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
Though Adrian Lyne’s clodhopper direction, underlined by a mushy Ennio Morricone score, predictably runs the gamut from soft-core porn in the manner of David Hamilton to hectoring close-ups, this is perhaps Lyne’s best movie after Jacob’s Laddera genuinely disturbing (if far from literary) adaptation of Nabokov’s extraordinary novel, written by former journalist Stephen Schiff and starring, predictably, Jeremy Irons. It shines in the areas where Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation is deficient: Dominique Swain, the actress playing Lolita here, actually looks 14, making this much more a story about corrupted innocence, and it unfolds in American locations in the late 40s. In every other respect, however, Kubrick’s version is superior and will clearly endure as the better movie: Frank Langella as Quilty can’t hold a candle to Peter Sellers, and Melanie Griffith plays a poor second to Shelley Winters as the heroine’s mother. Your time would be better spent reading or rereading the novel than seeing either film version, but this overproduced 1998 art film has its moments. (JR)
As was apparent in the uneven Funny Bones, there’s something pretty shameless about director Peter Chelsom when he goes into tear-jerking mode, and this six-handkerchief weepieadapted by Charles Leavitt from Rodman Philbrick’s novel Freak the Mightypulls out all the stops. A large, friendless, apparently retarded 13-year-old (Elden Henson) who lives with his grandparents (Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton) teams up with the fast-talking, brilliant cripple (Kieran Culkin) who’s moved in next door with his mother (Sharon Stone); together they come on like gangbusters. There’s a lot of magical-realist stuffor should I say guff?about King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table, most of which I could have done without, an offscreen narration by Henson that I rarely believed in, and a snarling villain out of D.W. Griffith. But portions of this inspirational claptrap touched me in spite of everything. (JR)