Daily Archives: November 8, 2007

No Country For Old Men

A major Coen brothers movie drawn from a minor Cormac McCarthy novel, this is a highly accomplished thriller that’s also rather hypocritical when it tries to get moralistic about its bloodbaths. (Even more than its source, it taps into fundamentalist religious despair as an alibi for the violence.) Javier Bardem plays a psycho killer with a cattle stun gun, and Tommy Lee Jones costars as a Texas sheriff nearing retirement who wonders what the world’s coming to. Josh Brolin is a welder who stumbles upon $2 million left in the wake of a blown drug deal and gets tracked by Jones, Bardem, and Woody Harrelson (a hired gun and comic relief). The storytelling is fluid, especially when directors Joel and Ethan Coen start eliding some of the murders and ask us to imagine them for ourselves. R, 122 min. (JR)… Read more »

Notes On Marie Menken

As a follow-up to her brilliant and definitive In the Mirror of Maya Deren (2002), Czech-Austrian filmmaker Martina Kudlacek’s 2006 documentary about the lesser-known experimental film pioneer Marie Menken disappointed me a little. But on reflection I suspect this has more to do with my preference for Deren over Menken than with the solid historiography and the sensitivity of this work. Menken’s improvisatory, nonnarrative shooting style looks a bit rough alongside Deren’s polished professionalism, but it may have had a stronger impact on other experimental filmmakers, including Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, and Andy Warhol, and this offers an intriguing and valuable look at her milieu as well as her work. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

You Am I

Alienated from his professional life in the city, a young architect retreats to the wilds and builds an idyllic glass house in a tree, where he lives alone and fantasizes about gradually becoming an aboriginal. Before starting this project, he has a one-night stand with a divorced friend, and later he becomes briefly acquainted with a vacationer who’s visiting some of her friends across the lake. The most curious aspect of this leisurely story (2006) by Lithuanian writer-director Kristijonas Vildziunas is that it almost isn’t a story at all, apart from the concentration on the natural setting and the building of the housethough the film temporarily shifts focus midway to the more conventional vacationers across the lake. In Lithuanian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Diringas

In his first feature (2006), Lithuanian video maker and former adman Ignas Miskinis picks his previous profession as a satiric target. But his premise is so straineda hustler muscles his way into an ad agency by seducing two women who work there and bamboozles everyone into thinking he has a hot new product to sell called Diringasthat none of this proves to be very funny. And his characters are so uniformly unpleasant that the seemingly homophobic treatment of a couple of them ultimately seems incidental; Miskinis’s scorn is sufficiently democratic to encompass everyone. In Lithuanian with subtitles. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Seven Invisible Men

Apart from some apocalyptic violence at the end, next to nothing happens in this eighth feature (2005) by Sarunas Bartas, Lithuania’s most prestigious filmmaker, but that’s nothing new. The title characters are small-time criminals, outcasts, and idlers (their backgrounds remain vague) who wind up in a run-down farm near the Crimean Sea along with a few wives or girlfriends, hanging out with the locals and drinking and smoking. As frequently happens in his work, Bartas is largely concerned with somber moods and dark visual textures (the cinematography is exquisite), brooding landscapes and quiet desperation. In Russian with subtitles. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

What’s Going On In The Beely Circus?

Popular during the silent and early sound eras, German actor-director Harry Piel specialized in action thrillers, nearly all of which were destroyed during World War II. In this nocturnal mystery, restored from a tinted nitrate print recently discovered in Italy, he plays a debonair Douglas Fairbanks type named Harry Piel who… Read more »

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

From the Chicago Reader (November 8, 2007). — J.R.

breakdown

Three early examples of the master’s skill in tailoring his storytelling gifts to the 26-minute format of his celebrated TV show. Included are the very first episode of the series, Revenge (1955), a grim tale costarring Vera Miles and Ralph Meeker, and from the third season, Lamb to the Slaughter (1958), a more characteristic exercise in black comedy adapted from a Roald Dahl story and starring Barbara Bel Geddes. But the real gem is Breakdown (1955), a minimalist tour de force starring (and narrated by) Joseph Cotten as a businessman paralyzed in a car wreck; it belongs among Hitchcock’s neglected masterpieces. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »

That Day

From the Chicago Reader (November 8, 2007). — J.R.

Most of Raul Ruiz’s films have some element of deadpan surreal farce; this one’s a farce through and through. When an ethereal Swiss lunatic (Elsa Zylberstein) comes in line to inherit the equivalent of several countries, her venal father (Michel Piccoli) schemes to have her bumped off by another nutcase. As corpses pile up, a couple of local cops indulge in some hilarious rationalizations for doing nothing. The sweetness of Zylberstein’s performance and the ambience in general are oddly old-fashioned — reminiscent of Harvey and Arsenic and Old Lace – while the gracefully meandering camera echoes the domestic thrillers of Claude Chabrol. Alas, this is second-best Ruiz and wears out its welcome before the end. Still, it has its share of wit and invention. In French with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)

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