Daily Archives: June 10, 2005

Where the Kids Are

From the Chicago Reader (June 10, 2005). — J.R.

It seems like hardly anyone in the U.S. ever saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, despite its enormous success elsewhere, apparently not so much because kids had trouble with it as because of the adult suits handling it. But Roger Ebert gave this film only two and a half stars while assigning Mr. and Mrs. Smith three stars the same week (June 10, 2005), suggesting that one of us was probably wrong — or maybe just that Japanese kids and I are both helplessly out of touch with the American mainstream as defined by some grown-ups. — J.R.

 

Howl’s Moving Castle

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and Written by Hayao Miyazaki

With the voices of Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson, and Billy Crystal

The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Written by Rodriguez and Racer Rodriguez

With Cayden Boyd, Taylor Dooley, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Jacob Davich, David Arquette, and Kristin Davis

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

no stars (Worthless)

Directed by Doug Liman

Written by Simon Kinberg

With Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington, and Keith David

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sometimes movies earmarked for kids are a lot more nuanced, sophisticated, and mature than the ones that are allegedly for grown-ups.… Read more »

Saving Face

A young Chinese-American surgeon (Michelle Krusiec) is dismayed when her widowed and mysteriously pregnant mother (Joan Chen) moves in with her. Meanwhile the doctor falls in love with a ballet dancer (Lynn Chen), scandalizing their conservative Chinese community. At first this comedy drama by Alice Wu promises to move beyond the complacency of Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, which dealt with some of the same Asian-American concerns, but instead it abjectly collapses into feel-good nonsense. In English and subtitled Mandarin. R, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

High Tension

Most mediocre slasher films choose one or two obvious modelsPsycho or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or I Spit on Your Grave or Dressed to Kill or Re-Animatorbut this exceptionally gory French item (2003) gropes for all of them and winds up incoherent. The distributor, showing a similar desire to cover all bases, has dubbed some of the dialogue and subtitled the rest. If old-fashioned jolts are what you’re after, this nasty piece of merchandise delivers. But so does electroshock. Alexandre Aja directed; with Cecile de France, Maiwenn Le Besco, and Philippe Nahon. Also known as Switchblade Romance. R, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Honeymooners

Making a movie out of the 50s sitcom and substituting black characters half a century later sounds like a dubious proposition on multiple levels. But thanks to some affectionate fidelity to the original characters, plus a spirited castCedric the Entertainer and Gabrielle Union as Ralph and Alice Kramden, Mike Epps as Ed Nortonthis plays a bit better than it sounds. I miss the show’s mangy, minimalist sets, but the slapdash narrative construction and good-hearted schmaltz survive intact. With Regina Hall and extra mugging from John Leguizamo and Jon Polito. PG-13, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mr. And Mrs. Smith

If you think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are so cute they’d be watchable in anything, this stupid action comedy-romance may be just the acid test youand theydeserve. Over $110 million was lavished on Simon Kinberg’s script about an unhappily married couple of secret assassins, working for rival organizations that assign them to bump each other off. Expect 120 minutes of unfunny, self-ingratiated shtick, punctuated by explosions, cynical mass slaughter, and a few fancy effects. Director Doug Liman also made Go (1999), but then he had characters and a plot. With Vince Vaughn. PG-13. (JR)… Read more »

Onion City Experimental Film And Video Festival

Even as commercial moviemaking becomes more geared to teens and preteens, this crackerjack survey, the opening-night program of the 18th Onion City festival, shows how some contemporary experimental work approaches and interacts with the mainstream. Among the shorts screening are Soul Dancing (2004), a weird video by Japanese cult horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), a 35-millimeter ‘Scope reworking of a Sergio Leone western by Austrian filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky; Here (2005), in which Fred Worden shuffles images from Georges Melies and the Laurence Olivier Henry V; and Andy Warhol’s 1966 screen tests featuring Bob Dylan. Best of all is Roads of Kiarostami (2005, 32 min.), in which Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami introduces his black-and-white landscape photography but also includes a startling and topical finale in color. The program’s running time is 95 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D

Robert Rodriguez’s charmingly low-tech fantasy, similar to his Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and written with his son, Racer, forsakes obvious 3-D effects for puns and literalized metaphors–a Stream of Consciousness flowing through a land of milk and giant cookies, a Train of Thought that keeps jumping off its tracks, a thundering brainstorm. They’re all located on the planet Drool, where the imaginative kid hero (Cayden Boyd) accompanies the title characters on their quest to defeat Mr. Electricity (George Lopez), a dreamlike version of the boy’s bossy grade school teacher. This gets a bit preachy in its defense of imagination, but its homemade, anticorporate spirit–Rodriguez’s trump card ever since El mariachi–gives it energy and grit. PG, 94 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Lake, Lawndale, Norridge, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Webster Place.… Read more »

Onion City Film Festival

The opening-night program of this experimental film and video bash is unusually star-studded, with short works by Kenneth Anger, Peter Kubelka, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow, Ken Jacobs, and Ernie Gehr. Anger’s Mouse Heaven (2004) does for Disney creatures what his Scorpio Rising did for bikers. In Poetry and Truth (2003), Kubelka plays with the phoniness of advertising footage. Mekas’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn (2003) works with sorrowful and pungent home movies from two distant periods. And in Sshtoorrty, Snow repeatedly superimposes the first and second halves of one long take that records a lively narrative in subtitled Farsi. But of the works available for preview, the real gem was superficially the most conventional: Michelangelo Antonioni’s 35-millimeter Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004). The Italian filmmaker was incapacitated by a stroke in 1985, but through digital magic he’s restored to his old self, entering San Pietro church in Rome to admire and caress Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses–one magnificently restored Michelangelo confronting another. In its deceptive simplicity and enduring mystery, this could be Antonioni’s most arresting tour de force since the 1960s. The festival continues June 17 through 19 at Chicago Filmmakers; see next week’s issue for details. Thu 6/16, 8 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Howl’s Moving Castle

Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki follows up his international hit Spirited Away with this adaptation of a British novel by Diana Wynne Jones; I haven’t read the book, but the movie’s dreamlike spaces and characters are sometimes worthy of Lewis Carroll. One thing that makes this highly cinematic is the radical fluidity of both age and character: people and objects are constantly transforming, and wisdom doesn’t so much succeed callowness as peacefully coexist with it. The heroine, a teenage hatmaker, runs afoul of a wicked witch and gets turned into a 90-year-old woman; she becomes housekeeper for a youthful magician named Howl, tending to the gigantic walking castle where he lives. Whenever she feels romantic stirrings for him, she becomes a teenager again. Voices are by Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Billy Crystal, and Lauren Bacall, among others. PG, 118 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley, River East 21.… Read more »