Daily Archives: October 20, 2006

Magic Mirror

Like many of Manoel de Oliveira’s features, this lush 2005 drama was adapted from a Portuguese novel by Agustina Bessa-Luis. A childless, depressive rich woman (Leonor Silveira) has her head turned by a professor (Michel Piccoli, speaking all his lines in English) and becomes obsessed with the idea of the Virgin Mary making a personal appearance in front of her. Meanwhile her servant (Ricardo Trepa) plots with a counterfeiter to fake an apparition. None of the melodramatic expectations set up in the story is met, but the very dry comedy makes this one of Oliveira’s more accessible works. In Portuguese with subtitles. 137 min. (JR)… Read more »

Belle Toujours

From the Chicago Reader (October 20, 2006). — J.R.

belle-toujours
Manoel de Oliveira’s sequel — or tribute, or speculative footnote — to Luis Buñuel and Jean-Claude Carriere’s Belle de Jour (1967) differs from that transgressive classic by being less about Severine (played here by Bulle Ogier, in the original by Catherine Deneuve), a devoted wife who secretly works as a prostitute to fulfill her secret masochistic desires, and more about Henri Husson (Michel Piccoli in both films), a rakish aristocrat who discovers her secret. (It’s also more about class and less about sexual desire.) Husson arranges a meeting with a reluctant Severine many decades later, and de Oliveira stages their dinner like a lush religious ceremony, albeit one with a couple of witty and pungent punch lines. In French with subtitles. 70 min.
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Babel

Unlike many colleagues, I’m not a fan of Amores Perros or 21 Grams, scripted by Guillermo Arriaga and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez I… Read more »

Paris, Je T’aime

Most features composed of sketches by different filmmakers are wildly uneven. This one is consistently mediocre, albeit pleasant and watchable. It helps that none of the episodes runs longer than five or six minutes. Many of the most famous areas of Paristhe Latin Quarter, the Champs-Elyseesare omitted, but Olivier Assayas, Gurinder Chadha, Sylvain Chomet, Joel and Ethan Coen, Wes Craven, Alfonso Cuaron, Gerard Depardieu, Christopher Doyle, Vincenzo Natali, Alexander Payne, Bruno Podalydes, Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas, Nobuhiro Suwa, Tom Tykwer, and Gus Van Sant, among others, do pretty well with their chosen parts of the city. In English and subtitled French. 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Starter For Ten

A working-class kid in the mid-80s (James McAvoy) is admitted to Bristol University, where he appears on a college quiz show and tries to romance a well-to-do teammate. The main novelty of this conventional, slight, but charming youth picture is that it’s English and therefore more class-conscious than most American equivalents, so I’m not sure why so many allusions to The Graduate are slotted in. David Nicholls adapted his own novel, Tom Vaughan directed, and Tom Hanks was one of the producers. With Rebecca Hall and Alice Eve. PG-13, 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Days Of Glory

Rachid Bouchareb’s stirring war movie does for the North Africans what Ousmane Sembene and Thierno Faty Sow’s Camp Thiaroye (1987) did for the Senegalese: it acknowledges the important role they played fighting alongside the French in World War II and reveals the harsh and dismissive treatment of them that followed, a result of persistent colonialist attitudes. This was Algeria’s official Oscar entry this year and also won the Cannes film festival’s prize for best actor, which was shared by all five leads; they play a pied-noir sergeant and four North African enlistees traveling across Italy and France and into Alsace. In French and Arabic with subtitles. R, 120 min. (JR)… Read more »

Madeinusa

Claudia Llosa’s first feature, a Peruvian film that won a prize at the Rotterdam festival, is an odd, disturbing, fictional yet seemingly ethnographic tale about a stranger who wanders into a remote Peruvian mountain village where the locals celebrate the three-day Easter weekend by suspending all prohibitions. Much of the focus is on a fearless, determined 14-year-old girl, strikingly played by Magaly Solier. In Spanish with subtitles. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Flags Of Our Fathers

Perhaps only the clout of director Clint Eastwood and coproducer Steven Spielberg could have brought us a movie about how the most inspirational photo of World War IIfour GIs raising the flag at Iwo Jimawas mendaciously exploited to sell war bonds. It’s a noble undertaking, and Eastwood is stylistically bold enough to create a view of combat based mainly on images that are clearly manufactured. (As with Saving Private Ryan, the movie’s principal source is The Big Red One, whose director, Samuel Fuller, actually experienced the war.) But this is underimagined and so thesis ridden that it’s nearly over before it starts. (Part of the storythe experience of Native American marine Ira Hamilton Hayeswas better told 45 years earlier in The Outsider, starring Tony Curtis.) William Broyles Jr. and Paul Haggis adapted a book by James Bradley and Ron Powers; with Ryan Phillippe, Jesse Bradford, and Adam Beach. R, 132 min. (JR)… Read more »

Buzz

This documentary by Spiro N. Taraviras profiles A.I. Bezzeridesa former trucker, a novelist, a generous friend to William Faulkner, a poor businessman, and the formidable screenwriter of They Drive by Night, On Dangerous Ground, Thieves’ Highway, Track of the Cat, and Kiss Me Deadly. It’s marred by muddy digital images, randomly selected clips that are usually drawn from trailers (and labeled as such even when they aren’t), belated identification of the interviewees, and lack of distinction in appraising the subject’s work (Kiss Me Deadly and the minor Beneath the 12-Mile Reef get roughly equal attention). But Bezzerides speaks at length on camera, and despite all the obstacles his sweet and salty personality comes through loud and clear. PG-13, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Renaissance

Who could have imagined that Mickey Spillane’s neofascist, imperialist S-M would come back to haunt us half a century later as neonoir designer chic? Christian Volckman’s high-contrast, black-and-white graphic novel in motion, set in a mid-21st-century Paris where many of the signs are in French but the natives speak English, has striking ‘Scope visuals and tiresome characters who become literally transparent whenever this suits the graphic design. In keeping with the material’s cold war pedigree, the villains usually have foreign accents. The story, credited to many hands, is intricate, and among the rotoscoped actors are Daniel Craig, Catherine McCormack, Ian Holm, and Jonathan Pryce. R, 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints

Given all the filmed memory pieces about screaming, violent Italian-American families in New York boroughs, I’m not especially thrilled by even a well-made example. First-time director Dito Montiel adapts his autobiographical book, most of it set in the mean streets of Astoria in the early 80s. Robert Downey Jr. plays Montiel, who goes home to visit his estranged father (Chazz Palminteri), occasioning flashbacks to his younger self (Shia LaBeouf), his pals, and a violent feud involving graffti and a baseball bat. With Rosario Dawson, Dianne Wiest, Channing Tatum, and Eric Roberts. R, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Magicians

In 1937, during the Spanish civil war, an amateur director made an elaborate silent film called Imitating the Fakir at a religious orphanage in a small town, with the orphans in exotic costumes playing all the roles. In this 2004 documentary Elisabet Cabeza (a daughter of one of the orphans) and Esteve Riambau (a film professor and major Orson Welles scholar) unpack this fascinating artifact in several ways, interviewing a half dozen of the participants and exploring the personal and historical ramifications of the material, particularly as they relate to the war. In Spanish with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Shortbus

The novelty of writer-director John Cameron Mitchell’s bittersweet comedy drama is that it’s full of hard-core sex, including such stunts as a guy giving himself a blow job, yet it’s basically concerned with feelings and is touching throughout. The film grew out of the actors’ improvisations, with the main focus on one straight and one gay couple who turn up at a New York salon called Shortbus, hosted by drag queen Justin Bond. The movie’s main limitation is that each character seems formed around one idea, endlessly reiterateda sex therapist who’s never had an orgasm (Canadian broadcaster Sook-yin Lee), a dominatrix who wants to settle down and have a family, a lover in an open relationship who wants fidelityso it runs out of energy before the end. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Man Push Cart

Haunting and touching, this feature by Iranian-American filmmaker Ramin Bahrani focuses on a former Pakistani rock singer (Ahmad Razvi) who hawks coffee and bagels from a pushcart in Manhattan. Bahrin follows him as he sells porn on the side, reflects on his estranged son, takes a house-painting job, and befriends a young Spanish woman (Leticia Dolera) who works at a nearby newsstand. This is somewhat fuzzy as narrative, but it’s a potent mood piece, and its portait of urban loneliness has some of the intensity of Taxi Driver without the violence. 87 min. (JR)

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Tideland

From the Chicago Reader (October 20, 2006). — J.R.

TIDELAND

Terry Gilliam reportedly walked off The Brothers Grimm, washing his hands of the Weinstein brothers, to make this more personal tale, which he and Tony Grisoni adapted from a Mitch Cullin novel. Hallucinatory and extremely unpleasant, it involves a nine-year-old girl who loses her junkie parents (Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Tilly) and sets off for crazed adventures in rural Texas, conversing with various rodents and a collection of dolls’ heads and meeting up with a taxidermist witch (Janet McTeer) and her mentally challenged brother (Brendan Fletcher). Enter this diseased Lewis Carroll universe at your own risk. R, 122 min. (JR)

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