Daily Archives: March 18, 2005

Not On The Lips

From the Chicago Reader (March 18, 2005). — J.R.

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Alain Resnais’ best work since Mélo (1986) is, like that film, an eccentric and highly personal adaptation of a 1920s French stage hitin this case, a farcical 1925 operetta with a jubilant and inventive score by André Barde and Maurice Yvain. A happily married society lady (Sabine Azema) is terrified that her industrialist husband (Pierre Arditi) will discover that his new American business partner (Lambert Wilson) was her first husband; a subplot charts the coming together of two other couples (including Audrey Tautou and Jalil Lespert). The actors do their own singing, and the theatrical trappings of the original — including lavish sets and asides to the audience — are embraced rather than avoided. As lush as an MGM musical, this 2003 feature is both moving and very strange, with one of the funniest ever French portraits of a prudish American. In French with subtitles (often rhyming couplets). 117 min. (JR)

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Me And You And Everyone We Know

Fresh, likable, and stylishly low-key, this wistful and sexy romantic comedy marks the feature-directing debut of conceptual artist Miranda July. There are a lot of strong performances by relative unknowns, but what really holds things together is a certain sustained pitch of feeling about loneliness. July plays a shy video artist, supporting herself as a cabdriver for the elderly, who becomes interested in a recently separated shoe clerk (John Hawkes) with two sons. The movie’s flirtatious roundelay also includes the clerk’s coworker, an art curator, and a couple of teenage girls. R, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Passion Of Joan Of Arc

Carl Dreyer’s last silent, the greatest of all Joan of Arc films. (Lost for half a century, the 1928 original was rediscovered in a Norwegian mental asylum in the 80s; other prints had perished in a warehouse fire, and the two versions subsequently circulated consisted of outtakes.) Joan is played by stage actress Renee Falconetti, and though hers is one of the key performances in the history of movies, she never made another film. (Antonin Artaud also appears in a memorable cameo.) Dreyer’s radical approach to constructing space and the slow intensity of his mobile style make this difficult in the sense that, like all the greatest films, it reinvents the world from the ground up. It’s also painful in a way that all Dreyer’s tragedies are, but it will continue to live long after most commercial movies have vanished from memory. In French with subtitles. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Miss Congeniality 2: Armed And Fabulous

Sandra Bullock returns as klutzy FBI agent Gracie Hart and as producer in this sequel to Miss Congeniality, though with all her grotesque disguises, this often suggests a sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire. Screenwriter Marc Lawrence (Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice) delivers plenty of gender humor, including attitude from a black agent named Sam Fuller (Regina King), wisecracks from a gay personal stylist (Diedrich Bader), and a grand climax at a Las Vegas drag show. Among the casino-size product placements are such familiar faces as Ernie Hudson, Treat Williams, William Shatner, and Eileen Brennan in a cameo. John Pasquin directed. PG-13, 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Rouch In Reverse

Though not entirely satisfying, Manthia Diawara’s 1995 video documentary about innovative French anthropological filmmaker Jean Rouchwhich intermittently attempts to practice a reverse anthropology on Rouch himselfis an invaluable introduction to the great late filmmaker. Diawara, a critic and film professor at New York University who hails from Mali, knew Rouch for years and struggles admirably to balance the filmmaker’s unquestionable achievements (including his role as a precursor of and guru to the French New Wave) with his paternalism toward Africansan attitude that was arguably progressive 20, 30, or 40 years ago, when most of Rouch’s masterpieces were made, but is harder to rationalize today. Diawara fails to resolve the conflict, but he articulates it as honestly as possible. 52 min. (JR)… Read more »

Melinda And Melinda

Two theater people in lower Manhattan (Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine) argue about whether the story of a troubled single woman named Melinda (Radha Mitchell) qualifies as tragedy or comedy, and writer-director Woody Allen cuts between the tragic and comic versions, with different locales, characters, and plot details. But the tragic version isn’t very painful and the comic version, aside from a few one-liners, isn’t very funny. This is mainly a narrative brainteaser like Memento or The Jacket; merely keeping up with the game requires so much energy that the thinness of the material becomes fully apparent only toward the end. With Will Ferrell, Chloe Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Amanda Peet, and Brooke Smith. PG-13, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hostage

The title of this brainlessly efficient action thriller should be plural: one family is held hostage by hoods in its deluxe southern California home, while another, belonging to the local police chief (Bruce Willis), is kidnapped to force him to retrieve incriminating evidence from the site of the standoff. (I’m not even counting another hostage in the prologue.) Director Florent Emilio Siri increases the bombast with a particularly pretentious use of slow motion, and Willis, who doubled as executive producer, seems at pains to underline his character’s sanity and sensitivity in contrast to the subhuman demeanor of most of the villains. (The worst wear black masks and headdresses, faintly suggesting Arabs once the action reaches war-movie proportions.) Doug Richardson adapted a novel by Robert Crais; with Kevin Pollak, Jonathan Tucker, Ben Foster, Michelle Horn, and Willis’s daughter Rumer playing the cop’s daughter. R, 113 min. (JR)… Read more »

Heaven Can Wait

Ernst Lubitsch’s only completed film in Technicolor (1943), the greatest of his late films, offers a rosy, meditative, and often very funny view of an irrepressible ladies’ man (Don Ameche in his prime) presenting his life in retrospect to the devil (Laird Cregar). Like a good deal of Lubitsch from The Merry Widow on, it’s about death as well as personal style, but rarely has the subject been treated with such affection for the human condition. Samson Raphaelson’s script is very close to perfection, the sumptuous period sets are a delight, and the secondary castGene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, and Spring Byingtonis wonderful. In many respects, this is Lubitsch’s testament, full of grace, wisdom, and romance. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Dreyer’s last silent, the greatest of all Joan of Arc films. Lost for half a century, the 1928 original was rediscovered in a Norwegian mental asylum in the 80s (other prints had perished in a warehouse fire, and the two versions subsequently circulated consisted of outtakes). Joan is played by stage actress Renee Falconetti, and though hers is one of the key performances in the history of movies, she never made another film. (Antonin Artaud also appears in a memorable cameo.) Dreyer’s radical approach to constructing space and the slow intensity of his mobile style make this “difficult” in the sense that, like all the greatest films, it reinvents the world from the ground up. It’s also painful in a way that all Dreyer’s tragedies are, but it will continue to live long after most commercial movies have vanished from memory. With subtitled French intertitles. 114 min. The choral group Jubilate, accompanied by a full orchestra, will perform Richard Einhorn’s Voices of Light, a powerful piece written for the film. Tickets are $18 and $22. Fri 3/18, 6:30 and 8:30 PM, Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago, Evanston, 847-535-9873.… Read more »