Daily Archives: April 28, 2006

United 93

To the credit of British writer-director Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday), this taut, partly speculative account of the 9/11 flight that crashed in a Pennsylvania field has practically none of the exploitative melodrama one would expect from a major studio release. The film cuts between the delayed Newark-to-San Francisco flight, a military air-defense facility, and air-traffic-control centers in Boston and New York (with some of the real-life participants playing themselves), then switches to real time once the plane takes off. Greengrass takes pains to keep events believable and relatively unrhetorical, rejecting entertainment for the sake of sober reflection, though one has to ask how edifying this is apart from its reduction of the standard myths. (One myth it perpetuates is that the passengers succeeded in storming the cockpit before the plane crashed.) R, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Stick It

Jessica Bendinger, author of the cheerleader comedy Bring It On, wrote and directed this inspirational Disney tale about a 17-year-old with attitude (Missy Peregrym) who has a brush with the law and gets sent to an exclusive gymnastics academy for girls. The always capable Jeff Bridges plays her tough-love coach, and by the end her diffident alienation has given way to group spirit and achievement. Despite the familiar story arc and MTV visuals, Bendinger puts this across with a certain amount of pizzazz, and the competitive gymnastics are often spectacular. Rap and black slang abound, though the movie doesn’t have a single black character. PG-13, 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

A One And A Two… (yi Yi)

Edward Yang’s most accessible movie is also his best since A Brighter Summer Day, displaying a comparable mastery that won him the prize for best direction in Cannes. In keeping with the musical connotation of the English title, the thematic counterpoint between generations is as adroit as the focus on a single generation was in his earlier masterpiece. Beginning with a wedding and ending with a funeral in the same contemporary Taipei family, the film takes almost three hours to unfold, and not a moment seems gratuitous or squandered. Working again with nonprofessional actors, Yang coaxes a standpout lead performance from Wu Nienjen (a major screenwriter and director in his own right) as a middle-aged partner in a failing computer company who has a secret Tokyo rendez-vous with a former girlfriend he jilted 30 years ago, now living in Chicago, while trying to team up professionally with a Japanese games designer. (The chats between the latter two are all in English, and Yang’s own background in American computers serves him well.) Other major characters include the hero’s spiritually traumatized wife, her comatose mother, his pregnant sister and her debt-ridden husband, his teenage daughter, and his eight-year-old son. The lattera comic and unsentimental marvel named Yang-Yangmay come closest to serving as Yang’s own mouthpiece; the kid becomes obsessed with photographing what people can’t see, such as the backs of their own heads, which comprises for him the half of reality that’s missed.… Read more »

6ixtynin9

I was the head of the critics’ jury at the Hong Kong film festival last spring that awarded half its first prize to this macabre comedy-thriller from Thailand (1999, 114 min.) It’s as commercial as anything from Hollywoodas was writer-director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s previous feature, which I liked even more, a crazed Tarantino spinoff called Fun Bar Karaoke (1997). Ratanaruang spent eight years in New York studying at the Pratt Institute and working as a freelance illustrator and designer, so his mastery of American-style entertainment obviously owes something to a prolonged absorption in this culturethough I find the Thai and global traits on view here no less striking. This picture might be described broadly as a clever version of Hitchcock lite, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t also have pertinent things to say about the present Asian economic crisis. (JR)… Read more »

The Second Civil War

Properly speaking, this skillful made-for-cable satire (1997, 100 min.) directed by Joe Dante qualifies as the middle feature in his so-called war trilogy, preceded by Matinee (1993) and followed by Small Soldiers (1998). Viewers who consider it the best of the threesome may have a point, though its lack of a theatrical run in this U.S. makes it somewhat better known overseas. Beau Bridges plays the governor of Idaho who decides to close his state borders to a plane full of Pakistani orphans fleeing a nuclear disaster, and the action is crosscut with national government deliberations (James Coburn as a Presidential advisor) and various kinds of frantic media spin (Dan Hedaya as a network news director). Barry Levinson set this project in motion, so the parallels with Wag the Dog aren’t accidental, but one of the essential ingredients brought to it by Dante, the least Swiftian of satirists, is that nobody’s a villain, even when behaving like an idiot and/or a hypocrite. (The governor, for instance, plays shamelessly to his xenophobic constituency while remaining smitten with his Mexican mistress, a reporter played by Elizabeth Pena, and the movie is determined to view him simply as a lovable asshole.) With Joanna Cassidy, Kevin Dunn, James Earl Jones, Denis Leary, Ron Perlman, the late Phil Hartman, Brian Keith, and other Dante regulars, including Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, and Roger Corman.… Read more »

Place Vendome

This 1999 feature by former actress Nicole Garcia is striking above all because of its lead performanceCatherine Deneuve as the widow of a big-time jeweler, a former alcoholic whose life suddenly springs back to action when she discovers seven diamonds squirreled away by her late husband. What transpires after that may have some of the trappings of an exotic thriller, but it’s basically a character study, and Deneuve and her fellow actorsin particular Emmanuelle Seigner and Jean-Pierre Bacri (Same Old Song)shine in these circumstances. This is the first film in the Film Center’s European Union film festival, a welcome event that over the next couple of weeks brings about two dozen new European features to town. (JR)… Read more »