Monthly Archives: June 2017

Ahmad Jamal

Ahmad Jamal Complete Live at the Spotlite Club 1958 (2-CD set, Gambit Records 69265).

 

You may have to be an Ahmad Jamal completist like myself to take notice of this 2007 expanded edition, which adds three 1958 Chicago studio cuts, totaling about eight minutes, to the 25 live ones that have already been available. The latter tracks appeared on two well-known Jamal LPs, Ahmad Jamal and the two-disc Portfolio of Ahmad Jamal, both recorded in September 1958 at Washington, D.C.’s Spotline Club in September 5 and 6, 1958.

If memory serves, the first of these was the first Jamal record I ever bought, when I was 15 or 16, and it’s never gone stale for me —- despite the scorn heaped on Jamal by sophisticated jazz critics such as Martin Williams in Downbeat. There’s always been a curious split between the Jamal idolatry of Miles Davis –- who joined forces with Gil Evans on their first joint album to virtually steal (rather than simply play homage to) two tracks from Jamal’s 1955 Chamber Music of the New Jazz, “New Rumba” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Kissed,” and based his Quintet’s arrangement of “All of You” in ‘Round Midnight on Jamal’s on the same LP —- and the disdain of most jazz critics, who seemed to regard Jamal’s popularity with seething resentment, much as they resented Dave Brubeck during the same period.Read more »

The Virgin Suicides

From the Chicago Reader (March 27, 2000). — J.R.

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A very curious and eclectic piece of work — fresh even when it’s awkward — that’s built around an unsolved mystery, like Picnic at Hanging Rock. Adapted from a Jeffrey Eugenides novel by director Sofia Coppola, and set in small-town Michigan a quarter of a century ago, it focuses on five teenage sisters as perceived by some of their male classmates; James Woods and Kathleen Turner play the girls’ parents and Giovanni Ribisi narrates. With Kirsten Dunst, Hanna R. Hall, Chelsea Swain, A.J. Cook, Leslie Hayman, Josh Hartnett, Danny DeVito, and Scott Glenn. 96 min. (JR)

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Kim Novak/Middle of the Night

MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, written by Paddy Cheyevsky, directed by Delbert Mann, with Kim Novak and Fredric March (1959, 118 min.)

Just a brief postscript to my recently posted “Kim Novak as Midwestern Independent”. If memory serves, I hadn’t seen this profoundly depressing piece of New York Chayevsky realism since I was 16, when it came out. Now it comes across, for better and for worse, like another version of Mikio Naruse depicting the shallow rewards and prospects of the urban, aging lower-middle-class. What’s distinctly un-Naruse-like, though, is Kim Novak, who brings a nervous, almost hysterical energy to her part as the divorced, 24-year-old secretary, girlfriend, and fiancée of a middle-aged widower and garment-industry worker (Fredric March), almost as if she were trying her hand at a Method performance. The fact that I can only believe in her character part of the time stems from the fact that I can so easily see her trying. Still, the mood swings of her character are often terrifying and believable in a way that even seems to go beyond the demands of the material –- as if she were constantly trying on the part for size and then immediately changing her wardrobe in a fit of impatience.… Read more »

Wild Wild West

From the June 1, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

WildWildWest

I never saw The Wild Wild West, a comic SF western series about two undercover agents working for President Grant that ran on TV from 1965 to 1970, but from the look of this sprightly spin-off it must have been pretty good. The director (Barry Sonnenfeld) and costar (Will Smith) of Men in Black join forces with Kevin Kline and half a dozen writers to yield an entertainingly offbeat blend of 19th-century science fiction and Hope and Crosby Road comedies (with Salma Hayek in the Dorothy Lamour part). The putative plot involves a mad scientist and Confederate sore loser reduced to an upper torso (Kenneth Branagh) who’s contriving to take over the United States with the aid of an 80-foot mechanical tarantula. Though the movie is as gadget happy as any Bond flick, the pictorial pleasures deriving from Bo Welch’s production design and Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography are central to its charms. This is even lighter stuff than Men in Black, but Sonnenfeld’s cheerful irreverence keeps it reasonable. (JR)

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Everybody Wins

From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 1990). — J.R.

EW

Although it’s far from being wholly satisfying, this bizarre, slow-moving thriller about a righteous detective (Nick Nolte) and a schizophrenic prostitute (Debra Winger) trying to uncover the corruption in a small town in Connecticut that sent an innocent young man to prison for a brutal murder —  the first movie scripted by playwright Arthur Miller since The Misfits — has the virtue of coming across like a picture from another era: a 40s film noir, or a neurotic melodrama from the 50s. Directed by Karel Reisz (Morgan!, The French Lieutenant’s Woman) and produced by Jeremy Thomas (Insignificance, The Last Emperor), the film explores its subject atmospherically rather than analytically or in terms of slam-bang action, and what mainly makes it interesting isn’t so much its lame mystery plot as Winger’s character and performance — which manage to triumph over the femme fatale slot the part seems destined for — as well as a peculiar young religious outcast (Will Patton) whose preoccupations form the background to the murder. While parts of the overall conception (including the detective hero) seem innocent and dated, it’s still a welcome relief from the usual right-wing buddy-cops nonsense.… Read more »