Monthly Archives: June 2001

Baby Boy

Like John Singleton’s other features, this is far from flawless; at 129 minutes it’s longer than it needs to be, and the music hits you like a sledgehammer at moments when any music at all is redundant and something of an insult. But the characters are so full-bodied and the feelings so raw and complex that I’d call this the best thing he’s done to date–by which I mean the most convincing and serious, telling us at least as much about everyday life in South Central Los Angeles as did Boyz N the Hood, his first movie. The title character, well played by Tyrese Gibson, is a 20-year-old with a pronounced Oedipus complex who lives with his 36-year-old mother (A.J. Johnson), has fathered two kids with separate girlfriends (Taraji P. Henson and Tamara LaSeon Bass), and starts to feel crowded when his mother falls for a reformed gangster (Ving Rhames, also especially good). Sexually explicit both visually and aurally, this shows rare inventiveness in exploring one character’s fantasies during an orgasm. With Omar Gooding and Snoop Dogg. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Ford City, Gardens, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, 62nd & Western.… Read more »

Lost In Their Parts [THE ANNIVERSARY PARTY]

From the Chicago Reader (June 22, 2001). — J.R.

The Anniversary Party

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming

With Leigh, Cumming, John Benjamin Hickey, Parker Posey, Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, Denis O’Hare, Mina Badie, Jane Adams, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Beals, Matt Malloy, Michael Panes, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The Anniversary Party was written and directed by two actors, Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who created all the parts specifically for themselves and actors they knew. So it’s no surprise that a handful of the characters at this dusk-to-dawn Hollywood party, celebrating the sixth wedding anniversary of Joe (Cumming) and Sally (Leigh), are themselves professional actors (played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Jane Adams, Kevin Kline, and Phoebe Cates, the latter two a real-life couple whose son and daughter are also featured). The other guests are different sorts of people: a film director (John C. Reilly), Joe and Sally’s business managers (Parker Posey and John Benjamin Hickey), a photographer (Jennifer Beals), a musician (Michael Panes), and the next-door neighbors (Mina Badie and Denis O’Hare), awkward mixers who’ve been invited mainly because they’ve been threatening to sue Joe and Sally. (The husband, a novelist, claims that the barking of their dog disrupts his work.) But existentially and psychologically, everyone at the party is an actor.… Read more »

Bullet on a Wire

This peculiar, locally made black-and-white feature by Jim Sikora premiered at the Chicago Underground Film Festival in 1996 and surprisingly it’s been screened here only once since then, despite the fact that it’s enjoyed well-received runs in both New York and Los Angeles and played at European festivals. Apart from John Terendy’s effective cinematography, the film is notable for its impressive leads: Jeff Strong is creepily enigmatic as a misfit whose gratuitous phone prank, referred to in the title, leads to a murder and the subsequent incarceration of a young woman (a superbly composed Lara Phillips) who was the patient of his sister (Paula Killen) at a health clinic. The style is mainly classic low-rent noir, but Sikora adds a few interesting touches, such as Strong evaporating from certain shots rather than making conventional exits, a few striking freeze-frames toward the end, and some odd uses of music by the Denison-Kimball Trio. Joe Carducci collaborated with Sikora on the script; with David Yow and Richard Kern. 83 min. Showing as part of “Starring Chicago!,” the Film Center’s retrospective of films shot or set in Chicago; Sikora will attend the screening. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Friday, June 22, 8:30, 312-846-2800.… Read more »

The Princess And The Warrior

A grim reminder of what commercial success can do to a talented director. I don’t want to overrate Tom Tykwer, the writer-director of Run Lola Run (1999), but that film showed a certain flair for expanding on some of the tricks and conceits of music videos, and it seemed an improvement on Tykwer’s heavier, more querulous Winter Sleepers (1997). This feature (2000) tries to combine the racy appeal of Run Lola Run with the more mystical ambitions of Winter Sleepers, and to my taste it fails. An obscure tale about a psychiatric nurse (Lola’s Franka Potente) trying to track down a failed robber who saved her life, it lasts 130 minutes, most of them relatively forgettable. With a better idea of what Tykwer had in mind, maybe I would have stayed interested. In German with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Circle

Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, The Mirror) takes a giant step forward with his third feature (2000), shifting his focus from little girls to grown women and presenting such a scorching look at what they put up with in their daily lives that it’s no surprise the film was banned in his native country. This masterpiece is radical in form as well: it begins one morning in a hospital and ends that evening in a jail cell, the camera revolving 360 degrees in each space, and its narrative passes from one character to the next as does Luis Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty (and Richard Linklater’s Slacker). Extremely realistic yet highly artificial in structure, it’s dazzling as a whole (if occasionally overloaded), recalling the Warner Brothers proletarian quickies of the 30s and the noir thrillers of the 40s (an effect enhanced by the fact that some of the women characters are fresh out of prison). The most talented disciple of Iranian master Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi actually tops him at leaving things out of a story to tantalize the viewer; he uses these ellipses for political as well as aesthetic ends, trusting the audience’s decency as well as its imagination.… Read more »

The American Gaze

From the Chicago Reader (June 15, 2001). — J.R.

Signs & Wonders

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Jonathan Nossiter

Written by James Lasdun and Nossiter

With Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Deborah Kara Unger, Dimitris Katalifos, Ashley Remy, and Michael Cook.

+

The Fourth Dimension

Rating *** A must see

Directed, written, and narrated by Trinh T. Minh-ha.

Broadly speaking, Signs & Wonders, an ambitious thriller set in contemporary Athens, and The Fourth Dimension, a documentary about Japan, derive most of their strengths from being meditations by American tourists. Signs & Wonders, running this week at Facets Multimedia Center, is a 35-millimeter feature shot on digital video, and it’s directed by Jonathan Nossiter, a quirky and talented son of a journalist who grew up in France, England, Italy, Greece, and India and has made only one previous narrative feature, Sunday (1997). Nossiter wrote both films with James Lasdun, a Londoner now based in the U.S. who also wrote the story on which Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1998 Besieged was based.

It’s a gorgeous mess of a movie, brimming with provocative ideas about the state of the planet, multinational corporations, political amnesia, American idealism, and some of the monstrous ways love can turn sour, and demonstrating how these ideas can converge and inform one another.… Read more »

Sexy Beast

Does the title refer to the ex-con hero (Ray Winstone), happily retired on the Spanish Costa del Sol, or to his brutal ex-boss (Ben Kingsley), who turns up one day to browbeat him into helping with a bank heist? I don’t know, and after 91 minutes of this movie’s pile-driver aggression, I don’t care. My willingness to stay interested in the plot and be impressed by Kingsley’s show-offy performance as a staccato bully out of Harold Pinter was eventually undermined by the movie’s violent editing and violent sound, which, coming on top of the character, drove violence to the point of redundancy. The director is Jonathan Glazer, purportedly famous for commercials and musical videos and certainly unafraid to make a feature every bit as strident as these things normally are. Louis Mello and David Scinto wrote the script; with Ian McShane and Amanda Redman. (JR)… Read more »

Squaring the Circle

The following article was written for the June 8, 2001 issue of  the Chicago Reader, to coincide with the release of Jafar Panahi’s The Circle in Chicago — although a differently edited version was published. This is my original version, which I included in Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia, a 2003 collection I coedited with Adrian Martin. (Lamentably but unsurprisingly, this was the only section of the book that was left out of the Persian translation of the book, published in 2015; no less lamentably, the outrageous overpricing of this book on Amazon functions as a kind of capitalist censorship.)

One indication of Panahi’s extraordinary courage, after his appalling incarceration in Tehran’s Evin prison back in March, was the fact that he expressly requested not to be accorded “special” treatment because of his status as an artist and filmmaker. It seemed worth reposting this article on December 21, 2010, not only because of the shocking sentence received by Panahi after his trial, but also to correct the original misdating of this article on this site and in Movie Murtations, which I learned about via David Bordwell’s site. — J.R.

Squaring The Circle

Last month, I was taken aback by an email from a colleague — not a cranky stranger — waiting for me at my office computer one morning.… Read more »

Nobody Here But Us

The Circle

****

Directed by Jafar Panahi

Written by Kambozia Partovi and Panahi

With Maryam Parvin Almani, Nargess Mamizadeh, Fatemeh Naghavi, Fereshteh Sadr Orafaei, and Mojhan Faramarzi.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Last month I was taken aback by an E-mail from a colleague that said, “I thought, as an apparent defender of the Islamic Republic of Iran, that you should read this.” Before I accessed the link–an AP story about a woman stoned to death by court order for appearing in porn movies–I wrote back to say I was insulted by the implication that my regarding Iranians as human beings meant I supported a totalitarian regime. He promptly sent back an apology, but added, “It’s just that sometimes it sounds as if you regard their regime as ‘better’ than ours. Perhaps I’m misreading you.”

His second E-mail upset me even more than the first. The first could be rationalized as a sick joke–reminding me of being called a “nigger lover” when I was an Alabama teenager (an epithet sometimes followed by “Just kidding!”)–but the personal pronouns of the second revealed a blood-chilling us-versus-them mentality. That kind of either-or thinking is surely the most primitive as well as the most dangerous of cold war legacies, and it only reinforces this country’s isolationism.… Read more »

Swordfish

Ridiculous but occasionally fun, which is more than can be said for Pearl Harbor. Don’t expect to find any recognizable human beings among the characters, but there are at least two fabulous movie starsJohn Travolta as the villain, Halle Berry as the double (or triple, or quadruple) agentand a fashionable Aussie (Hugh Jackman) as the hero, a hacker who breaks encryptions the way Schwarzenegger cracks walnuts. We also get Don Cheadle as an FBI agent and Sam Shepard as a corrupt senator. Also, this being coproduced by Joel Silver, there are all the car explosions you could hope for. The limited but unmistakable wit of Skip Woods’s screenplay hinges in part on trying to conjure up a secret organization that sounds sillier than the FBI or CIA, while Dominic Sena, the music-video specialist who brought us the Gone in Sixty Seconds remake, does a better job this time of directing absurdity in a diverting manner. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Steamboat ’round The Bend

John Ford’s third feature with Will Rogers (1935, 80 min.) proved to be their last together, and was released only after the popular actor died in an air crash. Rogers plays a steamboat captain in the 1890s who commands a floating wax museum and dispenses patent medicine with a high alcoholic contentideal Ford material, with two of his favorite screenwriters, Dudley Nichols and Lamar Trotti, on board (adapting a novel by Ben Lucien Berman), as well as Stepin Fetchit, one of his favorite actors. But the movie is a distinct comedown from the previous Ford-Rogers pairing, the sublime Judge Priest, though it’s still an improvement on their first Dr. Bull. Ford complained 20 years later that producer Darryl F. Zanuck cut out most of the comedy, though the Americana that remains still carries a lot of flavor. With Irvin S. Cobb, Francis Ford, Eugene Pallette, and Charles Middleton. (JR)… Read more »

Three Films By Kiyoshi Kurosawa

The prolific Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has been at work for nearly two decades, sometimes making straight-to-video features but more recently receiving some belated international recognition. This month the Film Center will show 35-millimeter prints of a half dozen of his recent thrillers, made between 1996 and 2000, and I can recommend all three that I’ve seenthough not without certain caveats. All three are fairly grisly, though Kurosawa’s frequent long shots impart a cool, detached tone to the cruelty and violence. And his plots can be difficult to understand, though his visual style is so riveting you might not mind. Eyes of the Spider and Serpent’s Path, rhyming companion pieces made in 1997, both star Shoh Aikawa and involve yakuza intrigues and a father tracking down the men who kidnapped and killed his little girl; I often couldn’t figure out who was doing what to whom, but I didn’t much care, because the visual sweep of the former and the claustrophobia of the latter were both compelling. The engrossing Cure (1998), which is getting an extended run, stars Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?, The Eel) as a troubled detective exploring a series of murders committed through hypnotic suggestion (as in The Manchurian Candidate), and while its creepy mystery plot is easy enough to follow even when it turns metaphysical, it’s unsatisfying as a story precisely because it aspires to create a mounting sense of dread by enlarging questions rather than answering them.… Read more »

Baby Boy

Like John Singleton’s other features, this is far from flawless; at 129 minutes it’s longer than it needs to be, and the music hits you like a sledgehammer at moments when any music at all is redundant and something of an insult. But the characters are so full-bodied and the feelings so raw and complex that I’d call this the best thing he’s done to dateby which I mean the most convincing and serious, telling us at least as much about everyday life in South Central Los Angeles as did Boyz N the Hood, his first movie. The title character, well played by Tyrese Gibson, is a 20-year-old with a pronounced Oedipus complex who lives with his 36-year-old mother (A.J. Johnson), has fathered two kids with separate girlfriends (Taraji P. Henson and Tamara LaSeon Bass), and starts to feel crowded when his mother falls for a reformed gangster (Ving Rhames, also especially good). Sexually explicit both visually and aurally, this shows rare inventiveness in exploring one character’s fantasies during an orgasm. With Omar Gooding and Snoop Dogg. (JR)… Read more »

The Anniversary Party

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming wrote, directed, and star in this watchable, if at times familiar, comedy-drama about an LA couple throwing a dusk-to-dawn party to celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary. Predictably, the dramatic revelations come at periodic intervals and escalate after someone at the party passes out some drugs; less predictable are the revelations themselves and the interesting suggestion that none of them necessarily provides the last word on these people. Shot in digital video by John Bailey; with Jane Adams, Jennifer Beals, Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, Gwyneth Paltrow, Parker Posey, and John C. Reilly. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blow Out

This 1981 release is one of Brian De Palma’s more interesting and better-made thrillers, though it’s even more abjectly derivative than his Hitchcock imitations (borrowing mightily this time from Antonioni’s Blowup, as the title suggests). John Travolta plays a sound-effects man working in Philadelphia who, like many a De Palma hero, finds himself stumbling into trouble. With Nancy Allen and John Lithgow. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »