Monthly Archives: May 2000

Mission: Impossible 2

This is obviously a sequel, but whether its true predecessor is Mission: Impossible, Face/Off, or Dr. No is less certain. Like its predecessor, it stars coproducer Tom Cruise, costars Ving Rhames, was written at least partially by prestigious hack Robert Towne (who takes solo credit here), and whimsically glorifies the CIA as a band of efficient sophisticates devoted to inventing new ways for its employees to perform fancy stunts. Like Face/Off, it was directed by John Woo, features a fair amount of sadistic cruelty, and dispenses so many rubber masks to allow the characters to swap identities that no hero or villain winds up carrying any moral weight at all. (How they sometimes manage to imitate one another’s voices is poorly explained, but credibility is so thin throughout that this movie only came into its own when it became available on video and thus truly disposable.) Like Dr. No, it’s a piece of nostalgia for colonialism (the main urban setting is Sydney), Playboy, Cary Grant, high-tech gadgets, and apocalyptic fantasies, and if Cruise makes an unconvincing Bond when compared to Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins is perfectly cast as Cruise’s chief, and Thandie Newtonas a thief enlisted by the CIA to fuck her former boyfriend, villain Dougray Scottarguably makes an even better babe than Ursula Andress.… Read more »

Passion Of Mind

At first glance, this Hollywood feature produced by cowriter Ron Bass (Rain Man, When a Man Loves a Woman) and directed by Alain Berliner (Ma vie en rose) deals with the same theme as Shattered Image (1998), a mainstream feature written by Duane Poole and directed by Raul Ruiz, in which a Seattle hit woman dreams she’s a newlywed honeymooning in the Caribbean, who dreams in turn she’s a Seattle hit woman, etc. In Passion of Mind, a widow living with her two daughters in a French village and being courted by a novelist (Stellan Skarsgard) dreams she’s a New York literary agent being courted by an accountant (William Fichtner), and vice versa. But in fact the two movies are polar opposites. The two women in Shattered Image are both played by Anne Parillaud, and the point of the exercise isn’t psychological but a Ruizian mind fuck; in Passion of Mind, both women are played by Demi Moore (who isn’t bad, by the way), and the story is designed as a psychological puzzle, offering two romantic love stories for the price of one. The Ruiz film is fun but leads nowhere; Passion of Mind is slick and effective escapism with a touch of poetry (a la The Sixth Sense) that left me vaguely dissatisfied once the mystery was supposedly resolved.… Read more »

Small Time Crooks

This isn’t Woody Allen at his nadir (cf A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, September, Shadows and Fog, and Celebrity), but there are moments when this comedy threatens to die of anemia. Featuring Allen and Tracey Ullman as a whiny working-class couple who decide to rob a bank, it starts off, like most Allen pictures, by emulating a European art-house picture of his youthin this case Big Deal on Madonna Street (a much funnier picture about a failed bank heist). After Ullman’s flair for baking cookies unexpectedly makes the couple rich, Allen falls into one of his most tired story ideas, the vulgar nouveau riche heroine who tries to buy her way to culturerepresented in this movie, to show you how desperate things are, by Hugh Grant. The others in the cast have a better time; Elaine May as Ullman’s cousin is especially funny. With Michael Rapaport, Tony Darrow, George Grizzard, Jon Lovitz, and Elaine Stritch. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

American Beauty [on Chris Petit's NEGATIVE SPACE]

From the May 12, 2000 issue of the Chicago Reader.  –J.R.

Negative Space

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Chris Petit

With Robert Mitchum, Manny Farber, Dave Hickey, and (as narrator) Petit.

There aren’t many films or videos about film criticism, especially ones that perform the actual work of film criticism. An interesting and ambitious exception is Chris Petit’s Negative Space (1999), an experimental 39-minute video made for BBC TV that’s being shown for free by Chicago Filmmakers at the Chicago Cultural Center this Friday, along with Petit’s The Falconer (1998). Named after the only book by film critic, painter, and teacher Manny Farber — a 1971 collection reprinted in an expanded edition in 1998 — Petit’s video wrestles with American landscape and culture, irony, memory, Las Vegas, the beginning of a new millennium, death, desert, film versus video, J.M.W. Turner’s painting, several movies (including Howard Hawks’s The Big Sleep, Jacques Tourneur’s Out of the Past, and Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy), as well as two critics, Farber and Dave Hickey. Petit also looks at Farber as a painter and an art critic and Hickey as an art critic, a resident of Las Vegas, an appreciator of Farber, and a commentator on American culture.… Read more »

Set Me Free

Lea Pool’s sensitive coming-of-age feature (1999, 94 minutes), set in and around Montreal in 1963, is apparently autobiographical in inspiration. The 13-year-old heroine (Karine Vanasse), who has her first period while visiting her grandmother in the opening sequence, is the illegitimate daughter of a struggling Jewish writer (Miki Manojlovic) and a Catholic who works as a seamstress to help support the family (Pascale Bussieres); her unlikely role model is the prostitute heroine played by Anna Karina in Godard’s Vivre sa vie, and her sexual stirrings gravitate toward both her older brother and a female classmate, who also attract each other. Nicely acted and inflected, this is a very fresh piece of work. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 12 through 18. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): .… Read more »

Yi Yi

Edward Yang’s most accessible movie (2000) follows three generations of a contemporary Taipei family from a wedding to a funeral, and while it takes almost three hours to unfold, not a moment seems gratuitous. Working with nonprofessional actors, Yang coaxes a standout performance from Wu Nien-jen as N.J., a middle-aged partner in a failing computer company who hopes to team up with a Japanese game designer and who has a secret rendezvous in Tokyo with a girl he jilted 30 years earlier; other major characters include the hero’s eight-year-old son, teenage daughter, spiritually traumatized wife, comatose mother-in-law, and debt-ridden brother-in-law. The son, who becomes obsessed with photographing what people can’t see, may come closest to being a mouthpiece for Yang, who seems to miss nothing as he interweaves shifting viewpoints and poignant emotional refrains, creating one of the richest families in modern movies. In Mandarin with subtitles. 173 min. (JR)… Read more »

Thunderbirds Are Go

Adapted from the TV series Thunderbirds, this 1966 British feature anticipated The Dark Crystal with its all-marionette cast. David Lane directed.… Read more »

Keepers Of The Frame

Despite a welcome attention to the brutal facts of celluloid deterioration, Mark McLaughlin’s 1999 documentary about film preservation, written with producer Randy Gitsch, is basically Movie Restoration 101, a fund-raiser with a lot of emphasis on the sociological and historical reasons for this activity and almost none at all on the aesthetic reasonsor the aesthetic issues raised by different kinds of restoration and/or revision of primary materials. The fact that the interview subjects include Forrest J. Ackerman, Alan Alda, Stan Brakhage, Herb Jeffries, Roddy McDowell, Leonard Maltin, and Debbie Reynolds, along with a few techies, archivists, and bureaucrats, gives a pretty good idea of the spread involved. But critical perspectives on film restoration are few and far between: the overall message is that it’s a good thing, even though we don’t get a clear position about how such an activity might be carried out well or badly. 70 min. (JR)… Read more »

Divine Trash

If this country were a more sensible place, John Waters would be hosting the Tonight Show. Barring such a possibility, Steve Yeager’s entertaining 1997 documentary about the making of Waters’s first midnight-movie hit, Pink Flamingos (1972), has the advantages of a proud Baltimore perspective and interviews with Jeanine Basinger, Steve Buscemi, Hal Hartley, J. Hoberman, Jim Jarmusch, the Kuchar brothers, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Jonas Mekas, Paul Morrissey, the local film censor, countless cast and family members, and Waters himself. (As a closing title tartly points out, only Kenneth Anger and Russ Meyer declined to appear.) This affectionate piece of historiography snubs practically everything after Pink Flamingosincluding my two favorites, Female Trouble and Hairspraybut it’s so deliciously exhaustive about Waters’s humble beginnings that I can’t really complain. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Devil Ant

This video by former Golden Gloves boxer David the Rock Nelson sounds like an even lower-rent version of the guerrilla film produced in Bowfinger. Nelson captures famous individuals in publicincluding Hillary Clinton, Roger Corman, and Svengooliefor use in this impromptu monster flick, parts of which were shot in Chicago, Cleveland, New York, and Pittsburgh. (JR)… Read more »

Secrets Of A Soul And Crisis

Two early films by G.W. Pabst. Sigmund Freud refused to have anything to do with Secrets of a Soul (1926, 97 min.), an early silent attempt to deal with psychoanalysis via German expressionism. The results are dated, but this is still an intriguing period piece. The 107-minute Crisis, made two years later, is said to be a relatively minor work, though it stars the memorable Brigitte Helm (the blind woman in Pabst’s previous film, The Love of Jeanne Ney) as a middle-class woman, ignored by her ambitious husband, who gets involved with bohemians. (JR)… Read more »

Negative Space And The Falconer: Videos By Chris Petit

Two aggressive, enjoyable, and highly original videos by Chris Petit, the English novelist and filmmaker (Radio On, Flight to Berlin). Both these portraits of somewhat legendary and cultish media figures were made for BBC TV, a much more enterprising purveyor of edgy television than anything found in this country. But otherwise the videos are quite different. The Falconer (1998, 56 min., codirected by Ian Sinclair) is the more eclectic and difficult of the two, a sort of pseudodocumentary about the countercultural English filmmaker (Daddy) and autodidact Peter Whitehead. Negative Space (1999, 39 min.) is about American film critic, painter, teacher, and carpenter Manny Farber (though American art critic Dave Hickey also appears, along with many film clips and western landscapes that are often glimpsed in Polaroid-framed split screens). Both videos are wild, thoughtful, invigorating, eye-filling, and unusually ambitious. Admission is free. (JR)… Read more »

South

Virtually all the works of Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman are worth seeing, and her 78-minute video documentary (1999) about Jasper, Texas, is no exception. But this meditation on the American south can’t be described as one of her finer efforts; so the implied link with From the East, one of her greatest films, is unfortunate. Akerman’s painterly instincts are as strong and rewarding as ever, but when she tries to move beyond them the results are often trite. Akerman’s theme was overtaken by a horrifying hate crime that occurred a few days before her arrival, in which a black man was beaten, chained to a truck, and dragged three miles to his death through a predominantly black neighborhood. Akerman interviews various locals about the incident (omitting her questions from the film), but apart from their defensiveness the responses are unilluminating. There’s a lovely shot moving through downtown Jasper at dusk, but on the whole Akerman seems to be floundering, unable to say or reveal anything fresh about the south. When she concludes with the camera moving down the three miles of road, there’s a disquieting clash between the beauty of the shot and the horror of what it signifies, but all she can do is bear mute witness to the crime.… Read more »

Set Me Free

Lea Pool’s sensitive coming-of-age feature (1999, 94 min.), set in and around Montreal in 1963, is apparently autobiographical in inspiration. The 13-year-old heroine (Karine Vanasse), who has her first period while visiting her grandmother in the opening sequence, is the illegitimate daughter of a struggling Jewish writer (Miki Manojlovic) and a Catholic who works as a seamstress to help support the family (Pascale Bussieres); her unlikely role model is the prostitute heroine played by Anna Karina in Godard’s Vivre sa vie, and her sexual stirrings gravitate toward both her older brother and a female classmate, who also attract each other. Nicely acted and inflected, this is a very fresh piece of work. (JR)… Read more »

Gladiator

Russell Crowe stars as a Roman general asked by the dying emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris), to take over as ruler. The emperor’s wrathful son (Joaquin Phoenix) promptly orders the execution of the general and his family; surviving as a gladiator, the general fights his way back to Rome to take revenge and restore justice in the Colosseum. Though the digital effects lack the weight and conviction of their equivalents in old Cecil B. De Mille movies, Ridley Scott’s sword-and-sandal epic has some of the intensity of old Hollywood in terms of storytelling, spectacle, and violenceConnie Nielsen and Oliver Reed make especially strong contributions. But don’t expect anything as good as Spartacus or as enjoyably silly as Quo Vadis? The script, by producer David Franzoni, John Logan, and William Nicholson, is serviceable but not exactly inspired. 154 min. (JR)… Read more »