Daily Archives: April 13, 2007

Colossal Youth

All of Pedro Costa’s films reside in a netherworld between documentary and fiction, and many of them are awesome. Where Lies Your Hidden Smile? (2001), an account of Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet editing one of their films, feels very intimate, though the subjects were also being observed by students (whose presence is elided by Costa). And the exquisitely composed, naturally lit chiaroscuro of Colossal Youth (2006), shot in the surviving ruins of one Lisbon slum and around a high-rise in another, combines realism and expressionism, Louis Lumiere and Jacques Tourneur. It was cowritten by the nonprofessional, marginal, mainly nonwhite cast; rehearsed and shot in multiple takes; then edited down from 320 hours to 155 minutes over a period of 15 months. It’s unlike anything else I’ve seenmysterious, exalted, demanding, leisurely paced, and very beautifuland you’re bound to either love it or hate it. In Portuguese with subtitles. (JR) Read more

Filmmakers In Action

Though awkwardly assembled and occasionally obscure, this 2005 Spanish documentary by Carlos Benpar is an eye-opener, showing how filmmakers in Europe try to protect their work from censorship, colorizing, dubbing, pan and scan, and other defacements. Benpar explains the differences between artists’ legal rights in the U.S. and overseas: for instance, director Jean-Pierre Marchand successfully sued a French TV channel for placing a logo on his film, and though Sydney Pollack lost a suit against a Danish TV channel for panning and scanning his wide-screen Three Days of the Condor, the court issued a stern rebuke to the U.S. laws that permitted the practice. Among the other interviewees are Woody Allen, Bernardo Bertolucci, John Boorman, Arthur Penn, Martin Scorsese, Claude Chabrol, Salvador Dali, Bigas Luna, Pere Portabella, and a 91-year-old Jules Dassin. 106 min. (JR) Read more


The pitch must have sounded like a no-brainer: a teenage, suburban remake of Rear Window, updated with digital technology. This time the bored voyeuristic hero (Shia LaBeouf) who’s spying on his suspicious neighbor (David Morse) is under monitored house arrest for slugging his Spanish teacher. And this did keep me alert for a while, thanks partly to Sarah Roemer (who has some of Cybill Shepherd’s insolence) in the Grace Kelly part and Carrie-Anne Moss as the hero’s hot mother. If you’re happy to watch a thriller about a tenth as good as Alfred Hitchcock’s, director D.J. Caruso and screenwriters Christopher B. Landon and Carl Ellsworth hold up their end of the deal, at least until the proceedings devolve into standard horror-movie effects and minimal motivations. But of course Hitchcock’s original never had to resort to thunder and lightning to goose up the suspense. PG-13, 104 min. (JR) Read more

Perfect Stranger

A tabloid journalist (Halle Berry), assisted by a computer geek (Giovanni Ribisi), goes undercover to pin the murder of her old friend on a tyrannical tycoon (Bruce Willis). This stupidly contrived thriller is all the more disappointing if you admire previous work by Berry and director James Foley (After Dark, My Sweet). Did they cynically opt for a lame and unpleasant script (by Todd Komarnicki), or did this make more sense before the suits got to it? Either way, they must have known how scuzzy all the characters are, and the plot twists only make the whole thing seem more phony. R, 109 min. (JR) Read more

Girl Crazy

The eighth and last MGM feature to pair Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, this black-and-white let’s put on a show musical (1943) from the Arthur Freed unit is set at a western men’s college where a rich kid (Rooney) falls for the dean’s granddaughter (Garland). The stars sing familiar Gershwin tunes, backed by the Tommy Dorsey band, and when Busby Berkeley takes over from the pedestrian Norman Taurog to direct the climactic I Got Rhythm, the difference is palpable. Rooney’s brashness and energy are boundless throughoutincluding one swell scene in which he pretends to be a piano virtuoso. With June Allyson and Guy Kibbee. 99 min. (JR) Read more

Black Book

Paul Verhoeven’s triumphant 2006 return to Dutch cinema after 20 years of Hollywood releases (Total Recall, Basic Instinct, Starship Troopers) is commercial moviemaking of the highest order, superbly mounted and paced. Its story of a sexy Jewish singer (Carice Van Houten) who poses as a Nazi for the Dutch resistance during World War II is based on 30 years of research and 20 years of script development with cowriter Gerard Soeteman (Soldier of Orange). Like much of Verhoeven’s best work, it’s shamelessly melodramatic, but in its dark moral complexities it puts Schindler’s List to shame. Van Houten and Sebastian Koch (The Lives of Others) are only two of the standouts in an exceptional cast. In English and subtitled Dutch, German, and Hebrew. R, 145 min. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Music Box. Read more