Monthly Archives: February 2005

French Twist

In her 1995 debut as writer-director, French actress Josiane Balasko (Too Beautiful for You, Grosse Fatigue) tries her hand at more political incorrectness. This very middle-class bisexual comedycalled Gazon Maudit in French and substantially censored by its American distributor, apparently under the assumption that we’re even more middle-class than the Frenchconcerns a frustrated housewife and mother (Pedro Almodovar regular Victoria Abril) who decides to get even with her philandering husband (Alain Chabat) by getting involved with another woman (Balasko), a stranger who happens by when her van breaks down. I loved Abril in this movie and liked Balasko, but though there was loud laughter all around me, I was only fitfully amused. In French with subtitles. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Diary Of A Mad Black Woman

Playwright-actor-producer Tyler Perrya star of the so-called chitlin’ circuit, with eight shows currently credited to himadapts one of his hits for the big screen, directed by Darren R. Grant. The title heroine (Kimberly Elise)who’s angry, not crazyis dumped by her rich attorney husband (Steve Harris) for a white bimbo after 18 years of marriage; eventually she gets even and finds both true love (Shemar Moore) and her soul’s salvation. Perry plays her battle-ax grandmother Madea (featured in several Perry shows) as well as Madea’s lecherous brother and his upstanding son, and Cicely Tyson plays her mother. The stylistic discontinuities and pile-driver excesses can be off-putting for an outsider like me, but for fans this may well be part of the appeal. PG-13, 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Jacket

This gothic jigsaw puzzle, directed by John Maybury (Love Is the Devil) from a script by many hands, promises to be another Jacob’s Ladder but doesn’t deliver. Maybury’s art-world talents don’t include storytelling, and his visceral bursts of fast editing and extreme close-ups don’t yield any full-blown characters, narrative, or political vision (though I could swear I heard Noam Chomsky’s voice briefly coming from a TV). Leapfrogging between 1992 and 2007 and between fantasy and reality, the plot concerns an American GI (Adrien Brody) who nearly dies from a head wound during the first gulf war, gets framed for the murder of a cop back in his native Vermont, and winds up in a hospital for the criminally insane, where an evil shrink (Kris Kristofferson) performs hideous experiments on him. With Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, and music by Brian Eno. The executive producers include George Clooney and Steven Soderberghmaybe they can explain what’s going on. R, 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

So Long Letty

A rarely screened early sound (1929) musical comedy adapted from the stage and featuring six-foot Charlotte Greenwood in the title role. (A silent version had been released nine years earlier.) An energetic, highly physical performer, Greenwood appeared later in such 50s musicals as Dangerous When Wet and Oklahoma. With Grant Withers, Patsy Ruth Miller, and Bert Roach. 64 min. (JR)… Read more »

Paths of Glory

PathsofGlory-girl

The 1957 film that established Stanley Kubrick’s reputation, adapted by Kubrick, Calder Willingham, and Jim Thompson from Humphrey Cobb’s novel about French soldiers being tried for cowardice during World War I. Corrosively antiwar in its treatment of the corruption and incompetence of military commanders, it’s far from pacifist in spirit, and Kirk Douglas’s strong and angry performance as the officer defending the unjustly charged soldiers perfectly contains this contradiction. The remaining cast is equally resourceful and interesting: Adolphe Menjou, George Macready, Wayne Morris, Ralph Meeker, and the creepy Timothy Carey, giving perhaps his best performance. Banned in France for 18 years, this masterpiece still packs a wallop, though nothing in it is as simple as it may first appear; audiences are still arguing about the final sequence, which has been characterized as everything from a sentimental cop-out to the ultimate cynical twist. 86 min. A restored print will be shown. Music Box.

PathsofGlory-DouglasRead more »

Welcome, Stranger [UNCLE NINO & BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE]

From the Chicago Reader (February 18, 2005). — J.R.

Uncle Nino

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Bob Shallcross

With Joe Mantegna, Pierrino Mascarino, Anne Archer, Trevor Morgan, and Gina Mantegna

Because of Winn-Dixie

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Wayne Wang

Written by Joan Singleton

With AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews, and Eva Marie Saint

An uninvited guest joins an already stressed household, causing pandemonium and upsetting the neighbors as well. The preoccupied, absentminded father assumes this obstreperous if good-natured invader is visiting only temporarily, but on and on he stays, irritating almost everyone apart from the young daughter. Eventually the interloper wins everyone over and brings them all together.

That’s the familiar plot of not one but two current commercial releases, both wholesome family pictures. The visitor in Uncle Nino, which opened last week, is the title hero (Pierrino Mascarino), an elderly Italian peasant with a minimal knowledge of English who flies to the U.S. to visit the family of his nephew Robert (Joe Mantegna) after his brother, Robert’s father, dies. The visitor in Because of Winn-Dixie, which opens this week, is also the title hero, a stray dog in a small town in southern bayou country that’s taken in by the ten-year-old heroine, Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of a Baptist preacher (Jeff Daniels).… Read more »

Because Of Winn-dixie

In a small Florida town, the lonely ten-year-old daughter (AnnaSophia Robb) of a Baptist preacher (Jeff Daniels) adopts an unruly stray dog, which leads her to make friends with a few eccentric and equally lonely adultsa pet store clerk (rock star Dave Matthews), a librarian (Eva Marie Saint), and a reclusive alcoholic (Cicely Tyson). Wayne Wang (Smoke, The Joy Luck Club) directed this 2005 adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s children’s book with a nice feeling for local color. Limiting the potential overripeness of the material (which periodically suggests Carson McCullers) with tact and sincerity, he generally makes the most of his resourceful cast; only the dog overacts. PG, 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sky Blue

In a kind of neocolonial concession to the character typology of the Star Wars movies, this attractively animated dystopian SF from South Korean director-cowriter Moon Sang Kim, set in the year 2142, concentrates mainly on Western characters, with Asians relegated to the slots of wizened elders and comic relief. Also borrowing liberally from Metropolis (Escher-like futurist cityscapes) and the Mad Max trilogy (heavy-metal action), this is generally better with settings than with people, at least in the English version put together by Korean-born Sunmin Park. But that’s partly because effects of space and scale are among the triumphs of the high-definition multilayered animation employed. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Goodbye Susan, Goodbye: Sontag and Movies

This article was commissioned by and published in the Canadian online magazine Synoptique in its 7th issue, devoted to Susan Sontag and edited by Colin Burnett (dated 14 February 2005, about six weeks after her death), and is also reprinted in my most recent collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia — J.R.

Goodbye Susan, Goodbye: Sontag and Movies

 

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

I don’t think that Susan Sontag was a great film critic; to hear her tell it, she wasn’t really a critic at all. But it’s still hard to overestimate her importance as an American writer in relation to movies. The last of the great New York intellectuals associated with Partisan Review, she was the only one in that crowd who understood and appreciated film in a wholly cosmopolitan manner, as a part of art and culture and thought —- something that couldn’t be said of Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Mary McCarthy, Philip Rahv, Harold Rosenberg, Edmund Wilson, or any of the editors at the New York Review of Books. Even if one considers the most sophisticated members or fellow travelers of that group who functioned as film critics —- James Agee, Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, Dwight Macdonald, Delmore Schwartz, Parker Tyler, Robert Warshow —- none of them could claim quite the same global, cultural, and historical reach that Sontag had.… Read more »

Hitch

The name above the title of this slick, fluffy romantic comedy is Will Smith, playing a Manhattan date doctor who advises shy guys on how to score. But with all due respect to Smith, the moviea performance piece with an unbelievable bare-bones plotbelongs to Kevin James (star of the TV show The King of Queens) as Hitch’s main client, a klutzy accountant who’s hopelessly in love with his wealthy socialite boss (Amber Valletta). This is a mannerist mugfest for all concerned, including Eva Mendes as a gossip columnist, but like the movie as a whole, James manages to be so light on his lumbering feet that it’s only natural for the film to culminate with his goofy dancing. Andy Tennant directed the script by Kevin Bisch. PG-13, 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Go Further

While it didn’t convince me to give up corn dogs, Ron Mann’s celebration of actor Woody Harrelson’s Simple Organic Living tour (a bus-and-bicycle caravan spreading the gospel of holistic living along the Pacific coast) is a highly entertaining form of ecological agitpropradical but accessible. Mann’s shrewdest ploy is to shift his focus from Harrelson to Steve Clark, his junk-food-addicted production assistant, whose comic encounters with strangers along the way look staged but purportedly weren’t. Great music and animation plus a pivotal cameo by Ken Kesey helped make this an audience favorite at the 2003 Toronto film festival. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Uncle Nino

A wise, aging Italian peasant (Pierrino Mascarino) who knows barely any English comes to America for the first time to visit his grown nephew (Joe Mantegna), bringing light and life into the man’s humdrum suburban family and restoring their best impulses. I know how mawkish this sounds, but writer-director Robert Shallcross believes in it so passionately that he came close to convincing me too. I even enjoyed the rock number that Uncle Nino plays on the fiddle with his nephew’s garage band. With Anne Archer, Trevor Morgan, and Gina Mantegna. G, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Go Further

While it didn’t convince me to give up corn dogs, Ron Mann’s celebration of actor Woody Harrelson’s Simple Organic Living tour (a bus-and-bicycle caravan spreading the gospel of holistic living along the Pacific coast) is a highly entertaining form of ecological agitprop–radical but accessible. Mann’s shrewdest ploy is to shift his focus from Harrelson to Steve Clark, his junk-food-addicted production assistant, whose comic encounters with strangers along the way look staged but purportedly weren’t. Great music and animation plus a pivotal cameo by Ken Kesey helped make this an audience favorite at the 2003 Toronto film festival. 100 min. Facets Cinematheque.… Read more »

Batman

Tim Burton directs Michael Keaton in the title role (1989). Production designer Anton Furst takes a good stab at making Gotham City seem corroded and oppressive, but all the best scenic and story ideas here come from other films (Blade Runner, A Clockwork Orange, Dunenot to mention Louis Feuillade’s serials and Fritz Lang’s Mabuse films). The film is watchable enough, and Jack Nicholson has a field day as the sinister Joker. But Keaton and Kim Basinger (as reporter Vicki Vale) register as washouts, and both the narrative line and the action sequences tend to be cumbersome. Still, the conceptual side of the movietwo rather sick two-sided antagonists having it out in a black and sordid contextlingers. PG-13, 126 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dolls

A more unabashed art movie than any of Takeshi Kitano’s other films, this exquisitely composed 2002 feature (made between Brother and The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi) begins with a traditional form of Japanese puppet theater called Bunraku before it segues into three overlapping, highly stylized, but otherwise unrelated contemporary tales. In each the protagonist (a businessman, an aging yakuza, and a female pop singer disfigured in a traffic accident, as Kitano was several years ago) tries to compensate for having chosen work over love and winds up with a mate who has sacrificed everything for it. The overall mood is stately and melancholy, the selective use of color is ravishing, and some of the natural views are breathtaking. In Japanese with subtitles. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »