Daily Archives: December 3, 2007

The Cooler

I generally like William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin, and I’m reasonably receptive to parables about Las Vegas gamblers, but this first feature by Wayne Kramer lost me early on with its show-offy shooting and editing, portentous metaphysical conceits about winners and losers, and exaggerated displays of evil, violence, and deceit. Macy is a congenital hard-luck case indentured to casino owner Baldwin, who uses him to inflict bad luck on winning gamblers. When Macy and a pretty cocktail waitress (Maria Bello) fall for each other, Baldwin turns into such a meanie he makes Mephistopheles look like a pussycat. There are more scams at work in this scenario than I could keep up with, but I couldn’t believe in any of them. With Paul Sorvino. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Stuck On You

If you believe, as I do, that America is joined at the hip to the rest of the world but often in denial about it, then this cheerful comedy from the politically incorrect Farrelly brothers (There’s Something About Mary) about similarly conjoined twins who refuse to acknowledge all the ramifications of their condition is bound to have some allegorical resonance. Leaving behind their burger joint in Martha’s Vineyard, the pair go west to LA, where one (Greg Kinnear) wants to pursue an acting career and the other (Matt Damon) has a chance to meet his romantic pen pal (Wen Yann Shih). The actor lands a sitcom role opposite Cher (playing herself) and his brother frantically tries to conceal his condition from his sweetheart. Much of this is hilarious as long as one can stay sufficiently removed from the realities of conjoined twins. With Eva Mendes, Seymour Cassel, and, also playing themselves, Griffin Dunne and an uncredited Meryl Streep. PG-13, 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

King Lear

Grigori Kozintsev’s last film (1970), a follow-up to his celebrated 1963 Hamlet (both were based on Boris Pasternak’s translations of Shakespeare), makes optimal use of desolate landscapes and ancient battlements framed in black-and-white ‘Scope and a comparably grim Shostakovich score. The diminutive Estonian actor Juri Jarvet is oddly cast as Lear; Donatas Banionis (the lead actor in Tarkovsky’s Solaris) makes a more conventional Albany. The violence of the original is slightly attenuated, but at little cost to its dramatic force. Having directed the play for the Gorky Theater in 1941 and written about it at length, Kozintsev knew it like the back of his hand, which accounts for the film’s masterful assurance as well as its limited sense of discovery. In Russian with subtitles. 140 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chu-chin-chow

Director Walter Forde and writer Edward Knoblock’s 1934 film adaptation of a highly successful British stage musical is neither cinematic nor tuneful, though it has some period interest as an example of orientalism run amok. The plot is basically Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves, with George Robey as Ali Baba and Anna May Wong (on loan from Hollywood) as a scheming slave; more enjoyable than either are Fritz Kortner mugging up a storm as Abu Hasan and some campy scenes with dancing girlsthe only points at which the film breaks out of operetta mode into something looser. Otherwise, Forde’s compositions are cluttered and stagy. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »