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Sunday, February 13, 2011

FIVE CORNERS -- DVD review by porfle

One of those nostalgic reveries about living in the Bronx in the early 60s, FIVE CORNERS (1984) is worth watching because the parts that work are pretty good and the parts that don't are oddly interesting.

Like THE WANDERERS, it uses a Bob Dylan song ("The Times They Are A-Changin'", naturally) as shorthand to let us know that an old era is giving way to a new one.  This is also represented by Harry (Tim Robbins), a formerly violent youth converted to peace by the words of Martin Luther King.  Harry plans to become a civil rights worker in Mississippi, but meanwhile he has a more pressing concern--protecting his friend Linda (Jodie Foster) from the man who once tried to rape her (John Turturro as "Heinz") and has just been released from prison.

Robbins gives a restrained performance, Foster is fine as usual, but Turturro is the one to watch.  Striding angrily into the frame as he makes his entrance, he's all repressed hostility and googly-eyed paranoia and we're not sure what he's capable of.  Heinz nurtures the delusion of hooking up with a decidedly reluctant Linda and proves his love by stealing two penguins from the zoo as a gift.  Her refusal sets him off and from that point on his violent, unpredictable actions fuel the story.

What doesn't really work is that the more hardcore stuff is filtered through the same fondly nostalgic haze as the rest of the subplots, as realistic characters rub shoulders with comedic Noo Yawk caricatures.  Todd Graff (better known as "Hippy" in THE ABYSS) plays Linda's excitable boyfriend, Jamie, as though he's projecting for the back rows.  Two flatfoot police detectives enlisted by Harry to help track down a missing Linda also seem a tad too jokey to be involved in such serious business. 

In addition to Harry's uncomfortable meeting with a hostile black activist (Eriq La Salle of "ER") and a couple of nice scenes with his mother, who worries that she'll lose him as she did her "hero cop" husband, the scenes between Heinz and his cheerfully insane mother (Rose Gregorio) are a real highlight.  She's quite a character, and Heinz struggles to break through her blithely oblivious fascade until he's driven to commit one of the most startling acts in the film.

And then, there's the totally unrelated subplot which seems as though it were excised from a more lighthearted film and shoehorned into this one.  Melanie (Elizabeth Berridge, THE FUNHOUSE) and Brita (Cathryn de Prume) are a couple of ditzy "fast" girls, high on pills and sniffing glue, who hook up with two dopey horndoggers for a day of cheap thrills while Melanie's boyfriend scours the neighborhood for her.  Whenever this storyline pops up it's like switching channels between the movie and a weird episode of "Laverne and Shirley."

Direction by Tony Bill is okay but the editing never quite blends these disparate elements smoothly.  Strange that this period film about the 60s should look so much like an 80s flick, which gives it an oddly interesting visual quality.  (Unless I'm mistaken, the same bar where Frankie Five Angels almost gets whacked in GODFATHER PART II shows up here.)  Also of interest is the score, which, aside from a couple of really nice cues, is pretty awful--thus giving us a chance to observe the great James Newton Howard still finding his way as a film composer in this early effort.

The DVD from Image Entertainment is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and English subtitles.  The sole bonus feature consists of about half-an-hour of trailers for this and other Handmade Films releases. 

Turturro's character carries FIVE CORNERS and keeps us involved as the rest of the film's patchwork elements exude their own modestly peculiar charms.  Elizabeth Berridge is a delight as Melanie--I'd like to see the rest of the movie she was plucked from.  I won't even go into the part where there seem to be Eskimos in the Bronx, shooting people with arrows.

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