Monthly Archives: August 2001

John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars

 

ghosts-of-mars

John Carpenter at his most enjoyable generally means ‘Scope, working-class sass, kick-ass anti-establishment heroes, typecast villains who individually suggest quiet serial killers and collectively resemble hordes of whooping savages, a minimalist music score by Carpenter himself, and an overall affection for the way action movies looked and sounded 50 years ago. This movie — an action romp in which cops and prisoners go up against vengeful Martian spirits on a colonized Mars in the year 2176 — adds a few more likable ingredients: a flashback structure with several overlapping points of view, great use of Ice Cube and Pam Grier, lap dissolves, and a notion of shifting alliances that keeps things hopping. (Natasha Henstridge as the head cop is pretty lively too.) As in many other Carpenter movies both good and bad, a lot of the cramped settings can be traced back to the original version of The Thing. With Jason Statham, Clea DuVall, and Joanna Cassidy; Larry Sulkis collaborated with Carpenter on the script. 98 min. Burnham Plaza, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Lawndale, Lincoln Village 1-6, Norridge, North Riverside, 600 N. Michigan, 62nd & Western.… Read more »

Jeepers Creepers

Jeepers-Creepers

A monster (Jonathan Breck) who likes to eat body parts terrorizes the American heartland — in particular a brother and sister (Justin Long and Gina Philips) on their way home for spring break. The story (what there is of it) doesn’t make much sense, but this is a very scary horror thriller that should keep you either on the edge of your seat or halfway under it. Written and directed by Victor Salva; Francis Ford Coppola is one of the five executive producers. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Under The Sun

An unintentional parody of a particular kind of European art moviethe kind that often garners Oscar nominations, as this 1998 film did. An illiterate, overweight, virginal Swedish farmer in his early 40s (Rolf Lassgard) advertises for a young housekeeper who might also keep him company. Lo and behold, a beautiful, mysterious, compliant woman from the city (Helena Bergstrom) turns up. Her presence threatens the farmer’s much younger friend (Johan Widerberg), an insensitive lout who’s been swindling him blind. To be fair, all three lead actors are adroit; but the story, adapted from a short story by H.E. Bates, is both contrived and not very well told. Director-producer-cowriter Colin Nutleywho, incidentally, is married to Bergstromseems to cut away to extraneous details whenever he doesn’t know what to do next, which is often. There’s also a very hard-sell Irish music score by Paddy Maloney of the Chieftains, sex in the rain, and loads of decorative nature photography. 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

An American Rhapsody

Writer-director Eva Gardos, best known as a film editor, takes on a fascinating autobiographical subjectthe Americanization of a little girl (Kelly Endresz Baniaki) who arrives in the U.S. in the 50s from communist Hungary and grows up during the 60sand treats it competently, though without much freshness or imagination. The movie becomes more interesting when the heroine insists on visiting Budapest as a teenager, and Ghost World’s Scarlett Johansson manages to make her character something more than the usual rebellious movie adolescent. With Nastassja Kinski and Tony Goldwyn. 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

Brief Encounters

Made in 1967 but released only in 1986, Kira Muratova’s acclaimed Soviet feature is about two womena party official (Muratova herself) and the maid she hires (Nina Ruslanova)who have both loved the same man, a geologist (popular Russian folksinger Vladimir Visotsky). As a huge fan of Muratova’s postglasnost The Asthenic Syndrome (1989) and Three Stories (1997), each an angry, despairing, and extremely stylized work in color, I wasn’t quite prepared for this quiet, touching, and basically realistic black-and-white drama, interesting at least in part for what it conveys about everyday Russian life in the 60s. I haven’t yet determined whether that’s what led to the film’s being banned for almost 20 years. In Russian with subtitles. 96 min. (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 seen–though 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 »

Hamlet

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

Hamlet

Critic Robin Wood recently cited this stunning 1964 Russian version of Shakespeare’s tragedy as the only one that “could be claimed as having the stature, as film, that the play has as theatre,” and it’s easy to see what he means. Shot in black-and-white ‘Scope, in dank interiors and seaside exteriors every bit as atmospheric as those in Orson Welles’s Othello, this runs 140 minutes but feels more stripped-down for brisk action than such vanity productions as Laurence Olivier’s and Kenneth Branagh’s, and consequently may be more compelling as narrative. Director Grigori Kozintsev (The New Babylon, The Youth of Maxim) adapted a translation by Boris Pasternak, and Dmitri Shostakovich contributed the score. Playing the title role, Innokenti Smoktunovsky isn’t as likable as some other Hamlets, but his struggles seem more evenly matched with those of the other characters. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Thursday, August 23, 6:30, 773-281-4114.

HamletRead more »

Faat-Kine

Ousman Sembene, the greatest of all African filmmakers (and one of the finest fiction writers on the continent as well), directed this upbeat 2000 comedy from Senegal, about a sassy, self-made woman who manages a filling station. Faat-Kine supports two illegitimate children by different fathers, along with her mother, and she’s not about to take shit from anyone. This is Sembene’s first film in eight years, and while it’s no less serious or political than his other late films (Camp Thiroye, Guelwaan), it’s a good deal funnier, more easygoing, and more affirmative. 118 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, Saturday, August 11, 8:00, and Sunday, August 12, 3:30.… Read more »

Space Is The Place And Cry Of Jazz

Two short films featuring Sun Ra, the avant-garde jazz artist whose big band the Arkestra got its start in Chicago. In John Coney’s video Space Is the Place (1974, 63 min.), Sun Ra turns up in Oakland after years in outer space, rapping with ghetto youths and playing cards with the devil. Its lighthearted surrealist high jinks, dressed up with SF trappings and black-power rhetoric, make for pleasant enough viewing, but the music seems strictly incidental. In contrast, the music in Edward O. Bland’s eccentric Chicago-made short Cry of Jazz (1959, 31 min.) is absolutely essential. The paradox here is that Bland’s film centers on jazz and needs various kinds of performance to illustrate its points, yet what’s being played is only adequate; if the music were good enough to distract one from the talk, the film wouldn’t work as well. Lucid and provocative, this is recommended viewing for any jazz novice, one of the best social readings of jazz form I know. (JR)… Read more »

Eyes Of The Spider And Serpent’s Path

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. Eyes of the Spider (83 min.) and Serpent’s Path (85 min.), 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. Stylistically these are among the most inventive Japanese features I’ve seen in some time, much more unpredictable than Takeshi Kitano’s recent yakuza exercises. (JR)… Read more »

Serpent’s Path

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 »

Cure

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. The engrossing Cure (1998, 111 min.) 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. Like other recent thrillers by this director, it’s fairly grisly, though Kurosawa’s frequent long shots impart a cool, detached tone to the cruelty and violence. Stylistically it’s the most inventive Japanese feature I’ve seen in some time, much more unpredictable than Takeshi Kitano’s recent yakuza exercises. (JR)… Read more »

Back Against The Wall

This opening-night program of the eighth annual Chicago Underground Film Festival gave me my first taste of the work of James Fotopoulos, an energetic experimental filmmaker in his mid-20s whose morbid preoccupations with sex and horror have already been getting him some attention from serious critics. His third feature is a black-and-white narrative shot in about a week for $26,000, and the simple synopsis provided for itA group of people struggle to obtain power through sex and violencedoesn’t hint at the long takes from fixed camera positions, surveying a variety of grim midwestern locations, or the layered and sinister industrial sound design. The centrifugal and somewhat confusing narrative has something to do with a few women who work in lingerie modeling, showing off their outfits to older men (the conspicuous absence of sex and nudity is balanced to some degree by the stripping and masturbating of the model in Fotopoulos’s accompanying 2000 short, Drowning). Many writers have linked the filmmaker to Lynch and Cronenberg, but a heavily made-up grotesque who becomes prominent toward the end reminded me more of Tobe Hooper. The most interesting thing for me is the film’s abrupt ending, which proves how difficult it is to anticipate what Fotopoulos is up to.… Read more »

Under The Sand

A middle-aged Parisian who teaches English literature (Charlotte Rampling) loses her husband (Bruno Cremer) when, vacationing with her in the country, he goes off for a swim and never comes back. This impressive feature by Francois Ozon (Water Drops on Burning Rocks) is less concerned with solving the mystery than with charting the wife’s gradual adjustment to the loss, something it handles with both confidence and a remarkable feeling for psychological nuance. Rampling is extraordinary, and the screenplay (by Ozon, Emmanuelle Bernheim, Marcia Romano, and Marina de Van) gives her plenty to work with. Others in the cast include Jacques Nolot and Alexandra Stewart. In French with subtitles. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Deep End

The first feature of academically minded American indies Scott McGehee and David Siegel was an odd black-and-white ‘Scope thriller predicated on film theory (Suture, 1993). This one is a remake of Max Ophuls’s potent 1949 melodrama The Reckless Momentupdated in some of its gender politics and its fancy water imagery, and watchable enough on its own terms, but not a patch on the original. A housewife, mother, and all-around workhorse in Lake Tahoe (Tilda Swinton) finds she has to cope with a blackmailer (Goran Visnjic) after her gay son appears to have committed a murder that she decides to cover up. This starts off like a Claude Chabrol fable about the criminal impulses needed to preserve a bourgeois home and winds up a would-be love story; it holds one’s interest, but all of it’s been conceived at one remove. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »