From the Chicago Reader (September 23, 2005).– J.R.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
Written by Lars von Trier
With Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman, Alison Pill, Danso Gordon, Michael Angarano, Novello Nelson, Chris Owen, and Mark Webber
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Steve James
Two new releases are defined by an inability to fathom another culture — Reel Paradise, a U.S. documentary about an American spending a year in the South Pacific with his family, and Dear Wendy, a Danish feature with English dialogue that was shot in rural Denmark and Germany but is set in a poor mining town in the American southeast. Both demonstrate a middle-class complacency that fosters this inadequacy.
The acknowledged subject of Dear Wendy, written by Lars von Trier and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is the American obsession with guns and violence. “Wendy” is a small handgun that’s addressed, fondled, and ultimately used by the young narrator-hero played by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), who prides himself on being a pacifist even after he starts a gun club, the Dandies. Like the other misfits in the club, he claims to be interested only in target practice, but when they wind up in a bloody shoot-out with the police (among them Bill Pullman) we aren’t the least bit surprised.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 30, 2005). The last illustration, incidentally, is from the graphic novel that this film is based on.,,,See below for screenwriter Josh Olson’s recent response to this review. — J.R.
A History of Violence
Directed by David Cronenberg
Written by Josh Olson
With Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, Ashton Holmes, William Hurt, and Heidi Hayes
Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen) is a happy family man running a diner in idyllic small-town Indiana, with a lawyer wife (Maria Bello), a teenage son (Ashton Holmes), and a little girl (Heidi Hayes). One night he responds so deftly and definitively to the violent threats of two killers that he becomes a local hero. A Philadelphia mobster named Carl Fogarty (Ed Harris) hears of the story and soon arrives in town claiming that Tom has another name and background — that he was once a gangster himself who mutilated one of Fogarty’s eyes with barbed wire.
Is A History of Violence a popular genre movie, soliciting visceral, unthinking responses to its violence while evoking westerns and noirs? Or is it an art film, reflecting on the meaning, implications, and effects of its violence, and getting us to do the same?… Read more »
Jia Zhang-ke’s second feature (2000) may well be his best work to date and one of the greatest of all Chinese films. Its subject is the great theme of Chinese cinema, the discovery of history, which links such otherwise disparate masterpieces as The Blue Kite, Blush, Actress, The Puppet Master, and A Brighter Summer Day. The story charts the course of the Cultural Revolution’s aftermath for about a decade, noting shifts in values and lifestyles, culture and economy, as China moves inexorably from Maoism to capitalism, as witnessed by five actors in a provincial traveling theater troupe. Many episodes unfold in single long takes, with offscreen sound playing an important role, and the beautifully choreographed mise en scene recalls the fluid Hungarian pageants of Miklos Jancso in the 60s and 70s. Originally 192 minutes long, the film was recut by Jia to its current 155 minutes and improved in the process. In Mandarin with subtitles. (JR)
… Read more »