From the June 6, 1997 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Le samourai Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Jean-Pierre Melville
With Alain Delon, Francois Perier, Nathalie Delon, Caty Rosier, Jacques Leroy, Jean-Pierre Posier, and Catherine Jourdan.
The Birth of Love Rating *** A must see
Directed by Philippe Garrel
Written by Garrel, Marc Cholodenko, and Muriel Cerf
With Lou Castel, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Johanna Ter Steege, Dominique Reymond, and Marie-Paule Laval.
If much of French cinema can be said to derive from the famous Cartesian phrase “I think, therefore I am,” why does it yield so many realistic movies? Certainly fantasy remains central to a good deal of French art, past and present, but if you compare the films of early pioneers like the Lumiere brothers to those of Thomas Edison, you might conclude that the French have a certain edge in seeing clearly what’s right in front of them. I found that of the dozen French movies I recently saw in Cannes and Paris, six were strictly realist in a way that few American features are: a cheerful Pagnolian hand-me-down (Marius and Jeannette), a Blier road movie for grown-ups (Manuel Poirier’s Western), Manoel de Oliveira’s moving French-Portuguese self-portrait, which features Marcello Mastroianni’s last performance (Voyage to the Beginning of the World), an experiment in first-person camera involving adultery (La femme defendue), a mysterious meditation on rural French punks (deceptively titled The Life of Jesus), and a spirited comedy by and with Brigitte Rouan (Post-coitum, animal triste).… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 28, 2006). — J.R.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed and written by Woody Allen
With Scarlett Johansson, Allen, Ian McShane, Hugh Jackman, Fenella Woolgar, and Julian Glover
Unlike some of his more commercial contemporaries — including Harvey Weinstein pets Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino — Woody Allen has always had the final cut on his movies. But then what are the corporate honchos risking with this indulgence? They know familiarity is one of many things that draw us to movies, and they know with Allen not to expect any surprises. Unfortunately the industry often behaves as if familiarity were the only attraction.
Match Point, Allen’s best movie to date, was criticized in some quarters because it transplanted many of his concerns from New York to London and because it had an uncharacteristic seriousness and precision. Scoop, its lame successor, is also set in London and also costars Scarlett Johansson as another American greenhorn (a journalism student instead of an aspiring actress) who becomes involved with another wealthy Englishman who has a country estate. And once again there’s the plotting of the murder of a girlfriend that calls to mind Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy.… Read more »
From Scenario, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1998. –- J.R.
“Hitchcock lives!” I was inspired to write at the head of my review of House of Games, David Mamet’s first feature, in 1987. Ten years later, Mamet’s fifth feature, The Spanish Prisoner, boasts plenty of Hitchcockian elements of its own. But this time I’m not as prone to employ the same assertion.
The difference has less to do with Hitchcockian influence than with the use of that influence — the issue of whether Mamet is borrowing something substantive from the Master of Suspense, or drawing upon Hitchcock only when it suits his strategies. But one of the salient differences I find between reading the script of The Spanish Prisoner and seeing it realized is the difference between finding a Hitchcockian thriller on the page and not quite seeing one on the screen. Both are clearly Mamet creations, but the first comes closer to showing Hitchcock’s special qualities in tandem with Mamet’s, whereas the second shows them shooting off in separate directions.
Put somewhat differently, the distinction has a lot to do with issues that seem central to any evaluation of Hitchcock as well as Mamet -– namely, the ethics and aesthetics of deception, which are intimately tied to the ethics and aesthetics of representing a real world where deception becomes possible.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1995). — J.R.
The neglected Canadian animator Richard Williams directed and coscripted this mind-boggling London- made cartoon musical feature (1995), the first to be made in ‘Scope since Disney’s Sleeping Beauty in 1959. It’s a movie that’s been in and out of production since 1968, apparently because Williams mainly worked on it as a labor of love in between more lucrative projects (such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit). Eventually he lost creative control, and it’s impossible to say whether the movie would have been more or less coherent without the postproduction interference: the storytelling is perfunctory, but the imaginative animation, which revels in two-dimensionality, is often wonderful — an improbable blend of Escher, op art, Persian miniatures, and Chuck Jones that shoots off in every direction and seems great for kids. Arabian Knight is a lot more memorable than either Aladdin or Pocahontas (though its cultural references are much more varied and confused). The cast of offscreen voices includes the late Vincent Price as the main villain, Matthew Broderick as the hero, a humble cobbler, Jennifer Beals as the princess, Eric Bogosian, Toni Collette, and Jonathan Winters as a disreputable thief. Margaret French collaborated on the script, and Robert Folk and Norman Gimbel wrote the songs.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 30, 1995). — J.R.
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg
Written by Carl Binder, Susannah Grant, and Pillip LaZebnick
With the voices of Irene Bedard, Judy Kuhn, Mel Gibson, David Ogden Stiers, Linda Hunt, Russel Means, Christian Bale, Billy Connolly, and Joe Baker.
American history without Smith and Pocahontas is hard to imagine. If the void were there, something else — yet something similar — would have to fill it. — Bradford Smith, Captain John Smith: His Life & Legend
I assume we’re still some years away from the abolition of state-supported schools and the gleeful handing over of our entire system of education to the Disney people. But some of the studio’s clever promotions for Pocahontas might make you conclude that some such changes have already taken place.
Consider the “special collector’s issue” of the kids’ magazine Disney Adventures devoted to “Pocahontas: The Movie, The Stars, The Real-Life Story,” complete with ads for some of the spin-off products. It afforded me almost as much food for thought as the two hours I spent in a library reading through historical accounts of what “really” happened in the wilds of Virginia in the early 17th century.… Read more »
From The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 17, 1998. –- J.R.
Ever since a Barnes & Noble bookstore opened in my neighborhood in Chicago, I’ve been cultivating the habit of hanging out there, a bit like the way I used to frequent the public library in my hometown as a teenager. I often stop there not with a particular purchase in mind, but on my way to someplace else – a movie at the same shopping center, a nearby restaurant — or on my way home from work. The relaxed idleness offered by the roomy store and the various incentives to linger — the generous selection of hardcovers and paperbacks, the current magazines, the tables where you can spread your stuff out and read for as long as you want to, the Starbucks coffee bar, not to mention various appearances by authors and periodic meetings of discussion groups — create an alluring kind of community space.
It’s a kind of space that I haven’t found in public libraries in recent years, especially since the removal of card catalogues and easy chairs. Some younger people I know, who harbor no fond memories of public libraries, are enjoying visits to places such as Barnes & Noble as a new kind of experience altogether, a theme park that features words instead of rides.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 512). — J.R.
Buffalo Bill and the lndians, or
Sitting Bull’s History Lesson
Director : Robert Altman
Cert-A. dist-EMI. p.c–Dino De Laurentiis Corporation/Lion’s Gate Films/Talent Associates-Norton Simon. exec..-p-David Susskind. p– Robert Aitman. assoc. p–Robert Eggenweiler, Scott Bushnell, Jac Cashin. p. exec—Tommy Thompson. asst. d–Tommy Thompson,Rob Lockwood. sc–Alan Rudolph, Robert Altman. Suggested by the play Indians by Arthur Kopit. ph–Paul Lohmann. Panavision. col–Deluxe General.ed-Peter Appleton, Dennis Hill. p. designer–Tony Masters. a.d–Jack Maxsted. set dec–Dennis J. Parrish, Graham Sumner. scenic artist–Rusty Cox. sp. effects–Joe Zomar, Logan Frazee, Bill Zomar, Terry Frazee, John Thomas. M–Richard Baskin. cost–Anthony Powell. make-up–Monty Westmore. titles-Dan Perri. sd. ed–William Sawyer,_Richard Oswald. sd. rec–Jim Webb, Chris McLaughlin. sd. re-rec–Richard Portman. research–Maysie Hoy. wrangler–John Scott. l.p–Paul Newman (Buffalo Bill), Joel Grey (Nate Salsbury), Burt Lancaster (Ned Buntline). Kevin McCarthy (Major John Burke), Harvey Keitel (Ed Goodman), Allan Nicholls (Printiss Ingraham), Geraldine Chaplin (Annie Oakley). John Considine (Frank Butler), Robert Doqui (Osborne Dart), Mike Kaplan (Jules Keen), Bert Remsen (Crutch), Bonnie Leaders (Margaret), Noelle Rogers (Lucille Du Charmes), Evelyn Lear (Nina Cavalini), Denver Pyle (McLaughlin),Frank Kaquitts (Sitting Bull), Will Sampson (William Halsey), Ken Krossa (Johnny Baker), Fred N. Larsen (Buck Taylor), Jerri Duce and Joy Duce (Trick Riders), Alex Green and Gary MacKenzie (Mexican Whip and Fast Draw Act), Humphrey Gratz (Old Soldier), Pat McCormick (Grover Cleveland), Shelley Duvall (Frances Folsom).… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 14, 2007). — J.R.
Paul Giamatti plays a stuttering everyman, an apartment-building janitor who’s itching for redemption and finds it in the shape of a new age allegory by M. Night Shyamalan. More specifically, he finds a fairy-tale nymph named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) living under the building’s swimming pool and menaced by occult beasties until the tenants join forces against them. It’s hard to think of a deadlier shotgun marriage than Jacques Tourneur’s poetry of absence and Spielbergian uplift, but Shyamalan has patented the combo, adding pretentious camera movements that are peculiarly his own — even the jokes are pretty solemn. But count on Christopher Doyle’s lush cinematography and a lively cast to take up the slack. With Bob Balaban, Jeffrey Wright, Sarita Choudhury, Freddy Rodriguez, Bill Irwin, Jared Harris, and Shyamalan, playing a writer. PG-13, 110 min. (JR)
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This appeared in the Chicago Reader (July 30, 1993). –J.R.
THE LONG DAY CLOSES
Directed and written by Terence Davies
With Leigh McCormack, Marjorie Yates, Ayse Owens, Nicholas Lamont, Anthony Watson, Tina Malone, and Jimmy Wilde.
I began making films [out of] a deep need . . . to come to terms with my family’s history and suffering, to make sense of the past and to explore my own personal terrors, both mental and spiritual, and to examine the destructive nature of Catholicism. Film as an expression of guilt, film as confession (psychotherapy would be much cheaper but a lot less fun). — Terence Davies
With The Long Day Closes English filmmaker Terence Davies completes his second autobiographical trilogy. (Faber and Faber has conveniently published the screenplays of the six films — all his films to date — with an introduction by Davies, under the title A Modest Pageant.) I haven’t seen the first trilogy — Children (1976), Madonna and Child (1980), and Death and Transfiguration (1983) — but the first two parts of the second, shot in 1985 and 1987 and distributed as a single feature, Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988), still strikes me as one of the greatest of all English films.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 2001). — J.R.
John Ford, Henry Hathaway, and George Marshall directed the individual episodes of this 1962 triptych about the settling of the American frontier, originally released in Cinerama. The Ford episode, about the Civil War, is uncommonly good; the rest is expendable, especially without the three-screen process. With Carroll Baker, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, George Peppard, Carolyn Jones, Eli Wallach, Robert Preston, Debbie Reynolds, James Stewart, John Wayne, and Richard Widmark. 155 min. (JR)
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From the Winter, 1995 issue of Cineaste. — J.R.
Audio-Vision: Sound on Screen
by Michel Chion. Translated and edited by Claudia Gorbman; Introduction by Walter Murch. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, 239 pp., illus., Hardcover: $93.00; Paperback: $23.85.
Eighteen years ago, during my first quarter of film teaching, I terminally alienated some of my students in a lecture course on film esthetics with the following lesson in materialism. First I showed them Buñuel and Dali’s silent Un chien andalou several times, each time with a radically different musical accompaniment. Then I asked them on a quiz whether the statement, “The use of different kinds of music to accompany a silent film changes the film profoundly,” was true or false. Afterwards I explained to them that such a statement could only be false because the film remained the same regardless of whatever music accompanied it; the music changed only the way we looked at and ‘read’ the film, not the film itself.
I’m not recommending this as a teaching method, especially if one wants one’s contract renewed (mine wasn’t), but I’m bringing it up to illustrate the degree to which a certain amount of mystification about the relationship between image and sound is firmly entrenched in the way we think about film.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader, September 25, 1987. — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Alan J. Pakula
Written by Lyle Kessler
With Albert Finney, Matthew Modine, Kevin Anderson, and John Kellogg.
Although the conventional Hollywood wisdom about adapting plays into movies is that plays should be “opened up,” the practical effect of this is often roughly equivalent to letting the air out of tires: the air may circulate more freely, but the wheels no longer turn. Fortunately Alan J. Pakula is a sensible enough man to recognize this danger, and the best thing that can be said about his movie of Orphans is that, by and large, he has allowed the original play to remain a play. Indeed, only by respecting the integrity of the original has he managed to adapt it into a fairly successful movie.
A contemporary play set in the present, Lyle Kessler’s Orphans has a distinctly uncontemporary, even old-fashioned flavor to it. Largely concerned with intense family relationships and feelings — between brothers, and between father and sons — it has virtually no traces of sadomasochism, which alone suffices to make it unfashionable as theater in this post-Pinter era. In a time when Sam Shepard’s laconic Marlboro ads are experienced as existentially authentic, and Wallace Shawn’s intricate lacerations and varieties of self-loathing are regarded as cathartic, Kessler’s primal depictions of brotherhood and fatherhood, without the usual smirking ironies, are simple and direct to the point of embarrassment.… Read more »
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This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.
Set in a small provincial town in Poland the day after the country’s liberation in the spring of 1945, Ashes and Diamonds, Andrzej Wajda’s third film, may still be the most influential of his career. Yet, curiously, its impact both today and some 40 years ago seems predicated in part on the slightly anachronistic effect produced by superimposing the mid-fifties over the mid-forties — specifically, existential angst laid over a gloomy sense of exhaustion at the end of the war.
Above all, the black-leather-jacketed figure of Zbigniew Cybulski as Maciek, an uncertain resistance assassin — clearly derived from the Marlon Brando of The Wild One (1954) even more than the Brando of On the Waterfront from the same year, or the James Dean of East of Eden, and Rebel Without a Cause from the following year — reinvented postwar Poland in hipster terms. And the resulting image of the actor (who died prematurely in a railroad accident less than a decade later) was fixed in the popular imagination for good.