Monthly Archives: July 2004

A Night At The Nickelodeon

Northwestern professor Scott Curtis will present a program of films from the first decade of the 20th century, including The Dancing Pig (1907), The Acrobatic Fly (1908), D.W. Griffith’s early masterpiece A Corner in Wheat (1909), and Teddy Roosevelt in Africa (1909). (JR)

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Maria Full of Grace

This watchable and well-made feature debut by American independent writer-director Joshua Marston is also very much a showcase for Catalina Sadino Moreno, who plays the eponymous lead with grit and energy. Maria is a fearless and attractive 17-year-old Colombian who leaves her job on a rose plantation to work as a drug mule. For $5,000 she swallows more than 60 rubber pellets of heroin, to be reclaimed from her stool after flying to New Jersey; should a pellet break internally, death will quickly ensue. The depiction of her risky voyage and what happens afterward is highly suspenseful and entirely believable. R, 101 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley. Read more

Seamen’s Wives

Henk Kleinman’s gritty 1930 drama in seven acts was meant to be the first Dutch talkie, but technical difficulties made it the last Dutch silent film. In 2003 composer Henny Vrienten did a postmodernist reconstruction of the original, adding music, sound effects, and synced dialogueand creating an obvious disjunct between the 30s visuals and the modern stereo sound. It’s a fascinating experiment, and not bad as a period melodrama: the realistic working-class details of waterfront life in Amsterdam occasionally evoke Stroheim’s Greed, and there are some hallucinatory split-screen effects toward the end. In Dutch with subtitles. 85 min. (JR) Read more

The Door In The Floor

A dysfunctional family drama to end all dysfunctional family dramas, Tod Williams’s adaptation of the John Irving novel A Widow for One Year depends a lot on delayed exposition to explain why a writer of children’s books (Jeff Bridges) and his wife (Kim Basinger), who have a four-year-old daughter but have lost their grown son in an accident, are so estranged. The dramatic catalyst is a teenager from the city (Jon Foster) who’s hired as the writer’s assistant and becomes the wife’s lover, and I wish some of Williams’s critical view of the family had extended to that character as well. The cast, which also includes Mimi Rogers, is strong, and by the end the story is more satisfying than you might expect. R, 111 min. (JR) Read more

Little Rascal

This rarely seen and recently restored Dutch feature was directed by Douglas Sirk in 1939, when he was still calling himself Detlef Sierckhe’d recently fled Germany and would soon depart for the U.S. Adapted by Carl Zuckmayer from a popular play about a thieving ragamuffin in Rotterdam, it’s one of Sirk’s least personal efforts, most notable for having the 12-year-old boy hero played by the 45-year-old actress who had the part onstage, Annie van Ees. The prominent role played by a priest in the story may call to mind The First Legion, one of Sirk’s most interesting early features in the U.S., but the mise en scene is far more routine. Also known as Wilton’s Zoo. In Dutch with subtitles. 94 min. (JR) Read more

The Little Giant

A reasonably plucky spin-off of Little Caesar made three years later (1933), with Edward G. Robinson playing a bootlegger who tries to improve himself and crash high society. With Mary Astor and Helen Vinson; the reliable Roy Del Ruth directed. 75 min. (JR) Read more

The Corporation

Absorbing and instructive, this 2003 Canadian documentary tackles no less a subject than the geopolitical impact of the corporation, forcing us to reexamine an institution that may regulate our lives more than any other. Directors Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent) and Jennifer Abbott and writer Joel Bakan cogently summarize the history of the chartered corporation, showing how it accumulated the legal privileges of a person even as it shed the responsibilities. This conceit allows the filmmakers to catalog all manner of corporate malfeasance as they argue, wittily and persuasively, that corporations are clinically psychotic. The talking heads include not only political commentators like Noam Chomsky, Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, and Howard Zinn, but CEOs such as Ray Anderson, Sam Gibara, Robert Keyes, Jonathon Ressler, and Clay Timon, whose insights vary enormously. This runs 165 minutes, but it’s so packed with ideas that I wasn’t bored for a second. Landmark’s Century Centre. Read more

The Last Of The Mohicans

French director Maurice Tourneur, father of cult director Jacques, was a commanding figure during the silent era and a very talented visual stylist in his own right, known for his taste and subtlety. This was especially evident during the teens and early 20s, when he was working in the U.S. on many prestigious projects, including this lovely 1920 adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel about the French-Indian War. After Tourneur was incapacitated by an accident, Clarence Brown took over the direction, setting the stage for his own distinguished career. 73 min. (JR) Read more

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead

English postnoir specialist Mike Hodges follows up his successful Croupier with this moody, stylistically assured 2003 feature, written by Trevor Preston. Superficially it’s a standard-issue revenge story set among gangsters (rather like Hodges’s first film, the 1971 version of Get Carter), but upon closer inspection its story and characters grow more mysterious, ultimately bordering on the unfathomable. After being raped by a respectable businessman (Malcolm McDowell), a small-time London drug dealer (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) kills himself, and his older brother (Clive Owen), a dour and solitary ex-gangster enduring some inexplicable depressive penance, returns to the city to get even. Charlotte Rampling seems to know more about what’s going on than anyone else, but she doesn’t say much. R, 102 min. (JR) Read more

Springtime in a Small Town

Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Horse Thief), one of China’s greatest living filmmakers, has had a difficult career because of his political outspokenness, and this 2002 feature was his first since The Blue Kite in 1993. It’s a remake of the 1948 masterpiece Spring in a Small City by Fei Mu, widely considered the nation’s greatest film by Mandarin speakers but tragically neglected by almost everyone else. A young doctor visits an ailing aristocrat, who’s an old friend, and the man’s alienated wife, who was the doctor’s first sweetheart years earlier. The only other characters are the aristocrat’s sister and aging male servant, and the concentration gives Tian’s magisterial mise en scene enormous potency. This erotically charged drama may not be quite as great as the original, but it’s an amazing and beautiful work just the same. In Mandarin with subtitles. 116 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Reviewed this week in Section One. Gene Siskel Film Center. Read more

A Nous La Liberte

Rene Clair’s 1931 satire on industrialization was overshadowed for many years by Chaplin’s Modern Times and then forgotten, though its recent release on DVD has given it a secondand well-deservedlease on life. Like Clair’s lesser known and somewhat better Under the Roofs of Paris (1930), it experiments with the new sound process, and its proletarian plot (two convicts go free, one becoming a tramp, the other acquiring a phonograph factory) makes it a period piece in the best sense. In French with subtitles. 97 min. (JR) Read more

Before Sunset

Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy), the young American man and French woman who met on a train and spent the day together in Vienna in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise (1995), run into each other again nine years later, this time in Paris. What we see of their reunion unfolds in real time and lasts only 80 minutes, but it’s so concentrated that the film is about the previous nine years as much as the breathless present. You won’t need to have seen the earlier film to enjoy this to the utmost; in its performances, direction, and script (by Linklater, Kim Krizan, and the two actors), it’s so perfectly conceived and executed that you may be hanging on every word and gesture. Just as romantic and compelling as the first film, this is a beautiful commentary on what might be described as nostalgia for the present. Reviewed this week in Section One. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre. Read more