As more and more buried treasures have been brought to light on the Internet, half a dozen recent finds seem especially worthy of notice:
1. We still don’t have access to the original version of John Cassavetes’ Shadows after critic Ray Carney tracked down the only existing print and showed a video of it twice at the Rotterdam Film Festival in early 2004. I was lucky enough to see it at the time, and even though I regard it more as a fascinating and historically important curiosity than as a lost masterpiece, I agree with Carney, and disagree with Cassavetes’ widow, Gena Rowlands, that it should be available to the general public. In the meantime, however, Carney has posted three clips of this version on his website (scroll down a bit). What he’s made available is only a little over four and a half minutes from the film, and Carney’s name and URL are stamped on every frame, but it’s still enough to give one a taste of Charlie Mingus’s eccentric original score (especially during the credit sequence) — and enough to support Carney’s thesis that this is a finished film, flaws and all, and not a mere work print.
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Even longer than its predecessors, 3 piles on the series’s usual comedy scenes and action sequences while adding some black slime from outer space and a few new actors (Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace) to the more familiar faces (Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, J.K. Simmons, Rosemary Harris). And a pile is what it feels like, especially when two superheroes ultimately join forces to defeat three supervillains. Given how bogus the movie is whenever it departs from formula, it’s not surprising that the funniest bit (in which Peter Parker becomes a disco smoothie) is stolen from Jerry Lewis’s The Nutty Professor or that the best special effects, involving a gigantic Sandman, dimly echo King Kong. Director Sam Raimi tries to pump some life into this dutiful enterprise but seems more than a little bored himself, especially when he’s getting mushy about Spider-Man’s moral decline and regeneration. PG-13, 140 min. (JR)… Read more »
Set on the south shore of Long Island in 1976, around the time of the Ford-Carter presidential debates (which are glimpsed on TV), this smart and sensitive 2006 feature focuses on the social milieu of young clam diggers whose profession is getting phased out by a corporation. Director Katherine Dieckmann, a former film critic at the Village Voice, has also made music videos and one earlier feature (A Good Baby), and she has a good feeling for the period and the characters’ sexual attitudes and interactions. Ken Marino, who plays the silliest of the diggers, wrote the script, and when it isn’t straining after elegiac moments, it’s fresh and unpredictable. With Paul Rudd, Lauren Ambrose, Ron Eldard, Josh Hamilton, Sarah Paulson, and Maura Tierney. R, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »
A gifted young breakdancer (Jamie Kennedy) cracks his head during a competition and goes into a 20-year coma; after coming to, he has to catch up with the times and reclaim his former sweetheart (Maria Menounos) from her scuzzball fiance (Michael Rosenbaum). Joining forces with his old pals (Miguel A. Nunez Jr., Bobby Lee, Aris Alvarado), he enters another competition. About eight minutes of this comedy is devoted to some terrific breakdancing; the rest consists of wall-to-wall product placement and politically incorrect bad-taste comedy (a homeless geezer pissing on himself and others, the hero vomiting Mexican food on another dancer). PG-13, 108 min. (JR)… Read more »
A troubled teenage punk (Margarita Levieva) believes she’s killed a classmate (Justin Chatwin) and hides his body in the woods. But the victim’s still not dead, and while he’s unconscious his spirit roams around, visible only to animals. Adapted from a 2002 Swedish film that was based in turn on a novel by Mats Wahl, this feature by David S. Goyer wasn’t screened for the press, perhaps because its poetic fantasy premise is so hard to understand. (The inconsistencies don’t help; another character almost dies but doesn’t become a ghost.) Yet originality and even a certain amount of obscurity are more appealing than formula. This doesn’t work, but I was never bored. With Marcia Gay Harden. PG-13, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »
I have nothing against regional folklore, magical realism, or masculine rites of passagemuch less Kris Kristofferson, Gary Farmer, or Genevieve Bujoldso this 2006 tale of a Vermont farmer crossing the Canadian border with his 15-year-old son in 1936 to steal some bootleg whiskey sounded inviting. But Jay Craven’s stilted adaptation of a novel by Howard Frank Mosher lacks the urgency, the poetry, or the feeling for period that might have brought the material to life, while the cast seems to be largely squandered. Nice props and scenery, though. With Charlie McDermott, Lothaire Bluteau, and Luis Guzman. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »
Robert Altman returned to the anthology mode of Nashville and A Wedding to offer 22 crisscrossing characters and nine loosely related plots set in Los Angeles over a breezy 189 minutes (1993). Inevitably it’s a mixed bag, though the film’s assurance in keeping it all coherent is at times exhilarating. The script, authored by Altman and Frank Barhydt, claims to be based on the writings of Raymond Carver, but apart from a few characters and situations that have been borrowed as launching pads, the connections to Carver are pretty tenuous. Some of the best actorly turns here are furnished by Bruce Davison, Jack Lemmon, Madeleine Stowe, Lily Tomlin, Tom Waits, Frances McDormand, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Lili Taylor, and Robert Downey Jr., while most of the other playersAndie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Matthew Modine, Anne Archer, Fred Ward, Chris Penn, Tim Robbins, Annie Ross, Lori Singer, Buck Henrydo the best they can with relatively skimpy material. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 23, 2007). — J.R.
Jacques Rivette’s 193-minute comic feminist extravaganza is as scary and unsettling in its narrative high jinks as it is exhilarating in its uninhibited slapstick (1974). Its slow, sensual beginning stages a meeting between a librarian (Dominique Labourier) and a nightclub magician (Juliet Berto). Eventually, a plot within a plot magically takes shape — a somewhat sexist Victorian melodrama with Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier, Barbet Schroeder (the film’s producer), and a little girl — as each character, on successive days, visits an old dark house and the same events take place. The elaborate Hitchcockian doublings are so beautifully worked out that this movie steadily grows in resonance and power. The four main actresses scripted their own dialogue with Eduardo de Gregorio and Rivette, and the film derives many of its euphoric effects from a wholesale ransacking of the cinema of pleasure (cartoons, musicals, thrillers, and serials). In French with subtitles. (JR)
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Written for the FIPRESCI web site in Spring 2007. — J.R.
Now that 35-millimeter appears to be a format whose pleasures are being overlooked or forgotten, especially in the realm of short films, the sensual pleasures of Amit Dutta’s 22-minute To Be Continued (Kramasha) seem all the more precious. A good many of these have a lot to do with camera movements (tracks and pans and cranes, which include not only Resnais-like explorations of architectural ruins and ancient statuary, but also, at one strange juncture, semicircular, pendulum-like oscillations around portions of a tree, on the edges of which many people are seated); multilayered deep-focus compositions reflecting diverse aspects of the same ruins (with door frames and window frames often serving as lenses, and eccentric overhead angles often predominating); vibrant colors; and a musical feel for editing.
It must be admitted that this surfeit of delights poses certain narrative problems for some spectators. On a first viewing, one has the impression that some of the narrative premises keep shifting and developing so rapidly that one often feels stranded. But the principal reason for this is that the viewer’s imagination is constantly being solicited to add details to the onscreen images: when one hears sounds (thunder and rain, a purring cat) that don’t correspond to what one sees, yet another layer to the complex mix is added.… Read more »
Thanks to a malfunctioning DVD I only saw the first half, but Diego Yaker’s well-acted Argentinean drama (2006) about people employed in Mar del Plata’s fishing industry and their labor disputes looked promising. It concentrates on a 20-year-old planning to move to Barcelona, where his grandfather used to live. 106 min. (JR)… Read more »
An engineer (Anthony Hopkins) goes on trial in Los Angeles for trying to murder his wife (Embeth Davidtz), and the prosecutor (Ryan Gosling) attempts to push through what appears to be an open-and-shut case but isn’t. With its lavish architecture and Spielbergian lighting, this absorbing thriller has a high-toned look, but director Gregory Hoblit and writers Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers got much of their training in TV cop shows, which shows in the adroit way they semaphorically abbreviate certain characters and plot developments to slide us past various incongruities. The main interest here is the juxtaposing of Gosling’s Method acting with Hopkins’s more classical style, a spectacle even more mesmerizing than the settings. With David Strathairn and Rosamund Pike. R, 112 min. (JR)… Read more »
In this first feature by writer-director Jon Kasdan (son of Lawrence Kasdan), a TV writer (Adam Brody) breaks up with a famous actress, runs off to stay with his slightly senile grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) in a Detroit suburb, and finds redemption through the three females of a neighboring familyan unhappy housewife (Meg Ryan) and her two daughters (Makenzie Vega, Kristen Stewart). This comedy drama is capably acted and undeniably touching in spots, although less than two weeks after seeing it, I could remember having been undeniably touched but not much else. PG-13, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »
A bickering couple (Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson) are forced to check into a seedy motel after their car breaks down, and they discover that someone is making snuff videos there, with the occasional guests as victims. How or even whether these videos are marketed is never spelled out, but guess what? The crisis brings the couple back together. Kontroll, the first movie by director Nimrod Antal, has some reputation; I wouldn’t have guessed this on the basis of his second. Then again, 80 minutes of formulaic unpleasantness isn’t even close to my idea of a good time, and I doubt that Hitchcock himself could have done very much with Mark L. Smith’s script. With Frank Whaley. R, 80 min. (JR)… Read more »
Adrienne Shelly, best known for her roles in Sleep With Me and Hal Hartley’s Trust and The Unbelievable Truth, wrote and directed half a dozen films, three of them features, but this tangy, resourceful comedy drama is the first I’ve seen. Keri Russell plays a gifted pie baker and abused housewife who waits tables at a diner along with two romantically frustrated coworkers (Cheryl Hines and Shelly) and unexpectedly finds herself pregnant. The film isn’t averse to reaching for Hollywood fantasies, but there’s a lot of what seems to be hard-earned wisdom here about women in bad marriages. The men tend to be either idealized (hunky Nathan Fillion, patriarchal Andy Griffith) or monstrously geeky (Jeremy Sisto and Eddie Jemison), and Shelly clearly had fun with all of these caricatures. PG-13, 104 min. (JR)… Read more »
The fifth feature from Iranian master Jafar Panahi (The White Balloon, Crimson Gold) is in many ways his most entertaining and accessible–a comedy about a group of girls in Tehran who get busted posing as boys so they can watch a World Cup qualifying soccer match between Iran and Bahrain. To some extent it’s a happier and less arty version of The Circle, which also deals with female oppression and concludes inside a police van, but here Panahi treats the guards who must enforce the law, as well as the girls, as comic victims. The director shoots largely on location–parts were filmed at Azadi Stadium during an actual match–and mixes fiction and documentary so deftly we can’t tell which is which. In Farsi with subtitles. PG, 93 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Music Box. … Read more »