Monthly Archives: March 2006

All Souls

Subtitled Stories on the Edge of Murder, this 2005 Dutch film compiles 16 sketches that address the brutal November 2004 murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. (His killer, Mohammed Bouyeri, was provoked by van Gogh’s ten-minute short Submission, which ridiculed Islamic sexism.) Many segments are preoccupied with van Gogh’s obesity, and some are as crude and insensitive as Submission. Others are insensitive but well-done (the striking experimental piece Goodbye), though I’m not sure whether any qualify as sensitive and well made. The title of each is rendered in black-and-white footage of street graffiti. In English and subtitled Dutch. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Find Me Guilty

Director Sidney Lumet has always been inspired in his handling of courtroom dramas and New York crime stories, especially when they involve racial antagonism and ethnic loyalty. This mix turns up in all his theatrical screenplays: Prince of the City, Q&A, Night Falls on Manhattan, and now this audacious account of one of the longest criminal trials in U.S. history (1987-’88), of New Jersey mobster Giacomo DiNorscio, who grandstands while acting as his own attorney. Action hero Vin Diesel plays DiNorscio with scene-stealing brio, giving a performance with Brechtian consequences: what looks at first like a procrime drama eventually becomes a criticism of viewers’ biases. At age 82, Lumet has outdone himself. With Ron Silver, Peter Dinklage, and a terrific cameo by Annabella Sciorra. R, 125 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ask The Dust

Robert Towne, screenwriter of Chinatown, reaches further back into Los Angeles history for this dreamy adaptation of John Fante’s autobiographical novel about his early years as a struggling writer. Set in the Bunker Hill neighborhood during the Depression, it focuses mainly on the hero’s troubled affair with a Mexican waitress, played out as a kind of erotic grudge match between Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. Towne, who also directed, romanticizes the material yet preserves Fante’s critique of his own anti-Mexican biasan attempt to cover his sensitivity about being Italian-American. The period ambience is wonderful, and the story is even sexier than Personal Best (1982), Towne’s directorial debut. With Eileen Atkins, Idina Menzel, and Donald Sutherland. R, 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

Duck Season

Shot in black and white, this eccentric Mexican comedy by first-time director Fernando Eimbcke focuses on two 14-year-old boys left to themselves in an urban high-rise on a Sunday afternoon. A 16-year-old neighbor comes over to bake herself a birthday cake, and an alienated pizza delivery man hangs around on various pretexts. The characters’ behavior isn’t always believable, and the jerky rhythm takes some getting used to (there may be more attitude here than observation). But the defiant absence of any conventional plot has a cumulative charm. In Spanish with subtitles. R, 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Golden Age Of Jazz

The fourth and final jazz TV special (1959) presented by Timexand by all accounts the most ambitious, pairing Louis Armstrong with Dizzy Gillespie on one number and also featuring Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Dakota Staton, Gene Krupa, Jo Jones, the Dukes of Dixieland, Barbara Dane, and a group including Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins. As I recall, far too many musicians were crowded into the act, and some were wasted; the show culminates in a cacophonous jam on Perdido. Jackie Gleason hosted. 59 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sorry, Haters

Sorry, viewers is more like it. A Syrian cabdriver in Manhattan (an intense Abdellatif Kechiche), whose brother has just been sent to Guantanamo Bay, picks up a maladjusted career woman (Robin Wright Penn) who makes his life even more miserable. Press notes for this psychological thriller describe it as a story of anger, revenge and retribution so timely it could be true, but writer-director Jeff Stanzler seems willing to try anything, throwing in numerous unconvincing plot twists. With Sandra Oh and Elodie Bouchez. 83 min. (JR)… Read more »

Ask the Dust

Robert Towne, screenwriter of Chinatown, reaches further back into Los Angeles history for this dreamy adaptation of John Fante’s autobiographical novel about his early years as a struggling writer. Set in the Bunker Hill neighborhood during the Depression, it focuses mainly on the hero’s troubled affair with a Mexican waitress, played out as a kind of erotic grudge match between Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek. Towne, who also directed, romanticizes the material yet preserves Fante’s critique of his own anti-Mexican bias–an attempt to cover his sensitivity about being Italian-American. The period ambience is wonderful, and the story is even sexier than Personal Best (1982), Towne’s directorial debut. With Eileen Atkins, Idina Menzel, and Donald Sutherland. R, 117 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »

Only Human

I’m not sure the world needs a Jewish/Palestinian remake of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner reconfigured as farce, though the relative novelty of the ethnic mix lends a mild exoticism to this 2004 Spanish feature. A young Jewish woman brings her Palestinian fiance (Guillermo Toledo of El Crimen Perfecto) home to meet her family; to make matters worse, he accidentally injures a passing pedestrian who may be the father, and the son’s pet duckling breaks loose. Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri wrote and directed, and the results are lively but also shamelessly overbearing. In Spanish with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

Moments Choisis Des Histoire(s) Du Cinema

Jean-Luc Godard’s eight-part, 264-minute video Histoire(s) du Cinema (1998) has rarely been seen outside France, occasioning this feature-length reworking of many elements in his magnum opus that’s neither an anthology nor a digest. The selected moments have been transferred to 35-millimeter, and at 84 minutes this reconfiguration is more accessible (if less celebratory) than the original. Both versions portray cinema as a 19th-century invention that recorded the history of the 20th century, though the pessimism here about cinema’s failure to bear adequate witness to the Holocaust is even more pronounced. The beauty and power of this ambitious, dreamlike work are incontestable in any version; as in Finnegans Wake, the meanings are more easily felt than understood. The English subtitles are sparse but work better that way. (JR)… Read more »

Joyeux Noel

French, German, and Scottish soldiers, stuck in the trenches during World War I, decide to unite briefly for a Christmas celebration in this touching if simple parable (2005) by French writer-director Christian Carion. Based on a true story, the movie was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film; some might castigate its unabashed sentimentality, but I found myself moved, especially when I recalled that this was supposedly the war to end all wars. In English and subtitled French, German, and Latin. R, 116 min. (JR)… Read more »

Winter Passing

An unhappy young New York actress (Zooey Deschanel) is offered a small fortune if she can secure publication rights to the love letters her recently deceased mother received from her reclusive novelist father (Ed Harris). After traveling home to Michigan she finds him living with one of his former students (Amelia Warner) and a born-again musician (Will Ferrell). Playwright Adam Rapp, making his feature debut as writer-director, details the family dysfunction to the point of hyperbole, but over the long haul he rewards one’s observation and intelligence and a more interesting story emerges. With Sam Bottoms and Amy Madigan. R, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Director’s Cut

From the Chicago Reader (March 9, 2006). — J.R.

Moments Choisis des Histoire(s) du Cinéma

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard

Ironically, the two greatest works by the two most innovative filmmakers of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, were originally designed as TV series. Rivette’s 760-minute, 16-millimeter serial Out 1 (1971) was rejected by French state TV, and he spent most of a year editing it down to a 255-minute version to show in theaters, Out 1: Spectre (1972). Less a digest than a perverse variant — some shots were rearranged so that they had radically different meanings and contexts, and much of the comedy was turned into psychodrama — it’s the only version that’s ever shown in the U.S., though it hasn’t been screened for years. The original — almost certainly the best film ever made by anyone about the 60s counterculture and its demise — still shows periodically in Europe.

Godard’s eight-part, 264-minute video Histoire(s) du Cinéma (1998), conceived and made over 20 years, has fared better, but it’s still pretty hard to come by. The only version ever sold in France is a lousy mono video transfer; a package of CDs and books in several languages transcribing major portions of the stereo sound track came out here years ago.… Read more »

Just Another Girl On The I.r.t.

A film Hollywood dared not to do is how writer-director Leslie Harris described her lively 1992 moviea brave independent quickie with only a 17-day shooting schedule, about an ambitious and angry black teenage girl (Ariyan Johnson) living in one of the Brooklyn projects who goes into denial (with catastrophic results) when her boyfriend (Kevin Thigpen) gets her pregnant. What’s both refreshing and off-putting is that Harris’s sense of urgency isn’t accompanied by any clear or consistent analysis; her heroine’s denial eventually overwhelms the movie. Yet Harris’s refusal to treat her heroine strictly as role model or bad example makes her portrait a lot livelier and less predictableas well as more confusingthan the standard genre exercises most reviewers seem to prefer. What’s exciting about this movie is a lot of loose details: frank girl talk about AIDS and birth control, glancing observations about welfare lines and the advantages of a boy with a car over one with subway tokens. R, 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Intruder

Like many other films by the gifted and original Claire Denis, this ambitious and mysterious 2004 French feature is something I admire without especially liking. Michel Subor (Beau Travail) plays a man who gets a black-market heart transplant and goes to Tahiti in search of his long-lost son; the difficult story, inspired by philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy’s book about his own transplant, might be called French to a fault, though I’m not convinced that the most fruitful approach to this brooding and provocative work is through its narrative. The impressive ‘Scope cinematography is by Denis’ frequent collaborator Agnes Godard. With Gregoire Colin. In French with subtitles. 130 min. (JR)… Read more »

The City Of The Sun

Four factory workers who’ve lost their jobs try to find new livelihoods while coping with families or girlfriends in this 2005 comedy with tragic undertones, a coproduction of Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Director Martin Sulik has an unfortunate taste for stuttering zooms and bargain-basement rock, but what he gets from his actors is so fine and textured that this gradually won me over. Also known as Working Class Heroes. In Czech and Slovak with subtitles. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »