the man-through-the-ages formatRobin Williams playing no fewer than five fellows named Hector: a caveman, a Roman Empire slave, a medieval traveler, a Portuguese shipwreck survivor, and a divorced landlord in contemporary Manhattanpromise the worst kind of universalist banality; fortunately, it never materializes. The overall conceit may be arch, but as narrator Theresa Russell periodically points out, this is a story about stories; and this being a Forsyth movie, everythingeven customary overactors like Williams, John Turturro, and Lorraine Braccois scaled down to human proportions. The movie leaves you feeling there’s more to it than meets the eye. With Anna Galiena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Hector Elizondo, and Lindsay Crouse. (JR)… Read more »

Beijing Bastards

Comparing Zhang Yuan’s relatively big-budget independent mainland Chinese feature (1993) about disaffected youth with his previous effortthe more experimental, low-budget Mama, shot on videois almost like comparing Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused with his earlier Slacker. Here you might have more trouble getting into the rock music, but the same sort of seminarrative drift develops between various miniplots. What this film has to say about contemporary Chinese youth certainly has documentary interest, but the originality and power of Mama are not much in evidence. With Cui Jian, Li Wei, and Wu Lala. (JR)… Read more »

Babyfever

Henry Jaglom, the let-it-all-hang-out New Age independent who made a movie about women and food (Eating, 1991), now turns his attention to women and having babies. This follows the by-now-standard Jaglom formula of encounter sessions: mechanical crosscutting between improvised declarations and conversations that monotonously adhere to a TV sound-bite format, nostalgic recordings of standards sung by well-known crooners, lots of whiny self-examination. There’s also the usual simple story line designed to frame the open-ended rap sessionsin this case the heroine (cowriter Victoria Foyt, Jaglom’s wife) waiting to find out whether she’s pregnant by a man she may or may not be in love with (Matt Salinger). The southern California ambience is, shall we say, unrelenting. Eric Roberts puts in a cameo, and Zack Norman is around for one of his familiar arias of manic desperation. (JR)… Read more »

Assassins And Thieves

Sacha Guitry’s last solo directing job (1957), the story of one man’s life of crime, told in Guitry’s favored and invariably witty flashback mode; with Michel Serrault and Jean Poiret. (JR)… Read more »