Yearly Archives: 2001


Steve Martin plays a dentist who turns into a murder suspect and all-around neonoir victim when a sexy patient (Helena Bonham Carter) after the drugs he can prescribe lures him away from his fiancee (Laura Dern). Much as I like most of the actors here (who also include Scott Caan, Elias Koteas, and an uncredited Kevin Bacon), the script and story (by Paul Felopulos and director David Atkins) treat the characters with the sort of amused contempt I associate with the Coen brothers, but without the Coens’ cleverness. There’s a mechanical desire to work in as many outlandish twists as possible, and shallow grotesquerie quickly takes over. 95 min. (JR) Read more


Rob Morrow, who played Albert Brooks’s brother in Mother, stars in his own first feature, which he wrote with Bradley White, helped produce, and directed. He plays a sculptor with Tourette’s syndrome, Lyle Maze, who falls in love with the girlfriend (Laura Linney) of his best friend (Craig Sheffer) while the latter is working as a doctor in Africa after unknowingly making his girlfriend pregnant. This is so likable as an acting exerciseand as an exercise in directorial empathy, when Morrow tries to convey the hero’s attacks cinematicallythat you may want to overlook its utopian notions about the everyday behavior of friends and acquaintances of Tourette’s sufferers. (According to the script, only the hero’s late father, seen in a flashback, is intolerant.) The depiction of the hero’s career as a sculptor is no less problematic. But Morrow and his collaborators so clearly believe in this project that I was carried along, often charmed and never bored. 97 min. (JR) Read more

The Business Of Strangers

Patrick Stettner’s intriguing debut feature is a psychological drama about two women, stranded at an airport hotel, who find themselves at opposite ends of the career track: a middle-aged go-getter (Stockard Channing) and the young assistant (Julia Stiles) she’s just fired. Things get increasingly complicated and ambiguous once they start drinking and a corporate headhunter (Frederick Weller) joins them. The film raises many interesting questions about our own responses, but it may finally be too open-ended for its own good. 84 min. (JR) Read more

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone

I hear the J.K. Rowling books are great, and on the basis of this 2001 movie I’m ready to believe it; the fantasy of empowerment whereby the Cinderella-like hero (Daniel Radcliffe) takes a 19th-century train from the present back to the medieval Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is by itself worth the price of admission. I also got a kick out of some of the digital effectsespecially the cat that turns into a professor (Maggie Smith) and a giant and ferocious three-headed dog. But this 152-minute movie seems both padded and undernourished. It’s designed for kids who’ve read the books, with underdeveloped characters and clunky storytelling for those who haven’t, and portions that are too draggy or mechanically fast for anyone. The English cast is fun, but the Steve Kloves script deserves better handling than director Chris Columbus has given it. With Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, John Cleese, Richard Griffiths, Richard Harris, John Hurt, Alan Rickman, Fiona Shaw, and Julie Walters. PG. (JR) Read more

Iranian Women: The Legal Structure Of Family And The Quest For Identity

A screening of clips from Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Kim Longinotto’s excellent 1998 documentary Divorce Iranian Style will precede a panel discussion on related issues, moderated by Columbia College film professor Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa. The panelists include Mir-Hosseini, Debra Zimmerman (director of Women Make Movies), and Mehranghiz Kar (lawyer, activist, and expert in Iranian and Islamic law). (JR) Read more

The Man From Elysian Fields

I still haven’t forgiven George Hickenlooper for his egregious rewriting of Orson Welles in The Big Brass Ring (1999), but in this 2001 drama he reveals himself to be a skilled handler of actors. Philip Jayson Lasker’s script, about a happily married but unsuccessful novelist in Pasadena (Andy Garcia) who hires on at a male escort service, seems familiar and obvious (the moral seems to be that if you become a prostitute other people will treat you like one). But the castincluding Julianna Margulies, Olivia Williams, James Coburn, and Anjelica Hustonkeeps this pretty watchable, and casting Mick Jagger as director of the escort service was inspired. 105 min. (JR) Read more


In 1919, between the first and second (and, as it turned out, only) episodes of his crime serial The Spiders, Fritz Lang directed this 80-minute version of Madame Butterfly. It’s beautifully designed pictorially but lacks the urgency and craft of his early masterpiece Destiny, released two years later. Lil Dagover plays the poised (if not very Japanese-looking) heroine who gets involved with an American naval officer. (JR) Read more

Va Savoir

Having won more mainstream accolades than most of his other work combined, this enjoyable romantic comedy by 73-year-old Jacques Rivette may be his first real hit (1991’s La belle noiseuse is the only other contender). I can’t begrudge this fine director a rare commercial success, but aside from Hurlevent (1985) this is the only one of his 20 features that I have no desire to see again. After showing much distinction as a modernist (1960-’76) and a postmodernist (1978-’98) Rivette has made his first premodernist film: it’s fluffy, sometimes funny, and likably acted by Jeanne Balibar, Sergio Castellitto, Marianne Basler, Jacques Bonnaffe, Helene de Fougerolles, and Bruno Todeschini (call it Rivette Lite or, because it involves an Italian production of As You Desire Me being staged in Paris, call it Six Characters in Search of Billy Wilder). But it lacks the scariness, the mystery, and even much of the curiosity of Rivette’s better work; if you can’t stand something like Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), there’s a good chance that you’ll love this one. In French with subtitles. 150 min. (JR) Read more

First Steps: Early Efforts By Renowned Hollywood Directors

A slight misnomer, because not all the artists are Hollywood directors or renowned, and one who’s both (Gregg Toland) isn’t renowned as a director. But this sounds like an interesting program all the same: Frank Capra’s Fulta Fisher’s Boarding House (1921), Charles Vidor’s The Bridge (1929), Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich’s The Life and Death of 9413A Hollywood Extra (on which Toland worked, 1927), Orson Welles’s Hearts of Age (1934, five minutes of juvinelia codirected by William Vance), Lewis Jacobs’s Tree Trunk to Head (1936), and Warren Newcombe’s The Enchanted City (1922). (JR) Read more

Come Undone

I like the French title better, which is more descriptive and accuratePresque rien, meaning almost nothing. This first feature by Sebastien Lifshitz is a gay coming-of-age story that resembles so many others I’ve seen that for weeks I’ve been trying and failing to come up with something that might distinguish it apart from the clumsy flashback structure. Teenage boy meets teenage boy during a summer vacation near the beach (lots of rolling around in the surf), falls in love, comes out, and decides to move in with his lover rather than go to college. Neither of the boys is especially interesting, and the few other characters in the story are even more forgettable. If you’ve seen it all before, here’s your chance to see it once again. 100 min. (JR) Read more

Crime Wave

Andre de Toth’s 1954 noir is gritty, powerful, and economically told. Sterling Hayden plays a sour, toothpick-chewing LA cop on the trail of an ex-con (a rare dramatic role by dancer Gene Nelson) who’s forced to participate in a bank robbery. Among the secondary cast are Crane Wilbur, Brian Foy, Phyllis Kirk, and Charles Buchinsky (later known as Charles Bronson). 74 min. (JR) Read more

Domestic Disturbance

It’s usually a pleasure to watch John Travolta (not counting his recent act of piety toward L. Ron Hubbard in Battlefield Earth), even when he’s miscast. Which he might be in this fairly conventional thriller, playing a divorced boat builder who takes his 12-year-old son’s side when the boy witnesses his stepfather committing a murder and no one else will believe him. It’s predictable stuff, though with a nice old-fashioned edge: when a villain supposedly gets killed, he comes back to life only once. With Vince Vaughn, Teri Polo, Matt O’Leary, and Steve Buscemi; Harold Becker directed from a screenplay by Lewis Colick. 89 min. (JR) Read more


As a longtime fan of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, which begins with British code breakers during World War II, I’m a sucker for the romantic and paranoid atmosphere of this thriller on the same subject, adapted by Tom Stoppard from the novel by Robert Harris. Production designer John Beard has a field day, his period re-creations so rich you can taste them, and the fine cast includes Dougray Scott (who suggests a young James Mason), Kate Winslet, Jeremy Northam, and Saffron Burrows (though she’s chiefly used as a glamorous icon). The film has other old-fashioned virtues as well: director Michael Apted’s intelligent and creative use of Hitchcock (the romantic obsession of Vertigo, some of the mechanics of the early English thrillers) is in a different class from Brian De Palma’s literal applications. The two main producers make an interesting team—Lorne Michaels and Mick Jagger, who also turns up as an extra in one of the flashbacks. In ‘Scope; 117 min. Read more

Waking Life

Richard Linklater’s exciting and innovative feature (2001) was shot on digital video, then transformed into a new kind of animation that works wonders with the subtleties of body language and creates hallucinatory effects with palpitating backgrounds. There isn’t much of a story in any ordinary sense: a young college graduate walks around Austin, Texas, trying to decide if he’s dreaming or awake. In a way the movie rethinks and replays most of Linklater’s previous features: the overall narrative drift through Austin recalls Slacker; the hero is Dazed and Confused’s Wiley Wiggins; Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke are discovered in bed, continuing a conversation they started in Before Sunrise; and Linklater himself puts in a couple of appearances. You might be frustrated if you’re looking for plot rather than movement, action rather than pulsing vibration, but I had a ball. 97 min. (JR) Read more

Life and Debt

Stephanie Black’s eye-opening documentary focuses on how the International Monetary Fund has devastated Jamaica’s agriculture and industry, but it also powerfully illustrates what globalization has been doing to underdeveloped countries around the world. An ideal companion to No Logo, Naomi Klein’s bible of the antiglobalization movement, the film shows in depressing detail how Jamaica’s independence from British rule in the early 60s only ripened it for new kinds of exploitation, to the point where today it can no longer afford to use, much less develop, its own resources (unless one counts the tourist trade, which is shown in sarcastic counterpoint to the high interest rates crippling the local economy). The narration, derived by Jamaica Kincaid from her 1988 book A Small Place and read by Belinda Becker, alternates with interviewees ranging from former prime minister Michael Manley to IMF deputy director Stanley Fischer; under it all one hears a generous sampling of Jamaican music from Belafonte to Marley to Buju Banton and Anthony B. 86 min. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, October 26 through November 1. Read more