|FRESH FROM THE THEATERS|
The Machinist (2003).
It'd be a shame if this film becomes known only as the one for which Christian Bale lost so much weight it's scary. Not only is Bale, whom we'll be seeing this summer looking a lot healthier even if he is hovering over Gotham City in a black mask and tights, becoming one of the most daring actors working, but director Brad Anderson has also clearly decided he won't be gliding on the accolades he's garnered for his previous work, including the innovative Session 9. This one is, as Stephen Holden put it in the New York Times, "an expertly manipulated exercise in psychological horror."
Be Cool (2005).
What the flick has going for it - the reunion of John Travolta and Uma Thurman (they even dance together again!), its status as a sequel to a relatively well-received Elmore Leonard adaptation, Get Shorty, plus a cast that reads like a charm bracelet (James Woods, Cedric the Entertainer, Andre 3000, The Rock, Harvey Keitel, etc., etc.) - is precisely what tripped it up at press screenings and then at the box office: expectations were plainly too high. But if you just kick back and take the thing on its own silly terms, you may well find yourself enjoying it, despite your better judgement.
Untold Scandal (2003).
Maybe you've seen Dangerous Liaisons and maybe you've seen Valmont and maybe you've even seen Roger Vadim's take or the French mini-series, but you've never seen Chodleros de Laclos's classic novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses dressed up quite like this. Director E J-Yong sets the story during the Chosun Dynasty of 18th-century Korea. It works. The film is as sexy and engaging as any previous adaptation.
Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (2004).
"One of [Kinji] Fukasaku's angriest and most explicit explorations of his great theme: postwar trauma and warp-speed transformations in Japanese society," wrote Dennis Lim in the Village Voice.
"A terrific chambara film and also a fine example of how character and depth need not be sacrificed for action and excitement," wrote Mark Pollard in Kung Fu Cinema.
Imaginary Heroes (2004).
"Imaginary Heroes is a queer-eyed valentine to Sigourney Weaver," writes Keith Uhlich in Slant. "Writer-director Dan Harris (co-author of X-Men 2, that downright odd, rainbow-colored ode to ostracized superheroes) is lucky to have Weaver and he knows it... Movies, perhaps more than any art, can cast profound, epiphanic illumination on our personal histories, and Weaver's performance - clearly a cinematic paean to a mythologically perfect lioness - captures something of every mother's deep-felt agony and ecstasy, that gnawing, loving need to protect their children, at whatever cost, from any and all of life's inevitable hurts."
Dead Ringers (1988).
This creepily profound masterwork represents nothing less than some of the best work ever done by director David Cronenberg, currently riding another wave of critical appreciation following the premiere of his A History of Violence in Cannes this year, Jeremy Irons, who plays both twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot Mantle, and Genevi& #232;ve Bujold as their mutual love interest. One of your humble editors' favorite films of all time.
The Agronomist (2003).
Jonathan Demme surely has one of the most intriguingly spotty records around. His films range from the universally acclaimed The Silence of the Lambs to the universally panned The Truth About Charlie. His hand seems most confident, and his work seems most consistently excellent, when he turns to the documentary; see, for example, Stop Making Sense, a strong contender for the best feature-length record of a musical performance ever made. With The Agronomist, Demme, having been fascinated by Haiti for years, is once again on solid ground. At the doc's center is Jean Dominique, founder of Radio Haiti-Inter, "a scourge to the successive waves of corrupt politicians that have for decades ravaged that much-oppressed island," as Peter Brunette put it in his review for indieWIRE. "Dominique's fierce love of liberty and his deep sympathy for the plight of his poor countrymen come across very strongly indeed, with or without the details. The original music, by Haiti's Wyclif Jean, offers surprise after surprise."
Orwell Rolls in His Grave (2004).
"A marvel of passionate succinctness," wrote Variety, "Robert Kane Pappas's docu critically examines the Fourth Estate, once the bastion of American democracy. Docu asks, 'Could a media system, controlled by a few global corporations with the ability to overwhelm all competing voices, be able to turn lies into truth?'" Interviewees include Michael Moore, naturally, but also the iconoclastic British journalist Greg Palast and Nation contributor Mark Crispin Miller.
Nightmare Alley (1947).
"The hoodwink-picture genre doesn't have a whole lot of peaks to choose from, but Nightmare Alley is one of the few," wrote Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times. And J. Hoberman wrote in the Village Voice, "This 1947 account of an archetypal American's rise and fall is neither a great movie nor even a classic noir but it has a great ambition to be daring and, once seen, is not easily forgotten."
The Street With No Name (1948).
This William Keighley noir with Mark Stevens and Richard Widmark has nothing to do with U2, but it does have something to do with the 80s-era TV series, Wiseguy, which was clearly modeled on this original. It also served as the predecessor to...
House of Bamboo (1955).
A remake of The Street With No Name, Sam Fuller's House of Bamboo features Robert Ryan, Robert Stack and Shirley Yamaguchi and is one of his "best," wrote Don Druker in the Chicago Reader, going on to call it "a tough, sometimes nasty, but always exciting 1955 effort in 'Scope and color that unites three of his favorite topics: military comradeship, the underworld, and the Far East."
Gantz. Volume 5. (2005).
"Altogether..." wrote Battie hesitantly of the first volume, "not only weird and depraved, but often disgusting, too. And tons of gore. But at the same time, there is a morbid part of me that wants to see more. It helps that the story line is interesting."
DNAngel. Volume 5: Darkside of Love (2003).
When Videoscan reported in late March that sales of anime titles in the US increased 7.6 percent in the first quarter of 2005, DNAngel was specifically mentioned as one of the most popular titles responsible for the upsurge. See for yourself what the fuss is all about.