Daily Archives: January 10, 2003

25th Hour

From the Chicago Reader (January 10, 2003). — J.R.

25th Hour 25th_hour3

Spike Lee’s best feature since Do the Right Thing. Though none of the major characters is black, it’s one of Lee’s most personal and deeply felt works, and the fact that it’s based on someone else’s material — David Benioff’s adaptation of his novel — makes the film all the more impressive. The narrative follows a former drug dealer (Edward Norton) spending his last 24 hours in Manhattan before beginning a seven-year prison term, though it’s also very much about the people closest to him: his girlfriend (Rosario Dawson), two best friends (Barry Pepper and Philip Seymour Hoffman), and father (Brian Cox). The film persuades us to think long and hard about what prison means, and Lee has shaped it like a poem that builds into an epic lament, especially in a beautiful and tragic closing that risks absurdity to achieve the sublime. With Anna Paquin. 134 min. (JR)

25th-hour

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Unknown Pleasures

At least since I Vitelloni and The Wild One in the 50s, movies about disaffected youth have constituted a kind of subgenre for filmmakers interested in historicizing the present. Distinguished practitioners of this undertaking in Chinese-language cinema include Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang; now they’re joined by the much younger Jia Zhang-ke, whose stunning epic Platform (2000) marks him as the most gifted Chinese filmmaker to have emerged in years. His third feature, shot on digital video, isn’t an achievement on the same order, though it takes on the same theme, in a story about two unemployed 19-year-olds. Jia’s virtuoso long takes, choreographed mise en scene, and feeling for character and behavior place him in a class by himself, yet in China his films have mainly circulated on black-market videosa point alluded to here in a sequence where his first two features are being sold, along with Pulp Fiction, by a vendor on a bicycle. In Mandarin with subtitles. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Uncertainty Principle

One of the most remarkable things about Manoel de Oliveira, now in his 90s, is the supple way in which he’s been shifting gears between features. This film follows I’m Going Home, which focused on France and the theater; here he takes up Portugal and the novel, adapting Agustina Bessa-Luis’s Joai de familia. This is the fourth Oliveira film based on Bessa-Luis’s workthe others are Francisca (1981), Valley of Abraham (1993), and the third episode of Inquietude (1998)and she also furnished the original idea for The Convent (1995) and the dialogue for Party (1996). Valley of Abraham was something of an update of Madame Bovary, and in some ways this feature suggests a gothic version of Henry James. Beautifully shot by Renato Berta, effectively accompanied by bursts of Paganini, it deals with a modern-day, apparently innocent young heroine (the film’s title refers mainly to the ambiguity of her innocence), the daughter of a compulsive gambler who compares herself to Joan of Arc and winds up in an arranged marriage with a corrupt, well-to-do man who brings her to live in the same house as his brothel-owning mistress. This is more difficult than other recent Oliveira films because of the slow, highly stylized mise en scene, with characters often looking past one another, which evokes Dreyer’s Gertrud, and because of its old-fashioned mannerist treatment of decadence, which suggests late Bressonand in one visual trope, Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.… Read more »

Monsters In The Kitchen

With the exception of Kate McCabe’s somewhat interesting Das Neue Monster (2001), in color 16-millimeter, this program is devoted to creepy stuff in black and white. Well worth the price of admission is Dream Work (2001), which concludes the internationally celebrated Cinemascope trilogy of Austrian experimental filmmaker Peter Tscherkasy. The 35-millimeter films elaborately rework found footage, and this one, inspired by Man Ray, draws on Sidney J. Furie’s 1983 shocker The Entity. Unfortunately one also has to sit through Scott McAnally’s static and unpleasant video Yancy’s Kitchen and Deco Dawson’s Film (dzama), which is relatively pleasant but still just 22 minutes of elaborate doodling with nudes and animal costumes. (Dawson shot Super-8 footage for Guy Maddin’s The Heart of the World and clearly comes from the same arch Winnepeg mentality.) Somewhere in between are Marcel de Jure’s video And . . ., Mark Hejnar’s film 0502, and John Standiford’s unsettling 16-millimeter short Plain English, which is fairly original but also rather xenophobic in its still photographs of Japanese characters. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Max

The Dutch-born Menno Meyjes, best known as the screenwriter who worked for Steven Spielberg in the 80s and cowrote The Siege in the 90s, makes his debut as writer-director with an ambitious but only fitfully successful account of Adolf Hitler during his failed-artist phase. The future fuhrer (Noah Taylor), already making headway in the beer halls with his racial and political invective, is befriended by a Jewish art dealer (John Cusack) who’s lost an arm during World War I and is an invention of Meyjes. The portrait of Hitler is convincing as a kind of intellectual conceit, but the fact that everyone speaks Englishand that period details veer toward postmodernist flourishes meant to remind us of the presentultimately disqualify this Canadian-German-Hungarian coproduction as history. With Leelee Sobieski and Molly Parker. 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

One Hour With You

Many consider Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 musical remake of his groundbreaking silent The Marriage Circle (1924) inferior to the original, but I find it funnier and in some ways more sophisticated. Maurice Chevalier, who plays a doctor married to Jeanette MacDonald, becomes attracted to Genevieve Tobin (while Charlie Ruggles, as his best friend, goes after MacDonald) and periodically turns to the audience for advice. George Cukor was hired by Lubitsch to direct but almost had his name removed from the credits because Lubitsch did so many retakes; stylistically there’s never any question that Lubitsch, working with his favorite screenwriter, Samson Raphaelson, is the one in charge. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cry, The Beloved Country

This 1951 version of Alan Paton’s novel about South African apartheid, directed by the underrated Zoltan Korda and starring Canada Lee and Sidney Poitier, is far better than the 1995 remake with James Earl Jones. The cinematography is by the accomplished Robert Krasker. Check it out. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »