Crossing Delancey

January 20, 2020

crossingdelanceyCrossing Delancey is a movie to curl up next to. Utterly contemporary in many ways, it nevertheles incorporates the manners and morals of an old­-fashioned romantic comedy.

It’s set in Manhattan, where a bookseller, Isabelle (Amy Irving), who works in “New York’s last real bookstore,” is leading an ordinary, and solitary, life. Izzy, as she is known to all, is sophisticated, literate, and in thrall to the writers who frequent the store. But she’s also loyal to her grandmother, her “Bubbie” (Reizl Bozyk), who lives among the traditions of the Lower East Side. Bubbie and the local matchmaker (Sylvia Miles) decide it’s time to end Izzy’s singlehood and make a match.

Izzy, of course, recoils at the archaic custom, insisting that “this is not the way I live. This is a hundred years ago!” And an arranged meeting between and a man who owns a pickle stand (Peter Riegert) goes apparently nowhere.

But that’s where Crossing Delancey begins to shine. The pickle man turns out to be a complex and subtle person, while Izzy’s crush on a famous writer (Jeroen Krabbe) cools as she gets to know him. Izzy comes to understand this both through her own investigation, and through the delightful plotting of her Bubbie.

Crossing Delancey is directed by Joan Micklin Silver, and it’s a film that finally fulfills the promise of her Chilly Scenes of Winter, which came out almost decade ago. (And it’s reminiscent of her Hester Street, which also examined traditional Jewish customs.) Silver is wonderful at etching characters, finding the way they talk, the way they stand. She can capture the romantic aches of modem folk better than anyone this side of Woody Allen.

The script is by Susan Sandler, based on her own play. It’s full of rich nuances of speech, particularly for Bubbie, who is partially based on Sandler’s own grandmother. Even Sandler’s minor characters are generously treated: The roguish writer is endearing even at his most fatuous, while a childish married man (John Bedford Lloyd) who occasionally sleeps with Izzy acts like a gentleman when he finally meets the pickle man.

Silver gets splendid performances. The film is a showcase for Amy Irving, and Peter Riegert (he was the American businessman in Local Hero) is just wonderful, investing his pickle man with dignity and self-possession.

This is one of those movies in which a certain enchantment seems to hang over all. When, on her birthday, a lonely Izzy stops for a hot dog at a little frankfurter place, a woman strides in and sings “Some Enchanted Evening” a cappella. This movie describes a world in which this sort of thing can happen. It’s a very nice place to visit.

First published in the Herald, September 1988

Yup, lovely movie. Silver should have had a more prominent career. This movie does that thing that I particularly like, which is to allow the not-nice characters their moments of grace.


The Fourth Man

January 7, 2020

fourthmanThe Fourth Man is a nutty Dutch exercise in paranoia and fantasy, served up by a director who – for want of able competition as much as his own talent – has distinguished himself as by far the most interesting Dutch filmmaker working today.

His name is Paul Verhoeven, and he’s been represented on local screens in recent years with Spetters and the very popular Soldier of Orange, which was something of a breakthrough film for Verhoeven and the Dutch cinema in general.

Verhoeven’s talent seems coherent and fluid without being particularly visionary, but when I heard that his new film, The Fourth Man, was a far-out excursion into excess and bad taste, my hopes were raised that he might push himself into more imaginatively vivid filmmaking.

The Fourth Man succeeds in this, though not quite as far as one might have hoped. It’s got bad taste and outrageousness galore, but by the time it ends, you feel it’s just starting to explore the possibilities it raises.

But it’s certainly fun while it lasts. The main character – and the person through whose sensibility the film is filtered – is a Catholic homosexual writer (Jeroen Krabbe) who is subject to strange daydreams involving Catholicism and bloodshed. He’s been engaged by a literary society to give a lecture about his books, and he travels to the seminar and spends the night with the treasurer of the society (Renee Soutendijk). He has these weird dreams that Soutendijk takes a pair of scissors and, well, emasculates him during the night. Naturally, he regards her a bit oddly the next day. Then he starts to suspect her of murdering her previous husbands (she’s had three), and he fears, with increasing anxiety, that he may be the next victim – the fourth man.

Verhoeven presents this mad tale as a feverishly funny bad dream. He fills the movie with little clues and details that seem to be part of a monstrous, interlocking pattern – some lurid destiny that this man sees coming but cannot avoid (Krabbe gives a properly haunted, end-of-his-rope performance).

Verhoeven teases us to such an extent that we never do know whether this enigmatic woman is really the devouring spider Krabbe thinks she is. For all that we see, outside of his masochistic fantasies, she’s a normal woman who’s happened to have unnaturally bad luck with her husbands – one fell out of an airplane, one was devoured by a lion, one was run over by a boat.

We see the preludes to all these “accidents” via Soutendijk’s home movies. When you see husband No. 2, grinning stupidly in home-movie amateurishness, get out of his car and amble over to a lion in a safari park – all the while waving around a juicy slab of meat – you begin to understand just how gleefully perverse this film is.

First published in the Herald, June 7, 1985

Obviously, Verhoeven needed some kind of introduction in ’85. I liked his Hollywood career-to-come better than than his Dutch films, but The Fourth Man is a movie that clearly needs re-visiting.


No Mercy

December 10, 2012

nomercyNo Mercy is a derivative action movie that repeats geriatric clichés from almost every detective movie you’ve ever seen.

It begins with the renegade Chicago cop (Richard Gere) who follows a tip on his own, without his gruff-but-lovable chief’s permission. It proceeds to the death of his partner, in the line of duty. Naturally it follows that he must avenge his partner’s death, by looking for the icy blonde (Kim Basinger) with the tattoo on her shoulder.

So he goes to New Orleans, which prompts the fish-out-of-water stuff we loved so much in Witness. He’s actually offered a mint julep, eats crawfish, and walks down Bourbon Street, looking for clues. When he runs into the local police, they tell him—all together, now—to stay out of town, that they don’t need some smart guy from Chicago telling them how to do police work, etc. And somehow he finds the icy blonde.

At which point No Mercy reaches way back to Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and has the hero and heroine handcuffed to each other. This film seems designed to trash all the detective conventions.

It’s the work of scriptwriter James Carabatsos, who is also represented this month with the equally salty Heartbreak Ridge. Carabatsos seems to think that if he dresses his clichés in oddball language, no one will notice they’re clichés. Example: Gere walks into a restaurant full of expensive-looking women and remarks, “Most of these broads still got their price tags hangin’ from their noses.”

Directed Richard Pearce (Heartland) treats all of this as though it were good or something—and through sheer commitment he makes the opening 20 minutes or so fairly gripping. Eventually the script’s bozo contrivances take over, as when Gere and Basinger escape from under a dock teeming with bad guys, or when they drift into the bayou country, then improbably allow their canoe to drift away (after hanging on it it all night long).

Worst of all is the stagnant finale, which takes place in an old hotel and lasts a dull 20 to 25 minutes. It’s cramped, and Pearce can’t make the setting come alive.

Gere is barely adequate. He seems preoccupied with getting on to some other movie, perhaps one with more ambition. Basinger, having a busy year (9 ½ Weeks, Fool for Love), is also not all there. Together, in supposedly steamy love scenes, they only manage to muss each other up.

They both have the movie stolen from them by the villain, a pony-tailed snake who likes to carve people up with a gutting knife. He’s played by Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe (The Fourth Man), who easily outshines the protagonists. Under such circumstances, it’s not all that much to be proud of.

First published in the Herald, December 20, 1986

Dead, dead, dead—an absolute misfire. Interesting that Gere eventually did age into some good performances, including a fine turn in 2012’s Arbitrage.