Daily Archives: January 20, 2006

Looking For Comedy In The Muslim World

For the first time since his brilliant debut feature, Real Life (1979), Albert Brooks plays a semifictional character named Albert Brooks, this time a guy who heads an ill-conceived State Department mission to discover what makes people in India and Pakistan laugh. Questioning and mocking himself, he combines personal worries about his dwindling career as a comic performer with more general ones about this country’s lack of smarts when it comes to the third world. Filmed mainly in Delhi, this provocative comedy couldn’t be more up-to-date. As usual, Brooks’s penchant for realism involves filming from a distance in extended takes and sometimes challenging the viewer to accept him as both an identification figure and a foolthough a softening of his usual obnoxious persona confuses matters a little. With Sheetal Sheth and Fred Dalton Thompson (also playing himself). PG-13, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Punishment Park

The neglected English master Peter Watkinswho came into international prominence with The War Game (1967)has specialized in political forms of pseudodocumentary throughout his career, including a treatment of historical subjects done in the form of TV news shows. In 1971, he made his only major feature in the U.S., a terrifying look at a future America where civil liberties are suspended, deliberately blurring many of the usual boundaries between documentary and fiction while staging a kind of psychodrama with his nonprofessional actors. The results are both hysterical and unforgettable, as well as creepily up to date in certain respects. There are other Watkins features that I prefer, but all are worth seeing. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Torture Question

The decision to use torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib can be traced to the highest levels in U.S. government, and much of the value of this excellent documentary by Michael Kirk, broadcast on PBS’s Frontline last October, lies in its comprehensively mapping how the policy got carried out. Kirk reveals the pecking orders and blurred lines between military police and military intelligence, and the impression of ill-informed incompetence leading to frustration and sadism on the part of the torturers is devastating. The interviewees include Colonel Janis Karpinski, who appears to have been a convenient scapegoat, and Tony Lagouranis, an army interrogator in Iraq for four years who also speaks chillingly of how innocent Iraqis were and still are abused and tortured in their own homes. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cafe Lumiere

Hou Hsiao-hsien’s most minimalist film to date (2003) is a bracing return to form, a provocative and haunting look at Tokyo and the overall drift of the world that’s slow to reveal its secrets and beauties. Commissioned by the Japanese studio Shochiku as an homage to its famous house director Yasujiro Ozu, it references Ozu only indirectly, through the repetition of a few visual motifs and through details that indicate how much the world has changed since his heyday. The 23-year-old heroine (pop singer Yo Hitoto), single and pregnant, is a freelance writer obsessed with the life of Taiwanese classical composer Jiang Wenye (whose music we hear in the film); she’s helped in her research by a friend equally obsessed with recording the noises of subway trains. The plot is spare, but the sounds, images, and ambience are indelible. In Japanese with subtitles. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Torture Question

The decision to use torture at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib can be traced to the highest levels in U.S. government, and much of the value of this excellent documentary by Michael Kirk, broadcast on PBS’s Frontline last October, lies in its comprehensively mapping how the policy got carried out. Kirk reveals the pecking orders and blurred lines between military police and military intelligence, and the impression of ill-informed incompetence leading to frustration and sadism on the part of the torturers is devastating. The interviewees include General Janis Karpinski, who appears to have been a convenient scapegoat, and Tony Lagouranis, an army interrogator in Iraq for four years who also speaks chillingly of how innocent Iraqis were and still are abused and tortured in their own homes. 90 min. Fri 1/20, 7 PM, Chicago Filmmakers.… Read more »

Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World

For the first time since his brilliant debut feature, Real Life (1979), Albert Brooks plays a semifictional character named Albert Brooks, this time a guy who heads an ill-conceived State Department mission to discover what makes people in India and Pakistan laugh. Questioning and mocking himself, he combines personal worries about his dwindling career as a comic performer with more general ones about this country’s lack of smarts when it comes to the third world. Filmed mainly in New Delhi, this provocative comedy couldn’t be more up-to-date. As usual, Brooks’s penchant for realism involves filming from a distance in extended takes and sometimes challenging the viewer to accept him as both an identification figure and a fool–though a softening of his usual obnoxious persona confuses matters a little. With Sheetal Sheth and Fred Dalton Thompson (also playing himself). PG-13, 98 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Lake, Landmark’s Century Centre, River East 21.… Read more »