Night of the Living Blurbs

 (Originally published in 1994 in The Gleaner of Rutgers University-Camden.)

 

 

Crooklyn
**

Does anyone out there wish the eighties had never happened, that we were all just trapped in the seventies for all eternity? Are we so starved for the past that we’ll ante up any amount of cash to reclaim a part of our youth? Remember, in the seventies the fifties were big (see Happy Days). In the eighties, we became enamoured of the sixties (see the rebirth of such prehistoric bands as Pink Floyd, The Who, etc). Now, in the nineties, we love the seventies. Bell-bottoms are back in style. Hard-edged rock and roll has been reborn. Even disco is making a pseudo-comeback.

It is with this flashback mentality that the esteemed Spike Lee (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) gives us his latest nepotistic deep-thinking film. In Crooklyn, Lee tries to teach us about the trials and tribulations of growing up in the ‘hood; but, unlike Do the Right Thing (1989), which focused on racial tension and the inevitable violence which is born from it, Lee’s latest is more of an examination of social and familial values in times of crisis and of everyday problems.

Crooklyn focuses on a normal, nuclear family living in Brooklyn in the seventies. Lee chooses young Troy (Zelda Harris), the only sister with four rowdy brothers, to be the storyteller of his tale so we may vicariously experience her life. There is nothing inherently wrong with this choice, and its unique perspective is quite welcome. Harris does a fine job in a showcase role. Alfre Woodard, as the mom, turns in her standard steady work in yet another struggling-mother role. Delroy Lindo is amusing and endearing as the sensitive, sensible father of the house.

But the problem of Crooklyn is not in its acting, nor in its subject matter. Lee has made his characters aloof, almost cold, in some sequences and gives the viewer a sense of empathy. We feel bad for the family and their problems, but not especially close to them. Lee, with his brother and sister co-writing with him, has spun a tale full of knots and loopholes, sort of like a sweater that doesn’t quite fit because the collar is too wide or the sleeves too long.

As a period piece, the movie works okay; as a serious, thought-provoking tale, it fails; as a nostalgic look at the seventies, it is a rousing success.

Clean Slate
**

Ok. You’re M.L. Pogue (Dana Carvey). Every morning you wake up with no memory of the day before. It’s gotten so you have a tape recorder by your side at all times so you can tell yourself what you need to remember the next day. Stuff like your name, your condition, your girlfriend’s name, your girlfriend’s killer’s name, your boss at the precinct (you’re a detective), and so on. Your mission: get to the botton of this girlfriend business. Is she alive? Is she dead? If alive, where? If dead, who killed her?
This is a one-joke film that doesn’t quite have the stamina to sustain itself for 107 minutes. Oh, sure, the laughs are there…somewhere. Pogue himself would need a magnifying glass to find them, though; they seem to be buried in a mostly inane script. Valeria Golino (Hos Shots! Part Deux) is Carvey’s love interest (the main one, anyway), and the underrated James Earl Jones is his disabled superior at the police department. It’s Groundhog Day all over again, folks, only the jokes are much fewer and further apart. Carvey does a very credible job, though, and deserves kudos for doing the best job he could with such little good material. The dog is funny, too. Carvey, however, should have stuck with Saturday Night Live, instead of trying to sell us this dreck and his last weak effort, Opportunity Knocks (1990). Mick Jackson, who helmed The Bodyguard (1992), gives us his usual generic direction here. No surprises, no sustained amusement.

Sirens
***
Many of you guys out there will rent this just to see supermodel Elle Macpherson naked, and will not be disappointed. She, along with two model-companions, is naked in many a scene, which makes this film a voyeur’s delight. But this is not the only reason to watch Sirens. It has a story too, you see; a well-developed, smartly written story with good acting coming from suprising outlets.

The story is as follows: Young minister Hugh Grant (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and his wife are sent from Britain to Australia to challenge the morals of a very free-thinking artist (Sam Neill), who paints his gorgeous, liberal-minded models in various sensual positions and scenes that may or may not border on pornography. So young Mr. Grant is sent to try to persuade Neill to stop his scandalous paintings and to attempt a more mainstream approach to his works.

Naturally, the artist is not about to change his lifestyle to suit the Church of England, so he demurs. In the meantime, Grant and his repressed wife (Tara Fitzgerald) are slowly being seduced by the models, who seem to love sexual experimentation more than, say, your average nun. Or even your average Playboy centerfold. Here social mores are tossed to the wind, as Grant and Fitzgerald reexamine their values and the state of their marriage. Are they too timid and suppressive in their sexual conduct? Are the models the real rule of sexual thumb, or merely the exception? Writer-director John Duigan asks and answers these questions with a marvelous eye for characterization. After all, it wouldn’t be much fun if any of the characters changed suddenly into a new human being; Duigan’s script essays a much more subtle transformation of the soul. A visually pleasing film, Sirens is a delight for the eye and the mind. Elle Macpherson is a total revelation in her first acting role.

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