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THE OH IN OHIO
unrated, 88 minutes
This film treats sex, marriage, and May/December romances with a care and maturity I haven’t seen since the last time Bill Moyers was on PBS. And, unlike Bill Moyers, this is supposed to be funny.
Parker Posey and Paul Rudd are longtime marrieds. She’s a brittle, type A ice queen who seduces companies into relocating to Cleveland, and he’s a teacher who’s had a bullet put into his self-esteem by Ms. Posey’s inability to have an orgasm. He’s good in bed but she can’t quite make it to the mountaintop, and consequently he’s become a flabby hairball, impacted with self-loathing. Things fall apart and he finds salvation in the arms of a student (Mischa Barton) while Ms. Posey embarks on a solo voyage of sexual exploration.
First-time director Billy Kent has made hundreds of short films and it shows. There are funny scenes and clever gags all throughout “The Oh,” but there’s a constant sense of filmus interruptus as plot lines get dropped like clothes on prom night. The actors are uniformly excellent, and while Liza Minnelli and Keith David go for the gold with their ribald performances, it’s Danny DeVito, as Wayne the pool guy, who gives the movie its emotional ballast. Some of the jokes are obvious, and Ms. Posey has a hard time connecting to a role that feels like it was custom-built for her, but in a season of superheroes and pirate ships, “The Oh in Ohio” is an oasis of maturity, and it gets an “A” for effort, if for nothing else.
– Grady Hendrix
unrated, 90 minutes
Laced with a potent combination of eroticism and betrayal, Patrice Chéreau’s “Gabrielle” offers a glimpse of a turn-of-the-century marriage in the throes of disintegration.
The film opens as the bourgeois Jean Hervey (Pascal Greggory) recounts the details of his pleasingly uneventful marriage on his return home for dinner. In Hervey’s eyes, he and his wife, Gabrielle (Isabelle Huppert), enjoy a comfortable coexistence in their wellappointed mansion, treading on a sea of servants and hosting salons for their chatty society friends. Their relationship, though platonic, is enviably stable and amicable.
But things quickly take a turn for the chaotic as Gabrielle’s abrupt disclosure of her long-standing unhappiness, recent infidelity, and attempt, quickly reneged, to leave her husband violently uproot the couple from their peaceful arrangement.
Set in early 20th-century belle époque France (with the requisite sumptuous costuming), the film is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s short story “The Return.” But the shift away from Conrad’s title forgoes the prominence of the tormented Gabrielle’s decision to return to her husband instead of leaving him for her lover.
Ms. Huppert is absolutely riveting as a woman at once rediscovering her femininity, exploring her sensuality, and redefining her role in her marriage. And Mr. Greggory rivals her in the breadth of his unhappiness as a shamed man cycling through denial, vengefulness, and, finally, sorrow.
With its bleak depiction of a sad and faithless marriage, “Gabrielle” offers exquisitely rendered but hopeless commentary on the scourge of commitment and unlikelihood of marital contentment. In other words, don’t bring a date.
– Erica Orden
THE COLOR OF OLIVES
unrated, 97 minutes
“The Color of Olives,” showing now at the Pioneer Theater, adds to the past year’s cinematic tumult of war documentaries and suicide-bomber suspense dramas. Filmmaker Carolina Rivas trains her camera on the comings and goings of a single Palestinian Arab family walled in by Israel’s West Bank security barrier. A determinedly mild sketch of daily life, the film is a workable checkpoint pastoral, but is more striking as a conscientiously depoliticized postcard.
The Amer family nominally lives in the town of Masha, but their house, on the wrong side of the wall from their farmland and technically in a “military zone,” is a windswept outpost. Hani, the father, drives a donkey cart to a gate where Israeli soldiers let him pass, if they’re around. The kids play in the dust, or with a capering donkey foal. It can get uncannily quiet, except for the breezes.
One reason for the silence is that the eight-strong family hardly speaks on camera. Ms. Rivas intends this as a movie of action, often observed at a distance, and inaction, in the waiting endemic to checkpoint life. The Amers get a voice in long plain-text intertitles (drawn from extensive interviews), but more often they appear as live-action portraits in slow, static shots.
All this might produce something noble and beautiful with artful execution. But Ms. Rivas pares down her portrait awkwardly until the material is almost impassive. The apolitical angle doesn’t feel as calculated as it might (and the Israeli soldiers feel equally flaky and callous). But when we tag along with one Amer daughter to school, where the children line up to caterwaul the unambiguous Palestine anthem “My Country, My Country,” the film’s short shrift to politics begins to feel, well, boring as well as unreal.
– Nicolas Rapold
unrated, 88 minutes
Overlord is a docudrama scrapbook of a young soldier’s callow journey into battle with extremely authentic background shots. A festival foundling from 1975 that finally gets a premiere on Friday today at Cinema Village, the film gives a wistful look at World War II through the eyes of a British recruit. The simple story is interlaced with actual combat footage from the period and shot in black-andwhite to match.
Tom (Brian Stirner) is a polite chap with a shy sense of humor who’s still living at home when he gets called up for the service. In another war movie he’d be slotted as the gawky late bloomer, but here he’s ordinary in his naïveté, undergoing the many stages of training like everyone else. Obstacle courses, a dance, and countryside rambles comprise his time before D-Day.
Phased in among these generic scenes, more dreamy than coherent, is the youare-there footage of the extraordinary machinery of war, often high in the air. A fighter, from the cockpit view, bears down to strafe a train; a medieval-looking mine-removal device unspools in front of a ship. Toppled ruins and the plumes of bomb explosions are other visual motifs of the destruction humming away while Tom learns to salute.
Perhaps every war has its own movie idiom, and for all the whizbangery of its footage, “Overlord” can’t help exuding the nostalgia that infuses all World War II films. Whole stretches are set to light, shuffling jazz. Some romantic fantasy sequences Tom has about a new sweetheart misfire, with an incongruously arty whiff about them.
The payoff of “Overlord” is in the deeply felt chaos of its ending. Tom’s reality disintegrates when he lands in France (“Overlord” is the code word for the Normandy invasion), and any grounding that the documentary side of the movie has provided to that point falls away with an eerie beauty.
PG-13, 90 minutes
How many Wayans Brothers does it take to make a good movie? Definitely more than the three involved in “Little Man.”
Marlon Wayans plays a midget criminal who robs an enormous cubic zirconium diamond from a jewelry store and stashes it in a bystander’s purse. The purse winds up in Shawn Wayans’s home, and Marlon inexplicably decides to disguise himself as a baby to retrieve his loot. He’s placed on the doorstep in a basket, and instantly a passing dog urinates in his mouth, setting the tone for the rest of the movie.
The film’s only interesting moment comes when a stay-at-home mother suddenly delivers a serious speech proclaiming that real women have babies, not jobs, because motherhood is more rewarding than work. This kind of cheap and tacky sentiment fits in perfectly with the movie’s cheap and tacky production values including the midgetizing of Marlon, which involves Photoshopping his head onto a child’s body. The early days of motion pictures featured comedy this crude — Keystone Kops, pies in the face — and in the future critics may re-evaluate “Little Man” as some kind of primal slapstick clowning. But I hope I won’t be around to see that.
unrated, 92 minutes
Sucking the glamour out of mob crime, “Excellent Cadavers” is a sober, news-heavy history of Italy’s on-again, off-again campaigns against Cosa Nostra. The documentary, now showing at Film Forum, shows the ruthless organization for what it is: a cancer stretching from the streets of Palermo to the offices of national politicians, and an ongoing national tragedy.
“Excellent Cadavers” begins in the 1970s (right about when “The Godfather II” was winning Best Picture), as the Mafia began murdering snooping high-profile police officials and magistrates. (They are the “excellent cadavers” of the title.) The spine of the story, in more than one sense, belongs to Giovanni Falcone, a fearless and shrewd prosecutor whose skills at following the money bring success. He spearheads the enormous “Maxi-Trials” of the 1980s, indicting hundreds of kingpins and soldiers alike, but finds himself vulnerable when political winds, abetted by corruption, shift away from the hard line.
Alexander Stille, whose meticulous 1995 book provided the base of the movie, tells the chronicle through reams of dry narration. But that doesn’t obscure the central drama. The movie’s brief, hectic opening overture is a flash forward to Falcone’s own eventual 1992 assassination, in which a stretch of highway was leveled to destroy his convoy.
Falcone’s Maxi-Trials did send some bigwigs to the slammer, thanks to testimony by a fugitive Mafia turncoat. Tommaso Buscetta, who had fled to Brazil, gave prosecutors the clearest picture yet of the Mafia hierarchy and the power grab by an ascendant rural branch hailing from Corleone. Mr. Stille and filmmaker Marco Turco shy from tabloid psychologizing or legal opera, even though the television footage of the special gymnasium-size courtroom is downright theatrical.
The movie ends on a provocative note by taking the action up through the reign of Silvio Berlusconi. Beset by corruption lawsuits and linked to the Mafia via business associates, the press baron succeeded in weakening the so-called excessive powers of prosecutors and shutting down opposing journalistic voices. Mr. Turco delicately suggests an instinct to circumvent justice and a tendency toward intimidation that are not too dissimilar from the Mafia’s own extralegal philosophy.
Through July 25 (209 W. Houston Street, between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street, 212-727-8112).