Archives - 1992 

  • The Mambo Kings

    2019-11-22 23:01:04

    Fans of Oscar Hijuelo's 400 page Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love may well find this film version somewhat of a letdown. As adapted by Cuban-born Cynthia Cidre, the more simply titled The Mambo Kings, set in the early 1950s, is a colourful but overly familar tale about a couple of Cuban brothers who forsake their home town of Havana for the bright lights of New York where they quickly make a name for themselves peddling their infectious brand of Latino rhythms to an appreciative audience. Off stage, in the best (or perhaps worst) traditions of melodrama, the siblings' private lives are wracked with a predictable smattering of artistic angst and self doubt, and Cidre's schematic screenplay never passes up a chance to milk each cliche for its worth. As the cocky, womanising Cesar Castillo, Armand Assante is solid in a knowing, hyper-kinetic performance, while Antonio Banderas, a veteran of several Almodovar films, counters his co-stars showy barnstorming with an air of restrained vulnerability. On a purely visual level, the film couldn't be more alluring. Stuart Wurtzel's period settings and Ann Roth's costumes firmly consolidate the pic's verisimilitude, and debuting director Arne Gilmsher (producer of Gorillas In The Mist) deftly manoeuvers the spirited musical interludes to intoxicating effect. 

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  • Turtle Beach

    2018-04-20 16:30:13

    Obliquely evoking Oliver Stone's JFK in its advertising and thematically reminiscent (in parts) of Peter Weir's The Year Of Living Dangerously, Turtle Beach is a torpid political drama about two head-strong women - an Australian photo-journalist and a Chinese hooker-cum-Ambassador's wife - whose paths fatefully cross when both become embroiled in Malaysia's contentious Boat People refugee crisis. Adapted by Ann Turner from Blanche d'Alpuget's award-winning best-seller, it's a well-made but ponderous, invariably polarising pot-boiler whose strident political intrigues may well stir the hearts and minds of those who like their pro-activism writ large, but will largely bore the pants off of the average mainstream audience. Greta Scacchi, Joan Chen, Art Malik and Jack Thompson purposively navigate the narrative's geo-political chessboard but the overall tone is frustratingly dour and moral imperatives remain elusive. A television mini-series may have done the book considerably more justice.

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  • Single White Female

    2018-02-03 23:10:01

    In 1972, the Iranian-born director Barbet Schroeder, along with an up-and-coming cinematograher named Nestor Almendros (who would later gain wide acclaim working with the likes of Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer and Terrence Malick), journeyed to the wilds of New Guinea to shoot his second low-budget feature, La Vallee (The Valley Obscured By Clouds), a cliche-heavy, sexually provocative confection about a motley group of alternative lifestyle, Anglo-French hippies searching for spiritual enlightenment in the titular valley but finding only their boring bourgeois neuroses. Despite wide exposure at film festivals and on the art-house circuit, the film is best known today for its trippy Pink Floyd soundtrack. Schroeder's subsequent films, however, particularly the controversial 1974 documentary Idi Amin Dada and the kinky sado-masochistic expose Maitresse in 1975, quickly alerted him to a wider international audience. Watching Single White Female, Schroeder's third American film (following Barfly and the Oscar-honored Reversal Of Fortune) and his most blatantly commercial, one can't help thinking how seemingly easy it appears to have been for this auteur to surrender/adapt his European artistic sensibilities to the demands of mainstream Hollywood.

    Adapted for the screen by Don Roos and John Lutz from Lutz's novel SWF Seeks Same, the film is an exploitative, urban psycho-thriller featuring Bridget Fonda as a young New York fashion designer who discovers that the young woman she has signed up to share her apartment (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is actually a mentally compromised, knife-wielding loon straight out of the Norman Bates playbook. With efficiently calibrated performances from Fonda and Leigh, Schroeder's deployment of light and shadow, a muted colour scheme and an escalating sense of dread deftly enliven the film's calculated Grand Guignol flourishes, and the inevitable bloody finale has crowd-pleaser written all over it. 

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  • Spotswood a.k.a The Efficiency Expert

    2017-11-13 22:49:09

    Written by Max Dann and Andrew Knight, and directed by Mark Joffe, the Australian film Spotswood is a disarming slice of whimsy couched in the kind of stylistic and thematic eccentricities that bring to mind many of the films Britain's Ealing studio churned out in the late forties and early fifties. The presence of a soft-spoken, very English Anthony Hopkins in the lead role further reinforces the film's aesthetic ties. Set in 1966 in and around the Melbourne suburb of Spotswood, Hopkins plays Errol Wallace, a dapper time and motion expert who is tasked with overhauling the production efficiency of The Balls Moccasin factory, a cluttered, dysfunctional hive of inactivity staffed by a collection of oddballs who clearly prefer the gossipy cameraderie of the canteen to the rigors of the work bench. In the course of his subsequent cost-cutting, staff-culling tenure, Wallace's heretofore unflappable indifference becomes seriously compromised through his exposure to the private and personal lives of the some of the factory's key personel. While it may be a forgone conclusion that ultimately it is he who undergoes the most significant metamorphosis, the joyride the film provides before that denouement is as wacky as it is entertaining. Co-stars Ben Mendelsohn, Alwyn Kurts, Bruno Lawrence, Toni Collette and Russell Crowe are perfect foils for Hopkins' stiff upper lip stoicism.

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  • Indochine

    2017-11-13 22:15:33

    Touted as France's most expensive production and the first to be shot in Vietnam, Indochine has a lot riding on it. Written by Erik Orsenna, Louis Gardel and Catherine Cohen, with imput from director Regis Wagner, it's a sweeping, romantic saga set in 1930 during the dying days of France's contentious colonial rule. Veteran French icon Catherine Deneuve toplines as a wealthy rubber plantation owner who discovers that her adopted Indochinese daughter has fallen in love with the same dashing French Navy officer she herself has been dallying with. When he is transferred to a faraway post, the daughter decides to follow him. Her subsequent long-distance odyssey provides her as well as the audience with a graphic estimation of the heady political changes sweeping the country. Complementing Deneuve's cool, icy beauty are Linh Dan Pham as the daughter and Vincent Perez as the handsome object of the women's collective lust. A lushly photographed epic with a strong narrative grip.

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  • The Hand That Rocks The Cradle

    2017-08-27 23:23:57

    When her doctor husband commits suicide after sexual assault charges are filed against him by one of his patients, Peyton Flanders suffers a breakdown and a miscarriage. Upon her release from hospital, she immediately turns her vengeful attention to her late husband's accuser, a young woman celebrating the recent birth of her second child. Wrangling access to the couple's home in the guise of a nanny, the gradually complex web of lies, innuendo and menace that Flanders weaves soon begin to take their toll on her unsuspecting quarry. It's only after she has engineered the gruesome death of a family member who has cottoned on to her real identity that her mendacious plan starts to go awry. As evidenced by his previous film, Bad Influence, director Curtis Hansen - here working from a screenplay by Amanda Silver -  knows the Hitchcockian contours of the low budget urban thriller well. And while the film's go-for-broke hysterical climax inevitably panders to an audience's worst primal instincts, it is staged, shot and cut with the kind of visual flair that is missing in many bigger budgeted titles of a similar bent. As the vindictive nanny from hell, Rebecca De Mornay carries the film with an unnerving, chilling performance. Annabella Sciorra (Jungle Fver) and Matt McCoy look suitably spooked as the yuppie couple, while poor Ernie Hudson earns sympathy votes as the mentally handicapped handyman who incurs the nanny's wrath.       

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  • Shadows and Fog

    2017-08-24 23:27:49

    After paying due homage to Bergman (Interiors), Chekhov (September) and Fellini (Stardust Memories), Shadows and Fog finds Woody Allen in a less sombre but still European state of mind with an affectionate valentine to German Expressionism, a literary but mainly cinematic movement which found its definitive form in Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) and Murnau's Nosferatu (1923). Shot in crisp black and white, the film is set in an unnamed european city during the 1920s and features the auteur as Max Kleinmann, a nerdy, neurotic bookworm who is inveigled one night into joining a band of pitch-fork wielding vigilantes roaming the city's labyrinthine streets searching for a serial killer. In due course, Kleinman's nocturnal, Kafka-esque meander brings him into contact with a bunch of characters who wouldn't look out of place in a Todd Browning movie: a circus sword swallower (Mia Farrow), her philandering clown boyfriend (John Malcovich), an adulterous strongman's wife (Madonna), a Fat Lady, a Dwarf and a trio of prostitutes played by Lily Tomlin, Jodie Foster and Kathy Bates. Eschewing the restrictions of a traditional three-part narrative structure, the film is composed more as a series of period-styled vignettes infused with Allen's familiar dead-pan, anachronistic witicisms and philosophical non-sequiturs. Like Zelig and The Purple Rose of Cairo, it remains an exercise in style where the schematic conceits are as conspicuous as the starry cameo cast. It may not be top-tier Allen, but the concept is inspired and thanks in large part to the chiaroscuro grandeur of cinematographer Carlo di Palma's evocative images, it all makes for an entertaining 85 minutes.       

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  • Light Sleeper

    2017-08-24 23:03:32

    As the writer of such controversial classics like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and The Last Temptation of Christ, Paul Schrader's place in cinema's literary pantheon is assured. As a director, however, despite the complex, cerebral power of films as diverse as Hardcore, Cat People, Mishima, Patty Hearst and The Comfort of Strangers, wide critical and commercial success continues to elude him. In Light Sleeper, Schrader has fashioned yet another moody, atmospheric paean to a character that continues to both fascinate and obsess him, to wit: the quintessential loner adrift on a psychological plane well outside society's conservative perimeters. Willem Dafoe stars as John LaTour, a former junkie now working as a drug courier for a slick, upscale outfit headed by the smooth sophisticatd Ann, played by Susan Sarandon. Welcome everywhere but belonging nowhere, LaTour's growing disenchantment with his rudderless existence is further compounded by a chance encounter with his former girlfriend. Her subsequent violent death is the catalyst which propells him to exorcise his demons through an equally violent course of action. Powered by Dafoe's haunting, low-key performance and Michael Bean's hypnotic score, Light Sleeper finds Schrader at his existential best.  

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  • For The Boys

    2017-04-16 20:40:01

    Some 12 years after The Rose, her breakout role as a charismatic Janis Joplin-like rock singer drinking and drugging herself into oblivion, Bette Midler is once again back on stage but the milieu couldn't be more different. Written by Marshall Brickman, Neal Jimenez and Lindy Laub, and directed by Rose's Mark Rydell, For The Boys posits Midler and James Caan as a song and dance duo whose success at entertaining troops during WWII segues into a 50-year musical career performing for the armed services in subsequent theatres of conflict like Korea and Vietnam. Unfolding through a series flashbacks narrated by a make-up-aged Midler attending a reunion, Rydell leaves no cliche unturned as he chaperones his two bickering stars through a largely conventional assembly of familiar love-hate confrontations conspicuous in their emotional shortcomings. Insofar as the film lives at all, it's in Midler's occasionally rousing stage numbers, particularly a moving rendition of The Beatles' In My Life. Other pleasures are far and few between and at 145 minutes, it's a long haul.   

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