FILMS

Games people play

Love runs up against some unlikely obstacles

Brian D. Johnson November 13 1995
FILMS

Games people play

Love runs up against some unlikely obstacles

Brian D. Johnson November 13 1995

Games people play

FILMS

CARRINGTON

Directed by Christopher Hampton

Love runs up against some unlikely obstacles

Had they met through a contemporary personal ad, it might have read something like: “Single gay male iconoclast, unfit and untanned, seeks long-term companionship with androgynous, open-minded, bohemian female willing to share intellectual taboos, pacifist ideals, house in the country and smooth young men.”

Carrington celebrates an English romance that was wildly unconventional for its day—or any day, for that matter. Bloomsbury Group writer Lytton Strachey (Jonathan Pryce) met painter Dora Carrington (Emma Thompson) in 1915, through Vanessa Bell, the sister of author Virginia Woolf. Finding solace in each other’s idiosyncrasy, they developed a virtual marriage that endured until Strachey’s death, in 1932. Passionate but platonic, their relationship survived torrid affairs on both sides, a ménage à trois with a young war veteran named Ralph Partridge (Steven Waddington), Carrington’s actual marriage to Partridge (Strachey joined them on their honeymoon), and her fling with her husband’s best friend, writer Gerald Brenan (Samuel West).

At the heart of the movie are two compelling performances that make it well worth seeing. Although she is playing an artist who

seems more devoted to men than to art, Thompson brings a discerning intelligence to her role, that of a free spirit keeping the world at bay with a blunt, quizzical candor. Pryce— who won the best actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival last spring—is wonderfully pale, frail and dyspeptic. He also gets all the best lines, dispensing Strachey’s misanthropic wit and wisdom like a one-man satirical revue.

Carrington, however, just skims the surface of its characters’ lives, as if the film-maker were racing to keep up with them. Directing his first feature, playwright Christopher Hampton (Dangerous Liaisons), who also wrote the script, creates a somewhat disjointed narrative. It is rife with distractions, as young men drift in and out of the Carrington-Strachey ménage looking like models fresh from the set of a Calvin Klein underwear ad. And amid all the comings and goings, the relationship at the core of Carrington seems sadly neglected. But that sense of frustration at least resonates with the story’s tragic conclusion—that in the quick course of a life so busy with diversions, both sexual and intellectual, there is never enough time for love.

FAIR GAME

Directed by Andrew Sipes

The “fair game” of the title is model Cindy Crawford, who makes her big-screen debut as a moving target without a bra. Can she

act? No. But that is almost irrelevant. Fair Game is an action movie, a bad action movie, featuring enough bad actors playing bad guys with bad accents that Crawford’s lack of talent is almost inconspicuous.

She is cast as a small-time Miami lawyer named Kate who, on the flimsiest premise, becomes a target for a ruthless squad of KGB hit men. William Baldwin plays Max, a cop trying to protect her from the assassins, who give chase in a fleet of Jeeps equipped with the most advanced computer surveillance known to man. Accepting Crawford as a lawyer is even harder than accepting her as an actor. Fortunately, she does not have to act like a lawyer in Fair Game, which unfolds as a feature-length chase scene punctuated by massive fireballs.

For most of the movie,

Crawford and Baldwin wear matching diagonal scrapes that look extremely chic, even as they darken into scabs. Crawford’s real character development, however, is in her wardrobe. She first appears in a two-piece jogging outfit, then in a suit (for the office) that would be very demure if it did not stop short with a micromini.

Misplacing her bra early in the picture, Crawford then evolves through a succession of incredibly shrinking T-shirts, ending with a midriff-baring cotton singlet, which is destined to get wet

The real suspense in Fair Game lies in waiting for her to actually take her top off.

There are some carefully planted decoy cues—first the shower that she never gets around to taking, then the shower that she does take, but behind frosted glass. Finally, out of the blue, Baldwin sets up the moment of truth in a scene on the roadside. “If you’re going to put on a clean Tshirt,” he says, “you better do it now.” Later, Crawford’s exposed nipples actually serve as turning points in the plot, when a hit man ogles them a moment too long before pulling the trigger.

Cindy Crawford is Fair Game—and for a critic, she makes an easy target. But to be fair, she is no worse than the movie.

THE PROMISE

Directed by Margarethe von Trotta

After seeing how much emotional distress can be generated by something as hypothetical as a referendum, it is hard to imagine the effect of a division as devastating as the Berlin Wall. With The Promise, German director Margarethe von Trotta tells a tale of two lovers, Sophie and Konrad, who are separated by the Wall for the 28 years of its exis-

tence. In 1961, Sophie and her friends escape to West Berlin through the sewer system, while Konrad hesitates to follow them down the manhole. Later, he vows to join Sophie, but is afraid to take the risk. And as Konrad becomes a successful astrophysicist, he dreams of reuniting with her, but is paralyzed by concern for his security.

At once symbolic and realistic, the film treats the lovers’ romance and the promise of German reunification as metaphors for each other. Sophie is hardheaded and passionate; Konrad has the classic male fear of commitment. Played by two sets of actors over two time frames, they meet only four times in three decades. And both characters remain

somewhat opaque—frozen not just by events, but by the film’s epic paradigm. Von Trotta, however, recreates Berlin’s dark era of division with evocative images. She basically rebuilds the Wall in order to destroy it. And with the final, extraordinary scenes of crowds rejoicing as the Wall comes down, the pathos of thwarted love struggling to catch up to the tide of history is truly moving.

HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Directed by Jodie Foster

What is it with Americans and Thanksgiving? They make such a big deal about it, only to repeat the ordeal at Christmas. The promotional blurb for Home for the Holidays reads: “On the fourth Thursday in November, 84 million American families will gather together ... and wonder why.” Those who see the movie may wonder why such considerable talents have gathered together to fill the screen with some of the most insufferable characters ever to assemble around a turkey. Though not quite a turkey itself,

Home for the Holidays is a strange bird, an overdone mix of antic comedy and closeto-the-bone family drama—John Hughes meets John Cassavetes.

Directing her second feature (after 1991’s Little Man Tate), Jodie Foster does not appear on camera this time. Holly Hunter stars as Claudia, an art restorer who is fired just before flying home for Thanksgiving—leaving behind her teenage daughter (Claire Danes), who announces that she plans to lose her virginity that weekend. Claudia’s family reunion soon turns into a hateful melee. The participants include her bewigged and overbearing mother (Anne Bancroft); her daft father (Charles Durning), who cannot stop shooting home movies; a loony maternal aunt (Geraldine Chaplin), who carries a torch for the father; a handsome stranger (Dylan McDermott), who has eyes for Claudia; and Claudia’s gay prankster brother (a wildly mugging Robert Downey Jr.), who catapults the turkey onto his sister’s lap.

In the eye of the family hurricane, Hunter is excellent, as always. And Foster delivers comic mayhem and bittersweet sentiment with a raw edge that resists Hollywood formula. From her luscious opening closeups of Claudia mixing egg yolk into tempera paints (over a credit for Foster’s Egg Pictures production company), the director makes it clear that she is making art. But perhaps she is trying too hard. Perversely uninviting, Home for the Holidays is one family occasion that can be safely missed.

BLOOD AND DONUTS

Directed by Holly Dale

The title suggests a certain ambivalence towards violence. What is it going to be? Gore or red jelly? Blood and Donuts is, in fact, a Canadian vampire movie—about a nice bloodsucker who is not so sure he wants to

be a vampire at all. Shot in Toronto but set in an anonymous inner-city netherworld, the film attempts a stylish hybrid of dark drama and offbeat comedy—with mixed results.

Its hero is Boya (Gordon Currie), an ancient vampire who wakes up after 25 years of hibernation. He stumbles into the lives of Earl Qustin Louis), a sweetly idiotic cab driver on the run from loan sharks, and Molly (Helene Clarkson), a sexy, dark-eyed waitress in a donut shop. He also has to settle some bad blood with a scorned lover, played by Fiona Reid. Polite and soft-spoken, Boya is a vampire with a conscience. First electing to suck the blood of rats, he finally gets to sink his teeth into some human flesh when confronted by the gangsters chasing Earl—two goons and a crime lord played by director David Cronenberg.

Playing the vampire as a grunge antihero, Currie is a seductive presence. And so is Clarkson, the waitress who falls for him. But the movie never allows much chemistry to develop between them. Instead, Boya spends far too much time being yakked at by Earl, whose chief comic device is an accent that soon wears thin.

Blood and Donuts marks the dramatic feature debut of Toronto film-maker Holly Dale—who co-directed the acclaimed documentaries P4W and Hookers on Davie. Dwelling on the dark beauty of urban decay, she creates arresting visuals with cinematographer Paul Sarossy (Exotica). There is an intriguing concept at work here. But Dale’s pacing seems halting, slow and self-conscious. Too caught up with its own deadpan irony, the film has a singular lack of dramatic, or erotic, tension. Blood and Donuts seems torn between being a real vampire movie and another quirky Canadian fable. In the end, it fails to go for the throat.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON