Daily Archives: October 4, 2007

The Man From London

From the Chicago Reader (October 4, 2007). — J.R.

After the more complicated story lines of Satantango and Werckmeister Harmonies, Hungarian master Bela Tarr boils a Georges Simenon novel down to a few primal essentials: a railway worker in a dank and decaying port town witnesses a crime while stationed on a tower and then stumbles into some of the resulting situations. It’s a film about looking and listening, with a suggestive minimalist soundtrack and ravishing black-and-white cinematography by German filmmaker Fred Kelemen. Tarr’s slow-as-molasses camera movements and endlessly protracted takes generate a trancelike sense of wonder, giving us time to think and always implying far more than they show. (As Tarr himself puts it, The camera is inside and outside at the same time.) The fine cast includes Tilda Swinton and Hungarian actress Erika Bok, who played in Satantango when she was 11 and is now in her early 20s. In Hungarian with subtitles. 135 min. (JR)

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Ploy

Though less well-known than Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thai filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang is in many ways as impressive a figure in his versatility, in features that usually work with more commercial genres (as in his 6ixtynin9 and Invisible Waves). This masterful art film is an exception, charting a few hours in the lives of several characters in which their fantasies and actual events are given equal amounts of attention. Returning to Bangkok for a funeral after a decade’s absence, a couple whose marriage seems to be foundering check into a luxury hotel in the middle of the night, and things grow especially edgy between them after the husband meets a teenage girl named Ploy in the bar downstairs and invites her to come upstairs while she waits for her mother to arrive. A film that perfectly captures the look and mood of jet lag and early dawn, with erotic tension to spare. In Thai with subtitles. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

Her Wild Oat

I haven’t been able to preview this restoration of a silent comedy starring Colleen Moore, directed by the prolific Marshall Neilan and rediscovered by chance in the Czech Film Archive. But 1927 (a date curiously missing from the festival flyer) was clearly a much better year for Hollywood movies than 2007 has been so far, and David Drazin will be offering piano accompaniment, which alone should make this worth the price of admission. The story follows an orphaned tenement dweller (Moore) as she blows her savings by living it up at a beach resort, where she gets misidentified as a duchess. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days

Winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Cristian Mungiu’s masterful chronicle of two young women negotiating for an illegal abortion in 1987 Romania over a 24-hour period, near the end of Ceausescu’s communist regime, is impressive above all for the way it respects the audience, expecting them to follow the implications of its multifaceted tale without always spelling them out. (When one of the women has to prostitute herself with the abortionist before he’ll agree to proceed, and pointedly keeps this fact from her boyfriend, we can already see their relationship foundering as a consequence.) Filmed in ‘Scope, largely in long takes, this is moving and gripping throughout. In Romanian with subtitles. 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

Becoming John Ford

Nick Redman’s uneven documentary about the great American filmmaker from his silent days through My Darling Clementine in 1946 — almost all of it in black and white and devoted to Ford’s films at Fox — often feels like a rough cut. Talking heads are identified belatedly or not at all while sometimes echoing one another, backtracking, and offering alternately solid scholarship (from Joseph McBride and Janet Bergstrom, among others), lazy misinformation (such as the claim that Pinky didn’t show anywhere in the south, or Ford’s own absurd boast that he eliminated farce from his films), and odd mixtures of the two. We hear both real and alleged statements by Ford (read by Walter Hill) and Darryl F. Zanuck (read by Ron Shelton), whose sources are never cited. With many glaring omissions en route (including Judge Priest at Fox and Stagecoach at RKO), this patchy survey does, however, have many incidental pleasures: Peter Fonda offers a great John Wayne imitation, and some of the clips are fabulous even when they aren’t identified. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Heartbreak Kid

From the Chicago Reader (October 4, 2007). — J.R.

I’d like to think Elaine May had it written into her contract that the Farrelly brothers could remake her most brilliant comedy (1972) only if they left her name out of the press materials. She’s lucky to go uncredited (Neil Simon, who wrote the original script, is less fortunate), because you can’t do character-driven comedy without characters, and this one has only grotesques who change traits from moment to moment. Given the joyless vulgarity and absence of laughs, the frenzied changes in locales and character types hardly matter. A guy who sells sporting goods (Ben Stiller) gets married, drives south with his bride (Malin Akerman) on their honeymoon, and promptly falls in love with another woman (Michelle Monaghan) while discovering he hates his wife, but the ethnic humor that gave May’s movie its charge is replaced by crass mean-spiritedness. If I were in movie hell, I’d rather see Good Luck Chuck again than return to this atrocity. R, 115 min. (JR)

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The Darjeeling Limited

From the Chicago Reader (October 4, 2007). — J.R.

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In its story line, this wacky tale from Wes Anderson (Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums) about estranged wealthy brothers (Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, cowriter Jason Schwartzman) reunited for a strained spiritual journey through India is pretty unconvincing as character development. Every bit as precious as Anderson’s preceding features, it differs this time from late Salinger only in the way that these spoiled neurotics are implicitly ridiculed as both ugly Americans in the third world and spiritual poseurs — unlike their more committed mother (Anjelica Huston). What this movie has going for itself in spite of its cloying pleas for indulgence is a playful and interesting narrative structure that precludes much development and comes to the fore only toward the end. The whole thing may drive you batty, but as with Rushmore, the melancholy aftertaste lingers. With Amara Karan and Bill Murray. R, 91 min. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Renaissance Place. — Jonathan Rosenbaum

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