Yearly Archives: 2008

Bomb It

Genuinely global, multicultural, and multilingual in its urban perspectives, this lively documentary features graffiti artists talking about their work and illustrates their discourse with images shot in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam, Paris, Barcelona, Cape Town, Sao Paolo, Tijuana, and Tokyo. Filmmaker Jon Reiss also occasionally gives voice to people trying to eradicate graffiti. The relentless quick cutting and pop soundtrack are counterbalanced by the artists’ personalities and sociopolitical credos. Unlike Michael Glawogger’s more visionary Megacities (1998), this offers neither city symphonies nor overarching theses, but as the title suggests, the theme of rebellion predominates. Subtitled. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

In The City Of Sylvia/Some Photos In The City Of Sylvia

Two hypnotic and haunting 2007 features by Spanish experimental filmmaker Jose Luis Guerin, about the same romantic obsession. (The reference points are W.G. Sebald’s novel Vertigo and Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same title.) The silent Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (65 min.) uses black-and-white stills with English intertitles to recount an unseen artist’s return to Strasbourg to search for a young woman he met briefly 22 years earlier while making a Goethe-related literary pilgrimage. The far more elliptical In the City of Sylvia (84 min.) tells the same story with color, carefully articulated sound, and minimal, subtitled French dialogue; in this film the artist returns only six years after his pilgrimage. Both works are mysterious, beautiful, and primal. It’s a pity the first, an intimate study and scenario for the second, is being shown after only one screening of its more languid successor. (JR)… Read more »

Bushwhacked Cinema

The following was commissioned for and included in the 17th edition of the Time Out Film Guide, (2008), and is being reprinted with the publisher’s permission. Thanks also to John Pym, the book’s editor, who proposed that I write this piece so that it would come out before the Presidential election. –J.R.

BUSHWHACKED CINEMA

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

When the history of American movies during the eight-year reign of George W. Bush (2001-2009) eventually comes to be written, one might hypothesize that the commercial development of the mobile phone during the 1980s and 1990s and the introduction of the iPod during the first year Bush took office were crucial in setting the stage for some of the basic conditions of that era. Arguably for the first time, one could easily sustain one’s ignorance about and indifference to one’s fellow citizens even while sharing the same public space with them–on the street or in other public locations dedicated to some form of transport: terminals, buses, subways, trains, planes, fairgrounds, theme parks, and, above all, cinemas.

So the phenomenon of a U.S. President who, to all appearances, preferred to remain blissfully (and strategically) ignorant about the news and the overall state of the world, and ran his office accordingly, was part and parcel of this growing trend to eliminate the public sphere from American life and subdivide the entire culture and society into `special interest’ groups and niche markets.Read more »

La Fille Coupee En Deux (The Girl Cut in Two)

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Claude Chabrol’s capacity to make shopworn material seem almost new is especially evident in this 2007 drama, which he cowrote with his stepdaughter, Cecile Maistre. Their sincere and competent script seemingly transplants the 1906 murder of New York architect Stanford White to contemporary France, with an added emphasis on various forms of class and sexist abuse. A TV weather announcer (Ludivine Sagnier) becomes involved with a famous writer (Francois Berléand) who’s married and nearly twice her age, much to the chagrin of a spoiled heir (Benoit Magimel) who’s closer to her in age and accustomed to getting his way. In French with subtitles. 114 min.… Read more »

Under The Same Moon

A Mexican illegal who’s been working in LA for four years (Kate del Castillo) scrimps and saves to hire a lawyer so she can become a citizen and send for her nine-year-old son (Adrian Alonso). He’s being cared for by his grandmother, but after she dies, the boy decides to sneak across the border. Your enjoyment of this picaresque tearjerker may depend on how much you can tolerate its shameless contrivances and didactic social realism, whereby the story exists only to illustrate the plight of illegal aliens. I was ultimately more moved than appalled, but it was a close contest. Patricia Riggen directed a script by Ligiah Villalobos. In English and subtitled Spanish. PG-13, 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

It’s A Free World . . .

Writer Paul Laverty and director Ken Loach have produced some powerful dramas — My Name Is Joe, Bread and Roses, Sweet Sixteen — but this 2007 feature doesn’t compare with them despite its timely subject, the exploitation of illegal aliens. Newcomer Kierston Wareing is strong as the lead character, an unscrupulous but not entirely unsympathetic single mother who loses her job at a London employment agency and then partners with a flatmate (Juliet Ellis) to open her own such establishment. But Loach and Laverty’s didactic side ultimately becomes obtrusive, even as they challenge our identification with the heroine. I emerged from this story feeling sadder and wiser but was never fully engaged. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Inner Life Of Martin Frost

Relaxing at a friend’s empty country house, a reclusive New York novelist (David Thewlis) is inspired to write a new story and the next morning wakes up alongside a mysterious and seductive graduate student (Irene Jacob) who quickly becomes his muse and lover. Paul Auster, who made his directing debut with Lulu on the Bridge, provides the voice-over narration for this 2007 second feature, which was drawn and expanded from an interpolated story in his own novel, the engrossing Book of Illusions. The sad irony is that his storytelling gifts, Thewlis’s resourcefulness, and Jacob’s beauty only postpone one’s awareness that the material is too literary to work as cinema. The plot becomes increasingly arch (with the arrival of characters played by Michael Imperioli and by Auster’s teenage daughter, Sophie) and self-consciously metaphysical, and mannerism gradually overtakes visual and narrative invention. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Paranoid Park

A taciturn 16-year-old (Gabe Nevins) in Portland, Oregon, accidentally causes the gruesome death of a security guard and tries to deal with the psychological consequences in Gus Van Sant’s adaptation of a novel by Blake Nelson. This has something to do with guilt, alienation, and the loss of virginity but a lot more to do with skateboarding, and the emotional disassociation is underlined with Nino Rota’s theme music from Amarcord and Juliet of the Spirits. (Van Sant is a compulsive hijacker of other people’s material, from his Psycho remake to his appropriation of Chimes at Midnight in My Own Private Idaho, but he never enhances or illuminates what he filches.) There’s some striking camerawork by Christopher Doyle (in 35-millimeter) and Rain Kathy Li (in Super-8), though this doesn’t alter the overall feeling of random, nihilistic drift. Elephant said much more about teenagers and said it better. R, 84 min.… Read more »

The Inner Life of Martin Frost

Relaxing at a friend’s empty country house, a reclusive New York novelist (David Thewlis) is inspired to write a new story and the next morning wakes up alongside a mysterious and seductive graduate student (Irene Jacob) who quickly becomes his muse and lover. Paul Auster, who made his directing debut with Lulu on the Bridge, provides the voice-over narration for this 2007 second feature, which was drawn and expanded from an interpolated story in his own novel, the engrossing Book of Illusions. The sad irony is that his storytelling gifts, Thewlis’s resourcefulness, and Jacob’s beauty only postpone one’s awareness that the material is too literary to work as cinema. The plot becomes increasingly arch (with the arrival of characters played by Michael Imperioli and by Auster’s teenage daughter, Sophie) and self-consciously metaphysical, and mannerism gradually overtakes visual and narrative invention. 94 min.… Read more »

In the City of Sylvia/Some Photos in the City of Sylvia

Two hypnotic and haunting 2007 features by Spanish experimental filmmaker Jose Luis Guerin, about the same romantic obsession. (The reference points are W.G. Sebald’s novel Vertigo and Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same title.) The silent Some Photos in the City of Sylvia (65 min.) uses black-and-white stills with English intertitles to recount an unseen artist’s return to Strasbourg to search for a young woman he met briefly 22 years earlier while making a Goethe-related literary pilgrimage. The far more elliptical In the City of Sylvia (84 min.) tells the same story with color, carefully articulated sound, and minimal, subtitled French dialogue; in this film the artist returns only six years after his pilgrimage. Both works are mysterious, beautiful, and primal. It’s a pity the first, an intimate study and scenario for the second, is being shown after only one screening of its more languid successor.… Read more »

Big Bad Love

Arliss Howard, making his directorial debut, takes on the self-pity of 60s burnout with decidedly mixed and often sloppy results. Adapted from Larry Brown’s short story collection, the film focuses on a divorced Vietnam vet in Mississippi (Howard) who collects piles of rejection slips for his fiction, gets occasional house-painting jobs from an old war buddy (Paul Le Mat), and sporadically makes halfhearted, wistful efforts to win back his estranged wife (Debra Winger, who also produced). This recalls a lot of 60s novels fueled by internal monologue (particularly Herzog) as well as British and Hollywood films that tried to achieve the same effect, mostly by ripping off the French New Wave; unfortunately Howard lacks the sense of film rhythm (or literary rhythm, for that matter) required to make such an exercise work. Just about the only clear triumph here is an underplayed performance by Angie Dickinson, though Winger and Rosanna Arquette also provide welcome relief from Howard and Le Mat’s self-indulgent carousing. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Counterfeiters

Adapted from Adolf Burger’s memoir The Devil’s Workshop, this skillful, absorbing, Oscar-winning Austrian feature involves a Russian-Jewish counterfeiter (expertly played by Karl Markovics) who gets arrested in Berlin, winds up in a German concentration camp in 1944, and is put in charge of a secret forgery unit. Staffed by prisoners who’ve been granted special privileges, the unit counterfeits pounds and dollars in a plan to wreck the British and American economies, and one of the prisoners, a member of the communist resistance, attempts to sabotage the effort. Written and directed by the able Stefan Ruzowitzky (The Inheritors), this poses some tricky moral questions, and its troubling ambiguities rank a cut above the dubious uplift of Schindler’s List. In German with subtitles. R, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Other Boleyn Girl

This drama about Anne Boleyn (Natalie Portman) and her sister Mary (Scarlett Johansson) being groomed essentially as prostitutes to service Henry VIII (Eric Bana) might have qualified as some sort of bodice ripper/history lesson. But despite a certain amount of moral outrage and good performances from the lead actresses, it’s neither sexy enough to qualify as good trash nor serious enough to pass for history. (For starters, according to many sources, the real Mary was older than Anne, not younger, and far more promiscuous than she is here.) At least the script, adapted by Peter Morgan (The Queen) from a Philippa Gregory novel, explains how the Church of England came into being. The competent but stiff direction is by Justin Chadwick; with David Morrissey and Kristin Scott Thomas. PG-13, 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ritalin Rebellion [CHARLIE BARTLETT]

From the Chicago Reader (February 21, 2008). I believe this was my last long review before I left my staff job there. — J.R.

CHARLIE BARTLETT ***

Directed by Jon Poll

I just rewatched Allan Moyle’s Pump Up the Volume, a radical and rebellious teen movie I gave four stars in 1990. I think it holds up, and apparently I’m not the only one: the average rating of the 62 customer reviews it has on Amazon.com is four and a half out of five stars.

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The new rebellious teen movie Charlie Bartlett isn’t as good or as radical; it’s more an edgy comedy than a rabble-rouser. But it reminded me of Pump Up the Volume in many ways: it’s one of the first features for a middle-aged director; it captures teenage despair leading up to a suicide attempt (successful in Pump Up the Volume, unsuccessful here); one of its lead characters has a school administrator as a father (the hero in Pump Up the Volume, the heroine here); and it depicts a general disgruntlement about the way schools are run, culminating in a student uprising. The movies are even comparably derivative of others: Pump Up the Volume plundered some of its best ideas from Rebel Without a Cause, Citizens Band, Network, and Talk Radio, while Charlie Bartlett seems especially indebted to Mumford, all the way down to its final blackout gag.… Read more »

Vantage Point

At a historic summit in Spain against global terrorism, the U.S. president (William Hurt) is shot, a bomb explodes, and two federal agents (Dennis Quaid and Matthew Fox) rush to find the culprits. This gripping if ridiculous thriller repeatedly backtracks to present the same events from different viewpoints, though ironically it has no viewpoint of its own, just a desire to pile up plot twists and extend a thrilling car chase ad infinitum. Milking an international crisis for thrills may seem tasteless, but of course the news media do it all the time, which is highlighted by the movie’s shameless lack of interest in such drab matters as political motivation. If you’re up for good nihilist entertainment, look no further. With Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, and Edgar Ramirez. PG-13, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »