Monthly Archives: January 2002

Twin Peaks

The original 1990 pilot for David Lynch’s mystery series, with 15 minutes of extra footage, including a solution of sorts. It’s a lot better than what followed. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

Night Moves

Released in 1975, near the end of Arthur Penn’s most productive period (which began in 1967 with Bonnie and Clyde), this haunting psychological thriller ambitiously sets out to unpack post-Watergate burnout in American life. Gene Hackman plays an LA detective tracking a runaway teenager (Melanie Griffith in her screen debut) to the Florida Keys while evading various problems of his own involving his father and his wife. The labyrinthine mystery plot and pessimistic mood suggest Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald, and like them screenwriter Alan Sharp has more than conventional mystery mechanics on his mind. One of Penn’s best features; his direction of actors is sensitive and purposeful throughout. With Jennifer Warren, Susan Clark, Edward Binns, Harris Yulin, Kenneth Mars, and James Woods. 95 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, 1967 South Campus Dr., Evanston, Thursday, January 31, 9:00, 847-491-4000.… Read more »

Storytelling

Hearing in advance about the formal experimentation by independent writer-director Todd Solondz (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Happiness) in this feature raised my hopes, but I was disappointed to find that Solondz is now reduced to treating his characters like puppets. His lack of regard for them fits in fairly well with his division of the universe between sadistic predators and hapless victims, but not with the viewer’s desire to consider the fates of actual people. In the first and better episode, Fiction, sexual intrigues interface with a creative-writing class, and Solondz tweaks various PC reflexes about race and disability. The second, Non-Fiction, which is roughly twice as long and three times as loose, involves a disgruntled documentary filmmaker taking on a dysfunctional suburban family with a maid from El Salvador. There’s undoubtedly food for thought here if you dig for it, but the things Solondz does to his actors, supposedly in the interests of satire, didn’t make me want to reach for a shovel. With Selma Blair, Leo Fitzpatrick, Robert Wisdom, Paul Giamatti, Mark Webber, John Goodman, and Julie Hagerty. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

Alone on the Pacific

Kon Ichikawa’s odd and magisterial docudrama of 1963 (also known as My Enemy, the Sea), beautifully filmed in ‘Scope and color, follows the true adventures of a young Japanese who sailed a 19-foot yacht from Osaka to San Francisco over 94 days in 1962. Alternating between scenes of this journey and flashbacks showing the hero’s various preparations and his overall estrangement from his family, Ichikawa makes this story a fascinating and often comic study of obsession and a striking portrait of a solitary consciousness, full of graphic and compositional brilliance. 97 min. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Wednesday, January 23, 6:00, 312-846-2800. … Read more »

Shanghai Ghetto

Dana Janklowicz-Mann and Amir Mann’s fascinating 2002 documentary focuses on a little-known historical sidebar of World War IIthe Jewish settlements in Shanghai, which included about 20,000 German Jews (who were able to emigrate there without passport control) and Jews from Baghdad and Russia who’d already settled there. Basically a talking-head film in English, augmented by period photographs and footage of a recent return trip by many German Jews, this was visibly shot on digital video, but that fact stopped bothering me once I became absorbed in the material, which was very quickly. Especially interesting are the complex relations among the residents of the ghetto, their amicable Chinese neighbors (many of whom were even poorer than the Jews), the Japanese soldiers occupying the city, and the more well-to-do Iraqi Jews (who were British subjects) and Americans; these last two groups eventually wound up in internment camps outside the city. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dinner Rush

A nicely shaped script by Chicagoans Rick Shaughnessy and Brian Kalata makes this independent comedy drama (2000) a pleasure to watch. Directed by restaurateur Bob Giraldi, it unfolds over a winter evening at an Italian restaurant in Manhattan’s Tribeca (though it was originally set in Chicago). Danny Aiello stars as the owner, who’s the father of the nouvelle cuisine chef (Edoardo Ballerini). Others on the staff include Kirk Acevedo and Summer Phoenix; among the restaurant guests are an art critic (Mark Margolis), a restaurant reviewer (Sandra Bernhard), and a couple of crooks trying to muscle in on the business. The action is nicely paced, and the story has a very satisfying payoff. With Vivian Wu, Mike McGlone, John Corbett, and Polly Draper. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lantana

If this Australian hit about adultery and midlife angst in Sydneyadapted by Andrew Bovell from his stage play Speaking in Tonguesweren’t quite so shapeless, it would be tempting to compare it to Carlo Emilio Gadda’s unfinished 1946 novel That Awful Mess on Via Merulana, a detective story whose focus is less the never-solved mystery than the overall misery exposed by the investigation. This is striking for its performancesespecially Anthony LaPaglia as a highly compromised (and married) detective, Rachael Blake as the married woman he sleeps with, Barbara Hershey as a troubled psychiatrist who disappears, and Geoffrey Rush as the latter’s husbandbut not terribly interesting in terms of mise en scene; Ray Lawrence (Bliss) directed. The somewhat abstruse title refers to a beautiful bush with a thorny underside. 120 min. (JR)… Read more »

Gosford Park

This upstairs-downstairs comedy-drama, set in 1932 in an English country house, is probably Robert Altman’s most accomplished film since the 70s. Among its virtues are the discipline exercised by its fine English cast, a good script by Julian Fellowes (based on ideas by Altman and costar Bob Balaban) that incorporates certain aspects of Agatha Christie-style whodunit, and the interesting ground rule that no guest be shown unless a servant is present in the same scene. There are more characters of interest here than in Nashville, and an almost constantly moving camera (less noticeably employed than in The Long Goodbye) tends to objectify the relationships among them. Some of the most prominent are played by Eileen Atkins, Balaban (a Hollywood producer), Alan Bates (a butler), Charles Dance, Stephen Fry (a police inspector who impersonates Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot in garb and body language), Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Tom Hollander, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Jeremy Northam (real-life movie star and composer Ivor Novello), Kristin Scott Thomas, and Emily Watson.137 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »

TOUCH OF EVIL: From Program Picture to Classic (2002)

Published as “Classic Touch” in the January 2002 issue of AMC: American Movie Classics Magazine….The last photo reproduced here is of the whole crew of the re-edit team at the Cannes Film Festival in May 1998. — J.R.

touch of evil

 

 

 

 

Considering all the rereleases in recent years of studio classics that are
labeled “director’s cut,” it must seem like every studio picture has one.
But the phrase is often a marketing term, and therefore potentially
misleading. There are some movies, including a few great ones, that can’t
be released in “director’s cuts” because the director was never accorded
final cut in the first place. At least five of Orson Welles’s European films
and three of his Hollywood features have director’s cuts, but Touch of
Evil (1958), his last Hollywood movie, isn’t one of them. (For the record,
his three director’s cuts are all in the 1940s: Citizen Kane and two
separate edits of his Macbeth.)

TOE-timebomb

Admittedly, there was less studio interference on this noir thriller than
there had been on Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons, The Stranger,
and The Lady from Shanghai. Welles was allowed to direct and rewrite
the script only after he’d been cast as the heavy, a crooked cop — mainly
through the intervention of lead actor Charlton Heston, who played an
honest Mexican cop.… Read more »

Burnt Money

Three Argentinean killers, two of them lovers (Eduardo Noriega and Leonardo Sbaraglia), hide out in Uruguay after a bank heist with a heavy body count and wait for false passports. Under the strain, things start to come apart. Marcelo Piñeyro’s slick, homoerotic thriller, set in 1965, aims to be as hot as possible, and some might feel it succeeds, but I was reminded of commercials for cologne. In Spanish with subtitles. 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

It’s a Big World After All [The Best Movies of 2001]

From the Chicago Reader (January 4, 2002). — J.R.

There is no such thing as film production. It is a joke, as much as the production of literature, pictures, or music. There are no good years for films, like good years for wine. A great film is an accident, a banana skin under the feet of dogma; and the films that we try to defend are a few of those that despise rules. — Jean Cocteau, 1949

Two events in the year 2001 changed my relation to movies — one public and momentous, the other private and relatively trivial. The public event, of course, took place on September 11, and for many Americans, myself included, it broadened dramatically what we mean when we say “us.” It changed the way we see the world as well as the U.S., and for me the change in the way we see the world was more important. Some of my compatriots may still not be able to move mentally beyond this country, even theoretically; others may be considering the possibility for the first time. I saw better than ever the role movies can play in helping us understand the world from other perspectives, and the sudden outpouring of interest in films about Afghanistan — most notably Jung (War): In the Land of the Mujaheddin and Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Kandahar — was only the most obvious sign that this is happening.… Read more »

Brightness (Yeleen)

From the Chicago Reader (January 4, 2002). — J.R.

Souleymane Cissé’s extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerizing fantasy is set in the ancient Bambara culture of Mali (formerly French Sudan) long before it was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century. A young man (Issiaka Kane) sets out to discover the mysteries of nature (or komo, the science of the gods) with the help of his mother and uncle, but his jealous and spiteful father contrives to prevent him from deciphering the elements of the Bambara sacred rites and tries to kill him. Apart from creating a dense and exciting universe that should make George Lucas green with envy, Cissé has shot breathtaking images in Fujicolor and has accompanied his story with a spare, hypnotic, percussive score. Conceivably the greatest African film ever made, sublimely mixing the matter-of-fact with the uncanny, this wondrous work won the jury prize at the 1987 Cannes festival, and it provides an ideal introduction to a filmmaker who is, next to Ousmane Sembène, probably Africa’s greatest director. Not to be missed. 105 min. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Friday, January 4, 6:15 and 8:15; Saturday, January 5, 4:15, 6:15, and 8:15; Sunday, January 6, 4:15 and 6:15; and Monday through Thursday, January 7 through 10, 6:15 and 8:15; 312-846-2800.… Read more »

Reel Life Jazz

The challenge of the jazz documentary is combining talk and music without allowing one to ride roughshod over the other. Peter Bull’s stirring Steve Lacy: Lift the Bandstand (1985, 50 min.), about soprano saxophonist and Thelonious Monk disciple Steve Lacy, compromises neither the performances of Lacy’s inventive sextet nor Lacy’s observations about his career. John Jeremy’s first-rate Born to Swing (1973, 50 min.), about various alumni of Count Basie’s 1943 band reuniting, also finds a successful balance. I haven’t seen the other entries in this five-and-a-half-hour program of jazz filmsPeter Kowald: Off the Road, a recent French documentary about the bassist’s solo tour of the U.S.; Frans Boelen’s Dutch film Sonny Rollins: Live at Loren (1973, 37 min.); and a selection of clips from the excellent collection of Jazz Record Mart owner Bob Koesterbut it sounds like a great show. (JR)… Read more »

Early German Films

Two silent films from 1913: The Mysterious Club (47 min.), a detective thriller, was directed by former circus performer Joseph Delmont, whose acrobatic talents are featured in the final third. The Black Ball, or The Mysterious Sisters (40 min.), directed by Franz Hofer, is a revenge story.… Read more »

Ten Nights In The Bar Room

This 1926 adaptation of a temperance play performed in black communities had the longest run of any race film in the silent erafour weeks in New York. Roy Calnek directed two leading black stage actors of the period, Lawrence Chenault and Charles Gilpin. 65 min.… Read more »