Would you have trouble imagining a world in which cloning raged so out of hand that prospective co-procreators must be screened to make sure they're not genetic kissing cousins? If so, you're not alone. The filmmakers behind Code 46 (named for a statute forbidding sex between genetically similar individuals) had problems, too: tough, since it's the premise for their film. The story line holds promise political, scientific, and poetic: Is the inexplicable magnetism Robbins and Morton's characters feel for each other simply their much-divided genes seeking reunification? Is Robbins character culpable for actions that have been expunged from his memory? Unfortunately it's all handled like an extended new-age video - bad fancy-pants editing ruins any sense of passion between the leads - and in the end the film's sketchy plot feels like an elaborate set-up for one highly fetishized sex scene. — Elaine Wolff
Dir. Mike Hodges; writ. Trevor Preston; Clive Owen, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Charlotte Rampling, Malcolm McDowell, Jamie Foreman (R)
An infamous gangster comes out of the woods to avenge his brother's murder
From its perplexing opening sequence to its enigmatic conclusion, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead makes no concession to somnolent viewers. Underworld slang and abstruse Cockney accents also defeat easy digestion. It was almost an hour into the proceedings before the pieces finally fell into place and I had some inkling of what was happening. Then they started to fall apart again.
Davey Graham (Rhys-Meyers), a suave and cocky young man about town, London's East End, makes the rounds of private parties selling cocaine and scoring with desirable women. He is unaware that he is being watched and envied by a maleficent car dealer named Boad (McDowell). Very late at night, two of Boad's thugs snatch Davey off the street, beat him, and then hold him down while Boad rapes him. Davey staggers home, climbs into the bath fully clothed, and slits his own throat.
For the past three years, Davey's older brother, Will (Owen), has been living alone in a van in the forest. "Will Graham was the oddest man I've known, and I've known a few," notes Davey's best friend, Mickser (Foreman). Will was once a powerful gangster, but, for reasons only hinted at, he abandoned the high life and a woman named Helen (Rampling) in order to brood by himself in the woods. When he learns of Davey's death, Will, sporting a beard and a scowl, returns to town intent on uncovering truth and exacting revenge. He is outraged when a pathologist reports traces of semen in the anus of his brother's corpse. Within the world of macho mobsters, homosexuality is an abomination, and, to rehabilitate Davey's reputation, Will must spread the word that his brother was a victim of "nonconsensual buggery."
"Don't you never sleep?" Davey's landlady asks as he crawls into his apartment at 5 a.m. Yet the title to I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is inaccurate and inappropriate. The dead do not sleep; they decompose. And this is not a film about insomniacs. What it is is a contemporary urban version of a classic Western subgenre - the story of a legendary retired gunfighter who reluctantly takes up arms again for a final surge of violence. A laconic loner reminiscent of Shane, Will has somehow lost his will, has become consumed by "grief for a life wasted." But Davey's death shocks Will into leaving the forest and plotting exquisite retribution against the usurpers and buggers who have presumed to assume control of his criminal empire and to sodomize his brother. But even in the final frames, which hang in the air like a taunting ellipsis, it remains unclear whether Will will or will not.
Art is a delicate balance between redundancy and inadequacy - subduing viewers with superfluous information and exasperating them with not enough. Most studio movies insult our intelligence with lines of dialogue and visual cues that make obvious what we already infer. The opposite extreme would be a screen that stays blank, placing the burden of imagination entirely on the viewer. With I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, director Mike Hodges did not exactly draw a blank, but he has refused to draw the lines connecting all his dimly lit dots. Not least of all the secrets that the filmmaker refuses to divulge is why, after making Get Carter, starring Michael Caine as the man who comes back to avenge his brother's death, in 1971, he now returns with the same plot. I'll Sleep When I'm Dead is a tonal composition rich in back stories we never confront. • — Steven G. Kellman
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
The lush special effects of 'Sky Captain' resurrect a 1939 dream-world, complete with two-dimensional characters
Quick recap for those who haven't heard: If geeks around you are giddy at the prospect of Sky Captain, it's partly for the way it was made. Shot entirely in front of blue screens, the movie had no sets (except in a single scene added late in the game) and few props. Vintage fighter planes, Manhattan's concrete canyons, and lush King Kong-style islands were all crafted inside a computer, then pasted behind and around the actors. It's astounding how well this works. The filmmakers put a diffuse, glamorous glow on everything and manipulate the colors to make flesh and pixels look more at home together. There are very few places in the movie when an effect isn't perfect.
As impressive as the technique is the style of the thing: Drawing inspiration from antique cartoons, adventure serials, and science fiction, Conran and his brother Kevin (the production designer) have created an impossibly cool world, a parallel-universe version of 1939 in which an evil genius sends skyscraper-sized robots to terrorize the world's cities. Even without the innumerable sly allusions to genre landmarks like Star Wars, Kong, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and more obscure titles, this is easily one of the most visually delicious movies in recent memory.
But if Conran is one-upping George Lucas in the effects department, he's also mimicking the filmmaker's technique with actors. Law and Paltrow are wooden here, characters in name only. Paltrow has a hard time convincing us she's really dodging giant robots, and her attempts at romantic chemistry with Law are even less effective, making you wonder if she was acting against a blue screen there as well.
Conran would argue that one-dimensional characters are in keeping with the adventure serials that inspired the movie and, of course, that's true. But there's nothing wrong with adding something to what came before, especially when you clearly have such a firm grip on the material. If only Conran had his Harrison Ford - a Han Solo to bring wit and charisma to poorly defined characters - this could be a truly fantastic movie. As it stands, it's glorious to look at, and may even provide some thrills if you can get yourself into a 12-year-old frame of mind. • — John DeFore
Cinematexas International Short Film Festival
Avant garde cinema takes over a range of venues, including the Hideout, Arthouse, and the Alamo Drafthouse, during the ninth annual Cinematexas. The festival features films old and new by noted film experimentalists, including the premiere of Sud, a documentary filmed in post-Byrd Jasper by the Belgian artist Chantal Akerman, and a survey of short films by Satyajit Ray. Filmmaker Jem Cohen will collaborate in a live performance with composer Terry Riley for EYE + EAR. Passholders can attend a variety of parties and receptions and are guaranteed admission to films until 10 minutes prior to screening time.
The Cinematexas Film Festival takes place September 22-26 at various locations in Austin, Texas. Film passes cost $40/$30 for students. Everything passes, which include admission to EYE + EAR and parties, cost $50/$40 students. For more information, call 512-471-2548, or visit www.cinematexas.org.
No desearás la mujer de tu hijo / Thou shalt not covet thy son's wife
The sequel to La oveja negra, No desearás stars Soler as the womanizing father of Infante's Silvano.
No desearás la mujer de tu hijo screens at 4pm Sunday, September 19 and 7pm Wednesday, September 22 as part of the Instituto de México's "Mexican Cinema" series, at the Instituto, 600 Hemisfair. Admission is free.
Salt of the Earth
Produced in 1954 by members of the original Hollywood 10, who were blacklisted for refusing to answer Congressional inquiries during the McCarthy communist witch-hunts, Salt of the Earth is a pro feminist and Mexican-American retelling of an actual strike against the New Mexican Empire Zinc Mine.
Salt of the Earth screens at approximately 9pm Thursday, September 16 as part of the series "In the Public Domain," at the Slab across from La Tuna, 100 Probandt. Admission is free. For more info, call 212-9373.