This is the first Ang Lee film I’ve seen that I’ve liked without qualification. More important, it’s the most exuberant action movie in ages, putting most recent Hollywood blockbusters to shame. The two most significant reasons for this are the choreography of Yuen Wo-ping–who charted out the fights in The Matrix and here does for flying what Esther Williams did for swimming–and the powerhouse cast of Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, and Chang Chen. But there’s an undeniable lift in watching Zhang, a little girl, wipe out the ruffians who go after her, while the affectionate references to King Hu’s The Fate of Lee Khan (among other Hong Kong action touchstones) also add something flavorsome to the brew. Adapted by James Schamus (one of the executive producers), Wang Hui Ling, and Tsai Kuo Jung from Wang Du Lu’s novel of the same title, this sincere and magical fairy tale might be self-conscious at times about being Lee’s celebratory homecoming movie (his first Asian film since Eat Drink Man Woman), but it still succeeds in putting the same spirited spin on martial arts that Singin’ in the Rain did on early Hollywood. 119 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, McClurg Court, Pipers Alley.
“If she slipped she recovered her footing, and it was only afterward that she was aware of having recovered it each time on a slightly lower level.” Edith Wharton’s encapsulation of the narrative form of her tragic (and sexy) 1905 novel, describing the progressive defeat of socialite Lily Bart by the ugly indifference of Wharton’s own leisure class, is given an extra touch of Catholic doom in Terence Davies’s passionate, scrupulous, and personal adaptation, which to a surprising degree preserves the moral complexity of most of the major characters. It’s regrettable if understandable that the Jewishness of social climber Sim Rosedale (Anthony LaPaglia) is no longer an issue, and Lawrence Selden, Lily’s confidante, is somewhat softened by a miscast Eric Stoltz, but the cast as a whole is astonishing–especially Gillian Anderson as Lily and Dan Aykroyd in his finest performance to date. Davies feels and understands the story thoroughly, giving it a raw emotional immediacy that would be unthinkable in the shopper-friendly adaptations of Merchant-Ivory and their imitators, and the film’s feeling for decor and costumes, derived from both John Singer Sargent paintings and Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons, is exquisite. With Terry Kinney, Laura Linney, Elizabeth McGovern, and Eleanor Bron. 140 min. Wilmette; also Music Box, Monday through Thursday, December 25 through 28.
Somewhere in writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore’s bombastic movie, about a 12-year-old boy (Giuseppe Sulfaro) during the Italian fascist period who has the hots for a mistreated war widow (Monica Bellucci), is a pretty good short story about the fickleness of community and the cruelty of gossip. Part of what prevents it from emerging more clearly is the movie’s compulsion to be Fellini-like at all costs: Ennio Morricone’s score periodically apes Nino Rota, and the scenes of family farce play more like Radio Days than anything elsein effect they’re an imitation of imitation Fellini. But I prefer this to Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso, if only for its more nuanced views. Tornatore’s script was inspired by Luciano Vincenzoni’s story Ma l’amore no . . . In Italian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)
I haven’t read Cormac McCarthy’s acclaimed novel, nor do I know what kind of material got deleted from this adaptation, which was reduced by about one of its original three hours (the apparently preferred length of director and coproducer Billy Bob Thornton), but despite some choppiness here and there the movie holds together pretty well. This is a melancholy, lyrical, and elegiac western, set around 1949, in which a young and dispossessed rancher in west Texas (Matt Damon) rides off with his best friend (Henry Thomas) to the Rio Grande, picking up a teenage renegade (Lucas Black) en route, and eventually falls in love with the daughter (Penelope Cruz) of a Mexican rancher he works for. The landscapeswhich come close to outshining the worthy actors in the opening and closing stretchesare beautiful, and the plot, which is basically a grim coming-of-age story, holds one’s interest throughout. Scripted by Ted Tally; with Ruben Blades, Robert Patrick, Julio Oscar Mechoso, Miriam Colon, Bruce Dern, and Sam Shepard. 112 min. (JR)
I don’t get it. Maybe my bias against drug dealers, drug barons, and drug addicts as interesting characters is responsible, but I don’t see this slightly better-than-average drug thriller, with slightly better-than-average direction by Steven Soderbergh, as anything more than a routine rubber-stamping of genre reflexes. (Even the film’s racismthe implication that drug taking by teenage white girls logically leads to their having sex with black malesseems depressingly typical.) Nothing especially new or fresh has been added to the formula by Stephen Gaghan’s screenplay, which shuttles between southern California, Mexico, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., but if you’re happy just to see Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, Michael Douglas, Luis Guzman, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Albert Finney, among others, move across the screen and deliver lines, here’s your chance to indulge. 147 min. (JR)