Daily Archives: March 1, 2000

Lisbon

Carmen Maura stars as a housewife in flight from her well-to-do family who convinces a Portuguese video and CD salesman to give her a lift to Portugal before they catch up with her. This 1999 Spanish film teases a lot of intrigue from the family’s involvement in some sort of business corruption, and the mutual enmity and nastiness between family members is as thick as anything in middle-period Claude Chabrol, though not nearly as interesting. On the other hand, director Antonio Hernandez’s ‘Scope compositions are so inventive and engaging that this action thriller held my attention long after I ceased caring about any of the characters. (JR)… Read more »

The Terrorist

A teenage girl (Ayesha Dharkar) from an unnamed country trains herself to perform a suicidal act of terrorism in a 1998 Indian feature by director-cowriter-cinematographer Santosh Sivan, not to be confused with films of the same title from the Soviet Union (1991) and Egypt (1994). The ideological reasons for the heroine’s project aren’t divulged, so I guess we’re supposed to be fascinated simply by the fanaticism of her will, doubts and all. I wasn’t, despite many brooding close-ups, arty pacing, beautiful settings, and alternately sappy and melodramatic music. In Tamil with subtitles. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Spectres Of The Spectrum

Craig Baldwin seems to have been compulsively remaking the same movie over the past decade, an experimental found-footage compilation that dovetails as many technological conspiracy theories as possible. Each time he does a better job; this delirious 1999 feature is better to my mind than either Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America (1991) or Sonic Outlaws (1995), and it makes extensive use of Baldwin’s own footage, as did O No Coronado! (1992). But whether there’s a corresponding growth in lucidity is another matter. All his movies simultaneously mock and indulge in paranoid ranting, and sorting out the parodic strands isn’t always easy; when I heard Baldwin speak about his new movie recently in Austin, I was happy to discover that he’s a lot more lucid, politically speaking, than both his films and many of his postmodernist champions, so viewers who turn up for this screening should definitely stick around to hear him talk about it afterward. At the very least his extensive use of kinescopes and other campy 50s materials remains fascinatingly suggestive. (JR)… Read more »

Bugaboo

There’s an undeniable novelty to this 1999 dramatic feature by writer-director-actor Sujit Saraf about Indian engineers living and working in Silicon Valley, but there’s also an undeniable tedium in the insularity it not only describes but embodies. The all-male group of friends and coworkers are plainly bored and alienated, a problem expressed with craft and taste but little urgency. The film’s publicity states that it has been made by, for, and about Silicon Valley engineers. It should also have a wider appeal among expatriate Indians and Indians in the urban centers of India. Anyone who fits one of these categories can probably find his or her own way to this; the rest of us have to relate to it rather voyeuristically. (JR) On the same program, two 1999 short films: Nancy M. Kwon’s The Question and Allison Lee’s Trick or Treat.… Read more »

Post Concussion

It must have been therapeutic for former management consultant Danny Yoon to throw caution to the wind and make this amateur 1999 comedy feature about his struggle to recuperate from a serious head injurya production in which he functions as writer, producer, director, cinematographer, editor, and lead actor. It might even be edifying for other people recovering from serious head injuries to laugh at Yoon’s jokes, including his satirical segments about New Age therapies. But what about the rest of us? This is good-natured and likeable as a serious form of fooling around, but I can’t say I found it very entertaining or interesting. The unvarnished acting charms initially through its brazen lack of pretense, then gets dull and duller. Extended clips from Plan 9 From Outer Space suggest that Yoon knows how bad this is, but that doesn… Read more »

X

A weirdly affectless Japanese animated feature directed by Taro Rin, derived from a comic book series. It has more feeling for city architecture than for human formsall the characters have nearly identical matchstick legsand evokes The Matrix in terms of apocalyptic conceits. It bored me clean out of my wits. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Carmen Mcrae Live

A feature-length 1986 documentary by Hiroshi Fukumoto chronicling a Tokyo performance by the great jazz vocalist and pianist. (JR)… Read more »

Panic In Needle Park

By their own admission, screenwriters Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne spent only a day or so researching their assigned topicNew York junkiesand this early Jerry Schatzberg feature (1971) shows it, though Al Pacino plays one of the two romantic leads (along with Kitty Winn), and many of Schatzberg’s fans have praised the mise en scene. With Richard Bright, Raul Julia, and Paul Sorvino. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Not One Less

Working with nonprofessionals who play characters much like themselves, director Zhang Yimou recounts the adventures of a 13-year-old girl assigned to work as a substitute teacher at a provincial primary school while the usual teacher spends time with his ailing mother. Promised payment if none of the students defect, the girl is flummoxed when an unruly student leaves for the city, sent by his mother to cover family debts, and after many struggles she finds a way of traveling to the city to find him. Considering how many cliches of capitalist propaganda we’re offered daily, I’m inclined to tolerate the relatively few cliches of communist propaganda we encounter in movies, and the first half of this one held my interest and sympathy with its glimpses of Chinese rural schooling. I was especially interested in its ambiguous treatment of the young heroine’s motives, which may be more selfish than communal, until the script tried to make us forget this was ever an issue. Ultimately this isn’t a worthy successor to either The Bicycle Thief or, much further down the scale, The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), Zhang’s previous government-sanctioned ode to a female peasant who persists in trying to get the government’s attention.… Read more »

Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai

Jim Jarmusch’s seventh narrative feature (1999) focuses on a solitary inner-city maverick and hit man (Forest Whitaker) who lives on a rooftop with pigeons and has trained himself as a samurai according to the 18th-century book Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, pledging loyalty to a New Jersey gangster (John Tormey) who once saved his life, whom he communicates with mainly by carrier pigeon. Like some of Jarmusch’s other films, this is essentially a poetic comic fantasy that has a lot to say about contemporary global culture; it’s beautifully cast and filmed (cinematography by the matchless Robby M… Read more »

The Ninth Gate

An unscrupulous rare-book dealer (Johnny Depp) is hired by a wealthy demonologist (Frank Langella) to track down and authenticate the remaining copies of a medieval illustrated book apparently authored or coauthored by Satan himself. This Roman Polanski feature, which he adapted with Enrique Urbizu and John Brownjohn from Arturo Perez-Reverte’s best-selling Spanish novel El Club Dumas, is a head scratcher in some respects, a mystery thriller that gradually mutates into a metaphysical fable without adequately developing its characters. But it’s so visually striking, so compulsively watchable as storytelling, and so personal even in its enigmas that I found it much more pleasurable than any of the Hollywood genre films I’ve seen lately; despite the fact that it’s 132 minutes long, I felt more regret than relief when it ended. Polanski is one of the few remaining directors of craft belonging to the classic novelistic tradition of Welles and Kubrick, and if this picaresque adventure lacks the conviction of Bitter Moon, it’s at least as good as Frantic. With Lena Olin, Emmanuelle Seigner, and Barbara Jefford; the sleek cinematography is by Darius Khondji (Seven, Stealing Beauty). (JR)… Read more »

Mother

A film recording of the Berliner Ensemble’s 1958 staging of Brecht’s social realist play; the running time is 147 minutes, and I’ve been told that the final reel is missing English subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Moloch

Alexander Sokurov’s other recent featuresStone, Whispering Pages, Mother and Sonhave extremely aggressive styles and simple, often reactionary contents. Here the subject is a day in the life of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler, at Hitler’s mountain retreat in late spring 1942, and the film strives, with some success, to be believable making it more than simply rhetorical or bombastic (despite the mythical opening in which a naked Braun, played by Elena Rufanova, dances and cavorts on the huge terraces of a fortress in the cloudsnot quite Leni Riefenstahl, but suggestive of her manner). The script is by Sokurov’s usual screenwriter, Yuri Arabov, and it was shot in Germany with theater actors from Saint Petersburg who were subsequently dubbed by Germans (including Eva Mattes as Eva Braun); the central characters also include Joseph and Magda Goebbels, Martin Bormann, and a priest. Sokurov’s films usually project moods and emotions, but this one mainly provokes thoughts and reflections. Sokurov has noted that he used Braun largely as a distancing and demystifying lens for viewing Hitler: I couldn’t love him, and that’s why I needed somebody [Eva] to love him. Otherwise it would have been impossible to discern him: you can’t see anything black against a black background.… Read more »

The Lost Garden: The Life And Cinema Of Alice Guy-blache

A fascinating 1995 Canadian documentary by Marquise LePage about Alice Guy-Blache, the French film pioneer (1873-1968) who was the head of production at Gaumont for several years after the turn of the century. It’s estimated that she produced, directed, or wrote more than 700 films. Several talking-head interviews are featured, including ones with Guy-Blache, near the end of her life, and with Francis Lacassin, a major historian of early French silent cinema. (JR)… Read more »