Monthly Archives: October 2005

Where The Truth Lies

Though he doesn’t qualify as a minimalist, Atom Egoyan tends to score when his obsessions are most concentrated (Calendar, Exotica) or, failing that, when his source material seems amenable to him (The Sweet Hereafter). Adapting a Rupert Holmes novel about the dirty secrets of an American showbiz team, loosely based on Martin and Lewis and humorlessly played by Colin Firth and Kevin Bacon, Egoyan seems both out of his element and out of control, and the results are unsatisfying and gratuitously unpleasant. Alison Lohman isn’t very convincing as the reporter who’s trying to dredge up some dirt on the entertainers, and the elaborate flashback structure can’t hide the fact that the story never fully comes to life. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

G

This 2002 drama about a hip-hop gangsta (Richard T. Jones) settling in the Hamptons was inspired by The Great Gatsby, though the filmmakers have ignored its style and narrative point-of-view, updated the action by 80 years, made all the major characters black, and drastically changed the ending. Seems like a dopey idea to me, but if you aren’t familiar with the Fitzgerald novel, you may enjoy this; at least Jones and his costars (Blair Underwood, Chenoa Maxwell, Andre Royo) play the story as if they believed in it. Christopher Scott Cherot directed. R, 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Unseen Cinema

Writing in the New York Times, Dave Kehr called Bruce Posner’s 19-hour box set, Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941, one of the major monuments of the DVD medium. Yet one peculiarity of this medium is that its monuments are easily overlooked, and this 89-minute program offers a rare chance to sample Posner’s uncommon discoveries and rediscoveries on a big screen. The films in this batch will include Kinetoscopes, mutoscopes, and films by Edison Studios and American Mutoscope and Biograph Company, Fernand Leger and Dudley Murphy’s Ballet Mechanique (in a version including the original music score and some color shots), Case-Sponable Sound Tests by Theodore Case and E.I. Sponable, J.S. Watson Jr. and Alec Wilder’s Tomato Is Another Day, and Ralph Steiner’s H2O. (JR)… Read more »

Prime

David (Bryan Greenberg) is a 23-year-old Jewish painter and Rafi (Uma Thurman) a 37-year-old WASP divorcee, so when these New Yorkers become a couple, everyone’s a bit surprised. But no one’s more confused than Rafi’s therapist (Meryl Streep), who turns out to be David’s mother and whose progressive ideas don’t extend to her son. Writer-director Ben Younger (Boiler Room) handles the actors with a light hand, but the real revelation here is Streep, who spends every moment comically negotiating her conflicted impulses. PG-13, 105 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Gardens 7-13, Lake, Norridge, 600 N. Michigan, 3 Penny, Village, Wilmette.… Read more »

Stay

Banking on the prestige of Monster’s Ball, director Marc Foster goes for broke in this hallucinatory free-for-all about a suicidal artist (Ryan Gosling), his psychiatrist (Ewan McGregor), and the psychiatrist’s lover (Naomi Watts), another suicidal artist who used to be his patient. Trying to solve various mysteries, the shrink soon becomes crazier than the other two. If this is a psychological thriller, I stopped being thrilled once I realized anything could happen; if it’s a mystery, the denouement raises more questions than it answers. With its flashy, pretentious visual effects, this is really a 98-minute dream sequencethough it’s worth recalling that the most effective dream sequences tend to be only a few minutes long. David Benioff (The 25th Hour) wrote the script; with Bob Hoskins and Janeane Garofalo. (JR)… Read more »

Good Night, And Good Luck

This claustrophobic drama about CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow facing down Joseph McCarthy in the early 50s delivers a timely lesson on cold-war hysteria, media politics, and journalistic courage, though the strong dichotomy between good and evil sometimes suggests a classic western. Director George Clooney shot the movie in black and white, combining actors (including David Strathairn as Murrow) with archival footage of McCarthy; the results are striking, though more theatrical than cinematic. The use of a jazz singer (Dianne Reeves) performing at the studio is especially effective, which helps one overlook the egregious anachronism of such a detail. With Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., and Frank Langella. PG, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Today And Tomorrow

This first feature by Argentinean Alejandro Chomski charts 24 hours in the increasingly desperate life of a young stage actress (Antonella Costa) in Buenos Aires. Faced with eviction after losing her job as a waitress, she reluctantly decides to turn some tricks, only to be dragged deeper into trouble. With a camera that dogs her steps and jump cuts that hurtle us from one moment to the next, Chomski displays a more expressive style than Costa, but the collaboration between the two is purposeful and effective. In Spanish with subtitles. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman

I can’t say whether this 1971 feature is the best film by Brazilian master Nelson Pereira dos Santos, the father of Cinema Novo, but it’s the first one I saw, and it left the strongest impression. It describes the complex interactions between a French adventurer and a Tupinamba Indian tribe and charts a brilliantly comic and highly ironic ethnographic analysis of both; almost the entire cast is naked, and the overall message is that probably the only way the Frenchman can truly be absorbed by the tribe is nutritively. A must-see. In Portuguese with subtitles. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman does an impressive impersonation of Truman Capote in this biopic, directed with force and economy by Bennett Miller. Dan Futterman adapted a 1988 bio by Gerald Clarke, but the sharp script has a narrower, more polemical focus than the book, concentrating on the writing of In Cold Blood and arguing that Capote was destroyed by the project’s ethical and emotional conflicts. The depictions of novelist Harper Lee (Catherine Keener) and editor William Shawn (Bob Balaban) aren’t convincing, but Miller is mainly interested in Capote’s identification and duplicitous relationship with Perry Smith, one of the murderers he was writing about, and that story rings true. With Chris Cooper and Clifton Collins Jr. R, 98 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Esquire, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »

Mongolian Pingpong

A nine-year-old boy living on the Mongolian steppes finds a Ping-Pong ball floating down a stream. After concluding that it isn’t an egg, he carries around the glowing pearl as a talisman, learns that it’s China’s national ball, and winds up fighting over it with a friend. This sounds like a slender premise on which to hang a feature, but director Ning Hao is more interested in ethnography and landscapes than narrative and often holds our interest by concentrating on how folklore, technologymotorbikes, cars, trucks, films, TVand imagination affect a nomadic way of life. In Mongolian with subtitles. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Housewarming

Carole Bouquet brings a lot of verve to her part as a successful lawyer, single mother, and illegal-alien activist whose liberal convictions are tested when she hires a team of immigrants without papers to renovate the second floor of her apartment and they wreck it. This farce (the original title is Travaux) is limited mainly to variations on a single premise, apart from a few fantasy interludes that work only fitfully (such as Bouquet’s impromptu dance steps, which seem to stand in for her legal maneuvers). But at least the premise is a good one, and writer-director Brigitte Rouan manages to sustain her light touch through all the broad turns of her secondary cast. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Forty Shades Of Blue

Ira Sachs likes to approach his hometown of Memphis through an alien perspective: his previous feature, The Delta (1996), was about the son of a Vietnamese woman and a black American soldier, and this new one, which won the grand jury prize at Sundance, is about a young Russian woman (Dina Korzun of Last Resort) who’s moved in with an aging and neglectful rock star (Rip Torn), the father of her three-year-old son. The star’s grown son (Darren Burrows) comes home for a visit, throwing various oedipal issues into relief, and Sachs, who wrote the script with Michael Rohatyn, creates a fresh and unpredictable portrait of the mother. But the narrative doesn’t keep building on what it starts out with and stalls toward the end. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Baby Face: The Uncut Version

Even in its censored 70-minute version, this 1933 feaure has long been celebrated as one of the Depression era’s raciest movies, and this recently discovered uncut version, with six minutes of extra footage, is even more explicit and sordid. Sexy, steely Barbara Stanwyck is a small-town prostitute initially pimped by her bootlegger father; with her only friend (Theresa Harris), a black woman who eventually becomes her maid, she moves to the city, and armed with nihilist sayings by Nietzsche, starts screwing her way up the corporate ladder (though she rebuffs John Wayne, seen in an early bit part). Darryl F. Zanuck supplied the original story, and the underrated Alfred E. Green directed. (JR)… Read more »

Touch The Sound

German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheimer worked famously with alternative sculptor Andy Goldsworthy in Rivers and Tides (2001), but here he’s found a more provocative and interesting subject: Evelyn Glennie, a celebrated classical percussionist from rural Scotland who is deaf. As the title of this fascinating portrait might suggest, she’s taught herself to identify and distinguish between notes through vibrations, working with different areas of sensitivity throughout her body. She’s worked with everyone from Bjork to Brazilian samba groups and also gives solo concerts, and the best segments simply show her at work in her mid-30s, explaining what she does. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Johnny Staccato

Around the same time he was making Shadows, John Cassavetes was starring in a pretty good TV series about a jazz pianist who makes ends meet by working as a private detective, a sort of black-and-white spin-off of Peter Gunn (he even directed three episodes). The music was composed by Elmer Bernstein and performed by a classic west-coast ensemble including Pete Candoli, Barney Kessel, Red Norvo, Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne. The Jazz Institute of Chicago is presenting a jazz-oriented sampling of the series. (JR)… Read more »