Life Is Sweet

This is British writer-director Mike Leigh at his near best–that is, not quite as good as High Hopes, but still a must-see. Most of the focus here is on a dysfunctional family consisting of a compulsively cheerful mother (Alison Steadman), a pipe-dreaming father (Jim Broadbent) who works as a chef, and twin daughters, one a well-adjusted plumber (Claire Skinner), the other an anorexic-bulimic malcontent (Jane Horrocks) in a perpetual state of agitation. To round out the thematic concern with food, there’s also family friend Aubrey (Timothy Spall), a rather pathetic entrepreneur who attempts to open a gourmet restaurant. As in High Hopes, Leigh boldly accords different kinds and levels of stylization to his characters–Aubrey is handled much more parodically than the others–and the volatile mixture works. What starts off as sitcom material gradually widens to encompass a tragicomic story of complex characters and subtle interactions. (Music Box, Wednesday through Thursday, December 25 through January 2)

Published on 20 Dec 1991 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Hook

Steven Spielberg’s $70 million post-Freudian, revisionist sequel (1994) to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, with Wendy now 80 years old (played by Maggie Smith) and Peter (Robin Williams) married to her granddaughter (Caroline Goodall) and working as a Wall Street lawyera character, one suspects, who is rather like Spielberg himself. Tinkerbell (a miniature, matted-in Julia Roberts) carries him back to Neverland to confront Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) and his sidekick Smee (Bob Hoskins) after his kids (Charlie Korsmo and Amber Scott) are kidnapped. The drama centers on Peter’s efforts to remember his past and, with the help of the Lost Boys (now a gang of ghetto urchins), win his son back from Hook, who has usurped his paternal role. (Perhaps the biggest failure of imagination here concerns what little girls are supposed to do in Neverland.) In overall narrative sweep and directorial confidence it’s a decisive return to form for Spielberg, who borrows liberally from his own 1941 as well as Altman’s Popeye to get some of his best comic and pictorial effects. But conceptually speaking, the amount of mental machinery required to get Peter flying again yields an overall self-consciousness that the movie never quite recovers from, and the moment-to-moment inventiveness never fully compensates for the thinness of the characters. Written by Jim V. Hart, Malia Scotch Marmo, and Nick Castle Jr. PG, 144 min. (JR)

Published on 01 Dec 1991 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Pattes Blanches

Perhaps the most neglected of all the major French directors, at least in the U.S., Jean Gremillon (1901-’59) was a figure of such versatility that it’s difficult to make generalizations about his work. (One can, however, speak about its close attention to sound and rhythmhe started out as a musicianand its frequent focus on class divisions.) Pattes blanches (aka White Shanks), made in 1949, is not one of his very best effortsI prefer Lumiere d’ete (1943) and Le ciel est a vous (1944). But this moody melodrama of adultery set on the Normandy coast is still full of punch and fascination, and shouldn’t be missed by anyone with a taste for the classic French cinema. Coscripted by Jean Anouilh (who originally intended to direct), it’s a noirish tale about a promiscuous flirt from the city (Suzy Delair) who marries a local tavern keeper and becomes involved with a plotting local malcontent (Michel Bouquet) and a faded aristocrat (Paul Bernard), nicknamed White Shanks because of his spats, who is the target of a revenge plot. A sensitive maid with a hunchback who loves the aristocrat rounds out this odd quintet, who are regarded with a caustic compassion that recalls Stroheim. The lovelycamera work is by Philippe Agostini, and the great Leon Barsacq is in charge of the sets. In French with subtitles. 92 min. (JR)

Published on 01 Dec 1991 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Rush

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jason Patric (After Dark, My Sweet) star as undercover narcotics agents, in a first feature directed by Lili Fini Zanuck from a script by Peter Dexter adapted from a book by Kim Wozencraft. The film addresses a serious subjectundercover agents who become implicated in the drug traffic they’re trying to stopbut while competent, it’s too routine to generate much interest. Leigh is effective as always, but has little to chew on; Patric has even less. With Sam Elliott, Max Perlich, Gregg Allman, Tony Frank, and William Sadler (1991). (JR)

Published on 01 Dec 1991 in Featured Texts, by admin

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