Monthly Archives: September 1994

Conversation Piece

Luchino Visconti’s controversial 1975 feature was originally hooted off the screen at that year’s New York film festival, perhaps because the audience felt ill-prepared to cope with its frank homoeroticism, though many friends I respect insist it’s one of the best of his late features. Burt Lancaster plays an aging professor who becomes involved with the entourage of a wealthy woman (Silvano Mangano), including her young lover (Helmut Berger in the angel of death part. It almost certainly warrants a look.… Read more »

Bhaji On The Beach

Three generations of Indian women living in England take a day trip from Birmingham to Blackpool, a working-class seaside resort, in Gurinder Chadha’s watchable but generally ho-hum 1994 first feature about assimilation and generational clashes. The overall style is realist, though there are a few fleeting fantasy interludes that don’t work very well; most of the various feminist miniplots intersect at a male strip joint, where some strident melodrama triumphs briefly over the comedy. (JR)… Read more »

The Blue Kite

Banned in China, the powerful eighth feature (1993) of Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Horse Thief) follows its fictional hero, Tietou, and his family from 1953 to 1968. It’s a sublime and often subtle look at how history and politics disrupt ordinary lives, with memorable use of its central courtyard location and a profound sense of how individuals strive to maintain a sense of ethics within a changing society that periodically confounds those ethics or makes them irrelevant. In Mandarin with subtitles. 138 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blue Sky

The main reason to see this movie is two fabulous performances: Tommy Lee Jones as a military scientist involved with nuclear testing, and Jessica Lange as his flirtatious and rebelliously flamboyant wife. Set mainly in a straitlaced Alabama military compound in 1962, this odd little dramaeffectively directed by Tony Richardson from a semiautobiographical script written by Rama Laurie Stagner in collaboration with Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtlingcan be read as a suggestive reflection on the relationship between nuclear power and sexual repression during the cold war. In that sense it’s like the otherwise radically different Kiss Me Deadly, whose Va-va-voom! slogan and deadly plutonium made a similarly volatile mixture. Completed in 1991, this film remained on the shelf for three years, reportedly because of the bankruptcy of Orion. With Powers Boothe, Carrie Snodgress, Amy Locane, and Chris O’Donnell. (JR)… Read more »

Where The Rivers Flow North

The plot, set in 1927, recalls Elia Kazan’s 1960 Wild Rivera recalcitrant Vermont log driver (Rip Torn) refuses to sell his property lease so that the region’s first big hydroelectric dam can be builtbut this sincere, carefully made independent feature by Jay Craven, adapted by him and Don Bredes from a novel by Howard Frank Mosher, has plenty of distinctive elements. The most impressive is a wonderful, richly detailed performance by Tantoo Cardinal (Dances With Wolves) as the eccentric Native American woman who lives with the log driver. Shot entirely on location, this film also boasts a cast that includes Michael J. Fox and Bill Raymond in smaller roles and cameos by Treat Williams and Amy Wright. (JR)… Read more »

The Women From The Lake Of Scented Souls

Xie Fei, the fourth generation mainland Chinese director who taught filmmaking to both Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) and Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite), wrote and directed this 1993 melodrama, based on a novel by Zhou Daxin, about a middle-aged woman who runs a highly successful sesame-oil business in a northern village but can’t escape the cycle of abuse that started when she was sold into marriage at a young age. When she buys a wife for her dysfunctional only sonwho appears to be epileptic and winds up beating his brideshe’s beaten by her own husband. The drama here is often pointed, and Xie’s direction is sensitive. But the sometimes opaque and unidiomatic subtitling (e.g., Human life is a long way to go) doesn’t help; alternately titled Woman Sesame Oil Maker and The Women of the Lake of Scented Souls. In Mandarin with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

In This Town There Are No Thieves

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1994). — J.R.

A sardonic Mexican melodrama from 1964, directed by Alberto Isaac and based on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story, about a provincial town where nothing much happens until a layabout steals the game balls from the local billiard parlor and the local population goes ballistic. With Julian Pastor, Rocio Sagaon, and cameos by several well-known artists and intellectuals, including Juan Rulfo, Garcia Marquez, Arturo Ripstein, and Luis Buñuel.… Read more »

Employees’ Entrance

This 1933 film focuses on life in a huge department store from the vantage point of the employees, whose lives are made miserable by a heartless, amoral manager (Warren William). As an attack on ruthless capitalism, it goes a lot further than more recent efforts such as Wall Street, and it’s amazing how much plot and character are gracefully shoehorned into 75 minutes. Adapted by Robert Presnell from a play by David Boehm, and directed by the reliable Roy Del Ruth; with Loretta Young, Wallace Ford, Alice White, and Allen Jenkins. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Little Buddha

There’s nothing wrong in theory with Bernardo Bertolucci choosing to make a movie about Buddhism for kids, any more than with Akira Kurosawa taking a kids’ view of certain ecological issues in Dreams. Working with a script by Rudy Wurlitzer and Mark Peploe, the film oscillates between a contemporary tale about an elderly Tibetan lama believing that a little boy living in Seattle might be the reincarnation of his teacher and the story of Siddhartha and the origins of Buddhism 2,500 years ago; the latter sections tend to be more compelling than the former. The cast, which includes Keanu Reeves, Chris Isaak, and Bridget Fonda, isn’t all it might have been, but Bertolucci’s celebrated burnt-orange-and-burnished-lemon look remains handsome, and the story itself still commands some interest as a pivot into daunting material. Too bad that Miramax decreed about 15 minutes be cut from the original version, which has shown overseas; apparently a snappier kind of Buddhism is required here. 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

Operation Condor

Also known as Armor of God II, this 1990 Jackie Chan sequel has its hero searching for Nazi gold in Morocco at the behest of the United Nations, with no fewer than three spunky heroines in tow (Carol Cheng, Eva Cobo de Garcia, Shoko Ikeda). Dubbed in English for rerelease, with Chan (who directed and cowrote the script) supplying his own lines, this is a much purer example of Hong Kong’s silly, exuberant popular cinema than a diluted and pretentious concoction like Face/Off. The intrigue and behavioral comedy (complete with voyeurism) may seem to come straight out of a Bob Hope farce, but the choreographed action and stunts are breathtaking. (JR)… Read more »