Monthly Archives: September 2000

Human Resources

In Laurent Cantet’s 1999 French feature, written with Gilles Marchand, a student at a Paris business school returns home to Normandy to intern at the factory where his father has worked for 30 years. When the son and other workers go on strike and the antiunion father is let go, the son and father find themselves on opposite sides of the fence. This sharp, convincing, and utterly contemporary political film calls to mind some of Ken Loach’s work, full of passion as well as precision. Fine Arts.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Crime + Punishment In Suburbia

By now we’ve been sated with Pulp Fiction spin-offs. This is perhaps the first of the American Beauty spin-offs, and though I fear it won’t be the last, let’s hope it turns out to be the crudest; it’s so crude that even the sensitive teenage photographer/rebel/outcast is a lout like the others. As a believable and/or meaningful story, it gets worse by the minute, and despite the title and an opening quote, it has nothing to do with Dostoyevsky. The cast includes Vincent Kartheiser, Monica Keena, Ellen Barkin, Jeffrey Wright, Michael Ironside, and James DeBello; Rob Schmidt directed the Larry Gross screenplay. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Duets

Slight but savory, this is a road comedy about karaoke competitions, a potent and neglected subject, with three intercut stories about contenders en route to a contest in Omaha. Scripted by John Byrum (writer-director of the underrated Inserts and Heart Beat, not heard from in ages), and directed by Bruce Paltrow, this is largely cast with talented unknowns, apart from Angie Dickinson, Andre Braugher, and Paltrow’s daughter Gwyneth (Braugher and Paul Giamatti are especially effective). With Maria Bello, Huey Lewis, Scott Speedman, and Kiersten Warren. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Almost Famous

Writer-director Cameron Crowe’s autobiographical fourth feature (2000)after Say Anything . . . , Singles, and Jerry Maguireconcerns the adventures of a 15-year-old rock journalist (Patrick Fugit) touring with a band (the fictional Stillwater) in 1973 for Rolling Stone. This has much of the warmth and feeling for adolescence that Crowe displayed in his first feature, though the slick showboating of Jerry Maguire isn’t entirely absent either. Part of what Crowe’s exploring here is the ethical confusion that can arise from the differences between being a journalist and being a groupie. With Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman (especially good as the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs), Zooey Deschanel, and Anna Paquin. 122 min. (JR)… Read more »

Orfeu

It’s been about 40 years since I’ve seen Black Orpheus, and much as I sympathize with Carlos Diegues’s desire to do a politically correct remake of the Vinicius de Moraes playthe view of a Brazilian rather than a French tourist, without the racism, and updated to incorporate contemporary economic realitiesI wish he’d made this as much fun as the original. Focusing on the misery of crime and corruption in the favelas, Diegues has kept the Rio carnival too much in the margins, and since the story is just as mythological as it ever wasexcept that hell is now the junkyard where dead bodies are thrownI’m not sure how much has been gained in the updating. Still, the ‘Scope cinematography by Affonso Beato is colorful and attractive (as is the city itself), and the music and dancing are as infectious as ever; too bad that Diegues won’t let us enjoy more of them (1999). 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The first Ang Lee film I’ve liked without much qualification (2000). It’s also the most exuberant action movie in ages, thanks to the choreography of Yuen Wo-ping and the powerhouse cast of Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen. There’s an undeniable lift to watching the young girl Zhang wipe out the ruffians who go after her, while the affectionate references to King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan (among other Hong Kong action touchstones) also add something flavorsome to the brew. Adapted by James Schamus (one of the executive producers), Wang Hui Ling, and Tsai Kuo Jung from Wang Du Lu’s novel of the same title, this sincere and magical fairy tale might be self-consciously celebratory at times (it’s Ang Lee’s homecoming movie, his first Asian film since Eat Drink Man Woman), but it still succeeds in putting the same spirited spin on martial arts that Singin’ in the Rain did on early Hollywood. In Mandarin with subtitles. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Satan Met A Lady

An inferior and unacknowledged adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, with a ram’s horn replacing the falcon. William Dieterle directed this 1936 feature; with Bette Davis, Warren William, and Alison Skipworth. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sixth Happiness

Derived from the fictionalized autobiography of Firdaus Kanga, who plays himself, this is a British feature about the life of a man born in Bombay with a disease that made his bones brittle and kept him from growing taller than four feet; Waris Hussein directed. Based on what I’ve sampled, it’s an eclectic and far from negligible picture. (JR)… Read more »

Stage Door

Hu-Du-Men, the Cantonese title of this entertaining 1996 film from Hong Kong, is an opera term for the imaginary line separating the stage from backstage, and it becomes emblematic of the various crossovers in the story. Adapted by Raymond To Kwow-wai from his own play, it concerns the producer and star of a Cantonese opera company (Josephine Siao) who’s about to abandon her career to emigrate to Australia with her husband and adopted daughter. (As in many recent Hong Kong films, anticipation of the colony’s return to the mainland is a major theme here.) The adopted daughter is showing lesbian tendencies, and the heroine, a specialist in male roles, is experiencing some gender confusion of her own. Director Shu Kei is a central figure in the Hong Kong film scene, a novelist, a programmer, the country’s most outspoken film critic, and a prolific screenwriter who’s worked for the likes of Ann Hui, Yim Ho, and John Woo; he navigates genre and gender alike with wit and aplomb. (JR)… Read more »

Curtain Of Eyes

This striking black-and-white dance film (1997), composed for the camera by Daniele Wilmouth, is the product of a six-month collaboration with four Japanese dancers from Kyoto’s Saltimbanques Buton troupe. The dancers move in an abstract space, mainly in closeups and medium shots, and Wilmouth’s textured imagery is every bit as detailed as the dancing. (JR)… Read more »

Two Streams

The previous films of the imaginative, versatile Sao Paulo-based Carlos Reichenbach to reach Chicago are his 1993 Buccaneer Soul, which charts the friendship of two intellectual writers in the 50s and 60s, and his 1987 Suburban Angels, a surrealist fantasia suggesting both Raul Ruiz and the French New Wave. This feature is a lyrical, episodic story of two adolescent girls staying at a country house in 1969 who develop crushes on an uncle, a political refugee in hiding. The images have some of the ripe flavors and color coordinations of Douglas Sirk’s 50s melodramas, and the music is lush and emotional. There’s a fair amount of comedy, and some of the performances periodically turn artificial, as if Reichenbach were deliberately camping up the nostalgic atmosphere. The pacing is leisurely in spots, but the sweeping, bravura camera movements sometimes attain delirium. (JR)… Read more »

Tredici

A heartwarming comedy directed by John Hancock, about three generations of a Corsican family that emigrated here in the 40s and now live on a fruit farm in Indiana. (JR)… Read more »

Zapatista Women

Guadalupe Miranda and Maria Ines Roque’s 1995 video focuses on Mexican women active in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Interviewed shortly after the 1994 uprising, their faces masked, they discuss their lives and their struggle; later they’re seen doing some of their daily chores. One of the male leaders delivers a poetic political speech, and another speaks about the women’s bravery. (JR)… Read more »

Vampyros Lesbos

Extremely prolific and generally untalented, Jess Franco is the Spanish Ed Wood, albeit without Wood’s gift for humorously inane dialogue. This female vampire film from 1970 was shot on location in Italy. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hang ’em High

An American-made sequel (1968) to the spaghetti westerns, directed by the talented Ted Post. It’s an elegant, crisp study of two opposing approaches to law and order: the rational, socially conscious view of a judge (Pat Hingle) and the emotional, revenge-oriented approach of a man who was nearly lynched (Clint Eastwood). With Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Ben Johnson, Charles McGraw, Bruce Dern, and Dennis Hopper. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »