Currently Browsing: January 7, 2008

Film Review: NOWHERE IN AFRICA

German lawyer from a prosperous Jewish family flees to rural Kenya in the late ‘30s. The story’s limited by the perspective of his daughter, five when she arrives & begins her narration. Resonance depends on audience knowledge of the Holocaust, including things the family itself wouldn’t know until year later. More on NOWHERE IN AFRICA

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Film Review: THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE

Disappointing depiction of gap between porn purveyors & their consumers. Bettie (Mol) is a wholesome innocent; her attempts to become a “serious actress” are doomed so she throws all her creativity into her “scenes.” None of it arouses her, but what does? Beautiful surfaces, but Harron captures no inner light. More on THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE […]

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Film Review: NORTH COUNTRY

Story told here is so important we wanted this film to be perfect; it isn’t but it’s damn good! Superlative cast provides an intimate depiction of a small community under the stress of fundamental change, but the courtroom scenes, when Josie (Theron) finally sues for sexual harassment, are too canned. (***FOR MORE FROM JAN SEE […]

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Film Review: NO RESERVATIONS

Warm-hearted, family-friendly RomCom Americanizes beloved German indie MOSTLY MARTHA. Source focuses mostly on “Martha,” but here Breslin steals the show as orphaned niece Zoe, while Clarkson adds a soupçon of skinny-chic menace as restaurateur “Paula.” Philip Glass score supplemented by Italian arias (!) plus tracks from Mark Isham soundtracks (?). More on NO RESERVATIONS.

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Film Review: THE NATIVITY STORY

While Rich wanted more “symbolic content,” Jan was deeply moved by the universality of Hardwicke’s naturalistic approach, presenting Castle-Hughes (“Mary”) & Isaac (“Joseph”) as two good-hearted young people who must learn to trust one another so they can succeed as parents. Jan also loved score by Mychael Danna. More on THE NATIVITY STORY.

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Film Review: NATHALIE

Humiliated by her husband’s infidelities, a woman hires a prostitute to seduce/torment him. What begins with exploitation quickly becomes symbiotic as the two women become more interested in each other than in him. Intense, erotic psychodrama. Ardant’s icy cold, Beart’s burning hot, & Depardieu’s baffled by both of them. More on NATHALIE.

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Film Review: NASHVILLE

Altman’s Personal Best–with an excellent screenplay by Joan Tewkesbury–is set midway between Nixon’s resignation & the Bicentennial 4th. Like Prospero, Altman marshals disparate forces into a tornado coiling ever tighter towards an inescapably violent conclusion. The huge cast is enormously rich, showing increasing depth with each successive viewing. Nevertheless, FF2 specifically applauds Ronee Blakely as […]

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THE NANNY DIARIES

Fantasy and reality collide when Annie, a working class girl fresh out of college (Scarlett Johansson), starts working as a nanny for the upscale Mrs. X (Laura Linney). Many critics are comparing The Nanny Diaries to The Devil Wears Prada which featured another spirited young woman making her way in New York’s upper ranks. The Hot […]

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THE NAMESAKE

The Namesake is the rare case in which both book and film are equally strong and their differences actually complement each other. The voice of the novelist and the eye of the filmmaker are in perfect sync, and the casting is perfect. Whereas Lahiri’s novel focuses on American-born Gogol, Nair embeds Gogol’s story within a […]

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MY TERRORIST

Yulie’s an Israeli woman severely wounded by terrorists in 1978. Fahad’s the man responsible for her injuries plus a companion’s death. In this impassioned first-person documentary, Gerstel attempts of see both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict even as Palestinians begin their second intifada & Bin Laden destroys the WTC towers. More on MY TERRORIST.

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MY LIFE WITHOUT ME

“Woman’s weepie” for the ages – Coixet even includes a clip from MILDRED PIERCE in homage. The story’s straight & simple –Polley’s a young mother dying of cancer — but the performances are remarkably deep (including wonderful cameos). It should be depressing, but to the contrary, somehow it glows with transcendent optimism. More on MY […]

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MY GRANDFATHER’S HOUSE

Travel with a Jewish-American woman back to “the Old Country.” 70-minute film has three parts. First, Eileen develops detailed information about her grandfather’s family. Then she walks the streets of Lithuania he once called home. Finally, she brings all the surviving cousins together for a reunion. Wise, life-affirming, heart-warming documentary.***** For more, see the “Columns” […]

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Film Review: MY FIRST MISTER

The plot creeks around her, nevertheless Sobieski does a fine job as a lonely teenage misfit slowly blossoming under the fatherly influence of her first boss (Brooks) & Lahti has assembled a great supporting cast of well-known veterans. We know, the loose strands all tie too neatly at the end…  More on MY FIRST MISTER.

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Film Review: MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING

Chicagoans Fortula Portokalos & Ian Miller fall in love, but hey, this is America: some of us are apples & some are oranges, but in the end, we’re all fruit. Ethnic clichés are piled on thick, but always with affection. For screenwriter/star Nia Vardalos, this IS her American Dream. More on MY BIG FAT GREEK […]

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Film Review: MRS. DALLOWAY

Recently recovered from a serious illness, middle-aged Clarissa Dalloway (Streep) opens her door to a beautiful summer morning that reminds her of earlier times. This loving adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s greatest novel celebrates the poignant joys of everyday life in the shadow of WWI. What a lark! What a plunge! More on MRS. DALLOWAY.

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Film Review: MOSTLY MARTHA

Martha (Gedeck) likes everything “just so.” She’s the best gourmet chef in Hamburg, but a pain-in-the-butt outside her kitchen. Then real life intervenes & Martha must learn to cope. Mouth-watering! Go hungry & plan a pasta chaser… & then buy the equally luscious Keith Jarrett-punctuated, jazz-filled soundtrack. More on MOSTLY MARTHA.

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Film Review: MONSTER

Rich was immediately hooked by this intense portrait of Aileen Wuornos (one of America’s first well-known female serial killers). Jan took longer but was fully committed by the inevitably heart-rending final betrayal. Theron transforms herself, becoming both physically & emotionally unrecognizable in an astonishingly raw performance. Not for the squeamish. More on MONSTER.

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Film Review: MONSOON WEDDING

Relatives pour into Delhi from the four corners of the earth to play their assigned parts in a huge family wedding. Conversation is a fast-paced mix of Hindi & English. Cell phones jangle constantly. Key characters each search for a balance between social/religious tradition and the buzz of modernity. More on MONSOON WEDDING.

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Film Review: MISSISSIPPI MASALA

Expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin, a prosperous East Indian family lands in rural Mississippi, where their daughter creates a scandal by falling in love with a local black entrepreneur. Spicy multi-cultural stew (with wonderful soundtrack) anchored by Denzel Washington – a total hunk in bed & out! More on MISSISSIPPI MASALA.

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Film Review: MEAN GIRLS

Serio-comic exploration of the high school “jungle” by screenwriter Tina Fey (who wrote herself in as the math teacher/moral conscience). Lohan stars as the new girl trying to figure out where she belongs in the stratified cafeteria. Definitely engrossing. Fun for all & presumably a must-see for parents & teens. More on MEAN GIRLS.

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Film Review: ME WITHOUT YOU

Holly and Marina grow up in side-by-side houses in a comfortable English suburb. Neither girl has a sister, so they adopt each other, calling themselves “Harina.” Years pass. The changing times are well-captured, but there’s too much plot. Goldbacher should have focused on making the central relationship more believable. More on ME WITHOUT YOU.

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MARIE ANTOINETTE (2006): Review by Jan Lisa Huttner

“Although I am totally committed to supporting women filmmakers in their fight against the “celluloid ceiling,” my emotions were painfully mixed the day Sofia Coppola became the first American woman in Oscar history to receive a “Best Director” nomination. I thought Lost in Translation was way over-rated. I suspected that members of the Academy of […]

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Film Review: THE MAN WHO CRIED

Mesmerizing drama’s strong plot line is told almost entirely through sensuous music & exquisite visual imagery. Most of the action takes place in Paris, right before & immediately after the Nazi Occupation. Ricci, in the lead role, is a young Russian-Jewish woman searching for her father. Highly erotic. Adults only. More on THE MAN WHO […]

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Film Review: MAD HOT BALLROOM

New York City schools compete in a ballroom dancing contest. Starts well, with nice racial/economic/sociologic overviews of each principal competitor, but there are too many “cast members” for the time allotted & soon kids/parents/teachers/neighborhoods blur together into an ultimately unsatisfying “aren’t kids cute” story of poorly-individuated winners & losers. More on MAD HOT BALLROOM.

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Film Review: LUBOML: MY HEART REMEMBERS

Lovingly produced doc uses rare photograph, archival materials, & first-person recollections to capture ordinary daily life in the Jewish community of Luboml, Poland in the years between WWI & WWII. Also includes recent scenes filmed in Luboml by Steinman with the “lucky ones” who have returned for post-Cold War visits. More on LUBOML: MY HEART […]

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Film Review: LOVELY & AMAZING

Slice-of-life dramedy about three sisters forced to care for each other while Mom recuperates from a botched liposuction procedure. Two of the daughters are self-absorbed adults. The third is adopted — a young Black girl who’s birth Mom was a crack addict. Interesting set-up but, alas, it’s only intermittently successful. More on LOVELY & AMAZING.

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LOVE & BASKETBALL

  Spike Lee takes the Producer’s Chair in this warm story of 2 Black kids from prosperous families who bond on their upscale neighborhood court. Film spans a dozen years as they mature into young adults. Love & Basketball stars Sanaa Lathan (a real find!) & Omar Epps. With excellent support from all 4 parents (especially […]

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Film Review: LOST IN TRANSLATION

On 2nd view, Rich is willing to concede that the condescending Japanese stereotypes in this film might also be described more benignly as “slapstick comedy.” So we’re giving this a pass, but we both agree that the hype for this mood piece about two alienated Americans abroad far exceeds the accomplishment. More on LOST IN […]

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Film Review: THE LORDS OF DOGTOWN

We loved Stacy Peralta’s DOGTOWN & Z BOYS, so why draw from the same well twice? This version explores timeless truths about male bonding as three friends challenge each other, establish their internal pecking order, & learn to play to the crowds. Ledger’s heart-breaking as their mentor, born to be left behind. More on THE […]

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LOOK BOTH WAYS

Australian drama Look Both Ways is a down-under version of American Oscar-winner Crash, but its polar opposite in every way–subtle where Crash is bombastic, true to the little moments of real people’s lives where Crash manufactures big moments of melodramatic overstatement. Yes, disease and death are the elements around which writer/director Sarah Watt builds her […]

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