Monthly Archives: March 2004

The Prince & Me

A farm girl in premed studies (Julia Stiles) falls in love with the prince of Denmark (Luke Mably), who’s hiding out at her university after a long spell of goofing off, shortly before he’s expected to assume the throne. I dreaded the worst after seeing the trailer, but Martha Coolidge directs as if the characters were believable human beingsat least until the end, when Hollywood and fairy-tale conventions have to triumph over humanity and common sense. James Fox and Miranda Richardson play the prince’s parents. PG, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Ladykillers

The British black-comedy classic (1955), about a gang of thieves who find lodging in the home of a little old lady, is improbably transmuted into Joel and Ethan Coen’s Greatest Hits (with a southern setting, slapstick accidental suicide, etc), suggesting they might better have started off from scratch. In place of Katie Johnson’s indestructible London senior we get Irma P. Hall as a hefty black matron in small-town Mississippi, and instead of Alec Guinness’s band of thieves we get a far more incompetent team of misfits headed by Tom Hanks (who adds a southern accent and an enjoyable if fussy spin to Guinness’s performance). The Coens’ lack of interest in Mississippi is moderated by a healthy appreciation of gospel music, but their smirking appreciation of stupidity extends to every character in the movie while including no one in the audience. With Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, and Ryan Hurst. R, 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Piccadilly

This remarkable British silent (1929) is special in many ways. Directed by German master E.A. Dupont, with lavish sets and luscious cinematography by two of his compatriots, Alfred Junge and Werner Brandes, it charts the erotic hold of a Chinese beauty (Anna May Wong) over the owner of a palatial London nightclub (Jameson Thomas). He fires her as a dishwasher for distracting coworkers with her tabletop dancing, then hires her back as a featured performer, to the consternation of his mistress (Gilda Gray). Scripted by Zola-inspired novelist Arnold Bennett, with significant roles played by Cyril Ritchard and Charles Laughton, this is far ahead of its time in its treatment of both race and gender. Dupont has an original way of employing camera movement to suggest erotic chemistry between characters, and Wong, who even provoked a rave notice from Walter Benjamin, is as memorable and confident as Louise Brooks was in the films of G.W. Pabst, made around the same time. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Subjective Landscape: Works By Alfred Guzzetti

No one seems to know how to filmand thereby appreciatethe surface of a pond, lake, river, or ocean quite like Alfred Guzzetti, a Cambridge-based experimental-documentary filmmaker who will present eight of his short works here. I’m tempted to call these films and videos meditative, because they all reflect on nature and various aspects of everyday life: a three-way intersection in Calcutta Intersection; motorists and cityscapes in The Tower of Industrial Life; the landscape, people, and weather of China in Under the Rain; the trees in Guzzetti’s backyard over many seasons in Chronological Order. But often intruding on this gaze are texts running across the screen that seem to carry with them all the complications of civilization. The shorts, made between 1978 and 2004, total 82 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

Patriot Acts

The Bush administration’s heartless and xenophobic new immigration policies, which often imply that we have more to fear from ordinary Muslims than from people like Timothy McVeigh, have had real human consequences, and this video documentary by Sree Nallamothu examines just a couple of cases. Focusing on the routine harassment of two north-side mena dancer and a father who came to the U.S. seeking medical care for his two blind childrenNallamothu shows how easily government resources can be wasted and innocent lives blighted once nationality and ethnicity are automatically treated with suspicion. 60 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Subjective Landscape: Works by Alfred Guzzetti

No one seems to know how to film–and thereby appreciate–the surface of a pond, lake, river, or ocean quite like Alfred Guzzetti, a Cambridge-based experimental-documentary filmmaker who will present eight of his short works here. I’m tempted to call these films and videos meditative, because they all reflect on nature and various aspects of everyday life: a three-way intersection in Calcutta Intersection; motorists and cityscapes in The Tower of Industrial Life; the landscape, people, and weather of China in Under the Rain; the trees in Guzzetti’s backyard over many seasons in Chronological Order. But often intruding on this gaze are texts running across the screen that seem to carry with them all the complications of civilization. The shorts, made between 1978 and this year, total 82 minutes, and Guzzetti is likely to have very interesting things to say about them. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Piccadilly

This remarkable British silent (1929) is special in many ways. Directed by German master E.A. Dupont, with lavish sets and luscious cinematography by two of his compatriots, Alfred Junge and Werner Brandes, it charts the erotic hold of a Chinese beauty (Anna May Wong) over the owner of a palatial London nightclub (Jameson Thomas). He fires her as a dishwasher for distracting coworkers with her tabletop dancing, then hires her back as a featured performer, to the consternation of his mistress (Gilda Gray). Scripted by Zola-inspired novelist Arnold Bennett, with significant roles played by Cyril Ritchard and Charles Laughton, this is far ahead of its time in its treatment of both race and gender. Dupont has an original way of employing camera movement to suggest erotic chemistry between characters, and Wong, who even provoked a rave notice from the great Walter Benjamin, is as memorable and confident as Louise Brooks was in the films of G.W. Pabst, made around the same time. 92 min. David Drazin will provide live piano accompaniment, and Graham Russell Gao Hodges, author of Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend, will introduce the Saturday and Sunday screenings. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

School Daze

While it lacks the controlled energy of She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s second feature (1988) is much more innovative, ambitious, and exciting, tackling class warfare at a mainly black college in Atlanta. Lee takes care not to stack the deck against either the light-skinned, upwardly mobile Wannabees, who belong to fraternities, or the dark-skinned Jigaboos, who feel more racial pride, and the issues dividing them range from the college’s investment in South Africa to straight versus nappy hair (the latter highlighted in a gaudy, Bye Bye Birdie-style musical number). Definitely raggedthe musical numbers are variable, and the overall continuity is fairly choppybut with this film Lee began to create a black cinema of his own. With Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Kyme, Joe Seneca, Art Evans, Ellen Holly, Ossie Davis, and Lee himself as the frat pledge Half-Pint, literally torn between the two warring factions. R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Emperor

Bernardo Bertolucci’s visually ravishing spectacle (1987) about the life of Pu Yi (1905-’67) is a genuine rarity: a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time. Pu Yi (played by three children at ages 3, 8, and 15, and by John Lone as an adult) remained an outsider to contemporary Chinese history for most of his life, and Bertolucci uses his remoteness from China as an objective correlative of our own cultural distance as Westerners (virtually all of the dialogue is rendered in English). Working with visual and thematic rhymes, Bertolucci is interested in charting the gradual substitution of the state for the familythough two key agents in this process are the father figures of his Scottish tutor (Peter O’Toole) and a governor at a Chinese prison. 159 min. (JR)… Read more »

Regarding Penelope’s Wake

Michele Smith’s video is her first completed work and runs for a full two hours, which may explain why it’s both intractable and fascinating. Painstakingly handcrafted over 15 months and teeming with ministructures, it’s a silent montage and collage of diverse junk items, and though her found footage includes stag reels, home movies, and various educational films (including Themes From the Odyssey, which occasions her Joycean title), she never allows one to linger on anything long enough to become absorbed in it. Usually her rapid crosscutting and intercutting begins rather mechanically before taking off into delirium, and there are fleeting visual rhymes that keep recurring. (I especially enjoyed the gestural links between sea creatures, which are deftly used in musical patterns, and Homeric characters.) Inevitably one drifts in and out of Smith’s intricate arabesques; as she herself puts it, Form becomes amorphous as time is spun within the individual viewer’s attentions. (JR)… Read more »

Dogville

From the Chicago Reader (March 19, 2004). — J.R.

dogville_productiondesign

This experimental drama about the cruelty of a Rocky Mountain community toward a woman (Nicole Kidman) in flight from gangsters, shot with an all-star cast on a mainly bare soundstage, bored me for most of its 178 minutes and then infuriated me with its cheap cynicism once it belatedly became interesting — which may be a tribute to writer-director Lars von Trier’s gifts as a provocateur. The fact that he spends most of his time in Denmark as a porn producer seems relevant to his exploitation instincts, yet those who have called this blend of Brecht and Our Town anti-American may be overrating its ideological coherence. As in Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, the heroine suffers greatly, but whether she suffers at the hands of humanity or von Trier himself isn’t entirely clear. With Harriet Andersson, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall, Udo Kier, and Chloe Sevigny; John Hurt narrates. R. (JR)

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Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind

The best work to date (2004) by screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation), this was developed from a story by director Michel Gondry and artist Pierre Bismuth. It has as much challenging originality as its predecessors, as well as a more satisfying ending and a keener sense of lived experience. The SF premise has a ring of contemporary truth: emerging from a failed romantic relationship, the hero (a subdued Jim Carrey) discovers that his ex (an aggressive Kate Winslet) has hired a company to erase all her memories of him. He enlists their services too, but technical screwups send him into a kind of temporal free fall in which past and present consciousness bleed together. Brilliantly constructed and engagingly executed, this has quite a few tricks up its sleevethe most impressive being that all concerned trim their talents to the particular needs of the movie. With Tom Wilkinson, Mark Ruffalo, and Elijah Wood. R, 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Twentynine Palms

An American who speaks only English (David Wissak) and an eastern European woman who speaks only French (Katia Golubeva) travel to Twentynine Palms, California, and the neighboring Joshua Tree National Park, barely communicating apart from their sexual encounters. Considering how much Bruno Dumont’s first two features (The Life of Jesus and L’humanite) were geared to his French hometown, I worried that he would lose his bearings for this foray to the U.S. Like many a European filmmaker before him, he seems transfixed by the landscape, deserts in particular, and his minimal story held me as long as the scenery was allowed to speak more than the characters. Alas, the plot eventually takes over, and it’s exceptionally ugly and unpleasant. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mondo Mod

Peter Perry directed this 1967 exploitation documentary about youth culture (apparently defined as broadly as possible), whose main claim to fame is that it was shot by Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, two of the best cinematographers of the period. 147 min. (JR)… Read more »

Kitchen Stories

Set in the early 50s, when Swedish home researchstudies aimed at streamlining household kitchen activitieswas all the rage, this Norwegian minimalist comedy follows the poker-faced relationship between a Norwegian bachelor farmer (Joachim Calmeyer) and the Swedish researcher (Tomas Norstrom) assigned to study him. Much of the comedy derives from the researchers’ being forbidden to converse with their subjects, though these two become friendly in spite of themselves. The humor is a bit dry for my taste, but director Bent Hamer and his actors know what they’re doing every step of the way. In Norwegian with subtitles. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »