Daily Archives: November 14, 2003

Looney Tunes: Back In Action

Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck costar with Brendan Fraser (playing the hapless son of superspy Timothy Dalton) and Jenna Elfman (playing a Warners executive who fires Daffy) in this spirited, quintessential, and often hilarious Saturday matinee romp by Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers). The movie scavenges from Who Framed Roger Rabbit for its mix of animated and live-action characters and from the Austin Powers movies for its espionage spoof and over-the-top villain (Steve Martin), but actually it’s more indebted to 50s and early-60s pop cinema: Frank Tashlin’s Son of Paleface, Hope and Crosby’s Road to Bali, and assorted cartoon, horror, and SF touchstones of the period (everything from This Island Earth to Psycho), referenced both in Larry Doyle’s script and in peripheral visual details. I had a ball. PG, 90 min. (JR) Read more

The Cliffhanger

The idea behind this Exquisite Corpse experiment (2003) is intriguing: using the same cast, 11 separate Chicago crews taped successive segments of this 92-minute narrative, each with only a week to view the previous episode or episodes, then write and shoot the next installment in its own style. There’s some attractive photography in chapter two, bizarre camera angles in three, good acting in five, striking electronic music and color filters in seven, and other felicities along the way. But I found the convoluted storywhich has something to do with a snuff videoalmost impossible to follow until things began to coalesce in the final chapters, by which time I had lost interest. The problem is that the shifting styles and accumulating plot turns become distractions rather than serving the story as a whole. (JR) Read more

Cet Amour-la

Josee Dayan’s 2001 film about French writer Marguerite Duras (1914-’96) is based on an autobiographical novel by Yann Andrea, a onetime philosophy student 38 years her junior who spent 16 years with her as friend, confidant, lover, drinking companion, and secretary. It’s a curious blend of soap opera a la Beloved Infidel (Sheilah Graham’s account of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s last days) and halfhearted portrait of Duras as a person and writer. Jeanne Moreau, who looks nothing like Duras but was a friend of hers, does a fine job capturing her personal style (including her alcoholic abuse of Andrea). But there’s something self-defeating about approaching an unconventional artist so conventionally, and the story becomes touching only insofar as it overrides much of what made Duras special. In French with subtitles. 98 min. (JR) Read more

Cowards Bend The Knee

The title of this 64-minute, 2003 video by Guy Maddin (Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary) refers to its having been commissioned as a gallery installation for the Rotterdam film festival, to be watched through a succession of arcade-style peep-show machines. Screening here as a self-contained work, it seems Maddin’s most personal project yet: the hero is a hockey player named Guy Maddin; his mother, like Maddin’s, runs a beauty salon; and Maddin even casts some of his own family members. But the overall feel is phantasmagoricpitched, like most of Maddin’s work, in the style of a half-remembered late silent feature or early talkie. (JR) Read more

When It Rains

One of my all-time favorites, this beautiful 12-minute short by Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, The Glass Shield), made for French TV in 1995, is a jazz parable about locating common roots in contemporary Watts and one of those rare movies in which jazz forms directly influence film narrative. The slender plot involves a Good Samaritan and local griot (Ayuko Babu), who serves as poetic narrator, trying to raise money from his ghetto neighbors for a young mother who’s about to be evicted, and each person he goes to see registers like a separate solo in a 12-bar blues. (Eventually a John Handy album recorded in Monterey, a “countercultural” emblem of the 60s, becomes a crucial barter item.) This gem has been one of the most difficult of Burnett’s films to see; it screens with his fine feature To Sleep With Anger (see separate listing). Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art. Read more