Daily Archives: July 28, 2006

America: Freedom To Fascism

Provocative but also infuriating, this alarmist documentary argues that the levying of a federal income tax in 1913 was unconstitutional and set America on the road to fascism. Filmmaker Aaron Russo (Bette Midler’s former manager and the producer of Trading Places) shows no interest in the social, cultural, medical, or educational benefits of the income tax, or in the world outside the U.S., which he seems to regard as tainted by communism in the past and the international banking community in the present. He lacks the humor and polemical skill of Michael Moore as he ambushes some of his interview subjects, and he uses far too many intertitles and epigraphs. But his crude agitprop clearly identifies the threat to civil liberties posed by the Patriot Act, electronic voting, national ID cards, and implanted microchips, and his sense of urgency is contagious. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »


Woody Allen follows up his best film (Match Point) with another story set in London and starring Scarlett Johansson as an American greenhorn among the English gentry, but this mystery comedy is tired, labored, and lazy. A journalism student (Johansson), drafted by a stage magician (Allen) to take part in a vanishing act, winds up in a hidden compartment and meets the ghost of a journalist (Ian McShane), who informs her that a wealthy playboy (Hugh Jackman) may be a notorious serial killer. This is hardly Allen’s worst film (I might go with Shadows and Fog or Hollywood Ending), but he’s definitely going through the motions. The score consists of classical chestnuts (Grieg and Tchaikovsky), which Allen seems vaguely to associate with upper-class Brits. PG-13, 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

John Tucker Must Die

Three teens (Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle Kebbel) discover they’ve been sharing the same boyfriend (Jesse Metcalfe) and conspire to make him fall for a reclusive pal (Brittany Snow) who’s bound to break his heart. Betty Thomas, directing a script by TV veteran Jeff Lowell, seems uncertain whether to sympathize with her three heroines or with the title cad, but there’s something mildly charming about this cheerful revenge comedy’s lack of any straightforward moral agenda. PG-13, 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Hotel Des Ameriques

After an anesthetist in Biarritz (Catherine Deneuve) accidentally runs down a local layabout (Patrick Dewaere), the two edge uncertainly toward romance, though it’s periodically blocked by the former’s grief over a dead lover and the latter’s ambiguous friendship with a self-involved musician (Etienne Chicot). French director Andre Techine has called this 1981 feature his first to break free of film references and explore emotions directly; the bisexual issues and Bergman-esque psychodrama that characterize his later work are all evident here, though the characters’ novelistic backstories are less assured than in the magisterial My Favorite Season (1993) or Thieves (1996). The use of ‘Scope is resourceful, and Deneuve, in her first collaboration with Techine, is impressive. Techine cowrote the script with Gilles Taurand. In French with subtitles. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cartoons By Frank Tashlin

Tashlin’s live-action comedies reflect his earlier career as a studio animator, and this program of Warner Brothers items, dating from 1937 to 1944, recalls live-action features of the same period (racial stereotypes and all). Porky’s Double Trouble (1937) references gangster pictures and Mae West; The Major Lied ’til Dawn (1938) lampoons the Gary Cooper drama The General Died at Dawn; Speaking of the Weather (1937), which charts the interactions among magazine covers on a newsstand, includes Tarzan and the Thin Man; and the cavorting book jackets of Have You Got Any Castles? (1938) feature Cab Calloway, Clark Gable, Charles Laughton, and two John Ford movies. Most of the other cartoons reek of their wartime context, with depictions of Churchill (Brother Brat) and Hitler (Plane Daffy). Total running time is about 90 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

Bachelor Flat

Critic Andrew Sarris labeled this 1962 comedy Frank Tashlin’s best, probably because its tone is so warm and its characters so likable, though it lacks the satirical edge of his 50s classics. A British professor of archaeology (Terry-Thomas), staying in the Malibu beach house of his fiancee (Celeste Holm), finds himself chaperoning her teenage daughter (Tuesday Weld), who’s being romanced by a handsome neighbor (Richard Beymer of West Side Story). Meanwhile a dachshund’s fondness for a huge dinosaur fossil provides Tashlin with an ideal comic use for the CinemaScope frame. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

Artists and Models

The best Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis movie (1955) is also Frank Tashlin’s best feature at Paramount, a satire about the comic book craze with explosive uses of color and VistaVision, better-than-average songs, and much-better-than-average costars, especially Dorothy Malone and Shirley MacLaine (the latter giving Lewis a run for his money in terms of goofy mugging). Martin and Malone are comic book artists, MacLaine is a model for the Bat Lady, and Lewis is a deranged fan whose dreams wind up inspiring (or is it duplicating?) comic book stories and the coded messages of communist spies–or something like that. Five cowriters are credited along with Tashlin, but the stylistic exuberance is seamless, and this film eventually wound up providing the inspirational spark for Jacques Rivette’s late, great New Wave extravaganza Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974). With Eva Gabor and Anita Ekberg. 109 min. Archival IB Technicolor print. Sun 7/30, 3 PM, and Tue 8/1, 7:45 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »