Daily Archives: January 1, 2001

Love 101

Adrian Fulle wrote and directed this independent feature, though I can’t imagine what differentiates his competently made teenage-sex movie from Hollywood teenage-sex movies, apart from the absence of a studio logo at the beginning. Maybe it’s the independent sense of humor expressed in its dialogue: Women are like Democrats, man. You can’t live with them, but you can sure get fucked by them. Just as you have to rule out the existence of female Democrats to find this funny, you’ll probably have to rule out the existence of independent films unencumbered by studiothink to find this even halfway bearable. Once you’ve accomplished that, you may or may not find that the skillful camera work and adequate performancesby Michael Muhney, Mary Kay Cook, Jon Collins, Jim Slonina, Heidi Mokrycki, and Jeff Andersonenhance this familiar tale of sexual rivalry between roommates and sexual confidence triumphing over insecurity, complete with elevator music. (JR)… Read more »

Moonlight Whispers

Akihiko Shiota’s first feature (1999, 100 min.), improbably based on a Japanese comic strip, is a disturbing look at a teenage boy’s sadomasochistic relationship with a 17-year-old girl he worships. At first he becomes fetishistically attached to her socks, photographs he takes of her legs, and sounds he records in her bathroom; eventually he volunteers to become her slave, which leads to cruel exploitation and diverse humiliations and traps both of them in the same compulsive games. Shiota seems uncertain whether to play this story for laughs or to treat his characters more compassionately, so the film starts wavering and wobbling toward the end, but it’s pungent and unsettling nonetheless. Interestingly, his second feature, Don’t Look Back, made the same year, took on very different material, a sensitive and unsensational story about two ten-year-old boys. (JR)… Read more »

The Castle

Made for Austrian TV, Michael Haneke’s serious and reasonably faithful 1997 adaptation of Kafka’s best novel isn’t the best or most interesting film made from the writer’s work; I’d give that honor either to Orson Welles’s flawed but fascinating The Trial (1962) or to Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet’s eccentric rendition of Amerika, Class Relations (1983). But this is almost certainly the truest interpretation of one of Kafka’s novels, all of which were left unfinished; it even literally ends in the middle of a sentence. If memory serves, there’s plenty of Kafka’s humor here as well. 123 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Pledge

The third feature directed by Sean Penn and the first one that I’ve liked. Adapted by the couple Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski from a 1958 Friedrich D… Read more »

Taboo

Poetry and style aren’t qualities one ordinarily associates with writer-director Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses), but this haunting, dreamlike tale of a beautiful and narcissistic military recruit (Ryuhei Matsuda) in 1865 training to become a samurai warrior, who bewitches and obsesses the men around him, is a triple-distilled example of poetic style, action and violence included. Because the central character is something of an angel of death, the film isn’t exactly politically correct in its treatment of homosexuality, but it’s debatable whether it can be called homophobic either, at least in any ordinary sense. Though it’s based on two novellas from Ryotaro Shiba’s Shinsengumi Keppuroku, it suggests a tribute to the great Kenji Mizoguchi, a Japanese master Oshima hasn’t shown much reverence for in the past. Its long takes, its lyrical and nearly constant camera movements, and its ghostly and atmospheric studio sets all suggest Mizoguchi, and the dialogue makes reference to Tales of Moonlight and Rain, the literary source of Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu Monogatari. Originally titled Gohatto, this 1999 feature was Oshima’s first in 13 years, directed mainly from a wheelchair due to his 1996 stroke, and it includes some of the biggest stars in contemporary Japanese cinema, including Takeshi Kitano (impressive in a noncomic role), Tadanobu Asano, and Shinji Takeda, as well as a score by Ryuichi Sakamoto.… Read more »

Photos Of Alix

An 18-minute short by French director Jean Eustache, in which Alix-Clio Roubaud, the wife of poet Jacques Roubaud, talks about her photographs with Eustache’s young son Boris. The 1980 short bears an interesting resemblance to Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia, in that the photographs discussed aren’t the ones we’re seeing. (JR)… Read more »

Before Night Falls

Painter Julian Schnabel followed up his debut feature, Basquiat, with another biopic (2000) about a minority artist: Reinaldo Arenas, the gay Cuban writer who learned to read from revolutionaries, published most of his books abroad, and eventually died an exile in New York. The film is less visually inventive than its predecessor and perhaps even more questionable as an accurate portrait: the script, adapted by Schnabel, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, and Cunningham O’Keefe from Arenas’s posthumously published memoirs, answers only a fraction of the questions it raises and allows political correctness to fudge certain aspects of the subject’s personality (his dislike of most other homosexuals, for instance) and the fact that other Latino intellectuals viewed him as a hick. But this is still an impressive piece of filmmaking, with lively and suggestive depictions of pre- and postrevolutionary Cuba (shot in Mexico). Javier Bardem is truly exceptional as Arenas, and other actors make their marks as well, including Sean Penn, Michael Wincott, film directors Hector Babenco and Jerzy Skolimowski, and Johnny Depp in an impressive double cameo. 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

Thirteen Days

Adapted by David Self from a book entitled The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, this thriller is a lot better than you might expect, especially for a Kevin Costner vehicle. Costner plays Kenny O’Donnell, an aide to President Kennedy (Bruce Greenwood) who shares his boss’s Bostonian accent but is basically decor next to him, his brother Bobby (Steven Culp), Robert McNamara (Dylan Baker), and various Pentagon warmongers such as Curtis LeMay (Kevin Conway). Framing JFK as the man who prevented World War III is surely an idealist fantasy, but it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for a time when, in order to prevent war, Kennedy and Khrushchev had to trust each other more than any Democrat or Republican seemed capable of doing during the 2000 presidential election. Director Roger Donaldson measures out this old-fashioned entertainment with a fair amount of pizzazz. 145 min. (JR)… Read more »

Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes

Jean Eustache (The Mother and the Whore) directed this touching portrait of small-town life in his native Narbonne, where a poor young man trying to meet girls gets a job dressing up as Santa Claus. The film was shot on black-and-white 35-millimeter stock left over from Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculine Feminine and stars Jean-Pierre LĂ©aud, the lead actor in that film and in many ways the principal icon of the French New Wave. In French with subtitles. 47 min.… Read more »

Le Cochon

Jean Eustache’s 1970 documentary, codirected with Jean-Michel Barjol and shot over one day, is a remarkable materialist rendering of everything that happens to a pig in central France from its slaughter to its conversion into sausages. This was produced by the great critic-filmmaker Luc Moullet, and bears an interesting thematic relation to his own Genesis of a Meal (1978), about the routes and processes of various raw ingredients on their way to a simple meal. 50 min. (JR)… Read more »

Lisbon Story

Written and directed by Wim Wenders on an off-the-cuff, day-to-day basis, this 1994 feature resurrects two characters from his previous work: Phillip Winter (R… Read more »

The Man Without A World

Writer-director Eleanor Antin’s feeling for the genre of Yiddish silent films is more clever than uncanny, but this 1991 pastiche is an interesting and heartfelt effort nonetheless, and Antin’s own performance as a ballerina is very good. The film is attributed to one Yevgeny Antinov, an imaginary Soviet director who fled to Krakow in 1927 and was backed by American entrepreneurs for a film about shtetl life for the Jewish nostalgia market back home; the plan supposedly aborted when Antinov made the film political. The story itself concerns the ill-fated romance between a merchant’s daughter (Christine Berry) and a Yiddish poet (ex-Chicagoan Pier Marton). 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Charlie Chaplin Film Festival

Made in 1916 and 1917, the Mutual shorts arguably represent Chaplin’s first mature work, a perfect balancing of slapstick gags and character development. This program contains three of the most celebrated: The Immigrant, The Adventurer, and The Rink. (JR)… Read more »