From the Chicago Reader (July 11, 2003). — J.R.
Andrei Konchalovsky’s feature — about inmates in a Russian insane asylum near the Chechnyan border who become further disoriented when Chechen soldiers take over the establishment as their temporary headquarters — is said to be based on a true story, but the writer-director is clearly pursuing some higher, allegorical truth. His lead actress, the freckle-faced Yuliya Vysotskaya, is good as a delusional patient who believes herself engaged to Canadian pop singer Bryan Adams (who plays himself in her dreams) and later transfers her fixation to one of the occupying soldiers, but her performance can’t compensate for all the pat ironies of the plot. Still, this is obviously a sincere undertaking, and there’s a certain homemade charm to the special effects used in the combat scenes (2002). 104 min. In Chechen and Russian with subtitles. (JR)
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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
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 »
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 »
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 (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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
What gives Chantal Akerman’s video documentary about illegal Mexican aliens in the U.S. so much bite as well as poignancy is her personal investment in the material. It’s felt in her haunted and highly evocative lingering over landscapes (an Akerman specialty), as well as in her subtitled interviews with Mexicans in Spanish and a few Americans in English. These are capped by her own highly moving monologue in French. A major work that creeps up on you gradually (2002). 99 min. (JR)… Read more »
This compelling 2002 documentary by Mark Moskowitz, an avid fiction reader who makes a living shooting political commercials, is a kind of literary detective story, though paradoxically the piece of literature at its center remains elusive and opaque to the end. In his late teens Moskowitz bought a copy of Dow Mossman’s novel, The Stones of Summer (1972), after seeing an enthusiastic review in the New York Times Book Review; when he finally got around to reading it 25 years later he was blown away but frustrated to discover that Mossman had never been heard from again. This launched him on a lengthy quest to find the author and learn why some ambitious novelists produce only one book, a question pondered in interviews with critic Leslie Fiedler, editor Robert Gottlieb, author and teacher Frank Conroy, Mossman’s former agent, and many others. We finally learn much more about Moskowitz than about Mossman, and more about Mossman than about his novel, but Moskowitz’s passion for books is irresistible. 128 min. Facets Cinematheque.… Read more »