Daily Archives: September 23, 2005

Flightplan

After her husband falls to his death in Berlin, a propulsion engineer (Jodie Foster) takes a commercial flight back to the U.S. with her six-year-old daughter and awakes from a nap to find that the girl is missing and no one on board remembers seeing her. This thriller is effective if you can accept thatas with some of John Dickson Carr’s locked-room mysteriesthe trickiness counts more than any plausibility. There’s also some pointed if unstressed social commentary, and pitting Foster’s engineer, with her knowledge of planes, against everyone else makes for some lively moments. Robert Schwentke directed a script by Peter A. Dowling and Billy Ray; with Peter Sarsgaard and Sean Bean. PG-13, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Stormy Waters

Dave Kehr has rightly called Jean Gremillon Jean Renoir’s only serious rival in the prewar French cinema, largely on the basis of Gueule d’amour (1937), Gremillon’s first film with Jean Gabin. But the director released three comparably impressive features during the occupation, starting with this 1941 drama about a gruff, married salvage-boat captain in Brittany (Gabin) falling for the recently estranged wife (Michele Morgan) of a ruthless captain whose merchant ship he’s towing to safety. Gabin and Morgan may have been the hottest couple this side of Bogart and Bacall, and despite some awkward use of miniatures in the early stretches, this benefits from stormy atmospherics, masterful characterization, and expressive use of sound. The script was adapted successively by Charles Spaak, Andre Cayatte, and Jacques Prevert from a novel by Roger Vercel. With Madeleine Renaud. In French with subtitles. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Searching For The Wrong-eyed Jesus

Made for the BBC, this travelogue of America’s southern backwoods is both blessed and cursed by its fascination with the colorfullively alt-country sounds and fancy word spinners like novelist Harry Crews. As a native of the deep south, I was pleased but also troubled by the locals’ eagerness to put on a folksy act for director Andrew Douglas; the camera makes awed touristic pans of the various locales, and guides offer an uncredited swipe from Faulkner’s The Wild Palms and charge $100 a day to rent a 1970 Chevy. This plays like a documentary but also credits a writer, Steve Haisman. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Everything Is Illuminated

Alas, the thing most illuminated here is how blotchy digital video can look in the wrong hands. Actor Liev Schreiber makes his writing and directing debut with this adaptation of a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, about a young American Jew (Elijah Wood) traveling to a remote Ukrainian village in search of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Alternately mawkish and strident, with lots of fades to white and dog reaction shots, this can be recommended only for its good intentions. With Eugene Hutz and Boris Leskin. In English and subtitled Ukrainian. PG-13, 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dear Wendy

American teens in a depressed mining town form a secret club based on the twin tenets of pacifism and gun ownership; predictably, they wind up in a shootout with police. This Danish allegory (in English) was directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) but written and produced by Lars von Trier (Dogville), whose hypocrisy and facile anti-Americanism are much in evidence. Vinterberg and von Trier may consider themselves pacifists, but they don’t seem to mind using violence to attract an audience. Well acted and directed, yet outlandish in some details, this 2004 feature is basically watchable tripe. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

As Tears Go By

The directorial debut of Wong Kar-wai (1989), described as a reconfiguring of Mean Streets in terms of the Hong Kong underworld. By most accounts a far cry from Wong’s second feature, Days of Being Wild (my own favorite), but it’s probably still worth seeing. In Cantonese with subtitles. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Us Crazy Foreigners [DEAR WENDY & REEL PARADISE]

From the Chicago Reader (September 23, 2005).– J.R.

Dear Wendy

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg

Written by Lars von Trier

With Jamie Bell, Bill Pullman, Alison Pill, Danso Gordon, Michael Angarano, Novello Nelson, Chris Owen, and Mark Webber

Reel Paradise

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Steve James

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Two new releases are defined by an inability to fathom another culture — Reel Paradise, a U.S. documentary about an American spending a year in the South Pacific with his family, and Dear Wendy, a Danish feature with English dialogue that was shot in rural Denmark and Germany but is set in a poor mining town in the American southeast. Both demonstrate a middle-class complacency that fosters this inadequacy.

The acknowledged subject of Dear Wendy, written by Lars von Trier and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is the American obsession with guns and violence. “Wendy” is a small handgun that’s addressed, fondled, and ultimately used by the young narrator-hero played by Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot), who prides himself on being a pacifist even after he starts a gun club, the Dandies. Like the other misfits in the club, he claims to be interested only in target practice, but when they wind up in a bloody shoot-out with the police (among them Bill Pullman) we aren’t the least bit surprised.… Read more »

A History of Violence

Though he avoids platitudes, David Cronenberg is a troubled moralist who lingers over cherished mythologies to find their dark residue: this masterpiece, an art film deftly masquerading as a thriller, seems to celebrate small-town pastoralism and critique big-city violence, but this position turns out to be double-edged. Josh Olson adapted his script from a graphic novel, yet the story develops with a subtlety that’s entirely cinematic; two contrasting sex scenes between the hero (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife (Maria Bello), added by Cronenberg, are especially masterful. With Ed Harris, William Hurt, and Ashton Holmes. R, 96 min. River East 21.… Read more »