Yearly Archives: 2006

A Ticket To Space

Hoping to sell its expensive space program to a reluctant public, the French government holds a national lottery in which the top prizes are two seats on the next space shuttle, and two dubious contenders win. Eric Lartigau’s slick and engaging farce gets sillier by the moment, especially once the crew is taken hostage and a monstrous giant turkey turns up on board. But you probably won’t mind if you’re looking strictly for laughs and good-natured send-ups of other SF movies. With Andre Dusollier. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (JR) Read more


A sound recordist (Emilie Dequenne of Rosetta) investigates the murder of her mother, a clairvoyant in a farming community, and discovers she can record the past as well as the present. Using string to chart the paths taken by old sounds, she constructs a kind of spiderweb in the house where her mother diedso it may not be coincidental that her name is Charlotte. It’s a striking poetic conceit, developed with some flair by first-time writer-director Alant Read more

Ever Again

Richard Trank’s alarmist documentary about anti-Semitism and Islamic terrorism in Europe occasionally makes a stab at balance but retreats whenever Israel or Zionism comes up (usually a signal to bring back Alan Dershowitz). There’s plenty of disquieting material here, but I wish the film were less antagonistic in its own right. (For a more nuanced treatment of Islamic violence in Europe, try Murder in Amsterdam, Ian Buruma’s new book on the Theo van Gogh assassination.) Kevin Costner narrates, and English voice-overs provide most of the translation. 74 min. (JR) Read more

The Enforcer

Humphrey Bogart’s last film for Warners (1951) is a quintessential noir about a crime syndicate specializing in murder. Martin Rackin’s script features flashbacks within flashbacks, but it’s dated only by his earmarking of contract and hit as obscure underworld slang. When journeyman director Bretaigne Windust took ill a few days into production, Bogart enlisted Raoul Walsh, who turned this into one of his best thrillers but refused to take screen credit as a gesture of friendship toward Windust. The mood of paranoid menace, the suspenseful climax, the beautiful camerawork by Robert Burks, and brassy acting by Ted de Corsia, Zero Mostel, and Everett Sloane make this a giddy classic. 87 min. (JR) Read more

10 Items Or Less

Morgan Freeman plays a movie star much like himself who’s considering a comeback after a four-year absence from the screen; offered a role in a low-budget indie feature as manager of a cheap supermarket, he decides to do some research by visiting a Latino establishment in a Los Angeles suburb, where he befriends a feisty young cashier (Paz Vega of Spanglish) and spends the next few hours coaching her for a job interview as a secretary. An amiable demonstration of how two charismatic actors and a relaxed writer-director (Brad Silberling) can squeeze an enjoyable movie out of practically nothing, this comedy falters only when, a little too pleased with itself, it overplays its hand in presenting Freeman as a man of the people and arguing that class barriers don’t really exist. R, 82 min. (JR) Read more


In terms of high concept this might be called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Goes to Brazil, though what makes the high concept so low is that it spoils a fairly engaging youth movie about American, English, and Australian tourists interacting with various Brazilian locals after their tour bus breaks down. Once the gore and suspense take over, this becomes mechanical and unpleasant. John Rockwell directed. R, 89 min. (JR) Read more

The Holiday

Two romantic comedies for the price of one ensue when a producer of Hollywood trailers (Cameron Diaz) and a Surrey-based newspaper editor (Kate Winslet), both recoiling from failed relationships, suddenly decide to trade domiciles over the Christmas holidays. And because this was written and directed by chick-flick specialist Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give), both women score hyperbolicallyDiaz with Jude Law, Winslet with Jack Black and (less romantically) Eli Wallach. The problem is that happy endings this strident and overextended begin to seem somewhat desperate. PG-13, 138 min. (JR) Read more

Blood Diamond

Action-adventure pictures have a lamentable tendency toward mindlessness, but Edward Zwick’s epic story has numerous virtues apart from suspense and spectacle. A sharp script by Charles Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell centers on diamond grubbing during the horrific 1999 civil war in Sierra Leone, and all three lead actors contribute strong performances. Leonardo DiCaprio earns the label Brando-esque as a mercenary from Zimbabwe (even if his part recalls Bogart’s in Casablanca), while Jennifer Connelly as a principled journalist and Djimon Hounsou as a Mende fisherman struggling to recover his family are no less potent. If you substituted oil for diamonds, much of the story could be happening right now in the Middle East. R, 138 min. (JR) Read more

The Last Gangster

Edward G. Robinson plays a gangster who marries an innocent Swedish woman (Rose Stradner), fathers a child with her, and then gets sent to Alcatraz. When he emerges a decade later, she’s divorced him to marry a sympathetic newspaper reporter (James Stewart) and his son is a total stranger. With its story coauthored by William A. Wellman, this 1937 tearjerker may sound like typical Warners product. But it was made at MGM, and Louis B. Mayer’s fingerprints are all over it, lachrymose family values and all. Not even such players as Lionel Stander and John Carradine can rescue it. Edward Ludwig directed. 81 min. (JR) Read more

Absolute Wilson

Katharina Otto-Bernstein’s documentary provides an excellent introduction to the singular vision of avant-garde stage director Robert Wilson. Its sketchy account of his career permits little insight into his ascent to mainstream venues over the past few decades, which hasn’t always been felicitous (also true of his collaborator Philip Glass). But Otto-Bernstein gives a sharp sense of Wilson’s comfortable Southern Baptist upbringing in Waco, Texas, and how his stuttering and learning disabilities shaped more radical aspects of his productions once he took on handicapped collaborators in works like Deafman’s Glance and A Letter From Queen Victoria. Wilson, Glass, Susan Sontag, and David Byrne are among the more perceptive interviewees, and the film includes many fascinating samples of his work. 105 min. a Music Box. Read more

When You Can’t See What I Saw [Chicago Reader blog post, 2006]

Film When You Can’t See What I Saw

Posted By on 11.27.06 at 07:00 PM

TIFF Gala Premiere of 'Where the Truth Lies'

Two contenders for my ten-best list this year are Pere Portabella’s Warsaw Bridge (1990), shown recently in the  Portabella (pdf, pp. 81-108) retrospective at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and Atom Egoyan’s Citadel, a very personal essay film that he recently showed at Doc Films. Neither film has (yet) any sort of distribution, and it’s not clear that this is going to change anytime soon. Both are entirely under the control of their makers, and they want to keep it that way, preferring not to turn these films over to distributors —- for a variety of reasons in each case. [November 2014: Warsaw Bridge is now available in the Pere Portabella box set, available from Spanish Amazon; Citadel remains unavailable.]

But here’s a question: am I being rude and inconsiderate if I cite these films on my ten-best list knowing that most people can’t see them? How much should my position as a critic be ted by my function as a consumer guide? I’d like to imagine that we’re all sufficiently grown-up to realize that we can’t expect instant gratification in fulfilling all our wishes about what we see next, and that it’s even desirable to think and dream about films that we can’t yet see. Read more

The Cry Of Jazz

The talk and the music in Edward O. Bland’s eccentric 1959 Chicago-made short are equally important. The paradox is that Bland’s film centers on jazz and needs various kinds of performance to illustrate its points, yet what’s being played by Sun Ra and others is only adequate; if the music were good enough to distract one from the talk, the film wouldn’t work as well. Lucid and provocative, this is recommended viewing for any jazz novice, one of the best social readings of jazz form I know. 31 min. (JR) Read more

Women Of Brazil

Five women writers supply the five episodes for this Brazilian feature, described as a mixture of documentary and fiction. Malu De Martino directed. In Portuguese with subtitles. 113 min. Read more

Jlg/jlg: Self-portrait In December

Jean-Luc Godard films himself in his native Switzerland, pondering his childhood and, as usual, ruminating about art and life. If you can put up with the brooding self-regard, which occasionally suggests German romanticism at its most narcissistic (imagine Goethe contemplating a bust of himself), this 1995 film shows Godard at his most accomplished, at least when it comes to composing in sound and image. In French with subtitles. 59 min. (JR) Read more

Informe General

Documenting the last gasp of the Franco regime, Pere Portabella’s 1977 film devotes most of its 158-minute running time to Spaniards’ answers to the question How do you envisage the change from a dictatorship to a democratic government? This starts off with an eerie tour of Franco’s tomb that suggests a color remake of Portabella’s 1970 masterpiece Cuadecuc-Vampir, then proceeds with footage of 1976 demonstrations in Barcelona and Madrid, archival propaganda, and discussions with socialists, communists, union representatives, lawyers, engineers, and artists, among others. Portabella intersperses tours of other locations and concludes with a classical music concert. The full title translates as General Report on Some Interesting Facts for a Public Showing. In Spanish, Catalan, and Basque with subtitles. (JR) Read more