Monthly Archives: June 2018

Reasons to Believe [SEE YOU IN THE MORNING & SAY ANYTHING…]

From the Chicago Reader (April 28, 1989). — J.R.

SEE YOU IN THE MORNING

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Alan J. Pakula

With Jeff Bridges, Alice Krige, Farrah Fawcett, Drew Barrymore, Lukas Haas, David Dukes, Frances Sternhagen, George Hearn, Theodore Bikel, and Linda Lavin.

SAY ANYTHING . . .

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Cameron Crowe

With John Cusack, Ione Skye, John Mahoney, Lili Taylor, Amy Brooks, Pamela Segall, and Jason Gould.

Optimistic movies that are halfway believable — that base their hope on plausible characters and events rather than Hollywood magic — have become something of a rarity. These days the only optimism we seem able to abide comes from “inspirational” fantasies such as E.T. and (to cite a more current example) Field of Dreams, which offer little more than the satisfaction of infantile wish fulfillment. So the appearance of two better-than-average movies with optimistic attitudes, both of them personal romantic comedies credited to single writer-directors, is an encouraging sign at a time when the commercial American cinema seems to be teetering on the edge of a faceless, mechanical void.

There’s nothing really startling about either Say Anything. . . , Cameron Crowe’s first feature, or See You in the Morning, Alan J.… Read more »

The Last Seduction

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1995). — J.R.

TLS

Linda Fiorentino proudly and impressively mounts the throne of bitch noir goddess in this 1994 feature directed by John Dahl (Red Rock West) from a Steve Barancik script. There’s really not much to keep the picture going apart from her unbridled ruthlessness, but there’s plenty of fun to be found in that delectation alone. After goading her husband to pull off a dangerous drug deal and then running off with the loot, leaving him to the mercies of a deadly loan shark, she picks up another unsuspecting (if ambitious) fall guy in a small-town bar and schemes some more. Unlike the classic noirs, this is grounded in neither a recognizable social reality nor a metaphysical sense of doom — just a lot of sexy attitude, humping, and heavy breathing. But it’s an entertaining and caustically humorous thriller if you like that sort of thing. With Bill Pullman, Bill Nunn, Peter Berg, and the ever-reliable J.T. Walsh. 110 min. (JR)

fiorentino-last-seductionRead more »

Toni (1974 review)

This review appeared in the October 1974 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. —J.R.

Toni

France, 1934                                                   Director: Jean Renoir

 

Neither a major nor a minor work in the Renoir canon, Toni demands to be regarded more as an adventure of the director in contact with his material than as an integral and “finished” composition. If the symmetrical framing device of  the train arriving with fresh immigrants at the beginning and end of the film appears somewhat forced in relation to the whole, this is likely because Renoir began with notions of a social thesis and a Zola-derived sense of fatality from which his better instincts subsequently deviated. And it is the instinctual rather than the conceptual side of Toni that renders it a living work forty years after it was made -– a distinction that might serve equally well for Zola and Stroheim. Over and around the largely melodramatic plot is draped an expansive mood of leisurely improvisation, like an ill-fitting but comfortable suit of clothes, often permitting the accidental and random to take precedence over the deliberate, the individual detail over the general design. Thus the fleeting glance of a child at the camera in the opening prologue (when the newly-arrived immigrants walk into town), the grey haziness of Sebastian’s funeral procession, the muddy fadeouts and slightly bumpy pans are all part of the film’s charm and integrity.… Read more »

HARRY AND TONTO (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 492). -– J.R.

Harry and Tonto

U.S.A., 1974
Director: Paul Mazursky

Harry Coombs, an elderly widower who lives with his cat Tonto, is evicted from his West Side Manhattan apartment when the building is slated for demolition. After spending some time in the suburban home of his son Burt, where he tends To sympathize with the vow of silence taken by his grandson Norman over the objections of the latter’s parents and more conventional brother, he decides to visit his daughter Shirley in Chicago. Quarrelling with security officials at the airport about his carrying case for Tonto, he decides to go to Chicago by bus, but leaves the vehicle en route when Tonto refuses to relieve himself in the bus toilet. He buys a used car and picks up Ginger, a runaway- teenager, who decides to accompany him and persuades him to look up an old flame, Jessie, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she is residing in an old folks, home. In Chicago he re-encounters Norman, dispatched by Burt to bring him back to New York; but after a short stay with Shirley, he decides to drive West with Norman and Ginger.… Read more »

Geronimo: An American Legend

From the Chicago Reader (December 1, 1993). This film will be out soon on a Blu-Ray from Twilight Time. — J.R.

Geronimo

Like Unforgiven, this is conservative revisionism with a rare bitterness of tone (1993). The subject here is the underhanded treatment of Apaches by the U.S. government, and perhaps because of where it’s coming from it’s a lot more convincing as history than liberal revisionist westerns like Dances With Wolves. Though the director is Walter Hill, the dominant personality is John Milius, who wrote the story and collaborated on the script with Larry Gross, and despite some narrative stodginess in spots, Milius’s sense of warrior nobility and his talent for writing juicy parts for actors serve the picture well. Recounting the final rebellion and surrender of Apache leader Geronimo in the 1880s, the film offers especially fine performances by Robert Duvall as a grizzled Apache scouter, Cherokee actor Wes Studi as Geronimo, and Jason Patric as a U.S. cavalry lieutenant assigned to bring Geronimo in, and Gene Hackman, Matt Damon, and Kevin Tighe are more than adequate in less showy parts. The Utah settings are spectacular, and the music is by Ry Cooder. (JR)… Read more »

Reverence for Things Past [MY FATHER’S GLORY]

From the Chicago Reader (August 9, 1991). — J.R.

MY FATHER’S GLORY

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Yves Robert

Written by Jerome Tonnere, Louis Nucera, and Robert

With Philippe Caubere, Nathalie Roussel, Didier Pain, Julien Ciamaca, Therese Liotard, and Victorien Delmare.

Though I’ve had only limited acquaintance with Marcel Pagnol’s work as a filmmaker, it’s clear to me that he was an important if neglected figure in French independent cinema. He was not only a forerunner of the Italian neorealists and a playwright-turned-filmmaker who set up his own studio in Marseilles in 1933, but also an unusually devoted director of actors. He liked to film his favorites — people like Raimu, Fernandel, Alida Rouffe, and Pierre Fresnay — in static camera setups with lots of dialogue, theoretically ending a shot only when he ran out of film. It may seem a limited aesthetic, but for passionate proactor directors like Jean Renoir (whose 1934 Toni was produced by Pagnol) and Orson Welles it carried the force of a revelation, and the sunny Provencal settings provided a relaxed airiness and earthiness to the extended talk fests.

Pagnol’s output as a writer has become fashionable again, thanks to the popularity of Jean de Florette and Manon of the Spring — both based on Pagnol novels and directed by Claude Berri.… Read more »

Bird Watching

From the Chicago Reader (October 21, 1988). — J.R.

BIRD

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Written by Joel Oliansky

With Forest Whitaker, Diane Venora, Michael Zelniker, Samuel E. Wright, Keith David, and Damon Whitaker.

CELEBRATING BIRD

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Gary Giddins and Kendrick Simmons

Written by Gary Giddins.

Two telling documents that we have about Charlie Parker, both from the early 50s:

(1) During a live radio broadcast from Birdland on March 31, 1951, there’s an electrifying moment when Parker leaps into his solo on “A Night in Tunisia,” combining cascading machine-gun volleys of notes — wailing 16th notes and dovetailing triplets — into what sound like two successive melodic somersaults, each one in a separate direction, that miraculously turn the rhythm around with shifting accents — an awesome tumble in midair over four free bars until he triumphantly splashes into the next chorus.

To understand the genius of that moment — a fusion of passionate acrobatics and spontaneous formal patterning — it might help to detect the evidence of rage that one hears just before the number begins. Symphony Sid Torin, an obnoxiously loquacious disc jockey, has been blathering at length about “Round Midnight,” the previous number played by Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell, which he has repeatedly called “Round About Midnight.”… Read more »

Paul Schrader’s TRANSCENDENTAL STYLE IN FILM

From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1972). I like the second edition of this a lot more — enough to have given it a blurb that’s used in the ads. — J.R.

TRANSCENDENTAL STYLE IN FILM: Ozu, Bresson, Dreyer

By Paul Schrader

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, $10.00

Modesty and caution are not exactly what one expects to find in a book with this title, on these three directors; but ironically, one of the chief limitations of this comparative study is that these qualities often seem to predominate over everything else. The first ‘step’ of transcendental style,for instance, is defined as follows: ‘The everyday: a, meticulous representation of the dull, banal commonplaces of everyday living’ or what [Amédée] Ayfre quotes Jean Bazaine as calling “le quotidien”.’ Not quite a double redundancy, but close enough to make one wonder why this passage and so many comparable ones suggest a critic walking on eggshells.

Although it is nowhere identified as such, Schrader’s extended essay has much of the look, shape and sound of a doctoral dissertation [2013 note: I believe that this was in fact a Masters’ thesis]. 194 footnotes are appended to 169 pages of text, and each step of the argument proceeds like a slow-motion exercise in which every inch of terrain must be defined and tested before it can be touched upon.… Read more »

Lies and Death

From the Chicago Reader (May 7, 1993). — J.R.

DAVE

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Written by Gary Ross

With Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Kevin Dunn, Ving Rhames, and Ben Kingsley

SILVERLAKE LIFE: THE VIEW FROM HERE

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Tom Joslin and Peter Friedman

With Tom Joslin, Mark Massi, Charles and Mary Joslin, Whitey and Sue Joslin, and Lois Black Hill.

Is it the prime purpose of every movie we want to see to tell us comforting lies? On some level I suspect it is, and paradoxically this may be the case even with pictures that supposedly break through reassuring deceptions to give us the unvarnished truth. One way or another, even the best of films tend to deceive us about certain matters — and if they didn’t, we probably wouldn’t give them the time of day.

The two recent examples I have in mind are in other respects about as different as movies can be. With a skillful piece of Hollywood pastry like Dave, an Ivan Reitman comedy about a small-time businessman named Dave (Kevin Kline) impersonating the U.S. president (Kline as well), one might at first be drawn in by its refreshing candor about the ignobility of the office of president.… Read more »