Monthly Archives: April 2007


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

Grace Kelly, Destiny Of A Princess

This English-language version of a French documentary by Patrick Jeudy is mediocre celebrity journalism, offering less insight or information than breathless speculation about why Kelly gave up Hollywood stardom to marry the prince of Monaco when the couple was never even seen kissing in public. There’s no analysis of Kelly’s career (her best movie, Rear Window, isn’t even mentioned), and most of the narrative consists of voice-over by an actress pretending to be a real-life journalist who interviewed Kelly a few times. 59 min. (JR) Read more

Chernobyl: The Invisible Thief

Bernard Debord’s Sun and Death, a recent French documentary on victims of the 1986 nuclear power plant explosion in Chernobyl, was scathing in its treatment of the Soviet government’s lies and cover-ups. There’s less finger-pointing and more personal sadness in this 2007 German documentary by Christoph Boekel: his wife, whom he met when she served as his Russian interpreter on another film project, died from exposure to Chernobyl radiation. The most memorable interviews here are with a talented painter who worked on the mop-up team after the disaster (and has also since died) and a former science editor at Pravda who’s followed the story for two decades. In German with subtitles. 59 min. (JR) Read more

First Snow

A fast-talking salesman with a shady past (Guy Pearce) idly visits a fortune-teller in the southwest and learns he hasn’t long to live, news that sends him into a tailspin. Some viewers may be irritated by the deliberate ambiguity of this 2006 psychological thriller, the debut feature of director-cowriter Mark Fergus, but part of the overall mystery is wondering how much of it takes place in the hero’s imagination. I was beguiled by both the eerie moods and the striking compositions, which incorporate large stretches of empty space. With Piper Perabo and William Fichtner. R, 101 min. (JR) Read more

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

Unusually noisy and violent for a Ken Loach feature, this melodramatic period picture about the messy birth of the Irish Republic in the early 1920s won the top prize at Cannes in 2006. Scripted by Loach regular Paul Laverty (Sweet Sixteen), it corresponds to leftist agitprop in some particulars but confounds predictable political agendas in others. Much of the violence registers as futile, regardless of where it’s coming from or whether or not it’s retaliatory. The drama revolves around two Irish brothers (Cillian Murphy and Padraic Delaney) whose ideas begin to diverge; both actors are good, but the ensemble playing predominates. As frequently happens in both Loach films and history, the betrayal of ideals, socialist and otherwise, leaves a harsh aftertaste, which made me feel sadder but not much wiser. 127 min. (JR) Read more

Classic Jazz Performances

Four short films, including two by Dudley Murphy that will knock your socks off: St. Louis Blues (1929), featuring the only film appearance by Bessie Smith, and Black and Tan (1929), a haunting avant-garde narrative featuring Duke Ellington’s orchestra and several dancers. A Bundle of Blues (1933) features Ellington’s group with vocalist Ivy Anderson and Symphony in Black (1935) memorably pairs the band with an uncredited Billie Holiday. (JR) Read more

The Cats of Mirikitani

Linda Hattendorf, a longtime documentary editor, met a homeless, 80-year-old Japanese-American artist a block from her SoHo apartment in early 2001, and after the World Trade Center attacks made living on the street impossible for him, she put him up, helped him find work and housing, and made him the subject of this impressive 2006 feature, her directorial debut. The fascinating narrative covers the artist’s long stretch in a U.S. internment camp during World War II (ironically, he’d fled Japan to escape the rising tide of militarism) and his ensuing tangles with the government, while simultaneously charting his reconciliation with his checkered past. The storytelling is so masterful that Hattendorf doesn’t have to spell out the striking parallels between the persecution of Japanese after Pearl Harbor and the harassment of Muslims after 9/11. In English and subtitled Japanese. 74 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Facets Cinematheque. Read more