Daily Archives: June 2, 2006

District B13

Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita) produced and cowrote this kick-ass 2004 thriller, which takes place in and around some strangely depopulated ghetto high-rises outside Paris in the year 2010 and involves drug-dealing gangs, corrupt cops, and a nuclear device. This is every bit as silly and adolescent as you’d expect from Besson, and about as contemporary as The Perils of Pauline. But I was delighted by the balletic and acrobatic stunts, some of which evoke Tarzan. Pierre Morel directed; with Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Tony D’Amario, and Bibi Naceri. In French with subtitles. R, 85 min. (JR) Read more

The Break-up

Vince Vaughn (who collaborated on the story) plays a Chicago tour guide who’s into sports; Jennifer Aniston’s character works in an art gallery. The unlikely couple meet at Wrigley Field; by the time the opening credits are over they’re sharing a condo but she’s ready to call it quits. This strange comedy is nothing but curveballs after that; like director Peyton Reed’s previous Down With Love, it has to do with real estate and the way we live. It’s full of pain and quirky characters standing at oblique angles to one another, and while it doesn’t add up it held me throughout. With Jon Favreau, Joey Lauren Adams, Judy Davis, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ann-Margret, John Michael Higgins, and Jason Bateman. PG-13, 105 min. (JR) Read more


Solving crossword puzzles isn’t exactly a sport, but documentarian Patrick Creadon makes it one by focusing on the 500-odd enthusiasts who compete at the 28th American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, Connecticut. Will Shortz, puzzle master for the New York Times, hosts the event, and among the crossword fans interviewed are Ken Burns, Mike Mussina, Jon Stewart, Bob Dole, and Bill Clinton, who’s especially interesting on the subject. This is mildly entertaining, though like the puzzles themselves, it favors diversion over wisdom. PG, 90 min. (JR) Read more


The first movie scored by George and Ira Gershwin, this 1931 musical may seem dated, but its subject matterillegal immigrationcouldn’t be more timely. A Scottish lass in steerage (Janet Gaynor) charms a millionaire jock in first class (Charles Farrell) before skirting U.S. customs and hiding out with a Russian family; Virginia Cherrill plays the heartless, wealthy villainess. If you can make it through the unmemorable songs and stale ethnic humor (dominated by El Brendel as a Swede), there’s a remarkable sequence toward the end in which Gaynor wanders through an expressionistic Manhattan, contemplating suicide to the strains of Second Rhapsody (a sequel to Rhapsody in Blue that was truncated by the studio). 106 min. (JR) Read more


From the Chicago Reader (June 2. 2006). — J.R.

An interesting failure, this rarely seen 1975 English feature about World War II combines documentary and fictional elements, though they tend to undermine each other. Director Stuart Cooper culled a remarkable selection of newsreels from the Imperial War Museum and, collaborating with cowriter Christopher Hudson, integrated them into a sincere but cliched story about a young soldier (Brian Stirner). Shooting in black and white, the brilliant cinematographer John Alcott (Barry Lyndon) matches up the dramatic scenes with the archival footage, yet the filmmakers’ ingenuity often seems misplaced; in particular, added sound effects compromise the precious truth of the documentary materials. 83 min. (JR) Read more


Adapted from a novel by Victoria Redel, this 2005 feature starts off as a vulgar comedy and then turns serious, as a neglected girl with no taste for romance grows up to become a possessive single mother (Kyra Sedgwick) who lives only for her son. Kevin Bacon, making his theatrical feature debut as director, wrests decent performances from the cast, which includes Marisa Tomei, Matt Dillon, Campbell Scott, Oliver Platt, and Sandra Bullock. But the movie seems miscalculated on so many levels that it’s hard to know whether to blame Hannah Shakespeare’s tortured and semicoherent script, with its ill-defined characters and cumbersome flashbacks, or Bacon’s fancy cutting and self-conscious flurries of slow motion. R, 84 min. (JR) Read more

The Brothers Karamazov

This rarely screened but famous adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novel (1931, 93 min.), more commonly known as The Murder of Dmitri Karamazov, was one of the favorite films of English critic Raymond Durgnat. It’s rightly celebrated for its atmosphere, mobile camera, inventive editing, and musical score by Karol Rathaus (which Bernard Herrmann cited with admiration), and it’s one of those transitional films that combine the most expressive aspects of silent cinema and early talkies. The cast, which includes Fritz Kortner (Pandora’s Box) as Dmitri and Anna Sten as Gruschenka, is notable as well. Directed by Fyodor Otsep, a Russian, and Erich Engels, a German, and shot in Germany. In German with subtitles. (JR) Read more

12 and Holding

The accidental death of a 12-year-old boy casts a long shadow over the lives of his twin brother (Conor Donovan) and two close friends (Jesse Camacho, Zoe Weizenbaum) in this 2005 feature by Michael Cuestra. The shock of seeing kids this age treated without the standard cliches led me to overlook some of the limitations of Anthony S. Cipriano’s script, which avoids assigning blame but tends to systematize the families’ dysfunctions. Cuesta directs the lead actors with such feeling that their misery seems authentic; also good are Jeremy Renner as a traumatized ex-fireman and Annabella Sciorra as his therapist. 94 min. a Landmark’s Century Centre. Read more