A Place In The Sun

George Stevens’s overblown, Oscar-laden adaption of An American Tragedy (1951, 122 min.) is hopelessly inadequate as a reading of Dreiser’s great novel, and as usual Stevens seems too preoccupied with the story’s monumentality to have much curiosity about its characters. But William C. Mellor’s cinematography and the star power of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor manage to keep this going. Michael Wilson and Harry Brown wrote the script, and Shelley Winters gives a good performance in a thankless part. (JR)

Published on 29 Nov 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Solaris

Though it’s unacknowledged as such in the credits, Steven Soderbergh’s SF movieabout a psychiatrist (George Clooney) who’s sent to an abandoned space station to rescue an apparently insane crew and discovers that the planet materializes human forms based on the visitor’s troubled memories, including his own of his dead wife (Natascha McElhone)is a synopsized remake of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 masterpiece of the same title. (Both are derived from a Stanislaw Lem novel, a source that’s acknowledged here.) Missing is most of Tarkovsky’s contemplative and mystical poetry (which is why it’s 90 minutes shorter), and added are some unfortunate Hollywood-style designer flashbacks featuring Clooney and McElhone. The story is still strong and haunting, but I’d recommend seeing this, if at all, only after the Tarkovsky (out in an excellent DVD edition). With Viola Davis and Jeremy Davies (Spanking the Monkey, Saving Private Ryan), whose space-cadet intonations provide the only light moments. 99 min. (JR)

Published on 25 Nov 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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The Sleepy Time Gal

Christopher Munch, one of America’s most gifted independent filmmakers, follows his features The Hours and Times (1991) and Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day (1996) with this lovely and moving 2001 drama, a speculative account of his late mother’s early life in which a woman (Jacqueline Bisset) and her long-lost illegitimate daughter (Martha Plimpton) pursue each other without ever meeting. By all rights it should have put Munch on the map, yet it wound up premiering only on the Sundance Channel last spring (when I wrote about it in Section One) and consequently hasn’t attracted the buzz it deserves. A multifaceted look at a varied life, it has wonderful performances not only by Bisset and Plimpton but also by its secondary cast, including Nick Stahl as the woman’s gay son, Amy Madigan as the nurse who cares for Bisset after she becomes ill, Seymour Cassel as a former lover, Peggy Gormley as his wife, and Frankie R. Faison as a radio station manager. Months after seeing this, I still feel I know most of these people as if they were old friends. 94 min. (JR)

Published on 22 Nov 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Children Of The Century

I can’t vouch for the historical accuracy of this lush 1999 period picture, which chronicles the tempestuous affair between George Sand and Alfred de Musset, and it certainly doesn’t provide a sense of what either was like as a writer or even as a thinker. But as a literary bodice ripper this is better than average, partly because of its glimpses of early-19th-century bohemianism in France and Italy but mostly because Juliette Binoche and Benoit Magimel manage to keep the story hot and unpredictable. As the opening title acknowledges, the age difference between Sand and Musset was only six years, yet curiously the film depicts their relationship as if she were twice his age. Director Diane Kurys collaborated with Murray Head and Francoise Olivier Rousseau on the script; this originally ran 135 minutes but has been trimmed down to two hours for American audienceswhich perhaps accounts for the confusing and cryptic allusion to Sand’s ten-year relationship with Chopin. In French with subtitles. (JR)

Published on 22 Nov 2002 in Featured Texts, by admin

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