Monthly Archives: August 2005

The Constant Gardener

This adaptation of the John Le Carre best seller by Jeffrey Caine plays like Graham Greene redux. Ralph Fiennes stars as a mild-mannered member of the British High Commission in Kenya whose radical activist wife (Rachel Weisz) is brutally slain; investigating her murder, he gradually pieces together a tale of corruption involving the pharmaceutical industry that’s every bit as horrific as (and much more timely than) Harry Lime’s killing of babies with diluted penicillin in The Third Man. Fernando Meirelles, codirector of City of God, stresses old-fashioned storytelling and takes full advantage of his cast, including Danny Huston. R, 129 min. (JR) Read more

Ken Park

I’ve never been a fan of Larry Clark’s pornographic features about fornicating teenagers. But this scuzz-and-skateboard fest (2002) is probably his best work, if only because it seems to have the greatest number of characters and outrages (besides the usual share of screwed-up parents). Clark shares director and cinematographer credits with the skillful Ed Lachman (who shot Far From Heaven); Clark’s sleazemeister-in-arms Harmony Korine (Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy) based his script on Clark’s stories, and it has plenty of melodrama and disturbing southern California folkways. 96 min. (JR) Read more

The Brothers Grimm

This brisk, free-falling fantasy about the famous collators of German fairy tales, played here as a kind of comedy act by Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, is Terry Gilliam’s most entertaining work since the glory days of Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and The Fisher King. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Reindeer Games, The Ring and its sequel) is completely indifferent to the true story of the real-life brothers; he doesn’t so much adapt their tales as use them to inspire Gilliam’s goofy and/or creepy-crawly period adventures. With Lena Headey, Monica Bellucci, Peter Stormare, and Jonathan Pryce, the latter two giving some of their broadest turns as comic grotesques. PG-13, 118 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Webster Place. Read more


This week the Film Center will screen all three parts of Indian director Satyajit Ray’s Apu trilogy, derived from the novels of Bibhutibhusan Banerjee. This second installment (1956), fully comprehensible on its own terms, suffers at times from its episodic plot, which follows Apu from the age of ten in the holy city of Benares (now Varanasi) to his early adulthood in Calcutta. But it’s my favorite of the three, and the reported favorite of Ray’s fellow Bengali directors Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen. Its treatment of death–Apu’s father dies toward the beginning of the film and his mother dies near the end–is among the most beautiful, mystical, and precise handlings of that subject in all of cinema, worthy of Mizoguchi; in a way the film is little more than a careful contextualizing of these two astonishing sequences. Like the rest of the trilogy, Aparajito benefits from the ravishing “commentary” of Ravi Shankar’s music. It’s a masterpiece for which terms like simplicity and profundity seem inadequate. In Bengali with subtitles. 113 min. Sat 8/27, 5:15 PM, and Tue 8/30, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center. Read more

The 40-year-old Virgin

Steve Carell plays the title role in this sloppy sitcom-in-the-making, the feature directorial debut of TV veteran Judd Apatow. The hero works at an electronics superstore, and various wacky coworkers serve as running gags, helping him along as he tries to lose his cherry. Catherine Keener shines the most in this prefab atmosphere, as the kooky middle-aged love interest. Carell and Apatow collaborated on the script; it does manage a few laughs, but the characters seldom progress beyond the two-dimensional. R, 116 min. (JR) Read more

Pretty Persuasion

This first feature by TV veteran Marcos Siega, with an ambitious script by another newcomer, Skander Halim, tries to be an audacious, irreverent satire about youth culture like Lord Love a Duck, but most of the laughs get strangled at birth by the uncertainty of Siega’s tone. A conniving 15-year-old (Evan Rachel Wood) concocts a sexual harassment charge against her drama teacher (Ron Livingston) and gets two of her female classmates to back her up. What initially seems like a social critique skewering everyone from lesbians to anti-Semites winds up scattered and confused, with strident performances and unconvincing characters. With James Woods, Jane Krakowski, and Selma Blair. 104 min. (JR) Read more

The Whole Wide World

Novalyne Price Ellis’s memoir, One Who Walked Alone, about her friendship and abortive romance in the 1930s with Robert E. Howardthe Texas recluse and misfit with a morbid attachment to his mother who wrote the Conan stories and other pulp fantasies for Weird Talessounds like an interesting subject for a movie. Unfortunately, despite the undeniable skills of Vincent D’Onofrio as Howard and Renee Zellweger as Price, this sentimental washout (1996) never begins to be believable; the Hollywoodization is so complete that Howard has virtually been transformed into a thundering extrovert, and neither the script (Michael Scott Myers) nor the direction (Dan Ireland) can transcend the glop of Hans Zimmer’s music. With Ann Wedgeworth, Harve Presnell, and Benjamin Mouton. PG, 105 min. (JR) Read more


David Mackenzie, who directed the remarkable Scottish drama Young Adam (2003), delivers another masterful, disturbing tale of illicit passion, erotic obsession, and sudden death set in the 1950s. Natasha Richardson plays a woman whose psychiatrist husband (Hugh Bonneville) works in a hospital for the criminally insane; she falls for one of the inmates, a young sculptor (Marton Csokas) who’s killed his wife, and after the man escapes, she follows him to London. Adapted from a novel by Patrick McGrath (Spider), this has the same aggressive but nuanced sensibility as Mackenzie’s previous feature, and the same sure grasp of both actors and camera. With Ian McKellen and Joss Ackland. 90 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre.

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Tropical Malady

Winner of the jury prize at Cannes, this third feature by writer-director Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Blissfully Yours, Mysterious Object at Noon) confirms his status as the most adventurous filmmaker in Thailand and one of the most creative and unpredictable currently working anywhere. Part one chronicles with a sometimes ironic tastefulness the budding romance between a soldier on leave and a shy country boy; part two turns folkloric and allegorical as the soldier travels through a dark forest, alternately stalking and being stalked by his lover in the form of a tiger spirit, with a talking baboon offering sage advice. Both parts are leisurely paced and beautifully shot. In Thai with subtitles. 118 min. Landmark’s Century Centre. Read more

The Aristocrats

A gimmicky documentary by Penn Gillette and Paul Provenza built around the ultimate obscene joke, which depends on a performer’s style and a certain amount of embroidery to achieve maximum impact. The idea is to set about 100 stand-up comics loose on this material, but the results are predictably so sound-bitey that only a few of them get to tell the joke all the way through, and many just offer commentaries. One sympathizes with Don Rickles’s complaint that this is the sort of movie whose performers don’t get paid. But with such participants as Hank Azaria, Shelley Berman, George Carlin, Carrie Fisher, Whoopi Goldberg, Eric Idle, Bill Maher, Michael McKean, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Dave Thomas, and Robin Williams, you won’t be too bored. R, 92 min. (JR) Read more

Last Days

Following the last hours of a junkie rock star (Michael Pitt) doing nothing in particular in and around his country mansion before he kills himself, Gus Van Sant’s experimental feature, nicely shot by Harris Savides, purports to be inspired by the death of Kurt Cobain, though mainly it’s a shrewd invitation to the audience to fill in the hagiographic blanks. Less dreary than Van Sant’s Gerry but far less interesting than Elephant, this suggests both of its predecessors in its mannerist doggedness; even the time overlaps of Elephant are pointlessly reprised. The best moments come when other characters turn up (Lukas Haas, Asia Argento, Ricky Jay, and Thadeus A. Thomas as a door-to-door salesman) or the camera becomes as indifferent as the hero, slowly backing away from it all. R, 97 min. (JR) Read more

My Date With Drew

Moderately watchable but awfully predictable, this 2003 documentary chronicles the efforts of one of its three directors, Brian Herzlinger, to score a date with Drew Barrymorewho ever since E.T. has been the girl of his dreams. As quickly becomes obvious, his real passion isn’t to go on a date but to make a movie about it, which results in our distrusting the authenticity of the feelings of everyone involved in this project, including Barrymore. While constantly bemoaning his shrinking budget, Herzlinger at one point pays $75 for a psychic’s advice. Is he sincere, or does he just think it will make a good sequence? Jon Gunn and Brett Winn codirected. PG, 90 min. (JR) Read more

The Guardsman

Apart from the even more obscure silent film Second Youth, this early talkie (1931) is the only time the famous acting couple Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne starred in a moviea Molnar comedy about a jealous husband testing his wife, later remade as The Chocolate Soldier and Lily in Love. Sidney Franklin directed; with Roland Young, ZaSu Pitts, and Herman Bing. 89 min. (JR) Read more

The World

Suggesting at different moments a backstage musical, a failed love story, a surreal comedy, and even a cartoon fantasy, this beautiful, corrosive, visionary masterpiece by Jia Zhang-ke (2004) is a frighteningly persuasive account of the current state of the planet. Set in an eerie Beijing theme parka kind of Chinese Las Vegas, with scaled-down duplicates of the most famous global landmarksit follows a bunch of workers as they labor, carouse, couple, and uncouple, but it’s really about propping up extravagant illusions through alienated labor. Though Jia is one of the most respected directors in mainland China, this film was his first to get an official release there. In Mandarin and Shanxi dialect with subtitles. 139 min. (JR) Read more


By now Ingmar Bergman has concocted many a postscript to his illustrious career. What makes this masterful if sprawling 2003 sequel to Scenes From a Marriage (1973) remarkable is that at the director’s insistence it was shot and is being shown on digital video. This matters because, in spite of Bergman’s consummate skill with his actors (chiefly Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson), he makes no attempt whatever to hide his contempt for the medium apart from its usefulness as a recording device. The lack of stylistic finesse that results, whether deliberate or inadvertent, becomes a kind of shocking honesty about the creepiness of Bergman’s sensibility: solipsistically self-pitying, spiritually constipated, and utterly without interest in overcoming these flaws. R, 120 min. In Swedish with subtitles. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Music Box. Read more