Daily Archives: November 4, 2005

Night Watch

With a few exceptions, I prefer the literature of Edgardo Cozarinsky, an Argentinean based mainly in Paris, to his films, and his nonfiction in both realms to his fiction. But this poetic, atmospheric drama, his first to be shot in Buenos Aires, challenged my bias, mixing the natural and the supernatural, the cinematic and the literary, with such assurance that Cozarinsky no longer seems like a divided artist. Following a teenage street hustler through the night of All Saints’ Day, he turns a documentary about his hometown and its street life into a haunting piece of magical realism. (The original title, Ronda Nocturna, translates more accurately as Nocturnal Rounds.) In Spanish with subtitles. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Dying Gaul

A Buddhist screenwriter (Peter Saarsgard) writes an autobiographical script about the recent death of his male lover and sells it to a studio for a million dollars; the executive who buys it (Campbell Scott) converts it into a heterosexual story, meanwhile starting an affair with the writer. The executive’s wife (Patricia Clarkson) finds him out while communicating with the writer in a gay chat group, then impersonates his late lover. This directorial debut by Craig Lucas, based on his play, starts off promisingly as a Hollywood satire with a sensitive direction of actors. But then it gets progressively worse as it takes itself more seriously, changing the characters every which way and ending in absurd bathos. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tristram Shandy: A Cock And Bull Story

Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is still the best of all avant-garde novels, and most of the fun of watching this screen version is wondering how writer Martin Hardy and director Michael Winterbottom will adapt what’s plainly unadaptable. They manage to anticipate almost every possible objection (even finding a cinematic equivalent for Sterne’s purposely blank page). This farce eventually runs out of steam, devolving into a protracted docudrama about actor Steve Coogan (who plays the title hero as well as his father), but until then this is a pretty clever piece of jive. With Rob Brydon (as Toby), Dylan Moran (as Dr. Slop), Keeley Hawes, and Shirley Henderson. R, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Paradise Now

Netherlands-based filmmaker Hany Abu-Assad has done entertaining (Rana’s Wedding) as well as interesting (Ford Transit) work, focusing on the traversing of checkpoints and loyalties by Palestinians and Israelis. So I was disappointed by this 2005 ‘Scope thriller, a watchable but not very illuminating account of two young Palestinians as they prepare to execute a suicide bombing on the West Bank. Abu-Assad tries to penetrate the mind-set of these characters, best friends since childhood, yet the results are muddled. Like the recent and more modest The War Within, this wants to be both thoughtful and suspenseful, impulses that here wind up at cross-purposes. In Arabic with subtitles. PG-13, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Jarhead

As in his previous features, American Beauty and Road to Perdition, director Sam Mendes knows how to create a lively and eclectic stylistic surface. But there’s so little focus in this adaptation (by William Broyles Jr.) of Anthony Swofford’s best-selling memoir about his experiences as a marine in the first gulf war that the movie keeps breaking up into set pieces, most of them structured like music videos. Bits of the book’s intelligence periodically crop up, but its skeptical view of the war and the military is muddied. With Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Foxx, Peter Sarsgaard, and Skyler Stone. R, 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

La Chinoise

One of Jean-Luc Godard’s most underrated and misunderstood films, this 1967 feature isn’t so much an embrace of France’s Maoist youth movement as a multifaceted interrogation of it—far more nuanced and lively than the theoretical agitprop Godard would make with others after the May 1968 uprisings. Though it explores the dogmatism and violence of a Maoist cell in Paris, Godard is equally preocccupied by such things as French rock, the color red, the history of cinema, the “revisionism” of the French Communist Party, and the rebels’ youthful romantic longings. The spirited cast–including Anne Wiazemsky, Jean-Pierre Léaud, and Juliet Berto–make all this touching as well as troubling. The movie helped inspire student revolt at Columbia University soon afterward, but that’s a tribute to its style and energy, not its political intelligence. In French with subtitles. 96 min.… Read more »

The Lady And The Beard

Many of Yasujiro Ozu’s films have topical interest, but few are as novel as this 1931 silent comedy about the westernization of a conservative young hero. Played by Tokihiko Okada, a big star at the time, he indulges in kendo sword fighting and sports a traditional beard until he’s persuaded to lose it in order to land a job at a travel agency. Some of his classmates ridicule him, but he’s also lusted after by one of the ladies, which gives this sexy, offbeat comedy of manners part of its punch. With subtitled Japanese intertitles. 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

War Porn [JARHEAD]

From the Chicago Reader (November 4, 2005). — J.R.

jarhead

Jarhead

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Written by William Broyles Jr.

With Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Jamie Foxx, Lucas Black, Chris Cooper, and Skyler Stone

jarhead_l

When Apocalypse Now opened in 1979 people argued over its politics. I always thought it was mainly prowar, so I got some satisfaction from seeing an early scene in Jarhead that shows marines at their Mojave Desert base in 1990 watching the movie on video. Itching for the gulf war to start, they whoop it up during the famous “Ride of the Valkyries” sequence, in which the cartoonish Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore ecstatically launches an air attack on a Vietnamese village to the strains of Wagner. Director Francis Ford Coppola, a known liberal, plainly saw the scene as disturbing, but screenwriter John Milius, a known hawk, has often suggested that he saw it as a hoot.

Like most of the good things in Jarhead – a somewhat muddled adaptation by writer William Broyles Jr. (Cast Away) and director Sam Mendes (American Beauty) of Anthony Swofford’s best-selling 2003 memoir — the reference to Apocalypse Now comes from the book, which alludes to movies in its first paragraph.… Read more »

The Squid and the Whale

This big step forward by comic writer-director Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, Mr. Jealousy) is a tragicomic autobiographical account of the breakup of his parents’ marriage. The father (Jeff Daniels) and mother (Laura Linney) are both fiction writers living in Brooklyn, and their determination to remain liberated about sexual matters as they separate and divorce drives their two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) nuts. The implied critique of progressive, bohemian parenting is devastating–wise and nuanced, with the painful hilarity of truth. With William Baldwin and Anna Paquin. R, 88 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Piper’s Alley.… Read more »