Daily Archives: March 17, 2006

Wah-wah

Character actor Richard E. Grant makes his writing and directing debut with this autobiographical feature about growing up in white Swaziland in the early years of its independence from Great Britain. Nicholas Hoult (About a Boy) plays the young hero, Miranda Richardson his adulterous mom, and Gabriel Byrne his alcoholic dad. Shot in ‘Scope, this is a hokey, old-fashioned melodrama in which the actors scream more often than necessary, though it loosens up a bit when the father resettles with a relatively laid-back American (Emily Watson), who uses the title phrase to ridicule British pomp. With Julie Walters. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Fallen

German filmmaker Fred Keleman (Fate, Nightfall) has worked as a cinematographer for Hungarian master Bela Tarr, and like his mentor he employs long takes, slow camera movements, and depressive settings shot in black and white. This 2005 feature differs from his earlier work in its Latvian locations and tricky mystery plot, about an archivist who thinks he may have witnessed a woman’s suicide and becomes obsessed with the apparent victim. Suggesting at various junctures Laura, Vertigo, and Blowup, it deconstructs certain art-house cliches (including its own compulsive gloom) but also embraces certain others, both visual and aural. In Latvian and Russian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Clean

After a fading rock star dies of a drug overdose in Canada, his strung-out widow (Maggie Cheung) leaves their little boy with his paternal grandfather (Nick Nolte), cleans up during a six-month prison term, then tries to reassemble her life in Paris. Cheung and director Olivier Assayas previously collaborated on Irma Vep (before they married and divorced); this 2004 French feature marks their creative reunion, but it’s a disappointment. Weak, self-absorbed, ill-tempered, and devoid of glamour even in her casual bisexuality, the protagonist is a systematic inversion of the hot star Cheung played in the earlier movie, and despite her skilled acting (which was honored at Cannes), she can’t make the woman very interesting in her own rightthe most compelling performance here is Nolte’s. With Jeanne Balibar, Don McKellar, and Beatrice Dalle. In English and subtitled French. R, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

All Souls

Subtitled Stories on the Edge of Murder, this 2005 Dutch film compiles 16 sketches that address the brutal November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. (His killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, was provoked by van Gogh’s ten-minute short Submission, which ridiculed Islamic sexism.) Many segments are preoccupied with van Gogh’s obesity, and some are as crude and insensitive as Submission. Others are insensitive but well-done (the striking experimental piece Goodbye), though I’m not sure whether any qualify as sensitive and well made. The title of each is rendered in black-and-white footage of street graffiti. In English and subtitled Dutch. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Find Me Guilty

Director Sidney Lumet has always been inspired in his handling of courtroom dramas and New York crime stories, especially when they involve racial antagonism and ethnic loyalty. This mix turns up in all his theatrical screenplays: Prince of the City, Q&A, Night Falls on Manhattan, and now this audacious account of one of the longest criminal trials in U.S. history (1987-’88), of New Jersey mobster Giacomo DiNorscio, who grandstands while acting as his own attorney. Action hero Vin Diesel plays DiNorscio with scene-stealing brio, giving a performance with Brechtian consequences: what looks at first like a procrime drama eventually becomes a criticism of viewers’ biases. At age 82, Lumet has outdone himself. With Ron Silver, Peter Dinklage, and a terrific cameo by Annabella Sciorra. R, 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ask The Dust

Robert Towne, screenwriter of Chinatown, reaches further back into Los Angeles history for this dreamy adaptation of John Fante’s autobiographical novel about his early years as a struggling writer. Set in the Bunker Hill neighborhood during the Depression, it focuses mainly on the hero’s troubled affair with a Mexican waitress, played out as a kind of erotic grudge match between Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. Towne, who also directed, romanticizes the material yet preserves Fante’s critique of his own anti-Mexican biasan attempt to cover his sensitivity about being Italian-American. The period ambience is wonderful, and the story is even sexier than Personal Best (1982), Towne’s directorial debut. With Eileen Atkins, Idina Menzel, and Donald Sutherland. R, 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

Duck Season

Shot in black and white, this eccentric Mexican comedy by first-time director Fernando Eimbcke focuses on two 14-year-old boys left to themselves in an urban high-rise on a Sunday afternoon. A 16-year-old neighbor comes over to bake herself a birthday cake, and an alienated pizza delivery man hangs around on various pretexts. The characters’ behavior isn’t always believable, and the jerky rhythm takes some getting used to (there may be more attitude here than observation). But the defiant absence of any conventional plot has a cumulative charm. In Spanish with subtitles. R, 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Golden Age Of Jazz

The fourth and final jazz TV special (1959) presented by Timexand by all accounts the most ambitious, pairing Louis Armstrong with Dizzy Gillespie on one number and also featuring Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Dakota Staton, Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, the Dukes of Dixieland, Barbara Dane, and a group including Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins. As I recall, far too many musicians were crowded into the act, and some were wasted; the show culminates in a cacophonous jam on Perdido. Jackie Gleason hosted. 59 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sorry, Haters

Sorry, viewers is more like it. A Syrian cabdriver in Manhattan (an intense Abdellatif Kechiche), whose brother has just been sent to Guantanamo Bay, picks up a maladjusted career woman (Robin Wright Penn) who makes his life even more miserable. Press notes for this psychological thriller describe it as a story of anger, revenge and retribution so timely it could be true, but writer-director Jeff Stanzler seems willing to try anything, throwing in numerous unconvincing plot twists. With Sandra Oh and Elodie Bouchez. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ask the Dust

Robert Towne, screenwriter of Chinatown, reaches further back into Los Angeles history for this dreamy adaptation of John Fante’s autobiographical novel about his early years as a struggling writer. Set in the Bunker Hill neighborhood during the Depression, it focuses mainly on the hero’s troubled affair with a Mexican waitress, played out as a kind of erotic grudge match between Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. Towne, who also directed, romanticizes the material yet preserves Fante’s critique of his own anti-Mexican bias–an attempt to cover his sensitivity about being Italian-American. The period ambience is wonderful, and the story is even sexier than Personal Best (1982), Towne’s directorial debut. With Eileen Atkins, Idina Menzel, and Donald Sutherland. R, 117 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »