Envy

Ben Stiller stars as a suburbanite who becomes consumed by the title emotion after his best friend and next-door neighbor (Jack Black) strikes it rich with a spray that makes dog shit disappear. It’s easy to see why this uneven farce, directed by Barry Levinson from a script by Steve Adams, has been shelved for so long: any comedy that depends on dog shitor on literally beating a dead horsefor many of its laughs is already in serious trouble. I tend to enjoy Jack Black as a kind of updated Jack Carson, and Christopher Walken does some lively overacting as a crazed bohemian named J-Man. But Rachel Weisz and Amy Poehler, as the heroes’ wives, are distinctly out of their element, and Stiller is even more boring than usual. With so many dubious elements at play, even the half-good ideas get lost in the shuffle. PG-13, 99 min. (JR)

Published on 30 Apr 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Chicago’s Own: New Films By Michele Smith

Described as one film split into two parts that can be viewed in either order, Michele Smith’s silent Like All Bad Men He Looks Attractive (2003, 23 min.) and They Say (2003, 49 min.) continue the junk collecting, montage, and collage that made her two-hour Regarding Penelope’s Wake so intractable as well as fascinating. Bad Men mixes a 35-millimeter reel and two 16s with such diverse elements as 8-millimeter home movies and stag reels, plastic shopping bags, various kinds of slides, and butterfly wings. For They Say, Smith not only mixed rental videos with highly edited 16-millimeter found footage but dumped the results in her garden for several weeks under various kinds of litter, and the deterioration of the images grows in importance as the work progresses. In more ways than one, the shifting approaches to processing this onslaught become Smith’s subject. (JR)

Published on 30 Apr 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Laws Of Attraction

Two ace Manhattan divorce lawyers (Julianne Moore and Pierce Brosnan) face off in court and eventually fall for each other, with the sort of complications you’d expect in a romantic comedy. Director Peter Howitt seems to encourage overacting, which results in archness about half the time. You may find it pleasantly diverting, especially if you like the leads, but mostly it made me want to see Adam’s Rib again. Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling scripted; with Parker Posey, Michael Sheen, Nora Dunn, and Frances Fisher. PG-13, 87 min. (JR)

Published on 30 Apr 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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Derrida’s Elsewhere

Traveling through Paris and what appears to be his native Algeria, French philosopher Jacques Derrida notes that films and videos are forms of writing. If that’s the case, this 1999 video about his life and ideas would probably have benefited from another draft. His discourse, the main attraction, is brilliant and fascinating, but video maker Safaa Fathy hasn’t edited or presented it with the clarity Kirby Dick brought to his 2002 Derrida, and at times we’re almost expected to provide the background and context: e.g., Fathy’s slowness in identifying Derrida’s friend and fellow philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy creates needless confusion. The dialogue is mostly in French with subtitles. 68 min. (JR)

Published on 30 Apr 2004 in Featured Texts, by admin

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The Return

Beautifully structured and emotionally wrenching, this 2003 debut feature immediately establishes Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev as a master. It charts a father’s uneasy return to his wife and two adolescent sons after a long and unexplained absence, a reunion capped by his ill-fated fishing trip with the two boys. A former actor, Zvyagintsev elicits first-rate performances from his male leads, but what registers most is the sharpness and intensity of his vision of nature and childhood experience. Nominated for an Oscar and winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival, this has been described by the director as “a mythological look [at] human life,” as accurate a description as any I’ve encountered. In Russian with subtitles. 106 min. Music Box.

Published on 30 Apr 2004 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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