Monthly Archives: October 2007

Praise

When I spent a day in Brisbane four years ago, it struck me in terms of climate as well as social ambience as being the Mississippi or Louisiana of Australia. That’s only one of the reasons why this grim, passionate, and graphic love story about two highly dysfunctional young individualsa chain-smoking asthmatic (Peter Fenton) and an irritable, promiscuous, and possibly crazy victim of eczema (Sacha Horler), both unemployedreminds me of the tale about a doomed couple that forms half of William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. Another reason is the uncanny way that Andrew McGahan, adapting his own best-selling novel, director John Curran, and cinematographer Dion Beebe have of making their story paradoxically superromantic by keeping it so doggedly antiromantic. With its honesty about sexual inadequacies (his rather than hers), drugs, squalor, and compulsive behavior, this obviously isn’t a film for everyone. But you can’t accuse it of toeing the Hollywood line, and parts of it remind me of Gus Van Sant’s first three movies, before he was swallowed whole by the studios. If you’re looking for something other than the usual cheering up, check this sick puppy out (1999, 98 min.).… Read more »

The Most Dangerous Game

Probably the best of all the film versions of Richard Connell’s creepy story about a crazy count who hunts humans on a remote island for sport, adapted by James Creelman. This 1932 movie was made by many of the same people involved in King Kong the following year, including producer Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest B. Schoedsack (codirecting here with Irving Pichel), composer Max Steiner, and actors Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. If memory serves, this is dated but wonderful, and it lasts only 63 minutes. With Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks. (JR)… Read more »

TOUCH OF EVIL Retouched

Reprinted from my 2007 collection Discovering Orson Welles, but with illustrations added. (The first of these is a photo taken near Antibes, France, where the revamped Touch of Evil was scheduled to premiere, until Beatrice Welles threatened a lawsuit and halted the screening. Much later, she sent a letter of apology to Janet Leigh that I got to read at one point. Fortunately, this didn’t prevent me from enjoying a wonderful day with Janet Leigh, her daughter Kelly, and several others on the Côte d’Azur, capped by this photo of the Touch of Evil re-edit “crew” and then followed by a memorable dinner.)

The following —- an account of my work as consultant for Universal Pictures on the re-editing of Touch of Evil in 1997-98, based on a studio memo -— is the only thing I’ve ever written for Premiere. I knew one of the editors, Anne Thompson, from her previous stint as assistant editor at Film Comment, and when I proposed this piece to her, she checked with other editors at the magazine and reported back that there was a lot of enthusiastic interest. When I asked her what approach I should take, she urged me to write a first-person account of my experience of the project from beginning to end, which yielded a first version.Read more »

Slipstream

A screenwriter on deadline (writer-director-composer Anthony Hopkins) appears to be losing his mind and his life to his characters. But neither the screenwriter nor the characters compel much interest and the jokes are lame, so the only sustained point here is the aggressively eclectic filmmaking style, an anything-goes affair in which even the more striking moves tend to work against one another. (The ‘Scope framing undermines the effects of the rapid-fire montages, and even Hopkins’s most memorable ditty is a throwaway played over the final credits.) Not so much ill conceived and misdirected as unconceived and undirected, this is folly on a grand scale. With Stella Arroyave (Hopkins’s wife and producer, playing some version of herself), and, among the more recognizable names, Christian Slater, John Turturro, Michael Lerner, and Kevin McCarthy. R, 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Bella

Winner of the audience prize at the 2006 Toronto film festival, Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s first feature may have more heart than head, but it’s as interesting for what it leaves out of the romantic story as for what it retains. A waitress (Tammy Blanchard) at a Manhattan Mexican restaurant gets fired for coming in late after discovering that she’s pregnant. The manager’s brother (Eduardo Verastegui), who works there as chef, is so angry that he quits on the spot and spends the rest of the day with his new friend, taking her to meet his parents. We never learn who’s the father of the waitress’s child, but we do get some backstories about both characters, especially the chef (who used to be a soccer star and, unlike the waitress, is part Mexican), and these peopleactors as well as charactersare engaging enough to suspend most of our questions. PG-13, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Flower In Hell

What’s reportedly the first on-screen kiss in Korean cinema appears in this potent and grim 1958 melodrama by Shin Sang-ok, set in Seoul after the Korean war. A country rube turns up looking for his older brother, who by now has entered a life of crime, stealing from U.S. army warehouses and pimping for a prostitute (Choi Eun-heedescribed as the Korean Mary Pickford and therefore shockingly cast against type) who services American soldiers. Frank about other forms of corruption, such as bribery of the police, this sordid tale is limited only by its simplistic characters. (The prostitute is a standard-issue femme fatale, seducing the innocent brother and snitching on her lover.) It culminates in an impressively staged action sequence involving a train heist, followed by a showdown in a muddy wasteland that reflects the probable influence of The Wages of Fear. In Korean with subtitles. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Imitation

In this tedious 2006 Canadian road movie, a Mexican woman (Vanessa Bauche) in Montreal accepts the help of a smitten grocery clerk (Jesse Aaron Dwyre) to hunt down a man whom she initially refers to as her brother but who turns out to be the husband who left her in Mexico. This development and the backstory behind it is as unengaging as her budding relationship with the clerk, but cowriter-director Federico Hidalgo, without bringing much urgency to these and related matters, still spends 87 minutes spelling them out. In English and subtitled Spanish. (JR)… Read more »

The Ring

Probably the most visually sophisticated of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent pictures and certainly one of the best, this 1927 release sets up an edgy romantic triangle in a traveling carnival that involves two boxers (Carl Brisson and Ian Hunter) and a snake charmer (Lillian Hall-Davies). Significantly, this is one of the few movies for which Hitchcock is credited with the screenplay (though an uncredited Alma Reville, his wife, also worked on it). 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

Radioland Murders

Unmitigated torture, this frenetic effort to interface comedy and mystery with an uninformed postmodernist tribute to radio in its heyday suggests at times what 1941 might have been like if it had been directed by a runaway lawn mower. My first impulse is to spare Mel Smith, the credited director, if only because his work on The Tall Guy was light and funny, and instead blame George Lucas (credited with the story) and his writers (Howard the Duck’s Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, along with Jeff Reno and Ron Osborn). But however you slice it, this festival of noise and activity about the launching of an imaginary fourth national radio network in 1939 bears scant relation to the way live radio shows were actually produced, and its overstuffed repertory of characters and interrupted or abbreviated acts is so choppy that most of the participants involved or evoked are more insulted than honored. (Spike Jones, for one, must be rolling in his grave, making a much lovelier sound and image than this movie’s sour pastiche.) Among the on-screen victims are Mary Stuart Masterson, Brian Benben, Ned Beatty, Michael Lerner, Stephen Tobolowsky, Christopher Lloyd, Scott Michael Campbell, Michael McKean, Jeffrey Tambor, Corbin Bernsen, Bobcat Goldthwait, Brion James, and George Burns.… Read more »

Love Affair

Warren Beatty’s pious, academic remake of Leo McCarey’s 1939 masterpiece, which starred Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne and was remade by McCarey himself in 1957 as An Affair to Remember, with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. As love stories both were examples of Hollywood’s best, but each was tied so closely to its period and to McCarey’s personality that this 1994 version seems bent out of shape in comparison. Starring Beatty and his wife Annette Bening, it eliminates all the references to Catholicism, gives the playboy hero an occupation (former football star turned sportscaster), and adds some self-referential details about Beatty as an aging, well-to-do bedroom hopper who decides to go straight after he meets the love of his life, none of which helps much. Beatty’s performance in particular seems flat and uninflected compared to Boyer’s and Grant’s. The credited director is Glenn Gordon Caron, but Beattywho produced, collaborated with Robert Towne on adapting the original (by McCarey, Mildred Cram, Donald Ogden Stewart, and Delmer Daves), and controlled the final cutseems responsible for the overall dullness of this vanity production. Katharine Hepburn was nudged out of retirement to play the hero’s aunt in one moving and pivotal scene, but most of the rest is fancy filler.… Read more »

Reservation Road

A powerful Christian parable, painful but illuminating, about crime and redemption, adapted by John Burnham Schwartz from his own novel with the help of director Terry George (Hotel Rwanda). A Connecticut lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) kills the son of a local professor (Joaquin Phoenix) in a hit-and-run accident and struggles to work up the courage to turn himself in, while the grief-stricken father, frustrated by the police’s inability to find the culprit and bent on revenge, hires the lawyer to pursue the possibility of a civil suit. The setup is more than a little far-fetched, but the real meat of this film is moral paradox: how the lawyer, eaten up by guilt, becomes a better father to his own son while the professor ultimately neglects his daughter and wife (Jennifer Connelly) in his obsessive pursuit. For the film to work (and for me it did), we have to shift our sympathy gradually from the professor to the lawyer. With Mira Sorvino. R, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dan In Real Life

The title refers to an advice-to-the-lovelorn column written by the hero (Steve Carell), a widower with three daughters who takes them to a family reunion in Rhode Island, but it isn’t too bad as a description of the movie’s plot. On an idle visit to a bookstore in a local coastal village, he meets and falls for a woman (Juliette Binoche) who later turns out to be the girlfriend of his brother (Dane Cook), also along for the reunion, which leads to many romantic agonies. The setup of this comedy by director-cowriter Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) and some subsequent twists may be contrived, and the laughs aren’t very plentiful, but much of the behavior seems real, and the able cast makes the most of it. With Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney. PG-13, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

My Brother’s Wedding (director’s Cut)

Reduced by roughly a quarter of its original running time by the writer-director, Charles Burnett’s long-unavailable second feature (1983) still carries a charge with its pointed theme, flavorsome neighborhood vignettes, and mainly nonprofessional cast. (Though there’s slippage at times between some of these people and the parts they’re playing, their indelible reality and warmth as presences recall Cassavetes’s Shadows.) The hero (Everett Silas), who works at his parents’ dry-cleaners in Watts, is torn by his divided loyalties between his family’s middle-class aspirations (epitomized by his brother’s upcoming marriage to an upscale lawyer) and his disreputable best friend, who’s just out of prison. Burnett invests this conflict with primal meanings that grow in resonance, but his narrative method, which sprawled a bit in the original, now seems telescoped and overly schematic. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Mistress

It’s characteristic of the virtues and limitations of French sexual provocateur Catherine Breillat (Romance, Anatomy of Hell) that they usually derive from the same sourcethe fearless determination to skirt the borders of camp. In her avowedly free adaptation of Jules-Amedee Barbey d’Aurevilly… Read more »

Honeydripper

This is supposed to be set in 1950 in Alabama (where it was filmed), but the true location is some Never-Never Land in John Sayles’s imagination, sparked by research, a sharp ear for dialogue, and diverse fancies about the birth of rock ‘n’ roll. Yet as in the 1943 musical Stormy Weather, the wonderful cast, mainly black, carries it all with ease, even sailing past occasional false moments, such as a tacky flashback toward the end. Danny Glover, as hard-rock reliable as Spencer Tracy in his prime, plays onetime pianist Tyrone Pine Top Purvis, trying to save his title juke joint from economic disaster by pretending that a young drifter with a guitar (Gary Clark Jr.) is blues star Guitar Sam. He juggles and somehow resolves diverse problems with competition, electricity, cash, his wife, his daughter, and the local sheriff (Stacy Keach), spearheading an overall progress toward communal joy that for me yields the most enjoyable Sayles movie since 1984′s The Brother From Another Planet. PG-13, 123 min. (JR)… Read more »