Daily Archives: August 22, 2003

Marci X

From the Chicago Reader (August 22, 2003). — J.R.

Satire that scores is apt to offend some people, which may help to explain why this politically incorrect comedy was shelved by Paramount for a year, then dumped into the market without press screenings. Scripted by the irreverent Paul Rudnick (Addams Family Values, In & Out), it’s about a Jewish American Princess (Lisa Kudrow) teaming up with a controversial rap artist (Damon Wayans). It’s no masterpiece, but I found it consistently good-hearted and sometimes hilarious, and the sparse crowd I saw it with was laughing as much as I was, especially at the outrageous rap numbers. Richard Benjamin, who plays a cameo as Kudrow’s philanthropic millionaire father, directed. With Christine Baranski and Jane Krakowski. 84 min.… Read more »

Marci X

Satire that scores is apt to offend some people, which may help to explain why this politically incorrect comedy was shelved by Paramount for a year, then dumped into the market without press screenings. Scripted by the irreverent Paul Rudnick (Addams Family Values, In & Out), it’s about a Jewish American Princess (Lisa Kudrow) teaming up with a controversial rap artist (Damon Wayans). It’s no masterpiece, but I found it consistently good-hearted and sometimes hilarious, and the sparse crowd I saw it with was laughing as much as I was, especially at the outrageous rap numbers. Richard Benjamin, who plays a cameo as Kudrow’s philanthropic millionaire father, directed. With Christine Baranski and Jane Krakowski. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Thirteen

Nothing sells better in certain situations than puritanical hysteria, so calling this shocker about two 13-year-old girls in Los Angeles a must-see for parents, as I’ve heard some colleagues do, isn’t all that different from urging them to read the tabloidsand if exploitation is what parents are looking for, Larry Clark’s Bully puts on a better show. I’m not questioning the sincerity of the filmmakers: director Catherine Hardwicke wrote the script with costar Nikki Reed when the latter was still 13, basing it on her experiences, and there are persuasive performances by Reed, Holly Hunter as her struggling, hapless mother, and Evan Rachel Wood as the other girl, who falls under Reed’s influence. But they often seem more bent on titillating or harrowing us than on helping us understand the characters. With Jeremy Sisto and Deborah Unger. R, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dr. Goldfoot And The Bikini Machine

Just the sort of leering silliness you’d expect. Vincent Price is the eponymous mad scientist, with Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Susan Hart, the ever-reliable Fred Clark, andyou guessed itlots of ingenues in bikinis. Norman Taurog directed this 1965 Panavision feature. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Flesh

The screenwriter hero of Barton Fink is assigned to script a Wallace Beery wrestling picture: this 1932 feature–directed by John Ford and scripted by Edmund Goulding, Moss Hart, and an uncredited William Faulkner, among others–is the only real-life movie matching that description. Beery, a good-hearted dope working as a waiter in a German beer garden, falls for an American ex-convict (Karen Morley) linked to a gangster (Ricardo Cortez). They delude and exploit him even after he marries Morley, becomes a big-time wrestling champ, and moves with her to the U.S. Ford was still under the spell of F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise (1928) when asked to take over this project at MGM, and some traces of German expressionism linger in his pictorial style. He wrests a lot of feeling out of Beery’s cheerful dim-wittedness, making his muddle seem almost enlightened and avoiding the masochism an Emil Jannings would have brought to the part. The strong secondary cast includes Jean Hersholt, Vince Barnett, and Ward Bond. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

American Splendor

I can’t say that this feature by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, about the life and art of Harvey Pekar, made me want to run out and buy his comic books, but it does offer a highly interesting and original introduction to them. Roughly a third of the picture is documentary, with Pekar narrating his own story, most of it based in Cleveland, and periodically appearing in a film studio with some of the major people in his life. Another third is fiction, with Paul Giamatti as Pekar, Hope Davis as his partner Joyce Brabner, and James Urbaniak as a young Robert Crumb. The final third approximates and fitfully animates the ongoing true-life comic book written by Pekar and illustrated by various graphic artists, including Crumb. But because these parts tend to overlap as well as alternate, we’re constantly kept on our toes regarding issues of representation while Pekar’s sour but indefatigible working-class skepticism carries us along. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Cuckoo

This trilingual comedy, set in the wilds of Lapland in September 1944, is largely predicated on misunderstandings among three people: a Finnish sniper (Ville Haapasalo), who’s dressed in a German uniform and chained to a rock for being a reluctant fighter but who eventually frees himself; a Russian captain (Viktor Bychkov), who’s en route to a court-martial for alleged anti-Soviet remarks but is accidentally freed by a Russian bomb; and a local widow and reindeer farmer (Anni-Kristiina Juuso), who takes them both in but can’t understand either because she speaks only Sami, the native Lapp tongue. Evoking at times the final sequence of Jean Renoir’s Grand Illusion, this was written and directed by Russian filmmaker Alexander Rogozhkin but originated as a project by the male leads, both comedians. (It seems likely that they and the delightful Juuso helped with the dialogue, as Rogozhkin speaks only Russian.) The movie overextends a patch of folk mysticism toward the end and then adds a silly whimsical coda, but as a comedy of errors it’s often hilarious. In Finnish, Russian, and Sami with subtitles. 104 min. Music Box.… Read more »

Day of Wrath

Carl Dreyer made this extraordinary 1943 drama, about the church’s persecution of women for witchcraft in the 17th century, during the German occupation of Denmark. He later claimed that he hadn’t sought to pursue any contemporary parallels while adapting the play Anne Petersdotter (which concerns adultery as well as witchcraft), but he was being disingenuous–Day of Wrath may be the greatest film ever made about living under totalitarian rule. Astonishing in its artistically informed period re-creation as well as its hypnotic mise en scene (with some exceptionally eerie camera movements), it challenges the viewer by suggesting at times that witchcraft isn’t so much an illusion as an activity produced by intolerance. And like Dreyer’s other major films, it’s sensual to the point of carnality. I can’t think of another 40s film that’s less dated. With Thorkild Roose and Lisbeth Movin; in Danish with subtitles. 110 min. Univ. of Chicago Doc Films.… Read more »