Written for the Vancouver International Film Festival, and published September 30, 2006. — J.R.
Written for the Vancouver International Film Festival, and published September 30, 2006. — J.R.
In this low-budget 2002 feature by Jacques Thelemaque, a young woman (Diane Gaidry) flees the east coast to escape her boyfriend’s chronic abuse and lands in Los Angeles; given shelter by a sour but protective older woman (Pamela Gordon), she gains some equilibrium while helping out with the woman’s dog-walking business. The plot of this character-driven drama is slender and the digital images rather muddyapparently an impoverished indie feature can look bad and still not be very interestingbut to his credit, Thelemaque sticks to his minimalist turf. And the dogs are great. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »
Nat King Cole stars in this 1958 biopic about the great southern composer W.C. Handy. A travesty in terms of biography, this is worth seeing only for the impressive lineup of musicians in the cast (Pearl Bailey, Eartha Kitt, Cab Calloway, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald). Alan Reisner directed. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »
Michel Gondry, known for his music videos (for Bjork and others) and his collaborations with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (directing Human Nature and cowriting and directing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), debuts as a full-fledged writer-director in this charming comedy. Gael Garcia Bernal stars as an obsessive young Mexican illustrator trying to settle down in Paris with his French mother (Miou-Miou) and reach some kind of emotional equilibrium with an equally obsessive neighbor (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The story is as much about imagination and innocence as the hero’s unstable life and career, so there are many flights of fancy, some concerning an imaginary TV talk show on which he’s both host and guest. Gondry is a soft surrealist without much of a sociopolitical agenda, closer to Dr. Seuss than Luis Bunuel; the closest movie antecedent for this romantic fantasy may be Richard Lester’s The Knack, and How to Get It (1965). In English and subtitled French and Spanish. R, 105 min. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley, River East 21.… Read more »
I’ve never entirely bought Robert Rossen’s celebrated 1949 movie adaptation of the Robert Penn Warren novel about a fictionalized Huey Long, but at least it has a coherent shape. This airless, scaled-down version by Steven Zaillian (Searching for Bobby Fischer) has a credible lead performance by Sean Penn and a handsome mannerist look that suggests an almost diagrammatic sense of dramatic abstraction. Yet the unfocused story is so bereft of any clear sense of period or location that the political melodrama sometimes seems to be taking place inside a cigar box. With Jude Law (adrift), Kate Winslet, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Patricia Clarkson, and Anthony Hopkins. PG-13, 120 min. (JR)… Read more »
To quote the Argentinean film critic Quintin, the subject of South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (The Day a Pig Fell Into the Well, Turning Gate) is the microphysics of relations, the deconstruction of love and sex, and though Hong lacks the usual fashionable cynicism, his work is infused with a bittersweet melancholy. This calmly shaped 2004 feature begins with the reunion of two college chums, a film director just returned from the U.S. and a university art professor, which leads to their looking up an attractive painter (Sung Hyun-ah) with whom they were both involved. The regrets of both men slowly accumulate, and the lack of any melodramatic revelation is more than compensated for by the naturalness of the three leads. In Korean with subtitles. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »
This interminable, poorly constructed drug thriller by writer-director Frank E. Flowers sat on the shelf for two years before winning a release. When the feds start closing in on a Miami dealer (Bill Paxton), he flees to the Cayman Islands with his innocent young daughter (Agnes Bruckner) and $1 million that he hopes to launder through a cynical British banker (Stephen Dillane). Once they’ve arrived the daughter hooks up with a boy (Victor Rasuk) who’s connected to the local drug trade, and Flowers keeps shifting to others in the same orbit while flashbacks supposedly explain what’s going on. With Orlando Bloom. R, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »
Just when I’m ready to write off the mockumentary as an exhausted form, along comes this delightful and hilarious improv comedy from the UK in which a bridal magazine sets up a promotional contest for the best offbeat wedding. The three finalist couples are thematically committed to tennis, musical comedy, and nudism, and a gay couple is assigned to guide them through their elaborate nuptials. Director Debbie Isitt falters when she tries to shoot an elaborate production number but triumphs in her cast’s quirky characterizations and the ensuing complications and contradictions (e.g., “Please get it into your thick head how much I respect you”). With Vincent Franklin, Jason Watkins, Stephen Mangan, Meredith MacNeill, Martin Freeman, Jessica Stevenson, Robert Webb, and Olivia Colman. R, 94 min. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre, River East 21.… Read more »
If any studio-run organization deserves to be unpacked and interrogated, it’s the Motion Picture Association of America, which doles out movie ratings, so any adversarial documentary on the subject is welcome. This piece of invective by Kirby Dick (Derrida, Twist of Faith) is watchable and sometimes enjoyable, but it skates too quickly over the MPAA’s pro-Hollywood, anti-independent bias and its preference for violence over sex as appropriate fare for children. Instead Dick focuses on the anonymity of the raters, making elaborate efforts to expose them; the ensuing high jinks yield some easy laughs, but there’s not enough consideration of the public gullibility and passivity that help preserve the MPAA’s monopoly. NC-17, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »
The title heroine (Georgina Spelvin) goes to limbo for committing suicide but strikes a bargain to return to earth and indulge in all the sins of the flesh she passed up during her life. This notoriously hyperbolic and almost encyclopedic hard-core porn item (1973) was Gerard Damiano’s follow-up to Deep Throat; using the psuedonym Albert Gork, he also plays a character who winds up locked in a cell with Spelvin. I can’t vouch for how much this has dated since its release, but I would suspect a lot. X, 67 min. (JR)… Read more »
South Korean writer-director Bong Joon-ho (The Host) made his feature debut with the grisly black comedy Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), but this one (2003) is far more ambitious and nuanced. A police procedural, it’s based on the unsolved murders of ten women between 1986 and 1991 in the rustic Gyeonggi province, reputedly the first recorded serial killings in Korean history. Bong concentrates on the friction between a local yokel cop and a big-city gumshoe with more sophisticated techniques, but his larger context is the military dictatorship of the period and the public paranoia it inspired. At 129 minutes, this takes a while to get started but gains momentum. In Korean with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »
A triumph of affectionate and even passionate portraiture, this debut feature by cowriters Ryan Fleck and Ann Boden focuses on three complex characters: a politically radical junior high history teacher (Ryan Gosling) who’s devoted to his work but also addicted to crack, a fearless 13-year-old student (Shareeka Epps) who stumbles onto his secret and forms an emotional bond with him, and a smooth local dealer (Anthony Mackie) who employed her brother before he went to jail and now wants to take her under his wing. Their story is unpredictable, beautifully acted, and revelatory in its moral quandaries. Gosling’s character is the most believable protagonist in any American movie I’ve seen this year–an immature mess, but charismatic, multifaceted, and sincere, the sort we can’t really dismiss without dismissing some part of ourselves. Fleck directed. R, 106 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Music Box.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 15, 2006). — J.R.
Directed by Ryan Fleck | Written by Anna Boden and Fleck | With Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Karen Chilton, and Tina Holmes
This Film Is Not Yet Rated
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Kirby Dick | Written by Dick, Eddie Schmidt, and Matt Patterson
Half Nelson is open about its radical politics — remarkable at a time when most mainstream movies are being marketed as apolitical. But of course most movies have biases, the most common of which is a belief that the world can be meaningfully divided into good guys and bad guys. The real issue isn’t whether there’s pure good or pure evil in the world, as Bush keeps insisting. It’s whether we’re willing to view the world as nuanced and complex. If as Americans we believe we’re the good guys regardless of what we do — even if that includes torturing and killing as many innocent people as we deem necessary to defeat the bad guys — then we’re more likely to lose sight of what’s actually being done. It’s not hard to conclude that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are bad guys, but when Americans helped arm them both did that make us bad guys too?… Read more »
Scripted by novelist Vladimir Sorokin, this 2004 debut feature by Russian director Ilya Khrzanovsky is puzzling, intriguing, and often compelling, apparently set in the present but magical and futuristic in tone. Three strangers–a prostitute, a meat vendor, and a piano tuner–meet in a bar and bullshit at great length about who they are and what they do before going their separate ways; like them, the film then veers off into different directions, growing increasingly strange and phantasmagorical. A highly original blend of observation and imagination, this remains as unpredictable as its characters (some of whom are stray dogs). In Russian with subtitles. 128 min. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »
A self-absorbed and not especially likable gay fashion photographer (Melvil Poupaud) discovers he’s about to die from cancer in this 2005 French feature by the highly uneven Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, Under the Sand), who doesn’t have much to say about his subject that’s fresh. The French title, Le Temps Qui Reste, translates as the time that remains, which at least has some relation to the film’s attempt at lyricism. Jeanne Moreau is around for a touching cameo as the hero’s beloved grandmother, and there’s also a striking three-way sex scene. With Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi. In French with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »