A wonderful tearjerker about four young Chinese American women in San Francisco (Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, Tamilyn Tomita, and Ming-Na Wen) 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 is 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), 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. Fine Arts.
The least known, though far from least interesting, of producer Val Lewton’s exemplary, poetic B-films, this was withdrawn from circulation for nearly half a century due to an unjust plagiarism suit that Lewton had the misfortune to lose. Like many of Lewton’s best efforts (Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man), this is a taut thriller promising fantasy in its title but offering a dark look at human psychology that becomes even more disturbing through what’s left to the viewer’s imagination. The plot concerns a young third mate (Russell Wade) on a cargo ship who’s befriended by a lonely captain (Richard Dix), whom he gradually discovers is a disturbed tyrant with little of the self-confidence he initially shows–a cracked father figure whose crew is mysteriously loyal in spite of his weaknesses. Like Lewton’s other early pictures, it’s carefully scripted (by Donald Henderson Clarke), efficiently directed (by Mark Robson), and evocatively shot (by Nicholas Musuraca). This 1943 “second feature” boasts a large and well-defined cast of characters and a very involved plot, though it lasts only about 70 minutes–there’s scarcely a wasted motion, a bracing object lesson to nearly all feature makers today. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, September 10, 6:00, and Saturday, September 11, 4:00 and 7:00, 443-3737.
The most impressive thing about Steven Soderbergh’s third feature (after sex, lies, and videotape and Kakfa)–an adaptation of A.E. Hotchner’s childhood memoirs, rich in period flavor–is that it’s set in Saint Louis in 1933, roughly three decades before Soderbergh was born, yet it offers a pungent and wholly believable portrait of what living through the Depression was like. Soderbergh gets an uncommonly good lead performance out of Jesse Bradford as the resourceful 12-year-old hero, living in a seedy hotel and steadily losing the members of his family: his kid brother (Cameron Boyd) gets shipped off to an uncle, his mother (Lisa Eichhorn) to a sanitarium, and then his German father (Jeroen Krabbe) goes off to try to make money as a door-to-door watch salesman. We also learn a fair amount about the hero’s neighbors (Spalding Gray, Elizabeth McGovern, Adrien Brody) and schoolmates, and Soderbergh does a fine job of keeping us interested and engaged without stooping to sentimentality. This is a lovely piece of work. Fine Arts.