Monthly Archives: August 2006

Quinceanera

A 15-year-old girl (Emily Rios) in the Echo Park district of Los Angeles gets pregnant and, despite her conviction that she’s technically a virgin, is kicked out of the house by her religious father. Taken in by her kindly great-great uncle (Chalo Gonzalez), a street peddler, she becomes part of another family with him and her cousin (Jesse Garcia), who was thrown out by his parents for being gay. Despite some awkwardness, this feature by writer-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland is a fascinating look at the area’s Mexican-American milieu and other local subcultures, full of feeling, insight, and touching performances. In English and subtitled Spanish. R, 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Oh In Ohio

A Cleveland executive (Parker Posey) finally achieves orgasm after acquiring a vibrator, which drives her already disgruntled husband (Paul Rudd), a high school biology teacher, into the arms of an A student (Mischa Barton). Director Billy Kent seems to have instructed most of his actors to behave like robotic sitcom characters; the principal exception is Danny DeVito, who simply behaves like Danny DeVito. I couldn’t predict where this unrated comedy was going but didn’t much care. With Miranda Bailey and (in an embarrassing cameo) Liza Minnelli. 88 min. (JR)… Read more »

World Trade Center

Oliver Stone’s effective if hokey 9/11 docudrama focuses on the two Port Authority policemen (played by Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña) who were rescued from the rubble of the Twin Towers, their families as they wait for news, and a former marine (Michael Shannon) who winds up on one of the rescue teams. An exercise in flag-waving, it evokes nostalgia for World War II epics and the camaraderie of Stone’s Platoon, stroking Americans’ egos about their innate generosity but overlooking, except for a brief end title, all the citizens of 86 other countries who died in the attacks. Able newcomer Andrea Berloff wrote the script. With Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal. PG-13, 125 min.… Read more »

Nice Bombs

Chicago filmmaker Usama Alshaibi grew up in Iraq and the U.S., and although he recently became an American citizen, his personal video documentary has plenty to say about the day-to-day existence of his Baghdad relatives, whom he visited in 2004. Distance tends to simplify our view of anything, and this video humanizes the situation on the ground mostly by complicating it: in a voice-over Alshaibi says he’s often asked what “the Iraqis” think, but by the end this question has become as meaningless as asking what “the Americans” think. Much of his previous work has been experimental, but this becomes formally adventurous only near the end, as he converses by phone with a cousin who tells him how much worse the situation has grown this year. 92 min. Alshaibi, executive producer Studs Terkel, and Christie Hefner of Playboy, whose foundation helped fund the film, will answer questions after the screening, which kicks off the Chicago Underground Film Festival. See next week’s issue for a complete festival schedule. Thu 8/17, 8 PM, Music Box.… Read more »

It’s All About Us

World Trade Center

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Written by Andrea Berloff

With Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jay Hernandez, Armando Riesco, and Michael Shannon

The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed,” Stanley Kubrick reportedly said to screenwriter Frederic Raphael in the late 90s. “Schindler’s List was about 600 people who don’t.” Assuming the quote is right, Kubrick’s speaking about the Holocaust in the present tense and about a movie made half a century later in the past tense suggests something about his priorities.

They probably aren’t the priorities of Oliver Stone, whose ruthlessly circumscribed World Trade Center isn’t about the 2,749 citizens of 87 countries who got killed in the 9/11 assault on the Twin Towers and who are mentioned only in a title when the movie’s over. It’s about two citizens of one of those countries who survived, John McLoughlin and William Jimeno, both real-life Port Authority policemen. The story of what they experienced is gripping and inspiring, but however true it is to their lives — it’s hard to imagine any two men on the planet could be as conventional as the filmmakers make these heroes — the way it’s told restricts what the movie can say about the larger tragedy.… Read more »

Changing Times

After peaking with My Favorite Season (1993), Wild Reeds (1994), and Thieves (1996), French director Andre Techine went into decline with Alice and Martin (1998), Far (2001), and Strayed (2003), often biting off more than he could chew. This 2004 feature also overreaches, especially in its metaphorical moments (a mud slide at a construction site that frames the action), but it’s his strongest film since Thieves, a characteristic effort to juxtapose various cultures, generations, and sexualities as people converge and diverge in Tangier. Volatile and sometimes daring performances by Catherine Deneuve, Gerard Depardieu, Gilbert Melki, Malik Zidi, and Lubna Azabal (as twins) contribute to the highly charged and novelistic experience. In French with subtitles. 90 min. Music Box.… Read more »

Restraining Order

Robin Givens plays an unhappy, self-centered housewife who gets her husband to move out without giving him a reason, then slaps a restraining order on him and slowly drives him mad. Usually there are two sides to every failed marriage, yet the wife here is so detestable one wonders whether writer-director Reggie Gaskins (who costars as the couple’s lawyer friend) is working off some sort of grudge. The lack of perspective makes this 2005 drama depressing and not especially edifying. With Sean Blakemore. 106 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Night Listener

As Joel and Ethan Coen demonstrated with their fraudulent based on a true story caption in Fargo, the supposed veracity of a movie’s plot can obscure the truth more than reveal it. The same caption appears in this thriller adapted from an Armistead Maupin novel, in which a radio personality (Robin Williams) who’s recently broken up with his male lover becomes obsessed with a young fan (Rory Culkin) who’s been calling him but who may be the invention of a blind woman (Toni Collette) claiming to be his mother. It’s a relief to see Williams underplaying for a change and letting us fill in the blanks, but the movie’s suggestiveness gives way to a certain thinness and lassitude. Patrick Stettner directed; with Joe Morton, Bobby Cannavale, and Sandra Oh. R, 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Brothers Of The Head

Adapted by Tony Grisoni from a novel by Brian Aldiss, this arty UK mockumentary charts the musical career of incestuous twins (played by Harry and Luke Treadaway) born conjoined at the chest in a remote corner of England and recruited by a promoter in 1974 as lead singer and lead guitarist for a band called the Bang Bang. Directors Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe (Lost in La Mancha) are too preoccupied with hip cleverness to have much else on their minds, and the music is so-so. Among the phony talking heads are Aldiss and director Ken Russell. R, 93 min. (JR)… Read more »