Monthly Archives: June 2003

Every Little Thing

In the summer of 1995, French documentarist Nicolas Philibert shot the rehearsals for an outdoor performance of Witold Gombrowicz’s Operetta at a psychiatric clinic in La Bord; the film that resulted was released the following year. As in Philibert’s other documentaries, his uncoercive respect for the participants registers almost immediately; he wants us to get to know these performers as people rather than as patients, even though the mood is periodically one of amiable chaos. A couple of the most interesting moments arise when patients address the filmmaker directly; the second time this happens, he’s identified as a representative of societymeaning us. In French with subtitles. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

28 Days Later . . .

In terms of plot, this postapocalyptic horror tale about an epidemic that decimates most of England is pretty familiar stuff, the most obvious referents being Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, its various movie spin-offs, and George Romero’s zombie pictures. But Danny Boyle’s purposeful direction and Mark Tildesley’s imaginative and resourceful production design keep this fresh and edgy; the images of a wasted London and the details of a paramilitary organization in the countryside are both creepy and persuasive. Alex Garland wrote the script, and the effective cast includes Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns, and Brendan Gleeson. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Swimming Pool

As a big fan of Under the Sand (2001), the previous collaboration between Charlotte Rampling and writer-director Francois Ozon, I was prepared to follow them pretty far into the ambiguities and nuances of this tale, about a celebrated British mystery novelist (Rampling) who arrives at her publisher’s country house in the south of France to work on a book but finds her space invaded by his promiscuous daughter (Ludivine Sagnier of Ozon’s 8 Women and Water Drops on Burning Rocks). Unfortunately, after the well-honed psychological melodrama of its first half, this wanders off into the metaphysical territory of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (a much better film). In English and subtitled French. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Jet Lag

Through a series of mishaps, a beautician headed for Acapulco (Juliette Binoche) and a chef en route to Munich (Jean Reno) find themselves sharing a hotel room near Charles de Gaulle International Airport, and in spite of many temperamental differences they fall in love. Director Daniele Thompson collaborated with her son Christopher on the script for this 2002 romantic comedy in ‘Scope, and as concocted as it may sound, she and her two leads bring it off (Binoche is especially effective playing a character that seems to have as many layers as her makeup). One should note that, for better or for worse, Miramax has cut ten minutes from the French release. In French with subtitles. 81 min. Pipers Alley.… Read more »

The Hard Word

I haven’t a clue what the title means, but this kinky and mainly sweet-tempered heist film (2001) by Australian writer-director Scott Roberts seems fairly fresh to me, despite its heavy-handed way with a few generic staples (e.g., a femme fatale played by Rachel Griffiths). A scuzzy lawyer (Robert Taylor) enlists three goofy and basically nonviolent bank-robbing brothers (Guy Pearce, Damien Richardson, and Joel Edgerton) to pull off a job at a Melbourne racetrack, but many misadventures ensue. At times the plot developments in this post-Tarantino story seem so random they suggest automatic writing, but the characters and some of the settings kept me interested. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Alex & Emma

Desperate to get over his writing block so he can finish a novel, collect $125,000 from a publisher (director Rob Reiner), and pay off gambling debts to violent Cuban loan sharks, a young author (Luke Wilson) hires a stenographer (Kate Hudson) who helps him along with her strong opinions. The novel, set in 1924, follows the romantic adventures of an aspiring novelist (Wilson again) working for a French family as an English tutor and romancing first the children’s mother (Sophie Marceau) and in later versions her au pair (Hudson again), a character whose nationality keeps changing as the story is revised. The actors make this fun if you can overlook the ludicrous view of Jeremy Leven’s screenplay concerning how novels are written and what publishers generally pay for themthe true subject is writing silly Hollywood scripts like this one. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Beach Party

The issue isn’t only whether we can accept Bob Cummings as an anthropologist studying teenagers but whether he can accept Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello as likely specimens. Dorothy Malone is also on hand, and Harvey Lembeck offers a parody of Brando’s biker persona. William Asher directed this 1963 feature. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Charles Mingus: Triumph Of The Underdog

Coproduced by Mingus’s fourth and last wife Sue (who more recently published the memoir Tonight at Noon: A Love Story), this 1997 video documentary by Don McGlynn crams in as much as possible about the life and music of the jazz bassist, composer, and bandleader. In many ways this is a losing proposition, because Mingus’s greatness had a lot to do with his resistance to being commodified, synopsized, excerpted, or even categorized. Furthermore, the triumph of the title seems to refer more to the posthumous performance of Mingus’s magnum opus, Epitaph, conducted by Gunther Schuller, than to his actual life. But the sheer gusto of his volatile personality eventually comes across, and the music’s passionate emotion survives even in the fragments presented here. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father

From the Chicago Reader (June 20, 2003). — J.R.

courtship-of-eddies-father

Before it became a TV series, this cutesy comedy by Vincente Minnelli had some status as an auteurist favorite, but it’s a long way from Minnelli’s Father of the Bride (another proto-sitcom). Ron Howard, known in 1963 as Ronny, tries to find a new wife for his widower dad (Glenn Ford); with Shirley Jones, Stella Stevens, and Dina Merrill. Filmed in Panavision. 117 min. (JR)

Courtship of Eddies FatherRead more »

The Tracker

It’s been almost a year since Rolf de Heer’s 2002 western was screened as the opening-night attraction at the Melbourne film festival, but it’s lodged in my memory as the best Australian feature I’ve seen in years. Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil (Walkabout, Rabbit-Proof Fence) gives the performance of a lifetime as a tracker helping three mounted police find a murder suspect in 1922, and though the film recalls Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man in its grim tale of pursuit, its poetic feeling for both history and landscape, and its contemporary score (by aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach), it has an identity all its own. (One of its most original moves is cutting to paintings by Peter Coad, specially commissioned for the film, at every moment of violence.) The film’s U.S. distributor, hoping for a wider release in Chicago, hasn’t screened it for the local press, which is why I’m not writing about it at length. But it may never return, so catch it while you have the chance. With Gary Sweet and Grant Page. 102 min. Facets Cinematheque. … Read more »

Witness to the Persecution [CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS]

From the Chicago Reader (June 13, 2003). — J.R.

Capturing the Friedmans

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Andrew Jarecki.

It’s disconcerting to be appalled and even slightly nauseated by a masterpiece. But Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans is a documentary, and so it’s disconcerting largely because of its subject matter — it shocks us with the truth.

Yet if Capturing the Friedmans were less shapely and less of a masterpiece, I’d find it less troubling. Both times I’ve seen it I’ve felt that by the end practically everyone associated with the film seems tarnished in one way or another: the ostensible subjects (the Friedmans, an upper-middle-class Jewish family in the Long Island town of Great Neck), the members of their community who helped destroy much of their lives, the filmmakers, and the audience. We’re all tainted by the graphic exposure of family wounds, diminished by what we think and feel — and by what we don’t think and don’t feel. Frankly, I’m not sure whether the film deserves to be applauded or attacked for this.

The film’s story, most of which transpires over a dozen years, begins on Thanksgiving in 1987. Arnold Friedman — a highly respected and popular middle-aged schoolteacher who gives piano and computer lessons at home, and who, as Arnito Rey, led a mambo band in the late 40s and early 50s — is arrested for possessing child pornography and subsequently charged with sexually assaulting dozens of his former computer students.… Read more »

SPRINGTIME IN A SMALL TOWN: A Reinvented Remake

From The Guardian (June 6, 2003). Happily,  Fei Mu’s 1948 is now available on a DVD with English subtitles (see the photo below), albeit in a lousy print.– J.R.

If I had to pinpoint what makes so much of contemporary life intolerable, something I’d call remake mentality might head the top of the list. The mindset that dictates that anything new has to be a recycling of something familiar — that old markets be exhausted before any new ones are contemplated, and that viewers be regarded as mindless brats demanding only more of the same — is so common by now that it has become fully internalised, and not only within the film industry.

The fact that we’re supposed to be looking forward to two sequels to The Matrix in the same year implies that we are fixed marketing units, programmed to relish staying in our well-appointed ruts. But there are just as many spinoffs predicated on our ignorance of the originals, suggesting that the avoidance of fresh thinking may not simply be our own. So I had my share of worries when I first heard that one of my favourite Chinese film-makers, Tian Zhuangzhuang, the director of The Horse Thief (1985) and The Blue Kite (1992), was remaking a Chinese classic.… Read more »

Hollywood Homicide

I’d be pushing it to call this buddy comedy/cop thriller a souffleit’s hardly that subtlebut movies don’t get much lighter than this. Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett star as LAPD detectives investigating the murder of a rap group, a perfunctory adventure that allows writer-director Ron Shelton (Bull Durham, Tin Cup) and cowriter Robert Souza (a former LAPD detective himself) to dispense a lot of cheerful satire about such foolishness as police corruption (which is taken for granted throughout) and Angelenos’ obsessions with acting, real estate, and New Age calisthenics. This is basically about the heroes’ personalities (the producers seem to be hoping for a franchise like Beverly Hills Cop or Lethal Weapon), and though its ending feels protractedespecially the climactic chaseit kept me reasonably distracted. The backup cast includes Lena Olin, Keith David, Martin Landau, and Shelton regular (and wife) Lolita Davidovich. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

May

I can’t say I got much pleasure from this gross-out horror tale by writer-director Lucky McKee, about a friendless young woman who sews stitches at an animal hospital, but by the final credits I was able to grant it a certain scuzzy conceptual integrity (even if the ending challenges some of the premises the movie has halfheartedly adopted). Angela Bettis is interesting in the title role, though the script requires her to oscillate between extreme awkwardness and cool composurenot to develop her character but to set up a few grisly shocks. More generally McKee’s direction of actors is as clumsy as the stabs at rapid editing. With Jeremy Sisto and Anna Faris. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Capturing the Friedmans

Powerful and haunting, this upsetting documentary by Andrew Jarecki examines the scandals enveloping an upper-middle-class Jewish family in suburban Long Island, as the father and a teenage son are accused of sexually abusing countless boys. The story unfolds over many years, with as many carefully delayed revelations as in a well-plotted fiction film, and though Jarecki raises a good many questions about the Friedmans that he doesn’t entirely resolve, his exploration of the larger issues–police investigations, community hysteria, and the family members’ obsession with filming themselves–is much more revealing. 107 min. Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »