Monthly Archives: June 2006

Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

This sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl reunites the first movie’s director (Gore Verbinski) and screenwriters (Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio) and much of its cast (Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightley, Jonathan Pryce), and they’re desperate to knock our socks off. I was worn down by the excess: Depp’s fruity impersonation of Keith Richards (or William F. Buckley) as pirate Jack Sparrow; too many bottomless chasms on an island with too many jungle savages (after the fashion of Peter Jackson’s King Kong); Bill Nighy playing too squishy a villain with a beard of too many crawling octopus tentacles; too much violence, pop nihilism, and sick humor. But the Disney logo at the beginning is neat. PG-13, 140 min. (JR) Read more

Sex Madness

A sort of spin-off of Reefer Madness, put out by the same stock-footage-happy exploitation producer and sometime director Dwain Esper a couple of years later, in 1938. A burlesque queen (Vivian McGill) contracts syphilis, gets pregnant, and infects her husband; also known as Human Wreckage and They Must Be Told, this runs only 57 minutes. (JR) Read more

Russian Dolls

A likable sprawl, this 2004 French feature by Cedric Klapisch brings back five of the young characters who hung aroung Barcelona in his L’Auberge Espagnole (played by Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou, Cecile de France, Kelly Reilly, and Kevin Bishop). Now pushing 30, Xavier, the hero, is a successful hack screenwriter and bored lady-killer who drifts between Paris, London, and Saint Petersburg in a fog, and Duris manages to make him sympathetic despite his overall cluelessness about what it means to grow older without attachments. Klapisch self-consciously throws fistfuls of quirky film style at us, as if he were Francois Truffaut, but his characters are still interesting and his party sequences are especially good. In English and subtitled French, Russian, Spanish, and Italian. 129 min. Music Box. Read more

Films by Frank Tashlin

From the Chicago Reader, June 30, 2006.

The brilliant but neglected satirist Frank Tashlin once defined his subject matter as “the nonsense of what we call civilization,” and these three features, which open a rare, monthlong retrospective at the Gene Siskel Film Center, encapsulate two sides of his genius. Realism dominates in The First Time (1952, 89 min.), a black-and-white comedy about new parents (Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale); Tashlin evokes Tristram Shandy by having the baby narrate, but the details about parenthood and its economic squeezes are painfully authentic. (One of the writers, Hugo Butler, also worked with Luis Bunuel and Jean Renoir.) Tashlin got his start as an animator for Disney and Warners before turning to live action, and his sense of the fantastic is evident in Son of Paleface and Hollywood or Bust, both in color. Bob Hope’s wildest comedy, Son of Paleface (1952, 96 min.) takes place in a cartoonlike universe swarming with detail–the movie equivalent of Mad comics, which first hit newsstands that same year. In Hollywood or Bust (1956, 95 min.) movie-mad Jerry Lewis wins a convertible in a lottery, and he and Dean Martin drive cross-country to Los Angeles, hoping to meet Anita Ekberg (the bust of the title). Read more

Kansas City Confidential

The underrated and potent noir specialist Phil Karlson directed this 1952 action thriller about a bank heist, and though it isn’t a patch on his 99 River Street or The Phenix City Story, it’s still well worth checking out. With John Payne, Coleen Gray, Preston Foster, Neville Brand, and Lee Van Cleef. (JR) Read more

Three Times

From the

The three episodes of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s exquisite 2005 feature, his best in many years, are set achronologically in Taiwan, in 1966, 1911, and 2005; each is about 40 minutes long and stars Chang Chen and Shu Qi. The structure may make the film sound like Hou’s greatest hits, echoing not only his trilogy about Taiwan in the 20th century (City of Sadness, The Puppet Master, and Good Men, Good Women) but the nostalgia about adolescence in A Time to Live and a Time to Die, the ritzy period bordello in Flowers of Shanghai, and the contemporary club scene in Millennium Mambo (which also starred Shu). But it’s the intricate formal and thematic relation of the three parts that defines the film’s beauty and makes it such a passionate meditation on youth, love, and freedom in relation to history. The ironic Chinese title translates as “The Best of Times.” In Mandarin and Taiwanese with subtitles. 135 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Music Box.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ed Lederman. Read more

The Fast And The Furious: Tokyo Drift

The MPAA rating of this underground car-racing sequel could be used in the ads: PG-13 for reckless and illegal behavior involving teens, violence, language, and sexual content. The way these combine is of course part of the fantasy: babes are the prizes for winning races, and cars get compared like dicks in a locker room. Fleeing to Tokyo to avoid jail, the smiling hero (Lucas Black) picks up enough Japanese to attend high school the very next morning. But despite all the silliness the drift races are gripping, and director Justin Lin captures Tokyo’s energy and glitter far better than Sofia Coppola. With Bow Wow, Brian Tee, Nathalie Kelley, and a cameo by Sonny Chiba as a head yakuza. 104 min. (JR) Read more

The Young In Heart

A family of con artists working the European continent (Janet Gaynor, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Billie Burke, Roland Young) are caught and deported to London, where they try to go straight and get taken in by a wealthy, sweet-tempered widow (Minnie Dupree). Like many of the characters, this halfhearted screwball comedy (1938) from producer David O. Selznick can’t decide whether to be soft or cynical and upstages the actors with puppies and penguins. The offbeat cast includes a feisty Paulette Goddard and Richard Carlson in his screen debut, affecting a heavy Scottish burr and wearing trousers that go up to his armpits. Richard Wallace directed. 90 min. (JR) Read more


Can a film be too brilliant for its own good? I wouldn’t think so, but something about the interweaving of disparate lives in this 2005 urban thriller detached me from it, almost as much as the lonely characters seem detached from their New York surroundings. Like writer-director Vladan Nikolic, some of them are refugees from the Balkan warsa hit man (Sergei Trifunovic), a German doctor (Geno Lechner)and whether their actions are deemed criminal or humanitarian seems more a trick of fate than a matter of personal morality. Others seem sad by vocation, like an aging drag queen (Didier Flamand) and a cop who’s dating the doctor (Peter Gevisser). Nikolic assembles all the pieces with dispassionate skill. 93 min. (JR) Read more

Servants’ Entrance

Scripted by Samson Raphaelson (Trouble in Paradise), this 1934 remake of a Swedish film takes the odd tack of retaining the Swedish settings in what otherwise looks like a typical Depression-era comedy. Janet Gaynor stars as a debutante who starts working as a maid after her father (Walter Connolly) loses much of his fortune. Some fine if typical gags about the haplessness of the idle rich eventually give way to dull romance once she becomes involved with a chauffeur (Lew Ayres). Frank Lloyd directed, and Walt Disney contributed an animated dream sequence in which Gaynor is serenaded by an egg and various kitchen gadgets. 88 min. (JR) Read more

Small Town Girl

Bored out of her wits, the title heroine (Janet Gaynor) forsakes her devoted boyfriend (James Stewart) to elope with a drunken playboy (Robert Taylor) who’s forgotten he has a fiancee (Binnie Barnes). The newlyweds keep up a loveless marriage for the sake of appearances, though Gaynor still yearns for her husband’s affection. William A. Wellman directed this MGM soap opera (1936), and while he’s funny ridiculing the banality of small-town life, he seems to lose interest once the action shifts to upper-crust Boston and Taylor’s woodenness asserts itself. With Lewis Stone, Andy Devine, and Edgar Kennedy. 90 min. (JR) Read more

Daniel Wong

A tall Eurasian man in Chicago’s Chinatown is glimpsed by a lonely Asian-American woman (Angela Chan) and a gay man preparing to return to Hong Kong (Isaac Leung); both immediately develop crushes on him, though none of the three ever meet. This DV feature by Chicago artist Keith Dukavicius (I Am James Mason) favors bittersweet reverie over story; I was struck by its visual textures, feeling for the characters, and musical interplay of images. My only misgiving is that Dukavicius, who also shot the film and composed the music, gives such prominence to the score, asking it to carry more narrative weight than it can bear. In English and subtitled Cantonese and Mandarin. 73 min. (JR) Read more

The King

Documentarian James Marsh (Wisconsin Death Trip) makes his dramatic feature debut with this ambitiously sordid tale about a young man (Gael Garcia Bernal), born in the U.S. to a Mexican prostitute, who travels to Corpus Christi, Texas, in search of his father. Now a born-again Baptist preacher with a wife and two teenagers, the father (William Hurt) cautiously rebuffs the young man, who hires on at a pizzeria and starts a secret affair with the man’s teenage daughter (Pell James). Marsh and cowriter Milo Addica (Monster’s Ball) strive for gothic tragedy as they unbuckle the Bible Belt, but despite some credible performances (Hurt is especially interesting) the effort feels willful. R, 105 min. (JR) Read more


The fairy-tale-kingdom musicals directed by Ernst Lubitsch during the Depression are supposedly inimitable, but this 1933 powder puff is a reasonable and entertaining facsimile. It’s based on a 1931 German comedy partly written by Billy Wilder, whose masquerade theme is already firmly in place. A princess posing as a manicurist (Janet Gaynor) falls for an army captain posing as a delicatessen worker (Henry Garat), and there’s a lot of ambiguity about who’s in charge. William Dieterle directed with a sufficiently light touch, and C. Aubrey Smith (Love Me Tonight) plays the flustered prime minister. 87 min. (JR) Read more

Lucky Star

Directed by Frank Borzage, this mawkish, dated love story (1929) was released by Fox in both a silent and a sound version; for years both versions were considered lost, but a silent print turned up in the 90s. An uneducated farm girl (Janet Gaynor, lively as usual) fights with a utility man (Charles Farrell, boring as usual), then becomes romantically devoted to him after he returns from World War I in a wheelchair. The rustic sets appear to have been redressed from F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise; some of the turgid melodrama seems derived from D.W. Griffith, but not at his best. 86 min. (JR) Read more