Monthly Archives: January 2001

Left Behind

This fundamentalist SF, based on a best-seller by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, is (or was) billing itself as The Christian Entertainment Event of 2000, but seems perfectly timed to coincide with the ascension to office of George W. Bush. It’s a clunky effort Bush could have written and directed. Over 142 million people on the planetincluding all the childrenhave vanished and gone to heaven because they’re true believers. Meanwhile, the Antichrist turns out to be Russian, proving that Joseph McCarthy must have been right all along. The credited director is Vic Sarin and the credited writers are Allan McElroy, Paul Lalonde, and Joe Goodman. Among the cast are Kirk Cameron, Chelsea Noble, Clarence Gilyard, and Brad Johnson, doing what they can with hopeless if weirdly sincere material. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Wedding Planner

Dopey but charming, this romantic comedyabout a San Francisco wedding planner (Jennifer Lopez) experiencing love at first sight vis-a-vis a pediatrician (Matthew McConaughey) who turns out to be the expectant groom in one of her assignmentsdraws much of its allure from the two leads. Most of the remainder comes from a clear desire to emulate and approximate various second-tier studio musicals and comedies that one might associate with the early 50s. This never rises above such treacle but happily lives up to it every chance it gets. With Bridgette Wilson-Sampras, Justin Chambers, Judy Greer, and Kathy Najimy; written by Pamela Falk and Michael Ellis and directed by Adam Shankman. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Antitrust

A silly but fairly harmless industrial espionage thriller in which Tim Robbins plays a ruthless software billionaire transparently based on Bill Gates. Ryan Phillippe (Cruel Intentions) is the pretty-boy genius programmer in Silicon Valley who gets enlisted into the tycoon’s Portland-based company and satellite communications program, where he starts to become aware of foul play long after the viewer has figured everything out. The paranoid romantic subplot, delirious and intermittently good campy fun, suggests that this movie might have been called I Married a Capitalist, though the nonstop product placementsplus the fact that, given the nonenforcement of antitrust laws, you aren’t likely to see this studio effort in many independent theaterstend to interfere somewhat with this purity of intention. Peter Howitt unexceptionally directed the unexceptional Howard Franklin script; with Rachael Leigh Cook, Claire Forlani, and Yee Jee Tso. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Company Man

I certainly wanted to like this belatedly released comedy, about the bumbling inefficiency of the CIAthe organization that under the inspired auspices of George Bush sponsored and promoted Saddam Hussein, and also inspired Elaine May’s underrated satire Ishtar. But this is the unfunniest comedy I can recall seeing in ages, and considering that it was copyrighted in 1999, many others must have felt the same way; why it’s being released now is anyone’s guess. The star is cowriter and codirector Douglas McGrath, who also cowrote Bullets Over Broadway; he plays a wimpy grammar teacher who finds himself working for the CIA in Cuba in the early 60s, trying to overthrow Castro (Anthony LaPaglia). As an actor he isn’t bad, and as a scriptwriter he’s no slouch, but when it comes to the direction that’s credited to him and cowriter Peter Askin, the CIA itself might have done a better job. The main instruction to the cast appears to have been Overactperhaps the unfortunate legacy of Askin’s stage backgroundwhich has a murderous effect on the performances of John Turturro, Woody Allen, and Sigourney Weaver, among others. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blow Dry

The English national hair championships pit a former prizewinner (Alan Rickman), who works with his son (Josh Hartnett), against his former wife (Natasha Richardson), who’s been involved with his former model (Rachel Griffiths) for the past decade. This comedy-drama was written by Simon Beaufoy, who brought us The Full Monty, and it has some of the same gamy mix of alternative sexuality and working-class heart; Paddy Breathnach furnishes the adequate direction. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Love 101

Adrian Fulle wrote and directed this independent feature, though I can’t imagine what differentiates his competently made teenage-sex movie from Hollywood teenage-sex movies, apart from the absence of a studio logo at the beginning. Maybe it’s the independent sense of humor expressed in its dialogue: Women are like Democrats, man. You can’t live with them, but you can sure get fucked by them. Just as you have to rule out the existence of female Democrats to find this funny, you’ll probably have to rule out the existence of independent films unencumbered by studiothink to find this even halfway bearable. Once you’ve accomplished that, you may or may not find that the skillful camera work and adequate performancesby Michael Muhney, Mary Kay Cook, Jon Collins, Jim Slonina, Heidi Mokrycki, and Jeff Andersonenhance this familiar tale of sexual rivalry between roommates and sexual confidence triumphing over insecurity, complete with elevator music. (JR)… Read more »

Moonlight Whispers

Akihiko Shiota’s first feature (1999, 100 min.), improbably based on a Japanese comic strip, is a disturbing look at a teenage boy’s sadomasochistic relationship with a 17-year-old girl he worships. At first he becomes fetishistically attached to her socks, photographs he takes of her legs, and sounds he records in her bathroom; eventually he volunteers to become her slave, which leads to cruel exploitation and diverse humiliations and traps both of them in the same compulsive games. Shiota seems uncertain whether to play this story for laughs or to treat his characters more compassionately, so the film starts wavering and wobbling toward the end, but it’s pungent and unsettling nonetheless. Interestingly, his second feature, Don’t Look Back, made the same year, took on very different material, a sensitive and unsensational story about two ten-year-old boys. (JR)… Read more »

The Castle

Made for Austrian TV, Michael Haneke’s serious and reasonably faithful 1997 adaptation of Kafka’s best novel isn’t the best or most interesting film made from the writer’s work; I’d give that honor either to Orson Welles’s flawed but fascinating The Trial (1962) or to Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s eccentric rendition of Amerika, Class Relations (1983). But this is almost certainly the truest interpretation of one of Kafka’s novels, all of which were left unfinished; it even literally ends in the middle of a sentence. If memory serves, there’s plenty of Kafka’s humor here as well. 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Pledge

The third feature directed by Sean Penn and the first one that I’ve liked. Adapted by the couple Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski from a 1958 Friedrich D… Read more »

Taboo

Poetry and style aren’t qualities one ordinarily associates with writer-director Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses), but this haunting, dreamlike tale of a beautiful and narcissistic military recruit (Ryuhei Matsuda) in 1865 training to become a samurai warrior, who bewitches and obsesses the men around him, is a triple-distilled example of poetic style, action and violence included. Because the central character is something of an angel of death, the film isn’t exactly politically correct in its treatment of homosexuality, but it’s debatable whether it can be called homophobic either, at least in any ordinary sense. Though it’s based on two novellas from Ryotaro Shiba’s Shinsengumi Keppuroku, it suggests a tribute to the great Kenji Mizoguchi, a Japanese master Oshima hasn’t shown much reverence for in the past. Its long takes, its lyrical and nearly constant camera movements, and its ghostly and atmospheric studio sets all suggest Mizoguchi, and the dialogue makes reference to Tales of Moonlight and Rain, the literary source of Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari. Originally titled Gohatto, this 1999 feature was Oshima’s first in 13 years, directed mainly from a wheelchair due to his 1996 stroke, and it includes some of the biggest stars in contemporary Japanese cinema, including Takeshi Kitano (impressive in a noncomic role), Tadanobu Asano, and Shinji Takeda, as well as a score by Ryuichi Sakamoto.… Read more »

Photos Of Alix

An 18-minute short by French director Jean Eustache, in which Alix-Clio Roubaud, the wife of poet Jacques Roubaud, talks about her photographs with Eustache’s young son Boris. The 1980 short bears an interesting resemblance to Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia, in that the photographs discussed aren’t the ones we’re seeing. (JR)… Read more »

Before Night Falls

Painter Julian Schnabel followed up his debut feature, Basquiat, with another biopic (2000) about a minority artist: Reinaldo Arenas, the gay Cuban writer who learned to read from revolutionaries, published most of his books abroad, and eventually died an exile in New York. The film is less visually inventive than its predecessor and perhaps even more questionable as an accurate portrait: the script, adapted by Schnabel, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, and Cunningham O’Keefe from Arenas’s posthumously published memoirs, answers only a fraction of the questions it raises and allows political correctness to fudge certain aspects of the subject’s personality (his dislike of most other homosexuals, for instance) and the fact that other Latino intellectuals viewed him as a hick. But this is still an impressive piece of filmmaking, with lively and suggestive depictions of pre- and postrevolutionary Cuba (shot in Mexico). Javier Bardem is truly exceptional as Arenas, and other actors make their marks as well, including Sean Penn, Michael Wincott, film directors Hector Babenco and Jerzy Skolimowski, and Johnny Depp in an impressive double cameo. 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

Thirteen Days

Adapted by David Self from a book entitled The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, this thriller is a lot better than you might expect, especially for a Kevin Costner vehicle. Costner plays Kenny O’Donnell, an aide to President Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) who shares his boss’s Bostonian accent but is basically decor next to him, his brother Bobby (Steven Culp), Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker), and various Pentagon warmongers such as Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway). Framing JFK as the man who prevented World War III is surely an idealist fantasy, but it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for a time when, in order to prevent war, Kennedy and Khrushchev had to trust each other more than any Democrat or Republican seemed capable of doing during the 2000 presidential election. Director Roger Donaldson measures out this old-fashioned entertainment with a fair amount of pizzazz. 145 min. (JR)… Read more »

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes

Jean Eustache (The Mother and the Whore) directed this touching portrait of small-town life in his native Narbonne, where a poor young man trying to meet girls gets a job dressing up as Santa Claus. The film was shot on black-and-white 35-millimeter stock left over from Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculine Feminine and stars Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud, the lead actor in that film and in many ways the principal icon of the French New Wave. In French with subtitles. 47 min.… Read more »

Le Cochon

Jean Eustache’s 1970 documentary, codirected with Jean-Michel Barjol and shot over one day, is a remarkable materialist rendering of everything that happens to a pig in central France from its slaughter to its conversion into sausages. This was produced by the great critic-filmmaker Luc Moullet, and bears an interesting thematic relation to his own Genesis of a Meal (1978), about the routes and processes of various raw ingredients on their way to a simple meal. 50 min. (JR)… Read more »