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January 28, 1991 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 1991-01-28

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ARTS

* The Michigan Daily

Monday, January 28, 1991

Page 5

The con just doesn't thrill

The Grifters
dir. Stephen Frears
by David Lubliner
Roy Dillon (John Cusack) operates
the short con, dabbling in money
tricks and card games at the local
Bennigan's. Roy dreams of moving
up in the world, but he still only
works the small time.
Lily (Anjelica Huston), Roy's
mother, is an old pro who works for
the mob. Lily goes to the race track
and bets thousands of dollars on one
horse just to lower the odds. This
trick is known as getting payback
money for a bookie. Lily is no fool,
however; in her spare time, she
skims a bit off the top for herself.
Myra Langtry (Annette Bening),
Roy's love interest, is in the busi-
ness for the long con. She is known
as a roper, using her sultry eroticism
to search for (and rope in) her vic-
tims for elaborate cons that cheat
i* unsuspecting oil tycoons out of mil-
lions of dollars.
Roy, Lily and Myra are The
Grifters.
These three main characters are
all interesting. As we learn about
their backgrounds and their reasons
for living on the grift, the tension
"quickly mounts. Director Stephen
Frears divides his screen into three
sections to introduce each character's
individual con. However, Frears,
vho also directed Dangerous Li-

aisons and Sammy and Rosie Get
Laid, has translated Jim Thompson's
critically acclaimed novel into a
rather mediocre film. Although
Frears creates an engaging '40s film
noir feel,'the storyline leads nowhere
and any suspense is lost from one
scene to the next.
This much anticipated effort re-
ceived bundles of Hollywood hype
when its distributor released the
movie for only one week last year
(in early December) to make it eligi-
ble for Oscar consideration. The crit-
ics followed suit and raved. How-
ever, aside from Huston's effectively
nerve-wracking portrayal of Lily, the
film is a major disappointment.
Despite all of its narrative faults,
The Grifters contains some ex-
tremely effective performances. Hus-
ton's Lily is as tough as nails, ap-
propriately stiff and always con-
scious of anyone who may be trying
to con her. Huston exhibits the wear
and tear of a life on the grift, con-
stantly traveling throughout the
country doing jobs for the mob and
ignoring the son whom she gave
birth to at the age of 14.
One of the few intriguing plot
twists is the growing love triangle
between the three. Lily and Myra be-
come rivals for Roy's attention from
the start. The two women, although
different in personality, exhibit a
common mean streak as dirty as that
of any high brow male crime boss.
The sexual tension existing between
Lily and Roy (who are so close in

age) adds another complex yet tanta-
lizing component to that relation-
ship.
Bening, still a virtual unknown,
is outstanding as Myra, the blond
schemer who in many ways is a
younger version of Lily. Bening
possesses a superficial innocence
which only partially covers her dan-
gerous passion for money and her
ability to seduce. Roy makes an ac-
curate assessment of Myra when he
says to her, "You're mind is so
filthy, it's hard to look at you."
However, Cusack seems forever ban-
ished to playing the Lloyd Dobbler
type of Say Anything fame. As
Roy, he is too immature and sarcas-
tic to be taken seriously and sounds
uncomfortable delivering Thomp-
son's hard-edged dialogue.
A few years back, a film titled
House of Games, written and directed
by David Mamet, was released. This
film was also about con artists, but
the audience was also made the vic-
tim of a con, always remaining one
step behind the movie. The Grifters
doesn't keep its viewers guessing
simply because there are so few sur-
prises. Just when the film starts to
build some momentum, it doesn't
deliver the ultimate payoff. And in
the world of a grifter, that's a bad
con.
THE GRIFTERS is being shown at
Showcase and Fox Village.

Annette Bening and Anjelica Huston try to out-cleavage poor John Cusack in Steve Frears' The Grifters.

;,;.;
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" . . ' }t" 1' 11

IN4

4

Loketo
Soukous Trouble
Shanachie
If you can suspend your disbelief
as long as Hollywood demands these
days, then imagine that Jerry Garcia
had grown up in a small village in
the Zairean rain forest listening to
the elders play mbiras instead of
mariachi bands and placid folksters
,in Palo Alto. Then, instead of the
Beatles turning him on to pop music
and THC and LSD, he heard some
thumba record from Cuba in a dance
club in Kinshasa. If I haven't lost
* you yet, then you may have some
idea of the clarity, lyricism, rhyth-
mic innovation and speed that char-
acterizes the guitar wizardry of Diblo
Dibala - the guitar hero for a gen-
eration that will reap the fruits of the
global village.
Diblo's band, Loketo, plays an
irresistible fusion of traditional
African rhythms and cadences with
Western technology and a re-African-
ization of Afro-Cuban musical forms
called soukous, which has dominated
the popular music of sub-Saharan
Africa for several decades. The West-
ern world hasn't experienced music
with as much bodily kinetic energy
since the first wave of punk. The dif-
ference here, of course, is that this is
a music of joyful communion and
celebration, not utter desperation.
Soukous is as smooth and sooth-
ing as anything Sam Cooke or Mar-
vin Gaye and Tami Tyrelle ever did,
and more ass-shaking than either
could have done. The sweet Lingala
lilt of lead vocalist Aurelius
Maubele is so gentle that it almost
betrays Dfblo's furious grooves. But
when he celebrates his group's
music in the title cut and on the
opener of the second side by
chanting "Ca c'est Loketo," you
know that he's ready for some

serious rabble-rousing in the style of
Sly Stewart on "I Want to Take You
Higher" or "Dance to the Music."
But it's the musical sebene, the
fast section of the traditional two-
part Zairean song, that you'll come
back for. Older soukous artists like
Franco or Tabu Ley (Rochereau)
stuck to the two-part construction,
but the new wave of soukous as
practiced in Paris by Loketo and
Kanda Bongo Man favors a baptism
by fire; they plunge headlong into
the sebene without looking back to
see who they've left behind. The eye
of the soukous storm is the multi-
layered poly-rhythms that start mov-
ing your booty, but the torrential
downpour of guitar fills and leads by
Diblo are what grab you by the
throat and carry you along their
undulating path.
Although the production of the
album is not as good as 1987's Su-
per Soukous (probably because I've
got this one on cassette), nor is it as
consistent, Soukous Trouble is my
favorite commercially available
record of 1990.
-Peter Shapiro
Branford Marsalis
Crazy People Music
Columbia
Branford Marsalis is 30-years-old.
Not too long ago, he and his
brother, Wynton, two recent gradu-
ates of Art Blakey's Jazz Messen-
gers, were starting out on their own.
They were THE newest sensation,
the child prodigies, the whiz kids
who were skilled beyond their years.
30 may be old in the NBA or the
NFL, but for a jazz saxophonist, 30
means you're just beginning.
Crazy People Music is the latest
effort from one of the most versatile
and visible musicians around. The
past few years have seen him record

with artists ranging from Sting to
Sonny Rollins to Harry Connick, Jr.
Here, he returns to the jazz idiom
with familiar company from his past
- fellow Sting alumnus Kenny
Kirkland on piano, Robert Hurst on
bass and Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums.
The four players know one an-
other well, both personally and mu-
sically. The rhythmic interplay be-
tween Watts and Kirkland is stun-
ning - few young drummers pos-
sess ears for jazz better than those of
"Tain" Watts. Kirkland, in turn, si-
multaneously complements and in-
spires Marsalis with his highly
imaginative comping.
Best of all, though, these four
musicians are friends and longtime
bandmates, a few chums who are
having a great time just playing mu-
sic. An unmistakable, contagious
exuberance pervades this album, but
not at the expense of technical skill.
This band, in part because of having
played together for a long time, is
very, very tight.
It is not necessarily accurate to
say that each of Marsalis' albums
since his 1985 solo debut, Scenes in
the City, have gotten incrementally
better, but this new record seems to
surpass them all. Like all young
players should, Marsalis has learned
from and emulated the masters of the
tenor - Sonny Rollins, John
Coltrane and Wayne Shorter have
been among the influences echoed in
his playing.
But here, Marsalis has found a
voice of his own. His tone is
warmer and more assertive than ever,
and he maneuvers deftly and confi-
dently through his chord changes.
His work on "Spartacus," the open-
ing cut, is dazzling evidence of this
strength. The minor blues "Mr.
Stepee" is also a strong showcase of
See RECORDS, Page 7

I laughed, I
cried-- it was
better than
Cats
"It's my wedding and I'll stick
baby's breath up my nose if I want
to!" "Anne Boleyn had six fingers."
"All gay men are named Rick, Mark
and Steve."
Ahem. Yes. This was the Ann
Arbor Civic Theater's production of
Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias.
Yes, it w'as funny. Yes, it was seri-
ous.
So, which was it?
Um... both.
The six women in the play
moved forward through what at first
seemed to be a life that nobody'd re-
ally want to live out - apparently a
far cry from anything remotely
comic. Husbands were "couch slugs"
and pistol toting maniacs. Children
were ungrateful. Women were ster-
ile. Yet, in the face of all of these
problems, Harling's women came up
with comic quips. They pulled to-
gether with a love for one another
that was the driving force of the
drama. "You get through it," said
M'Lynn (Wendy Susan Hiller), "and
life goes on."
The most positive feature of
Hunsberger's production had to be
the acting done by Shelby (Caren

Saiet). Clad in pink, a color match-
ing the vitality of her effusive char-
acter, Saiet spouted bubbly, dramatic
lines like, "We went pawkin'. Then
we went skinny dippin'. We did
things that'd frighten the fish!" Saiet
showed an ability to change gears in
mid-scene, showing the audience
dark glimpses of the sickness and
worry that she constantly had to
fight off; one moment, she was a
happy bride-to-be, and the next, a
hysterical, frightened woman with
nowhere to go.
In the same fighting spirit as
Shelby, Truvy (Patricia Rector) acted
as an older, wiser source of strength.
Even the salon she owned became a
sort of "leveling place" where all the
characters, regardless of class, could
come together as equals to discuss
their problems. Rector delivered one-
liners and tension relief throughout
the play in a manner that was both
affecting and believable. Her onstage
presence, a combination of a strong
personality along with a touching
softness, truly made Truvy a Steel
Magnolia in the best sense.
Clairee (Nancy Heusel), the
know-it-all, provided further comic
relief in her many bouts with Ouiser
(Mary Pettit). In general, Heusal was
hilarious: vibrant and affecting, her
aqua-blue dress was as shocking as
her propensity to spout absurd and
arcane knowledge.
In stark contrast, Ouiser was so

tough and denying of her feeliigs
that she became absurdly pes-
simistic. Though she claimed to
have been in "a bad mood for the last
forty years," Ouiser got a good many
of the play's laughs. Yet though
Pettit got the strongest comic lines,
she did not push them to the extent
that was possible. Late in the play,
when Ouiser abandoned her monred
existence to pick tomatoes and began
to see a man on the sly, Pettit had
the material to have the audience
rolling out of their seats, but she
settled for mild laughter.
Also on the negative side, Anelle
(Wendy Hiller) had an inconsistent
performance. For the bulk of the
play, Hiller was uncredible and stiff,
using such exaggerated actions that
the priggish discomfort she was try-
ing to portray came off as silly and
forced. By her one bright spot near
the end of the play, where she feel-
ingly comforted M'Lynn, Hiller's
character had become so flat that this
sudden conviction seemed more
enigmatic than affecting.
Thus, despite all of the play's
strong points, the Ann Arbor Civic
Theater's production of Steel Mag-
nolias came up short of the script's
potential. Character differences
needed to be heightened to make the
wonder of the characters coming to-
gether more affecting.
- Mike Kolody

Jones and company dance,
act and make you think

by Elizabeth Lenhard

He's black. He's gay. He's HIV
Positive. He's got a lot on his
mind."
Despite the sensationalistic man-
ner in which the Michigan Theater
has promoted Bill T. Jones' produc-
tion, Last Supper at Uncle Tom's
Cabin/ The Promised Land , this
evening of dance and theater cannot
be summed up so simplistically.
While a brief moment of nudity

in the evening's finale is not the
show's most significant facet, it can
be seen as a representation of the in-
tegrity with which Jones has created
this multi-media performance. A
congregation of nude bodies on stage
represents the act of baring one's
most integral feelings, or one's al-
liance with all people. Janet Lilly, a
dancer in the University's MFA pro-
gram, says that Jones is using the
work to pose fundamental questions
about life. "Bill is questioning his
religious upbringing, how it can fit

into his life and into modern life,"
she says.
The choreographer formed the
Jones/Zane Dance Company with
Arnie Zane, who died of AIDS three
years ago. Since the end of their 17-
year artistic collaboration and per-
sonal relationship, Jones has forged
ahead with a stunning solo career.
Rather than focusing on the injustice
of Zane's death, or the fear of AIDS
that is ubiquitous within the artistic
community, Jones has utilized a
See JONES, Page7

Bill and Ted
watch
Yes, the wait is over. Orion
pictures has announced that
they will be releasing Bill and
Ted's Excellent Adventure II.
According to the Orion Pictures
1991 Product Preview, "Bill and
Ted are killed by their evil twins
- robot agents from the future
- and find themselves
transported to the fiery depths
below. They gamble with the.
Grim Renar and And unf

77

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