This energetic and often exciting feature from Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys), set in Detroit in 1995, aims to be the kind of showcase for Eminem and hip-hop that Saturday Night Fever was for John Travolta and disco, and in most respects it succeeds. Hanson depicts a far grungier world, brimming with aggression and homophobia, and one might argue that his version of the working-class success story is a lot more honest about the interracial underpinnings and sexual undercurrents of its music and milieu and at least as frank about the desperate need for some kind of transcendence. The movie has some of the braggadocio of its white-trash hero, building to its competitive climax as if it were a gladiatorial sporting event, and it carried me all the way. With Kim Basinger, Mekhi Phifer, and Brittany Murphy; Scott Silver wrote the well-honed script. 118 min. (JR)
I’ve never regarded Stanley Donen’s romantic thriller Charade (1963) as a classic, but at least it has Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, and Paris. Jonathan Demme’s flat-footed remake has Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton, Tim Robbins, and Paris, none of them used very well. The various references to the French New Wave (appearances by Charles Aznavour, Anna Karina, and Agnes Varda, and a scene at Truffaut’s grave site) don’t help much either. But if Wahlberg in a beret is your idea of fun, don’t let me get in your way (at least no one ever says Ooh-la-la). The script, adapted from Peter Stone’s 1963 original, is by Demme, Steve Schmidt, Peter Joshua (Stone’s pseudonym), and Jessica Bendinger. 104 min. (JR)
Also known as Memory and Memorandum, this 2001 documentary by Mostafa Razzagh Karimi and Mojalal Varahram about the geography, history, and diverse cultures of Iran proceeds without narration or dialogue. It certainly offers an eyeful (as well as an earful, considering the striking music score), though there are times when one feels a propagandistic tourisman all-too-official rubber stamp of approvalcalling some of the shots. The running time is 97 minutes, though as I recall, the film ran somewhat longer when I saw it at the Fajr film festival. (JR)
To understand the status of poet and filmmaker Forugh Farrokhzad in Iran, one would have to combine the mythologies of Maya Deren, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, and Bessie Smith, but even that might not communicate her importance as a feminist martyr and literary pioneer. Nasser Saffarian’s two fascinating hour-long video documentaries about Farrokhzad (1935-’67), Forugh Farrokhzad: The Green Cold (2001) and The Mirror of the Soul, ultimately do more for her legend than for her work. Speaking to Farrokhzad’s mother, siblings, friends, and fellow poets (but not to Ebrahim Golestan, her friend, lover, fellow writer, and filmmaking mentoronly a son is interviewed), Saffarian presents a wealth of valuable material, though his tendency to cut between the shortest of sound bites often limits the discourse. I was grateful to hear Farrokhzad reading from her work, to see snippets of Bernardo Bertolucci’s TV interview with her, and to learn that filmmaker Darius Mehrjui once translated some of her work for the Paris Review. But practically every clip from her great short The House Is Black is mutilated in some fashion (usually by replacing the sound track with voice-over), and her poetry is mainly represented by scattered lines quoted out of context. (From this standpoint, The Mirror of the Soul is an improvement over The Green Cold.) It’s a continuing scandal that most bookstores don’t carry English translations of Farrokhzad, the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century, so these documentaries are an invaluable introduction to her work. (JR)
Claire Denis’ first-rate documentary (1990) about filmmaker Jacques Rivette, produced for French television, has many things to recommend it. The main interviewer is the great critic Serge Daney, who, two years before his death, converses with Rivette while relaxing in a cafe and strolling around Paris (Denis interjects a few questions toward the end); since both men were former editors of Cahiers du Cinema, not to mention groundbreaking and highly articulate critics, they have a lot to discuss apart from Rivette’s filmmaking. Clips from many of Rivette’s major films (some of which remain difficult to see, like the legendary Out 1) are included, as are interviews with some of Rivette’s actors, such as Bulle Ogier and Jean-Francois Stevenin. Best of all, the film beautifully captures Rivette the man, as both solitary cinephile and exploratory filmmaker. Showing as part of the Block Museum’s invaluable series “Serge Daney: 10 Years After,” which started last month and ends in early December. In French with subtitles; to be projected from Beta SP video. 125 min. Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston, Saturday, October 26, 3:00, 847-491-4000.