Daily Archives: March 12, 2004

Free Radicals

Directed by Barbara Albert, this 2003 Austrian feature tracks the fate of a woman after she survives a plane crash, weaving together numerous miniplots. At first I thought this was a Michael Haneke knockoff, but it’s more depressing and less edifying than most of those narrative experiments, which is why I eventually tuned it out. In German with subtitles. 120 min. (JR)… Read more »

Taking Lives

D.J. Caruso (The Salton Sea) directed this competent but ultimately egregious thriller about an eccentric FBI profiler (Angelina Jolie) tracking a serial killer in Montreal. On the plus side, it isn’t boring, and Jolie and Ethan Hawke, who plays an art dealer and key witness, generate a certain amount of edgy chemistry. But eventually the filmmakers’ desire to shock and tease overtakes any feeling for character or common sense. Adapted by Jon Bokenkamp from a novel by Michael Pye; with Kiefer Sutherland, Gena Rowlands, Olivier Martinez, Tcheky Karyo, and Jean-Hughes Anglade. R, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Spartan

A military officer (Val Kilmer) working in a top-secret special operations force is sent to find the missing teenage daughter of a big-time government official and uncovers a white slavery ring. It’s impossible to describe this story, government corruption and all, without producing a flood of cliches, yet writer-director David Mamet seems to regard it as mere fodder for another of his closed-universe genre exerciseseither that or he’s trying to lure Arnold Schwarzenegger back to Hollywood. The heroes (Kilmer, Derek Luke) are all totally good, the villains (Ed O’Neill, William H. Macy) are all totally bad, and the macho one-liners are sufficiently adolescent to produce the desired snickers. I tried very hard to imagine I was somewhere else. R, 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

Secret Window

David Koepp, much better and more experienced as a writer (Apartment Zero, Snake Eyes, Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) than as a director, adapted this psychological thriller from a Stephen King novella. It’s one more King story about an isolated writerin this case a popular novelist (Johnny Depp) in the middle of a messy divorce who, tucked away in a remote Mississippi cabin, is accused of plagiarism and stalked by a crazed hick (John Turturro). The tricky plot has an interesting payoff, but it’s a slow and bumpy ride getting there, and Koepp fares better with special effects than with generating either suspense or interest in the characters. With Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, and Charles S. Dutton; the ubiquitous Philip Glass churned out the anxious score, and Fred Murphy is the able cinematographer. PG-13, 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

National Philistine: Videos By Paul Chan

The Cinerama-like Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of CivilizationAfter Henry Darger and Charles Fourier (2001, 19 min.), originally made for an installation, and Now Let Us Praise Famous Leftists (2000, 4 min.) are provocative and cantankerous conceptual works employing computer animation. They’re both ripe for explication, so it’s fortunate that former Chicagoan (and Reader staffer) Paul Chan will be on hand to discuss them. But the most valuable work here is Baghdad in No Particular OrderPart I (51 min.), shot in that city in late 2002 and early 2003a freewheeling, inquisitive portrait of some of the people whose lives we’re supposed to be improving, with particular emphasis on their art and music. As visual constructions, all three videos are highly original. (JR)… Read more »

Bookshelf On Top Of The Sky

I approached this 2002 documentary with a keen desire to learn more about its subject, American experimental composer and saxophonist John Zorn, and came away only partially satisfied. German filmmaker Claudia Heuermann, who supplies autobiographical narration, is clearly a passionate Zorn fan and even lets some of his ideas about structure influence the titled sections, but she makes no effort to situate Zorn in relation to other avant-garde composers and musicians, instead using him as a stand-in for experimental music in general. This kind of hagiography does neither Zorn nor the audience any favors, but enough of his ideas and musical range (encompassing punk, free jazz, klezmer, Japanese noise bands, and film scores) come across to keep this lively and interesting; I especially enjoyed his reflections on all he learned from Carl Stalling’s music in the Road Runner cartoons. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Exorcist

Doubtless this tale of spirit possession in Georgetown packs a punch, but so does wood alcohol, wrote Reader critic Don Druker in an earlier review of this. I wouldn’t be quite so dismissive: as a key visual source for Mel Gibson’s depiction of evil in The Passion of the Christ, as well as an early indication of how seriously pulp can be taken when religious faith is involved, this 1973 horror thriller is highly instructive as well as unnerving. William Friedkin, directing William Peter Blatty’s adaptation of his own novel, aims for the jugular, privileging sensation over sense and such showbiz standbys as vomit and obscenity over plodding exposition. This is the original release version, which runs 121 minutes; with Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller, Linda Blair, and Lee J. Cobb. R. (JR)… Read more »

Hack Attack [THE SECRET WINDOW]

From the Chicago Reader (March 12, 2004). — J.R.

Secret Window

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed and written by David Koepp

With Johnny Depp, John Turturro, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, Charles S. Dutton, and Len Cariou.

I’ve seen four movie adaptations of Stephen King books that have writers as heroes — The Shining (1980), Misery (1990), The Dark Half (1993), and now Secret Window – and I know of a few others. This isn’t necessarily self-indulgent on King’s part. An author this prolific would eventually run out of material if he didn’t use his own experience as a writer, and besides I happen to prefer the plotlines of The Shining and Misery to those of other King stories I know. He understands what it means to be a writer driven crazy by his own demons (in The Shining) as well as by some version of his public (in Misery), and even though he makes the heroes in both cases fairly dislikable, we wind up ensnarled in their dilemmas anyway. He also seems to have an astute take on writer’s block, suggesting that writing too much and repeating oneself can be as much a form of creative blockage as writing too little.… Read more »

A Man Escaped

Based on a French lieutenant’s account of his 1942 escape from a gestapo fortress in Lyon, this stately yet uncommonly gripping 1956 feature is my choice as the greatest achievement of Robert Bresson, one of the cinema’s foremost artists. (It’s rivaled only by his more corrosive and metaphysical 1970 film Au hasard Balthazar, playing next week.) The best of all prison-escape movies, it reconstructs the very notion of freedom through offscreen sounds and defines salvation in terms of painstakingly patient and meticulous effort. Bresson himself spent part of the war in an internment camp and subsequently lived through the German occupation of France, experiences that inform his magisterial grasp of what the concentrated use of sound and image can reveal about souls in hiding. Essential viewing. In French with subtitles. 101 min. Music Box.… Read more »