Yearly Archives: 2008

Under The Same Moon

A Mexican illegal who’s been working in LA for four years (Kate del Castillo) scrimps and saves to hire a lawyer so she can become a citizen and send for her nine-year-old son (Adrian Alonso). He’s being cared for by his grandmother, but after she dies, the boy decides to sneak across the border. Your enjoyment of this picaresque tearjerker may depend on how much you can tolerate its shameless contrivances and didactic social realism, whereby the story exists only to illustrate the plight of illegal aliens. I was ultimately more moved than appalled, but it was a close contest. Patricia Riggen directed a script by Ligiah Villalobos. In English and subtitled Spanish. PG-13, 109 min. (JR) Read more

It’s A Free World . . .

Writer Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach have produced some powerful dramas — My Name Is Joe, Bread and Roses, Sweet Sixteen — but this 2007 feature doesn’t compare with them despite its timely subject, the exploitation of illegal aliens. Newcomer Kierston Wareing is strong as the lead character, an unscrupulous but not entirely unsympathetic single mother who loses her job at a London employment agency and then partners with a flatmate (Juliet Ellis) to open her own such establishment. But Loach and Laverty’s didactic side ultimately becomes obtrusive, even as they challenge our identification with the heroine. I emerged from this story feeling sadder and wiser but was never fully engaged. 93 min. (JR) Read more

The Inner Life Of Martin Frost

Relaxing at a friend’s empty country house, a reclusive New York novelist (David Thewlis) is inspired to write a new story and the next morning wakes up alongside a mysterious and seductive graduate student (Irene Jacob) who quickly becomes his muse and lover. Paul Auster, who made his directing debut with Lulu on the Bridge, provides the voice-over narration for this 2007 second feature, which was drawn and expanded from an interpolated story in his own novel, the engrossing Book of Illusions. The sad irony is that his storytelling gifts, Thewlis’s resourcefulness, and Jacob’s beauty only postpone one’s awareness that the material is too literary to work as cinema. The plot becomes increasingly arch (with the arrival of characters played by Michael Imperioli and by Auster’s teenage daughter, Sophie) and self-consciously metaphysical, and mannerism gradually overtakes visual and narrative invention. 94 min. (JR) Read more

Paranoid Park

A taciturn 16-year-old (Gabe Nevins) in Portland, Oregon, accidentally causes the gruesome death of a security guard and tries to deal with the psychological consequences in Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of a novel by Blake Nelson. This has something to do with guilt, alienation, and the loss of virginity but a lot more to do with skateboarding, and the emotional disassociation is underlined with Nino Rota’s theme music from Amarcord and Juliet of the Spirits. (Van Sant is a compulsive hijacker of other people’s material, from his Psycho remake to his appropriation of Chimes at Midnight in My Own Private Idaho, but he never enhances or illuminates what he filches.) There’s some striking camerawork by Christopher Doyle (in 35-millimeter) and Rain Kathy Li (in Super-8), though this doesn’t alter the overall feeling of random, nihilistic drift. Elephant said much more about teenagers and said it better. R, 84 min. Read more

Big Bad Love

Arliss Howard, making his directorial debut, takes on the self-pity of 60s burnout with decidedly mixed and often sloppy results. Adapted from Larry Brown’s short story collection, the film focuses on a divorced Vietnam vet in Mississippi (Howard) who collects piles of rejection slips for his fiction, gets occasional house-painting jobs from an old war buddy (Paul Le Mat), and sporadically makes halfhearted, wistful efforts to win back his estranged wife (Debra Winger, who also produced). This recalls a lot of 60s novels fueled by internal monologue (particularly Herzog) as well as British and Hollywood films that tried to achieve the same effect, mostly by ripping off the French New Wave; unfortunately Howard lacks the sense of film rhythm (or literary rhythm, for that matter) required to make such an exercise work. Just about the only clear triumph here is an underplayed performance by Angie Dickinson, though Winger and Rosanna Arquette also provide welcome relief from Howard and Le Mat’s self-indulgent carousing. 111 min. (JR) Read more

The Counterfeiters

Adapted from Adolf Burger’s memoir The Devil’s Workshop, this skillful, absorbing, Oscar-winning Austrian feature involves a Russian-Jewish counterfeiter (expertly played by Karl Markovics) who gets arrested in Berlin, winds up in a German concentration camp in 1944, and is put in charge of a secret forgery unit. Staffed by prisoners who’ve been granted special privileges, the unit counterfeits pounds and dollars in a plan to wreck the British and American economies, and one of the prisoners, a member of the communist resistance, attempts to sabotage the effort. Written and directed by the able Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Inheritors), this poses some tricky moral questions, and its troubling ambiguities rank a cut above the dubious uplift of Schindler’s List. In German with subtitles. R, 98 min. (JR) Read more

The Other Boleyn Girl

This drama about Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) and her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) being groomed essentially as prostitutes to service Henry VIII (Eric Bana) might have qualified as some sort of bodice ripper/history lesson. But despite a certain amount of moral outrage and good performances from the lead actresses, it’s neither sexy enough to qualify as good trash nor serious enough to pass for history. (For starters, according to many sources, the real Mary was older than Anne, not younger, and far more promiscuous than she is here.) At least the script, adapted by Peter Morgan (The Queen) from a Philippa Gregory novel, explains how the Church of England came into being. The competent but stiff direction is by Justin Chadwick; with David Morrissey and Kristin Scott Thomas. PG-13, 115 min. (JR) Read more

Vantage Point

At a historic summit in Spain against global terrorism, the U.S. president (William Hurt) is shot, a bomb explodes, and two federal agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) rush to find the culprits. This gripping if ridiculous thriller repeatedly backtracks to present the same events from different viewpoints, though ironically it has no viewpoint of its own, just a desire to pile up plot twists and extend a thrilling car chase ad infinitum. Milking an international crisis for thrills may seem tasteless, but of course the news media do it all the time, which is highlighted by the movie’s shameless lack of interest in such drab matters as political motivation. If you’re up for good nihilist entertainment, look no further. With Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, and Edgar Ramirez. PG-13, 90 min. (JR) Read more

Charlie Bartlett

A rebellious teen comedy that isn’t as good or as radical as Pump Up the Volume, but still feels like a shot in the arm and is full of irreverent energy. Jon Poll’s debut featurewith a witty script by Gustin Nashcenters on a wealthy, frequently expelled title hero (Anton Yelchin) who becomes the most popular kid at his high school once he starts prescribing and selling pharmaceuticals to his classmates that he acquires from his own shrink, and then leads a revolt against surveillance cameras in the student lounge. Despite an ineffectual subplot about the hero’s absent father, there are some good satirical riffs here on adult hypocrisies (with Robert Downey Jr. especially good as the beleaguered, alcoholic school principal), a few echoes of the underrated Mumford, and lots of high spirits. With Kat Dennings, Hope Davis, and Tyler Hilton. R, 97 min. (JR) Read more

Prisoners Of War

Starting with From the Pole to the Equator (1987), the Milan-based couple Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi have excelled at compiling silent archival footage, encouraging the material to speak, both historically and poetically, through masterful use of music, tinting, and variable speeds. (Their mystical reverence for the footage is reflected in how they commune with it by keeping film cans around the house before opening them.) Drawn from many war museums, this 1995 work is the first part of a World War I trilogy, and it’s a spellbinder, alternately beautiful and horrifying. It concentrates on POWs in prerevolutionary Russia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but there’s also some extraordinary combat footage. The few Italian intertitles, most of them identifying dates and locations, are unsubtitled. 90 min. (JR) Read more

Be Kind Rewind

The sweet-tempered Michel Gondry works well with sharp-edged material (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), but his projects as a solo writer-director have been soft and surreal celebrations of innocence that threaten to drift off into whimsy (The Science of Sleep and now this feature). Danny Glover entrusts his run-down video shop in Passaic to clueless assistants Jack Black and Mos Def, who accidentally erase all the videos and decide to shoot their own low-rent versions of popular hits. Their project is a great success with customers, but the studios object and Glover gets an eviction notice. This anachronistic tale goes beyond Capracorn to evoke Depression-era fare like One Hundred Men and a Girl in which the charm is overtaken by mush. One wants to protect this, but it’s hard not to gag on the cuteness. With Melonie Diaz and Mia Farrow. PG-13, 101 min. (JR) Read more

The Pornographers

The visual brilliance of Shohei Imamura’s kinky and satirical black-and-white ‘Scope feature (1966), about a man who makes eight-millimeter porno loops, often suggests the inventiveness of the French New Wave, but not so much the New Wave features of auteurs like Godard and Truffaut as the more illustrative offshoots of that movement, like Sundays and Cybele and Zazie, that applied its dazzling visceral techniques like fresh coats of paint to the material at hand. Often framing his action through windows and fish tanks, punctuating his action with abrupt freeze-frames and fantasy interludes, Imamura attacks the whole question of contemporary eroticism with mordant intelligence, though his style here seems not so much organic as a witty and independent form of commentary. In Japanese with subtitles. 127 min. (JR) Read more

Definitely, Maybe

A divorced New York adman (Ryan Reynolds) gives his insufferably precocious ten-year-old (Abigail Breslin of Little Miss Sunshine) a lengthy account of his early love life, conveyed in flashbacks that begin shortly before his leaving Madison, Wisconsin, to work on Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign as a political consultant. This highly uneven comedy by writer-director Adam Brooks (Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) might be easier to take if it were less infatuated with its own cuteness. With Isla Fisher, Derek Luke, Elizabeth Banks, Rachel Weisz, and Kevin Kline. PG-13, 111 min. (JR) Read more

The Band’s Visit

This debut feature by writer-director Eran Kolirin follows the confusions and minor comic adventures of the eight-piece Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, which sets off from Egypt to perform at an Arab cultural center in Israel and gets stranded in the wrong town on the edge of a desert. Not much of consequence happens, apart from the musicians communicating with the locals in English and getting housed and fed and entertained by a few of them. But Kolirin has a fine sense of where to place the camera and when to cut between shots for maximum comic effect, and his two lead actorsSasson Gabai as the band’s conductor and Ronit Elkabetz (Or) as one of the localsare terrific. (Incidentally, both are Israeli Jews.) In English and subtitled Arabic and Hebrew. PG-13, 87 min. (JR) Read more


Shohei Imamura’s mordant, corrosive satire about Japanese imperialism (1987) is based on the autobiography of Iheiji Muraoka, a Japanese barber in Hong Kong who was ordered by the Japanese consulate to spy on Russians in Manchuria in the early 1900s. Played by Ken Ogata, the barber invests his earnings in a brothel and, anticipating the Japanese invasion of countries stretching from Manchuria to Malaysia, opens a string of such establishments across east Asia and defends his activity as a form of higher patriotism. (None of the action is set in Japan itself.) This being an Imamura film, the caricatures are laid on rather thick, but the high spirits carry the sarcasm. Also known as Pimp. In Japanese with subtitles. 124 min. (JR) Read more