Monthly Archives: March 2001

Merry Widow [THE WIDOW OF SAINT PIERRE]

From the Chicago Reader (March 30, 2001). — J.R.

The Widow of Saint-Pierre

**

Directed by Patrice Leconte

Written by Claude Faraldo

With Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, Emir Kusturica, Philippe Magnan, and Michel Duchaussoy.

http://parkcircusblog.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/la-veuve-de-saint-pierre.jpg?w=415&h=220

I find that some movies change more than others over repeated viewings, and after three screenings Patrice Leconte’s The Widow of Saint-Pierre slid all the way from near masterpiece to effective piece of distraction. I saw it three times only out of professional duty — after seeing it at a press screening several weeks ago, I led two discussions about it for the “Talk Cinema” film series. I would have been happier seeing it only once, and if you don’t intend to spend a lot of time reflecting on it afterward, The Widow of Saint-Pierre could add up to one good evening.

That may sound condescending, but some moviegoers — including, on occasion, myself — have the attitude that “I don’t like to think when I go to movies; I want to have fun.” It’s depressing that there are people who are willing to say they can’t have fun while they’re thinking — that is, if they’re telling the truth, since I suspect some of them are fibbing, even if they don’t know it.… Read more »

The Tailor Of Panama

Much too talky. But some of the talk is by John Le Carre, who adapted his own novel with Andrew Davis and director John Boorman. And Pierce Brosnan, who plays a British spy, puts an arch spin on his James Bond credentials. They help this semicomedy claim the oxymoronic status of being an Austin Powers movie for grown-ups. Brosnan’s spy enlists a cockney ex-con (Geoffrey Rush) who’s working as a tailor for the rich and famous to be his main contact; other significant characters include the tailor’s wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and business partner (Leonor Varela) and a British diplomat (Catherine McCormack) the spy is pursuing. If you don’t find the cynicism of this mordant look at corruption too distastefuland ideologically speaking, it’s certainly an improvement over Boorman’s Beyond Rangoonyou’re likely to have a fair amount of fun. 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

Someone Like You

A so-so romantic comedy about people working on a TV talk show in Manhattan, simultaneously enlivened and made hard to take by the cast. The problem, at least for me, is that the leads (Ashley Judd, Hugh Jackman, and Greg Kinnear) are so busy being cute that sometimes they forget to act like human beings, while the secondary female cast is treated rather cruelly, presumably for not being as cute as the leads. These are common (albeit creepy) limitations of silly Hollywood comedies of this kind, and if you haven’t minded them elsewhere you probably won’t object to them here. Adapted by Elizabeth Chandler from Laura Zigman’s novel Animal Husbandry and directed by Tony Goldwyn (A Walk on the Moon); with Marisa Tomei and Ellen Barkin. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Beautiful Creatures

A watchable thriller, about two abused gangsters’ molls (Rachel Weisz and Susan Lynch) in Glasgow who join forces to save their own skins. It isn’t exactly Thelma & Louise, but it periodically recalls that picture, and arguably goes some distance beyond it in making virtually all its male characters apart from a likable dog named Pluto brutal scumbags who deserve everything they get. Writer and coproducer Simon Donald offers an efficient plot, and director Bill Eagles knows how to pace the actors and action while delivering it. With Tom Mannion, Maurice Roeves, and Iain Glen. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

Enemy At The Gates

Another prowar movie to go with Saving Private Ryan (which it visibly imitates), safely set during World War IIspecifically at the battle of Stalingradthough it seems perfectly willing to make us feel better about killing Arabs in the present. (Maybe to show that it has its heart in the right place, it ends like Reds in a hospital.) Jude Law is a Soviet sharpshooter, English actors plays most of the other Russians (including Bob Hoskins, camping like crazy as Nikita Khrushchev), and Ed Harris is a Nazi sharpshooter. There’s never much risk of reality intrudingjust a lot of histrionic James Horner music (fortunately only semiaudible under the gunfire) and plenty of designer stubble on the soldiers’ faces. The director delivering these time-tested goods is Jean-Jacques Annaud, who with Alain Godard adapted William Craig’s book. The actorswho also include Joseph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, and Ron Perlman outfitted with a jaw full of fillingsdo a pretty good job, though not good enough to sustain 133 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

Fifteen

A first-rate Hollywood entertainment–at least if one can accept the schizophrenia of combining a cop/buddy action thriller with an angry satire about the shamelessness of the media. I didn’t much care for writer-director John Herzfeld’s previous outing, 2 Days in the Valley (1996), and I suppose it could be argued that the shotgun marriage he performs here between somewhat contradictory genres smacks of cynical contrivance. But the jabs against various kinds of TV excess work much better for me than the diatribes of Network a quarter of a century ago–perhaps because they’re less self-righteous and more conducive to reflection. (The title is derived from Andy Warhol’s line about fame.) And some of the action sequences–notably a chase on foot through busy Manhattan traffic and a couple caught in a burning apartment–work surprisingly well. The plot pits a media-friendly cop (Robert De Niro) and a younger fire marshal (Edward Burns) against a newly arrived Czech murderer, who’s figured out ways to turn the absurdities of this country’s laws and media to his advantage, and his dorky Russian sidekick, a film freak who compulsively videotapes everything. The adroit storytelling keeps one alert throughout the movie’s two hours. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, City North 14, Ford City, Gardens, Golf Glen, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, McClurg Court, Norridge, North Riverside, 62nd & Western, Three Penny.… Read more »

The World is Watching

Suzhou River

**

Directed and written by Lou Ye

With Zhou Xun, Jia Hongsheng, Hua Zhongkai, Yao Anlian, and Nai An.

Suzhou River, a first feature playing this week at Facets Multimedia Center, is an affecting, romantic, and fascinating mood piece from China. It’s been getting a bit of flak from critics who call it a rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but I don’t think that’s an accurate description. The plot of Vertigo is clearly a main source of writer-director Lou Ye’s inspiration, and his score contains periodic allusions to Bernard Herrmann’s brand of romantic longing. But there are clear differences in the characters, settings, and milieus.

Vertigo gave us James Stewart as a retired cop in sleek San Francisco falling for an upper-crust beauty (Kim Novak) he’s been hired to tail, who falls mysteriously to her death; he then finds her resurrected as a shop girl (Kim Novak again), whom he tries to transform into the woman he loved. Suzhou River, set alongside a large dirty river in Shanghai, is initially about a young, nameless videographer–the narrator of the story–who becomes involved with Meimei (Zhou Xun), a go-go dancer who swims underwater dressed as a mermaid for the amusement of customers in a sleazy tavern.… Read more »

15 Minutes

A first-rate Hollywood entertainmentat least if one can accept the schizophrenia of combining a cop/buddy action thriller with an angry satire about the shamelessness of the media. I didn’t much care for writer-director John Herzfeld’s previous outing, 2 Days in the Valley (1996), and I suppose it could be argued that the shotgun marriage he performs here between somewhat contradictory genres smacks of cynical contrivance. But the jabs against various kinds of TV excess work much better for me than the diatribes of Network a quarter of a century agoperhaps because they’re less self-righteous and more conducive to reflection. (The title is derived from Andy Warhol’s line about fame.) And some of the action sequencesnotably a chase on foot through busy Manhattan traffic and a couple caught in a burning apartmentwork surprisingly well. The plot pits a media-friendly cop (Robert De Niro) and a younger fire marshal (Edward Burns) against a newly arrived Czech murderer, who’s figured out ways to turn the absurdities of this country’s laws and media to his advantage, and his dorky Russian sidekick, a film freak who compulsively videotapes everything. The adroit storytelling keeps one alert throughout the movie’s two hours. (JR)… Read more »

A.i. Artificial Intelligence

A collaboration between the living Steven Spielberg and the late Stanley Kubrick seems appropriate to a project that reflects profoundly on the differences between life and nonlife. Kubrick started this picture and came up with the idea that Spielberg should direct it, and after inheriting a 90-page treatment Kubrick had prepared with Ian Watson and 600 drawings he’d done with Chris Baker, Spielberg finished it in so much his own manner that it may be his most personal film, as well as his most thoughtful. It might make you cry; it’s just as likely to give you the creepswhich is as it should be. This is a movie people will be arguing about for many years to come (2001). With Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, and William Hurt. PG-13, 145 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Angelina Jolie stars as a superwoman, in a 2001 movie based on a video game that’s unafraid to look absurd but lacks the self-conviction needed to come off as camp. This bears most of the earmarks of Indiana Jones movies but few of the thrills, apart from some nifty set design. It’s refreshing that the title adventuress isn’t saddled with a romantic interest, but the character has so little personality of any kind that the gains are limited. (And the characters set up to be her domestic fixtureswith shades of Batman and Star Wars and including a nerdy Brit version of Gyro Gearlooseseem more obligatory than lovable.) Simon West directed a screenplay by Patrick Massett and John Zinman. With Jon Voight, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor, and Daniel Craig. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Alone in a Crowd [on YI YI]

From the March 2, 2001 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

Yi Yi

****

Directed and written by Edward Yang

With Wu Nien-jen, Elaine Jin, Kelly Lee, Jonathan Chang, Issey Ogata, and Ke Suyun.

“Happy families are all alike,” begins Anna Karenina. “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The way in which the Jians, the central family in Edward Yang’s 173-minute Yi Yi, are unhappy is difficult to pinpoint in a word or phrase, but Yang sees this father, mother, teenage daughter, eight-year-old son, and grandmother as the five fingers of a single hand, each one gradually becoming paralyzed and isolated.

Yang’s films are all set in Taipei, and only one of them, A Brighter Summer Day, isn’t contemporary. One thing that’s special about them is that they don’t coast along on the actions of a single hero or protagonist. The best of them — in descending order, A Brighter Summer Day (1991), Yi Yi (2000), Taipei Story (1985), and Mahjong (1996) — are about groups more than individuals; in A Brighter Summer Day the group is a class of high school boys in the early 60s, in Yi Yi it’s a screwed-up middle-class family in the late 90s, in Taipei Story it’s three separate troubled generations during Taiwan’s economic boom in the mid-80s, and in Mahjong it’s a dispersed pack of ailing and confused individuals in the mid-90s who are driven nuts by capitalism, or by what Yang calls “a Confucian confusion” about capitalism.… Read more »

Moulin Rouge

Though I still like John Huston’s 1952 movie with the same title a bit more, this steamroller by Baz Luhrmann about 1899 Paris and 2001 pop TVa definite improvement over the repulsive Strictly Ballroomis diverting, energetic, and even reasonably satisfying, so long as you aren’t looking for a real musical to take its place. What it mainly reminded me of were some of Ken Russell’s better romps in the 70s (The Devils, The Music Lovers, and, best of all, Savage Messiah), with roughly the same amount of feeling, nerve, and postmodernist extravagance (though they weren’t calling it postmodernism back then). The central mythical archetypesthe cabaret star and courtesan (Nicole Kidman), the evil duke she’s promised to, and the penniless writer (Ewan McGregor) she’s in love withare handled with feeling and panache. Craig Pearce collaborated with Luhrmann on the script. PG-13, 126 min. (JR)… Read more »

Salto

This 1965 allegory by writer-director Tadeusz Konwicki, which hasn’t been shown in the U.S. for several decades, might be called terminally Polish, but that doesn’t prevent it from also suggesting at times Tennessee Williams (Orpheus Descending, filmed as The Fugitive Kind) and William Inge (Picnic). Perhaps the best reason for seeing it is actor Zbigniew Cybulski (1927-’67), who’s being honored by the Chicago Cultural Center this week with screenings of three exceptional black-and-white features, including Ashes and Diamonds and The Saragossa Manuscript (see separate listings). All three are worth seeing, but this is the one in which Cybulski’s talent and black-leather-and-shades mystique really shine. His character hops off a train to revisit a small village, where he has various skirmishes with the locals, flirts with the daughter of a former lover, has creepy nightmares connected to World War II, appears to cure a couple of ailing children like a faith healer, and attends a climactic “anniversary” party where he leads everyone in an exceptionally weird dance (which gives the movie its title) before some outsiders turn up suggesting he may not be who he seems. (We’re not even sure what his name is.) Cybulski’s vibrancy makes this sexy movie a striking theatrical event that speaks volumes — even when we aren’t quite sure what’s going on.… Read more »

Beetlejuice

From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 2001). — J.R.

Beetlejuice

An appealing mess. Director Tim Burton joins forces with writers Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren, and Larry Wilson, and a cast headed by Michael Keaton as the eponymous lead — a scuzzy miniature bio-exorcist — to create a rather original horror comedy out of what appears to be a strong first-draft script and a minuscule budget (1988). Faces stretch like Silly Putty and a ghost couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) try to oust a yuppie couple (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara) from their New England mansion. The pasteboard special effects, which have a special charm of their own, make up in verve and imagination what they sometimes lack in polish, and Keaton has such a time with his extravagant turn as a demonic hipster bum that one can forgive the less inspired contributions of Glenn Shadix, Sylvia Sidney, and Dick Cavett, among others. PG, 92 min. (JR)

beetlejuiceRead more »

The Pajama Game

Film scholar Jane Feuer has argued that the Hollywood musical is a politically conservative genre, a notion challenged by the Warners musicals of the 30s, Bells Are Ringing (1969), and this exuberant, underrated 1957 movie. Adapted from George Abbott’s Broadway hit, it concerns a strike in a pajama factory, with Doris Day as the shop steward and John Rait as her boss. Though the sexual politics are far from progressive, this is the sort of labor musical that inspired Jean-Luc Godard’s admiration. Bob Fosse’s airy choreography is terrific, and so is the score, which includes “Seven and a Half Cents” and a steamy “Steam Heat”. Stanley Donen directed with verve and energy. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »