Monthly Archives: May 2006

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu

The last day and night in the life of a cranky, ailing 63-year-old widower in the Bucharest suburbs, with an ambulance carting him from one overtaxed hospital to another, may sound like an ordeal, but this 154-minute Romanian odyssey is anything but. Both sad and darkly funny, the film is so sharply conceived and richly populated that it often registers like a Frederick Wiseman documentary, even though everything is scripted and every part played by a professional. This is only the second feature of Cristi Puiu, who claims to have been inspired by his own hypochondria, but he’s already clearly a master. In Romanian with subtitles. Music Box.… Read more »

Joe Versus The Volcano

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) made his directorial debut with this whimsical contemporary fairy tale (1990). Tom Hanks plays a former fireman who’s told by his doctor (Robert Stack) that he has only a short time to live. A wealthy businessman (Lloyd Bridges) offers him red-carpet treatment if Hanks will sail to a remote Pacific island (where the businessman wants to gain mineral rights) and dive into a volcano to appease the natives. Meg Ryan plays all three leading ladies, and Abe Vigoda, Amanda Plummer, Barry McGovern, and Ossie Davis are around for other offbeat parts. Borrowing liberally from Delmer Daves’s Bird of Paradise, Shanley manages to achieve some striking pictorial effects and a few goofy gags and plot turns; he also tries for some uplift that’s less convincing but easy enough to take. PG, 102 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Road To Guantanamo

This unscripted British feature by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross uses documentary interviews and dramatizations to tell the story of the Tipton Three, British Muslims en route to a wedding who were arrested by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and held for more than two years at the U.S. Naval Detention Center at Guantanamo Bay. The problem with making a docudrama out of this material is that blurring the lines between the real and the simulated only confuses the considerable issues surrounding the U.S. treatment of detainees. The film is compelling to the extent that the subject is, but also unimaginative and unsurprising. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Water

I haven’t seen Fire (1996) or Earth (1998), the first two installments of Deepa Mehta’s elemental trilogy. But this heartbreaking 2005 feature about the plight of Hindu widows is a potent feminist protestall the more so because some of the laws depicted are still in force. (In fact production had to be suspended after the sets were damaged by arson.) Set in the 1930s near the banks of the Ganges, it focuses on an eight-year-old bride (Sarala) who’s taken to an ashram after her husband dies, then shifts to an older girl (Lisa Ray) who falls for a young follower of Gandhi. The agitprop aspects may be simplistic, but the story’s realization is effective. In Hindi with subtitles. 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

Interkosmos

Poker-faced, often hilarious, and endlessly inventive, this minimalist mockumentary by Chicago filmmaker Jim Finn uses a few established facts to invent a wild narrative about an international communist project to establish colonies on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Finn gets some of his giddiest effects filming his own animals and SF miniatures, imagining a letter written by an Indian astronaut on holiday to a colleague (“P.S. I have bought a hammock that smells of goat and Mexico”), and creating a solemn radio communication about “The Trolley Song.” In short, this is very special. Colleen Burke and Jim Becker wrote the delightful percussive score. In English and subtitled German. 71 min. Finn and members of the cast and crew will attend the screenings. Sun 5/7, 5 PM, and Thu 5/11, 8:15 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »