A very special movie, about two jazz musicians with Tourette’s syndrome getting acquainted in Greenwich Village. One’s a white 12-year-old pianist (Christopher George Marquette); the other’s a black tenor saxophone player (Gregory Hines). Polly Draper (Thirtysomething), who does a beautiful job of playing the boy’s mother, wrote the sensitive script, which falters only when it reaches for an overly hasty resolution. She’s the wife of jazz pianist Michael Wolff, who’s in charge of the music here and has a mild case of Tourette’s, so she has a particular reason to be thinking about some of the fascinating questions posed hereabout willful and involuntary improvisation and how they might live together. The moments when the story and music become one are sublime, and more generally this is a very sweet and touching story about various West Village people. The jazz milieu is caught with flavor and feeling. With Desmond Robertson, Bill Nunn, and Tony Shalhoub. 91 min. (JR)
With the possible exceptions of Killer’s Kiss and A Clockwork Orange all of Stanley Kubrick’s features look better now than when they were first released, and Barry Lyndon, which fared poorly at the box office in 1975, remains his most underrated (though Eyes Wide Shut is already running a close second). This personal, idiosyncratic, and melancholy three-hour adaptation of the Thackeray novel may not be an unqualified artistic success, but it’s still a good deal more substantial and provocative than most critics were willing to admit. Exquisitely shot in natural light (or, in night scenes, candlelight) by John Alcott, it makes frequent use of slow backward zooms that distance us, both historically and emotionally, from its rambling picaresque narrative about an 18th-century Irish upstart (Ryan O’Neal). Despite its ponderous pacing and funereal moods, the film is highly accomplished as a piece of storytelling, and it builds to one of the most suspenseful duels ever staged. It also repays close attention as a complex and fascinating historical meditation, as enigmatic in its way as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Music Box’s weeklong Kubrick retrospective includes a new print of this and several other films, and it offers an excellent opportunity to reevaluate a filmmaker whose work continues to deepen after his death. With Marisa Berenson, Patrick Magee, Hardy Kruger, and Leonard Rossiter; narrated by Michael Hordern. Music Box, Thursday, August 31.
Whatever might be said for or against Abbie Hoffman, the radical founder of the yippies, he wasn’t the glib figure that Vincent D’Onofrio presents him as, in this misshapen and obfuscating biopica picture that invests practically all its intelligence in chronicling how Hoffman’s life was destroyed by the FBI and CIA after he was forced into hiding. The relative candor about the damage wreaked by J. Edgar Hoover is pretty small compensation for the lack of any clear sense of what Hoffman did in the 60s and why it meant something. With Janeane Garofalo as Hoffman’s wife and Jeanne Tripplehorn as his mistress; produced and directed by Robert Greenwald, from a script by Bruce Graham that Paul Krassner should have written. 108 min. (JR)
It’s obvious that Ben Berkowitz and Benjamin Redgrave were thinking of John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1960) when they made this impressive Chicago-based feature. Both features grew out of acting classes and were written by their leads, and both even have titles that relate allegorically to their themes, with sexual orientation playing a role in Straightman similar to that of race in Shadows. Berkowitz (who also directed) plays the heterosexual manager of a comedy club, and Redgrave plays his best friend, a construction worker; the two become flatmates after losing their girlfriends, and only later does Redgrave admit that he’s gay. The actors’ delicacy, originality, and depth are what make this sensitive movie so affecting and justify the comparison to Cassavetes. But only up to a point: the two Bens dominate the proceedings, for better and for worse, making this more a two-man show than a genuine ensemble piece. None of the other able actors is given enough time or leeway to establish herself or himself as fully as one might like, and at times this even limits our understanding of how the two leads handle their various relationships. The plot, moreover, doesn’t seem fully shaped and concludes rather awkwardly and arbitrarily. But both these demurrals are minor next to the sizable achievements of this feature, a recipient of the 1999 Chicago Underground Film Fund. A Chicago premiere; 101 min. On the same program, Wrist, a five-minute short by Matthew Harrison. Fine Arts, Friday, August 18, 7:30 and 9:30. –Jonathan Rosenbaum