Daily Archives: November 15, 2007


It’s hard for me to remember a film I’ve felt more conflicted about than Brian De Palma’s low-budget effort about the Iraq occupation, based on the real-life story of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was raped and killed by American soldiers. It shows rare courage in protesting the widespread abuse of innocent Iraqis, but its pseudodocumentary form is full of awkward misfires (such as a protracted use of theme music from Barry Lyndon) and its acting is often terrible. In some respects a remake of De Palma’s Casualties of War (1989), which was derived from a real-life atrocity committed by American soldiers in Vietnam, this film goes much further in its rejection of American justifications for war, but it’s also a good deal coarser in much of its overall conception as well as its style. R, 90 min. (JR) Read more

Southland Tales

Richard Kelly (Donnie Darko) describes his extravagant SF turkey as big and political and sprawling, and at least he’s right about the first and third adjectives. A nuclear bomb goes off in Abilene, the U.S. becomes a police state monitored by Miranda Richardson, and a cackling Wallace Shawn launches a dirigible and stands poised to take over the planet. A Republican action hero (Dwayne Johnson) gets his memory erased by butt-kicking women (including Cheri Oteri) called neo-Marxists, meanwhile hanging out with a former porn star (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and a beach cop with a twin (Seann William Scott) and pitching his visionary script. You can’t be both political and incoherent, and even though Kelly’s models are Kiss Me Deadly and Blade Runner, this vision of the near-future suggests a random blend of Dr. No and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! R, 144 min. (JR) Read more

The Blood

With milky whites, inky blacks, and delicate leafy shadows inspired by such 50s films as The Big Heat and Pickpocket and fairy-tale poetics evoking The Night of the Hunter, Pedro Costa’s tender first feature (1989) is gripping even if you can’t fathom all of the plot. Between Christmas and New Year’s in a small riverside village, the father of two boys, ages 10 and 17, mysteriously dies and a loving schoolteacher (Ines de Medeiros) and three sinister men (an uncle from Lisbon and two debt collectors) seem to take over their lives. As in Costa’s later work, a sense of vibrant enigma is constant. In Portuguese with subtitles. 95 min. See my piece on the Film Center’s Costa retrospective, which this is part of, for more. [JR] Read more


A young mother with an unwanted infant in a battered slum outside Lisbon repeatedly attempts suicide; the confused father carries the boy around, not knowing what to do with him, begging and periodically becoming involved with other women. Pedro Costa’s unsettling third feature (1997), a transitional work between his films made with actors and large crews (The Blood, Down to Earth) and his DV chamber pieces (In Vanda’s Room, Colossal Youth), started out as a documentary before becoming an elliptical story, mainly with nonprofessional actors playing characters. Like Costa’s other films, it looks exquisite, but the Bressonian vacancy of the leads sometimes feels spooky rather than soulful. With Ines de Medeiros and Vanda Duarte (who plays herself in the next two Costa features). In Portuguese with subtitles. 96 min. (JR) Read more

Oswald’s Ghost

Documentary video maker Robert Stone is a lot more evenhanded than Oliver Stone when it comes to weighing the evidence we have about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the role of Lee Harvey Oswald. But he has little to add to common knowledge about this subject, apart from shooting down or dismissing most of the conspiracy theories that have found some favor with portions of the public at one time or another. Among the many talking heads who tell this storyincluding Edward Jay Epstein, Todd Gitlin, Tom Hayden, Mark Lane, Priscilla Johnson McMillan, Norman Mailer, Dan Rather, and Josiah Thompsonit’s ultimately Mailer who takes the lead, furnishing the film’s title while explaining how and why the lone assassin theory makes the most sense to him. 90 min. (JR) Read more