Daily Archives: September 1, 2000

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


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

Rio Escondido

Emilio Fernandez’s 1947 feature, shot by the great Gabriel Figueroa, stars Maria Felix as a highly respected schoolteacher who comes up against a renegade land baron in a small town, a villain who employs rape as a key weapon against her. With Domingo Soler. 100 min. (JR) Read more

One Day In The Life Of Andrei Arsenevich

As the title’s reference to Solzhenitsyn implies, this superb 1999 video portrait of the late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky by his friend Chris Marker is a protest against the post-Stalinist persecution that eventually drove Tarkovsky into exile. But above all this is a work of film criticism and the best one dealing with Tarkovsky that I know, full of clarifying insights. Marker sees Tarkovsky’s seven features and his staging of the opera Boris Godunov as a kind of continuum that also echoes his lifea dangerous way to interpret the work of a complex artist, yet Marker justifies it through his obvious close acquaintance with the man and his films. In some ways a companion piece to The Last Bolshevik, Marker’s earlier video about Russian filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin, this is more metaphysical in nature, in keeping with its subject. Essential viewing. In French with subtitles. 55 min. (JR) Read more

The Idiots

Shot on video, this 1998 effort by Lars von Trier is the only one of his features made according to his headline-grabbing and somewhat specious Dogma 95 manifesto. When I saw it in 1998, shortly after its Cannes premiere, it seemed like one of those independent countercultural films made in the U.S. and western Europe in the late 60s and early 70s but with all the leftist politics removedthe implication being that people rebel against society only because they have unhappy family backgrounds. The rebels in this movie are members of a sexually freewheeling commune who like to behave like mentally challenged children in public. Aside from one excellent scene, in which a father turns up at a commune to reclaim his daughter, this is thoughtful nihilist provocation at best (knowing von Trier’s work, however, I’m more inclined to take it at its worstas a cynical and sentimental con). Showing here belatedly, the film has been censored in the Japanese manner, with black bars obstructing the characters’ genitalia (though apparently the process was carried out in the U.S.). In Danish with subtitles. 117 min. (JR) Read more

Nurse Betty

It isn’t surprising that John C. Richards and James Flamberg won the prize for best screenplay at the 2000 Cannes film festival; this offbeat and unpredictable comedy-thriller throws so many curveballs, one right after another, that I doubt I had more fun at an American movie released that year. You should know as little in advance about the plot as possible, so let’s just say that the title heroine (Renee Zellweger), a poorly treated housewife in a small town in Kansas who’s addicted to a daytime soap and smitten with one of its main characters (Greg Kinnear), drives out west to find him, with a couple of bickering hit men on her tail. The latter are played by Morgan Freeman and Chris Rockwho may be the most exciting tragicomic duo to come along since Martin and Lewis. There’s a lot going on in this movie about fantasy fulfillment and folie a deux in general, and one of the most remarkable things about it is that it was directed by Neil LaBute, the writer-director of the highly misanthropic In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors; this starts out with a similarly nasty edge and then turns warmer, funnier, and perhaps even wiser by the minute. Read more

Dancer, Texas Pop. 81

The cast is encouraged to overact and the script doesn’t try for much subtlety either, but at least there’s a certain amount of sincerity here. In the title Texas backwater, four graduating seniors out of a class of five (the other’s a girl) have vowed to move to Los Angeles together and seek their fortunes, but as the time to leave approaches they all encounter either doubts or interference. Writer-director Tim McCanlies only occasionally makes up in earnestness for what he lacks in originality, but the cast of unknownsincluding Breckin Meyer, Peter Facinelli, Ethan Embry, and Eddie Mills as the four boyssometimes gives it the welcome flavor of a small-town theater production. (JR) Read more