Yearly Archives: 2018

Holiday Jitters [Chicago Reader blog post, 12/1206]

From the Chicago Reader‘s blog, the Bleader. — J.R.

Holiday Jitters

Posted By on 12.12.06 at 03:06 PM

night-at-the-museum

Allied Advertising recently informed me that the Ben Stiller comedy Night at the Museum is being previewed only to the daily press, not to weekly reviewers — which naturally raises the question of whether the company in question (Twentieth Century Fox) is deciding in advance that we weekly reviewers won’t like this release. Whether that’s the meaning of their strategy or not, it does show a kind of uncertainty that is much more general among the so-called majors. For instance, Warner Brothers has at this pointed shifted the Chicago opening date of Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima several times, with the result that it’s bounced on and off my ten-best list according to whether it’s opening here in 2006 or 2007. New York and Los Angeles reviewers get to consider Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima as part of the same package; Chicago reviewers don’t.

I differ from some of my local colleagues in refusing to consider 2007 releases for my 2006 list just because many of the film companies persist in treating Chicago as a cow town in contrast to New York and Los Angeles — both of which will be premiering Letters from Iwo Jima this year. 

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Lost in the Shuffle [THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN]

From the Chicago Reader (March 12, 1999). — J.R.

The Deep End of the Ocean

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Ulu Grosbard

Written by Stephen Schiff

With Michelle Pfeiffer, Treat Williams, Jonathan Jackson, Ryan Merriman, Whoopi Goldberg, Cory Buck, John Kapelos, and Michael McElroy.

The two best reasons for seeing The Deep End of the Ocean are the story and Michelle Pfeiffer, not necessarily in that order. But these two calling cards are sometimes at odds, so the film’s virtues and problems grow out of the same source. On the one hand, you’ve got the star system creating certain expectations about the story’s focus; on the other, you’ve got a narrative about a 12-year-old boy trying to figure out his identity by reconciling two sets of parents. Because these two factors are at cross-purposes, you start out watching a star vehicle and wind up watching a coming-of-age story; the transition from one to the other is what makes The Deep End of the Ocean feel somewhat uncertain.

Certainly one can rationalize this shift of gears. The late Dwight Macdonald — the film critic for Esquire back in the early 60s, when it was still possible to write for that magazine about movies as an art form rather than as a combination of sport and business — suggested in one of his columns that a shift of focus from one character to another is often a good thing.… Read more »

The Young and the Paralyzed

From the November 10, 1995 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

The Doom Generation

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Gregg Araki

With James Duval, Rose McGowan, Johnathon Schaech, Cress Williams, and Dustin Nguyen.

Kicking and Screaming

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Noah Baumbach

Written by Baumbach and Oliver Berkman

With Josh Hamilton, Olivia d’Abo, Chris Eigeman, Jason Wiles, Carlos Jacott, Eric Stoltz, Elliott Gould, Cara Buono, and Parker Posey.

Chet: Here’s a joke. How do you make God laugh?

Grover: How?

Chet: Make a plan.

Kicking and Screaming

As luck would have it, I had my second looks at The Doom Generation and Kicking and Screaming, two radically different youth movies about defeat and paralysis, back-to-back. Both seemed better the second time around, though for very different reasons. Noah Baumbach’s first feature, Kicking and Screaming, which I’d originally seen and liked at Cannes last May, seems to have been tightened up in the editing and given more focus. Perhaps because I disliked Gregg Araki’s fifth feature, The Doom Generation, when I first saw it last August, I found it harder to decide on a second viewing whether it had been changed in the interim; in any case I found myself disliking it less.… Read more »

Temple of Dumb [INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE]

From the Chicago Reader (June 2, 1989). — J.R.

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE * (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Written by Jeffrey Boam, George Lucas, and Menno Meyjes

With Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, River Phoenix, Denholm Elliott, Alison Doody,

Julian Glover, and John Rhys-Davies.

Nazis are fun! Jesus is fun! Arthurian legends are fun! Third world countries are fun! Caves are fun! The Holy Grail is fun! Lots of snakes and rats and skeletons are fun! Chases are fun! Narrow escapes are fun! Explosions are fun! Indiana Jones is fun! Indiana Jones’s father is fun!

Put them all together and you get the third panel in Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’s Indiana Jones triptych — more fun than a barrel of monkeys (or Nazis, chalices, snakes, rats, skeletons — whatever). Though Hitler, Jesus, women, the third world, and, by implication, most of the rest of civilization ultimately take a backseat to the uneasy yet affectionate relationship between a grown boy and his dad — and all those millions of people exterminated by the Nazis (for instance) don’t even warrant so much as a look-in — this is nothing new in the Lucas-Spielberg canon; it isn’t even anything new in movies.… Read more »

Art in Action [ZATOICHI & COLLATERAL]

From the Chicago Reader (August 6, 2004). — J.R.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Takeshi Kitano

With “Beat” Takeshi [Kitano], Tadanobu Asano, Michiyo Ookusu, Yui Natsukawa, and Gadarukaru Taka.

Collateral

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Michael Mann

Written by Stuart Beattie

With Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Javier Bardem, Bruce McGill, and Irma P. Hall.

What do Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi and Michael Mann’s Collateral, both opening this week, have in common? Judging by what some of my colleagues have been saying, they’re both effective action movies directed by talented genre specialists. But I would argue that this description applies only to Collateral.

Although Mann stretched himself somewhat with Ali, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Insider, he’s first and foremost a maker of adroit crime thrillers: Thief, Manhunter, Heat, and now Collateral. Kitano, on the other hand, is actually an adventurous director of art movies who periodically defaults to the crime genre in order to finance his other projects. In this respect he resembles Clint Eastwood, who, since emerging as an auteur in his own right, has alternated between making action movies for the studio and art movies for himself.… Read more »

His Master’s Vice [WHITE DOG]

From the Chicago Reader (November 29, 1991). — J.R.

WHITE DOG **** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Written by Fuller and Curtis Hanson

With Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burl Ives, Jameson Parker, Lynne Moody, and Marshall Thompson.

The best American movie released so far this year, made by the greatest living American filmmaker, was actually made ten years ago, and so far its venues have been restricted to single theaters in New York and Chicago; but late is a lot better than never, and two cities are certainly better than none. Why it’s taken a decade for Samuel Fuller’s White Dog to reach us is not an easy question to answer; it was shown widely in Europe in the early 80s and well-received critically. For the past few years it has turned up sporadically on cable, principally the Lifetime channel, but it has never come out here on video. White Dog started out as an article by Romain Gary published in Life magazine, and was later expanded into a book. The accounts I’ve read describe the book as autobiographical, mainly about the author’s relationship with Jean Seberg. Gary and Seberg were living in Los Angeles when they found a “white” dog who had been trained to attack blacks; they tried without success to have the dog retrained, and eventually had to kill it.… Read more »

La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes

From Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 496). — J.R.

 

Petite Marchande d’Allumettes, La

(The Little Match Girl)

France, 1928

Directors: Jean Renoir, Jean Tedesco

Cert-U. dist–Contemporary. p–Jean Renoir, Jean Tedesco . asst. d–

Claude H eymann. Simone Hamiguet. Sc–Jean Renoir. Based on the

storv bv Hans Christian Andersen. ph–Jean Bachelet. a.d—Eric Aës.

m -excerpts from works by –Schubert, Strauss, Wagner, Mendelssohn.

m. d–Manuel Rosenthal, Michael Grant. Lp—Catherine Hessling (Karen,

the Little Match Girl), Jean Storm (Young Man/Soldier), Manuel Raby

[Rabinovitch] (Policeman/Death), Amy Wells (Dancing Doll). 1,030 ft.

29 mins. (16mm; also available in 35 mm.). English titles.

 

Karen leaves her humble-cottage to sell match boxes under a heavy

Snowfall. She gazes wistfully at a handsome young man emerging

from a restaurant, then looks through a frosted pane at the people

eating inside until boys throw snowballs at her. As she gathers up her

spilled boxes a policeman arrives, and together hey look at a display

of dolls and other toys in a shop window. After lighting matches in

an effort to warm herself, she falls asleep and dreams that she enters

the toy shop — having become the same size as the dolls –- and sets

them all in motion.… Read more »

Deja Vu

From the Chicago Reader (November 17, 2006). — J.R.

Deja-Vu-2006-dvdplanetstorepk-action-denzel-washington

After a terrorist explosion kills the passengers on a New Orleans ferry, an ATF agent (Denzel Washington), discovering that a form of time travel can send him back to the event, resolves to save the life of a woman (Paula Patton) killed shortly before, as well as prevent the explosion. The story recalls Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) in its romantic moodiness and has some of the philosophical poignance common to tales of time travel. But the SF hardware (enjoyable) and thriller mechanics (mechanical) of this Jerry Bruckheimer slam-banger don’t mesh very well with reflection, and the action trumps most evidence of thought. Tony Scott directed a script by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio; with Val Kilmer and James Caviezel. PG-13, 128 min. (JR)

Deja.Vu[2006].aviRead more »

Witness to the Persecution [CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS]

From the Chicago Reader (June 13, 2003). — J.R.

Capturing the Friedmans

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Andrew Jarecki.

It’s disconcerting to be appalled and even slightly nauseated by a masterpiece. But Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans is a documentary, and so it’s disconcerting largely because of its subject matter — it shocks us with the truth.

Yet if Capturing the Friedmans were less shapely and less of a masterpiece, I’d find it less troubling. Both times I’ve seen it I’ve felt that by the end practically everyone associated with the film seems tarnished in one way or another: the ostensible subjects (the Friedmans, an upper-middle-class Jewish family in the Long Island town of Great Neck), the members of their community who helped destroy much of their lives, the filmmakers, and the audience. We’re all tainted by the graphic exposure of family wounds, diminished by what we think and feel — and by what we don’t think and don’t feel. Frankly, I’m not sure whether the film deserves to be applauded or attacked for this.

The film’s story, most of which transpires over a dozen years, begins on Thanksgiving in 1987. Arnold Friedman — a highly respected and popular middle-aged schoolteacher who gives piano and computer lessons at home, and who, as Arnito Rey, led a mambo band in the late 40s and early 50s — is arrested for possessing child pornography and subsequently charged with sexually assaulting dozens of his former computer students.… Read more »

Imitation Flavors

From the Chicago Reader (July 20, 2001). — J.R.

America’s Sweethearts

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Joe Roth

Written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan

With Julia Roberts, Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, and Christopher Walken.

The Score

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Frank Oz

Written by Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, Scott Marshall Smith, and Daniel E. Taylor

With Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando, and Gary Farmer.

“Talent means nothing if you don’t make the right choices,” says seasoned safecracker and jazz-club manager Robert De Niro in The Score, as he sets up “one last score” before he quits the game for good. It’s the only sensible thing anyone says in either this movie or America’s Sweethearts, a clunky ribbing of the movie industry, and whoever was making the big choices about these pictures should have taken it as advice. Both appear to be agents’ packages first and movies second, so that even though they’re trying hard to recapture the feel of Hollywood standbys — the heist thriller and the satiric screwball comedy — they seem to proceed from the premise that all that’s required is to throw the right number of “talented” elements in the same direction.… Read more »

Bene’s Salome and Chabrol’s Nada

From Oui (June 1974). –- J.R.

Salome. Meet Carmelo Bene, a vital figure in the Italian avant-garde

whose introduction to American moviegoers is long overdue. Salome,

freely adapted from the Oscar Wilde play, is the latest and perhaps the

most ravishing of his lavish camp spectacles. (Earlier efforts include

Our Lady of the Turcs, Don Giovanni, and One Hamlet Less.)

The title role is played by Veruschka –- the high-fashion model who

writhed under the photographer hero at the beginning of Blow-Up

–- appearing bald, nude, and zombielike as she steps out of the water,

decorated from head to foot with multicolored gems. Bene as Herod

upstages everyone with his hysterical nonstop monologues and

Woody Woodpecker laughs. Visually, it’s a riot of extravagant colors

(fluorescent costumes, Day-Glo sets) and opulent debaucheries

flashing by so quickly that everything remains in delirious flux, and

none of the fancy scenic splendors stands still long enough to be

contemplated. Try to imagine Orson Welles’ Macbeth colored in

with a Fellini paintbox, recut by Kenneth Anger, accompanied by

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and the Beer-Barrel Polka,

and you’ll get a fraction of a notion of Bene’s giddy madness.

Depravity, thy name is Salome.… Read more »

Big Deal On Madonna Street

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 2000). — J.R.

bigdealonmadonnastreet

Conceived as a kind of irreverent parody of both Rififi and The Asphalt Jungle, Mario Monicelli’s stumblebum heist film (1958) about a group of incompetent crooks trying to rob a safe full of jewels is one of the funniest Italian comedies ever made — certainly much funnier than the many imitations and remakes (i.e., rip-offs) it’s spawned over the years, including Louis Malle’s Crackers and Woody Allen’s Small Time Crooks. Monicelli’s sense of character is priceless, and his fabulous cast — including Marcello Mastroianni, Vittorio Gassman, Claudia Cardinale, and Renato Salvatori — makes the most of it. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

All You Need Is Cash [SMALL TIME CROOKS]

From the Chicago Reader (May 19, 2000). — J.R.

Small Time Crooks

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Woody Allen

With Allen, Tracey Ullman, Elaine May, Tony Darrow, Hugh Grant, Jon Lovitz, Michael Rapaport, George Grizzard, and Elaine Stritch.

Small Time Crooks is Woody Allen’s 29th feature in 31 years. I don’t think it would be much of an exaggeration to say that all the major developments in his work to date took place during the period around Love and Death (1975) and Annie Hall (1977), when he transformed himself from a gagman with a clunky mise en scene into a fairly graceful filmmaker, and the period around Husbands and Wives (1992), when he bravely discarded grace and went on a brief adventure. It led to the relaxed candor of Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) and the sour gallows humor of Bullets Over Broadway (1994), before collapsing into the banality and facility of Mighty Aphrodite (1995), with its Whore With a Heart of Gold.

September (1987) was an embarrassment, and other low points, the moments when Allen’s energy and invention flagged the most, include A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy (1982), Shadows and Fog (1992), and Celebrity (1998). Small Time Crooks never attains the diffidence of the last three, but at times it comes awfully close.… Read more »

Rififi

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 2000). — J.R.

It’s one of the enduring mysteries of the Hollywood blacklist that directors such as Joseph Losey and Cy Endfield had to hide behind fronts or pseudonyms, whereas Jules Dassin was able to direct this atmospheric 1955 French thriller under his own name and still get it shown in the U.S., where it was something of an art-house hit. (Oddly, as a cast member he uses the name Perlo Vita.) Shot in Paris and its environs and adapted from an Auguste le Breton novel with the author’s assistance, this is a familiar but effective parable of honor among thieves, and though it may not be as ideologically meaningful as the juicy noirs Dassin made for Hollywood — The Naked City (1947), Thieves’ Highway (1949), and Night and the City (1950) — it’s probably more influential, above all for its half-hour sequence without dialogue that meticulously shows the whole process of an elaborate jewelry heist. With Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, and Robert Manuel. In French with subtitles. 118 min. (JR)

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Bites of Reality

From the Chicago Reader (October 27, 2006). — J.R.

Death of a President **

Directed by Gabriel Range

Written by Simon Finch and Range

With Hend Ayoub, Brian Boland, Patricia Buckley, Jason Abustan, and Chavez Ravine

I dislike few buzzwords more than mockumentary, which even academics now use casually and uncritically. People often assume it’s a neutral descriptive term, but unlike pseudodocumentary — an honest and serviceable label — mockumentary leads many to conclude that the documentary form that’s being imitated is also being made fun of. Most of the works that get labeled mockumentaries are actually honoring the form, by using its techniques to make them seem more real.

According to Wikipedia, the term was first used by Rob Reiner while describing his own This Is Spinal Tap (1984), a popular spoof that led to many successors, including movies directed by Christopher Guest like Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. But these films weren’t so much mocking the documentary form as mocking documentary content. Of course there are films that mock documentary form much more directly, including Peter Watkins’s The Battle of Culloden, Jim McBride’s David Holzman’s Diary, and Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and F for Fake.… Read more »