Admittedly, this 1965 adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh satire about American burial habits in general, LA’s Forest Lawn in particular, isn’t all that it could or perhaps even should have been. Still, considering the unpromising credits (Tony Richardson directing in black-and-white ‘Scope, snaggle-toothed Robert Morse as the lead) it could have been worse, and there are diverse compensations along the way (including parts by Liberace, Jonathan Winters, Milton Berle, Tab Hunter, Robert Morley, John Gielgud, and Lionel Stander). Haskell Wexler shot it, Terry Southern and Christopher Isherwood adapted it, and there’s all the bad taste one would ever want to see crowded into one work on the subject. Others in the cast include Rod Steiger, Anjanette Comer, Dana Andrews, James Coburn, Margaret Leighton, and Roddy McDowall. (JR)
This masterful and extremely moving feature by Gianni Amelio (Open Doors, Stolen Children) is a powerful piece of storytelling that recalls some of the best Italian neorealist films. It depicts the adventures of an Italian con artist (Enrico Lo Verso) trying to set up a fake corporation in postcommunist Albania in order to get his hands on state subsidies. With his business partner, he digs up a traumatized 70-year-old former political prisoner to serve as the phony president of his phony company, but the poor creature–whose memory, like Albania’s links with the outside world, seems to have frozen a half century earlier–keeps wandering away. (Finding the old man at one point shoeless in a hospital, the hero is able to reclaim him only when the wife of another patient, silently realizing her husband will never leave his bed again, offers her husband’s shoes–a beautiful bit of silent exposition that perfectly illustrates Amelio’s uncanny gifts of suggestion and implication.) The story only grows in dimension and resonance as it proceeds, becoming an epic, multifaceted portrayal of a postcommunist Europe awakened from its slumbers by TV and consumerism–as illuminating a portrait of what’s now happening in the world as we can find in movies. As the title suggests, it also has something to do with America and what it represents for others; with Michele Placido. Music Box, Sunday, December 24, through Thursday, January 4.
It’s the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, a meanie holds the vice president of the United States hostage while 17,000 fans sit in an arena that’s been wired to explode, and it’s fire marshal Jean-Claude Van Damme to the rescue. Badly conceived, written (by Gene Quintano), acted, and directed (by Peter Hyams), with some terrible process shots (though excellent purple marks on Van Damme’s face to suggest bruises), this mechanical suspense thriller only springs to life during its gruesomely violent fight scenes, some of which are staged with props as if they were musical numbers. With Powers Boothe, Raymond J. Barry, and Whittni Wright. (JR)
Either this is the lamest Mel Brooks comedy ever or it’s too close to other contenders to make much difference. A major liability is straight-hunk-turned-aging-lampoon-hero Leslie Nielsen as the count, if only because double Bruce Barbour seems to get almost as much screen time as Nielsen himself, which leads to a lot of choppy continuity. The set decoration has a certain charm, and so does Brooks’s uninhibited silliness, but, you should excuse the expression, most of the gags are strictly from hunger. Written by Brooks, Rudy De Luca, and Steve Haberman; with Peter MacNicol, Steven Weber, Amy Yasbeck, Lysette Anthony, Harvey Korman, and Brooks. (JR)
It’s been too many years since I’ve seen Zoltan Korda’s celebrated 1951 film with Sidney Poitier and Canada Lee for me to offer a detailed comparison of that adaptation of the Alan Paton novel with this new version. Set in South Africa in the 1940s, the film deals with the crisis of a black pastor (James Earl Jones) whose estranged son has killed the son of a wealthy white landowner (Richard Harris). Directed by Darrell Roodt from a screenplay by Ron Harwood, this has a strong sense of dignity about its characters, and Jones and Harris are both effective. Whether it deserves to replace the Korda version is another matter. With Dambisa Kente, Eric Miyeni, and Vusi Kunene. (JR)