Yearly Archives: 2018

I, Robot

From the Chicago Reader (July 16, 2004). — J.R.

i-robot

It’s much more of an action flick than either Metropolis or Blade Runner, but there’s a provocative and visionary side to this free adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s SF classic that puts it in the same thoughtful canon. The story is set in Chicago in 2035, and the cityscape, designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, is futuristic yet Victorian around the edges. Built into the mystery plot are reflections about robots as extensions of human will that build up to a wide-ranging but unpreachy critique of everything from corporate malfeasance to the Patriot Act. Will Smith plays an old-fashioned homicide cop investigating the ostensible suicide of a scientist; Bridget Moynahan is an expert in robot psychology. Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) directs a script by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldman that’s lively enough to justify a few hokey flourishes. R, 100 min. Burnham Plaza, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Golf Glen, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Village North, Webster Place.… Read more »

Into Barbarism

I’ve taken this text and these photographs from The Point‘s web site, correcting the grammar of their transcript in a couple of places to clarify my meanings. — J.R.

The following is an edited transcript of remarks delivered by Jonathan Rosenbaum at High Concept Laboratories in Chicago on June 5, 2014.  Mr. Rosenbaum and the other two panelists were asked to respond to The Point’s issue 8 editorial on the new humanities.

I’m the odd person out in this gathering because I’m not an academic, although I teach periodically in various, most often relatively unacademic, situations. And plus, I could be described as a failed academic. Before I came to Chicago I was teaching for four years at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but prior to that I actually began my failed academic career in the U.S. where Robert Pippin had his background, at UC San Diego. And in between I was an adjunct at NYU and at the School of Visual Arts, etc.

My academic background, actually, was in English. I was an English major as an undergraduate and in graduate school I did everything but a dissertation in English and American literature. But then I went to Europe and ended up being a journalist.

Read more »

NICKELODEON (1977 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977 (Vol. 44, No. 517). Over 30 years later, in my DVD column for Cinema Scope, I wrote, “Is it possible to find a picture acceptable only with its director’s commentary? Yes, if it’s Peter Bogdanovich’s clunky but interesting comedy about American moviemaking during the patent wars (1910-1915), prior to The Birth of a Nation, now that he’s finally had a chance to release it in black and white, as he originally intended, and recut it as well. Reviewing this when it came out…, I found its slapstick mainly irksome — not offensive, as it was to me in What’s Up, Doc?, where so many of the pratfalls, collisions, and smashups seemed to be about fatuous, narcissistic yuppies humiliating servants and carpenters, but pretty academic none the less…. It still looks academic, but hearing Bogdanovich explain where all the stories come from (mostly from Dwan, Ford, McCarey, and Walsh, with a curtain-closer from James Stewart) makes it somewhat more absorbing.” — J.R.

Nickelodeon

U.S.A./Great Britain, 1976
Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Chicago, July 30, 1910. Fleeing from a divorce court when he discovers that his client has an indefensible case, lawyer Leo Harrigan stumbles into H.… Read more »

DOGS’ DIALOGUE (1984 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1984 (Vol. 51, No. 611). In retrospect, I’m rather proud of the synopsis here, which must have been a bitch to put together. -– J.R.

Colloque de chiens (Dogs’ Dialogue)

France, 1977
Director: R
âúl Ruiz

Cert–AA. dist–BFI. p.c–Filmoblic/L’Office de la Création Cinématographique. p–Hubert Niogret. asst. d–Michel Such. sc–Nicole Muchnik, Raul Ruiz. ph—Denis Lenoir, Patrice Millet. In colour. still ph–Patrice Morère, Mario Muchnik. ed–Valeria Sarmiento. m–Sergio Arriagada. cost–Fanny Lebihan, Yves Hersen. sd. rec–Michel Villain. sd. re-rec–Paul Bertaud. English version/English commentary—Michael Graham. French version/French commentary–Robert Darmel. l.p–Eva Simonet, Silke Humel, Frank Lesne, Marie Christine Poisot, Hugo Santiago, Geneviève Such, Laurence Such, Michel Such, Pierre Olivier Such, Yves Wecker, the dogs of the Gramont refuge. 1,938 ft. 22 mins. (35 mm.)

The film alternates three kinds of material: footage of barking dogs, shots of streets and other locations, and the following story, illustrated chiefly by a series of stills (and occasionally by shots in motion) and narrated off-screen: Monique discovers in a school playground that the woman she believes to be her mother isn’t her mother. At home, she learns that her real mother is a woman named Marie, who doesn’t know who her father was.… Read more »

Frankie & Johnny Are Married

From the Chicago Reader (December 10, 2004). — J.R.

F&JAM

A fascinating blend of fiction and documentary, this feature by Michael Pressman chronicles his emotionally complicated LA production of Terrence McNally’s play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Pressman’s wife, Lisa Chess, costarred in the show with his old friend Alan Rosenberg, until difficulties with Rosenberg convinced Pressman to take over the part himself. These three and many other people (including Kathy Baker and Hector Elizondo) play themselves in the movie, which only begins to suggest the ambiguities Pressman exploits to the utmost. Emerging from all this is a fascinating look at the nuts and bolts of theater work and an often hilarious depiction of how personal neuroses help and hinder it. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Frankie & Johnny

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1991). — J.R.

frankie_and_johnny

Terrence McNally’s two-character play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is about an embittered coffee shop waitress, the victim of rape by her father, who reluctantly succumbs to the advances of a much younger short-order cook fresh out of prison. Leave it to producer-director Garry Marshall, who brought us Pretty Woman, to Hollywoodize this grim scenario to the point of incoherence (with a script by McNally himself), casting Michelle Pfeiffer as the waitress and Al Pacino as the (now older) short-order cook, and substituting wife-beating for incestuous rape. To their credit, the filmmakers do a fair job of depicting the workings of a Manhattan coffee shop (despite some unnecessary cruelty involving one of the other waitresses), but not even the usually resourceful leads can overcome the missing or muddled motivations when it comes to the romance. Marshall only makes things worse by socking us with protracted, meaningful close-ups and punchy Marvin Hamlisch music meant to paper over the gaps. With Hector Elizondo (quite effective) and Kate Nelligan (painfully miscast) (1991). (JR)… Read more »

One Key Event & Two Key Scenes (March 2009)

Three brief entries commissioned by Chris Fujiwara and submitted in March 2009 for the updated Italian edition of his stupendous 2007 collection Defining Moments in Movies, entitled Cinema: 1000 Momenti Fondamentali. — J.R.

Key Event

Rossellini goes to India

Roberto Rossellini’s extended trip to India comes at the end of his richest period as a filmmaker in which his various staged encounters between fiction and non-fiction were most adventurous. At  the war’s end he was primarily concerned with the human devastation in Italy and Germany, but once he began working with Ingrid Bergman, with whom he was living after their affair busted up both their marriages, domestic issues came to the fore, particularly in such features as Europa 51, Voyage to Italy, and Fear. Other bold forays during this period include a feature about Saint Francis of Assisi, a comic fantasy called The Machine That Killed Bad People (about a still camera that turns its subjects into statues), and a direct-sound recording of a play starring Bergman, made at a time when all films in Italy were dubbed.

When he traveled to India at age 51, Rossellini worked concurrently on his masterpiece India Matri Buhmi (1959), a set of interlocking tales and commentaries which Jean-Luc Godard once called “the creation of the world,” and a ten-part television miniseries that was broadcast in both France and Italy the same year.… Read more »

Money Changes Everything [GREED on video]

From Movieline (April 21, 1989, Vol. V, issue 99). — J.R.


It is a strange, grim tale, not typical of 1920s Hollywood entertainment.A gentle, burly dentist from the California mines named McTeague (Gibson Gowland) moves to San Francisco, where he befriends Marcus (Jean Hersholt), who works at the local dog hospital, and falls in love with Trina (Zasu Pittts), Marcus’s cousin and prospective fiancée. Out of friendship, Marcus relinquishes all claims on Trina, who gets engaged to “Mac”. But when she wins $5,000 in a lottery, Marcus feels cheated, and ruins Mac’s career by revealing that he has been pulling teeth without a license. After her marriage, the shy and frigid Trina becomes obsessed with the money she has won, refusing to spend any of it, and driving the impoverished Mac to drink and eventually to violence and murder….

Perhaps the least glamorous movie ever to have come out of a major studio, Greed (1924) is more than just a polemic about the power of money to destroy love and friendship. Finally appearing on video 65 years after its commercial release, it remains one of the most powerful of all silent movies, as well as one of the most modern in style and substance.… Read more »

Everyone’s a Critic

From Felix (published by the European Film Academy) no. 5, 25 November 1994, where it appeared both in English and in German translation, as part of a special section called “The Vanishing Critic”. That title seems prescient in some respects; in many other ways, however, this whole piece seems very dated now. –- J.R.

One factor in particular seems to distinguish the situation of film critics in the United States from the situation of film critics elsewhere: that for the past twenty years or more, many of them have been treated like stars. This isn’t to say that the same syndrome hasn’t appeared elsewhere in different forms. During the last year or so of his life, the late Serge Daney achieved a kind of celebrity in France that is certainly related to stardom. But the notion of the intellectual star critic — the sort of fame that has accompanied European figures such as Sartre, Barthes, and Eco, and which formed Daney’s late career to a lesser extent — is not readily translatable into a stateside context, apart from a handful of figures mainly identified in the U.S with Europe, such as Gore Vidal and Susan Sontag.

What I’m thinking of, rather, are two separate kinds of star status achieved by American film critics since the 1970s.… Read more »

GREMLINS (1985 review)

This review, featured on the cover, appeared in the December 1985 issue of Video Times. I was living in Santa Barbara at the time, and not long after it came out, I met Joe Dante for the first time, in Los Angeles (at a party given by Todd McCarthy); he’d recently read this review, and, as I recall, told me that he liked it. — J.R.

Gremlins ***

As a producer and director, Steven Spielberg seems limited to two subjects: power and magic. The power that interests him is, of course, the power that he commands, and the magic is that of his medium. Put these together and add the input of director Joe Dante, another film buff, and you get a movie about movies, triple-distilled. And the curious achievement of Gremlins is that it makes such self-absorption commercially viable, at the same time that it refuses to conform to any single, sustained social meaning. Much as the depiction of Vietnam in Coppola’s Apocalypse Now was designed to placate hawks and doves alike, gremlins is cleverly contrived to please skeptics as well as believers, optimists as well as pessimists about the American way of life. Thanks to a disconnected episodic structure that suggests several separate movies crammed together — a strategy that re-creates the fragmented, discontinuous flow of TV watching —  viewers of Gremlins are invited to chart out their own justifications for enjoying Dante and Spielberg’s treasure trove.… Read more »

CUTTER’S WAY (1985 review)

From the April 1985 Video Times. — J.R.

Cutter’s Way

(1981), C, Director: Ivan Passer. With Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, and Ann Dusenberry. 105 min. R, MGM/UA, $69.95.

A powerful, erotic thriller with remarkable performances from all three of its leads (Jeff Bridges, John Heard, and Lisa Eichhorn), Cutter’s Way never made the impact it should have when it was released. Originally titled Cutter and Bone, after the novel by Newton Thornberg on which it is based, it quickly became a studio write-off in the immediate wake of Heaven’s Gate. Not even a brace of rave reviews and a couple of film festival prizes could save it. Rereleased a few months later as Cutter’s Way, the film went on to acquire an enthusiastic cult that continues to appreciate its sensitive, offbeat mood and its indelible portrait of disaffected America.

The film is tightly scripted by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin and directed by the Czech expatriate Ivan Passer, best known for his bittersweet Czech feature Intimate Lighting, as well as such American features as Born to Win, Law and Disorder, and Silver Bears. Cutter’s Way is an in-depth portrait of the complex relations between three disaffected people.… Read more »

ZABRISKIE POINT (1984 review)

From Video Movies (August 1984). — J.R.

Zabriskie Point

(1969), C, Director: Michelangelo Antonioni. With Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Rod Taylor, and Kathleen Cleaver. 111 min. R. MGM/UA, $59.95.

In the 1960s, he could do no wrong, especially after his hit, Blow-up. In the 1980s, Michelangelo Antonioni emerges as a shamefully neglected figure — only one of his last four films (The Passenger) has been released in this country. And Zabriskie Point, the film that virtually destroyed his American reputation, offers ample proof of both the Italian director’s brilliance and his neglect of filmmaking particulars that Americans seemingly will not stand for. To understand Antonioni’s art, we must acknowledge that he is not a storyteller but a composer/choreographer of sounds and images.

As either a plausible romance about disaffected youth or as a documentary rendering of 1969 America, Zabriskie Point is often ludicrous. But if one keeps in mind that Antonioni thinks through his camera more than through his scripts — and that realism is far from his intention — one can see this film as an astonishingly beautiful achievement. As the director noted at the time, “The story is certainly a simple one. Nonetheless, the content is actually very complex.… Read more »

Family Plots (a story)

I no longer know when I wrote this story, although it was obviously written before I wrote digitally, because the typescript I recently came across, which I’ve revised here only slightly, clearly came from a typewriter. (I suspect that most or all of it was written in Santa Barbara in the mid-1980s, although I may have started it much earlier.) A few of the details are autobiographical in origin (e.g., I grew up with three brothers, but certainly without a nanny, and the description of the grandparents’ mansion mostly corresponds to my own grandparents’ home in Florence, Alabama, owned and occupied today by a local friend), but most of them obviously aren’t.

I’ve hesitated about publishing much of my fiction on this site because the responses to my stories so far have been fairly minimal — a likely result of “niche marketing” that tends to associate this site almost exclusively with film (or, to a lesser extent, jazz and reviews of prose fiction) — but I’ve decided to repost this with links on Facebook and Twitter just to see if this changes anything. — J.R.

 

 

 

 

Family Plots

 

1.

The restaurant was so crowded that they had to assign all six of us to separate tables, with careful instructions to deliver five of the checks to Daddy-Pop after the meal, reconvene, and then go to see a Marx Brothers double feature down the street.… Read more »

Through the Past, Darkly [GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI & THE CRUCIBLE]

From the Chicago Reader (December 20, 1996). — J.R.

http://c0181321.cdn.cloudfiles.rackspacecloud.com/PHcd7ghe1lxQek_1_m.jpg

Ghosts of Mississippi

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Rob Reiner

Written by Lewis Colick

With Alec Baldwin, James Woods, Whoopi Goldberg, Diane Ladd, Bonnie Bartlett, Bill Cobbs, William H. Macy, Virginia Madsen, and Michael O’Keefe.

The Crucible

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Written by Arthur Miller

With Daniel Day-Lewis, Winona Ryder, Paul Scofield, Joan Allen, Bruce Davison, Rob Campbell, Jeffrey Jones, Peter Vaughan, and Karron Graves.

“This story is true,” reads the opening title of Ghosts of Mississippi, a movie about the murder of NAACP activist Medgar Evers in Jackson, Mississippi, in June 1963, and the conviction of his murderer, Byron De La Beckwith, which took a little more than 30 years.

“This play is not history in the sense in which the word is used by the academic historian,” Arthur Miller wrote in a note prefacing his 1953 play The Crucible, which depicts events that occurred in 1692, and which has now been turned into a movie adapted by Miller. Miller went on to detail the ways he’d changed history — he sometimes fused many people into one character, and he made a central character, Abigail, older.… Read more »

The Freed Woman

From the Chicago Reader (September 14, 2007). –J.R.

FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN ***

DIRECTED AND WRITTEN BY JENNIFER FOX

There’s something nervy about the way Jennifer Fox, in her new autobiographical six-part, six-hour miniseries, showing this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, tries to combine her life, her art, and her politics. Made with funding from the Danish Film Institute over a four-year period ending in late 2006, Flying: Confessions of a Free Woman recounts the privileges, confusions, and self-examinations of Fox, a Manhattan-based filmmaker in her mid-40s who grew up associating her freedom with being like a boy, feeling much closer to her permissive father than to her disapproving mother, and never having the slightest interest in getting married or (until recently) having kids.

Known for such PBS documentaries as Beirut: The Last Home Movie (1987) and An American Love Story (1999), a miniseries about the everyday life of an interracial couple, Fox does a fair amount of globe-trotting, and during the time frame of Flying she’s juggling two lovers on separate continents who know about each other. The less serious relationship is with Patrick, a Swiss-German cinematographer she sees more often, mainly in New York (he’s credited as the film’s “technical supervisor”).… Read more »