Daily Archives: August 9, 2002

Happy Times

A poor, middle-aged bachelor (comic actor Zhao Benshan) who keeps failing to find a spouse through a dating service finally meets a chubby divorcee with a son and stepdaughter who strikes him as ideal. After planning a lavish wedding he can’t afford, he contrives with a friend to spruce up an abandoned bus as the Happy Times Hotel and rent it out on an hourly basis to couples seeking privacy, but his own prudishness ruins the plan. Meanwhile, he becomes acquainted with his fiancee’s spoiled son and neglected, blind stepdaughter, the latter dreaming that her father will return to pay for an operation that restores her eyesight. Zhang Yimou’s disappointing stab at comedy and soap operaa far cry from The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), which in retrospect may be his best filmis interesting as a look at both failed patriarchy and middle-class aspirations in mainland China, but as a tug at the heartstrings it’s simply too calculated and contrived to register with much conviction. In Mandarin with subtitles. 106 min. (JR) Read more

{die Hard} Trilogy

Bruce Willis, stripped for action like Rambo, stars in these three adventure thrillers, playing a New York detective who’s perpetually running into terrorists while he’s off the clock. In Die Hard (1988, 131 min.) he visits Los Angeles to see his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and arrives at her Century City office building just as it’s being taken over by a gang headed by Alan Rickman. This serviceable if rather overblown thriller features a spectacular Cecil B. De Mille-like conclusion and makes good use of its skyscraper set, but the script is fairly routine and much of the wit consists of characters calling one another dickhead; John McTiernan directed. As for Die Hard 2 (1990, 124 min.), if your idea of a good time is watching stupid, unpleasant people insult and brutalize one another, this second installment will be right up your alley. Here the bad guys cause planes to crash at Dulles Airport in Washington and make unwitty wisecracks before they shoot people. The talented Renny Harlin (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master) directed this gory, violent, protofascist nonsense, but I wonder if even D.W. Griffith could have transcended the mean-spirited and dehumanizing script. I haven’t seen the third and (to date) final installment, Die Hard With a Vengeance (1995, 128 min.), Read more

Nine Queens

Fabian Bielinsky’s hugely entertaining first feature (2000) is a brisk comic thriller about a young con artist (Gaston Pauls) and an older one (Richard Darin) trying to top one another over a day in Buenos Aires. It’s been compared to David Mamet, quite understandably, but there are two highly significant aftereffects: the plot falls to pieces as soon as one stops to think about it (not that this matters much, given the subject matter), and even more interestingly, the mood and milieu eerily predict the current economic crisis in Argentina. In Spanish with subtitles. 115 min. (JR) Read more

Moscow Elegy

Alexander Sokurov’s heartfelt video documentary (1987, 88 min.) about his mentor Andrei Tarkovsky, completed shortly after the latter’s death in exile. As far as I can tell, it’s called Moscow Elegy only because Tarkovsky spent many of his early years in Moscow; indeed, Sokurov’s customary fetishism of place extends to schools Tarkovsky attended, apartments and houses he lived in, and (climactically) a tree he once planted. Most of the footage concerns the making of Tarkovsky’s last two films, in Italy and Sweden, as well as his death in France, though there’s also a fair-sized chunk of him as a young actor in the 1963 Russian opus Ilyich Gates (which looks very much like Jacques Rivette’s first feature). Despite the blotchiness of some images and the seemingly disordered structure, this is a document (more than a documentary) that Tarkovsky fans won’t want to pass up; others may find the experience of one Russian mystic brooding over another a bit like white on white. In Russian with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Girls Can’t Swim

Anne-Sophie Birot’s psychologically acute first feature (2000), which explores the passionate but foundering friendship between two teenage girls, would have made a swell entry in the excellent mid-90s French TV series All the Boys and Girls in Their Time, for which Andre Techine, Chantal Akerman, and Claire Denis (among other filmmakers) dramatized stories set during the years they were teenagers. Though this film has a contemporary setting, it shares with the aforementioned directors’ entries a frankness about teenage sexuality that French filmmakers seem especially comfortable with. Birot’s disturbing scenario implies that the fathers of teenage girls complicate their developing sexuality, either through absence or excessive presence. The film begins with the more promiscuous girl (Isild Le Besco) as she spends her summer in a Brittany coastal village, then boldly switches to her troubled best friend back home (Karen Alyx) before bringing the two together for an uneasy reunion. 101 min. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, August 9 through 15. Read more