Monthly Archives: October 2006

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)

the_tideland_house_by_ultrachrome_xRead more »

Les Statues Meurent Aussi (Statues Also Die)

“When men die, they enter history. When statues die, they enter art. This botany of death is what we call culture.” So begins the commentary of this remarkable French documentary (1953, 30 min.) about African sculpture, directed by Chris Marker and Alain Resnais and shot by Ghislain Cloquet. It’s the first major work for all of these artists (though it comes five years after Resnais’ Van Gogh, which won him his only Oscar to date); the beauty and anger of Marker’s text are perfectly matched by Resnais’ exquisite editing and Cloquet’s piercing images. A poetic meditation on how we perceive, exploit, and sometimes destroy other cultures, this is essential viewing, though it’s rarely been seen in its complete form–the French government suppressed its final reel, a blistering attack on colonialism, for almost 40 years. Also on the program is Sans Soleil (1982, 100 min.), one of Marker’s greatest feature-length film essays. Screening by DVD projection as part of the Select Media Festival (see sidebar in Galleries & Museums). a Sun 10/22, 5 PM, Select Media Festival headquarters, 3219 S. Morgan, 773-837-0145. … Read more »

David Holzman’s Diary/My Girlfriend’s Wedding: Historical Artifacts of the Past and Present

This essay was originally written as liner notes for a DVD released in 2006 in the U.K. by Second Run, an excellent label. (This DVD can be obtained here—a site well worth checking out for other films as well.) My thanks to Mehelli Modi for commissioning this piece as well as for allowing me to reprint it, both here and in my collection Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia. I’m delighted, incidentally, that Lorber Kino’s recent DVD release of these films also includes not only My Girlfriend’s Wedding and Pictures from Life’s Other Side, but also McBride’s wonderful recent short, My Son’s Wedding to My Sister-in-Law (2008). — J.R.

 

In my mind, there isn’t as much of a distinction between documentary and fiction as there is between a good movie and a bad one. — Abbas Kiarostami

 

Artifact #1: A softcover book, The Film Director as Superstar (Garden City, NY:

Doubleday & Co.,1970)—-a collection of 16 interviews in three parts, each of

which has two subsections: “The Outsiders” (”Beyond the Underground,” “Their

Own Money, Their Own Scene”), “The European Experience” (”The Underemployed

Independent,” “The Socialist Film Schools”), and “Free Agents Within the System”

(”Transitional Directors,” “Independents with Muscle”).… Read more »

Infamous

Much of the liveliness of Capote (2005) derived from the built-in fascination of following Truman Capote from Manhattan high society to rural Kansas while he wrote his true-crime thriller In Cold Blood. This feature by writer-director Douglas McGrath, made around the same time as Capote but only released this year, covers the same subject with a provocatively different tone, starting out as a flip comedy and making more of an issue of Capote’s homosexuality. Its putative source is Truman Capote (1997), George Plimpton’s nonbook of gossipy quotes, and much of the story seems invented, especially the tragic relationship between Capote (Toby Jones) and Perry Smith (Daniel Craig, excellent). More ambitious than Capote yet wildly uneven, this finally has too many competing agendas, though it certainly held my interest. With Peter Bogdanovich (as Bennett Cerf), Sandra Bullock (as Harper Lee), Jeff Daniels, Sigourney Weaver, and Hope Davis. R, 110 min.… Read more »

Iraq In Fragments

Documentary filmmaker James Longley (Gaza Strip) has a flair for cinematography and editing and a poetic sensibility that informs both these talents. He’s also responsible for this film’s music. But the most significant credits for this examination of Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds may be the dozen translators listed. (The future of Iraq will be in three parts, says one Kurd. How can you cut a country into three parts? asks another.) Much as Emile de Antonio’s neglected In the Year of the Pig (1968) may be the only major documentary about Vietnam that actually considers the Vietnamese, this film allows the people of Iraq to speak, and what they say is fascinating throughout. In Kurdish and Arabic with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Come Early Morning

Joey Lauren Adams, who played the bisexual heroine in Chasing Amy, writes and directs her first feature, which I hope won’t be her last. A personal and thoughtful look at her southern Baptist background, it centers on a promiscuous thirtysomething barfly (Ashley Judd) trying to negotiate various parts of her life. The plot points verge on the familiar and obvious, but Adams’s work with the actors (especially Judd and among the others Jeffrey Donovan, Diane Ladd, Tim Blake Nelson, and Scott Wilson) is so resourceful and focused that she makes them shine. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Venus

Peter O’Toole stars as a septuagenarian British actor pursuing a mainly chaste romance with the unschooled 20-year-old grandniece (Jodie Whittaker) of one of his cronies (Leslie Phillips). Directed by Roger Michell (Persuasion) from a script by Hanif Kureishi (My Beautiful Laundrette), this comedy drama is an exercise in self-indulgence for O’Toole, but an enjoyable and touching one. Vanessa Redgrave livens things up briefly as O’Toole’s ex-wife, but this is basically about the complex negotiations, adjustments, and exchanges between the actor and the young woman, and more generally a meditation on growing old gracefully. R, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »