Monthly Archives: December 2005

Play

Chilean writer-director Alicia Scherson, who won the Tribeca film festival’s new narrative filmmaker award, went to college in Chicago but shot this delightfully fresh first feature in Santiago. She’s remarkably inventive, with a surrealist eye and a sense of rhythm in her editing. Her film starts with boldly styled opening credits over exciting street photography, and it goes on to explore alternative lifestyles, cutting between a wealthy man who’s lost in swift succession his wife, his job, and his briefcase, and a live-in nursemaid from the sticks who finds the briefcase shortly before losing her ailing patient. In Spanish with subtitles. 105 min.… Read more »

Caché

This brilliant if unpleasant puzzle without a solution about surveillance and various kinds of denial finds writer-director Michael Haneke near the top of his game, though it’s not a game everyone will want to play. The brittle host of a TV book-chat show (Daniel Auteuil) and his unhappy wife (Juliette Binoche) start getting strange videos that track their comings and goings outside their Paris home. Once the husband traces the videos to an Algerian he abused when both were kids, things only get more tense, troubled, and unresolved. Haneke is so punitive toward the couple and his audience that I periodically rebelled againstor went into denial aboutthe director’s rage, and I guess that’s part of the plan. In French with subtitles. R, 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Producers

A Broadway impresario (Nathan Lane) and his accountant (Matthew Broderick) plot to embezzle a million dollars by corralling investors for a show, staging a surefire flop (“Springtime for Hitler”), and pocketing the leftover funds. Directed by Susan Stroman, this screen adaption of the hit musical–itself an adaptation of the farcical 1967 movie by Mel Brooks–is a strange mix of the terrible and the wonderful. Some of the characters are stridently unfunny (Will Ferrell’s Nazi playwright, Gary Beach and Roger Bart’s flaming queens), yet Brooks’s sweetness, innocence, and boundless love of the infantile inform everything from the brassy production numbers (capped by an homage to Jailhouse Rock) to the final credits. Despite the pretense of cynicism, this hokey dinosaur is the precise opposite of Chicago in tone and spirit. With Uma Thurman. PG-13, 134 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Gardens 7-13, Lake, Pipers Alley, River East 21.… Read more »

Does Choosing “The Year’s Best” Compromise the Truth?

Written for and published by Slate on December 27, 2005. The other contributors to this discussion, whom I’m addressing, are David Edelstein, Scott Fondas, and A.O. Scott. — J.R.

Posted Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2005, at 2:13 PM ET

Holiday Greetings, David, Scott, and Tony, David, I appreciate your invitation to “shake hands and come out punching,” though I suspect our disagreements this time around may wind up having more to do with Steven Spielberg and Munich than they do with Terrence Malick and The New World. (See Edelstein’s top-20 list of 2005 films here.) Just to be contrary, however, let me start off with four agreements. Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, William Eggleston and the Real World, and Homecoming all belong somewhere on my own extended list of favorites — and I’d need an asterisk of my own for the penultimate title, David, because Michael Almereyda is a friend whom we share.… Read more »

Rumor Has It . . .

A young journalist (Jennifer Aniston), going home to Pasadena with her fiance (Mark Ruffalo) to attend her sister’s wedding, discovers that her maternal grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) might have been the inspiration for Mrs. Robinson in Charles Webb’s novel The Graduate. Intrigued, she hunts down the real-life model for Benjamin Braddock, now a suave zillionaire (Kevin Costner), who once made love to her mother and her grandmother and who might also be her father. In some ways this intricate piece of whimsy is closer to the romantic fantasy of Pretty Woman than the conformist satire of Mike Nichols’s The Graduate, but it shares with both these crowd-pleasers a faintly corrupt complacency. Under the circumstances, MacLaine, Costner, and Ruffalo acquit themselves well. Rob Reiner directed a script by Ted Griffin (Matchstick Men). PG-13, 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Munich

Steven Spielberg made us feel exhilarated about killing Arabs with Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); a quarter century later he’s decent enough to have second thoughts, but he can’t find much to do with them in this mediocre thriller. Scripted by Eric Roth and Tony Kushner, it chronicles the grim mission of vengeance pursued by Israel’s Mossad after 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics. Spielberg moves beyond the Zionist complacency one might expect, but Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan’s recent documentary Route 181 addresses the Arab-Israeli conflict with greater courage and curiosity. Munich may have value as an act of expiation but not as entertainment or art. With Eric Bana, Daniel Craig, Geoffrey Rush, and Michael Lonsdale. R, 162 min. (JR)… Read more »

William Eggleston In The Real World

Michael Almereydawhose previous documentary, This So-Called Disaster (2003), carefully observed Sam Shepard directing one of his autobiographical playsponders the reticence and creative vision of master photographer William Eggleston, shown mainly in Kentucky (working on a project for filmmaker Gus Van Sant) and Memphis (the photographer’s home base). There’s a certain amount of tension between Eggleston, who mistrusts verbal descriptions of his work, and Almereyda, whose special way with words is evident in both his voice-over narration and his recorded conversations with the subject. Yet the mystery generated by this conflict seems wholly in keeping with Eggleston’s art and reminds me of Walker Evans and James Agee’s collaboration on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Moonlight And Valentino

A young woman (Elizabeth Perkins) unexpectedly loses her husband in an accident and has to negotiate between the separate influences of her best friend (Whoopi Goldberg), her younger sister (Gwyneth Paltrow), and her former stepmother (Kathleen Turner) in learning how to be a widow. This well-meant but rather forgettable drama is adapted by Ellen Simon from her own play and directed by David Anspaugh. With Jon Bon Jovi. (JR)… Read more »

William Eggleston in the Real World

Michael Almereyda–whose previous documentary, This So-Called Disaster (2003), carefully observed Sam Shepard directing one of his autobiographical plays–ponders the reticence and creative vision of master photographer William Eggleston, shown mainly in Kentucky (working on a project for filmmaker Gus Van Sant) and Memphis (the photographer’s home base). There’s a certain amount of tension between Eggleston, who mistrusts verbal descriptions of his work, and Almereyda, whose special way with words is evident in both his voice-over narration and his recorded conversations with the subject. Yet the mystery generated by this conflict seems wholly in keeping with Eggleston’s art and reminds me of Walker Evans and James Agee’s collaboration on Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. 87 min. Facets Cinematheque.… Read more »

The Producers

A Broadway impresario (Nathan Lane) and his accountant (Matthew Broderick) plot to embezzle a million dollars by corralling investors for a show, staging a surefire flop (Springtime for Hitler), and pocketing the leftover funds. Directed by Susan Stroman, this screen adaption of the hit musicalitself an adaptation of the farcical 1967 movie by Mel Brooksis a strange mix of the terrible and the wonderful. Some of the characters are stridently unfunny (Will Ferrell’s Nazi playwright, Gary Beach and Roger Bart’s flaming queens), yet Brooks’s sweetness, innocence, and boundless love of the infantile inform everything from the brassy production numbers (capped by an homage to Jailhouse Rock) to the final credits. Despite the pretense of cynicism, this hokey dinosaur is the precise opposite of Chicago in tone and spirit. With Uma Thurman. PG-13, 134 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Family Stone

The potential for moral confusion in a liberal-minded familyunpacked so ruthlessly in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whaleis scrutinized with more ambiguity in this good-natured comic subversion of the holiday get-together. Diane Keaton, in a performance full of unexpected accents and grace notes, presides over a large New England tribe; their open-mindedness is tested when the oldest son (Dermot Mulroney) brings home an uptight girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) for Christmas. All sorts of comic twists ensue, giving most of the characters a good workout. Thomas Bezucha (Big Eden) wrote and directed; with Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Craig T. Nelson. PG-13, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Brokeback Mountain

Two cowboys (Jake Gyllenhaal, good, and Heath Ledger, exceptional) share a night of passion while working briefly as sheepherders in 1963, then spend the remainder of their otherwise straight lives tragically concealing their affair. Adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana from an Annie Proulx story and capably directed by Ang Lee, this is the kind of tasteful tearjerker that’s often overrated and smothered with prizes for flattering our tolerance and sensitivity. Lee focuses on the men’s wasted lives and the heartbreak of their spouses and other relatives, but the movie makes one hanker for the sort of unabashed queer stories found outside the mainstream. R, 134 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Family Stone

The potential for moral confusion in a liberal-minded family–unpacked so ruthlessly in Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale–is scrutinized with more ambiguity in this good-natured comic subversion of the holiday get-together. Diane Keaton, in a performance full of unexpected accents and grace notes, presides over a large New England tribe; their open-mindedness is tested when the oldest son (Dermot Mulroney) brings home an uptight girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker) for Christmas. All sorts of comic twists ensue, giving most of the characters a good workout. Thomas Bezucha (Big Eden) wrote and directed; with Claire Danes, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, and Craig T. Nelson. PG-13, 102 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Golf Glen, Lake, Norridge, Village, Village North.… Read more »

King Kong

It clocks in at over three hours, but Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 classic is gripping nonetheless. The film rethinks the characters, turning the original’s stark Jungian fantasy into a soulless but skillful set of kinetic and emotional effects. Carl Denham (Jack Black)originally a self-portrait of codirector Merian C. Cooperis now a comic villain personifying, and thereby displacing, the movie’s own cynical contrivances and hypocritical exploitation. Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) has lost most of her hysteria and gained an Electra complex; the putative hero (Adrien Brody) is now, improbably, a playwright; a black sailor (Evan Parke) has been added to offset the jungle stereotypes; and Kong is anthropomorphized to the point of becoming first an audience stand-in (for whom Watts performs a few vaudeville turns), then a Christ figure. PG-13, 187 min. (JR)… Read more »

Three Days Of Rain

A half dozen Chekhov stories about solitude and quiet desperation inspired this 2002 debut feature by writer-director Michael Meredith, though the presiding spirit, for better or worse, seems to be Alan Rudolph. Crisscrossing destinies are examined over three rainy days in Cleveland (Rudolph would more likely have made it Seattle), accompanied by moody cocktail-lounge jazz from a local radio station whose DJ (Lyle Lovett) serves as a kind of Greek chorus. (Tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano is one of the featured players.) Presented by Wim Wenders, with whom Meredith wrote the subsequent Land of Plenty, this is familiar but atmospheric, with good performances by Peter Falk, Blythe Danner, Joey Bilow, Michael Santoro, Merle Kennedy, and former football pro Don Meredith (the filmmaker’s father). 98 min. (JR)… Read more »