Daily Archives: March 1, 1999

The Matrix

The Wachowski brothers turn their attention to metaphysical SF: Keanu Reeves discovers that the universe (i.e., America and environs) is run by computers that use human beings as batteries for bioelectrical energy, and that he’s living not in 1999 but roughly two centuries later; Laurence Fishburne enlists Reeves to lead a revolt staffed by a small multinational crew (including kick-ass heroine Carrie-Anne Moss). This is simpleminded fun for roughly the first hour, until the movie becomes overwhelmed by its many sourcesBlade Runner (rainy and trash-laden streets), Men in Black (men in dark suits with shades), Star Wars for mythology, Die Hard for skyscrapers, Alien for secondary characters and decor, Superman and True Lies for stunts, and Videodrome for paranoia. There’s not much humor to keep it all life-size, and by the final stretch it’s become bloated, mechanical, and tiresome. 136 min. (JR) Read more

Day After Day

I usually prefer the documentaries of the talented Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai to his fiction films, but this 1998 narrative feature is fascinating nonetheless. The second part of a trilogy about contemporary Israeli cities, it focuses on a spoiled mama’s boy in the port city of Haifa who cheats on his wife, but the other characters become progressively more interesting, including his mother (who runs a bakery with her Arab husband), his wife, various members of his social circle, and even a bored surveillance officer who periodically observes the proceedings during a few comic interludes. Many of these characters are randier than those usually found in Israeli cinema, and the concentration on sex is refreshing; so are the glimpses of casual, everyday interaction between Jews and Arabs. The story may be unsatisfying, but it takes us through a lot of interesting and amusing places. 100 min. (JR) Read more


A broadcasting company puts an ordinary person’s life on round-the-clock cable, and what emerges is more enjoyable for the performances than for what it has to say about media or the audience (which isn’t very much). Ron Howard directed this comedy, written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel; with Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Woody Harrelson, Martin Landau, Sally Kirkland, Ellen DeGeneres, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, and Elizabeth Hurley. (JR) Read more

Conceiving Ada

Sort of a cross between Tron and Orlando, this 1997 first feature by video and installation artist Lynn Hershman Leeson is lively in spots but periodically becomes an unintentional hoot. A computer programmer and genetic memory expert (Francesca Faridany) accesses the revolutionary Ada Byron King (who else but Tilda Swinton?), seeing and conversing with Lord Byron Read more

Divided Worlds: Films By Arne Sucksdorff

A program of short films by the neglected Swedish master Arne Sucksdorff, most of them concerned with nature and animal life: A Summer Saga (1941), Trut! (Sea Hawk) (1944), Shadows on the Snow (1945), Symphony of a City (1946), and A Divided World (1948). Sometimes the subjects have allegorical resonancethe gulls in Trut! are said by some commentators to reflect the Nazisbut the beauty and purity of the cinematography are a near constant in his work. (JR) Read more

Scenario Du Film {passion} And Soft And Hard (a Soft Conversation Between Two Friends On A Hard Subject)

Two essential items in Jean-Luc Godard’s much-neglected video work. The first, made in 1982, is one of the video treatments he started making for each of his film features around 1980, and possibly the best of the lot; running 54 minutes, it’s built around Godard as image maker, facing his editing equipment, projecting images, and discussing his conceptual ideas for Passion with rare lucidity. Soft and Hard, a highly intimate 48-minute video made by Godard and Anne-Marie Mieville for English television three years later, shows Godard and Mieville at their home in rural Switzerland. In many ways the most intimate and domestic of Godard’s works, it broaches the matter of what distinguishes film from video. Both works can be viewed in retrospect as necessary preludes to his recently completed magnum opus, the eight-part Histoire(s) du cinema. (JR) Read more

Out For Love . . . Be Back Shortly

A personal and personable hour-long documentary by Israeli Dan Katzir about his search for a girlfriend during 1994 to 1997, set against and alongside political events such as the signing of the Jordan peace treaty and the assassination of Rabin. You might be reminded in spots of Ross McElwee, but Katzir has a personality and intelligence all his own. (JR) Read more

Back From Eternity

John Farrow’s 1956 remake of his own 1939 Five Came Back follows the victims of a plane crash stranded in the South African jungle. Only 5 of the 11 will be able to fly back to civilization, and the question is which five. With Anita Ekberg, Robert Ryan, Rod Steiger, and Phyllis Kirk. Read more

The Arc

What makes Rob Tregenza’s second feature (after Talking to Strangers) a bit of a letdown is the fact that its conceptual program is much harder to follow than the achronological series of ten-minute takes that make up its remarkable predecessor. Once again, the main connecting thread is a single character (played by Jason Adams), viewed chronologically this time in discontinuous fragments over the arc of several years and various locations — ranging from Baltimore, where we first see him as a welder, to the southwest, where he appears to die and undergo a resurrection. The formal treatment of the material ranges from rapid montage (in the opening sequence) to more conventional editing to lengthy takes without any apparent consistent pattern. Tregenza remains a master cinematographer throughout, and the various ellipses between sequences are often as provocative as the sequences themselves. But the dialogue and the direction of the actors create zones of ambiguity that seem less functional here than they did in the existential encounters in Talking to Strangers; at times they seem to be pointing to a religious or spiritual subtext. The results are certainly original — Tregenza clearly has a vision and an approach all his own — but also somewhat hermetic. Read more

Appointment With Death

The latest adventures of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, starring Peter Ustinov as the Belgian detective. The murder this time occurs on a luxury cruise ship bound for Jerusalem. Consummate hack director Michael Winner, who also coscripted, is at the helm, and Lauren Bacall, Carrie Fisher, John Gielgud, Piper Laurie, Hayley Mills, Jenny Seagrove, and David Soul are among the others on board. Read more

Short Films By Michelangelo Antonioni

Half a dozen documentary shorts made by Michelangelo Antonioni between 1947 and 1953, these are mainly the apprentice works of the greatest living Italian filmmaker, though no less impressive and commanding for all that; the only conventional and fairly forgettable one is the last in the program, The Villa of Monsters (1950)to be shown, unlike the others, only with French and German subtitles. Perhaps the most significant stylistic trait to be found in most of the work here is the pan suddenly linking foreground with background, the animate with the inanimate. The other films are People of the Po (1947), Street Cleaners aka N.U. (1948), and my three favorites: Superstition (a perfect subject for Antonioni given his feeling for omens) and Lies of Love (a somewhat sarcastic look at fumetti, Italy’s live-action comic books), both made in 1949, and Antonioni’s remarkable and disturbing episode from the anthology Love in the City (1953), Suicide Attempt.’ A group of women, responding to an eerily unseen male questioner, are persuaded to recount and partially reenact their attempted suicides. The ambiguous and complex interplay here between objectivity and subjectivity, fact and fictionas in one chilling moment when a 19-year-old woman lying on her bed unconvincingly pretends to slit her wrist, then suddenly shows us the scar left by her genuine suicide attemptseems decades ahead of its time. Read more

American Me

Edward James Olmos (Stand and Deliver) stars in, produces, and directs a grim, sluggish, and sincere picture about the life of a Mexican American (Olmos) from East Los Angeles who becomes a gang member as a teenager, gets an education in crime and buggery at Folsom prison, and becomes a drug dealer when he gets out. Scripted by Floyd Mutrux and inspired by a true story, this is an ambitious attempt to analyze the self-perpetuation of ghetto crime, in a story that covers three generations while stretching from 1943 to the late 70s. Apart from some softening of the extreme violence (through manipulations on the sound track) and some fancy intercutting, this is every bit as unpleasant as Olmos can make it, but occasionally edifying as well. (JR) Read more