Daily Archives: April 18, 2003

2002 Oscar Shorts

If I thought these Oscar-nominated shorts were the best made in 2002, I’d probably want to give up reviewing movies. Three of the four live-action itemsDirk Belien’s Belgian Gridlock, Philippe Orreindy’s French I’ll Wait for the Next One, and Steve Pasvolsky’s Australian Dogcombine cuteness and cruelty in a way I find particularly repellent, so the cuteness without cruelty of Martin Strange-Hansen’s The Charming Man, the Danish romantic farce that won the Oscar, seems downright virtuous by comparison. Among the animated shorts, neither Eric Armstrong’s Oscar-winning The Chubbchubbs! nor Roger Gould’s Mike’s New Car, both American, was available for preview; the other threeTomek Baginski’s Polish The Cathedral, Chris Stenner and Heidi Wittlinger’s German Rocks, and Koji Yamamura’s Japanese Mt. Headheld my interest without being especially attractive. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Servant’s Shirt

Novelist Vinod Shukla collaborated with director Mani Kaul on this 1999 adaptation of Shukla’s book about a young clerk in a small-town government office and his bride during the late 60s. The story focuses on class hierarchy and domestic as well as work spaces (a key early stretch of dialogue compares the space in the couple’s cramped bed to the space in their hearts). This is beautifully short, and the influence of Robert Bresson on Kaul’s subtle inflections of editing and muting of the actors’ styles remains strong and beneficial throughout. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

11 X 14

One of James Benning’s very best early experimental films (1976, 83 min.) is also one of the few with a narrative, although it’s one that gets swallowed up by the form of the film, as Benning puts it, and much of it consists of teasing fragments of implied stories. The individual shots, nearly always elegant (and a few running as long as 11 minutes), often come across as enigmatic, graphic, poignant, tricky, unreal, mesmerizingly slow, and/or evocative. (JR)… Read more »

Above And Beyond

A sober and dutiful black-and-white biopic (1952) starring Robert Taylor as the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Directed by Melvin Frank and Norman Panama, the same dynamic duo who collaborated on several Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Road pictures; with Eleanor Powell, James Whitmore, and other fun-loving members of the MGM back lot. 122 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Mighty Wind

Christopher Guest’s half-funny mockumentary follow-up to Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show imagines a Town Hall folk music concert organized by a stiff control freak (Bob Balaban) as a memorial to his manager father. It’s easy to laugh at the preponderance of Jews in the pop-folk scene, and see that the Folksmen (Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer) are patterned after the Kingston Trio, the New Main Street Singers (including John Michael Higgins and Parker Posey) after the New Christy Minstrels, and Mitch & Mickey (cowriter Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) after Sonny and Cher. But I can’t fathom why Guest and Levy had the mirthless idea of making Mitch a burned-out mental case. With Paul Dooley, Jane Lynch, and Fred Willard. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Stan Brakhage (1933-2003): In Memoriam/In Celebration

I was slow to appreciate the multifaceted greatness of the late Stan Brakhage, this country’s major experimental filmmaker, in part because he and some of his supporters originally presented his work in terms so grand they seemed to split his audience into believers and atheists. This memorial screening of ten Brakhage films, the prints of which were all loaned by local enthusiasts, extends from Desistfilm (1954) to Stately Mansions Did Decree (1999), and though it omits two of my favorites from his middle period–The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (1971) and Scenes From Under Childhood (1970)–it offers a useful 75-minute survey for people unacquainted with his work. For me the real revelations are the 90s films: the breathtaking The Chartres Series (1994), the self-avowed “last testament” Commingled Containers (1996), which marked Brakhage’s return to photography after years of painting directly on celluloid, and the literally dazzling Stately Mansions Did Decree. All three exhibit the same painterly brilliance found in his Ellipses Reels 1-4 (1998), and taken as a whole they suggest an overall development from chamber pieces to grand orchestral works. Completing the survey are Mothlight (1963), Door (1971), The Riddle of Lumen (1972), The Roman Numeral Series III (1980), Egyptian Series (1983), and I…Dreaming (1988), the latter one of his rare sound/image experiments.… Read more »

Raising Victor Vargas

Warmly recommended to viewers who like their romantic comedies small-scale but life-size, this charming debut feature by Peter Sollette, set in a Dominican milieu on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, follows the stumbling exploits of the title character (Victor Rasuk), a small-time teenage Romeo trying to upgrade his image after being caught in the act with a chubby neighbor. Victor plots his way into the good graces of “Juicy Judy” (Judy Marte), a wary local beauty with agendas of her own; the hero’s sister, his younger brother, his cantankerous grandmother (Altagracia Guzman), and Judy’s brother and best friend all play significant parts in the developing intrigue. The nonprofessional cast contributed a lot to the script. 88 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Esquire, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »