Monthly Archives: August 2007

Flanders

A rustic in every respect, French director Bruno Dumont (The Life of Jesus, L’Humanit… Read more »

12:08 East Of Bucharest

Dry comedies from eastern Europe tend to cast a skeptical eye on anything and everything, which is certainly the case with Corneliu Porumboiu’s debut feature (2006), a Cannes prizewinner about memories of the 1989 Romanian revolution. In a nondescript village (Porumboiu’s real-life hometown), a TV talk show is organized so that a teacher and a pensioner can discuss what they were doing the day Ceausescu was deposed. Part of the minimalist humor growing out of this small-scale event is that they can barely remember anything, because the revolution scarcely made any difference. In Romanian with subtitles. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Blue Light

Leni Riefenstahl’s first feature (1932) recounts an allegorical fairy tale about a beautiful village maiden (Riefenstahl) drawn to a mysterious light in the mountains and the artist (Mathias Weimann) who loves and ultimately destroys her. It provides a fascinating look at Riefenstahl’s giddy, rhapsodic talentswhich are often so close to those of Walt Disney, albeit in a live-action context, that they border on kitsch and campas well as ideological clues about the sensibility that produced the most powerful Nazi propaganda. In German with subtitles. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Invasion

The third remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) may not be a patch on the original, but it does have a few things the other versions lack: a nonstop lurching pace propelled by jump cuts and flash-forwards, Nicole Kidman as the hero (taking over the part first played by Kevin McCarthy), a D.C. setting, and a bitter kind of satiric irony leaking around the edges that suggests maybe the body snatchers have a point. With Daniel Craig (in the Dana Wynter role) and Jeffrey Wright; directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) from a script by Dave Kajganich. R, 93 min. a Arlington, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, City North 14, Crown Glen 10, Crown Village 18, Elk Grove, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Hollywood Boulevard, Lake Zurich, Marcus Addison, Melrose Park, Niles ShowPlace 12, Northbrook, Quarry, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings, 600 N. Michigan, South Barrington 30, Streets of Woodfield, York, Yorktown. –Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Ingmar Bergman Complete

Made for Swedish television, this three-part video documentary (2004) is widely regarded as the best treatment of the theater and film director’s life and work. Culled from a considerable amount of interview and archival material, it’s split between Bergman’s films, his more extensive (and, many would say, more important and accomplished) theater work, and his life, in that order. Marie Nyrerod is the sole credited director, though Bergman is rumored to have had some hand in the proceedings. In Swedish with subtitles. 174 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Good Times Kid

Filmmaker Azazel Jacobs calls this a story about stolen love and stolen identities shot on stolen film. He’s the son of Ken Jacobs (Star Spangled to Death), with some of his pa’s anarchic spirit, and because he apparently stole good 35-millimeter stock, he doesn’t have to worry that much about the story anyway. The slender premise — two guys are named Rodolfo, one of whom gets renamed Depresso by the girlfriend of the other — seems mainly an excuse to hang out with these people, and it’s a tribute to Jacobs’s skill that this is enough. He knows how to put air around his characters, pace their movements, and chart their interactions in various locations, and when the heroine starts dancing at one point, she’s so good that I wanted to cheer. 77 min. (JR)

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Orchard Vale

Interspersed with experimental fairy-tale segments using cutout animation, this ambitious, underlit first feature by musician Tim Kinsella mostly consists of postapocalyptic dysfunctional-family drama. Despite some striking music and edgy performances, the fact that terms like postapocalyptic and dysfunctional family spring so readily to mind makes the narrative armature feel more generic than it apparently wants to be. Packed with filmmaking ideas, Kinsella’s strange object oscillates between stylistic and thematic concerns that rarely mesh, though a lively and busy surface is fairly constant. In other words, I was sometimes bored by the story but never by the movie. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Stardust

I’m a sucker for fantasies, but this one is so undistinguished and arbitrary that it left few traces in my consciousness, apart from the impression that the filmmakers resort to cruelty whenever they run out of ideas, which is often. Derived from a Neil Gaiman novel, the story involves a wall separating a mundane English village from a supernatural parallel universe on the other side. This might have been interesting if the production were unified by a particular style or vision, but it’s nearly all filigree, including the decorative overload of stars (Claire Danes, Sienna Miller, Peter O’Toole, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert De Niro, Rupert Everett, Ricky Gervais). At least Pfeiffer and De Niro seem to be enjoying themselves. Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake) directed and contributed to the script. PG-13, 130 min. (JR)… Read more »

Casting About

Barry J. Hershey auditioned 184 actresses in five European and American cities for parts in a narrative feature, and this 2006 documentary, consisting of snippets from their tryouts, shows why film and theater professionals commonly refer to these events as cattle calls. All the young women are attractive and many are talented, but Hershey’s montages of their movements and behavior depersonalize and even dehumanize them even as they clarify his power, which almost turns them into prostitutes. I thought I’d enjoy this, but it wound up giving me the creeps. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

This Is England

In Meantime (1983), Mike Leigh explored what might produce a skinhead in London’s East End. Harking back to the same year on the north coast of England, where he grew up, writer-director Shane Meadows (Once Upon a Time in the Midlands) builds on his own memories of what turned him into a skinhead, making his hero (Thomas Turgoose) a lonely outcast who’s recently lost his father in the Falklands war. The way this 12-year-old on summer holiday falls under the protective influence of first one relatively gentle gang leader (Joe Gilgun), then an ex-con more prone to rapid mood swings and racial hatred (Stephen Graham), is masterfully charted and acted, as are the boy’s early forays into sex. The film falters only when it drifts too predictably into a coming-of-age moral fable. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Treatment

Chris Eigeman, a key actor in the movies of Whit Stillman and Noah Baumbach, finally gets to show his range in this romantic comedy, adapted from Daniel Menaker’s first novel. The tone is set in the opening scene, when Eigeman’s character, who teaches English and coaches basketball at a Manhattan prep school, runs into an ex-girlfriend. “Are you seeing anybody?” she asks. “I mean therapy. Are you seeing a shrink?” In fact he’s engaged in Freudian psychoanalysis with a comically punitive Argentinean (Ian Holm), and when he gets involved with a wealthy widow (Famke Janssen), both the shrink sessions and the movie shift into high gear. John Zorn’s ethnically tinged score is effectively minimalist without succumbing to Philip Glass-style monotony, and Harris Yulin is effective as the hero’s semi-estranged father. Oren Rudavsky directed. 86 min. a Landmark’s Century Centre. –Jonathan Rosenbaum … Read more »

Deep Valley

Before getting swamped by overproduced CinemaScope features, Jean Negulesco was a skillful director of noirs and other small pictures, as evidenced by Road House (1948) and this neglected drama about a couple on the run (1947). Ida Lupino plays a poor, eccentric 22-year-old in rural California, traumatized by abusive and dysfunctional parents (Henry Hull and Faye Bainter), who falls for a sensitive but volatile escaped convict (Dane Clark). If you can get past the obtrusive Max Steiner score and a surfeit of dog reaction shots, this has a feeling for outcasts and strong, quirky performances that build to the kind of affecting and socially subversive romantic melodrama Nicholas Ray excelled at. With Wayne Morris. 104 min. 16mm. Also on the program: Cell Bound (1955), one of Tex Avery’s creepier and more manic cartoons. a Sat 8/11, 8 PM, LaSalle Bank Cinema. –Jonathan Rosenbaum … Read more »

Gertrud

Carl Dreyer’s last film (1964) is for me the most beautiful, affecting, and inexhaustible of all narrative films, but it’s clearly not for every tastenot, alas, even remotely. Adapted from a long-forgotten play by Hjalmar Soderberg, it centers on a proud, stubborn woman (Nina Pens Rode) who demands total commitment in love and forsakes both her husband and a former lover for a young musician who’s relatively indifferent to her. It moves at an extremely slow, theatrical pace in long takes recorded mainly in direct sound (though shot principally in a studio) and deserves to be ranked along with The Magnificent Ambersons, Lola Montes, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as one of the great haunted-memory films. Its meaning hinges partially on the refusal or inability to compromise and what this implies over the range of an entire life. (in this case Dreyer’s as well as his heroine’s). It’s exquisite, unbearable, and unforgettable. In Danish with subtitles. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bratz: The Movie

You’ve bought the dolls; now see if you can sit through the movie. Cloe, Jade, Sasha, and Yasmin like to shop and sneer but are mainly dubbed when they sing; they attend Carry Nation High School, but whether this refers to the temperance leader or the rocking multicultural babes in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is anybody’s guess. This atrocious comedy doesn’t have an idea in its head but still screams at the top of its lungs, taking pains to distinguish between its rich heroines and their even richer enemies (including Jon Voight). Sean McNamara directed, but the auteur must be coproducer Steven Paul, who made his debut with Slapstick (Of Another Kind) (1982). PG, 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Trials Of Darryl Hunt

Miscarriages of justice involving black men in the south are nothing new, but there seems to be no precedent for the obtuseness of the legal system revealed in this 2005 documentary by Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg. In 1984 teenager Darryl Hunt was arrested for the rape and murder of a white woman in Winston-Salem; though convicted with flimsy evidence and later proved innocent by DNA testing, he had to wait 19 years before he was freed and exonerated. The police and judiciary’s unwillingness to acknowledge errors and talent for compounding them evoke the current Bush administration, but the most compelling part of this is Stern and Sundberg’s growing acquaintance with and understanding of Hunt, which ultimately gives their narrative some positive spin. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »