Yearly Archives: 2004

The Exiles

Written, produced, and directed by Kent Mackenzie, this low-budget independent feature (1961) deserves to be ranked with John Cassavetes’s Shadows, but it languished unseen for nearly four decades until Thom Andersen celebrated it in his 2003 video essay Los Angeles Plays Itself. Pitched somewhere between fiction and documentary, with nonprofessional actors improvising postsynced dialogue and internal monologues, it follows a few uprooted Native Americans from Friday night to Saturday morning in the Bunker Hill district of Los Angeles. Its moving portraiture is refreshingly free of cliches and moralizing platitudes, and the high-contrast black-and-white photography and dense, highly creative sound track are equally impressive (even the occasional imprecise lip sync seems justified). Mackenzie lived only long enough to make one other feature–Saturday Morning (1971), which I haven’t seen–but this film’s lower-case urban poetry suggests a major talent. 72 min. Saturday 12/11, 3:30 PM, and Thursday 12/16, 8 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Moolaade

This masterwork by Ousmane Sembene, the 81-year-old father of African cinema and one of Senegal’s greatest novelists, is the second film in a trilogy celebrating African women (after Faat Kine, a 2000 comedy about a sassy, self-made city woman). It focuses on the defiant second wife of an elder in a West African village who refuses to allow four little girls to undergo the traditional circumcision ceremony. Among Sembene’s strengths as a storyteller are deceptive simplicity and apparent looseness, which allow his drama to steadily gather momentum and political force. His ambiguous, multilayered treatment of a flirtatious local merchant who partially represents the world outside the village is emblematic of his virtuosity. In Bambara with subtitles. 120 min. Music Box.… Read more »

Blaude: Trinity

Wesley Snipes returns for a third go-round as Blade, a half vampire, half human trying to prevent bloodsuckers from taking over the world. The only one who seems to be having much fun, though, is Parker Posey, camping it up as one of the vampires. Blade teams up with a couple of other vampire hunters (Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds), and Kris Kristofferson, his cohort in the two previous chapters, turns up again. But the true costar here is Dominic Purcell as a vampire who’s said to be even older than Dracula (though he looks like conventional beefcake) and breaks as much glass and kicks as much butt as Snipes. David S. Goyer, who scripted the first Blade movie, directed. R, 105 min.… Read more »

The Living World

Writer-director Eugene Green was born in the U.S. but is currently an academic based in France, and this 2003 oddity, his second feature, seems more classically French than many French releases. A charming medieval fairy tale (in partially modern dress) about two knights trying to rescue children from an ogre, it periodically suggests the work of Robert Bresson, though largely stripped of its materiality and violence. The handling of animalsmost notably a dog playing a lionis especially sweet and gentle, and for all its mannerist tics, this has its share of enchantments. In French with subtitles. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Renee Zellweger adopts a plausible English accent to play the title character of Helen Fielding’s popular novel, a lovable nebbish who gets involved with her boss (Hugh Grant) at a London publishing house. As likable as Zellweger is, I could have done without all the pushy tactics of this 2001 romantic comedy, which guarantees at least one complete character reversal every half hour and a golden oldie blasting on the sound track every time your attention threatens to wander. It’s so aggressive you don’t even have to like it; the movie likes itself well enough for the both of you. Sharon Maguire directed a script by Fielding, Andrew Davies, and Richard Curtis. Colin Firth costars; with Gemma Jones and Jim Broadbent. R, 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

I Am David

Said to be based on a real-life event, Anne Holm’s 1962 Danish novel follows a boy as he escapes from a post-World War II labor camp in Bulgaria and heads for Denmark. Unfortunately writer-director Paul Feig has a weakness for artiness in general and hokey art movies in particular, and the overall sluggishness of this 2003 adaptation starring Ben Tibber makes such devices as slow-motion seem like mannered rhetoricnot even Joan Plowright and James Caviezel in smaller roles can lighten it up. PG, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blade: Trinity

Wesley Snipes returns for a third go-round as Blade, a half vampire, half human trying to prevent bloodsuckers from taking over the world. The only one who seems to be having much fun, though, is Parker Posey, camping it up as one of the vampires. Blade teams up with a couple of other vampire hunters (Jessica Biel and Ryan Reynolds), and Kris Kristofferson, his cohort in the two previous chapters, turns up again. But the true costar here is Dominic Purcell as a vampire who’s said to be even older than Dracula (though he looks like conventional beefcake) and breaks as much glass and kicks as much butt as Snipes. David S. Goyer, who scripted the first Blade movie, directed. R, 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bright Leaves

Apart from the groundbreaking Sherman’s March (1986), this is the best entry yet in Ross McElwee’s ongoing autobiographical saga: it’s funny, profound, and beautifully organized, and for once the southern documentary filmmaker seems fully in control of all the inherent ironies. McElwee learns from his second cousin, a movie buff, that the Gary Cooper vehicle Bright Leaf (1950) may be a fictionalized portrait of their great-grandfather, who developed the Bull Durham tobacco brand in North Carolina in the late 19th century but was driven out of business by cigarette pioneer James Buchanan Duke. In the ensuing research McElwee visits sites important to the history of tobacco and interviews many smoking victims, but he also consults Patricia Neal, who costarred in Bright Leaf, and film theorist Vlada Petric. The resulting film explores McElwee’s lineage in all its complexities, noting the subtle relation between smoking and filmgoing as well as people’s tendency to validate themselves through movies (including this one). 105 min. McElwee will introduce the 7:20 and 9:40 screenings on Friday and take questions after the 7:20 show. Music Box. Reviewed this week in Section 1.… Read more »

Edward Said: The Last Interview

If you’d like a clear sense of literary critic, social commentator, and Palestinian spokesperson Edward Said, check out this informal 114-minute interview, gracefully conducted by British journalist Charles Glass and unobtrusively recorded for British TV by Mike Dibb shortly before Said died of leukemia at age 67. I would have preferred more attention to his groundbreaking books, though his comments on Orientalism provide a succinct and lucid introduction. And his nuanced, impassioned remarks on the Palestinian struggle, including some highly critical remarks about Yasir Arafat, challenge the distortion of his positions that often surfaces in the press. (JR)… Read more »

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

We may forget that the most radical rethinking of Marx and Freud found in European cinema of the late 60s and early 70s came from the east rather than the west. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a headier mix of fiction and nonfiction, or sex and politics, than this brilliant 1971 Yugoslav feature by Dusan Makavejev, which juxtaposes a bold Serbian narrative shot in 35-millimeter with funky New York street theater and documentary shot in 16. The “WR” is controversial sexual theorist Wilhelm Reich and the “mysteries” involve Joseph Stalin as an erotic figure in propaganda movies, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs “killing for peace” as he runs around New York City with a phony gun, and drag queen Jackie Curtis and plaster caster Nancy Godfrey pursuing their own versions of sexual freedom. In English and subtitled Serbo-Croatian. NC-17, 85 min. 16mm. Thu 12/2, 8 PM, Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art.… Read more »

Edward Said: The Last Interview

If you’d like a clear sense of literary critic, social commentator, and Palestinian spokesperson Edward Said, check out this informal 114-minute interview, gracefully conducted by British journalist Charles Glass and unobtrusively recorded for British TV by Mike Dibb shortly before Said died of leukemia at age 67. I would have preferred more attention to his groundbreaking books, though his comments on Orientalism provide a succinct and lucid introduction. And his nuanced, impassioned remarks on the Palestinian struggle, including some highly critical remarks about Yasir Arafat, challenge the distortion of his positions that often surfaces in the press. Sat 11/27, 7:30 PM, and Wed 12/1, 6:15 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Kinsey

Writer-director Bill Condon won positive reviews for Gods and Monsters (1998), his gay-themed drama about film director James Whale. In contrast to that rigidly conceived movie, this biopic of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) might be described as thoughtfully inconclusive. Apart from some unexaggerated notations about American puritanism in the 1940s and ’50s, it’s more a work of exploration than a thesis, and Condon mainly avoids sensationalism. The period detail is better than in most Hollywood movies, and the secondary cast (Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, and Dylan Baker) isn’t bad. R, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces Of A Lost Film

This remarkable 40-minute re-creation of F.W. Murnau’s lost silent film 4 Devils, which he made at Fox just after Sunrise, was assembled by film historian Janet Bergstrom using stills, drawings, sketches, and script drafts. Originally released on a DVD of Sunrise, it’s the first comprehensive account of the film since its 1928 release. (JR)… Read more »

Park Row

This neglected Samuel Fuller feature from 1952, a giddy look at New York journalism in the 1880s, was his personal favorite–he financed it himself and lost every penny. A principled cigar smoker (Gene Evans) becomes the hard-hitting editor of a new Manhattan daily, where he competes with his former employer (Mary Welch) in a grudge match loaded with sexual undertones; meanwhile a man jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge trying to become famous, the Statue of Liberty is given to the U.S. by France, and a newspaper drive raises money for its pedestal. Enthusiasm flows into every nook and cranny of this cozy movie: when violence breaks out in the cramped-looking set of the title street, the camera weaves in and out of the buildings as through a sports arena, in a single take. “Park Row” is repeated incessantly like a crazy mantra, and the overall fervor of this vest-pocket Citizen Kane makes journalism sound like the most exciting activity in the world. 83 min. Also on the program: Jerky Turkey (1944), a cartoon by Tex Avery. Sat 11/20, 8 PM, LaSalle Bank Cinema.… Read more »

Kinsey

Writer-director Bill Condon won positive reviews for Gods and Monsters (1998), his gay-themed drama about film director James Whale. In contrast to that rigidly conceived movie, this biopic of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) might be described as thoughtfully inconclusive. Apart from some unexaggerated notations about American puritanism in the 1940s and ’50s, it’s more a work of exploration than a thesis, and Condon mainly avoids sensationalism. The period detail is better than in most Hollywood movies, and the secondary cast (Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, and Dylan Baker) isn’t bad. R, 118 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley, River East 21, Wilmette.… Read more »