Daily Archives: April 1, 2001

Careful

The third feature (1992) of Guy Maddin, whose poker-faced period extravaganzas suggest early, scratchy talkies, is his first in color, which means subdued pastels in some spots and lush tinting of black-and-white footage in others. Set in a remote Alpine village where everyone speaks in whispers to avoid setting off avalanches and everyday repression breeds deranged incestuous lust, the outrageous story seems characteristic of Maddin in its dual nature: in part a hilarious satire about Canadian timidity, it also comes across periodically as a formalist gem about nothing at all. The ably somnambulistic cast includes Australian director Paul Cox and Canadian character actor Jackie Burroughs, along with Sarah Neville, Brent Neale, and Victor Cowie in prominent parts; film academic George Toles (who also worked on Archangel) assisted Maddin on the script. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Ruination Of Men

Arturo Ripstein’s 2000 absurdist comedy in black and white, sharply scripted by Paz Alicia Garciadiego, begins with a peasant being beaten to death by two of his friends. Initially the reasons for this are quite obscure, but the motivations and back story gradually emerge as his friends, his wife, and his lover bicker over his corpse, both at his house and the morgue. This is the most interesting Ripstein feature I’ve seen, and though it resembles a play in certain respects, it’s energized by an able cast and the filmmaker’s vigorous mise en scene. 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Low Down

Writer-director Jamie Thraves makes his feature debut with this story of a prop-painting bohemian in north London (Aidan Gillen) who wants to move away from his crack-dealing neighbors and falls in love with the realtor he meets (Kate Ashfield). It doesn’t work all the time: I couldn’t always follow the action, the ending is too abrupt, and what appears to be the strong influence of John Cassavetes (the episode in which the hero’s macho pride is wounded by a lout in a pub, triggering the unraveling of various relationships, seems to come straight out of Too Late Blues) sometimes works against the kind of rough and intuitive movie Thraves is aiming for. But I was mesmerized by what seems like a new and exciting way of filming people: Thraves mixes objective and subjective impressions, and his eclectic style of framing sometimes cuts characters off at odd angles. His main actors (including Dean Lennox Kelly and Tobias Menzies) are both natural and unpredictableeven when they show some awareness of the camera’s presence. As with Cassavetes, you might say that the film is riddled with errors, but these mistakes are indistinguishable from the uncommon rewards, which made me grateful for them. 96 min.… Read more »

Benjamin Smoke

Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen’s 1999 documentary pays tribute to Robert Dickersonbetter known as vocalist Benjamin Smoke of the offbeat Atlanta band Smokewho died of AIDS shortly after the film was shot. It captures his unaffected honesty and charm and his poetic way with words, but what’s really fine is the filmmakers’ sensitivity in blending all kinds of disparate material. Patti Smith, Dickerson’s first inspiration, let Smoke open for her in Atlanta, which provides the film with a satisfying climax, yet the talking/singing/playing/goofing-off heads that precede this apotheosis are just as watchable (and listenable). 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Kinetica 2: A Centennial Tribute To Oskar Fischinger

Abstract animator Oskar Fischinger (1900-’67) contributed to the German expressionist movement (Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Moon) and the Hollywood dream factory (The Big Broadcast of 1937) and later divided his energies between experimental films and commercials. This retrospective comes in several parts: Masterworks and Rarities offers a comprehensive look of his work between 1927 and 1952, all presented in restored 35-millimeter prints. A panel discussion follows, which will include Barbara Fischinger, the Filmmaker’s daughter; the University of Chicago’s Yuti Tsivian and Reinhold Heller; the School of the Art Institute’s Jim Trainor; and the University of Notre Dame’s Donald Crafton. A second program, Legacy, features works by Jordan Belson, Norman McLaren, Sara Petty, Jules Engel, Mary Ellen Bute, and others influenced by Oskar Fischinger. For anyone interested in animation, this should be a landmark presentation. (JR)… Read more »

Salut Cousin!

Algerian filmmaker Merzak Allouache, whose remarkable 1993 feature Bab El-Oued City led to his exile, switches to a lighter mode in this entertaining and flavorsome 1996 comedy about an Algerian who turns up in Paris to collect a suitcase of contraband clothes (for his boss to sell back home) and winds up spending a few days with his cousin, a con artist. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

James Cameron’s slam-bang 1991 sequel-cum-remake brings back Arnold Schwarzenegger as another killing machine from the future. This time his mission isn’t to kill the heroine (Linda Hamilton) but to protect her son (Edward Furlong) from an even more high-tech killing machine (Robert Patrick). To spice things up, Schwarzenegger is dressed as a biker and Patrick as a cop, the latter displaying quicksilver capacities that hark back to the friendly alien force in The Abyss. All the virtues of the originalintelligent postmodernist irony, spiffy special effects, effective action, tons of destruction, and Schwarzenegger in the nonhuman role he was born to playare present here, though when Cameron tries to milk some sentiment out of the personality and fate of his top machine he comes up flat and empty, and the other characters are scarcely more interesting. As a fancy mechanism fueled by the pleasure of watching legions of people and equipment being summarily destroyed, this is pretty hot stuff. Written by Cameron in collaboration with William Wisher. R, 136 min. (JR)… Read more »