The putative setting is New Mexico, but this is basically Kentucky-style ethnic cleansing that harks back to mountain feuds like the McCoys versus the Hatfields. Strictly 90s are the nonstop gore and the unpleasantness of all the characters. Adapted by Don Jakoby from John Steakley’s novel Vampire$, this dull splatterfest (1998) follows an exceptionally mean and single-minded vampire slayer (James Woods) who heads a team of Vatican mercenaries bent on finding and destroying a 600-year-old vampire priest (Thomas Ian Griffith) and not caring much who gets mauled in the process. Apart from the bitter glee of the anti-Catholic asides and the obligatory nods to Howard Hawks, the nastiness of the good guys is so unrelentingit extends even to Daniel Baldwin, who plays Smiley Burnette to Woods’s Gene Autrythat I was rooting for the vampires, albeit without much enthusiasm. It’s hard to be on anyone’s side when the genocidal fervor is so dogged and dehumanizing that characterization scarcely exists and the closest thing to wit is an epithet directed at a woman stabbed in the heart: How d’ya like your stake, bitch? (JR)
Though not really as accomplished as it’s cracked up to be, this Cannes and Sundance prizewinner about a young rap poet (Saul Williams) finding himself in prison with the help of a sensitive writing teacher (Sonya Sohn) has all the inspirational uplift it strives for, and some pretty good rap performances as well. The fact that it wears its good intentions so clearly on its sleeve limits it. Directed by Marc Levin from a script he authored with Richard Stratton, Sohn, Williams, and costar Bonz Malone. (JR)
The first feature of Samira Makhmalbaf (the eldest daughter of Iranian writer-director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who furnished the script and edited) is a wonder–a comic, lyrical, and “politically incorrect” poetic docudrama so acutely focused in its characters and ethics that it can afford to be relaxed about them, all the more remarkable coming from a director still in her teens. The film reenacts the true story of illiterate, 11-year-old twin sisters who were kept in their house from birth, until a social worker discovered them and enabled them to step outside. Their encounters with the world outside their home and the neighborhood’s reaction to them are the twin subjects that keep this feature going, exposing how involved people are in their neighbors’ lives, for better and for worse, in everyday communal Iran. (The twins and most of the other participants play themselves.) These two screenings are previews; the film will open commercially in Chicago at a later date. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 24, 6:00, and Sunday, October 25, 4:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.
Teenage siblings from a broken family (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) find themselves transported via a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) to the “perfect” town of a 50s black-and-white sitcom called Pleasantville; eventually they bring about changes in the town and TV show, introducing rain, fire, reading, rock, jazz, and above all color. The directorial debut of Gary Ross (screenwriter of Big and Dave), this ideologically confused but fascinating postmodernist fantasy is about five years off — the date is 1958, but the clothes and decor are much closer to 1953. Furthermore, one might argue that Ross, who also scripted and coproduced, is even more hypocritical than he claims the 50s were: his film is about the 90s bringing life and spirit to the 50s, yet its emotional thrust — which is what makes it so interesting — is to reject the 90s in toto, in favor of the 50s and the onset of the 60s. It’s axiomatic that we’re supposed to be more sophisticated than our predecessors, but then people in the 50s could choose between color and black-and-white movies, while black-and-white movies can be made or seen today only with arcane excuses (like the plot of this one). It’s also both axiomatic and unfortunate that our grasp of the 50s comes largely from sitcoms, which is part of what makes this movie so confused. But what Ross does with this material — a kind of Wizard of Oz in reverse — is magical, visually exciting, affecting even in its sincere hokeyness, and extremely provocative. With Jeff Daniels, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, and the late J.T. Walsh as the mayor of Pleasantville. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
As the 34th Chicago International Film Festival moves into its second week, my favorite new movie among the selections this year, Manoel de Oliveira’s Anxiety, has come and gone, but a lot of other worthy fare is playing. An especially welcome last-minute addition, though I haven’t seen it, is Theo Angelopoulos’s Eternity and a Day, winner of the top prize at Cannes this year.
My major recommendations day by day this week begin with Monte Hellman and Rudolph Wurlitzer’s 1971 Two-Lane Blacktop, probably the most underrated road movie of the 70s, playing Friday at 7:00 at the Music Box along with a short film about Hellman by George Hickenlooper, and Ko I-cheng’s Taiwanese feature Blue Moon–a film designed to be shown each time with the reels in a different order–showing at the same location at 9:30. If interactive cinema isn’t your thing, you might want to check out Stefan Rozowitzky’s Austrian rural parable, The Inheritors, playing at the other Music Box screen at 9:30, about the efforts of Alpine farmhands to collectively run the farm they inherit shortly after World War I.
For Saturday I strongly recommend the talented Tsai Ming-liang’s apocalyptic musical of Taiwanese alienation, The Hole, at 600 N. Michigan at 4:45, and you might want to stick around for another Taiwanese film at the same location at 6:30, Lin Cheng-sheng’s Sweet Degeneration, which I haven’t seen but which comes highly recommended. My Sunday tips include Nanni Moretti’s Aprile at 600 N. Michigan at 2:30 and the repeats of Blue Moon, at the Music Box at 3:15 and 7:15; The Inheritors, at 600 N. Michigan at 6:45; and Sweet Degeneration, at 600 N. Michigan at 9:00.
On Monday is a repeat of The Hole (600 N. Michigan, 8:45), and on Tuesday a repeat of Aprile (Music Box, 6:45). My Wednesday pick is Ingmar Bergman’s In the Presence of a Clown, playing at the Music Box at 6:30 and 9:00, and on Thursday I’d opt for one of the “best of the festival” screenings or, if you’d like to see a pretty good Brazilian road movie, Walter Salles’s Central Station, surfacing at the Music Box at 8:30.
These recommendations are limited mainly to the relatively few films showing this week that I’ve seen. If you’d rather “see for yourself,” as the festival puts it, you might want to check out the reviews and capsule descriptions below before making a decision.
Screenings are at 600 N. Michigan; the Music Box, 3733 N. Southport; and the Chatham 14, 210 W. 87th Street. Single-ticket prices are $3 for weekday matinees (before 5 PM); $4 for weekend matinees (before 2 PM); $8.50 for weeknights (Monday-Thursday 5 PM or later), $7 for Cinema/Chicago members; $9.50 on Friday nights (5 PM or later), $8 for Cinema/Chicago members; $9.50 for Saturdays and Sundays 2 PM or later, $8 for Cinema/Chicago members. Passes–good for everything but closing-night and special presentations, and good for up to two tickets per screening–are available for $45 (six tickets, seven for Cinema/Chicago members), $90 (16 tickets, 18 for Cinema/Chicago members), and you can spend even more for 50 tickets ($275, or $250 if you’re a Cinema/Chicago member). Tickets can be purchased at the festival store at 600 N. Michigan or at the theater box office at the time of the screening; they can also be ordered by mail (32 W. Randolph, suite 600, Chicago 60601), by fax (312-425-0944), by phone (312-332-3456 or 312- 977-1755), or at Ticketmaster (806 N. Michigan). For further information call 312-332-3456; you can also check for updates at www.chicago.ddbn.com/film/fest.