Yearly Archives: 2001

Impostor

This adaptation by many hands of a 1953 Philip K. Dick story, directed by Gary Fleder, begins promisingly but deteriorates into standard-issue action, and even the shock ending isn’t as shocking as it wants to be. In the year 2079, with the earth at war with extraterrestrials for over a decade, a government scientist (Gary Sinise) is accused of being an alien robot spy programmed to explode; the hunt for him lasts most of this movie’s 95 minutes. The setting is etched in economically and effectively, but the suspense, effective at first, is stretched to the point of monotony. With Madeleine Stowe, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Tony Shalhoub. (JR)… Read more »

Charlotte Gray

This movie reveals something interesting: during the occupation of France, Nazi officers and French peasants all spoke English with English accents, as did English resistance fightersaside from the occasional spurt of French and German to identify who’s who. I never thought that a thoughtful director like Gillian Armstrong would get trapped in such Euro-nonsense, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Jeremy Brock wrote the script, and the landscapes are attractive. Under the circumstances, the omnipresent Cate Blanchett does pretty well in the title role. With Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon, and Rupert Penry-Jones. 121 min. (JR)… Read more »

Avant-garde Animation

Nine 16-millimeter short films, most or all of them durable classics: Harry Smith’s Mirror Animations (1956, 11 min.), Stan Brakhage’s Arabic 3 (1980, 8 min.), Storm De Hirsch’s Peyote Queen (1965, 9 min.), Takahiko IImura A I U E O NN (1993, 10 min.), Larry Jordan’s Our Lady of the Sphere (1969, 9 min.), Jeff Scher’s Milk of Amnesia (1992, 6 min.) and Reasons to be Glad (1980, 4 min.), Robert Breer’s Fuji (1973, 8 min.), and Paul Sharits’ Peace Mandala/End War (1966, 5 min.) (JR)… Read more »

Kate & Leopold

A diverting if forgettable romantic comedy and whimsical fantasy, about an eligible bachelor in 1867 Manhattan (Hugh Jackman) transported by a science nerd (Liev Schreiber) to the present , where he romances the scientist’s ex-girlfriend and downstairs neighbor (Meg Ryan). Not very believable, even in relation to its own premises, but if you were charmed by Somewhere in Time and/or Jack Finney’s novel Time and Again, this might charm you as well. James Mangold directed and collaborated with Steve Rogers on the script. 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Affair Of The Necklace

If you’re wondering why Hilary Swank chose to play a countess down on her luck in 18th-century France after Boys Don’t Cry, you probably have a lot of companyincluding, it would seem, the actress herself. Nobody seems to know quite what he or she is doing in this opulent but fairly empty period fashion show, apart from campy overactors like Christopher Walken (as charlatan-magician Count Cagliostro) and Jonathan Pryce (as a depraved cardinal), who appear eager to fill the void left by their colleagues. John Sweet wrote the script, and Charles Shyer, a specialist in fluffy, forgettable comedies (Baby Boom, Father of the Bride and its sequel), directed. With Adrien Brody, Simon Baker, and Joely Richardson. 120 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ali

Michael Mann’s 2001 epic about Muhammad Ali during a key decade (1964-’74) boasts some unusually fine performancesby Will Smith in the title role, Jon Voight as Howard Cosell, Mario Van Peebles as Malcolm X, and Giancarlo Esposito as the hero’s fatherand displays Mann’s usual talent for holding narrative interest over the stretch of a long-winded movie. Furthermore, the boxing sequences seem carried out with a kind of care and fidelity that, based on what I’ve heard from aficionados, was absent from Raging Bull. What’s lacking here is a sustained thematic focusat least five people worked on the script, including Mann, which may account for the absence of a clear through linethough the spectacle and characters keep one absorbed. 158 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring

New Zealand director Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures) has joined Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens in adapting the celebrated fantasy trilogy of J.R.R. Tolkien into three features, of which this is the first. It’s full of scenic splendors with a fine sense of scale, but its narrative thrust seems relatively pro forma, and I was bored by the battle scenes. The cast includes, among many others, Elijah Wood as Frodo, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn, and Liv Tyler as Arwen. 165 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Royal Tenenbaums

From the Chicago Reader (December 17, 2001). — J.R.

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You may find Wes Anderson’s 2001 follow-up to Rushmore a solid piece of entertainment in the same general mode, but disappointing insofar as it moves the earlier film’s stylistic freshness into a kind of formula, increasing the overall cuteness while reducing the sense of adolescent despair. Not that the extended dysfunctional New York family of the title are happy campers by any means; like Salinger’s Glass family, they’re a disarming mix of prodigal talents, crippling incapacities, and diverging ethnicities. The movie’s affection for them all is certainly infectious, and the cast is wonderful: Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson, and Owen Wilson. Whatever my qualms, it’s still one of the funniest comedies around. R, 108 min. (JR)

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In the Company of Women [THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS]

From the Chicago Reader (December 14, 2001). — J.R.

The Business of Strangers

**

Directed and written by Patrick Stettner

With Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Frederick Weller, Jack Hallett, and Marcus Giamatti.

The most notable thing about The Business of Strangers, as Andrew Sarris recently suggested in the New York Observer, may be the conjunction of three facts: that the central character of this first feature is a middle-aged woman executive, that it was written and directed by a man, and that it isn’t misogynist.

This sounds like some PC brief, which isn’t generally a good reason for recommending a film. Yet The Business of Strangers doesn’t have any ideological axes to grind, though it’s interested in ideological exploration. And that points to a kind of respect for its audience, not merely a respect for its leading character.

Several reviewers have noted this picture’s resemblance to In the Company of Men, Tape, and Safe. Though I wouldn’t deny the parallels, they generally have more to do with surface effects than overall meaning. Like In the Company of Men, The Business of Strangers focuses on characters in the business world who display predatory behavior in anonymous surroundings — Anywhere, USA — and it uses a percussive score to suggest these characters’ hostilities and power games.… Read more »

Brazen Hymns

A genuine rarity–a 40-minute experimental film in 35-millimeter and Dolby sound–this intriguing and arresting opus by D.B. Griffith shifts between “straight” documentary and drama as five allegorical, autodidactic outsiders (a clown, a butcher, a weeping priest, a doomsayer, and a man with a beak who speaks to birds in their own language, subtitled in English) emerge from landscapes of buildings and industrial sites in Chicago and Gary, each traveling a little further into the film’s wasted terrain. Shuttling back and forth between color and black-and-white stock, the film constitutes a kind of grim historical narrative, with an effective score by Josh Abrams that sometimes seems to emerge from sound effects. The cast includes local filmmaker Tom Palazzolo and musicians Bobby Conn and Douglas McCombs. In contrast, I couldn’t make much out of Nicholas Elliott’s 35-millimeter film Sue’s Last Ride (17 min.); shot mainly in Slovenia, it combines a desultory narrative with Super-8 footage of a performance by the Dirty Three, an Australian band. Palazzolo’s brand-new 16-millimeter film Rita on the Ropes (9 min.) was unavailable for preview. All three works are receiving their Chicago premieres, and admission is free. Cinema Borealis, 1550 N. Milwaukee, fourth floor, Friday through Sunday, December 14 through 16, 8:00, 773-278-4940.… Read more »

Dark Heart [BAND OF OUTSIDERS]

From the December 7, 2001 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Band of Outsiders

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard

With Anna Karina, Claude Brasseur, Sami Frey, Daniele Girard, Louisa Colpeyn, and Ernest Menzer.

To gauge the historical significance of Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders (1964) — getting a week’s run in a lovely new print at the Music Box  — it helps to know that it was made four years after François Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player and three years before Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. Both Band of Outsiders and Shoot the Piano Player are low-budget black-and-white French thrillers adapted from American crime novels translated into French for the celebrated Serie Noire collection, and they were abject box-office flops on both sides of the Atlantic — though today they embody the glories of the French New Wave in a good many people’s minds. By contrast, Bonnie and Clyde, a Hollywood movie in color that was profoundly influenced by these two films, was a huge success, and its lyrical depictions of violence changed the direction of American cinema.

All three films are mixtures of tragedy and farce, violence and romance, with an uncertain emotional tone. When Band of Outsiders and Shoot the Piano Player were first released, audiences didn’t know what to make of this mix, but when they saw Bonnie and Clyde they were exhilarated by its ambiguities.… Read more »

Ocean’s Eleven

From the  (December 3, 2001). — J.R.

Oceans-Eleven

A pretty good caper comedy for 11-year-old boys — heist thriller would make it sound too ambitious — this remake of the 1960 Rat Pack movie replaces the Rat Pack with George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Andy Garcia, Casey Affleck, Elliott Gould, and Carl Reiner, among others. (And since it’s about stealing $150 million from three casinos, it’s once again set in Las Vegas.) As a serviceable empty-headed entertainment, possibly even more sexist than the original (with Julia Roberts replacing Angie Dickinson as the female object — she can’t exactly be considered a character), it consolidates Steven Soderbergh’s cultivated new profile as a compliant and competent industry hack, which he’s been working overtime to flesh out in such projects as Out of Sight, Erin Brockovich, and Traffic. Ted Griffin is credited with rewriting the original multihanded script. 122 min. (JR)… Read more »

Stars In My Crown

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This somber black-and-white drama (1950) about a small-town preacher (Joel McCrea) in the postbellum south, narrated by the boy he raised (Dean Stockwell), is one of the most neglected films in the history of cinema as well as Jacques Tourneur’s favorite among his own pictures. (Best known for Cat People and Out of the Past, Tourneur often seemed to thrive in obscurity, and by agreeing to direct this picture at MGM for practically nothing he reportedly sabotaged his own career.) A view of the American heartland that’s emotionally engaged but still charged with darkness (a typhoid epidemic and a near lynching are among its key episodes), it recalls some of John Ford’s best work in its complex perception of goodness, and I can’t think of many films that convey a particular community with more pungency. Margaret Fitts adapted a novel by Joe David Brown; with Ellen Drew, James Mitchell, Juano Hernandez, Amanda Blake, Louis Stone, and Alan Hale. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

Silent Night, Deadly Night III– Better Watch Out!

The third in a series of five yuletide slasher films, this 1989 feature was directed by Monte Hellman, one of the key American filmmakers of the 60s and 70s (The Shooting, Two-Lane Blacktop, Cockfighter), and at least one Hellman fanatic I know swears by it. With Samantha Scully and Bill Moseley. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

Brazen Hymns

A genuine raritya 40-minute experimental film in 35-millimeter and Dolby soundthis intriguing and arresting opus by D.B. Griffith shifts between straight documentary and drama as five allegorical, autodidactic outsiders (a clown, a butcher, a weeping priest, a doomsayer, and a man with a beak who speaks to birds in their own language, subtitled in English) emerge from landscapes of buildings and industrial sites in Chicago and Gary, each traveling a little further into the film’s wasted terrain. Shuttling back and forth between color and black-and-white stock, the film constitutes a kind of grim historical narrative, with an effective score by Josh Abrams that sometimes seems to emerge from sound effects. The cast includes local filmmaker Tom Palazzolo and musicians Bobby Conn and Douglas McCombs. In contrast, I couldn’t make much out of Nicholas Elliott’s 35-millimeter film Sue’s Last Ride (17 min.); shot mainly in Slovenia, it combines a desultory narrative with Super-8 footage of a performance by the Dirty Three, an Australian band. Palazzolo’s brand-new 16-millimeter film Rita on the Ropes (9 min.) was unavailable for preview. (JR)… Read more »