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Miller's Crossing
Un Coeur en Hiver
Glengarry Glen Ross
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: Red

Fast Cheap and Out of Control

BEST FILMS OF 1991 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

The Devil's Daughter
Michele Soavi

Dario's Argento's greatest hits applied to a Rosemary's Baby derivative. It's easy to see the ways in which this film is a rip off, but it certainly takes some imagination to come up with a scenario where a giant bird eats worms out of a hole in a woman's neck! The film has a number of crazy, surrealistic, visually stunning sequences, with Argento's top protégé exceeding much of what Argento himself was doing in the 90's and beyond. Like most Italian horror it functions really well as a dream, but isn't willing to fully commit to the dream world, so it seems to be at war with itself and is really bad when it tries to tell a story. Basically if you like Argento, particularly the inspired but unfocused Argento of Phenomena, you'll enjoy this film. It's a very beautiful yet extremely grotesque horror film, colorful with style to burn and a score by the great Pino Donaggio. Alternately known as Demons 4, it's a better film than the other Argento scripted & produced side projects that comprised this series. [7/18/06] ***


Jungle Fever
Spike Lee

Lee uses a love affair between a black architect (Wesley Snipes) and his Italian temp secretary (Anabella Sciorra) to examine race, ethnicity, economics, education, culture, proximity, religion, addiction, essentially anything he can think of that keeps people apart. The basic forbidden love plot has been around since the dawn of time, but in many ways this is Lee's most ambitious film. The sheer number of characters he employs in an attempt to capture the entire heartbeat of the Harlem negro community and Bensonhurst Italian community is staggering, though it predictably results in too much caricature with many of the secondary blacks being druggies and Italians being uneducated hotheaded loafers. Both Snipes & Sciorra have loving and intelligent partners who are at least their equals, but generally it's a portrait of ignorance trumping passion and curiosity. That said, John Turturro decides it's still worth pursuing the black girl he's had a crush on even after he sees all Sciorra has gone through since dumping him. Samuel L. Jackson is hilarious as an admitted crack head, going as far as doing a song and dance where he threatens to rob an elderly person as a way of extorting money for his next score from younger brother Snipes. The drug subplot is a bit of a mess, but the theme of escaping the grip of familial control is very well handled because it's a problem of all the key households. Despite several strong performances from a cast that also contains Tim Robbins, Anthony Quinn, Ossie Davis, and Halle Berry (doing the phony showoff stuff that later netted her a bogus award), Terrence Blanchard considers himself the real star delivering a score so obnoxious it would not only drown out Radio Raheem's boombox, but actually makes some of the dialogue indiscernible. [11/19/06] ***


Life, and Nothing More...
Abbas Kiarostami

Even when Abbas Kiarostami's characters have a purpose, they still seem to be moving around in search of it. The second part of his northern Iran trilogy has a film director and his son driving around trying to navigate through the earthquake devastated area to see if two of the main characters from the first part, Where Is the Friend's Home?, have survived. Though in a sense the filmmaker is a stand-in for Kiarostami, Kiarostami is an observer rather than a preacher, counterpointing the way adults and children deal with tragedy. The film is also about showing the courage, optimism, and resilience of those who have been dealt a difficult hand, a major theme of his documentary ABC Africa. Aside from the father and son, the actors are nonprofessionals from the villages near the disaster, and though we don't learn that much about any specific person the film paints a cumulative picture of coping in the aftermath. This subject is more interesting than usual because without news broadcasts, we meet people who only know their own tragedy or luck. Kiarostami blends documentary and narrative filmmaking even more than normal here, using the real villagers to recreate actual events. As usual, Kiarostami provides beautiful distant wide angle landscape shots, in this case adding to the positive mood of the piece by refusing to focus on the destruction even though it's results are never hidden. The most interesting material involves the director's son. He has an interesting discussion with a woman who just lost her oldest child on whether god or the earthquake are responsible, and gets a child to forget about the disaster by pursuing the soccer game that was going on at the time. Ultimately, unless you die life goes on, and as such you must attempt to make the best of the experience. [4/6/07] ***1/2


Volker Schlondorff

Sam Shepard plays a nomadic construction engineer who, through a chain of coincidences, embarks on a path to his pre WWII student days in Germany. He's spent his life running since his Jewish girlfriend Barbara Sukowa split up with him rather than marry him when she got pregnant because she felt he didn't really want the baby. On a cruise he meets a young woman (Julie Delpy) who is old enough to be his daughter and reminds him of Sukowa. Is it that Sukowa is on his mind more than usual since he met the brother of his college friend she ended up marrying, that she left such an indelible impression a certain set of traits or characteristics always reminds him of her, or is it something more? Shepard & underrated screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer would seem an ideal combination as Shepard plays the quiet man searching and Wurlitzer tends to write existential road novels with subdued heroes. Wurlitzer normally relies on humorous secondary characters to enliven his work, but Voyager is a love story that essentially only has three characters so there's little room for Wurlitzer to incorporate his wit, thus leaving Shepard to too much inexpressing. Sukowa gives a typically strong performance, outshining the leads in this generally compelling look at the damage of secrets and lies, adapted from Max Frisch's existential novel Homo Faber. Schlondorff's direction is standard solid stuff; this is a mature work that lacks the verve of his mid to late 1970's peak. [11/19/06] ***

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