Monthly Archives: July 2003

Seabiscuit

Gary Ross, the scenarist for Dave and writer-director of Pleasantville, tries to fashion another inspirational patriotic myth out of Laura Hillenbrand’s best seller about a famous racehorse of the mid-1930s and three broken men who find salvation through their association with the quirky equine. Maybe the magic will work for those who loved the book, but I found this film stultifyingly self-important and, despite the regularity with which it cuts to the chase, weirdly static. Jeff Bridges (a former auto tycoon), Chris Cooper (an ex-cowboy), and Tobey Maguire (a driven, lonely jockey) know how to hold the right poses, and I enjoyed William H. Macy as a hokey radio announcer who accompanies his spiels with sound effects. But Randy Newman’s lugubrious score proves that he’s become as much a movie hack as Philip Glass, and the narrowness of narrative focus thwarts the sprawl and scale required for a proper period epic. With Elizabeth Banks and Gary Stevens. PG-13, 140 min. (JR)… Read more »

Grilled Rice And The Day You’ll Love Me

Grilled Rice (2000, 53 min.), a French-Vietnamese documentary by Claude Grunspan, features interviews with National Vietnamese and National Liberation Front war photographers who recall the French and American campaigns in Vietnam. In French and Vietnamese with subtitles. Leandro Katz’s American-Argentinean The Day You’ll Love Me (1998, 30 min.) is a fascinating and highly evocative essay concentrating on the last photograph taken of Che Guevara, by Freddy Albortaa famous shot of his corpse on a table. In Spanish with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Johnny English

Though the ads for this British secret service farce primed me for an Austin Powers knockoff, the real model for Rowan Atkinson’s stumblebum title hero is Peter Sellers’s Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther comedies. Director Peter Howitt is no Blake Edwards, and some of the slapstick is infantile and, especially toward the end, scatological, but the sheer lunacy of the plotFrench tycoon Pascal Sauvage (John Malkovich with a Clouseau accent) steals the crown jewels and then contrives to get himself crowned king of Englandcarries things along, and on its own modest terms, this romp delivers. Backing up agent English are Natalie Imbruglia (whose character is split rather confusingly between scorn for and infatuation with the hero) and comedian Ben Miller; the amiable script is by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and William Davies. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Holy Land

An Israeli rabbi advises his horny yeshiva student (Oren Rehany) to visit a prostitute so he won’t be further distracted, but the youth winds up falling for a 19-year-old Russian hooker (Tchelet Semel) and working at a multicultural bar in Jerusalem that’s run by one of her clients (Saul Stein). For his first feature writer-director Eitan Golan has adapted his semiautobiographical novella “Mike’s Place, a Jerusalem Diary,” and though I anticipated a cutesy comedy, this is something more interesting: a fresh look at contemporary Israeli life, with good performances by all three leads and touching psychological nuances. The story’s resolution isn’t very satisfying, but I considered most of this movie time well spent. The dialogue is mostly in English; the rest is subtitled Arabic, Hebrew, and Russian. 96 min. Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »

Hell’s Heroes

“Down With Ford! Long Live Wyler!” was the title of a 1948 article by French writer and filmmaker Roger Leenhardt, and I’m hard-pressed to think of a more dubious pronouncement by a major critic. But it starts to become plausible if one compares William Wyler’s gritty and beautifully photographed western Hell’s Heroes (1929) with John Ford’s sentimental remake, 3 Godfathers (1948). Three escaping bank robbers find themselves caring for an orphaned baby in the cruel desert, and Wyler does a matchless job of keeping this Christian allegory life-size and unsentimental without ever diluting its emotional power. With Charles Bickford, Raymond Hatton, and Fred Kohler. 68 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Photofest.… Read more »

The Weather Underground

This fascinating documentary by Sam Green and Bill Siegel (2002) looks at the Weathermen, whose radical antiwar activism during the late 60s and early 70s culminated in acts of domestic terrorism. By far the most provocative commentary comes from former Weathermen Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Brian Flanagan, David Gilbert, and Mark Rudd; some of them, like Dohrn, remain proud of what they did, while others, notably Rudd, are now somewhat ashamed. Unfortunately, the closer the filmmakers get to the present, the less politically adventurous they are. They’re graphic and powerful on this country’s slaughter of innocent Vietnamese (which, rightly or wrongly, motivated the Weathermen’s terrorism) but are completely silent about the recent and ongoing slaughter of innocents in the Middle East and Afghanistan, so that Rudd’s pivotal comparison of Weathermen terrorism with 9/11 is denied any wider context. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

Kairat

Darezhan Omirbaev, who’s made four features to date in Kazakhstan, is one of the most talented filmmakers currently working anywhere, but his nationality seems to have doomed him to the margins. He made his feature debut with this remarkable 1991 black-and-white film about a dreamy-eyed youth from the steppes arriving in the city by train, staying at a youth hostel, riding on buses, and obsessing over movies and girls. Less a story than a series of seemingly disconnected yet overlapping sketches, it suggests Bresson in both its performances and its remarkable attention to sound, but its manner of interfacing realism with dreams is wholly original. In Kazakh with subtitles; a 35-millimeter print will be shown. 72 min. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Open Spaces in Iran and Uganda: Conversations with Abbas Kiarostami

Conversations conducted for Movie Mutations and Abbas Kiarostami (both 2003). — J.R.

Abbas-Kiarostami-001

Open Spaces in Iran and Africa:

Conversations with Abbas Kiarostami

by Jonathan Rosenbaum  and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

 

tasteofcherry3

1. Taste of Cherry: spring 1998 (Chicago)

The hero of Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry is a 50ish man named Mr. Badii contemplating suicide for unstated reasons, driving around the hilly Tehran outskirts in search of someone who will bury him if he succeeds — he plans to swallow sleeping pills — and retrieve him from the hole in the ground he has selected if he fails. Over the course of one afternoon, he picks up three passengers and asks each of them to perform this task in exchange for money — a young Kurdish soldier stationed nearby, an Afghan seminarian who is somewhat older, and a Turkish taxidermist who is older than he is. The soldier runs away in fright, the seminarian tries to persuade him not to kill himself, and the taxidermist, who also tries to change his mind, reluctantly agrees, needing the money to help take care of his sick child. The terrain Badii’s Range Rover traverses repeatedly, in circular fashion, is mainly parched, dusty, and spotted with ugly construction sites and noisy bulldozers, though the site he’s selected for his burial is relatively quiet, pristine, and uninhabited.… Read more »

Brilliant Inaccuracies [DOWN WITH LOVE & DRACULA: PAGES FROM A VIRGIN’S DIARY

I’ve appended a different title to this Chicago Reader review which ran on July 11, 2003 and restored a few details in my argument as well as phrases that a bleary-eyed editor, foregoing the Reader’s usual writer-friendly protocol, deleted at the last minute without telling me. Down with Love, in particular, continues to be a major revelation and source of pleasure for me. — J.R.

Down With Love

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Peyton Reed

Written by Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake

With Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, Sarah Paulson, David Hyde Pierce, and Tony Randall.

Dracula: Pages From a Virgin’s Diary

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Guy Maddin

With Zhang Wei-qiang, Tara Birtwhistle, David Moroni, CindyMarie Small, Johnny Wright, and Brent Neale.

If a more interesting and entertaining Hollywood movie than Down With Love has come along this year, I’ve missed it. Down With Love – which has already closed in Chicago — is entertaining thanks to Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake’s clever script, Peyton Reed’s mainly assured direction, inventive production and costume design, a musical number behind the final credits I’d happily swap all of Chicago for, and even a miscast Renee Zellweger pulling off a difficult climactic monologue.… Read more »

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen

A stiff. I don’t know the comic book series, but it could hardly be as lifeless as this leaden adaptation, in which the weapons have more personality than the characters and the nonstop action often feels like no action at all. The estimable Sean Connery stars as H. Rider Haggard’s adventure hero Allan Quatermain, who joins forces with Verne’s Captain Nemo, Stoker’s Mina Harker, Wells’s Invisible Man, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll, Wilde’s Dorian Gray, and Twain’s Tom Sawyer (grown up to become a U.S. Secret Service agent) to defeat a nefarious global plot hatched by Sherlock Holmes’s old nemesis Professor Moriarty (who also calls himself Fantom, proving he doesn’t know how to spell). But in fact none of those characters appear; these are just fast-food-franchise toys with familiar names slapped on them (Hyde, for instance, is a clumsy mix of Schwarzenegger and the Hulk). Stephen Norrington directed a witless script by James Dale Robinson. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Italian Job

Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Jason Statham, Mos Def, and Donald Sutherland join forces in this remake of a 1969 comic heist movie that starred Michael Caine. I haven’t seen the original, but this one offers some agreeably mindless fun in which the villains (including Norton) are truly villainous, the payback is satisfying in a purely infantile way, and the familiarity of everything is oddly comforting. And in terms of action, this makes The Matrix Reloaded look like a clodhopper’s jamboree. The settings are Los Angeles as well as Venice and other parts of Italy; F. Gary Gray directed a script by Donna and Wayne Powers. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bruce Almighty

Bruce (Jim Carrey) is a Buffalo TV news reporter prone to cursing God for his bad luck. God (Morgan Freeman), a janitor who hangs around an empty office building saying things like A teenager who says no to drugs and yes to education: that’s a miracle, temporarily delegates his responsibilities to Carrey, with predictably chaotic results. The most talented of Jerry Lewis’s recent epigones, Carrey knows plenty about physical shtick, and the movie works best when it sticks closest to its skeletal sketch-comedy premise. But without a decent script, he can’t create much of a character, and the farce loses its edge the moment it starts trying to tell a coherent story. Director Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams) can’t fill in the blanks, but some of the secondary cast (Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell) offer decent company. PG-13, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Man On The Train

The title character is an over-the-hill hood played by aging French pop star Johnny Hallyday, who arrives in a small town to rob a local bank one Saturday. A retired poetry teacher (Jean Rochefort) about to undergo open-heart surgery offers to put him up, and the men unexpectedly bond. Patrice Leconte directed Claude Klotz’s mainly serviceable script, which falters only when it gets too fancy toward the end. It’s a classic setup for a star vehicle, and notwithstanding able support from Jean-Francois Stevenin and Edith Scob, among others, this movie belongs to the two leads. Their calm assurance — Hallyday as a grizzled icon, Rochefort as a melancholy mensch — is a pleasure to behold (2002). In French with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Summer Place

Back in 1959 some teenagers took this opulent story of adultery and teenage love seriously, though I wasn’t one of them. Richard Egan, Dorothy McGuire, Sandra Dee, Arthur Kennedy, and Troy Donahue compete with the lush scenery (it’s supposed to be the east coast, though much of it was shot in California) and the hyperbole provided by Sloan Wilson’s source novel, Max Steiner’s highly successful score, and Delmer Daves’s characteristically giddy direction. 130 min. (JR)… Read more »

Low Altitude

Ebrahim Hatamikia directed this mordant 2002 Iranian comedy drama about a man driven by poverty to plan a skyjacking. In Farsi with subtitles. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »