Monthly Archives: January 2005

Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession

Xan Cassavetes (daughter of John, her first name short for Alexandria) assembled this troubling video documentary about Jerry Harvey, a fanatical Los Angeles film buff who spent eight years programming the legendary pay-cable outlet the Z Channel. Seriously bipolar, Harvey killed his wife and himself in 1988, and Cassavetes performs the difficult task of reconciling his tragic personal life with his professional legacy (a highly adventurous programmer, he helped establish the contemporary audience for directors’ cuts and in the process befriended such filmmakers as Sam Peckinpah and Michael Cimino). Both the clips and the talking heads are well chosen, providing a fascinating look at a particular subculture in Cassavetes’s hometown. 122 min. (JR)… Read more »

What Did The Lady Forget?

Yasujiro Ozu followed his first talkie, The Only Son, with this nuanced 1937 comedy about a henpecked medical school professor who makes up a story for his wife so he can sneak off with his freethinking niece for a holiday. The professor’s subterfuge is discovered, which has complex emotional consequences; few critics have noted the rage and rebellion that crop up in Ozu’s work, and he’s masterful in showing how such feelings are worked out in the context of family. More conventional and commercial than its predecessor, this feature is also uncharacteristic of Ozu in its sharp satire of the rich (its trendy banter and lighthearted boozing suggest The Thin Man as a possible influence). In Japanese with subtitles. 71 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Untold Story Of Emmett Louis Till

Superior in every respect to the PBS documentary The Murder of Emmett Till, this 2003 video by Keith Beauchamp uses archival footage and plainspoken eyewitnesses to investigate the 1955 murder of 14-year-old Till, a black boy from Chicago who had whistled at a white woman in rural Mississippi. The most memorable and forceful testimony comes from Mamie Till, the victim’s mother, whose decision to hold an open-casket funeral for her severely mutilated son galvanized the civil rights movement. Though the perpetrators have never been punished, Beauchamp turned up new evidence and got the case reopeneda fitting tribute to Mamie, who died shortly before the video was completed. 70 min. (JR)… Read more »

White Noise

An architect (Michael Keaton) who loses his novelist wife (Chandra West) in an apparent accident is contacted by a stranger (Ian McNeice) who claims to have heard her through something called Electronic Voice Phenomenonthe means by which the dead allegedly communicate with us via radios, TVs, and computers. The widower becomes as obsessed as the stranger with receiving messages and images from beyond. Though I’m well disposed toward elliptical spook stories that depend on the audience’s imagination for their jolts and effects, it takes art as well as craft to put them across, and Geoffrey Sax’s direction of a Niall Johnson script has neither. Muddled and boring. With Deborah Kara Unger. PG-13, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Woodsman

A convicted child molester returns home after a dozen years in prison and tries to go straight. If this has a familiar ring, that may be because the British drama The Mark (1961) explored the same subject (its lead actor, Stuart Whitman, received an Oscar nomination). The differences between the two movies are telling: the earlier one concentrated on the man’s therapy and encouraged compassionate understanding, while this one seems less interested in psychology than in challenging the audience’s sense of its own tolerance. (First-time director Nicole Kassell, who collaborated with Steven Fechter on this adaptation of his play, also seems intermittently influenced by Mystic River, which proves distracting.) Kevin Bacon is good as the pedophile, but as written his character is mainly a cipher; edgier performances come from Kyra Sedgwick (Bacon’s real-life spouse) as the man’s girlfriend and Mos Def as a cop keeping an eye on him. R, 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Awful Doctor Orloff

Irrepressible Spanish schlockmeister Jess Franco, one of the worst (and most prolific) filmmakers of all time, launched a protracted series with this 1961 feature about a crazy surgeon carving up various women to secure spare parts for his disfigured daughter — apparently a rip-off of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1959). With Howard Vernon. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »