Monthly Archives: January 2005

A Love Song For Bobby Long

Upon learning that her promiscuous folksinger mother has died, an 18-year-old dropout (Scarlett Johansson) leaves the Florida panhandle for New Orleans and moves into her mother’s house, which has been willed equally to her and a couple of alcoholic deadbeatsa former English professor (John Travolta) and his teaching assistant (Gabriel Macht). This is mainly the girl’s story, though the numerous southern archetypes out of Tennessee Williams and Carson McCullers (who’s explicitly referenced) keep threatening to overwhelm her. Travolta in particular chews the scenery as the pontificating (and sometimes folksinging) Bobby Long, commanding attention despite his shopworn character. First-time director Shainee Gabel adapted a novel by Ronald Everett Capps called Off Magazine Street. With Deborah Kara Unger. R, 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Passing Fancy

Inspired partly by King Vidor’s The Champ, this silent 1933 masterpiece by Yasujiro Ozu takes place in a Tokyo slum, where a slow-witted, good-hearted, heavy-drinking day laborer (Takeshi Sakamoto) tries to deal with his rebellious son (Tokkan Kozo). It opens with one of the funniest stretches of slapstick Ozu ever filmed, though the remainder is colored by Chaplinesque pathos. As the loving and lovable father, Sakamoto creates one of the most complex characters in Japanese cinema, and Kozo (who played the younger brother in I Was Born, But…) isn’t far behind. The milieu they inhabit is perfectly realized, making this a pinnacle in Ozu’s career. In Japanese with subtitles. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Rebirth Of Mothra Ii

Does this mean a second rebirth? Whatever. Kunio Miyoshi directed this 1997 Japanese feature, also known as Mothra 2: The Undersea Battle. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Free Cinema Programme One

Some key works of the British Free Cinema movement of the mid-1950s, which combined elements of cinema verite and naturalism: Lindsay Anderson’s O Dreamland (1953), Karel Reisz’s Momma Don’t Allow (1956), Lorenza Mazzetti and Denis Home’s Together (1956), and Claude Goretta and Alain Tanner’s Nice Time (1957). 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ohayo

Perhaps the most delightful of Yasujiro Ozu’s late comedies (1959), this very loose remake of his earlier I Was Born, But . . . (1932) pivots around the rebellion of two brothers whose father refuses to buy a TV set. The layered compositions of the suburban topography are extraordinary, as are the intricate interweavings of the various characters and miniplots. The title is Japanese for “good morning,” and the film’s profound and gentle depiction of social exchanges extends to the farting games of schoolboys. The color photography is vibrant and exquisite. In Japanese with subtitles. 93 min. Sat 1/29, 3 PM, and Thu 2/3, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Notre musique

Jean-Luc Godard isn’t being as hard on his audience this time around, and it seems to have paid off: I’ve yet to encounter any hostile critical response to this feature, a mellow and meditative reflection on the ravages of war. Set in Sarajevo and structured in three parts after Dante’s Divine Comedy, this beautiful film centers on a young French-Jewish journalist based in Israel who’s attending the same literary conference as Godard. The wars it contemplates through a montage of documentary and archival footage include those waged in Algeria, Vietnam, Bosnia, and the Middle East; Native American victims also make an appearance in Sarajevo, alongside certain others. In French with subtitles. 80 min. (Reviewed this week in Section 1.) Music Box.… Read more »

A Lady Without Passport

Though it didn’t turn a profit, Joseph H. Lewis’s low-budget masterpiece Gun Crazy (1949) won him an MGM contract, and his first assignment there was a documentary about illegal immigration that quickly turned into this routine actioner (1950) once someone decided that Hedy Lamarr should star in it. Lewis called the movie a stinker when he was interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich; it’s less than inspired, but it’s better than Lewis implied. His flair for foggy atmospherics and location shooting (in Havana and the Florida Everglades) is intermittently evident, and there’s a very convincing overhead view of a plane crash. John Hodiak plays an immigration inspector who goes underground to catch smugglers like George Macready but falls for the title lady (Lamarr), a Hungarian refugee trying to sneak into the U.S. 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Raven

Suffocatingly corrosive and misanthropic, this 1943 thriller was shot in occupied France by Henri-Georges Clouzot (The Wages of Fear), and its story of a small town terrorized by anonymous poison-pen letters so effectively captures the national paranoia that after the war Clouzot was unjustly persecuted as anti-French. The outstanding cast includes Pierre Fresnay and Ginette Leclerc. Otto Preminger remade this effectively in 1951 as The Thirteenth Letter, though his Quebec locations lack the earlier film’s period interest. In French with subtitles. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Time To Kill

To enjoy this mediocre John Grisham drama (1996), you’ll have to accept a cartoonish version of the deep south taken intact from Hurry Sundown and Mississippi Burning and believe passionately rather than reluctantly in justifiable homicide. Samuel L. Jackson plays a Mississippi factory worker who kills the racist rednecks who drunkenly rape and maul his little girl, and young lawyer-hunk Matthew McConaughey, sweating like Michael Caine in Hurry Sundown, is eager to prove how right he is. Sandra Bullock is a liberal law student along for the ride, Kevin Spacey is the mean prosecutor, and Donald Sutherland plays the Arthur O’Connell part from Anatomy of a Murderwhich you should see, or see again, instead of this silly overblown movie. Joel Schumacher directed a script by Akiva Goldsman; with Brenda Fricker, Oliver Platt, Charles S. Dutton, Ashley Judd, Patrick McGoohan, and an uncredited, as well as wasted, M. Emmet Walsh. R, 149 min. (JR)… Read more »

When The Wind Blows

Director Jimmy Murakami and screenwriter Raymond Briggs’s English 1986 animated feature gets us to think the unthinkableto imagine the aftereffects of a nuclear holocaustby creating a very funny and believable elderly English couple, still mired in memories of World War II. Rather than stretch this fable out to a global scale, the filmmakers make all their essential points by sticking to the isolated couple in their country cottage, aided by a realistic style of animation that incorporates some live action, by occasional stylistic changes that allow for more abstraction in some fantasy interludes, and by the speaking voices of John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft. It’s rare that a cartoon carries the impact of a live-action feature without sacrificing the imaginative freedom of the pen and brush. Comedy and horror intertwine in this domestic, kitchen-sink version of Dr. Strangelove, and our involvement in the two characters keeps us helplessly glued to the screen. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Alfie

For all its implicit misogyny, the original 1966 film version of Bill Naughton’s play remains durable because of Michael Caine’s career-defining performance as the cockney ladies’ man, not to mention the memorable title tune (sung by Cher) and driving jazz score (written and performed by Sonny Rollins). The secondary performancesby Shelley Winters, Jane Asher, Shirley Anne Field, and Vivien Merchant, among othersaren’t bad either. Lewis Gilbert directed. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Assault On Precinct 13

The talented Jean-Francois Richet, who grew up in a housing project outside Paris, made news in France when his radical feature Ma 6-T va crack-er (1997) was banned from French screens as a danger to public safety. With his remake of John Carpenter’s 1976 feature, he again turns a crime thriller into a corrosive war movie, less suspenseful than the original but more ethically nuanced, politically pointed, and violent. It retains the core story of a besieged city cop in a semiabandoned station house (Ethan Hawke at his jumpiest) who joins forces with a hard-nosed prisoner (Laurence Fishburne at his coolest) after the precinct is attacked by a mob. But most of the trappings are quite differentfor starters, the street gang in Carpenter’s movie has become an entire force of crooked cops. With John Leguizamo (more hysterical than he needs to be), Gabriel Byrne, Maria Bello, Brian Dennehy, Drea de Matteo, and Ja Rule. R, 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

Elektra

Jennifer Garner, who played the Marvel Comics superhero Elektra in Daredevil (2003), returns to the role for this sleek action adventure, protecting a father (Goran Visnjic) and daughter (Kirsten Prout) from the nefarious schemes and ninjitsu techniques of the Hand. This doesn’t exactly set the world on fire, but I was charmed by its old-fashioned storytelling, which is refreshingly free of archness, self-consciousness, or Kill Bill-style wisecracks. Some of the effects recall vintage Ray Harryhausen, the villains all perish in puffs of green smoke, and Garner’s sincere glumness suggests Buster Crabbe in Flash Gordon. Rob Bowman directed; with Terence Stamp as Elektra’s blind guru. PG-13, 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Assassination Of Richard Nixon

Based on the true story of Samuel Byck, who tried to assassinate President Nixon in 1974, this first feature by Niels Mueller is powerful, haunting, but ultimately disappointing. Few American movies address abject failure as forcefully as this one, and Sean Penn delivers an intense performance as the would-be assassin. Yet casting a glamorous star as a terminal misfit undermines the character’s reality (as in Taxi Driver), and despite fine performances by Naomi Watts as his ex-wife and Don Cheadle as his best friend, one can’t help but wonder why these people would become involved with someone like him. Mueller and Kevin Kennedy wrote the script; with Jack Thompson. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Horror Hospital

Anthony Balch, a London film distributor who collaborated with William S. Burroughs on a few interesting experimental shorts, also made a couple of jokey exploitation features: Secrets of Sex (1970) and this mad-scientist item from 1973, also known as Dr. Bloodbath and Computer Killers. With Michael Gough, Robert Askwith, and Dennis Price. R, 85 min. (JR)… Read more »