The beginning of this 2004 Brazilian drama anticipates a paranoid thriller like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window or Suspicion: a 65-year-old divorcee (Fernanda Montenegro), living alone in Rio’s Copacabana and participating in a neighborhood watch, witnesses what appears to be a murder in a flat across the street. Once she gets involved with the suspect, a retired judge, the movie fails to generate much suspense, but that emerges as the real point: writer-director Marcos Bernstein is more interested in how a melodramatic imagination can distort reality, a concept he explores with charm and tact. In Portuguese with subtitles. 98 min. (JR)
Based on Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind’s nonfiction book The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron, this absorbing and intelligent documentary by Alex Gibney presents the chronology and major characters of one of the greatest corporate swindles in U.S. history. Those who suspect that gangsters are taking over the country will find this a pretty lucid account of the methodologies employed. The only serious distraction and ethical lapse is Gibney’s sarcastic, cheap-shot use of popular songs like That Old Black Magic, Love for Sale, and God Bless the Child to underscore certain points; it seems almost to celebrate the shamelessness of the creeps being exposed. 110 min. (JR)
This sequel to X X X (2002) brings back Samuel L. Jackson as a U.S. intelligence chief, though Ice Cube replaces Vin Diesel as the ex-con action hero. This time the skulduggery involves Willem Dafoe as the U.S. secretary of defense, who’s planning to assassinate his way to the presidency, but with more stuntpeople than characters, this borders on a free-for-all. Of course the movie’s real raison d’etre is watching Ice Cube tear up government facilities and blockades with a tank, spout Schwarzenegger-style kiss-off lines, and commandeer the kind of babes and high-tech cars that James Bond usually plays with. The silly script is by Simon Kinberg, the spotty direction by Lee Tamahori. PG-13, 101 min. (JR)
This 16-millimeter experimental feature (2004) by James Benning consists of ten upward views from a stationary camera, each ten minutes long and filmed with sync sound from his backyard in southern California. I expected something minimalist, but in fact this is remarkably full–a mesmerizing study in time, light, movement, and moisture that traces the shifting relations between clouds and earth, nature and people. Benning is so attentive that he teaches us how to look and listen, and once we adjust our plot-driven expectations, things that might have seemed static at first are revealed as constantly changing. If you’re expecting a test or an ordeal, you could be as surprised by this masterpiece, and as grateful for it, as I was. 101 min. Presented by Chicago Filmmakers. Sat 4/30, 8 PM, Cinema Borealis.
This 1979 film by Maurice Pialat treats youthful sex as the only activity worth pursuing in the provinces, and the major obstacle to escaping from them. 85 min. In French with subtitles. (JR)