Daily Archives: June 20, 2003

The Hard Word

I haven’t a clue what the title means, but this kinky and mainly sweet-tempered heist film (2001) by Australian writer-director Scott Roberts seems fairly fresh to me, despite its heavy-handed way with a few generic staples (e.g., a femme fatale played by Rachel Griffiths). A scuzzy lawyer (Robert Taylor) enlists three goofy and basically nonviolent bank-robbing brothers (Guy Pearce, Damien Richardson, and Joel Edgerton) to pull off a job at a Melbourne racetrack, but many misadventures ensue. At times the plot developments in this post-Tarantino story seem so random they suggest automatic writing, but the characters and some of the settings kept me interested. 102 min. (JR) Read more

Alex & Emma

From the Chicago Reader (June 20, 2003). — J.R.

Desperate to get over his writing block so he can finish a novel, collect $125,000 from a publisher (director Rob Reiner), and pay off gambling debts to violent Cuban loan sharks, a young author (Luke Wilson) hires a stenographer (Kate Hudson) who helps him along with her strong opinions. The novel, set in 1924, follows the romantic adventures of an aspiring novelist (Wilson again) working for a French family as an English tutor and romancing first the children’s mother (Sophie Marceau) and in later versions her au pair (Hudson again), a character whose nationality keeps changing as the story is revised. The actors make this fun if you can overlook the ludicrous view of Jeremy Leven’s screenplay concerning how novels are written and what publishers generally pay for them — the true subject is writing silly Hollywood scripts like this one. 100 min. (JR)

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Beach Party

The issue isn’t only whether we can accept Bob Cummings as an anthropologist studying teenagers but whether he can accept Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as likely specimens. Dorothy Malone is also on hand, and Harvey Lembeck offers a parody of Brando’s biker persona. William Asher directed this 1963 feature. 101 min. (JR) Read more

Charles Mingus: Triumph Of The Underdog

Coproduced by Mingus’s fourth and last wife Sue (who more recently published the memoir Tonight at Noon: A Love Story), this 1997 video documentary by Don McGlynn crams in as much as possible about the life and music of the jazz bassist, composer, and bandleader. In many ways this is a losing proposition, because Mingus’s greatness had a lot to do with his resistance to being commodified, synopsized, excerpted, or even categorized. Furthermore, the triumph of the title seems to refer more to the posthumous performance of Mingus’s magnum opus, Epitaph, conducted by Gunther Schuller, than to his actual life. But the sheer gusto of his volatile personality eventually comes across, and the music’s passionate emotion survives even in the fragments presented here. 78 min. (JR) Read more

The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father

From the Chicago Reader (June 20, 2003). — J.R.


Before it became a TV series, this cutesy comedy by Vincente Minnelli had some status as an auteurist favorite, but it’s a long way from Minnelli’s Father of the Bride (another proto-sitcom). Ron Howard, known in 1963 as Ronny, tries to find a new wife for his widower dad (Glenn Ford); with Shirley Jones, Stella Stevens, and Dina Merrill. Filmed in Panavision. 117 min. (JR)

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The Tracker

It’s been almost a year since Rolf de Heer’s 2002 western was screened as the opening-night attraction at the Melbourne film festival, but it’s lodged in my memory as the best Australian feature I’ve seen in years. Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout, Rabbit-Proof Fence) gives the performance of a lifetime as a tracker helping three mounted police find a murder suspect in 1922, and though the film recalls Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man in its grim tale of pursuit, its poetic feeling for both history and landscape, and its contemporary score (by aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach), it has an identity all its own. (One of its most original moves is cutting to paintings by Peter Coad, specially commissioned for the film, at every moment of violence.) The film’s U.S. distributor, hoping for a wider release in Chicago, hasn’t screened it for the local press, which is why I’m not writing about it at length. But it may never return, so catch it while you have the chance. With Gary Sweet and Grant Page. 102 min. Facets Cinematheque. Read more