Daily Archives: August 24, 2007

Trapped Ashes

Gross-out comedy about male discomfort with female sexuality dominates this horror anthology scripted by Dennis Bartok. Joe Dante directed the frame–about a movie-studio tour, guided by Henry Gibson, in which customers can escape from a haunted house only by telling a gruesome story–and Monte Hellman directed the best segment, premised on the early Hollywood career of Stanley Kubrick. Their craft gives this feature most of its interest, though bad-movie buffs may enjoy the stylistic overkill of Ken Russell’s tale about a starlet getting transplanted breasts that prove deadly to others, and the other standard-issue crudities and improbabilities found in John Gaeta’s and Sean C. Cunningham’s stories. With John Saxon. 105 min. (JR) Read more

Manufacturing Dissent

To all appearances, Canadians Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine set out to make a documentary sympathetic to Michael Moore but were stymied by his avoidance tactics, his fudging of certain facts, and his determination to control his image. As a result this video is useful but limited muckraking: Moore’s politics in general, and his films, writing, and TV work in particular, are neglected or sidestepped, overtaken by (or at least seen too exclusively through) the quirks in his personality. This leads me to wonder whether the more pleasant portrait Caine and Melnyk originally had in mind would have received or warranted as much interest as this one. 96 min. (JR) Read more

You’re Never Too Young

Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis star in a loose remake (1955) of The Major and the Minor, with Lewis improbably disguised as a 12-year-old boy and hidden away at a girls’ boarding school to escape the clutches of diamond thief Raymond Burr. Lewis is brilliantly and characteristically all over the place, while Martin, as a teacher, is so marginal that one can see why he was becoming estranged from his partner. Norman Taurog directed; with Diana Lynn and Nina Foch. 97 min. (JR) Read more

The 11th Hour

The box office success of An Inconvenient Truth (2006) is gratifying but hardly means that the problem of global warming is even close to being addressed, much less solved. This documentary by Leonardo DiCaprio (producer, writer, on-screen narrator) and Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen (writer-directors) continues the earlier movie’s campaign, and though the filmmaking isn’t everything it might have been (the opening montage is especially clumsy), their argument is compelling, absorbing, and urgent. Stephen Hawking and Mikhail Gorbachev are among the commentators, and despite the alarming facts presented, the filmmakers take pains not to foster fatalistic gloom, concentrating on some of the progressive solutions still available to us. PG, 95 min. (JR) Read more

Illegal Tender

Or, the Latino family that preys together stays together. Twenty-one years after a drug dealer gets gunned down in the Bronx, his widow (Blood Work’s Wanda De Jesus) and teenage son (Rick Gonzalez) are menaced by his killers, who’ve belatedly tracked them down in their suburban home, and they decide to fight back. John Singleton produced and Franc. Reyes (Empire) wrote and directed this lopsided effort, where more care seems to have been taken with the cut of Gonzalez’s sideburns than with the shape of the story, and the hyperbolic soundtrack does most of the work of the mise en scene. Pistol-packing De Jesus evokes Pam Grier in spots but certainly holds her own. R, 108 min. (JR) Read more

2 Days In Paris

Among the many offhand virtues of Julie Delpy’s first feature as solo writer-director is the fact that she’s as attentive to French foibles as American ones. She and Adam Goldberg play a New York couple, returning from a holiday in Venice, whose cultural and temperamental differences begin to drive them apart during a stay in Paris with her mother and father (played by Delpy’s actual parents). This lacks the sweetness and terseness of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, which Delpy cowrote, but it’s more satirical and casual in its approach, and Delpy’s grasp of the material is assured. R, 96 min. (JR) Read more

The Nanny Diaries

Wealthy New Yorkers don’t often get skewered so mercilessly as in this comedy by writing and directing duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (American Splendor), but the audacity turns out to be deceptive and formulaic. Adapted from a novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, and framed as a pseudoethnographic exercise, the story follows a New Jersey girl (Scarlett Johansson) who’s hired as a nanny by Upper East Side monsters (Laura Linney and Paul Giamatti). The characters are instantly reversiblethe bratty kid turns out to be a sweetie pie, the mother just needs to be told off. Only Giamatti, as the cliched businessman husband, is irredeemable, and he’s offset by the heroine’s dreamy beau (Chris Evans), who lives in the same building. PG-13, 106 min. (JR) Read more

Gypsy Caravan

The Gypsy docu-musical Latcho Drom (1993) was appealing for its graceful combinations of music and information, documentary and fiction, the history of Romany migrations over the past millennium and the poetic passing of seasons. This far more modest 2006 documentary by Jasmine Dellal charts the progress of five Romany bands touring the U.S. and intercuts footage of them back home with their families in India, Macedonia, Romania, and Spain. As a concert film it’s often frustrating, because performances are quickly overtaken by voice-overs. But for its glimpses of various lifestyles and personalitiesan ancient but spry fiddler, a young male who performs in dragit isn’t bad. Subtitled. 110 min. (JR) Read more

Belle de Jour and Belle Toujours

Though it may not equal the sublimity of his three last features, Luis Bunuel’s masterpiece Belle de Jour (1967, 100 min.) remains a seminal work that clarifies his relationship with Hitchcock. Like Hitchcock, Bunuel was a prude with a strong religious background and a highly developed sense of the kinky and transgressive; what he does here with Catherine Deneuve parallels Hitchcock’s encounters with Tippi Hedren. Adapting a novel by Joseph Kessel, Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere recount the story of Severine, a frigid but devoted upper-class housewife (Deneuve) who secretly works at a high-class brothel to satisfy her masochistic impulses. Placing her fantasies, dreams, and recollections on the same plane as her everyday adventures, Bunuel comes closer to the French New Wave than he does before or after, and much of his secondary cast reinforces this association, including Michel Piccoli, Macha Meril, and Pierre Clementi as a dandyish gangster. Belle Toujours (2006, 70 min.), Manoel de Oliveira’s sequel–or tribute, or speculative footnote–is less about Severine (played here by Bulle Ogier) than about Henri Husson (Piccoli again), a rakish aristocrat who discovers her secret. (It’s also more about class and less about sexual desire.) Husson arranges a meeting with a reluctant Severine many decades later, and Oliveira stages their dinner like a lush religious ceremony, albeit one with a couple of witty and pungent punch lines. Read more