Monthly Archives: October 2006


Who could have imagined that Mickey Spillane’s neofascist, imperialist S-M would come back to haunt us half a century later as neonoir designer chic? Christian Volckman’s high-contrast, black-and-white graphic novel in motion, set in a mid-21st-century Paris where many of the signs are in French but the natives speak English, has striking ‘Scope visuals and tiresome characters who become literally transparent whenever this suits the graphic design. In keeping with the material’s cold war pedigree, the villains usually have foreign accents. The story, credited to many hands, is intricate, and among the rotoscoped actors are Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Ian Holm, and Jonathan Pryce. R, 82 min. (JR) Read more

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

Given all the filmed memory pieces about screaming, violent Italian-American families in New York boroughs, I’m not especially thrilled by even a well-made example. First-time director Dito Montiel adapts his autobiographical book, most of it set in the mean streets of Astoria in the early 80s. Robert Downey Jr. plays Montiel, who goes home to visit his estranged father (Chazz Palminteri), occasioning flashbacks to his younger self (Shia LaBeouf), his pals, and a violent feud involving graffti and a baseball bat. With Rosario Dawson, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum, and Eric Roberts. R, 98 min. (JR) Read more

The Magicians

In 1937, during the Spanish civil war, an amateur director made an elaborate silent film called Imitating the Fakir at a religious orphanage in a small town, with the orphans in exotic costumes playing all the roles. In this 2004 documentary Elisabet Cabeza (a daughter of one of the orphans) and Esteve Riambau (a film professor and major Orson Welles scholar) unpack this fascinating artifact in several ways, interviewing a half dozen of the participants and exploring the personal and historical ramifications of the material, particularly as they relate to the war. In Spanish with subtitles. 94 min. (JR) Read more


The novelty of writer-director John Cameron Mitchell’s bittersweet comedy drama is that it’s full of hard-core sex, including such stunts as a guy giving himself a blow job, yet it’s basically concerned with feelings and is touching throughout. The film grew out of the actors’ improvisations, with the main focus on one straight and one gay couple who turn up at a New York salon called Shortbus, hosted by drag queen Justin Bond. The movie’s main limitation is that each character seems formed around one idea, endlessly reiterateda sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm (Canadian broadcaster Sook-yin Lee), a dominatrix who wants to settle down and have a family, a lover in an open relationship who wants fidelityso it runs out of energy before the end. 102 min. (JR) Read more

Man Push Cart

Haunting and touching, this feature by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani focuses on a former Pakistani rock singer (Ahmad Razvi) who hawks coffee and bagels from a pushcart in Manhattan. Bahrin follows him as he sells porn on the side, reflects on his estranged son, takes a house-painting job, and befriends a young Spanish woman (Leticia Dolera) who works at a nearby newsstand. This is somewhat fuzzy as narrative, but it’s a potent mood piece, and its portait of urban loneliness has some of the intensity of Taxi Driver without the violence. 87 min. (JR)

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Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die)

“When men die, they enter history. When statues die, they enter art. This botany of death is what we call culture.” So begins the commentary of this remarkable French documentary (1953, 30 min.) about African sculpture, directed by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais and shot by Ghislain Cloquet. It’s the first major work for all of these artists (though it comes five years after Resnais’ Van Gogh, which won him his only Oscar to date); the beauty and anger of Marker’s text are perfectly matched by Resnais’ exquisite editing and Cloquet’s piercing images. A poetic meditation on how we perceive, exploit, and sometimes destroy other cultures, this is essential viewing, though it’s rarely been seen in its complete form–the French government suppressed its final reel, a blistering attack on colonialism, for almost 40 years. Also on the program is Sans Soleil (1982, 100 min.), one of Marker’s greatest feature-length film essays. Screening by DVD projection as part of the Select Media Festival (see sidebar in Galleries & Museums). a Sun 10/22, 5 PM, Select Media Festival headquarters, 3219 S. Morgan, 773-837-0145. Read more


Much of the liveliness of Capote (2005) derived from the built-in fascination of following Truman Capote from Manhattan high society to rural Kansas while he wrote his true-crime thriller In Cold Blood. This feature by writer-director Douglas McGrath, made around the same time as Capote but only released this year, covers the same subject with a provocatively different tone, starting out as a flip comedy and making more of an issue of Capote’s homosexuality. Its putative source is Truman Capote (1997), George Plimpton’s nonbook of gossipy quotes, and much of the story seems invented, especially the tragic relationship between Capote (Toby Jones) and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig, excellent). More ambitious than Capote yet wildly uneven, this finally has too many competing agendas, though it certainly held my interest. With Peter Bogdanovich (as Bennett Cerf), Sandra Bullock (as Harper Lee), Jeff Daniels, Sigourney Weaver, and Hope Davis. R, 110 min. Read more

Iraq In Fragments

Documentary filmmaker James Longley (Gaza Strip) has a flair for cinematography and editing and a poetic sensibility that informs both these talents. He’s also responsible for this film’s music. But the most significant credits for this examination of Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds may be the dozen translators listed. (The future of Iraq will be in three parts, says one Kurd. How can you cut a country into three parts? asks another.) Much as Emile de Antonio’s neglected In the Year of the Pig (1968) may be the only major documentary about Vietnam that actually considers the Vietnamese, this film allows the people of Iraq to speak, and what they say is fascinating throughout. In Kurdish and Arabic with subtitles. 94 min. (JR) Read more

Come Early Morning

Joey Lauren Adams, who played the bisexual heroine in Chasing Amy, writes and directs her first feature, which I hope won’t be her last. A personal and thoughtful look at her southern Baptist background, it centers on a promiscuous thirtysomething barfly (Ashley Judd) trying to negotiate various parts of her life. The plot points verge on the familiar and obvious, but Adams’s work with the actors (especially Judd and among the others Jeffrey Donovan, Diane Ladd, Tim Blake Nelson, and Scott Wilson) is so resourceful and focused that she makes them shine. R, 97 min. (JR) Read more


Peter O’Toole stars as a septuagenarian British actor pursuing a mainly chaste romance with the unschooled 20-year-old grandniece (Jodie Whittaker) of one of his cronies (Leslie Phillips). Directed by Roger Michell (Persuasion) from a script by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), this comedy drama is an exercise in self-indulgence for O’Toole, but an enjoyable and touching one. Vanessa Redgrave livens things up briefly as O’Toole’s ex-wife, but this is basically about the complex negotiations, adjustments, and exchanges between the actor and the young woman, and more generally a meditation on growing old gracefully. R, 94 min. (JR) Read more

The Bridge

According to this documentary, 24 people jumped to their death from San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge in 2004. Eric Steel contrived to film as many of them as possible, and the schedule for the Chicago International Film Festival stated that he captured 23 successful suicides and one survivor. He also interviews many suffering friends and relatives. This is a new form of obscenity that might be called suicide porn. It’s not just the voyeuristic surveillance that’s obscene, but the use of suicide footage as counterpoint to other stories as they’re told. Steel shows no special insight into the subject, though even that couldn’t justify such hideousness. 93 min. (JR) Read more

Invisible Waves

The great countercultural novelist Rudolph Wurlitzer has talked of writing a Buddhist thriller in which the action gets progressively slower. There’s some of that in this movie, Thai maestro Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s fifth feature, which moves from Macao to Thailand. Though this time the director doesn’t take a script credit, he returns to the genre basics of his first two films, Fun Bar Karaoke (1997) and 6ixtynin9 (1999), to give us a moody, philosophically downbeat, cryptically stylish thriller about a Japanese hit man (Tadanobu Asano) assigned to kill his own lover (and his boss’s girlfriend). The lush cinematography is by the great Christopher Doyle. In English and subtitled Thai, Japanese, and Korean. 115 min. (JR) Read more

Films By Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours), who studied at the School of the Art Institute, ranks as one of the most creative and unpredictable film artists working anywhere. With a few notable exceptions, all his work is experimental, though these seven lovely shorts, made between 1994 and 2003, are experimental in the classic sense of being painterly, musical, and nonnarrative. The stories that do surface come from such sources as a comic book (Malee and the Boy), a radio play (Like the Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves), and an offscreen conversation (Thirdworld). (JR) Read more

Man Of The Year

This story about a TV comedian (Robin Williams) who’s elected president due to a faulty new computerized voting machine was written and directed by Barry Levinson, but it’s no Wag the Dog and not even a satire, political or otherwise. It’s not exactly a love story either, although the president-elect falls for the woman (Laura Linney) who’s discovered the mechanical error. Nor is it a thriller, despite some slam-bang skulduggery involving a corporate villain (Jeff Goldblum), or a buddy film, despite the warmth between the comic and his manager (Christopher Walken). Mainly it’s a shambles, though for once Williams gets to do what he’s best at (his stand-up shtick), and the absurd story, no matter how carelessly assembled, keeps moving. With Lewis Black. PG-13, 102 min. (JR) Read more


John Cassavetes’s first feature (1959), shot in 16-millimeter, centers on three siblings living together in Manhattan; the oldest, a third-rate nightclub singer (Hugh Hurd), is visibly black, while the other two (Ben Carruthers and Lelia Goldoni) are sufficiently light skinned to pass for white. This is the only Cassavetes film made without a full script (it grew out of acting improvs), and rarely has so much warmth, delicacy, and raw feeling emerged so naturally and beautifully from performances in an American film. It’s contemporaneous with early masterpieces of the French New Wave and deserves to be ranked alongside them for the freshness and freedom of its vision; in its portrait of a now-vanished Manhattan during the beat period, it also serves as a poignant time capsule. With Tony Ray (son of director Nicholas Ray), Rupert Crosse, Dennis Sallas, Tom Allen, and Davey Jonesall very fineand a wonderful jazz score by Charles Mingus. It’s conceivable that Cassavetes made greater films, but this is the one I cherish the most. 87 min. (JR) Read more