Monthly Archives: July 2007

No Reservations

I don’t believe in fixing things that aren’t broken. Sandra Nettelbeck’s wholly accessible Mostly Martha (2001) is one of the most delightful comedies of recent years, so the idea of a remake with English instead of German dialogue is already pretty dubious, an insult to the capacities of both audiences and the original filmmakers. Catherine Zeta-Jones plays a neurotic chef trying to get along with both her eight-year-old niece (Abigail Breslin), whose mother has been killed, and a sous chef (Aaron Eckhart) who joins her kitchen staff. She’s miscast, but she can’t be blamed for lacking the verve and smarts Martina Gedeck showed in the original: Carol Fuchs’s silly, mushy script has her character swerve without warning between obtuse rigidity and sweet normalityto make her believable would have been all but impossible. Scott Hicks directed, and even the usually adept Patricia Clarkson as the heroine’s boss is set adrift. PG, 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Eros

From the Chicago Reader (July 26, 2007). — J.R.

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The raison d’être for this three-part 2004 anthology was finding a project for ailing Italian master Michelangelo Antonioni, in his early 90s, whose segment, The Dangerous Thread of Things, is drawn from three sketches in his book That Bowling Alley on the Tiber. It’s clumsily acted and closer to standard porn than anything else he’s done, though it’s also characteristic of his late work in its sensitivity to modernist architecture and its fascination with the silences and antagonisms of an unhappy couple. The one masterpiece here is Wong Kar-wai’s moving The Hand, a visually exquisite and highly erotic period piece about a prostitute (Gong Li) and her tailor (Chang Chen). The complete washout is Steven Soderbergh’s flashy Equilibrium, a heartless, unerotic, and ultimately pointless black comedy with a 1950s setting. I guess one out of three ain’t bad. In English and subtitled Mandarin and Italian. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Interview

Writer-director Steve Buscemi fulfills a cherished project of Theo van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker assassinated by an Islamic extremist in 2004, with this English-language remake of van Gogh’s hastily done two-hander Interview (2003), written by van Gogh’s friend Theodor Holman. Van Gogh was a deliberately unpleasant provocateur, and his hand is evident in this playlike encounter between a political reporter (Buscemi) and the schlock TV actress he’s assigned to interview (Sienna Miller). But the good direction and performances seem wasted on limited material; despite a few interesting twists and ambiguities, the main revelationthat the reporter is an insufferable snobdoesn’t seem worth the 84 minutes devoted to spelling it out. R. (JR)… Read more »

Emil And The Detectives

This 2001 German feature is the fourth adaptation of Erich Kastner’s 1928 novel, about a 12-year-old boy who gets robbed en route to Berlin and enlists a team of street kids (the detectives of the title) to recover his money. I haven’t seen the celebrated first version, released in Germany in 1931, though I suspect its time and place are more hospitable to the tale’s collectivist feeling (the plot has some interesting parallels to Fritz Lang’s M). This version favors action and sight gags over characters or milieu, and it updates the story to include skateboarding, hip-hop, and a different family setup for the young hero. It’s a pretty good kids’ movie, nothing more. In German with subtitles. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lady Chatterley

D.H. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel that we know as Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Pascale Ferran adapts the second version, John Thomas and Lady Jane (the pet names of Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper lover for their sex organs) into a masterful 168-minute piece of storytelling (2006) that never ceases to be gripping in spite of its measured pace. Ferran proves that a distinction between sensual and sexual art is worth making. There are also class issues: the heroine (Marina Hands) is happily married to an invalid, impotent war veteran (Hippolyte Girardot) who signals his acceptance of someone else from the same class fathering his heir. But since it’s his gamekeeper (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h), the affair’s kept secret. Ferran’s sureness in charting every step in the couple’s discovery of each other never falters; when they eventually find the opportunity to remove their clothes before having sex, it’s a major achievement, and celebrated as such. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Salt For Svanetia

A 1928 silent feature by Mikhail Kalatozov, who years later directed the remarkable I Am Cuba and The Letter That Was Not Sent. In Russian with subtitles. 55 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chung Kuo China

Ironically, the feeling of almost random drift that periodically recurs in Michelangelo Antonioni’s filmsbringing mysterious density and poetry to his narratives even when the source of this drift appears to be touristicbecomes disastrous when it forms the shaky basis for his only extended documentary. His three-part 1972 miniseries about China, attacked by the Chinese government at the time for both defensible and indefensible reasons, looks rather formless today because it lacks a coherent agenda. The best sequence, in part one, shows a successful cesarean section performed on a cheerful, conscious woman, with acupuncture used as the sole anesthetic; the one with least point, in part three, shows acrobats and jugglers performing onstage. Made at the onset of what now seems like Antonioni’s artistic decline, this documentary can’t hold a candle to Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan-Ivens’s less politically skeptical but more focused How Yukong Moved the Mountains (1976). In Italian with subtitles. 217 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lady Chatterley

D.H. Lawrence wrote three versions of the novel that we know as Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Pascale Ferran adapts the second version, John Thomas and Lady Jane (the pet names of Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper lover for their sex organs) into a masterful 168-minute piece of storytelling (2006) that never ceases to be gripping in spite of its measured pace. Ferran proves that a distinction between sensual and sexual art is worth making. There are also class issues: the heroine (Marina Hands) is happily married to an invalid, impotent war veteran (Hippolyte Girardot) who signals his acceptance of someone else from the same class fathering his heir. But since it’s his gamekeeper (Jean-Louis Coulloc’h), the affair’s kept secret. Ferran’s sureness in charting every step in the couple’s discovery of each other never falters; when they eventually find the opportunity to remove their clothes before having sex, it’s a major achievement, and celebrated as such. In French with subtitles. a Music Box. –Jonathan Rosenbaum … Read more »