Daily Archives: September 10, 2004

Thx 1138: The George Lucas Director’s Cut

From the Chicago Reader (September 10, 2004). — J.R.

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The surprising thing about George Lucas’s first feature (1971), a dystopian SF parable now digitally enhanced and expanded by five minutes, is how arty it seems compared to his later movies: off-center ‘Scope compositions reminiscent of Antonioni, striking white-on-white costumes and sets, a highly inventive sound track by cowriter Walter Murch. Yet the film is just as claustrophobic as Star Wars, and its ideas are equally shopworn, drawing on Orwell, Huxley, Kubrick, and Godard’s Alphaville. A young Robert Duvall plays the title drone, who escapes from a totalitarian society after he and fellow cipher Maggie McOmie discover sex. Lucas’s use of northern California locations is inventive; costar Donald Pleasence is mainly tiresome. R, 88 min. (JR)

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War At A Distance

The talented experimental documentary filmmaker Harun Farocki takes a subtle and provocative look at industrial photography and automation, especially as they relate to the launching, monitoring, and recording of missile strikes. Farocki begins by considering the smart bombs used during the first gulf war, which provided precise video imagery without any sign of human casualties. From there he examines the wider technological developments in factories as well as military systems, and the elimination of people from both. Especially telling is Farocki’s examination of the kinds of images used to represent these innovations and what they implicitly reveal about the people using them. 2003. In German with subtitles. 54 min. (JR)… Read more »

Silver City

Writer-director John Sayles did a rush job on this Chandler-esque mystery about corporate corruption during a Colorado gubernatorial race, in order to get his Bush-bashing picture into theaters before the election. But with so many informative political documentaries in release, it seems misguided if not downright perverse to resort to a 60-year-old dramatic template as a form of persuasion, while congratulating the viewer for having the right opinions. Some of the cast are fun to watch (Kris Kristofferson, Danny Huston as the gumshoe), though the hackneyed script makes others look ham-fisted (Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Daryl Hannah). With Thora Birch and Tim Roth. R, 129 min. (JR)… Read more »

Paper Clips

In 1998 educators at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee decided to teach their students about the Holocaust by asking them to collect six million paper clips, so they might grasp the enormity of the Jewish death toll. This excellent idea grew in momentum and ambition, attracted coverage from around the world, and brought about this low-tech documentary by Elliot Berlin and Joe Fab. It’s a story worth telling, though once the participants and the filmmakers start basking in their virtue, the material begins to feel overextended. G, 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

What The Bleep Do We Know?

This New Agey production combines all sorts of digital effects with sound bites from experts on quantum physics, neurophysiology, molecular biology, and metaphysics. Intercut with all this is a fictional narrative about a deaf-mute photographer (Marlee Matlin) that’s meant to illustrate the various concepts, a strategy that sometimes works but sometimes doesn’t. This is fun, instructive, and stimulating, but it’s never beautiful and it’s less original than the three filmmakers (Mark Vincente, Betsy Chasse, and William Arntz) seem to think. The Hollywood head trips of the 60s are a clear antecedent, for better and for worse. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Five Obstructions

Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier (Dogville) persuades veteran director and old friend Jorgen Leth to shoot five different remakes of his 14-minute film The Perfect Human (1968), each governed by a set of highly restrictive rules: the first must be limited to 12 frames a shot; the second has to be filmed in the worst place on earth (which turns out to be Bombay); the fourth must be animated (the best of the bunch, incidentally, employing some of the artists who created Waking Life); and so on. All of the remakes are shown complete, but we see the original only in snatches. An ersatz experimental film and an ersatz documentary, this is too frivolous to explore any of its ideas. But it’s never dull, enhanced as well as limited by von Trier’s signature sadism, which is softer here than in his fiction films. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Criminal

The only excuse for remaking a good foreign movie for the American market is to make it better; otherwise it’s an exercise in cynicism. Two of the cynics in this case are producers George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh (Soderbergh also worked on the script pseudonymously). Last time around they squeezed most of the good stuff out of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and this time they’re adapting Nine Queens (2000), Fabian Bielinsky’s very entertaining Argentinean thriller about two con artists that anticipated the country’s economic collapse. The filmmakers have lovingly retained and expanded on that film’s only flaws, some implausible plot details. But even without the same cultural significance, it’s still a good story, and the interesting cast—John C. Reilly, Diego Luna, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jonathan Tucker, and Peter Mullan—helps us overlook some of its holes. Gregory Jacobs directed. R, 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Go Further

While it didn’t convince me to give up corn dogs, Ron Mann’s 100-minute celebration of actor Woody Harrelson’s Simple Organic Living tour (a bus-and-bicycle caravan spreading the gospel of holistic living along the Pacific coast) is a highly entertaining form of ecological agitpropradical but accessible. Mann’s shrewdest ploy is to shift his focus from Harrelson to Steve Clark, his junk-food-addicted production assistant, whose comic encounters with strangers along the way look staged but purportedly weren’t. Great music and animation plus a pivotal cameo by Ken Kesey helped make this a popular favorite at the 2003 Toronto film festival. (JR)… Read more »