From the Chicago Reader (April 16, 2004). — J.R.
The title leads — screenwriter Nia Vardalos, star of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, and Toni Collette — are lifelong best friends and semiskilled lounge singers who accidentally witness a Russian mob killing. They flee for their lives to LA, where they disguise themselves as drag queens and become a hit at a gay cabaret. The script, which borrows plenty from Some Like It Hot, Ishtar, and maybe even Sylvia Scarlett, is more slapdash than its sources, but it’s full of high spirits and good vibes. The secondary cast — including David Duchovny and Debbie Reynolds, camping even more than the leads — also seems to be having fun. Michael Lembeck directed. PG-13, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »
My first two looks at this Hou Hsiao-hsien feature (2001), initially announced as the first in a series, led me to conclude it’s one of the emptiest good-looking films by a major director that I can recalleven though it’s also the first of his films to get a U.S. release (not counting the barely noticed 1987 Daughter of the Nile). The characters are terminally familiar zeros, and this Taiwanese master’s gifts as a prescient historian of the present appear to have deserted him. Visually, he works much closer to his actors than usual and moves them in and out of focus, defining a much more claustrophobic world than he has in the past. But the storya young bar hostess (Hong Kong star Shu Qi) shuttles between her jealous boyfriend and a gangster while taking ecstasy and throwing tantrumsseems standard issue, apart from the somewhat unorthodox voice-over narration, at least until an unexpectedly lyrical finale. In Mandarin with subtitles. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »
There’s no question that The Passion of the Christ has affected some people profoundly, but that may be caused partly by the unfamiliar experience of seeing a mainstream film that rejects entertainment for serious inquiry and English for foreign tongues. If the film industry had more brains and more knowledge of cinema history, this audacious black-and-white 1964 masterpiece by the great Italian poet Pier Paolo Pasolini would be out in a major rerelease right now as a meaningful alternative, rather than showing at Doc Films in a 16-millimeter print. Shot in southern Italy with a nonprofessional cast, and powerfully using both classical music and blues, this highly political interpretation of the passion is as scandalous in its own way as Mel Gibson’s but more poetic, more contemporary in its impact, and more serious in its overall morality. In Italian with subtitles. 137 min. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films.… Read more »