Monthly Archives: June 2001

Baby Boy

Like John Singleton’s other features, this is far from flawless; at 129 minutes it’s longer than it needs to be, and the music hits you like a sledgehammer at moments when any music at all is redundant and something of an insult. But the characters are so full-bodied and the feelings so raw and complex that I’d call this the best thing he’s done to date–by which I mean the most convincing and serious, telling us at least as much about everyday life in South Central Los Angeles as did Boyz N the Hood, his first movie. The title character, well played by Tyrese Gibson, is a 20-year-old with a pronounced Oedipus complex who lives with his 36-year-old mother (A.J. Johnson), has fathered two kids with separate girlfriends (Taraji P. Henson and Tamara LaSeon Bass), and starts to feel crowded when his mother falls for a reformed gangster (Ving Rhames, also especially good). Sexually explicit both visually and aurally, this shows rare inventiveness in exploring one character’s fantasies during an orgasm. With Omar Gooding and Snoop Dogg. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Ford City, Gardens, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, 62nd & Western. Read more

The Princess And The Warrior

A grim reminder of what commercial success can do to a talented director. I don’t want to overrate Tom Tykwer, the writer-director of Run Lola Run (1999), but that film showed a certain flair for expanding on some of the tricks and conceits of music videos, and it seemed an improvement on Tykwer’s heavier, more querulous Winter Sleepers (1997). This feature (2000) tries to combine the racy appeal of Run Lola Run with the more mystical ambitions of Winter Sleepers, and to my taste it fails. An obscure tale about a psychiatric nurse (Lola’s Franka Potente) trying to track down a failed robber who saved her life, it lasts 130 minutes, most of them relatively forgettable. With a better idea of what Tykwer had in mind, maybe I would have stayed interested. In German with subtitles. (JR) Read more

The Circle

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Mirror) takes a giant step forward with his third feature (2000), shifting his focus from little girls to grown women and presenting such a scorching look at what they put up with in their daily lives that it’s no surprise the film was banned in his native country. This masterpiece is radical in form as well: it begins one morning in a hospital and ends that evening in a jail cell, the camera revolving 360 degrees in each space, and its narrative passes from one character to the next as does Luis Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (and Richard Linklater’s Slacker). Extremely realistic yet highly artificial in structure, it’s dazzling as a whole (if occasionally overloaded), recalling the Warner Brothers proletarian quickies of the 30s and the noir thrillers of the 40s (an effect enhanced by the fact that some of the women characters are fresh out of prison). The most talented disciple of Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi actually tops him at leaving things out of a story to tantalize the viewer; he uses these ellipses for political as well as aesthetic ends, trusting the audience’s decency as well as its imagination. Read more

Sexy Beast

Does the title refer to the ex-con hero (Ray Winstone), happily retired on the Spanish Costa del Sol, or to his brutal ex-boss (Ben Kingsley), who turns up one day to browbeat him into helping with a bank heist? I don’t know, and after 91 minutes of this movie’s pile-driver aggression, I don’t care. My willingness to stay interested in the plot and be impressed by Kingsley’s show-offy performance as a staccato bully out of Harold Pinter was eventually undermined by the movie’s violent editing and violent sound, which, coming on top of the character, drove violence to the point of redundancy. The director is Jonathan Glazer, purportedly famous for commercials and musical videos and certainly unafraid to make a feature every bit as strident as these things normally are. Louis Mello and David Scinto wrote the script; with Ian McShane and Amanda Redman. (JR) Read more


Ridiculous but occasionally fun, which is more than can be said for Pearl Harbor. Don’t expect to find any recognizable human beings among the characters, but there are at least two fabulous movie starsJohn Travolta as the villain, Halle Berry as the double (or triple, or quadruple) agentand a fashionable Aussie (Hugh Jackman) as the hero, a hacker who breaks encryptions the way Schwarzenegger cracks walnuts. We also get Don Cheadle as an FBI agent and Sam Shepard as a corrupt senator. Also, this being coproduced by Joel Silver, there are all the car explosions you could hope for. The limited but unmistakable wit of Skip Woods’s screenplay hinges in part on trying to conjure up a secret organization that sounds sillier than the FBI or CIA, while Dominic Sena, the music-video specialist who brought us the Gone in Sixty Seconds remake, does a better job this time of directing absurdity in a diverting manner. 99 min. (JR) Read more

Steamboat ’round The Bend

John Ford’s third feature with Will Rogers (1935, 80 min.) proved to be their last together, and was released only after the popular actor died in an air crash. Rogers plays a steamboat captain in the 1890s who commands a floating wax museum and dispenses patent medicine with a high alcoholic contentideal Ford material, with two of his favorite screenwriters, Dudley Nichols and Lamar Trotti, on board (adapting a novel by Ben Lucien Berman), as well as Stepin Fetchit, one of his favorite actors. But the movie is a distinct comedown from the previous Ford-Rogers pairing, the sublime Judge Priest, though it’s still an improvement on their first Dr. Bull. Ford complained 20 years later that producer Darryl F. Zanuck cut out most of the comedy, though the Americana that remains still carries a lot of flavor. With Irvin S. Cobb, Francis Ford, Eugene Pallette, and Charles Middleton. (JR) Read more

Three Films By Kiyoshi Kurosawa

The prolific Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has been at work for nearly two decades, sometimes making straight-to-video features but more recently receiving some belated international recognition. This month the Film Center will show 35-millimeter prints of a half dozen of his recent thrillers, made between 1996 and 2000, and I can recommend all three that I’ve seenthough not without certain caveats. All three are fairly grisly, though Kurosawa’s frequent long shots impart a cool, detached tone to the cruelty and violence. And his plots can be difficult to understand, though his visual style is so riveting you might not mind. Eyes of the Spider and Serpent’s Path, rhyming companion pieces made in 1997, both star Shoh Aikawa and involve yakuza intrigues and a father tracking down the men who kidnapped and killed his little girl; I often couldn’t figure out who was doing what to whom, but I didn’t much care, because the visual sweep of the former and the claustrophobia of the latter were both compelling. The engrossing Cure (1998), which is getting an extended run, stars Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?, The Eel) as a troubled detective exploring a series of murders committed through hypnotic suggestion (as in The Manchurian Candidate), and while its creepy mystery plot is easy enough to follow even when it turns metaphysical, it’s unsatisfying as a story precisely because it aspires to create a mounting sense of dread by enlarging questions rather than answering them. Read more

The Anniversary Party

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming wrote, directed, and star in this watchable, if at times familiar, comedy-drama about an LA couple throwing a dusk-to-dawn party to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. Predictably, the dramatic revelations come at periodic intervals and escalate after someone at the party passes out some drugs; less predictable are the revelations themselves and the interesting suggestion that none of them necessarily provides the last word on these people. Shot in digital video by John Bailey; with Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey, and John C. Reilly. 115 min. (JR) Read more

Blow Out

This 1981 release is one of Brian De Palma’s more interesting and better-made thrillers, though it’s even more abjectly derivative than his Hitchcock imitations (borrowing mightily this time from Antonioni’s Blowup, as the title suggests). John Travolta plays a sound-effects man working in Philadelphia who, like many a De Palma hero, finds himself stumbling into trouble. With Nancy Allen and John Lithgow. 107 min. (JR) Read more

Kartemquin Films Retrospective

Chicago-based Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn present a selective program of their political and social documentaries, among the best being made anywhere in this country. Only two of their films will be shown complete: What the Fuck Are These Red Squares? (1970, 15 min.) and Taylor Chain I: A Story in a Union Local (1980, 33 min.). The remainder will be excerpted: Home for Life (1967), The Last Pullman Car (1983), Hoop Dreams (1993), and Vietnam, Long Time Coming (1998). It’s too bad they’re not showing anything from their fascinating art documentary Golub (1989), but you can’t have everything. 160 min. (JR) Read more

Bullet On A Wire

This peculiar, locally made black-and-white feature by Jim Sikora premiered at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in 1996, and surprisingly this is its first extended booking in town, despite the fact that it’s enjoyed well-received runs in both New York and Los Angeles and played at European festivals. Apart from John Terendy’s effective cinematography, the film is notable for its impressive leads: Jeff Strong is creepily enigmatic as a misfit whose gratuitous phone prank, referred to in the title, leads to a murder and the subsequent incarceration of a young woman (a superbly composed Lara Phillips) who was the patient of his sister (Paula Killen) at a health clinic. The style is mainly classic low-rent noir, but Sikora adds a few interesting touches, such as Strong evaporating from certain shots rather than making conventional exits, a few striking freeze-frames toward the end, and some odd uses of music by the Denison-Kimball Trio. Joe Carducci collaborated with Sikora on the script; with David Yow and Richard Kern. 83 min. (JR) Read more

Going Corporate

This independent mockumentary (2000, 99 min.) by Kevin Carr of Columbus, Ohio, has more to say about the formlike how tempting it must be for lazy writers and performersthan about corporate takeovers. Improvised by its cast with varying degrees of skill, it generates much of its lame humor by crosscutting sound bites (or, during one conference call, juxtaposing them with a split screen), and the characters’ behavior in the presence of a camera isn’t very convincing. Reportedly this has been used as a teaching aid at a Michigan business school, but I can’t imagine what lesson students might glean from it. (JR) Read more

The Fourth Dimension

This essay film about contemporary Japan is the most visually pleasing work to date by writer Trinh T. Minh-ha, whose films often approach foreign cultures through a series of contrasting and layered perspectives. Trinh shot it herself in digital video, an exploration that may account for its distinct look, though her aphoristic narration fails to provide the degree of unity found in most of her films. (Its method recalls her 1991 documentary about China, Shoot for the Contents, more than her earlier African documentaries, Reassemblage and Naked SpacesLiving Is Round.) When she isn’t shooting landscapes from bullet trains and reflecting on what this mode of transport suggests about the country, a good deal of what she shows falls under the category of public spectacle. But like most of her work, this is provocative, intelligent, poetic, and certainly worth a look. 87 min. (JR) Read more

The Circle

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Mirror) takes a giant step forward with his third feature (2000), shifting his focus from little girls to grown women and presenting such a scorching look at what they put up with in their daily lives that it’s no surprise the film was banned in his native country. This masterpiece is radical in form as well: it begins one morning in a hospital and ends that evening in a jail cell, the camera revolving 360 degrees in each space, and its narrative passes from one character to the next as in Luis Bu Read more

Journeys From Berlin/1971

Yvonne Rainer’s 1980 experimental feature links the experience of a woman undergoing psychoanalysis (played by film theorist Annette Michelson) with German political terrorism, forging an equation of personal and social oppression. This is one of Rainer’s densest and most ambitious films, though for political lucidity, I tend to prefer her features that come afterwardsuch as Privilege, made ten years later (see separate listing). 125 min. (JR) Read more