Monthly Archives: June 2005

Heights

With the help of director Chris Terrio, Amy Fox adapts her own play about crisscrossing sex lives in Manhattan, mainly within a theater-and-art milieu. This is brisk and fun to watch, thanks to the actors (including Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, Isabella Rossellini, and George Segal in a swell bit as an avuncular rabbi). But once you catch the main drift of the plot, it becomes awfully ho-hum. R, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bewitched

I had a pleasant time with this comedy about light witchery and even lighter bitchery. If you like Nicole Kidman, you might enjoy her here (she reminded me of Tuesday Weld), and even if you usually find Will Ferrell obnoxious, you might appreciate him hyping rather than trying to minimize his boorishness. Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine are a bit less at ease, but the special effects, for once, are witty rather than overblown, and director Nora Ephron, writing with her sister Delia, handles the material with grace and confidence. PG-13, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Head

Head transplants, etc. Victor Trivas directed this dubbed 1959 German horror item, originally known as Die Nackte und der Satan. With Horst Frank, Karin Kernkew, andwhat’s he doing here?the great Swiss actor Michel Simon. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Samaritan Girl

Also known as Samaria, this 2004 feature by Korean cult director Kim Ki-duk comes across like a grotesque parody, but there are signs that Kim means us to take it seriously. Two teenage girls (Seo Min-jeong and Kwak Ji-min), who enjoy soaping each another in a photogenic bathhouse, take up prostitution to earn air tickets to Europe. Kwak, who pimps for her friend, is distressed when the girl seems to enjoy her work; after Seo dies in a tragic accident, Kwak begins having sex with all their former clients in order to capture her friend’s bliss, meanwhile paying back all the money. Needless to say, there’s also violence and redemption galore. In Korean with subtitles. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Or

Keren Yedaya’s powerful and memorable Israeli drama (2004) won a well-deserved prize for best first feature at the Cannes film festival. Written with Sari Ezouz, it focuses on an aging Tel Aviv hooker (Ronit Elkabetz) who’s halfheartedly trying to go straight and her resourceful teenage daughter (Dana Ivgi), who supports them both as a dishwasher while struggling with her own sexuality. They live in a world ravaged by war and occupation, one that Yedaya views with an angry lucidity. The story may suffer from a touch of determinism, but the camera’s stubborn immobility in most scenes forces us to arrive at our own conclusions, and the performances are electric. Also known as Mon tresor. In Hebrew with subtitles. 100 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Me and You and Everyone We Know

Fresh, likable, and stylishly low-key, this wistful and sexy romantic comedy marks the feature-directing debut of conceptual artist Miranda July. There are a lot of strong performances by relative unknowns, but what really holds things together is a certain sustained pitch of feeling about loneliness. July plays a shy video artist, supporting herself as a cabdriver for the elderly, who becomes interested in a recently separated shoe clerk (John Hawkes) with two sons. The movie’s flirtatious roundelay also includes the clerk’s coworker, an art curator, and a couple of teenage girls. R, 90 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »

Land Of The Dead

After a 20-year hiatus, George A. Romero resumes his quasi-satiric horror series about the flesh-eating living dead. Land of the Dead, his fourth entry, turns out to be his most conventional as an action thrillerthough it’s every bit as gory as the others and more clearly class conscious. By now the subproletarian zombies have taken over everything except a gated city run by scheming villain Dennis Hopper (surprisingly cliched here); spurred on by a leader of sorts (Eugene Clark), a former filling-station attendant, they’re beginning to think a little as they attack. This being contemporary, the reprisals are military. With Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, and Robert Joy. R, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Deal

For those who haven’t yet awoken to the possibility that our government and economy might be controlled by crooks, this political thriller about the oil industry, set in the near future, may provide a bracing wake-up call. But nobody will be surprised by its CEO, executive, and Russian Mafia types, its idealistic heroine (Selma Blair), its semi-idealistic hero (Christian Slater), or the mechanical crosscutting that eventually overtakes all the other cliches. If you don’t mind the telegraphed punches of Ruth Epstein’s script and Harvey Kahn’s direction, this should carry you along. With Robert Loggia, Colm Feore, John Heard, Angie Harmon, and Kevin Tighe. R, 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Fear and Trembling

This fascinating oddity from Alain Corneau (Tous les matins du monde) adapts Amelie Nothomb’s autobiographical novel about the office life of a young Belgian (Sylvie Testud) working for a huge corporation in Tokyo. Though she’s spent her childhood in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese, a string of cultural blunders leads to one humiliating demotion after another. Testud took a two-month crash course in the language to play this part, and though the notations on cultural difference are far richer and subtler than anything in Lost in Translation, I can’t help but wonder what Japanese viewers might think of this film’s blistering critique of some of their hierarchies and protocol. The unconventional take on power and freedom, enriched by a deft use of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, remains that of an outsider. In Japanese and French with subtitles. 102 min. Music Box.… Read more »

Saving Face

A young Chinese-American surgeon (Michelle Krusiec) is dismayed when her widowed and mysteriously pregnant mother (Joan Chen) moves in with her. Meanwhile the doctor falls in love with a ballet dancer (Lynn Chen), scandalizing their conservative Chinese community. At first this comedy drama by Alice Wu promises to move beyond the complacency of Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, which dealt with some of the same Asian-American concerns, but instead it abjectly collapses into feel-good nonsense. In English and subtitled Mandarin. R, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

High Tension

Most mediocre slasher films choose one or two obvious modelsPsycho or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or I Spit on Your Grave or Dressed to Kill or Re-Animatorbut this exceptionally gory French item (2003) gropes for all of them and winds up incoherent. The distributor, showing a similar desire to cover all bases, has dubbed some of the dialogue and subtitled the rest. If old-fashioned jolts are what you’re after, this nasty piece of merchandise delivers. But so does electroshock. Alexandre Aja directed; with Cecile de France, Maiwenn Le Besco, and Philippe Nahon. Also known as Switchblade Romance. R, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Honeymooners

Making a movie out of the 50s sitcom and substituting black characters half a century later sounds like a dubious proposition on multiple levels. But thanks to some affectionate fidelity to the original characters, plus a spirited castCedric the Entertainer and Gabrielle Union as Ralph and Alice Kramden, Mike Epps as Ed Nortonthis plays a bit better than it sounds. I miss the show’s mangy, minimalist sets, but the slapdash narrative construction and good-hearted schmaltz survive intact. With Regina Hall and extra mugging from John Leguizamo and Jon Polito. PG-13, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mr. And Mrs. Smith

If you think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are so cute they’d be watchable in anything, this stupid action comedy-romance may be just the acid test youand theydeserve. Over $110 million was lavished on Simon Kinberg’s script about an unhappily married couple of secret assassins, working for rival organizations that assign them to bump each other off. Expect 120 minutes of unfunny, self-ingratiated shtick, punctuated by explosions, cynical mass slaughter, and a few fancy effects. Director Doug Liman also made Go (1999), but then he had characters and a plot. With Vince Vaughn. PG-13. (JR)… Read more »

Onion City Experimental Film And Video Festival

Even as commercial moviemaking becomes more geared to teens and preteens, this crackerjack survey, the opening-night program of the 18th Onion City festival, shows how some contemporary experimental work approaches and interacts with the mainstream. Among the shorts screening are Soul Dancing (2004), a weird video by Japanese cult horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), a 35-millimeter ‘Scope reworking of a Sergio Leone western by Austrian filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky; Here (2005), in which Fred Worden shuffles images from Georges Melies and the Laurence Olivier Henry V; and Andy Warhol’s 1966 screen tests featuring Bob Dylan. Best of all is Roads of Kiarostami (2005, 32 min.), in which Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami introduces his black-and-white landscape photography but also includes a startling and topical finale in color. The program’s running time is 95 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D

Robert Rodriguez’s charmingly low-tech fantasy, similar to his Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and written with his son, Racer, forsakes obvious 3-D effects for puns and literalized metaphors–a Stream of Consciousness flowing through a land of milk and giant cookies, a Train of Thought that keeps jumping off its tracks, a thundering brainstorm. They’re all located on the planet Drool, where the imaginative kid hero (Cayden Boyd) accompanies the title characters on their quest to defeat Mr. Electricity (George Lopez), a dreamlike version of the boy’s bossy grade school teacher. This gets a bit preachy in its defense of imagination, but its homemade, anticorporate spirit–Rodriguez’s trump card ever since El mariachi–gives it energy and grit. PG, 94 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Lake, Lawndale, Norridge, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Webster Place.… Read more »