Daily Archives: August 29, 2003

The King, The Lawyers, And The Cheese

Fox News’s attempt to stop the publication of Al Franken’s book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Rightbecause its mocking subtitle supposedly infringed on the network’s fair and balanced trademarkechoes the efforts of Dick Cheney and others in the Bush administration to silence criticism by labeling it unpatriotic. Also questionable is the lawsuit launched by Kraft against another flaky individual, Wicker Park erotic comic-book artist and Web designer Stu Helm, for using the nickname King VelVeeda and thereby tarnishing Kraft’s wholesome image. That suit is the focus of Brigid Maher’s lighthearted yet informative and absorbing 45-minute video documentary, which is so funny it hurts. (JR)… Read more »

Rockets Redglare

A stickler could complain that Luis Fernandez de la Reguera’s 2002 documentary about his late friend, actor and comedian Michael Morra, never gets around to explaining how he picked up the moniker Rockets Redglare. In fact, the intimacy of this portrait may be a disadvantage: Jim Jarmusch, Steve Buscemi, Willem Dafoe, Matt Dillon, Alex Rockwell, Nick Zedd, and Julian Schnabel are among those interviewed, and it seems like practically everyone loved this guy despite (if not because of) his excessive ways. Then again, lack of balance seems so central to his life and character that an inside view is probably the most appropriate one. A heroin addict from birth, born to a teenage junkie mother, Morra grew up surrounded by violent crime, worked as bodyguard and drug supplier to both Sid Vicious and Jean-Michel Basquiat, and appeared in over 30 films. A compulsive hustler who became obese once he decided to substitute beer for drugs, he was also a gifted raconteur, and there’s plenty of mesmerizing footage here to prove it. In fact, his informal and private storytelling registers more strongly than his public performances. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

Passionada

I have no objection to soap opera when it’s delivered with conviction and a sense of urgency, but this sappy tale about the widow (Sofia Milos) of a Portuguese fisherman in New Bedford, Massachusetts, being wooed by an English cardsharp (Jason Isaacs) who’s posing as a tycoon held my interest only moderately. I was periodically distracted (though not intrigued) by the heroine’s rebellious daughter (Emmy Rossum), who tries to play matchmaker between her mother and the cardsharp while he’s teaching her gambling tricks, and by the hero’s wealthy friends (Seymour Cassel, Theresa Russell), who seem to have strayed in from another movie. Dan Ireland, who also showed his sentimental bent on The Whole Wide World, directed a script by Jim and Steve Jermanok. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Other Side Of The Bed

I was fully prepared to enjoy this sex comedy and musical about young couples in Madrid playing musical beds, even if the songs were second-rate and the performances a little slapdashin this context, feeling and vulnerability often count for more than professionalism. But despite a brisk opening and some agreeable (if sloppy) choreography at the very end, I was less than tickled by the premise of David Serrano’s scriptthat the characters lie to and betray one another as naturally as they breathe. This reportedly did well in Spain, but I don’t know whether to credit the cast (Erneso Alterio, Paz Vega, Guillermo Toledo, Nathalia Verbeke) or the audience’s cynicism. Emilio Martinez-Lazaro directed; in Spanish with subtitles. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Fountain Of Youth And Return To Glennescaul

To promote the first volume of his two-part biography of Orson Welles, a fascinating if contestable book, actor, director, and writer Simon Callow is presenting a Welles tribute consisting of two half-hour shorts. Hilton Edwards’s Irish ghost story Return to Glennascaul (1951), narrated by Welles (who also appears briefly, and probably directed the short bit that allegedy shows him filming Othello), won an Oscar when it came out and is still worth seeing. But the real gem in this program is The Fountain of Youth, Welles’s first and best TV pilotshot for Desilu in 1956, and first aired two years later. Based on John Collier’s story Youth from Vienna, this dark period comedy about youth potions and aging narrated by Welles, who also appears centrally as a kind of slide lectureris as innovative in some ways in relation to TV as Citizen Kane was in relation to movies; the pilot never sold but the brittle nastiness of the humor still carries a rude bite. Implicitly tweaking Welles’s own narcissism as well as that of his charactersplayed by Joi Lansing (the lady who gets blown up in the opening shot of Touch of Evil,), Dan Tobin, and Rick Jasonwhile making novel use of still photographs and lightning-sharp lighting changes to mark shifts in space and time, this jaunt implicitly marks the medium of TV itself as a kind of mirror to get lost in.… Read more »

Pistol Opera

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Japanese director Seijun Suzuki has called this 2001 feature a sequel to his 1967 stylistic exercise Branded to Kill. But that was a hit-man thriller in black and white; this is a sensual explosion in color, a surreal, deliriously balletic pop fantasy that defies most forms of narrative description. Shot for shot, it ranks as the most beautiful movie I’ve seen in years. The characters are four or five generations of women, most of them dressed to kill, with one, a determined hit woman named Stray Cat (Makiko Esumi), trying to shoot her way from third to first place in a hierarchy of assassins managed by an inscrutable and invisible “Guild.” The striking settings are industrial, urban, or rural locations, diverse theatrical stages, and otherworldly studio sets; the dialogue, in Japanese with subtitles, occasionally shifts to English (including recitations of Wordsworth and “Humpty Dumpty”); and the musical accompaniment periodically sounds like Miles Davis in an echo chamber. 112 min. Music Box.

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