Monthly Archives: March 2006

Brigitte And Brigitte

French film critic Luc Moullet made his feature directing debut with this 1966 black-and-white comedy, and like his other big commercial success, The Comedy of Work (showing next week), it’s sweet and tender and focuses on conditions and bureaucracies peculiar to his native land. Two teenage girls with the same name, clothes, and bags meet by chance, become roommates in Paris, and try to survive their first year at the Sorbonne; despite their superficial similarities, one is right-wing and the other communist. The small-scale gags and episodic narrative easily accomodate guest-star appearances by Claude Chabrol, Michel Delahaye, Samuel Fuller, Eric Rohmer, Andre Techine, and Moullet, as well as the director’s own parents. In French with subtitles. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Americanese

Adapted from Shawn Wong’s 1995 novel American Knees, this intriguing, well-acted feature by writer-director Eric Byler (Charlotte Sometimes) has the merit of not fully explaining its multilayered characters and asking viewers to take the initiative in figuring them out. A middle-aged Chinese-American professor (Chris Tashima) in southern California, still adjusting to his recent separation from a much younger woman (Allison Sie), gets involved with another teacher (Joan Chen), a traumatized Vietnamese refugee, and no one behaves according to expectations. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Basic Instinct 2

The 1991 original was silly and campy, but director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had a stylishly hokey way of recycling Hitchcock tropes and an appreciation for Sharon Stone as superwoman/dominatrix that made her a star. She’s still magnificent as novelist Catherine Tramell, who has moved to London and finds herself a shrink (David Morrissey) to play Emil Jannings to her Dietrich. But like many sequels this is actually a remake, and it suffers from the law of diminishing returns. Screenwriters Leora Barish and Henry Bean are hip enough to reference cultural theorists Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek, though director Michael Caton-Jones, no stranger to kinkiness in Scandal, seems bemused by the more formulaic elements. With David Thewlis and Charlotte Rampling. R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Slither

A meteor lands in the sticks, and a slimy tentacled creature enters a local’s body (Michael Rooker), turning him into a squishy monster with a hunger for meat that drives him to devour most of the people and animals around him. Gross-out horror comedy is my least favorite genre, but this movie’s so skillful I have to take my hat off to it. Writer-director James Gunn, who worked on the script of the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, relies too much on George A. Romero’s imagery without trying for any of his or Joe Dante’s satire. But he’s so adept at laughs, thrills, and repulsive effects that even the product placements are inspired, and he gets the most out of Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Gregg Henry. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Counsellor At Law

John Barrymore plays a Jewish lawyer with an unfaithful wife and a faithful mistress in Elmer Rice’s 1933 adaptation of his own play. It’s one of Barrymore’s best performances, and William Wyler’s direction of this brisk comedy-drama is exemplary. With Bebe Daniels, Doris Kenyon, and Melvyn Douglas. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Adam & Steve

Goth transvestite Adam (Craig Chester) and disco dancer Steve (Malcolm Gets) share a disastrous one-night stand back in the 80s when the latter snorts too much coke laced with baby laxative; years later they meet again without recognizing one another and become a couple, but their former identities threaten to sabotage the match. Chester, making his feature debut as writer-director, does some effective mugging, and there are enjoyable performances from Parker Posey as Adam’s acerbic pal and Chris Kattan as her boyfriend. But despite the high spirits, most of the comedy is feeble and forced; Steve’s career as a therapist seems especially far-fetched. With Sally Kirkland. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Anatomy of a Relationship

Luc Moullet remains an unsung hero among the Cahiers du Cinema critics who turned to filmmaking, and this 1975 feature, part of a monthlong retrospective of his work at the Gene Siskel Film Center, provides a succinct introduction to his special brand of low-budget cinema. A restaging of his abortive sexual relationship with Antonietta Pizzorno (who cowrote and codirected but, unlike Moullet, appears only in the finale), it’s painfully, hilariously, and graphically honest, and its willful rejection of technique is an implicit critique of slickness. Moullet was the only rural, proletarian, and anarchist member of the New Wave, and at Cahiers he became poet laureate of the American B movie, introducing French readers to Sam Fuller, Gerd Oswald, Douglas Sirk, and Edgar G. Ulmer. He maintains a healthy contempt for all the pretensions that money and prestige can buy and burrows into his subjects like an unruly gopher. His movies are sweet, funny, distressing, and strangely noble–a powerful antidote to the self-important romantic psychodramas of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen. In French with subtitles. 82 min. For more on Moullet see this week’s Section 1 review. Sat 4/1, 4:45 PM, and Wed 4/5, 6:15 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Two Seconds

Adapted from an Elliott Lester play, this stagy 1932 drama stars Edward G. Robinson in his most bravura performance, as a condemned murderer reliving his doomed marriage and the accidental death of his best friend on a construction site. Mervyn LeRoy directed. 68 min. (JR)… Read more »

Anatomy Of A Relationship

Luc Moullet remains an unsung hero among the Cahiers du Cinema critics who turned to filmmaking, and this 1975 feature, part of a monthlong retrospective of his work at the Gene Siskel Film Center, provides a succinct introduction to his special brand of low-budget cinema. A restaging of his abortive sexual relationship with Antonietta Pizzorno (who cowrote and codirected but, unlike Moullet, appears only in the finale), it’s painfully, hilariously, and graphically honest, and its willful rejection of technique is an implicit critique of slickness. Moullet was the only rural, proletarian, and anarchist member of the New Wave, and at Cahiers he became poet laureate of the American B movie, introducing French readers to Sam Fuller, Gerd Oswald, Douglas Sirk, and Edgar G. Ulmer. He maintains a healthy contempt for all the pretensions that money and prestige can buy and burrows into his subjects like an unruly gopher. His movies are sweet, funny, distressing, and strangely noblea powerful antidote to the self-important romantic psychodramas of Ingmar Bergman and Woody Allen. In French with subtitles. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Wah-wah

Character actor Richard E. Grant makes his writing and directing debut with this autobiographical feature about growing up in white Swaziland in the early years of its independence from Great Britain. Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy) plays the young hero, Miranda Richardson his adulterous mom, and Gabriel Byrne his alcoholic dad. Shot in ‘Scope, this is a hokey, old-fashioned melodrama in which the actors scream more often than necessary, though it loosens up a bit when the father resettles with a relatively laid-back American (Emily Watson), who uses the title phrase to ridicule British pomp. With Julie Walters. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Fallen

German filmmaker Fred Keleman (Fate, Nightfall) has worked as a cinematographer for Hungarian master Bela Tarr, and like his mentor he employs long takes, slow camera movements, and depressive settings shot in black and white. This 2005 feature differs from his earlier work in its Latvian locations and tricky mystery plot, about an archivist who thinks he may have witnessed a woman’s suicide and becomes obsessed with the apparent victim. Suggesting at various junctures Laura, Vertigo, and Blowup, it deconstructs certain art-house cliches (including its own compulsive gloom) but also embraces certain others, both visual and aural. In Latvian and Russian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Clean

After a fading rock star dies of a drug overdose in Canada, his strung-out widow (Maggie Cheung) leaves their little boy with his paternal grandfather (Nick Nolte), cleans up during a six-month prison term, then tries to reassemble her life in Paris. Cheung and director Olivier Assayas previously collaborated on Irma Vep (before they married and divorced); this 2004 French feature marks their creative reunion, but it’s a disappointment. Weak, self-absorbed, ill-tempered, and devoid of glamour even in her casual bisexuality, the protagonist is a systematic inversion of the hot star Cheung played in the earlier movie, and despite her skilled acting (which was honored at Cannes), she can’t make the woman very interesting in her own rightthe most compelling performance here is Nolte’s. With Jeanne Balibar, Don McKellar, and Beatrice Dalle. In English and subtitled French. R, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

All Souls

Subtitled Stories on the Edge of Murder, this 2005 Dutch film compiles 16 sketches that address the brutal November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. (His killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, was provoked by van Gogh’s ten-minute short Submission, which ridiculed Islamic sexism.) Many segments are preoccupied with van Gogh’s obesity, and some are as crude and insensitive as Submission. Others are insensitive but well-done (the striking experimental piece Goodbye), though I’m not sure whether any qualify as sensitive and well made. The title of each is rendered in black-and-white footage of street graffiti. In English and subtitled Dutch. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Find Me Guilty

Director Sidney Lumet has always been inspired in his handling of courtroom dramas and New York crime stories, especially when they involve racial antagonism and ethnic loyalty. This mix turns up in all his theatrical screenplays: Prince of the City, Q&A, Night Falls on Manhattan, and now this audacious account of one of the longest criminal trials in U.S. history (1987-’88), of New Jersey mobster Giacomo DiNorscio, who grandstands while acting as his own attorney. Action hero Vin Diesel plays DiNorscio with scene-stealing brio, giving a performance with Brechtian consequences: what looks at first like a procrime drama eventually becomes a criticism of viewers’ biases. At age 82, Lumet has outdone himself. With Ron Silver, Peter Dinklage, and a terrific cameo by Annabella Sciorra. R, 125 min. (JR)… Read more »