Monthly Archives: July 1999

Alexandria, Why?

This 1978 film, the first feature in Egyptian director Youssef Chahine’s fascinating and complex autobiographical trilogy about Alexandria, won the Silver Bear at the Berlin film festival. It’s set during World War II, when Rommel’s army is approaching the city and a youth who serves as a stand-in for Chahine (Mohsen Mohiedine) is undergoing crises of national identity, sexuality, and vocation. A terrific movie in many respects, though perhaps less of a revelation than the trilogy’s 1990 conclusion, Alexandria, Again and Always. (JR)… Read more »

They Won’t Believe Me

By reputation an exemplary noir (1947) about a philanderer (Robert Young), with touches suggestive of both Hitchcock and James M. Cain. Irving Pichel directed a script by Jonathan Latimer; with Susan Hayward, Rita Johnson, Jane Greer, and Tom Powers. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Eyes Wide Shut

Stanley Kubrick’s last feature (1999) skillfully portrays the dark side of desire in a successful marriage. Since the 60s he’d thought about filming Arthur Schnitzler’s novella Traumnovelle, about a young doctor contemplating various forms of adultery and debauchery after discovering that his wife has entertained comparable fantasies. It has a Kafkaesque ambiguity, wavering between dream and waking fantasy, and all the actors do a fine job of traversing this delicate territory. Yet the story has been altered to make the doctor (Tom Cruise) more of a hypocrite and his wife (Nicole Kidman) feistier; Kubrick’s also added a Zeus-like tycoon (played perfectly by Sydney Pollack) who pretends to explain the plot shortly before the end but in fact only summarizes the various mysteries; his cynicism and chilly access to power reveals that Kubrick was more of a moralist than Schnitzler. This is a gripping, suggestive, and inventive piece of storytelling that, like Kubrick’s other work, grows in mystery over time. R, 154 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Blair Witch Project

A pretty impressive horror film in the form of a documentary, supposedly made up of footage shot by three film students on a trek through Maryland’s Black Hills Forest to investigate legends about a witch. What gives the film much of its force and its mounting sense of queasy uncertainty is its narrative method, which ensures that we know no more about the proceedings than the characters do and that our imaginations play as active and ambiguous a role as theirs. Written, directed, and edited by Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez; with Heather Donohue, Michael Williams, and Joshua Leonard, all of whom do fine jobs. (JR)… Read more »

Voices Of Cabrini

Terse, informative, and convincing, Ronit Bezalel’s half-hour video documents the eviction of longtime residents from Chicago… Read more »

The Land

Virtually all the features of Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine are ambitious, but this energetic 1969 saga in color, about farmworkers in a village on the Nile delta during the 30s, is a particular watershed. Based on a novel by Abderrahmane Cherkaoui that’s said to be well-known in Arab countries, it combines social criticism with entertainment and melodrama with lyricism as flamboyantly as Chahine’s later Destiny, though in this case his models of epic filmmaking tend to be Soviet more than Hollywood. Recommended. (JR)… Read more »

Cairo Station

Reportedly (and understandably) Youssef Chahine’s most popular film among Egyptians, this gritty and relatively early (1958) black-and-white masterpiece also features his most impressive acting turn, as a crippled news vendor working at the title railroad station. The adroit interweaving of various miniplots around the station is matched by a heady mix of moods and genres: at various junctures this movie becomes a musical, a slasher film, a neorealist drama, a comedy, and a horror film — come to think of it, it’s pretty noir as well. (JR)… Read more »

Deadline At Dawn

Theater director and critic Harold Clurman made his only stab at film directing with this serviceable if disappointingly routine 1946 adaptation of a thriller by William Irish (aka Cornell Woolrich). Scripted by Clifford Odets; with Susan Hayward, Bill Williams, Paul Lukas, and Joseph Calleia. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

Summer Of Sam

New York City during the summer of 1977, with the Son of Sam serial killings providing a frame for (and backdrop to) the main action. This sprawling, highly ambitious film, adapted from a script by Michael Imperioli and Victor Colicchio, is the first in which director Spike Lee concentrates almost exclusively on white characters. Among the classic films echoed here are M (the tracking of a serial killer by everyone, including organized crime), the first half of Fury (the making of a lynch mob), and Lee’s own Do the Right Thing. Perhaps the most remarkable achievement is the lead performance of John Leguizamo as a hairdresser who epitomizes the sexual double standards the movie is designed to critiqueit’s one of the most fascinating portraits of a proletarian lunkhead since Brando in On the Waterfront. Like most of Lee’s work, this bites off more than it can chew, but the breadth and energy are impressive. With Adrien Brody, Mira Sorvino, Jennifer Esposito, Anthony LaPaglia, Roger Guenveur Smith, and Ben Gazzara. 144 min. (JR)… Read more »

American Pie

Another giggly gross-out comedy for teenagers, this one somewhat better than most by virtue of a more satisfying ending. Four horny high school seniors seeking to lose their virginity before graduation encounter lots of embarrassing situations en route; once the female characters start to take matters in hand, things proceed more purposefully. Written by Adam Herz and directed by Paul Weitz, both newcomers; with Jason Biggs, Shannon Elizabeth, Alyson Hannigan, Chris Klein, Natasha Lyonne, Thomas Ian Nicholas, Tara Reid, Seann W. Scott, Mena Suvari, Eddie Kaye Thomas, and Eugene Levy. (JR)… Read more »

Run Lola Run

An edgy youth thriller, packed with speed and technique, that basically offers three versions of how Lola (Franka Potente), the girlfriend of a small-time drug courier (Moritz Bleibtreu), spends 20 minutes running across town trying to hustle up 100,000 deutsche marks so that her boyfriend won’t get iced by his boss. The industrial music, the show-offy visual effects, the conceptual interest of following a story in three separate directions, and the sheer energy of the cast and writer-director Tom Tykwer make this 1999 film about as entertaining as a no-brainer can bea lot more fun, for my money, than a cornball theme-park ride like Speed, and every bit as fast moving. But don’t expect much of an aftertaste. In German with subtitles. R, 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

Contact

Given that Robert Zemeckis, in his post-Forrest Gump mode, has a clear case of Oscaritis, and that the heaps of piety expended on this ambitious 1998 adaptation of Carl Sagan’s SF novel lead to traces of unintentional camp, this is still an adroit and compelling piece of storytelling, well worth anybody’s time. Jodie Foster plays a dedicated radio astronomer and atheist who receives the first message from extraterrestrials; Matthew McConaughey (one of the campier elements) portrays a sort of New Age Billy Graham and romantic hunk who helps to negotiate her dealings with Washington, not to mention spirituality and sexuality. Others in the cast include not only James Woods, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, and Rob Lowe, but also a host of TV regulars (most of them CNN favorites) playing themselves: Bernard Shaw, Larry King, Bill Clinton (who seems to be taking over the Forrest Gump role), Jay Leno, etc. If indeed the view of reality is strictly CNN, the aesthetics (if not the politics) are strictly Ayn Rand; the otherworldliness manages to be both visually exciting and very southern California. James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg wrote the screenplay, though the late Sagan and his widow Ann Druyan both worked with Zemeckis on the adaptation.… Read more »

The Funeral

No Abel Ferrara movie is devoid of interest, and this one (1996) — a period melodrama set in the 30s about brothers (Vincent Gallo, Christopher Walken, and Chris Penn) in a gangster family — certainly has some actorly punch (the cast also includes Benicio Del Toro, Annabella Sciorra, and Isabella Rossellini) as well as the sort of neo-Rembrandt atmospherics and gory histrionics one expects from such Godfather-ish material. But it also suggests that Ferrara, hampered as well as helped by his usual screenwriter, Nicholas St. John, doesn’t have much aptitude for handling period. (JR)… Read more »

Melo

Alain Resnais’ masterpiece is bound to baffle spectators who insist on regarding him as an intellectual rather than an emotional director, simply because he shares the conviction of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson that form is the surest route to feelings. In his 11th feature, he adapts a 1929 boulevard melodrama by a forgotten playwright named Henry Bernstein, and holds so close to this dated and seemingly unremarkable play that theatrical space and decorincluding the absence of a fourth wallare rigorously respected, and shots of a painted curtain appear between the acts. None of this is done to strike an attitude or make a statement: Resnais believes in the material, and wants to give it its due. Yet in the process of doing this, he not only invests the original meaning of melodrama (drama with music) with exceptional beauty and powerso much so as to reinvent the genrebut also proves that he is conceivably the greatest living director of actors in the French cinema, and offers a way of regarding the past that implicitly indicts our own era for myopia. (Melo is certainly a film of the 80s and not an antique, but it may take us years to understand precisely how and why.) Using the same talented quartet that appeared in his last two filmsthe remarkable Andre Dussollier (Le beau mariage) as a gifted concert violinist, Pierre Arditi as his suburban friend, Sabine Azema as the latter’s wife who falls in love with the violinist, and Fanny Ardant (in a smaller role) as her cousinResnais cuts and moves his camera with impeccable dramatic logic that helps to give their performances maximum voltage.… Read more »