Aptly subtitled “Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys,” the fifth feature by Austrian director Michael Haneke (2000, 117 min.), his best to date, is a procession of long virtuoso takes that typically begin and end in the middle of actions or sentences, constituting not only an interactive jigsaw puzzle but a thrilling narrative experiment comparable to Alain Resnais’ Je t’aime, je t’aime, Jacques Rivette’s Out 1, and Rob Tregenza’s Talking to Strangers. The film’s second episode is a nine-minute street scene involving an altercation between an actress (Juliette Binoche in a powerful performance), her boyfriend’s younger brother, an African music teacher who works with deaf-mute students, and a woman beggar from Romania; the other episodes effect a kind of narrative dispersal of these characters and some of their relatives across time and space. I couldn’t always keep up with what was happening, but I was never bored, and the questions raised reflect the mysteries of everyday life. This is Haneke’s first feature made in France, and the title refers to the pass codes used to enter houses and apartment buildings in Paris–a metaphor for codes that might crack certain global and ethical issues. In subtitled French, Malinke, Romanian, German, Arabic, and sign language–and also, occasionally, English. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton, Saturday and Sunday, June 29 and 30, 12:30, 773-281-4114.
The best argument for a sequel to Men in Black (1995) was Linda Fiorentino as the plucky morgue pathologist, but this new installment replaces her with Rosario Dawson, whose function is more decorative than comic. Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back as Jay and Kay, government agents who monitor the high jinks of extraterrestrials on earth, and though director Barry Sonnenfeld (or somebody) has added a lot more beasties and other conceptual doodling (as well as product placements), the down-home satire of how we cope with cultural difference has evaporated, replaced by jazzy effects that wear out their welcome by the halfway mark. (The earth’s fate hanging in jeopardy near the end seems less urgent than whether Hope or Crosby will get Dorothy Lamour at the end of a Road comedy.) Michael Jackson has a cameo, Rip Torn and Tony Shalhoub reprise their original bits, and Lara Flynn Boyle as the head alien sprouts zillions of wormlike tentaclesbut a talking bulldog named Frank steals the show. 82 min. (JR)
Based on an Inuit legend and made almost entirely by Inuit filmmakers, this totally absorbing 172-minute feature (2001), winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes, is exciting not as ethnography but as storytelling, as drama, and as filmmaking. In this respect, one might even wind up perversely missing the exoticism and implied critique of Western values found in Nanook of the North or The Savage Innocents, but only if one insists on finding arctic natives interesting because of their relation to other cultures and not on their own terms. Certainly the plot elements are universal: sexual competition, adultery, murder, pursuit, subterfuge, and justice, all seen in relation to the needs and preservation of a particular community and way of life. This story is set at the dawn of the first millennium, but the fact that we tend to forget about historical time frames entirely while watching it is a tribute to its power to grab and hold us. Directed by Zacharias Kunuk and written by Kunuk and Paul Apak Angilirq; with Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, and Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq. In Inuktitut with subtitles. (JR)
I haven’t been much of a John Woo fan, and war films aren’t my cup of tea, but this World War II epic made me reconsider both biases. The masterful storytelling, which doesn’t seem overextended even at 134 minutes, focuses on the unlikely friendship between a shell-shocked marine (Nicolas Cage) returning to combat in time for the battle of Saipan in 1944 and the Navajo Indian he’s assigned to guard (Adam Beach of Smoke Signals), who’s been trained to transmit messages in a code based on his native language. The material yields a powerful story more realistic in premise and treatment than Woo’s usual fare (the depiction of American wartime racism is especially sharp), yet it’s clearly a personal project that gratifies his penchant for both male bonding and dramatic action sequences. Despite some of the sentimentality that is also Woo’s stock-in-trade, I was moved and absorbed throughout. Written by John Rice and Joe Batteer; with Peter Stormare, Noah Emmerich, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Henderson, Roger Willie, Brian Van Holt, Frances O’Connor, and Christian Slater. Century 12 and CineArts 6, City North 14, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Golf Glen, Lake, Lincoln Village, Norridge, Three Penny, Village North.
From the Chicago Reader (2002). — J.R.
Robert Rossen’s 1961 feature is a somber morality play postulating as existential hero a pool hustler perfecting his craft (Paul Newman at his best). It makes wonderful use of its seedy locations (memorably filmed in black-and-white ‘Scope by Eugen Shuftan, who won an Oscar for his work) and its first-rate secondary cast (Piper Laurie, Jackie Gleason, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick, and Murray Hamilton). Adapted by Rossen and Sidney Carroll from a Walter Tevis novel, this picture is so much better than Martin Scorsese’s belated sequel The Color of Money that they don’t even belong in the same category. A postnoir melodrama with metaphysical trimmings, it does remarkable things with mood and pacing, and the two matches with Gleason as Minnesota Fats are indelible. 135 min. (JR)