Yearly Archives: 2006

Laurel And Hardy Comedy Shorts

Four imperishable classics: the silent Big Business and That’s My Wife (both 1929) and the talkies Brats (1930) and The Music Box (1932), the last an Oscar winner. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ten More Key Moments

Here are ten more of the 40-odd short pieces I wrote for Chris Fujiwara’s excellent, 800-page volume Defining Moments in Movies (London: Cassell, 2007).  – J.R.

Scene

1995 / The Neon Bible – “It didn’t snow that year.”

U.K. (Academy/Channel Four). Director: Terence Davies.

Cast: Drake Bell, Jacob Tierney, Gena Rowlands.

Why It’s Key: It reveals the power of imagination in a flash.

Few moments in movies reveal the power of imagination more succinctly than the opening of Terence Davies’ CinemaScope adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s first novel, written when the southern author was only 16. It opens with 15-year-old David (Jacob Tierney) alone on a train at night, the camera moving past him to the darkness glimpsed outside. Then David at ten (Drake Bell) is seen peering out a rain-streaked window in his rural home to the strains of “Perfidia”, circa 1948, while narrating offscreen, “People came to see us that Christmas. They were nas, those people —- they brought me things…”

A moment later, we cut to a diptych: on screen left, an empty porch topped by icicles framing an enchanted snowfall, as decorous as a neatly filled box by the surrealist artist Joseph Cornell. On screen right, young David is seated on the floor inside, now looking out the same window in profile, while narrating offscreen, “There was no snow —- no, not that year.” When the next shot shows us his aunt (Gena Rowlands) in full frame greeting him through the window, the icicles are still lining the top of the frame.… Read more »

The Aura

Argentinean writer-director Fabian Bielinsky made only two features before dying of a heart attack at age 47, but they’re both masterful in their gripping storytelling. Nine Queens (2000), a hugely entertaining tale of scam artists in Buenos Aires, anticipated Argentina’s economic crisis and was vastly superior to Criminal, the 2004 remake produced by Steven Soderbergh. The Aura (2005) also involves a scam, but the story unfolds with a minimum of dialogue as an epileptic taxidermist (Ricardo Darin), stranded in the wilds of Patagonia during a hunting trip, intuitively works his way into an elaborate casino heist. The moody ambience suggests noir writers David Goodis and Jim Thompson, though the reported inspiration was Deliverance. In Spanish with subtitles. 134 min. a Music Box. … Read more »

Holiday Jitters [Chicago Reader blog post, 12/1206]

From the Chicago Reader‘s blog, the Bleader. — J.R.

Holiday Jitters

Posted By on 12.12.06 at 03:06 PM

night-at-the-museum

Allied Advertising recently informed me that the Ben Stiller comedy Night at the Museum is being previewed only to the daily press, not to weekly reviewers — which naturally raises the question of whether the company in question (Twentieth Century Fox) is deciding in advance that we weekly reviewers won’t like this release. Whether that’s the meaning of their strategy or not, it does show a kind of uncertainty that is much more general among the so-called majors. For instance, Warner Brothers has at this pointed shifted the Chicago opening date of Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima several times, with the result that it’s bounced on and off my ten-best list according to whether it’s opening here in 2006 or 2007. New York and Los Angeles reviewers get to consider Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima as part of the same package; Chicago reviewers don’t.

I differ from some of my local colleagues in refusing to consider 2007 releases for my 2006 list just because many of the film companies persist in treating Chicago as a cow town in contrast to New York and Los Angeles — both of which will be premiering Letters from Iwo Jima this year. 

Read more »

Difficult Becomes Popular [Chicago Reader blog post, 12/08/06]

Film Difficult Becomes Popular

Posted By on 12.08.06 at 11:21 AM

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It’s interesting to see how some of the most difficult and challenging examples of art cinema have become increasingly popular over the past decade. Back in the 60s and 70s, Robert Bresson was virtually a laughing-stock figure to mainstream critics, and someone whose films characteristically played to almost empty houses. Yet by the time that he died, a retrospective of his work that circled the globe was so successful in drawing crowds that in many venues — including Chicago’s Film Center — it had a return engagement. Much the same thing has happened with Andrei Tarkovsky — another uncompromising spiritual filmmaker, and one whose films are even tougher to paraphrase or even explain in any ordinary terms.

I’m just back from a trip to the east coast where I was gratified to find, when I turned up to introduce a screening of Jacques Rivette’s 252-minute L’amour fou (1968) in Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, that the film was playing to a nearly packed house. (Incidentally, this galvanizing love story about the doomed relationship between a theater director and his wife, played by Jean-Pierre Kalfon and Bulle Ogier, has never looked better to me, though I’ve been a big fan since the early 70s.) Virtually everyone stayed to the end, and there was a lively and enthusiastic discussion afterwards.… 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. a Fri 12/8 and Mon 12/11, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… 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. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Cicero ShowPlace 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Lake, Lawndale, Norridge, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Webster Place.… Read more »

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 »