Monthly Archives: July 2005

The Dukes Of Hazzard

As soon as it became clear that this remake has nothing to do with real Georgia moonshiners and everything to do with car chases, smashups, and explosions, I could sit back and enjoy it as good, stupid funa celebration of lawlessness in a crooked county, with Burt Reynolds figuring (a little uncomfortably) as the top villain. Cousins Bo (Seann William Scott), Luke (Johnny Knoxville), and Daisy (Jessica Simpson) outwit and outdrive the cops while helping Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson) keep his farm. With Joe Don Baker and Lynda Carter. Chicago native Jay Chandrasekhar directed the script by John O’Brien. PG-13, 106 min. (JR) Read more

Writing the Wrecord

In my review of Karen Severns and Koichi Mori’s Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buildings and Legacy in Japan [July 22] I said that Arata Endo was the only person with whom Wright ever agreed to share architectural credit, information I got from the documentary. But my brother Alvin Rosenbaum, author of the 1993 book Usonia: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Design for America, tells me that Wright shared credit with at least one other person, Aaron Green, “on their joint San Francisco office,” adding that “their major collaboration, the Marin County Courthouse, was finished after Wright’s death.”

Jonathan Rosenbaum Read more

Bad News Bears

Many repeat performances are being sought in this remake of Michael Ritchie’s 1976 comedy about unpromising Little Leaguers with an alcoholic coach and a star female pitcher, with its sound track of four-letter words and themes from Bizet’s Carmen. But this is also a spin-off of Bad Santa (with both that movie’s writers as well as its star, Billy Bob Thornton) and The School of Rock (with Richard Linklater back as hired-hand director). Fortunately almost everyone acquits himself coolly and admirably; only costars Greg Kinnear and Marcia Gay Harden ham it up. PG-13, 111 min. (JR) Read more

Velvet Smooth

Actress Johnnie Hill plays the title role in this 1976 blaxploitation mystery, cowritten by novelist Leonard Michaels (The Men’s Club), of all people. Michael L. Fink directed. R, 93 min. (JR) Read more

Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buildings And Legacy In Japan

One neglected aspect of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career is his involvement with Japanincluding a series of visits that spanned 17 years in the early 20th century, the abiding influence of Japanese art and architecture on his work, and the impact of his own work on Japanese architects. This informative documentary by Chicagoan Karen Severns and her Japanese husband, Koichi Mori, doesn’t give the whole story; it favors the view from Japan and skimps on the Japanese influences on Wright’s American buildings. But it offers fascinating material about Wright assistants Arata Endo (with whom Wright even shared architectural credit on occasion) and Antonin Raymond (who became a leading Japanese modernist), and its account of the now-vanished Imperial Hotel, one of Wright’s masterpieces, is priceless. 128 min. (JR) Read more

Wright in Japan

Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buildings and Legacy in Japan

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Karen Severns and Koichi Mori

Written by Severns

Narrated by Azby Brown and Donald Richie

Frank Lloyd Wright readily acknowledged the influence of Japanese art–particularly the abstract shapes, lively colors, and unusual perspectives of wood-block prints–on his work. He soft-pedaled or denied the influence of Japanese architecture–but then he was always reluctant to admit any direct architectural influences. Both predilections are examined in Magnificent Obsession: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buildings and Legacy in Japan, a 2004 documentary Chicago native Karen Severns made with her Japanese husband, Koichi Mori. The film also shows that Wright had a profound influence on Japanese architecture. “At one point,” Severns says in her narration, read by Azby Brown, “there were 32 Wright-related terms in the [Japanese] architectural lexicon.”

The story of the two-way cultural traffic between Wright and Japan is so intricate that even a 128-minute film can barely scratch the surface. And the surface that’s scratched is mainly in Japan, not here. Wright’s visits to Japan spanned 17 years, starting with his very first trip abroad–in 1905, when he was 37–and culminating with his work on Tokyo’s awesome Imperial Hotel. They weren’t exactly casual visits. Read more

Happy Endings

A press release boasts that this 130-minute feature by writer-director Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex) tells no fewer than ten overlapping stories, but I couldn’t work up the energy to count them. The sensibility is Southern California Witless, and the jokey intertitles that periodically take up half the ‘Scope frames (This is a comedy. Sort of.) are even more smarmy than the characters. The latter include an aspiring filmmaker who blackmails a woman who once had an illegitimate child into helping him make a documentary, a rock singer who has successive affairs with a gay drummer and the drummer’s wealthy father, and similar fun types. With Lisa Kudrow, Steve Coogan, Jesse Bradford, Bobby Cannavale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jason Ritter, Tom Arnold, and Laura Dern. R. (JR) Read more

The Beat That My Heart Skipped

Fingers, James Toback’s 1978 debut feature about a second-generation gangster who plays classical piano, was described by Dave Kehr as “dauntingly personal filmmaking, full of strange, suggestive ideas and deep feelings that are never made comprehensible for the audience.” Despite the enthusiasm of everyone from Pauline Kael to Edgardo Cozarinsky and Francois Truffaut, I never liked Toback’s piece of macho braggadocio, so this remake by Jacques Audiard (Read My Lips) couldn’t go anywhere but up. It’s more than a simple improvement, inverting some of the original’s qualities so that the impersonal, well-crafted filmmaking remains lucid throughout. Even more unexpectedly, the piano lessons taken by the hero (Romain Duris, very fine) from a Vietnamese woman (Linh-dan Pham) who speaks no French are more highly charged than any of the violence. Niels Arestrup is striking as the hero’s slumlord father. In French with subtitles. 107 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre. Read more

The Wonderful World Of Louis Armstrong And Cry Of Jazz

According to Scott Yanow’s book Jazz on Film, John Alomfrah’s British documentary The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong (2001, 65 min.) is marred by the interviewees — among them George Melly, Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Max Roach, Gary Giddins, and Lil Hardin Armstrong — talking over the music. By contrast, both the talk and the music in Edward O. Bland’s eccentric Chicago-made short Cry of Jazz (1959, 31 min.) are absolutely essential. The paradox is that Bland’s film centers on jazz and needs various kinds of performance to illustrate its points, yet what’s being played is only adequate; if the music were good enough to distract one from the talk, the film wouldn’t work as well. Lucid and provocative, this is recommended viewing for any jazz novice, one of the best social readings of jazz form I know. (JR) Read more


Trained as a musician, English writer-director Sally Potter (The Tango Lesson) still thinks like one. All the dialogue in her timely masterpiece–a passionate post-9/11 love story about an unhappily married Irish-American scientist (Joan Allen) and a younger Lebanese chef (Simon Abkarian) set in London, Belfast, Beirut, and Havana–is written in rhyming iambic pentameter. Beautifully composed and deftly delivered, it becomes the libretto to Potter’s visual music, creating a remarkable lyricism and emotional directness. This is a story about class and age as well as cultural difference, so it matters that the scientist’s dying aunt is a communist and that her sympathetically portrayed estranged husband (Sam Neill) is an English politician. It matters even more that the action is framed by the married couple’s maid (Shirley Henderson), who addresses the camera as she discusses dirt and what we think about it. R, 100 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Landmark’s Century Centre. Read more