When I spent a day in Brisbane four years ago, it struck me in terms of climate as well as social ambience as being the Mississippi or Louisiana of Australia. That’s only one of the reasons why this grim, passionate, and graphic love story about two highly dysfunctional young individualsa chain-smoking asthmatic (Peter Fenton) and an irritable, promiscuous, and possibly crazy victim of eczema (Sacha Horler), both unemployedreminds me of the tale about a doomed couple that forms half of William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms. Another reason is the uncanny way that Andrew McGahan, adapting his own best-selling novel, director John Curran, and cinematographer Dion Beebe have of making their story paradoxically superromantic by keeping it so doggedly antiromantic. With its honesty about sexual inadequacies (his rather than hers), drugs, squalor, and compulsive behavior, this obviously isn’t a film for everyone. But you can’t accuse it of toeing the Hollywood line, and parts of it remind me of Gus Van Sant’s first three movies, before he was swallowed whole by the studios. If you’re looking for something other than the usual cheering up, check this sick puppy out (1999, 98 min.).
Probably the best of all the film versions of Richard Connell’s creepy story about a crazy count who hunts humans on a remote island for sport, adapted by James Creelman. This 1932 movie was made by many of the same people involved in King Kong the following year, including producer Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest B. Schoedsack (codirecting here with Irving Pichel), composer Max Steiner, and actors Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong. If memory serves, this is dated but wonderful, and it lasts only 63 minutes. With Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks. (JR)
A screenwriter on deadline (writer-director-composer Anthony Hopkins) appears to be losing his mind and his life to his characters. But neither the screenwriter nor the characters compel much interest and the jokes are lame, so the only sustained point here is the aggressively eclectic filmmaking style, an anything-goes affair in which even the more striking moves tend to work against one another. (The ‘Scope framing undermines the effects of the rapid-fire montages, and even Hopkins’s most memorable ditty is a throwaway played over the final credits.) Not so much ill conceived and misdirected as unconceived and undirected, this is folly on a grand scale. With Stella Arroyave (Hopkins’s wife and producer, playing some version of herself), and, among the more recognizable names, Christian Slater, John Turturro, Michael Lerner, and Kevin McCarthy. R, 96 min. (JR)
Winner of the audience prize at the 2006 Toronto film festival, Alejandro Gomez Monteverde’s first feature may have more heart than head, but it’s as interesting for what it leaves out of the romantic story as for what it retains. A waitress (Tammy Blanchard) at a Manhattan Mexican restaurant gets fired for coming in late after discovering that she’s pregnant. The manager’s brother (Eduardo Verastegui), who works there as chef, is so angry that he quits on the spot and spends the rest of the day with his new friend, taking her to meet his parents. We never learn who’s the father of the waitress’s child, but we do get some backstories about both characters, especially the chef (who used to be a soccer star and, unlike the waitress, is part Mexican), and these peopleactors as well as charactersare engaging enough to suspend most of our questions. PG-13, 91 min. (JR)
What’s reportedly the first on-screen kiss in Korean cinema appears in this potent and grim 1958 melodrama by Shin Sang-ok, set in Seoul after the Korean war. A country rube turns up looking for his older brother, who by now has entered a life of crime, stealing from U.S. army warehouses and pimping for a prostitute (Choi Eun-heedescribed as the Korean Mary Pickford and therefore shockingly cast against type) who services American soldiers. Frank about other forms of corruption, such as bribery of the police, this sordid tale is limited only by its simplistic characters. (The prostitute is a standard-issue femme fatale, seducing the innocent brother and snitching on her lover.) It culminates in an impressively staged action sequence involving a train heist, followed by a showdown in a muddy wasteland that reflects the probable influence of The Wages of Fear. In Korean with subtitles. 87 min. (JR)