Daily Archives: December 1, 2006

A Ticket To Space

Hoping to sell its expensive space program to a reluctant public, the French government holds a national lottery in which the top prizes are two seats on the next space shuttle, and two dubious contenders win. Eric Lartigau’s slick and engaging farce gets sillier by the moment, especially once the crew is taken hostage and a monstrous giant turkey turns up on board. But you probably won’t mind if you’re looking strictly for laughs and good-natured send-ups of other SF movies. With Andre Dusollier. In French with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Fissures

A sound recordist (Emilie Dequenne of Rosetta) investigates the murder of her mother, a clairvoyant in a farming community, and discovers she can record the past as well as the present. Using string to chart the paths taken by old sounds, she constructs a kind of spiderweb in the house where her mother diedso it may not be coincidental that her name is Charlotte. It’s a striking poetic conceit, developed with some flair by first-time writer-director Alant… Read more »

Ever Again

Richard Trank’s alarmist documentary about anti-Semitism and Islamic terrorism in Europe occasionally makes a stab at balance but retreats whenever Israel or Zionism comes up (usually a signal to bring back Alan Dershowitz). There’s plenty of disquieting material here, but I wish the film were less antagonistic in its own right. (For a more nuanced treatment of Islamic violence in Europe, try Murder in Amsterdam, Ian Buruma’s new book on the Theo van Gogh assassination.) Kevin Costner narrates, and English voice-overs provide most of the translation. 74 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Enforcer

Humphrey Bogart’s last film for Warners (1951) is a quintessential noir about a crime syndicate specializing in murder. Martin Rackin’s script features flashbacks within flashbacks, but it’s dated only by his earmarking of contract and hit as obscure underworld slang. When journeyman director Bretaigne Windust took ill a few days into production, Bogart enlisted Raoul Walsh, who turned this into one of his best thrillers but refused to take screen credit as a gesture of friendship toward Windust. The mood of paranoid menace, the suspenseful climax, the beautiful camerawork by Robert Burks, and brassy acting by Ted de Corsia, Zero Mostel, and Everett Sloane make this a giddy classic. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

10 Items Or Less

Morgan Freeman plays a movie star much like himself who’s considering a comeback after a four-year absence from the screen; offered a role in a low-budget indie feature as manager of a cheap supermarket, he decides to do some research by visiting a Latino establishment in a Los Angeles suburb, where he befriends a feisty young cashier (Paz Vega of Spanglish) and spends the next few hours coaching her for a job interview as a secretary. An amiable demonstration of how two charismatic actors and a relaxed writer-director (Brad Silberling) can squeeze an enjoyable movie out of practically nothing, this comedy falters only when, a little too pleased with itself, it overplays its hand in presenting Freeman as a man of the people and arguing that class barriers don’t really exist. R, 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Turistas

In terms of high concept this might be called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Goes to Brazil, though what makes the high concept so low is that it spoils a fairly engaging youth movie about American, English, and Australian tourists interacting with various Brazilian locals after their tour bus breaks down. Once the gore and suspense take over, this becomes mechanical and unpleasant. John Rockwell directed. R, 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Holiday

Two romantic comedies for the price of one ensue when a producer of Hollywood trailers (Cameron Diaz) and a Surrey-based newspaper editor (Kate Winslet), both recoiling from failed relationships, suddenly decide to trade domiciles over the Christmas holidays. And because this was written and directed by chick-flick specialist Nancy Meyers (What Women Want, Something’s Gotta Give), both women score hyperbolicallyDiaz with Jude Law, Winslet with Jack Black and (less romantically) Eli Wallach. The problem is that happy endings this strident and overextended begin to seem somewhat desperate. PG-13, 138 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blood Diamond

Action-adventure pictures have a lamentable tendency toward mindlessness, but Edward Zwick’s epic story has numerous virtues apart from suspense and spectacle. A sharp script by Charles Leavitt and C. Gaby Mitchell centers on diamond grubbing during the horrific 1999 civil war in Sierra Leone, and all three lead actors contribute strong performances. Leonardo DiCaprio earns the label Brando-esque as a mercenary from Zimbabwe (even if his part recalls Bogart’s in Casablanca), while Jennifer Connelly as a principled journalist and Djimon Hounsou as a Mende fisherman struggling to recover his family are no less potent. If you substituted oil for diamonds, much of the story could be happening right now in the Middle East. R, 138 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Gangster

Edward G. Robinson plays a gangster who marries an innocent Swedish woman (Rose Stradner), fathers a child with her, and then gets sent to Alcatraz. When he emerges a decade later, she’s divorced him to marry a sympathetic newspaper reporter (James Stewart) and his son is a total stranger. With its story coauthored by William A. Wellman, this 1937 tearjerker may sound like typical Warners product. But it was made at MGM, and Louis B. Mayer’s fingerprints are all over it, lachrymose family values and all. Not even such players as Lionel Stander and John Carradine can rescue it. Edward Ludwig directed. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Citadel

Atom Egoyan’s new film, shot with a mini DV camera, shows Egoyan; his wife, actress Arsinee Khanjian; and their son, Arshile, vacationing in Beirut, where Khanjian lived as a child. Though an essay film, it’s made poetic by Egoyan’s thoughtful narration and subversive by its shift to fiction in the final sequence (which is also the title sequence). It’s also one of the best things Egoyan has done since Calendar (1993), which it resembles in its closing stretches. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Around the World in 1,085 Pages

From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 2006). — J.R.

Against the Day | Thomas Pynchon (Penguin Press)

Thomas Pynchon’s 1,085-page Against the Day does a lot of things. Some it does well, some it does badly — and some are impossible to judge this early, though scores of people are trying, in the press and on the Internet. And it may still be beyond the capacity of most of us to judge a year from now. In some respects Pynchon remains as difficult to evaluate as globalization with all its facets and ambiguities.

This passionately anticapitalist book, which most likely took a decade or more to write, follows dozens of characters over more than two decades, starting at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and ending, more or less, in Paris in the early 1920s. Meanwhile it skips across the planet several times, stopping in, among other places, the Balkans, central Asia, Cambridge, Gottingen, London, New York, Paris, Telluride, Venice, and Vienna. Pynchon includes labor history, mathematical equations, ambiguously overlapping stories about alchemy and early photography, and the tale of an anarchist coal miner named Webb Traverse — who specializes in dynamiting railroads and who’s tortured to death by hired guns working for a robber baron — and the lives of his children.… Read more »

Absolute Wilson

Katharina Otto-Bernstein’s documentary provides an excellent introduction to the singular vision of avant-garde stage director Robert Wilson. Its sketchy account of his career permits little insight into his ascent to mainstream venues over the past few decades, which hasn’t always been felicitous (also true of his collaborator Philip Glass). But Otto-Bernstein gives a sharp sense of Wilson’s comfortable Southern Baptist upbringing in Waco, Texas, and how his stuttering and learning disabilities shaped more radical aspects of his productions once he took on handicapped collaborators in works like Deafman’s Glance and A Letter From Queen Victoria. Wilson, Glass, Susan Sontag, and David Byrne are among the more perceptive interviewees, and the film includes many fascinating samples of his work. 105 min. a Music Box. … Read more »