Commissioned (but never published) by the Guardian, circa 2005. A much-expanded version of this wound up as the final chapter in my book Discovering Orson Welles. — J.R.
When Will — and How Can — We Finish Orson Welles’s Don Quixote?
When Orson Welles died in 1985, he left many of his films unfinished. Each one was unfinished in a different way and for somewhat different reasons. To the despair of anyone who has ever tried to market his work, no two Welles films are ever alike, even the theoretical ones.
But his Don Quixote, which he owned himself, is distinct from the others, for a number of reasons —- apart from the fact that something calling itself the Don Quixote of Orson Welles was put together in 1992 by Spanish hack director Jesus Franco, who did more to mutilate and distort Welles’ material than anyone had ever done to The Magnificent Ambersons or Mr. Arkadin.
It remained an active project for almost the last three decades of Welles’ life. Starting around the early 70s, Welles jokingly planned to call it When Will You Finish Don Quixote? And the question we used to ask Welles we now have to ask ourselves — namely, how can we find closure?… Read more »
With the help of director Chris Terrio, Amy Fox adapts her own play about crisscrossing sex lives in Manhattan, mainly within a theater-and-art milieu. This is brisk and fun to watch, thanks to the actors (including Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, Isabella Rossellini, and George Segal in a swell bit as an avuncular rabbi). But once you catch the main drift of the plot, it becomes awfully ho-hum. R, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »
I had a pleasant time with this comedy about light witchery and even lighter bitchery. If you like Nicole Kidman, you might enjoy her here (she reminded me of Tuesday Weld), and even if you usually find Will Ferrell obnoxious, you might appreciate him hyping rather than trying to minimize his boorishness. Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine are a bit less at ease, but the special effects, for once, are witty rather than overblown, and director Nora Ephron, writing with her sister Delia, handles the material with grace and confidence. PG-13, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 24, 2005). — J.R.
Steven Spielberg’s shamelessly hokey version of the 1898 H.G. Wells yarn about murderous invaders from outer space starts off as a nimble scare show like Jaws. The special effects are good, and Tom Cruise isn’t bad as an alienated father fleeing with his kids. But such virtues are overtaken by a surfeit of narrow escapes and meaningful reflections about people’s behavior in war, complete with allusions to 9/11 and the Holocaust. Spielberg’s calculations turn out to be more prominent than any effects they could possibly produce, and the less pretentious 1953 version by producer George Pal emerges as more likable. With Tim Robbins, Dakota Fanning, Justin Chatwin, and Morgan Freeman in the offscreen James Earl Jones ”This is CNN” role. PG-13, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »
Head transplants, etc. Victor Trivas directed this dubbed 1959 German horror item, originally known as Die Nackte und der Satan. With Horst Frank, Karin Kernkew, andwhat’s he doing here?the great Swiss actor Michel Simon. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »
Also known as Samaria, this 2004 feature by Korean cult director Kim Ki-duk comes across like a grotesque parody, but there are signs that Kim means us to take it seriously. Two teenage girls (Seo Min-jeong and Kwak Ji-min), who enjoy soaping each another in a photogenic bathhouse, take up prostitution to earn air tickets to Europe. Kwak, who pimps for her friend, is distressed when the girl seems to enjoy her work; after Seo dies in a tragic accident, Kwak begins having sex with all their former clients in order to capture her friend’s bliss, meanwhile paying back all the money. Needless to say, there’s also violence and redemption galore. In Korean with subtitles. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »
Keren Yedaya’s powerful and memorable Israeli drama (2004) won a well-deserved prize for best first feature at the Cannes film festival. Written with Sari Ezouz, it focuses on an aging Tel Aviv hooker (Ronit Elkabetz) who’s halfheartedly trying to go straight and her resourceful teenage daughter (Dana Ivgi), who supports them both as a dishwasher while struggling with her own sexuality. They live in a world ravaged by war and occupation, one that Yedaya views with an angry lucidity. The story may suffer from a touch of determinism, but the camera’s stubborn immobility in most scenes forces us to arrive at our own conclusions, and the performances are electric. Also known as Mon tresor. In Hebrew with subtitles. 100 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »
Fresh, likable, and stylishly low-key, this wistful and sexy romantic comedy marks the feature-directing debut of conceptual artist Miranda July. There are a lot of strong performances by relative unknowns, but what really holds things together is a certain sustained pitch of feeling about loneliness. July plays a shy video artist, supporting herself as a cabdriver for the elderly, who becomes interested in a recently separated shoe clerk (John Hawkes) with two sons. The movie’s flirtatious roundelay also includes the clerk’s coworker, an art curator, and a couple of teenage girls. R, 90 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »
After a 20-year hiatus, George A. Romero resumes his quasi-satiric horror series about the flesh-eating living dead. Land of the Dead, his fourth entry, turns out to be his most conventional as an action thrillerthough it’s every bit as gory as the others and more clearly class conscious. By now the subproletarian zombies have taken over everything except a gated city run by scheming villain Dennis Hopper (surprisingly cliched here); spurred on by a leader of sorts (Eugene Clark), a former filling-station attendant, they’re beginning to think a little as they attack. This being contemporary, the reprisals are military. With Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Asia Argento, and Robert Joy. R, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »
For those who haven’t yet awoken to the possibility that our government and economy might be controlled by crooks, this political thriller about the oil industry, set in the near future, may provide a bracing wake-up call. But nobody will be surprised by its CEO, executive, and Russian Mafia types, its idealistic heroine (Selma Blair), its semi-idealistic hero (Christian Slater), or the mechanical crosscutting that eventually overtakes all the other cliches. If you don’t mind the telegraphed punches of Ruth Epstein’s script and Harvey Kahn’s direction, this should carry you along. With Robert Loggia, Colm Feore, John Heard, Angie Harmon, and Kevin Tighe. R, 107 min. (JR)… Read more »
Argentinean filmmaker Lucrecia Martel follows up her distinctive debut feature, La cienaga (2001), with another tale whose feeling of lassitude conceals a subtle but deadly family dysfunction. It’s set in a specifically Catholic milieu, hovering around a medical convention at a small-town hotel, and once again a swimming pool serves as a kind of center for floating libidos. As Martel points out, the movie is about the difficulties and dangers of differentiating good from evil, and it requires as well as rewards a fair amount of alertness from the viewer. A theremin plays a prominent role in the story. In Spanish with subtitles. R, 106 min. (JR)… Read more »
This fascinating oddity from Alain Corneau (Tous les matins du monde) adapts Amelie Nothomb’s autobiographical novel about the office life of a young Belgian (Sylvie Testud) working for a huge corporation in Tokyo. Though she’s spent her childhood in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese, a string of cultural blunders leads to one humiliating demotion after another. Testud took a two-month crash course in the language to play this part, and though the notations on cultural difference are far richer and subtler than anything in Lost in Translation, I can’t help but wonder what Japanese viewers might think of this film’s blistering critique of some of their hierarchies and protocol. The unconventional take on power and freedom, enriched by a deft use of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, remains that of an outsider. In Japanese and French with subtitles. 102 min. Music Box.… Read more »
This is the first article I ever wrote for Stop Smiling – their “auteur issue” (no. 23) in 2005. — J.R.
If Orson Welles were still alive, he would have turned 90 last May 6th. Chances are, no matter what he did in his final years, a certain number of people would still be griping that he never lived up to his promise. But I
wouldn’t be one of them.
This Midwestern whiz kid, a master of radio, theater, and film, terrorized the populace when he was 23 with a mockumentary radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds that was taken for real. At 25 he scandalized Hollywood with a first feature called Citizen Kane that ridiculed newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Welles was clearly expected to cause a sensation regardless of what he did after this. But to manage that, he would have needed continued public visibility, which Welles rarely had after those two early peaks. And in fact he was after more than sensation.
In order to claim that Welles let us down, we’d first have to establish both what he tried to do and what he accomplished — and something tells me that we aren’t about to have the last word on either matter.
… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 10, 2005). — J.R.
It seems like hardly anyone in the U.S. ever saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, despite its enormous success elsewhere, apparently not so much because kids had trouble with it as because of the adult suits handling it. But Roger Ebert gave this film only two and a half stars while assigning Mr. and Mrs. Smith three stars the same week (June 10, 2005), suggesting that one of us was probably wrong — or maybe just that Japanese kids and I are both helplessly out of touch with the American mainstream as defined by some grown-ups. — J.R.
Howl’s Moving Castle
Directed and Written by Hayao Miyazaki
With the voices of Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson, and Billy Crystal
The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Robert Rodriguez
Written by Rodriguez and Racer Rodriguez
With Cayden Boyd, Taylor Dooley, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Jacob Davich, David Arquette, and Kristin Davis
Mr. and Mrs. Smith
no stars (Worthless)
Directed by Doug Liman
Written by Simon Kinberg
With Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington, and Keith David
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
Sometimes movies earmarked for kids are a lot more nuanced, sophisticated, and mature than the ones that are allegedly for grown-ups.… Read more »
A young Chinese-American surgeon (Michelle Krusiec) is dismayed when her widowed and mysteriously pregnant mother (Joan Chen) moves in with her. Meanwhile the doctor falls in love with a ballet dancer (Lynn Chen), scandalizing their conservative Chinese community. At first this comedy drama by Alice Wu promises to move beyond the complacency of Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, which dealt with some of the same Asian-American concerns, but instead it abjectly collapses into feel-good nonsense. In English and subtitled Mandarin. R, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »