Monthly Archives: April 2003

Herencia

The title of this so-so Argentinean indie (2002, 93 min.) means heritage or inheritance, which apparently alludes both to the 24-year-old German (Adrian Witzke) who arrives in Buenos Aires with minimal Spanish looking haplessly for the love of his life and to the aging, cantankerous Italian restaurant owner (Rita Cortese) who takes him in and recalls how she once came to the city for similar reasons. I wasn’t happy with the Muzak-like score, the predictable sentimental flourishes, or Witzke’s inexpressiveness, but Cortese has her moments. Written and directed by Paula Hernandez. In Spanish with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Oscar Aleman: A Swinging Life

As you might guess from the banal subtitle, this 2002 documentary by Hernan Gaffet is a less than satisfying look at the intriguing Argentinean jazz guitarist and entertainer Oscar Aleman (1909-’80). Raised by an impoverished Spanish-Indian family and untrained as a musician, Aleman made a name for himself in the 30s as part of Josephine Baker’s Paris orchestra (and may have been her lover); World War II drove him back to Argentina, where he eventually became even more popular. Gaffet’s approach is frustrating: he provides analyses of Aleman’s improvisational style but no musical illustrations, and most of the film consists of photos and talking heads with random bits of his music chugging in the background. But a few tantalizing clips show how charismatic Aleman could be as a guitarist, singer, dancer, and comic actor. In Spanish with subtitles. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Rosarigasinos

After 30 years in prison in Rosario, two small-time stumblebums (Federico Luppi and Ulises Dumontthe latter a significant figure in classic Argentinean cinema) try to recover their hidden loot, with messy results. Writer-director Rodrigo Grande has an inventive and nuanced style; he knows how to fill a wide-screen frame and even manages to incorporate a couple of intriguing musical numbers in his melancholy tale. But, as with Catch Me if You Can, the offhand misogyny leaking around the edges of this 2001 drama spoiled most of it for me. In Spanish with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Xx/xy

Writer-director Austin Chick debuts with this Generation X love triangle, set at Sarah Lawrence in 1993, then updated a decade later, with spouses coming into the picture. Up to a point, I was engaged by Chick’s charactersa laid-back animator (Mark Ruffalo) romancing one woman (Maya Stange), alienating her by going after her friend and roommate (Kathleen Robertson), then finally realizing he loves the first woman. But that point passed pretty soon after the credits rolled, and nothing has come back to haunt me since. With Petra Wright. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

Passionate People

I’d be more impressed with the Chicago Latino Film Festival if it better recognized the cutting edge of contemporary South American cinema (for instance, Raul Ruiz’s 2002 Chilean Rhapsody, an ongoing miniseries). Argentinean independent cinema is said to be enjoying a renaissance, but this year’s lineup shows few signs of it. This vulgar, stupid comedy (2002, 99 min.) about artificial insemination grossed $2.4 million in Argentina, perhaps because its actors come from soap operas, but is that any excuse for showcasing it here? Juan Jose Jusid directed. (JR)… Read more »

The Guys

This moving drama about a New York journalist (Sigourney Weaver) helping a fire captain (Anthony LaPaglia) write eulogies for the men he lost on 9/11 is the final flowering of a play by Anne Nelson, based on real people and events, that originated with the off-off-Broadway company the Flea Theater. Since the virtues of heroism and decency it celebrates are universal, I hope it doesn’t get absorbed into the dubious agitprop of American exceptionalism, with the presumption that people who don’t want to emulate us in every possible way risk becoming collateral damage like these firemen. Directed by Jim Simpson, who staged the original production. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Covered Wagon

This epic silent western (1923, 98 min.) by the now forgotten James Cruze is memorable for its pictorial distinction and overall narrative sweep, which helps to overcome the relatively slow pacing. With J. Warren Kerrigan, Lois Wilson, Alan Hale, and Ernest Torrence. (JR)… Read more »

The Beginning Or The End

This sincere, hokey docudrama about the development and deployment of the atomic bomb, released by MGM in 1947, begins with a newsreel prologue that shows the film being sealed in a time capsule for the people of 2446. By that time our contemporary efforts at dramaturgy and objectivity may look just as quaint as this does now, and to its credit, this fascinating period piece shows more misgivings about Hiroshima than Truman ever did. Norman Tauroglater known for his Jerry Lewis and Elvis Presley vehiclesdirected a script by Frank Wead; with Brian Donlevy, Robert Walker, Hume Cronyn (as Robert Oppenheimer), Tom Drake, Audrey Totter, and others impersonating Einstein, FDR, and Truman (the latter viewed only from behind). 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Vladimir In Buenos Aires

The title character (Mikhail Rojkov in a strong performance) is a Russian emigre working as a security guard and trying to adjust to a corrupt Argentinean society. This 2002 feature by Diego Gachassin follows Vladimir’s affair with a part-time prostitute and his friendship with another local Russian who works as an intern, plays the saxophone, and drinks increasing amounts of vodka. Gachassin is an accomplished stylist, and the black-and-white cinematography is appropriately claustrophobic. In Spanish and Russian with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Musical Chairs

A tedious if mainly well-acted drama (2002, 93 min.) about the forced gaiety that ensues when a young man who’s been living in Canada briefly returns to his family and former girlfriend in Argentina. Writer-director Ana Katz (who plays one of the young man’s sisters) must have had more on her mind than the threadbare plot indicates, but whatever it was, it’s obscured by her stagy direction and Diego De Paula’s opaque performance as the hero. (JR)… Read more »

Assassination Tango

In his first film as writer-director-actor since The Apostle, Robert Duvall effectively conveys his admiration for both the tango and his Argentinean girlfriend, Luciana Pedraza, whom he got to study the dance. He’s less effective in creating a story about an aging New York hit man (played by himself) sent to Buenos Aires on an assignment, a premise he apparently thought up as a commercial pretext for displaying his enthusiasms. (Pedraza, who’s never acted before, ironically plays the hit man’s tango instructor.) The thriller plot, while serviceable, registers as somewhat gratuitous, but the Buenos Aires locations are nicely used. With Ruben Blades and Kathy Baker. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Edward Scissorhands

An original movie (1990), though not Tim Burton’s best; Johnny Depp’s inert performance in the title role can’t compare with the over-the-top eruptions of Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice and Jack Nicholson in Batman. The imaginative if arch plot by Burton and Caroline Thompson is couched in the form of a Disneyish fairy tale, though it’s also part allegory, part parable, part punk tearjerker, and part suburban sex comedy. Both Bo Welch’s arresting production design and the cast (which includes Vincent Price, Dianne Wiest, Winona Ryder, Kathy Baker, Alan Arkin, Robert Oliveri, and Anthony Michael Hall) help it along. But the Spielbergian attempt at sweetnessheralded by references in Danny Elfman’s score to the Nutcracker Suitenever fully convinces. PG-13, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

High Crimes

Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman star as ace lawyers in a stylish and effective, if slightly overlong, thriller about a military trial. She’s the wife of a former marine (Jim Caviezel) who’s accused of having massacred civilians in El Salvador during a clandestine operation years earlier; Freeman is a former military attorney and a reformed alcoholic (in the terms of Anatomy of a Murder, the definitive trial movie, he plays Arthur O’Connell to Judd’s James Stewart). Carl Franklin directs Yuri Zeltser and Cary Bickley’s adaptation of Joseph Finder’s novel with flair, and Amanda Peet and Adam Scott do good jobs as emotional and professional backup for Judd. With Bruce Davison and Tom Bower. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Phantom Of The Rue Morgue

Directed by Warners regular Roy Del Ruth in 1954, this pedestrian reworking of the Poe story is of minor interest mainly because it’s in 3-D, which is fortunately the way it’s being shown. With Karl Malden, Claude Dauphin, Steve Forrest, and Patricia Medina. (JR)… Read more »