Daily Archives: September 1, 2000

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

The first Ang Lee film I’ve liked without much qualification (2000). It’s also the most exuberant action movie in ages, thanks to the choreography of Yuen Wo-ping and the powerhouse cast of Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen. There’s an undeniable lift to watching the young girl Zhang wipe out the ruffians who go after her, while the affectionate references to King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan (among other Hong Kong action touchstones) also add something flavorsome to the brew. Adapted by James Schamus (one of the executive producers), Wang Hui Ling, and Tsai Kuo Jung from Wang Du Lu’s novel of the same title, this sincere and magical fairy tale might be self-consciously celebratory at times (it’s Ang Lee’s homecoming movie, his first Asian film since Eat Drink Man Woman), but it still succeeds in putting the same spirited spin on martial arts that Singin’ in the Rain did on early Hollywood. In Mandarin with subtitles. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Willow And The Wind

Abbas Kiarostami wrote the story for this charming Iranian suspense picture (1999), reportedly for director Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon), though it was eventually realized quite competently by Mohammad Ali Talebi. A variation on The Wages of Fear, it follows a schoolboy assigned the task of carrying a plate-glass window several miles through a windstorm to his schoolroom to replace one that’s broken. The landscape is beautiful, and the tale itself is pretty mesmerizing. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

Satan Met A Lady

An inferior and unacknowledged adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, with a ram’s horn replacing the falcon. William Dieterle directed this 1936 feature; with Bette Davis, Warren William, and Alison Skipworth. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sixth Happiness

Derived from the fictionalized autobiography of Firdaus Kanga, who plays himself, this is a British feature about the life of a man born in Bombay with a disease that made his bones brittle and kept him from growing taller than four feet; Waris Hussein directed. Based on what I’ve sampled, it’s an eclectic and far from negligible picture. (JR)… Read more »

Stage Door

Hu-Du-Men, the Cantonese title of this entertaining 1996 film from Hong Kong, is an opera term for the imaginary line separating the stage from backstage, and it becomes emblematic of the various crossovers in the story. Adapted by Raymond To Kwow-wai from his own play, it concerns the producer and star of a Cantonese opera company (Josephine Siao) who’s about to abandon her career to emigrate to Australia with her husband and adopted daughter. (As in many recent Hong Kong films, anticipation of the colony’s return to the mainland is a major theme here.) The adopted daughter is showing lesbian tendencies, and the heroine, a specialist in male roles, is experiencing some gender confusion of her own. Director Shu Kei is a central figure in the Hong Kong film scene, a novelist, a programmer, the country’s most outspoken film critic, and a prolific screenwriter who’s worked for the likes of Ann Hui, Yim Ho, and John Woo; he navigates genre and gender alike with wit and aplomb. (JR)… Read more »

Curtain Of Eyes

This striking black-and-white dance film (1997), composed for the camera by Daniele Wilmouth, is the product of a six-month collaboration with four Japanese dancers from Kyoto’s Saltimbanques Buton troupe. The dancers move in an abstract space, mainly in closeups and medium shots, and Wilmouth’s textured imagery is every bit as detailed as the dancing. (JR)… Read more »

Two Streams

The previous films of the imaginative, versatile Sao Paulo-based Carlos Reichenbach to reach Chicago are his 1993 Buccaneer Soul, which charts the friendship of two intellectual writers in the 50s and 60s, and his 1987 Suburban Angels, a surrealist fantasia suggesting both Raul Ruiz and the French New Wave. This feature is a lyrical, episodic story of two adolescent girls staying at a country house in 1969 who develop crushes on an uncle, a political refugee in hiding. The images have some of the ripe flavors and color coordinations of Douglas Sirk’s 50s melodramas, and the music is lush and emotional. There’s a fair amount of comedy, and some of the performances periodically turn artificial, as if Reichenbach were deliberately camping up the nostalgic atmosphere. The pacing is leisurely in spots, but the sweeping, bravura camera movements sometimes attain delirium. (JR)… Read more »

Tredici

A heartwarming comedy directed by John Hancock, about three generations of a Corsican family that emigrated here in the 40s and now live on a fruit farm in Indiana. (JR)… Read more »

Zapatista Women

Guadalupe Miranda and Maria Ines Roque’s 1995 video focuses on Mexican women active in the Zapatista Army of National Liberation. Interviewed shortly after the 1994 uprising, their faces masked, they discuss their lives and their struggle; later they’re seen doing some of their daily chores. One of the male leaders delivers a poetic political speech, and another speaks about the women’s bravery. (JR)… Read more »

Stromboli

Roberto Rossellini’s first filmic encounter with Ingrid Bergman, made in the wilds in 1949 around the same time the neorealist director and the Hollywood star were being denounced in the U.S. Senate for their adulterous romance. Widely regarded as a masterpiece today, the film was so badly mutilated by Howard Hughes’s RKO (which added offscreen narration, reshuffled some sequences, and deleted others) that Rossellini sued the studio (and lost). The Italian version, which Rossellini approved, has come out on video, and this rarely screened English-language version is very close to it. A Lithuanian-born Czech refugee living in an internment camp (Bergman) marries an Italian fisherman (Mario Vitale) in order to escape, but she winds up on a bare, impoverished island with an active volcano, where most of the locals regard her with hostility. The film is most modern and remarkable when the camera is alone with Bergman, though Rossellini wisely shows neither the wife nor the husband with full sympathy. Eschewing psychology, the film remains a kind of ambiguous pieta whose religious ending is as controversial as that of Rossellini and Bergman’s subsequent Voyage to Italy (though its metaphoric and rhetorical power make it easier to take). Rossellini’s blend of documentary and fiction is as provocative as usual, but it also makes the film choppy and awkward; the English dialogue is often stiff, and Renzo Cesana as a pontificating local priest is almost as clumsy here as in Cyril Endfield’s subsequent Try and Get Me!… Read more »

Vampyros Lesbos

Extremely prolific and generally untalented, Jess Franco is the Spanish Ed Wood, albeit without Wood’s gift for humorously inane dialogue. This female vampire film from 1970 was shot on location in Italy. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hang ‘em High

An American-made sequel (1968) to the spaghetti westerns, directed by the talented Ted Post. It’s an elegant, crisp study of two opposing approaches to law and order: the rational, socially conscious view of a judge (Pat Hingle) and the emotional, revenge-oriented approach of a man who was nearly lynched (Clint Eastwood). With Inger Stevens, Ed Begley, Ben Johnson, Charles McGraw, Bruce Dern, and Dennis Hopper. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Rio Escondido

Emilio Fernandez’s 1947 feature, shot by the great Gabriel Figueroa, stars Maria Felix as a highly respected schoolteacher who comes up against a renegade land baron in a small town, a villain who employs rape as a key weapon against her. With Domingo Soler. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

One Day In The Life Of Andrei Arsenevich

As the title’s reference to Solzhenitsyn implies, this superb 1999 video portrait of the late Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky by his friend Chris Marker is a protest against the post-Stalinist persecution that eventually drove Tarkovsky into exile. But above all this is a work of film criticism and the best one dealing with Tarkovsky that I know, full of clarifying insights. Marker sees Tarkovsky’s seven features and his staging of the opera Boris Godunov as a kind of continuum that also echoes his lifea dangerous way to interpret the work of a complex artist, yet Marker justifies it through his obvious close acquaintance with the man and his films. In some ways a companion piece to The Last Bolshevik, Marker’s earlier video about Russian filmmaker Alexander Medvedkin, this is more metaphysical in nature, in keeping with its subject. Essential viewing. In French with subtitles. 55 min. (JR)… Read more »

Big Deal On Madonna Street

Conceived as a kind of irreverent parody of both Rififi and The Asphalt Jungle, Mario Monicelli’s stumblebum heist film (1958) about a group of incompetent crooks trying to rob a safe full of jewels is one of the funniest Italian comedies ever madecertainly much funnier than the many imitations and remakes (i.e., rip-offs) it’s spawned over the years, including Louis Malle’s Crackers and Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks. Monicelli’s sense of character is priceless, and his fabulous castincluding Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Claudia Cardinale, and Renato Salvatorimakes the most of it. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »