Monthly Archives: January 2000

Just Heroes

A 1993 John Woo gangster feature with comic interludes that reportedly moralizes against violence even as Woo choreographs it with his usual enthusiasm. With David Chang and Danny Lee. (JR) Read more

Next Friday

This robust belated sequel to Friday (1995), a comedy that found Ice Cube in South Central LA, relocates him in the suburbs, where he’s gone to live with his lottery-winning uncle and cousin. For me it’s one of the rare sequels that are better than the original, which I basically recall as an endless assembly line of scatological gags. This starts off with the same emphasis, but quickly turns to humor based more on hyperbolic characters and pungent dialogue. Nothing miraculous, but it’s time pretty well spent. With Tamala Jones, Tom Tiny Lister Jr., Justin Pierce, and John Witherspoon; directed by Steve Carr from a script by Ice Cube. 98 min. (JR) Read more


From its opening seconds, this feature from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La promesse), winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1999 Cannes film festival, has to be the most visceral filmgoing experience of the past year, including all of Hollywood’s explosions and special-effects extravaganzas. It concerns the desperate efforts of the 18-year-old title heroine (played by Emilie Dequenne, a remarkable nonprofessional), who lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother and suffers from stomach cramps, to find a steady job; she particularly hopes to work at a waffle stand whose current employee has romantic designs on her. This may sound like the grimmest sort of neorealism, but the Dardennes keep the story so ruthlessly unsentimental and physical it would be a disservice to describe it as neo anything. You feel it in your nervous system before you get a chance to reflect on its meaningit’s almost as if the Dardennes were intent on converting an immediate experience of the contemporary world into a breathless theme-park rideand it makes just about every other form of movie realism look like trivial escapism. It’s certainly not devoid of psychological nuance either, and it’s had such an impact in Belgium that a wage law for teenagers, which passed in November 1999, is known as the Rosetta plan. Read more

After Life

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first fiction feature, Maborosi (1995), was about a woman gradually adjusting to her husband’s death. His second (1998, 118 min.) is very different, an allegorical fantasy set at an abandoned school that represents a halfway house between earth and heaven. Guides have a few days to help the recently deceased find a key memory to take with them to heaven, then they film each memory, with the person’s input, shortly before his departure. A distinguished documentarist before he turned to fiction, Kore-eda bolstered his conceit in this feature by recording the memories of hundreds of elderly Japanese people, some of whom he cast in this film. Though it comes across as labored in spots, it also yields a good many beautiful and suggestive moments, and an overall film experience of striking originality. In Japanese with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Queen Christina

Not only one of Greta Garbo’s finest performances, but one of her very best films (1933)a fictional story in which the 17th-century Swedish queen gives up her throne for a Spanish ambassador (John Gilbert). The underrated Rouben Mamoulian directed, and Salka Viertel and S.N. Behrman both worked on the script. Erotic, romantic, and a feast for the eyes. 100 min. (JR) Read more


Jan Sverak’s 1996 feature from the Czech Republicscripted by his father, who plays the lead rolecharts the unlikely bonding between an aging bachelor cellist in Russian-occupied Prague and a six-year-old Russian boy he becomes saddled with after agreeing to a utilitarian marriage with the boy’s mother, who disappears. Not as sentimental as it might have been, and an enormous commercial success in eastern Europe, this is well crafted and touchinga solid piece of humanist realism, ably performed. In Czech with subtitles. 105 min. (JR) Read more