Monthly Archives: January 2004

The Tracker

Rolf de Heer’s 2002 western, which I first saw as the opening-night attraction at the Melbourne film festival, is 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, poetic feeling for history and landscape, and contemporary score (performed by aboriginal singer 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. With Gary Sweet and Grant Page. 102 min. Facets Cinematheque. Read more

Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!

Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) directed this slapdash but good-natured romantic comedy about a young Hollywood star (Josh Duhamel), a West Virginia grocery clerk (Kate Bosworth) who wins a date with him in Hollywood, and the complications that ensue when he decides to visit her afterward, to the consternation of her secretly smitten boss (Topher Grace). Victor Levin’s script pokes fun at Hollywood cliches but then counters them with other Hollywood cliches and becomes especially mawkish when it tries to be sincere. But the implicit nostalgia for old-time Hollywood registers more than anything else (it’s a bit like Bye Bye Birdie without the songs). Grace conveys this archaic atmosphere best, faintly suggesting Farley Granger; Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes are awkwardly shoehorned in as the star’s agent and manager. PG-13, 96 min. (JR) Read more

Touching The Void

Something of a tour de force, this adaptation of Joe Simpson’s nonfiction book about his climbing the 21,000-foot Siula Grande mountain in Peru, breaking a leg, and eventually making it back alive is remarkable simply because the story seems unfilmable. Director Kevin Macdonald has Simpson and his climbing partner, Simon Yates, recount most of their adventure in a London studio; selected bits of action are restaged on location in the Andes and Alps, using actors Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron as well as the original participants, while the restwhich is a lotis left to the viewer’s imagination. The monumental settings and the hallucinatory treatment of time, which seems increasingly stretched out toward the end, are both capably handled. 106 min. (JR) Read more

The Fog Of War

Ultimately more watchable than illuminating, this feature-length, Oscar-winning interview with 87-year-old Robert S. McNamara, secretary of defense for presidents Kennedy and Johnson, is a masterpiece of hemming and hawing for both its subject and filmmaker Errol Morris. Its most impressive achievement may be its power to convince us that we’re actually thinking (as opposed to brooding) along with McNamara, an effect achieved by Philip Glass’s throbbing score, rapid montages of charts and figures we aren’t supposed to understand, and intertitles of 11 platitudinous lessons that structure and punctuate McNamara’s musings. Among the highlights are McNamara’s suggestions that he’d be regarded as a war criminal had the U.S. lost World War II, that the American commitment to Vietnam was a mistake, and that he was less responsible for the military escalation than Johnson. He also, poor guy, can’t remember whether or not he authorized dropping Agent Orange on North Vietnam. PG-13, 95 min. (JR) Read more

Along Came Polly

This romantic comedy by John Hamburg (Safe Men) is hampered by the kind of overacting that the cast seems to enjoy more than the audience (Alec Baldwin’s unexpected turn as a Jewish blowhard is an exception until it loses force to choppy continuity). The hit-or-miss humor is pitched uncertainly between Woody Allen (Jennifer Aniston’s an Annie Hall figure to Ben Stiller’s cautious insurance executive) and the Farrelly brothers (more scatological jokes than you can shake a toilet plunger at); the worst fake accent in movie history (Hank Azaria as a French scuba instructor) and strident overreaching by Philip Seymour Hoffman both appear to be Hamburg’s fault. But it’s only 90 minutes long. PG-13. (JR) Read more

The Day A Pig Fell Into The Well

The first feature (1997, 115 min.) by the singular South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-Soo, who professes to be more interested in charting the shifting attitudes of his characters than in telling stories. The characters in this film include an aspiring novelist, the movie box-office cashier who supports him, the married woman with whom he’s been having a long-term affair, and the woman’s husband, who sells water purifiers. I can’t fathom what the title has to do with any of this, but Hong has a way of depicting sex realisticallycompletely without sentimentality, romanticism, or eroticismthat is peculiarly his own. In Korean with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Jack The Ripper

Klaus Kinski and Josephine Chaplin star in this 1976 item by Jesus Francoone of the worst and most prolific filmmakers who ever lived, with a specialty in gore, and therefore a standard cult reference. 88 min. (JR) Read more

Keeping Time: The Life, Music & Photographs Of Milt Hinton

This hour-long documentary (2002) about one of the great jazz bassistswho was also a major photographer of jazz musicians and performanceshas a fascinating story to tell as well as a charismatic subject. In his youth Hinton was injured in a car accident in Chicago while running prohibition liquor and was saved by his boss, Al Capone, from having a finger amputated; as a bassist he quickly rose to the top of his profession, and the clips here show how indispensable he could be as a sideman. Unfortunately, like most other fashioners of jazz documentaries, directors David G. Berger, Holly Maxon, and Kate Hirson can’t resist laying voices over some of the best solos after teasing us with a chorus or two, so that, like Jean Bach’s A Great Day in Harlem (1994), this works better as a historical chronicle and an appreciation of personalities than as a presentation of the music. (JR) Read more


In the late 1940s, Walt Disney and Salvador Dali planned to collaborate on this animated short, only recently completed for the Disney studio by Dominique Monfery. Running seven minutes, it shows how much the prude and the libertine had in common as kitsch romanticists. The candy-coated surrealism on display is rated PG for what the MPAA cautiously describes as mild sensuality. (JR) Read more


Rarely does a lead actor dominate a film as Charlize Theron does this first feature (2003) by writer-director Patty Jenkins, playing Florida prostitute and serial killer Aileen Wuornos (already the subject of two Nick Broomfield documentaries). Theron’s performance is impressive not only for her physical transformation and willingness to be unattractive, but also for her determination to convey the character’s profound emotional confusion and relative incoherence without making them part of any nudging thesis. Jenkins deserves credit as well for steering the film away from all the usual comforting exploitation standbyshonest curiosity and observation are what make this work, and in this respect Christina Ricci (as Wuornos’s lover, Selby Wall) is almost as good as Theron. With Bruce Dern. R, 111 min. (JR) Read more

Chasing Liberty

Tired of being followed by hordes of Secret Service agents every time she goes on a date, the U.S. president’s 18-year-old daughter (Mandy Moore) escapes during a diplomatic trip to Europe and sets off on her own with a young Brit (Matthew Goode). Roman Holiday is an obvious reference point for this relatively harmless romantic comedy, but It Happened One Night and Sullivan’s Travels might be just as relevant. The couple move through Prague, Venice, Berlin, and the Austrian countryside; all of these seem attractive, which in the present political climate almost makes the movie look progressive. Jeremy Piven and Annabella Sciorra exert some charm as bodyguards tracking the couple; Mark Harmon and Caroline Goodall are OK as the heroine’s parents. Andy Cadiff directed Derek Guiley and David Schneiderman’s by-the-numbers script. PG-13, 101 min. (JR) Read more

Canadian Animation

A program of shorts including Co Hoedeman’s The Sand Castle (1977), Caroline Leaf’s The Street (1976), Richard Condie’s Getting Started (1979), When the Day Breaks (1999), and Norman McLaren’s Begone Dull Care (1947), the only one I’ve seena collaboration with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and an unadulterated delight. (JR) Read more


Gustav Machaty’s erotic classic (1932) from Czechoslovakia, which introduced Hedy Lamarr to the world, is considered a curiosity and a period piece by some, but if my own memories are anything to go by, it still has its charms, both cinematic and sensual. Lamarr plays a sexually frustrated young wife who leaves her older husband and subsequently finds bliss with a younger man. 82 min. In Czech with subtitles. (JR) Read more


The talented Grigory Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, whose experimental Factory of the Eccentric Actor yielded some major Russian silent features (The Overcoat, New Babylon), try their hand at sound with this 1931 drama about a young teacher in Leningrad (Elena Kuzmina) who’s foolishly assigned to teach in a Siberian village on the eve of her wedding. The film’s most interesting aspects are its Shostakovich score and its criticism of the Soviet bureaucracy, which was still possible at the time. Originally shot as a silent picture, it’s rather static and clunky compared to Kozintsev and Trauberg’s earlier efforts, in part because what’s going on in the city government is more importantthough less visiblethan the heroine’s travails. 80 min. In Russian with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Remembrance Of Things To Come

Both the title and the witty, urbane narration delivered by Alexandra Stewart are quintessential Chris Marker, yet this 42-minute essay (2001) about the work of photographer Denise Bellon is in fact a collaboration between Marker and Bellon’s sister Yannick, a director in her own right who has been making films since 1947. Most of the Denise Bellon photography on-screen comes from France in the late 30s, and the sense of history is as sharp and inflected with literary irony as in Marker’s other films. (JR) Read more