Monthly Archives: June 2007

Two Key Moments from DEFINING MOMENTS IN MOVIES [from FULL METAL JACKET & THE NEON BIBLE]

Two particular (and very different) moments that I described for Chris Fujiwara’s Defining Moments in Movies (2007). — J.R.

1987 / Full Metal Jacket –- The closeup of a dying Vietcong woman, a sniper.

U.S. (Warner Bros. Pictures). Director: Stanley Kubrick.

Cast: Matthew Modine, Ngoc Le.

Why It’s Key: It condenses the film’s power into an intense, mysterious moment.

I had the rare privilege of seeing Stanley Kubrick’s last war picture — an adaptation of Gustav Hasford novel’s The Short Timers, about his experiences during the war in Vietnam — with war specialist Samuel Fuller, shortly after the film came out. He didn’t much care for the picture, he said afterwards, because he didn’t much like films about training, and besides, this movie wasn’t antiwar enough for his taste; he thought it might even encourage some teenage boys to enlist in future wars. Of course, Fuller had extensive war experience and Kubrick had none, which might have also played some role in forming his bias.

But one thing in the film that he loved without qualification was the close-up of the wounded Vietcong sniper at the end while she’s begging for Joker (Matthew Modine) to finish her off —- above all, for the look of absolute hatred in her eyes.… Read more »

License To Wed

As someone who’s been developing an allergy to Robin Williams over the years, I didn’t exactly welcome the idea of his playing the clergyman from hell as he conducts a souped-up version of a rigorous marriage preparation course for a Chicago couple (Mandy Moore and John Krasinski). But even if I could have put up with the unpleasantness of this as comedy, I still would have balked at the eventual portrayal of this monster as an angel in disguiseeven as he’s monitoring the couple’s every move from a surveillance van to make sure they don’t indulge in premarital sex. Director Ken Kwapis (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) gives this script by many hands a certain gloss it doesn’t deserve. PG-13, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Evening

Susan Minot adapts her own novel with the help of Michael Cunningham (The Hours) about a dying woman (Vanessa Redgrave) coming to terms with her two daughters (Natasha Richardson and Toni Collette) and memories of her youth in the 50s (where she’s played by Claire Danes). Despite the show-offy cast, it took me a while to warm to these people and their self-consciously idyllic settingsas well as to the slick direction of former cinematographer Lajos Koltaibut I was eventually won over. With Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Patrick Wilson, and Hugh Dancy. PG-13, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Short Films By Michelangelo Antonioni

Even after one factors in the 1985 stroke that left Michelangelo Antonioni mainly paralyzed, the ambiguous degree to which his wife Erica has been responsible for most of his subsequent work (some of which she cosigns), and the overall decline in the quality of most of his films since the 70s, the shorts in this program, all commissioned and showing in excellent prints or on video, are truly all over the map. They range from his beautiful documentaries of the late 1940s (about people working in the Po River valley, Roman street cleaners, the production of popular photographed comic strips called fumetti, superstitions, and the manufacture of rayon clothes) to his more uneven travel sketches of the 1990s (about Rome, Sicily, and the island of Stromboli). In between are so-so works about rock carvings in the Villa Orsini and a cable car (1950) and bathing in the Ganges (1989), plus a truly awful music video from 1984. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Carbuncle

Indy director T. Arthur Cottam stiffly plays an obnoxiously quirky indie director of the same name who’s shooting a supposedly serious movie in a trailer park. It seems like large chunks of this dull 2006 mockumentary are supposed to be funny, but I’m not sure whyunless one automatically assumes political incorrectness (in this case the sexual exploitation of a mentally disabled character in the film within the film) automatically equals comedy. I also found the storytelling hard to follow, though maybe that’s just because I was never engaged. But Filthy Food (2006), the five-minute Cottam short playing with this featurean audacious bit of comic porn featuring pieces of fruitis a blast. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sicko

Asked who the greatest French poet was, Andre Gide said, “Victor Hugo, alas.” I feel the same way about Michael Moore. He qualifies, sometimes lamentably, as our most important political filmmaker, in part just because the media do such a poor job of delivering basic news to us. His blistering attack on the American health care system and the abuses of medical insurance companies offers eye-opening contrasts with national health services in Canada, England, and France, and, atypically, he delays appearing on-screen for some 40 minutes to keep the focus on this country’s victims. When his comic persona finally does come in, there’s something a bit irritating about him asking so many questions he already knows the answers to, sometimes paying more heed to the audience members he perceives as clueless than to the people he’s talking to (like when he asks some Cubans on the street, “Is there a doctor here in Cuba?”). But this is still essential viewing–informative, corrosive, and even sometimes hilarious. PG-13, 123 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Davis, Gardens 1-6, Landmark’s Century Centre, River East 21, ShowPlace 14 Galewood Crossings. –Jonathan Rosenbaum … Read more »

Dumb Like Me [SICKO]

From the Chicago Reader (June 29, 2007). — J.R.

SICKO ***

DIRECTED AND WRITTEN BY MICHAEL MOORE

One of the standard charges leveled against Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) was that it was preaching to the converted. I don’t think this is entirely true: Moore credits himself with helping to turn this country against the war in Iraq, and if we look at when the opinion polls started to shift, his claim doesn’t seem entirely unwarranted. The sad fact is that his screed scored in part because it delivered some basic facts about the aftermath of 9/11 that the mainstream news media had failed to put across.

For better and for worse, Moore’s Sicko scores for similar reasons. It spends more than two hours attempting to preach to the unconverted that (1) this country’s health care system is a disgrace, especially when it comes to medical insurance, and that (2) it could easily be much better. There are fewer jokes this time around, and Moore makes a point of not even appearing on-screen for a good 40 minutes, putting more emphasis on his arguments and less on his comic persona.

It’s an honorable tactic and the arguments are strong. But when he finally turns up in the flesh, there’s something even more rancid than usual about the way he plays dumb.… Read more »

A Staggering Statistic [Chicago Reader blog post, 6/28/07]

Film A Staggering Statistic

Posted By on 06.28.07 at 05:42 PM

 1725.jpg

Check out the June 26 post on Dave Kehr’s blog for an important piece of news and a staggering statistic.

The important piece of news is the launch of the Turner Classic Movies database, TCMDB, a potential alternative to the often less-than-reliable Internet Movie Database. (Sitting on a panel in Austin with Monte Hellman several years ago, I heard him recount writing to the IMDB to inform them that some of his film credits on the site were incorrect, only to be informed by them that because he wasn’t a qualified film scholar they couldn’t make the required corrections.)

As Dave points out, the TCMDB “has as its core the unsurpassable AFI Catalog of American Feature Films, previously accessible only with a $50 AFI membership (or through certain libraries). For those who don’t know it, the AFI Catalog is a towering work of scholarship that covers the period 1893 to 1971 in exquisite detail, with full credits, reliable plot summaries and significant side notes.” I can only concur with Dave. Indeed, there are times when I think that the only two irrefutably towering achievements of the American Film Institute are David Lynch’s Eraserhead, produced on its west-coast premises, and this reference work.

Read more »

Rediscovering ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL

This is one of a series of essays that I wrote in 2007 about four Fassbinder films for Madman, the Australian DVD label. The other three — on Martha, Katzelmacher, and The Bitter Tea of Petra von Kant – can be found elsewhere on this site. —J.R.

I’m still trying to figure out what I think of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982). An awesomely prolific filmmaker (he turned out seven features in 1970 alone), he became the height of Euro-American fashion during the mid-70s, then went into nearly total eclipse after his death from a drug overdose –- reminding    us that the fates of the fashionable can often be precarious.

Openly bisexual, tyrannical on his sets, and habitually dressed in a leather jacket, Fassbinder cut a starlike figure in the firmament of New German Cinema, though he was hardly alone. If the French New Wave of the 60s was mainly about films, the New German Cinema of the 70s was mainly about filmmakers, and each of the best-known directors had a claim to fame that was mainly a matter of public image: eccentric exhibitionism crossed with German romanticism (Werner Herzog), existentialist hip crossed with black attire and rock ‘n’ roll (Wim Wenders), Wagnerian pronouncements (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg), a dandy’s stupefied worship of shrines and divas (Werner Schroeter), and so on.… Read more »

Broken

A pretty but not very distinctive singer-composer (Heather Graham) moves to LA from Cleveland to find fame and fortune. She winds up getting involved with an unbalanced drug addict (Jeremy Sisto) and leaves him to wait tables. Most of this dreary downer, directed by Alan White from a Drew Pillsbury script, is as banal as it sounds, and needlessly complicated rather than enhanced by a fractured chronology. Things are only minimally enlivened by the customers who frequent the graveyard shift at the diner where the heroine worksthe dregs of the music industry and related fringe groups. With Tess Harper, Linda Hamilton, and Jake Busey. R, 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

You Kill Me

John Dahl’s previous neonoirs have been too cynical for me, but this crime comedy has such a goofy script (by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely) and such an eccentric cast that it kept me curious about what would happen next. An alcoholic Polish-American hit man in Buffalo (Ben Kingsley) gets sent to San Francisco by his uncle and boss (Philip Baker Hall) to dry out. Thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous and the funeral home where he gets a job, he winds up with a strange assortment of company, including a gay man (Luke Wilson), a real-estate broker (Bill Pullman), and a well-to-do lover (Tea Leoni). Even if you can’t accept all the movie’s curveballs, you might still be amused. With Dennis Farina and Alison Sealy-Smith. R, 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

I Will Avenge You, Iago!

Expanded from a half-hour comedy sketch, Zhenya Kiperman’s over-the-top knockabout farce (2005) about an opera star playing Iago (Larry Pine), his wife (Michi Barall), a psychotic audience member (Keith Nobbs), a burglar (Kate Hodge), and various others might have made me laugh if the characters were sufficiently compelling or believable to transcend their plot functions. But it’s typical of Kiperman that the moment the Empire State Building appears to establish the New York setting, we also hear a snatch of Rhapsody in Blue on the soundtrack; the occasional patches of Dixieland are no less Woody Allenish, at least in aspiration. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soapbox

If you’ve ever wondered about the backstory behind all the fine print on containers of E.H. Bronner’s peppermint soap, Sara Lamm’s 2006 documentary tells you everything you’d want to know and then some. And the story being told is certainly a singular one. Bronner, a German Jewish immigrant and onetime mental patient, abandoned his children to produce and sell his soap and spread his ideas about humanitarianism. Today his son Ralph qualifies as one of his most ardent disciples. For better and for worse, this is a movie that raises almost as many questions as it answers. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Blue Bird

The first (1918) and by most accounts best of the three Hollywood versions of the Maurice Maeterlinck fantasy play, directed by the great Maurice Tourneur. Generally considered a masterpiece, it tells the story of two poor children taught by a fairy on Christmas Eve how to see the world through the eyes of God. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Evan Almighty

In this farcical sequel to Bruce Almighty (2003), God is still a janitor played by Morgan Freeman, but the Buffalo newscaster played by Jim Carrey is now a Buffalo newscaster-turned-congressman played by The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s Steve Carell. As soon as the hero arrives with his family in a Virginia suburb to change the world, God orders him to build an ark, and then sends loads of animals in pairs after him until he obeys. Freeman’s God is a mix of Old and New Testament, with a dash of both sexism and sitcom; Carell’s Noah is a political fool, but that only proves he’s honest and sincere. This is idiotic, but it’s so good-natured I didn’t mind. Directed by Tom Shadyac from a script by Steve Oedekerk; with Lauren Graham, John Goodman, John Michael Higgins, and Wanda Sykes. PG, 88 min. (JR)… Read more »