Wednesday, January 24, 2007



Don’t get lost in the gimmickry of Shockproof. The 1949 noir is a cinematic ventriloquist act. Although directed by Douglas Sirk—still a few years away from crafting his trademark Technicolor melodramas—the conflict bears a crunchier bite than the suburban dissatisfaction later found in Imitation of Life and other Sirk classics—due to Samuel Fuller’s solo credit on the screenplay. Fuller penned a tragedy tracking ill-fated love between a parole officer and his client, the sort of hardboiled formula that the filmmaker would eventually perfect. He sold the script to a producer and the project landed in Sirk’s lap. The two men didn’t meet, and it seems that Fuller never even caught the final product (“I didn’t see Doug Sirk’s film—is he a good director?” Fuller asked an interviewer in 1967). The finished work contains recognizable flourishes from both contributors, but it turns to a sloppy blend.

Friday, January 19, 2007


When the Levees Broke

When Spike Lee’s rousing documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts faced criticism for its political angles—before anyone saw the final product—Lee did the right thing. Sticking to his guns, he insisted that the anger stemming from a massive chorus of interviewees who had suffered the wrath of Hurricane Katrina was justified by the negligent American government. At the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, he boldly announced that the president was “the worst in the history of the United States,” and reasonably so: Lee’s four-hour-long finished product, which aired on HBO and will receive broader recognition now on DVD, provides a missive to the masses whose only encounter with the tragedy was Kanye West’s declaration that George Bush doesn’t like black people.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...

Friday, January 12, 2007


The only trouble was the name. Billy Wilder’s ninth American film was a virtuoso feat for the seasoned director; it was 1951, and his career had reached its zenith. His new movie, called Ace in the Hole when production began the year before, borrowed from real events with a justifiably cynical tone; the primary inspiration came from the 1925 death of cave owner Floyd Collins, who was trapped for several weeks under a landslide and slowly expired while the world gripped its seat through the hyperbolic coverage on radio and in newspapers. Wilder was pitched the story by former radio writer Walter Newman, whose initial treatment took the unsurprisingly literal title The Human Interest Story. The plot, however, was too vile for such a subdued headline: It starred Kirk Douglas as the ferocious anti-hero Chuck Tatum, an irredeemably vicious reporter who plays every trick in the book to hold the trapped cave traveler Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) in place to keep the big story alive -- unlike Minosa himself, whose mortality gets short-shifted by Tatum’s elegantly orchestrated exploitation. In this case, the ace in the hole has strikingly immediate and chilling significance.

Continue reading about Ace in the Hole in The Reeler...

God Grew Tired of Us

God Grew Tired of Us, Christopher Quinn's affecting new documentary, puts the American dream in perspective. Following the journeys of three Sudanese "Lost Boys," Quinn explores the notion that immigrants can find a second chance when given opportunities in a world that doesn't try to kill them, and their idea of "making it" in the States has very little to do with wealth.

Read the rest of the review in The Reeler...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Tears of the Black Tiger/Tales of the Brothers Quay

Movie formula begs to be recycled, frequently compromising quality for the sake of consistency. In rarer circumstances, narrative conventions can be a vehicle for fresh ideas. Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal 1959 shoestring caper Breathless molded the Hollywood gangster genre into a far more abstract and provocative cinematic accomplishment. Allowing absurdist storytelling to permeate the plot, Godard used a Brechtian paradigm, providing constant reminders that nothing onscreen was remotely real. In doing so, he incorporated an imaginative whimsy that revealed the limitless potential of movies—in particular how entertainment as a whole can provide a platform for profound expression. Not everyone likes Breathless, but it would be tough to argue Godard’s point.

Tears of the Black Tiger—which was completed six years ago, screened at festivals around the world and only recently, thanks to Magnolia Pictures, found an American distributor—provides Thailand’s answer to Breathless. It tells a thin story about doomed love between a poor peasant-turned-gunslinger and a lonely rich girl, stages a couple rollicking shootouts and piles on the fake blood. Every scene oozes with such deliberate stylization that it’s impossible to watch it without constantly considering the filmmaker’s ulterior motives.

Thursday, January 04, 2007



Perfume: The Story of a Murderer makes scents, not sense. Apologies for the lame pun, but Tom Twyker's brain-scrambling surrealist fable, based on the acclaimed book by Patrick Suskind, invites facetiousness. Set amid the dank alleys of 18th-century France, the story follows a troubled young man named Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, abandoned at birth and forced into a harsh life of labor without a single kind soul to help him along. His only chance for a better life is his powerfully receptive nose, able to detect odors far and wide, and Jean-Baptiste finds his passion in the art of perfume design. His obsession with the luscious smells of gorgeous women eventually develops a lethal streak, and the talented perfumer begins murdering hordes of beauties in order to pilfer their aromas for his own devices.


The Tiger and the Snow

Laughter during wartime breeds discontent. Case in point: Italian funnyman Roberto Benigni’s latest outing as writer-director-star of The Tiger and the Snow tells a quirky love story set immediately after the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003. It has Benigni’s sweet comedic sensibility and unpretentious soul, but delivers a jolt to common sense and softens the brutality of this latest overseas incursion into fantastical fluff.

Read the rest of the review in the New York Press...