Daily Archives: August 15, 2003

The Gatekeeper

John Carlos Frey, the writer-director-producer-star of this powerful 2002 independent feature, was born in San Diego, a half-mile from the Mexican border, and his harrowing story about the enslavement of illegal immigrants has the feel of something observed firsthand. A sadistic Border Patrol agent, ashamed of his Mexican-American heritage and driven by his hatred of Mexicans, conspires with some equally xenophobic pals to join a group of illegals sneaking across the border and thus dramatize the patrol’s ineffectuality, but he undergoes a gradual conversion once he experiences what the Mexicans endure after their trek to the U.S. Thematically the film starts off like The Believer, Henry Bean’s 2001 drama about an anti-Semitic Jew, and winds up like Sullivan’s Travels without the comedy. Sylistically it recalls a Warners protest feature from the early 30s crossed with 70s exploitation: the dramaturgy may be crude in spots, but the content is shocking and, for the most part, frighteningly believable. With Michelle Agnew and Anne Betancourt. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Uptown Girls

A spoiled and bratty New Yorker (Brittany Murphy), the daughter of a deceased rock star, finds herself out of pocket after her accountant makes off with her inheritance, and reluctantly she becomes nanny to an eight-year-old health fanatic and control freak (Dakota Fanning), bringing along her pet pig. I guess the point of this cutesy and unconvincing parable is that they teach each other how to grow up, but I couldn’t figure out why I was supposed to care. Boaz Yakin (Fresh) directed this whimsy from a script and story by four women; the supporting cast includes Marley Shelton, Donald Faison, Jesse Spencer, Austin Pendleton, and Heather Locklear. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cockfighter

Except for Iguana, which is almost completely unknown, this wry 1974 feature is probably the most underrated work by Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop). Shot by Nestor Almendros on location in Georgia (partly in Flannery O’Connor’s hometown, which seems appropriate), it follows the absurdist progress of a man who trains fighting cocks (Warren Oates in one of his best performances) and who takes a vow of silence after his hubris nearly puts him out of the game, though he continues to narrate the story offscreen. Produced by Roger Corman as an exploitation item for the drive-ins, this performed so badly in that capacity that it was recut and retitled more than once (as Born to Kill, Wild Drifter, and Gamblin’ Man). But as a dark comedy and closet art movie, it delivers and lingers. With Richard B. Shull, Harry Dean Stanton, Millie Perkins, and Troy Donahue. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Magdalene Sisters

Peter Mullanwho memorably played the title role in Ken Loach’s My Name Is Joe and subsequently wrote and directed Orphans (2000)follows up those features with this equally harrowing 2002 account of young women found guilty of real or imagined sexual indiscretions and incarcerated in Irish labor camps run by the Sisters of the Magdalene Order. (A reported 30,000 women suffered this fate before these convent laundries finally closed in 1996.) Set in the mid-60s, it concentrates on four inmates (Anne-Marie Duff, Eileen Walsh, Nona-Jane Noone, Dorothy Duffy) and often calls to mind women-in-prison films; its brutal take on living under totalitarian rule periodically suggests Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Mullan makes the authority figures (such as the nun played by Geraldine McEwan) grimly believable, but as in Orphans, there are times when he doesn’t know when to quit. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Open Range

Vengeance may be the most overrated and overused theme in movies, but director Kevin Costner makes effective use of it in this classic western tale in which a feud between “freegrazers” (Costner, Robert Duvall, Diego Luna, Abraham Benrubi) and an evil rancher (Michael Gambon) culminates in an extended gunfight. Costner and screenwriter Craig Storper wisely let Duvall take charge most of the time, so that the movie begins to falter only after Costner takes over as lead. Curiously, for a film that aspires to classical storytelling, the principal model appears to be Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller–less for the narrative style than for the look of the town (smoky, makeshift, muddy) and some of its inhabitants. Storper is pretty good at playing with and against certain western cliches in his treatment of the good guys (including Annette Bening’s character), but resorts to pure cliche when it comes to the villians (e.g., Gambon and James Russo). As in McCabe, the handsome ‘Scope landscapes were filmed in Canada. 135 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, 62nd & Western.… Read more »