Daily Archives: September 1, 1999

Inquietude

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1999). — J.R.

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inquietude

Pushing 100, Portuguese writer-director Manoel de Oliveira is our oldest living film master, which makes it all the more astonishing that he’s averaged one feature a year since the ’80s. His finest work is bound to literature and theater, and this eccentric triptych (1998) is one of its absolute peaks. It consists of a one-act play (Prista Monteiro’s The Immortals) and a story by Antonio Patricio about four people who attend it, one of whom recounts the third story, Agustina Bessa-Luis’s The Mother of the River. The theme of this exquisite masterpiece, linking all three parts, is existential identity, played out in each case by two characters — father and son, playboy and prostitute, young village woman and ancient witch. The witch is played by Irene Papas, and de Oliveira can be seen dancing with his wife in the middle episode. In Portuguese with subtitles. 114 min. (JR)

 

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Mumford

Folk wisdom is sprinkled immoderately into this comedy by writer-director-producer Lawrence Kasdan, about a popular psychologist named Mumford (Loren Dean) solving everyone’s problems in a small town of the same namethe old-fashioned charm and sweetness may remind you at times of stuff by John Ford starring Will Rogers. But the impression doesn’t last long, because most of the wisdom and the characters attached to it start to seem phony as soon as the movie’s over. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this while it lasted, especially for the cast: Jane Adams, Ted Danson, Hope Davis, Jason Lee, Mary McDonnell, David Paymer, Martin Short, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Alfre Woodard, and even Robert Stack in a funny cameo. (JR)… Read more »

For Love Of The Game

Near the end of his career, star pitcher Kevin Costner hurls a masterpiece while reviewing his life. Among the things he has to think about are Kelly Preston as the woman he loves and is losing, Jena Malone as her teenage daughter, and the serious hand injury he’s had to come back from. I can’t imagine what baseball fans will make of this protracted tearjerker and its tortured flashback structure, but fans of director Sam Raimi who welcomed his recent impulses to diversify (The Quick and the Dead, A Simple Plan) after making his name as a horror specialist may have second thoughts. The actual culprit may be Costner, so bent on giving himself maximum screen time that I doubt even Carl Dreyer could have made much of the results, though I’m told that Universal reedited Costner’s version after he reedited Raimi’s. For the first 100 minutes or so I found this hokey but serviceable; after that my watch became more meaningful than anything I could locate on-screen. Adapted by Dana Stevens from a novel by Michael Shaara; with John C. Reilly and Brian Cox. (JR)… Read more »

Desert Blue

Despite a good cast including Christina Ricci and amiably laid-back plot development, this feature by young writer-director Morgan J. Freeman (Hurricane Streets)not to be confused with the actor Morgan Freemandidn’t really grab me when I watched it on video. Set in and around a California road stop with a population of 89, the story focuses on an unexpected romance between a young local (Brendan Sexton III) and a TV actress (Kate Hudson) stuck in town when a tank truck crashes and the FBI, fearing a toxic spill, quarantines the area. There’s more charm than momentum, but maybe it works better on the big screen. With John Heard, Casey Affleck, and Sara Gilbert. (JR)… Read more »

Absentor Something Like That

An interesting, varied, and often appealing program of experimental short films and videos. Shuk-Shan Lee’s The Sky When It Is a Sunny Dayat 18 minutes, the longest entry in the bunchis a lyrical look at the lives and hobbies of a few blind people, and I especially liked one of the music videos by Kirstin Grieve, made for the band Low, which mixes close-ups of musical details with slow-motion footage of boys playing in piles of autumn leaves. Also on the program, Andy Grieve and Justin Allen’s Red Breath; Carolyn Faber’s Iota (1998); Mary Roland’s The Cabbie (1998); Akiko Iwakawa’s Swing/Everything I Wanted (1997); Amie Siegel’s silent Inclusum Labor Illustrat (1996), which is mainly about fetuses; and Chris Eichenseer’s Goodbye and Rewind (1998). (JR)… Read more »

Circle’s Short Circuit

This 1998 Caspar Stracke feature is one of the rare experimental films in 35-millimeter, and though I could preview it only on video, it kept me fascinated even in that format. Stracke describes it as moving in a circle with neither a beginning nor an end; in the version I saw, the credits come in the middle. A lecture on the philosophical and psychoanalytic implications of the invention of the telephone by theorist Avital Ronell eventually turns into a story in black and white about a woman who has a lotus blossom growing in her left lung; at different times this film comes across as documentary, essay, performance art, and silent throwback (complete with intertitles and irises), and the capabilities and rhetoric associated with both computers and VCRs play a part in the continuously shifting and evolving discourse. (JR)… Read more »

The Raven

Bela Lugosi has an obsession with Poe (apparently the main excuse for the title) and Boris Karloff is the criminal he treats to a nasty face-lift. The direction of this clammy 1935 horror item is credited to Louis Friedlander, which is actually Lew Landers in hidingperhaps understandably. 62 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mad Monster Party

This 1967 spoof features stop-motion animation and the voices of, among others, Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller; Jules Bass directed. 94 min.… Read more »

Finger Of Guilt

The fourth feature directed in England by American Joseph Losey (1956), credited pseudonymously to Joseph Walton due to the Hollywood blacklist, this serviceable but rarely screened thriller was released overseas in a version ten minutes longer as The Intimate Stranger. Scripted by Casablanca’s Howard Koch (another blacklisted expatriate at the time, signing himself Peter Howard) and shot on a shoestring in a dozen days, it concerns an American film producer (Richard Basehart) working in London whose job and marriage are threatened by an American actress (The Wild One’s Mary Murphy) claiming to be his mistress. It’s less effective than the English thrillers made during the same period by the similarly blacklisted Cy Endfield, though the uses made of an English filmmaking milieu are both convincing and fascinating, and it’s interesting to see Roger Livesey, a Michael Powell regular, turning up in a central part. It seems a Losey specialty to make almost all of his characters unpleasant, but the assured engagement of his best American work and subsequent English films like The Damned is only fitfully apparent here. With Mervyn Johns and Constance Cummings. (JR)… Read more »

Late August, Early September

What’s unexpected as well as moving about this 1998 film by Olivier Assayas, at least in relation to his other recent features (Cold Water, Irma Vep), is how sweet tempered most of it is. Split into six chapters, with several weeks or months separating one section and the next, it follows a group of close friendsmainly a novelist who’s just turned 40 (Francois Cluzet) and is becoming ill, a writer-editor in his 30s (Mathieu Amalric), and their current and former lovers (Virginie Ledoyen, Jeanne Balibar, Arsinee Khanjian, and Mia Hansen-Love). What we don’t know about these charactersand what we don’t see in certain scenesis often as interesting and as important as what we know and see, and Assayas’s sense of how relationships evolve between people over time is conveyed with a rich and vivid novelistic density. With Nathalie Richard and Alex Descas. In French with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blue Streak

For me, a slightly better than average Martin Lawrence action comedy isn’t cause for celebration, just an occasion for yawning a little less strenuouslybut fans who think he’s the cat’s pajamas may be dancing in the streets. This time he’s playing a jewel thief who impersonates a cop in order to recover a diamond he once hid in the police station’s ventilation system. This occasions lots of gags about the innocence and gullibility of copsnot to mention the usual valorizing of guns and vigilante justice and tedious action sequences to begin and end the picture. Les Mayfield directs, while the script, predictably, is by several hands; with Luke Wilson, Peter Greene, and Dave Chappelle. (JR)… Read more »

Romance

French filmmaker and novelist Catherine Breillat is already a disputed figure for the frankness about sex and sexual desire and the lack of political correctness in many of her previous features (e.g., 36 fillette). Inspired in part by Nagisa Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, this story about a young grammar-school teacher (Caroline Ducey) who starts sleeping around when her lover and flatmate (Sagamore Stevinen) loses interest in having sex with her is Breillat’s most explicit and controversial film to date (if not necessarily her best). The heroine’s voice-over, conventionally poetic and fairly constant, provides a kind of counterpoint to the sex. The story isn’t always believable, and some protracted bondage sequences may stretch your patience if you don’t pick up on their poker-faced comedy (the prosaic man tying the knots, who claims to have made love to 10,000 women, is the heroine’s boss). There’s also some hokey essentialism about motherhood that I could have done without, and when the film drifts off into fantasy at the end, Breillat’s tone becomes less confident. But the eroticism is powerful, and the documentary candor and directness of the sex scenes make this well worth seeing. (JR)… Read more »

The Haunting

A stinker. If a scare is what you’re after, hunt down the 1963 black-and-white ‘Scope version, directed by Robert Wise, which had more chills in its first ten minutes than this can manage from beginning to end. Maybe that’s because it had a storyderived, however loosely, from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. This has director Jan De Bont, who as we know from Speed, Twister, and Speed 2 does theme park rides better than stories or characters. This has a few cheap thrills, all thanks to special effects, but not much to string them together besides some distracting, disconnected leftovers from the Wise version. But at the screening I attended, the numerous awkward and hokey moments did provoke plenty of laughs. With Liam Neeson, Lili Taylor, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Owen Wilson, and bits by Bruce Dern and Marian Seldes. The script was written by David Self. (JR)… Read more »