Daily Archives: January 1, 2000

The Cup

Shortly after two boys from Tibet arrive in India to be trained as monks, one of them develops a passion for soccer. He contrives to get the monastery to chip in so that a satellite dish and TV can be rented and everyone can watch the World Cup final. For better and for worse, everything else in this comedy from Bhutan plays out in the homey details. This is the first feature of Khyentse Norbu, a lama who was recognized at age seven as the reincarnation of a 19th-century Buddhist saint. (Perhaps he helped inspire Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha, a film on which he apprenticed.) Norbu tries too hard to please and charm, but his film at least carries the advantages of unactorly faces and a premise based on actual events that dramatizes the issue of religious vocation in a secular world. Norbu cites Ozu, Tarkovsky, and Satyajit Ray as his masters, but the only discernible traces of these influences are the bratty mugging of the younger kid (Ozu) and some of Ray’s uses of musical interludes. (JR)… Read more »

Cosmos

Half a dozen young French-Canadian filmmakersManon Briand, Andre Turpin, Marie-Julie Dallaire, Denis Villeneuve, Jennifer Alleyn, and Arto Paragamianpool their resources to produce a lively comic-sketch film in black and white (1996), imaginative and satirical and sexy; part of its charm is that you can’t always tell where one sketch ends and the next begins. A collective spirit and coordinated efforts make this breezy tour of youth culture in Quebec City homogeneous at the same time that each episode has its own distinctive flavor. The two segments I recall most fondly are a nightmarish interview with a filmmaker on a high-tech TV show (Villeneuve’s segment) and a very funny chance encounter between two ex-lovers in a hotel (Turpin’s segment), but just about everything here recalls the footloose, playful spirit of the French New Wavenot when its directors were trying to make hefty statements, but when they were just having fun. (JR)… Read more »

Coming Apart

Younger fans of The Blair Witch Project may not realize that this kind of pseudodocumentary, usually minus the horror elements, was a staple of independent filmmaking during the 60s; Jim McBride’s first feature (David Holzman’s Diary), Shirley Clarke’s The Connection, and Peter Watkins’s early films (including The War Game and Privilege) all dealt potently with this form. This evocative 1969 feature by Milton Moses Ginsberg, a relatively late example, is particularly good at giving the impression that he’s using random footage, and it sometimes suggests Andy Warhol (the strobe cutting and unbridled behavior) and Michael Snow (a consistent camera angle). The entire movie is set in the living room of the Manhattan apartment of a onetime psychiatrist (Rip Torn), most of it shot with an allegedly hidden camera across from a sofa and mirror. The hero is idly filming his sexual encountersmany of them abortive, though in keeping with the period’s sexual politics, the women generally strip right away and he never gets further than his underpants. The scenes range from flirtations and kinky come-ons to orgies to marital squabbles. Torn, Sally Kirkland, and Viveca Lindfors are all terrific, and the music is by Jefferson Airplane. (JR)… Read more »

Cappuccino

Craig Ross, Jr. wrote, directed, and produced this 1997 mystery. The film’s 16-millimeter black-and-white cinematography is beautiful, and its actors are mainly good, but the Eric Dickey story that Ross bases it on is pretty familiar stuff, a torrid tale of adulterous passion straight out of the postnoir Body Heat bin, and it never gets beyond artificiality. This is technically quite impressive for a feature that cost under $10,000, but I wish it gave me more to sink my teeth into. With James Black, Angelle Brooks, and Jennifer Lee. (JR)… Read more »

Black God, White Devil

Widely regarded as the first major film by Glauber Rocha, one of the key figures of the cinema nuovo, this exciting 1964 Brazilian feature draws on myth and folklore in exploring the sertao in 1940. Strongly recommended. (JR)… Read more »

Betty

The first feature of writer-director Richard Murphy is laborious whimsy about a neurotic and insecure Hollywood superstar (coproducer Cheryl Pollak) who walks off the set of a movie in progress, rents a suburban house incognito, and tries to learn a more modest trade from three men she encounters by chance (a swimming pool cleaner, a door-to-door salesman, and a delivery boy), bringing a little light to their lives in the process. At times the strained writing smacks of theater-of-the-absurd acting exercises, and the editing is both fancy and fussy, but I enjoyed Ron Perlman’s laid-back salesman. With Stephen Gregory, Dan O’Donohue, Holland Taylor, and Udo Kier. (JR)… Read more »

Aristotle’s Plot

An intriguing and often funny, if at times confusing, 1996 feature from Cameroon by the talented Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Mozart Quartier). Originally intended as the African entry in the British Film Institute’s Century of Cinema documentaries, which recount the histories of various national cinemas, it took on too many other agendas to fulfill that assignment. It’s partly a comedy about the taste of action-movie fans in a small town in southern Africa, partly a meditation on the difficulties of making films in Africa. (JR)… Read more »

Assassin(s)

Mathieu Kassovitz’s second feature (his first was Hate) was easily the most despised film in competition at Cannes, although there were relatively few walkouts. Like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games though much more lowbrow, this 1997 French thriller exploits affectless violence to the utmost while attacking the exploitation of affectless violence, as a 25-year-old punk (Kassovitz) is trained in fatherly fashion by a seasoned hit man (Michel Serrault). But it lacks the icy distance of Haneke’s film, and its flagrant borrowings from Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and Natural Born Killers also testify to the puritanical hypocrisy of those sources. Scorsese and Stone can get away with this sort of doublethink better than Kassovitz, however, because they put more emphasis on entertaining the audience than on preaching; Kassovitz, through sheer confused sincerity, too clearly exposes the muddled hypocrisy of his undertaking. Still, Assassin(s) has a certain dramatic voltage and communicates an underlying despair. And even when Kassovitz alternates between crass product placement and attacks on TV commercials, he’s merely giving the mainstream press what it usually asks for from movies. Maybe part of the rage this film provoked at Cannes had to do with the near-accuracy of its calculations. (JR)… Read more »

Chicago Ear And Eye Control: Keaton And Griffith

Organized by filmmakers Paula Froehle and Carolyn Faber and musician Ken Vandermark, this program combines silent shorts by Buster Keaton and D.W. Griffith with improvised music, presented not as accompaniment but as a concurrent event. The Keaton films are all superbOne Week (1920), The Playhouse (1921), and Cops (1922), about 20 minutes each. I’ve seen only the first of the Griffiths, which are each about 15 minutesA Corner in Wheat (1909)and that’s quite remarkable as well. The other two are The Unchanging Sea (1910) and The Female of the Species (1912). The tentative musical lineup includes Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson (reeds), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Michael Zerang (drums), and Jeb Bishop (trombone). (JR)… Read more »

After Hours

An unsold pilot (1961) for a TV series about jazz, this half-hour film is set in a nightclub (or at least on a nightclub set). The dramatic setup is predictably square and self-conscious, but once the musicians (including Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge) get going, none of this matters, and things really swing. (JR)… Read more »

Just Heroes

A 1993 John Woo gangster feature with comic interludes that reportedly moralizes against violence even as Woo choreographs it with his usual enthusiasm. With David Chang and Danny Lee. (JR)… Read more »

Next Friday

This robust belated sequel to Friday (1995), a comedy that found Ice Cube in South Central LA, relocates him in the suburbs, where he’s gone to live with his lottery-winning uncle and cousin. For me it’s one of the rare sequels that are better than the original, which I basically recall as an endless assembly line of scatological gags. This starts off with the same emphasis, but quickly turns to humor based more on hyperbolic characters and pungent dialogue. Nothing miraculous, but it’s time pretty well spent. With Tamala Jones, Tom Tiny Lister Jr., Justin Pierce, and John Witherspoon; directed by Steve Carr from a script by Ice Cube. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Rosetta

From its opening seconds, this feature from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (La promesse), winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1999 Cannes film festival, has to be the most visceral filmgoing experience of the past year, including all of Hollywood’s explosions and special-effects extravaganzas. It concerns the desperate efforts of the 18-year-old title heroine (played by Emilie Dequenne, a remarkable nonprofessional), who lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother and suffers from stomach cramps, to find a steady job; she particularly hopes to work at a waffle stand whose current employee has romantic designs on her. This may sound like the grimmest sort of neorealism, but the Dardennes keep the story so ruthlessly unsentimental and physical it would be a disservice to describe it as neo anything. You feel it in your nervous system before you get a chance to reflect on its meaningit’s almost as if the Dardennes were intent on converting an immediate experience of the contemporary world into a breathless theme-park rideand it makes just about every other form of movie realism look like trivial escapism. It’s certainly not devoid of psychological nuance either, and it’s had such an impact in Belgium that a wage law for teenagers, which passed in November 1999, is known as the Rosetta plan.… Read more »

After Life

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first fiction feature, Maborosi (1995), was about a woman gradually adjusting to her husband’s death. His second (1998, 118 min.) is very different, an allegorical fantasy set at an abandoned school that represents a halfway house between earth and heaven. Guides have a few days to help the recently deceased find a key memory to take with them to heaven, then they film each memory, with the person’s input, shortly before his departure. A distinguished documentarist before he turned to fiction, Kore-eda bolstered his conceit in this feature by recording the memories of hundreds of elderly Japanese people, some of whom he cast in this film. Though it comes across as labored in spots, it also yields a good many beautiful and suggestive moments, and an overall film experience of striking originality. In Japanese with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Queen Christina

Not only one of Greta Garbo’s finest performances, but one of her very best films (1933)a fictional story in which the 17th-century Swedish queen gives up her throne for a Spanish ambassador (John Gilbert). The underrated Rouben Mamoulian directed, and Salka Viertel and S.N. Behrman both worked on the script. Erotic, romantic, and a feast for the eyes. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »