Daily Archives: March 1, 2002


It’s obvious that Ben Berkowitz and Benjamin Redgrave were thinking of John Cassavetes’s Shadows (1960) when they made this impressive Chicago-based feature. Both features grew out of acting classes, and both have titles that relate allegorically to their themes, with sexual orientation playing a role in Straightman similar to that of race in Shadows. Berkowitz (who also directed) plays the heterosexual manager of a comedy club, and Redgrave plays his best friend, a construction worker; the two become flatmates after losing their girlfriends, and only later does Redgrave admit that he’s gay. The two Bens dominate the proceedings, making this more a two-man show than a genuine ensemble piece. None of the other able actors is given enough time or leeway to establish herself or himself as completely as we might like, and the plot doesn’t seem fully shaped and concludes rather awkwardly and arbitrarily. But both these cavils are minor next to the sizable achievements of this feature, a recipient of a 1999 Chicago Underground Film Fund grant. 101 min. (JR) Read more

The Specialist

A creepy but not especially edifying documentary feature (1999, 128 min.), directed by Eyal Silvan and written by him and Rony Brauman, compiled from 350 hours of previously inaccessible video footage recorded by Leo Hurwitz chronicling the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in the early 1960s. The opportunity to spend a couple of hours looking at Eichmann’s pinched, unyielding features yields plenty of questionsmany of them dealt with in Hannah Arendt’s controversial but definitive book of reportage and analysis, Eichmann in Jerusalem, which this film claims to have been inspired by. What’s most conspicuously missing is the kind of background information needed to assess many of Eichmann’s statements. Alas, the major response of this film to questions of this sort is unsatisfying rhetoric that comes across as morally tacky: passages of musique concrete used periodically to accompany the footage with intimations of mental anguish, and various avant-garde editing proceduresmost noticeably a flurry of jump cutsthrown in at various points to juice up the proceedings. (JR) Read more

The Untrained Eye: Nine Films Dealing With Visual Perception And/or Meditation

More precisely, eight experimental films, all of them sturdy classics, and the first 25 minutes of another: Stan Brakhage’s Scenes From Under Childhood (1970). The rest: Brakhage’s Thigh Line Lyre Triangular (1961), Ernie Gehr’s Serene Velocity (1970, 23 min.), Michael Snow’s Wavelength (1967, 45 min.), and three films by Paul Sharits: T,O,U,C,H,I,N,G (1968, 12 min.), Piece Mandala/End War (1966, 5 min.), and Ray Gun Virus (1966, 14 min.). (JR) Read more


Joe Dante’s biggest hit (1984) to date, in which cuddly Spielbergian pets turn into vicious beasties, led Dave Kehr to conclude, Dante is perhaps the first filmmaker since Frank Tashlin to base his style on the formal free-for-all of animated cartoons; he is also utterly heartless. I agree with the first premise but not the second: Dante’s subversive and occasionally unnerving high jinks with the processes of movie watching reveal not only a skepticism toward the media (and the reflexes of a passionate film buff) but also a profound respect for the viewer (amplified later by his war trilogy of Matinee, The Second Civil War, and Small Soldiers). What’s confusing yet ultimately illuminating is the way his gremlins function as a free-floating metaphor, suggesting at separate junctures everything from teenagers to blacks to various Freudian suppressions. With Zach Galligan and Hoyt Axton. PG, 111 min. (JR) Read more

Space Cowboys

Clint Eastwoodwho directed and stars in this adventure, about four long-in-the-tooth former air force pilots who convince NASA to send them into orbit to fix a Russian satellitesuggested at the time that it would be his last feature. We’re lucky it wasn’t. Apart from some strained cold war nostalgia contrived to churn up suspense over whether, in effect, the commies still intend to nuke us, this is an unpretentious action comedy about aging, with several backward glances at Eastwood’s previous films. (Is that monkey in the opening sequence a mere coincidence?) The special effects are beautifully handled and the reflections on death attractively peaceful. Eastwood’s fellow pilots are Tommy Lee Jones, James Garner, and Donald Sutherlandall fairly relaxed, as are Marcia Gay Harden, William Devane, Loren Dean, Courtney B. Vance, and James Cromwell; Ken Kaufman and Howard Klausner are credited with the script (2000). 129 min. (JR) Read more


Rock Hudson narrates this patronizing studio documentary about Marilyn Monroe, done in 1963. Better jobs have been done since, though this has plenty of clips. 83 min. (JR) Read more