Monthly Archives: October 2003

Crimson Gold

Having taken his formalist bent to extremes in The Circle (2000), Jafar Panahi switches to lumpy neorealism with minimal loss of force. The script by Abbas Kiarostami (who also wrote Panahi’s 2000 The White Balloon) was inspired by a news story about a pizza deliveryman in Tehran who shot a jeweler and then himself in the course of a robbery attempt. Panahi cast a real pizza deliveryman, Hussein Emadeddin, as the robber, only to discover that his overweight, middle-aged lead was a paranoid schizophrenic, which may account in part for his deadpan, oddly commanding presence. The film’s candid treatment of the class resentments brewing in contemporary Tehran have made the film unshowable in Iran, where the government has branded Panahi an American agenta painful irony given that he couldn’t even enter this country if he wanted to without an inordinate amount of red tape and humiliation. In Farsi with subtitles. 97 min. (JR) Read more

Distant

Clouds of May, the second feature of Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, struck some viewers as belonging to the school of Kiarostami, a mistake they wouldn’t make with his masterful third feature. An industrial photographer in Istanbul (Muzaffer Ozdemir) who hasn’t recovered from his busted marriage finds himself the reluctant host of a country cousin (Mehmet Emin Toprak) looking for work. Ceylan uses this slim premise to build a psychologically nuanced relationship between the men, as an uncomfortable domestic arrangement leads to irrational spats. The narrative, capped by a brief bad dream and the capture of a mouse, isn’t always legible, but it feeds into a monumental, luminous visual style like no other. The nonprofessional leads won top honors at Cannes; shortly afterward Toprak died in an auto accident. In Turkish with subtitles. 110 min. (JR) Read more

Mystic River

Clint Eastwood’s grimly deterministic view of human nature is never more apparent than in his masterful tragedies: Bird, White Hunter, Black Heart, Unforgiven, and this dark police procedural, adapted by Brian Helgeland from a novel by Dennis Lehane. Three childhood chums in working-class Boston grow up to become a family man who has never fully recovered from childhood sexual abuse (Tim Robbins), an ex-con and convenience-store owner whose 19-year-old daughter has been brutally murdered (Sean Penn), and a police detective (Kevin Bacon) investigating that crime with his partner (Laurence Fishburne). The performances, especially of Penn and Robbins, are so powerful and detailed (down to the Boston accents) that they often persuade one to overlook the narrative contrivances (particularly the incessant crosscutting), the arty trimmings (including Eastwood’s own score), and the dubious social philosophy. With Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney. R, 140 min. (JR) Read more

Howard Zinn: You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train

Zinn, the straight-talking Jewish leftist from working-class Brooklyn who wrote A People’s History of the United States, participated in the first use of napalm while helping to bomb a French village near the end of World War II, an experience that partly motivated his protests against the Vietnam war, and in the mid-50s he became an inspirational figure in the civil rights movement while chairing the history department at a black college in Atlanta. This video profile by Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller allows his significance to register and his charisma to shine despite a pedestrian approach that’s especially awkward in its use of archival footage. 68 min. (JR) Read more

The Party’s Over

I missed The Last Party, a 1993 documentary by Donovan Leitch and others that charts the progress of Robert Downey Jr. from apathy to active interest as he interviews other celebrities about the 1992 presidential election. This sequel by Leitch and Rebecca Chaiklin sets out to do something similar with Philip Seymour Hoffman and the 2000 election: seeking to become politically engaged, Hoffman travels across the U.S. collecting sound bites from Noam Chomsky, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Jackson, Bill Maher, Michael Moore, Willie Nelson, Rosie O’Donnell, Susan Sarandon, and many lesser-known activists; he also stands thoughtfully in front of the Jefferson Memorial for 15 seconds, accompanied by a snippet of a gospel tune. I realize this insulting film is supposed to coax young people into serious political involvement, but if they aren’t already involved, why would they want to see this in the first place? All the participants, including the audience, deserve much betterfor starters, time enough to connect three sentences. 90 min. (JR) Read more

Dopamine

This romantic comedy-drama by Mark Decena promises more than it delivers. A computer programmer (John Livingston) who’s helping to develop an artificially intelligent life form falls for a kindergarten teacher (Sabrina Lloyd). Decena intermittently suggests that relationships are programmed, but there isn’t enough to connect the increasingly conventional love story with the scientific speculation. 79 min. (JR) Read more

The School Of Rock

Broadly speaking, this is Richard Linklater’s French Cancanthat is to say, a humanist’s joyful exploration of the musical in which the actors’ personalities resonate as much as the characters they play. Or maybe it’s what Jean Renoir might have come up with if he’d remade Don’t Knock the Rock and cast fifth-graders as the musicians. Though this seems like a personal film, Linklater was hired to direct a cannily commercial script by Mike White, about a rock ‘n’ roll loser (Jack Black) who, fired from his job and his band, impersonates his wimpy substitute-teacher roommate (White) to land a teaching position at an upscale elementary school. This infantile character hasn’t got a thought in his head except for rock music, but somehow he becomes a model teacher, and through stealth and sheer perseverance he turns his class into an inspired gang of rockers. The kids, all real musicians performing, are wonderful, and so is Black; Joan Cusack is both charming and funny as the principal. PG-13, 108 min. (JR) Read more

The Homecoming

For the most part, this is a faithful transposition of Peter Hall’s London stage version of one of Harold Pinter’s best plays, done for the American Film Theatre series in 1973. Two of the cast members are different, but far more consequential are the formal losses from stage to screen: the theater curtain that signaled the play’s division into two acts and the spectator’s fixed distance from the action, which occurs in a hyperrealistically oversize living room. Both acts end with Max (Paul Rogers), a retired butcher and the presiding patriarch of a North London family, demanding a kiss from someone, and after the first act masterfully seduces an audience into accepting the characters’ behavior on a quasi-naturalistic level, the second elucidates the moral implications of that acceptance in a devastating manner. As in middle-period Ibsen, Pinter discloses facts about his characters at precise junctures so that events and identities click into place simultaneously. With Cyril Cusack, Ian Holm, Michael Jayston, Vivien Merchant, and Terence Rigby. 111 min. (JR) Read more

The Light That Failed

Brisk and polished in the best 30s Paramount manner, this mounting of Rudyard Kipling’s first novel is limited mainly by its Classics Illustrated impulse to synopsize the story even as it preserves extended chunks of literary dialogue. As an English painter and former colonial soldier in the Sudan who’s losing his eyesight, Ronald Colman is so stiffly decorous that he sometimes seems to have been painted onto William Wellman’s artfully composed frames. Ida Lupino, as Colman’s brash cockney model, and Walter Huston, as his faithful friend, are particular standouts; Robert Carson scripted this 1939 feature. 97 min. (JR) Read more

Galileo

Joseph Losey’s 1974 film of the great Bertolt Brecht play (which Losey directed onstage with Charles Laughton in 1947) isn’t everything it might have been, if only because Topol, who plays the title role, is clearly no Laughton. But this is still the best film version of a Brecht play that I’m aware of, and the secondary castEdward Fox, Michael Lonsdale, John Gielgud, Patrick Magee, Margaret Leighton, John McEnery, and Tom Contiis fine. 145 min. (JR) Read more