September 28, 2004
FRESH FROM THE THEATERS
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). "Best new film of the year... no competition," says scotch. Adds loucyphre in our discussion of the film: "Best film I've seen so far this year. And contains the most shockingly honest take on relationships I've seen in some time." Why the raves? Lots of reasons, but first, Charlie Kaufman's screenplay is as complex and intellectually engaging as his two most well-known screenplays (Being John Malkovich and Adaptation) but there does seem to be a lot more emotional honesty in this story. Second, director Michel Gondry has made a zillion very smart decisions. For example, there are some tremendously impressive technical feats pulled off here, but they never call attention to themselves in any way; all serve the story, period, nothing else. At the same time, the technology of the story, the machines that actually fiddle with people's brains, is extremely low key and matter-of-fact. And third, of course, we have a slew of fine performances, starting with Jim Carrey, utterly believable as an introverted loner, and Kate Winslet, utterly believable as an extroverted loner; other standouts include Kirstin Dunst, Tom Wilkinson and Mark Ruffalo. [Rent].
Super Size Me (2004). Who would have thought that watching a guy sabotage his liver and libido by stuffing Big Macs and fries in his face could possibly be entertaining? But then, that guy is Morgan Spurlock, a charming and funny fellow who knows how to make an alarming message about obesity in America go down as smooth as a chocolate shake. Not only has his doc been a surprise hit in the US, international audiences have eaten it up as well. After all, McDonalds's reach is wide and far. [Rent]
Clintonathon! First up, The Hunting of the President (2004). In case you hadn't noticed (and we hope you're not sick of hearing it), this election year is the year of the political documentary. This one, as Dave Kehr writes in the New York Times, "takes us back to a simpler time - the late 1990s, when all Americans had to worry about was their president's sexual indiscretions. A currently popular bumper sticker reads, 'When Clinton Lied, Nobody Died,' a statement whose tone now seems as full of futile nostalgic yearning as a plea for the Dodgers to come back to Brooklyn." Like Michael Moore, director Harry Thomason, a tried and true Friend of Bill, doesn't pretend to be objective in his retelling of the bizarre events that led to only the second impeachment in American history. [Rent] And if you want to make a long night (or weekend) of it, let's just go ahead and suggest a double feature right here: The Road to the Presidency, which collects three docs made for the PBS series The 90s. Here, in three acts, is the story of how the Comeback Kid unseated Bush 41. [Rent]
The Alamo (2004). The standard critical line on this one was pretty easy: "Forget The Alamo!" But not every critic piled on. Roger Ebert, for example, wrote in April, "The advance buzz on The Alamo was negative, and now I know why: This is a good movie.... Here is a movie that captures the loneliness and dread of men waiting for two weeks for what they expect to be certain death, and it somehow succeeds in taking those pop-culture brand names like Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie and giving them human form." Looking for a voice a little less mainstream? How about Phil Hall in Film Threat: "At long last, Hollywood has created a historic epic which presents the facts properly.... This film is not about mythic icons, but about seriously flawed and deeply selfish men who found themselves in a situation that spiraled tragically out of control. For once, the truth about the Alamo is on film. It is not a pleasant picture, but for those with intelligence it is an invigorating drama that will haunt the memory for a long time." The cast comes in for considerable praise, too, but particularly Billy Bob Thornton. [Rent]
Envy (2004). Jack Black and Ben Stiller ought to have been a comedic dream team and, with Tin Men, director Barry Levinson proved he could distill the chemistry from what might have been an odd pairing, but as Mark Bazer writes in the Boston Phoenix, Envy turns out to be "the kind of movie you appreciate more than enjoy." Still, Jack Black completists - and there are many of us out there - will want to reserve some late evening and chalk this one up. [Rent]
Walking Tall (2004). "A lot more fun than I imagined it would be," writes a pleasantly surprised talltale. "I actually enjoyed this more than the original Joe Don Baker version.... This is a tight, well-scripted and -directed revenge movie with a good cast and fight/action scenes that don't overstay their welcome." With The Rock. [Rent]
Kichiku: Banquet of the Beasts (1997). "This unflinchingly graphic and extremely violent piece won its young director (who was a third-year college student when he made it) praise at festivals from Tokyo to Berlin, offending more than a few sensibilities along the way," writes Tom Mes in Midnight Eye. "However, Kichiku is not about showing creative kills. It is not a collection of graphically violent acts, a freak show along the lines of an 80s slasher film. What makes it so shocking are the reasons behind the violence; the group dynamics, the miniature society of the student group that degenerates beneath the surface. A degeneration that goes unnoticed by everyone until it's too late." Discs 1 [Rent] and 2 [Rent].
Journey to the Sun (1999). Raves across the board for this award-winning Turkish drama from the courageous director Yesim Ustaoglu. "Hers is a remarkably vivid portrait of a teeming third-world metropolis, with its combustible mix of tourists, workers, soccer fans, and fundamentalists," writes Leslie Camhi in the Village Voice. "Istanbul, a traditional meeting point between East and West, comes into focus as a place of surreal juxtapositions, where prostitutes prowl in the shadow of minarets and cows graze on the city garbage dump." The film "teems with life," added Elvis Mitchell in the New York Times. [Rent]
Nothing But a Man (1964). Addressing the subject of African-American indies in the 60s, Greg Merritt wrote in Celluloid Mavericks, "Nothing But a Man is the third racial trailblazer of 1964 [after The Cool World and One Potato, Two Potato].... Although virtually ignored when released, Nothing But a Man's reputation has grown, and deservedly so. It's a powerful motion picture that presents complex, real-life problems and courageously avoids easy resolutions. The stellar cast includes Yaphet Kotto, Moses Gunn and Esther Rolle." "Even better than I remembered it," added Roger Ebert when a new print was struck in 1993. You'll also want to see our new interview with Robert M. Young, who was so involved with the film as its cinematographer he's often credited as co-director with Michael Roemer. [Rent]
Dischord (2003). A mystery shot in less than three weeks on Cape Cod and "a flawed but ultimately worthwhile first directorial effort made on a shoestring budget that has earned top awards on the festival circuit," notes Jules Brenner at filmcritic.com. [Rent]
My New Gun (1993). "This quirky little suburban comedy - the story of the chain reaction set in motion when a young doctor purchases an unwanted handgun for his wife - seems almost to be a lost Hal Hartley," smiles Marc Savlov in the Austin Chronicle. That is, of course, meant as a compliment for director Stacy Cochran. With Diane Lane. [Rent]
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