Monthly Archives: May 2002

CQ

In Paris in 1969, a young American film editor (Jeremy Davies) works on a dumb European SF thriller set in the year 2000 while trying to film his own life in his spare time; he lives with a French stewardess (Elodie Bouchez), but spends a lot of time fantasizing about the lead actress in the thriller (Angela Lindvall), who plays a secret agent. Asked to replace the director of the thriller (Gerard Depardieu), he goes into overdrive. Writer-director Roman Coppola (son of Francis Ford Coppola) may rely too much on David Holzman’s Diary (a key pseudodocumentary of the 60s) for the hero’s own film — a debt he seems to acknowledge by casting that film’s writer and lead actor, L.M. Kit Carson, in a bit part — but he has a field day with the tacky SF movie. It’s sort of a blend of Barbarella, the Matt Helm movies, and Modesty Blaise, and Coppola imagines it in hilarious detail, bringing it the same kind of devotion shown the equally imaginary Hotpants College II in Love and Death on Long Island. As energetic silliness, this gave me a good time. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

Son Of The Bride

Juan Jose Campanella, who splits his time between making features in Argentina and directing TV episodes in the U.S., cowrote and directed this Oscar-nominated comedy-drama, about the midlife crisis and diverse family dealings of a restaurateur (Ricardo Darin). (There are a few anticipations of Argentina’s current economic crisis in the plot, but they’re incidental to the sitcom situations.) The other characters include his girlfriend, estranged wife, remote daughter, mother (in a nursing home, afflicted with Alzheimer’s), and father (who sentimentally wants to renew his wedding vows). This has the sort of good-natured mildness I would associate with Paul Mazursky on one of his less energetic outings; I didn’t feel I was wasting my time but I started looking at my watch long before it was over. With Hector Alterio and Norma Aleandro. In Spanish with subtitles. 124 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Tale of the Wind

This poetic masterpiece (1988) is the crowning work of Joris Ivens, the great Dutch documentarian and leftist, who made it in collaboration with his companion, Marceline Loridan, shortly before his death at age 90. (In fact there’s reason to believe the film was mainly written by Loridan, though this makes it no less Ivens’s own testament.) Neither a documentary nor a fantasy but a sublime fusion of the two, it deals in multiple ways with the wind, with Ivens’s asthma, with China, with the 20th century (and, more implicitly, the 19th and the 21st), with magic, and with the cinema. Ivens was born only two years after Georges Melies screened his first work, and this imaginative, freewheeling, and often comic film reflects on that fact, and on the near century of intertwining film, political, and personal history that made up Ivens’s life. For all its cosmic dimensions, it’s funny and lighthearted rather than pretentious and ponderous; it may even renew your faith in life on this planet. In French with subtitles. 78 min. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Friday, May 24, 8:00, 312-846-2800.… Read more »

Bartleby

Aside from a tacky epilogue, this is a surprisingly faithful (albeit updated) adaptation of Herman Melville’s eerie yet funny 1853 story about a Wall Street drudge who unexpectedly refuses to work or do anything else, meeting every request with the response, I would prefer not to. Crispin Glover seems born to play such a part, though Jonathan Parker, in his first feature, transfers the character to a drab office building on a hill overlooking a freeway, and, in keeping with the spirit of the original, makes the story just as much about the narrator, the hero’s boss (effectively played by David Paymer). The secondary castGlenne Headly, Joe Piscopo, Maury Chaykin, and Seymour Casselis equally good, and the degree to which Melville’s story registers as a kind of satire about capitalism, alienated labor, and the resistance engendered by both, hasn’t escaped anyone. Catherine di Napoli collaborated with Parker on the script. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Salton Sea

It’s been more than a while since I’ve seen this, but I’m more grateful than sorry that I don’t remember it well. Drug thrillers and revenge plots bore me, and producer Frank Darabont, writer Tony Gayton, and director D.J. Caruso couldn’t convince me to make this an exception. Val Kilmer plays a jazz musician who penetrates the crystal meth underworld to avenge the death of his wife (Chandra West) and give the filmmakers lots of opportunities for neonoir artiness. But the biggest show-off here is Vincent D’Onofrio as a deranged, sadistic, noseless drug baron named Pooh-Bear. Oh God, I’m starting to remember! Some of the more familiar faces include Peter Sarsgaard, Deborah Kara Unger, Anthony LaPaglia, Doug Hutchison, Adam Goldberg, Meat Loaf, and Luis Guzman. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Enough

Jennifer Lopez, the star of this rather primitive thriller, has compared Nicholas Kazan’s script to Rocky, and since producer Irwin Winkler also gave us that slugfest, perhaps it was the model from the outset. A diner waitress (Lopez) marries a wealthy Prince Charming (Billy Campbell) who turns out to be a philandering wife beater with homicidal tendencies and who wants custody of their little girl; Lopez learns martial arts, becomes an expert lock picker and cat burglar, and ultimately beats the shit out of him. This comeuppance takes a very long time to arrive, as Campbell chases Lopez up and down the west coast; the movie is more interested in standard thriller effects than in giving us human beings to contend with. The audience I saw this with seemed to want to feel insulted, and this piece of crap delivered. Michael Apted, of all people, directed; with Juliette Lewis and Fred Ward. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bowling For Columbine

Michael Moore’s best film to date (2002) is this comic and grimly entertaining reflection on America’s gun craziness and why we kill one another. It’s closer to speculative editorial than investigative journalism, and the shrewdness of most of its arguments has enraged some reviewers as much as its occasionally questionable methodology. They’ve dismissed the 135-minute polemic as an ego trip and called it anti-American, though Moore proves how American he is every time he conflates the U.S. and the planet, as when he sarcastically includes It’s a Wonderful World on the sound track. He also takes unfair, unfunny swipes at a few hapless working people, most notably an LA cop trying to do his job. But despite these faults, the movie says, with wit and passion, truthful things no other film is saying. (JR)… Read more »

The Ring

Four Seattle teenagers die exactly one week after watching an eerie experimental video and receiving phone calls that predict their deaths. A newspaper reporter (Naomi Watts) and her boyfriend (Martin Henderson) watch the same video and try to get to the bottom of the mystery. But either there’s no bottom or this 2002 movie lost me long before it got there. A remake of Ringu, a Japanese film by Hideo Nakata that I wish I’d seen instead, this moodless version is pushed along by the slick and mechanical direction of Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt, The Mexican) and a by-the-numbers script by Ehren Kruger (Scream 3). It’s a treasure hunt reduced to isolated jolts and more clues than you can shake a stick at (every fly on the wall and child’s drawing bristles with unholy significance), and an utter waste of Watts; there’s not a trace here of the talent on display in Mulholland Drive, perhaps because the script doesn’t bother to give her a character. 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Magnificent Ambersons

Orson Welles’s second feature (1942, 88 min.) is in many ways his most personal and most impressive, but of his Hollywood films it’s also the one most damaged by insensitive reediting (like the sublime and personal Don Quixote is among his independent features); in his absence RKO cut the movie by almost 45 minutes and tacked on a few lamentable new scenes (including the last one). For the most part, this is a very close adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s underrated novel about the relentless decline of a wealthy midwestern family through the rise of industrialization, though Welles makes the story even more powerful through his extraordinary mise en scene and some of the finest acting to be found in American movies (Agnes Moorehead is a standout). The emotional sense of America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is so palpable you can taste it. With Joseph Cotten, Dolores Costello, Anne Baxter, Tim Holt, Ray Collins, and Richard Bennett. (JR)… Read more »

Possession

Two literary scholars in England (Aaron Eckhart and Gwyneth Paltrow) specializing in separate but contemporary Victorian poetsone of them married (Jeremy Northam), the other a lesbian with a live-in lover (Jennifer Ehle)jointly discover that these poets had a secret affair, meanwhile developing a possible relationship of their own while chasing after the various clues. Admittedly this adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s prizewinning novel, oscillating between past and present, sounds almost too precious for words, but I was wooed by its sexy romanticism all the way through to the mysterious and beautiful coda. Director and cowriter Neil LaBute has a mixed record in my book, but on this outing he’s more in the service of the material than playing auteur, and his two cowritersDavid Henry Hwang and Laura Jonesare unusually skillful. The film departs from the novel in making Eckhart’s character an American, but Paltrow handles the English academic manner and accent with grace and aplomb. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Metropolis

Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent epic about class struggle in a city of the 21st century still has a lot of popular currency, but it’s never been a critics’ favorite. This 124-minute version is the longest since the German premiere, and the unobtrusive use of intertitles to fill in the blanks makes it more coherent. The restoration clarifies the relationships among the hero (Gustav Fr… Read more »

Girls Can’t Swim

This psychologically acute first feature (2000) by Anne-Sophie Birot about the passionate friendship between two teenage girls, adroitly played by Isild Le Besco and Karen Alyx, could have made a swell entry in the excellent French TV series of the mid-90s All the Boys and Girls in Their Time, in which various better-known filmmakers dramatized stories set during their teenage years. This one has a contemporary setting (in a Breton coastal village during the summer), but it shares with the aforementioned TV films a frankness about teenage sexuality that French filmmakers seem especially comfortable with. According to the implications of Birot’s disturbing scenario, the fathers of teenage girls pose a particular problem in relation to their sexuality either through absence or excessive presence. This follows the more promiscuous girl (Le Besco) first, then boldly switches to her troubled best friend (Alyx) before bringing the two together in an uneasy reunion. In French with subtitles. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bubba Ho-tep

Elvis (Bruce Campbell) is alive but not exactly well, living in a decrepit east Texas rest home after having changed places with an impersonator years before his supposed death. He and a fellow resident who thinks he’s JFK (Ossie Davis) wind up doing battle with an evil Egyptian deity that looks like a giant cockroach. Adapted from a story by Joe R. Lansdale, this might have squeaked by as a half-hour Twilight Zone episode, albeit with jokes about toilets and erections in old age. Writer-director Don Coscarelli piles on unpleasant details and cynical asides as if they were the stuff of wisdom, though they seem intended to produce guffaws rather than thoughts. R, 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

Road To Perdition

Sam Mendes’s 2002 follow-up to American Beauty finds him every bit as adept, arty, and Oscar hungry. This time he’s using the considerable talents of cinematographer Conrad Hall to offer a view of Irish-American crime in 1931 Chicago and environs. The Rembrandt lighting evokes the Godfather movies, the Good Country People might have stepped out of Bonnie and Clyde, and Paul Newman and Tom Hanks sanction the patriarchal bonding and the violence, which comes complete with a moral disclaimer at the end. (The story is David Self’s adaptation of a graphic novel by Max Allan Collins.) The result is classy entertainment in which women play only decorative parts at best, very shrewdly and cleverly put together but probably most rewarding if you invest in Fox or Dreamworks. Among the secondary cast members, particular standouts are Stanley Tucci, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, and Tyler Hoechlin as the boy narrator-hero; Jennifer Jason Leigh’s talents are mainly wasted. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Les Destinees

Jacques Charonne’s novel Les destinees sentimentales follows a Protestant minister turned factory owner over the first three decades of the 20th century, and one suspects that director Olivier Assayas was attracted to the material partly as a way of exploring his own Protestant roots. The hero (Charles Berling), doubting the fidelity of his wife (Isabelle Huppert), asks her to leave their home in the Charente region of France, and she takes their daughter with her. Years later he decides he was wrong, gives his wife the fortune from his family’s porcelain factory, leaves the ministry, and marries a friend’s niece (Emmanuelle Beart); his life takes another unexpected turn after his uncle dies and he’s asked to take over the factory. Assayas is masterful in using offscreen sounds to conjure up a novelistic sense of milieu and in handling various ceremonies, and the film’s lush texture explains why he called it his anti-Dogma film. Even at 173 minutes, this 2000 release is surprisingly brisk for a period picture. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »