From the Chicago Reader (December 22, 2006). — J.R.
Adapted from P.D. James’s dystopian novel, this SF feature by Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien) takes place in England in 2027, when the human race has mysteriously become infertile and faces extinction. A onetime revolutionary (Clive Owen) is asked by an old flame (Julianne Moore) to take part in her underground movement defending illegal aliens, who are trucked off to concentration camps; assisted by an older hippie pal (Michael Caine in an Oscar-worthy performance), he agrees to smuggle a young woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) out of the country. The film gradually devolves into action-adventure, then the equivalent of a war movie. But the filmmaking is pungent throughout, and the first half hour is so jaw-dropping in its fleshed-out extrapolation that Cuaron earns the right to coast a bit. R, 108 min. (JR)
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Here is my first-person reportage of the last laps of the original event, hurriedly written for the April 2, 1965 issue of the Bard Observer. I’ve only done a little bit of light editing on this text. — J.R.
Notes on the March to Montgomery
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
(Note: because of the haste with which this article was written, and because of its close proximity in time to the event itself, I cannot claim to be attempting anything definitive here, either in terms of impression or opinion. The following reactions are immediate and fragmented ones written only a few days after the march, and as such must suffer the defects of hurried writing and tentative suppositions. –- J.R.)
We arrived in Montgomery by Wednesday afternoon, following Highway 80 through the middle of town and heading towards St. Jude. a Catholic hospital complex on the city’s outskirts whose property was being used as a campsite for the marchers. We drove a rented Avis car; the Hertz people in Atlanta, when they overheard what we were up to, had told us that they had no cars available, but being hospitable Southern folk had driven us over to their competitors a few blocks away.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 5, 2002). — J.R.
A genuine rarity: a sex comedy with brains. Even rarer, one with smart politics — so unobtrusive you may not notice — and wonderful acting. Writer-director Alfonso Cuaron — best known here for two Hollywood efforts, the enchanting A Little Princess and the less enchanting Great Expectations — went back to his native Mexico to put together this road movie about two 17-year-old boys from Mexico City, one privileged, the other working-class. On an impulse, they take off for a remote coastal beach with a 28-year-old married woman. It’s not difficult to understand why this movie has been a smash success in Mexico, especially with teenagers; few films deal with teenage hormones, Latin machismo, and the complexities of friendship in such a refreshing way. The movie keeps surprising you and stays with you long after it’s over. With Diego Luna, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Maribel Verdu. In Spanish with subtitles. 105 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Esquire, Landmark’s Century Centre, North Riverside.
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From Cineaste 22, no. 3, 1996; reprinted with further comments in Discovering Orson Welles. — J.R.
Biographies of Orson Welles reviewed in this article:
Orson Welles: The Road to Xanadu, by Simon Callow (New York: Viking, 1995). 640 pp.
Rosebud: The Story of Orson Welles, by David Thomson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996). 461 pp.
Orson Welles, revised and expanded edition, by Joseph McBride (New York: Da Capo, 1996). 243 pp.
Two prevailing and diametrically opposed attitudes seem to dictate the way most people currently think about Orson Welles. One attitude, predominantly American, sees his life and career chiefly in terms of failure and regards the key question to be why he never lived up to his promise — “his promise” almost invariably being tied up with the achievement of Citizen Kane. Broadly speaking, this position can be compared to that of the investigative reporter Thompson’s editor in Citizen Kane, bent on finding a single formula for explaining a man’s life. The other attitude — less monolithic and less tied to any particular nationality, or to the expectations aroused by any single work — views his life and career more sympathetically as well as inquisitively; this position corresponds more closely to Thompson’s near the end of kane when he says, “I don’t think any word can explain a man’s life.”… Read more »
From Film Quarterly, Winter 1990–91.-– J.R.
Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography, by Bret Wood (Westport, CT: Greene Press, 1990).
Issued without dust wrappers and priced beyond the range of most individuals, this 364-page book is clearly intended for libraries, and not likely to get much attention outside of specialized publications. But as a multifaceted research tool for anyone investigating the career of Orson Welles it is a veritable godsend — more valuable in some ways than any of the Welles biographies published so far.
Not counting introduction, endnotes, index, a skeletal Welles chronology, an invaluable section devoted to special sources, and ten well-chosen illustrations, the book is divided into eight sections: Biographical Sketch, Theatre Credits, Radio Credits, Film Credits, Welles as Author, Discography (a brief section that regrettably excludes commercial releases of radio broadcasts), Books and Monographs on Welles, and Articles on Welles. Probably the most valuable of these sections in terms of fresh material are the two longest, Radio Credits (74 pages) and Film Credits (120 pages), containing not only listings but, in many cases, descriptive and critical annotations. (The length of the film section can largely be accounted for by the fact that Wood is as attentive to unrealized projects as he is to finished works.)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 24, 2000). — J.R.
Waking the Dead
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Keith Gordon
Written by Robert Dillon
With Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Molly Parker, Janet McTeer, Paul Hipp, Sandra Oh, and Hal Holbrook.
I can’t make any great claims for Keith Gordon’s fourth feature as a director — a tragic love story that might be described as a political allegory, limited by the affective range of its lead actor (Billy Crudup), who plays a smarmy politician, and by the smudgy articulation of some secondary details. Yet the movie has a quality and intensity of feeling that provoke respect and a sense of fellowship — something that makes me cherish some of its attributes.
I can cite only one unequivocal reason for seeing Waking the Dead, and that’s Jennifer Connelly, who plays Sarah Williams — a Catholic activist who, when the story opens, seemingly dies when the car she and two pro-Allende Chileans are driving through Minneapolis is bombed. What makes Connelly so remarkable isn’t her character’s radicalism but her capacity to keep the character fresh every time she appears and to leave a lingering impression that makes the hero’s (and the movie’s) sense of loss acute.… Read more »
From the Bard Observer, September 9, 1964. -– J.R.
What We Ate in That Year
A MOVEABLE FEAST, by Ernest Hemingway, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 211 pp., $4.95.
In the spring of that year, long after he was dead, a book of his was published and it was a good book. He had not written a good book for quite some time and the critics were beginning to worry. They had wanted to say something good about him now that he was dead, but there were no good books to say good things about except for those written twenty and thirty years ago, and they (the critics) had already spoken enough about the earlier ones anyway.
The new book was about Paris of long ago when he and his friends were writing the earlier books. In those days there was Miss Stein and Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis and Ford Maddox Ford and several others. Some were good and some were very good and others were not so good at all. He was not like the others because he was not a homosexual or an alcoholic and he did not have bad breath or look evil. Much of the time he would write, and during the times that he would not write he would walk the shaded avenues or go to the races.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 4, 1998). — J.R.
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Arnaud Desplechin
Written by Desplechin, Pascale Ferran, Noemie Lvovsky, and Emmanuel Salinger
With Salinger, Thibault de Montalembert, Jean-Louis Richard, Valerie Dreville, Marianne Denicourt, Bruno Todeschini, and Laszlo Szabo.
Anyone who saw the three-hour My Sex Life…or How I Got Into an Argument (1997) when it showed at the Film Center last year knows that, for better and for worse, writer-director Arnaud Desplechin, born in 1960, has a generational voice, speaking for and about French yuppies in their late 20s and early 30s. The same is true of his only previous feature, The Sentinel (1992), an eerie 139-minute espionage thriller that has been accruing a cult reputation here and abroad (it’s playing this week as part of Facets Multimedia’s New French Cinema Film Festival). My Sex Life, for all its virtues, was a bit conventional and bland, but The Sentinel is genuinely crazy and a lot more interesting, mainly because it has a meatier subject: the end of the cold war and what this means to French yuppies.
“French yuppies” sounds condescending, but a lot more than the Atlantic Ocean separates Americans from the worldview of the French.… Read more »
From the Winter 2019 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.
Since I don’t have much investment in parsing Arnaud Desplechin’s arsenal of “personal” references, I had to look elsewhere for the intermittent pleasures of Ismaël’s Ghosts (2017), available on a two-disc Blu-ray from Arrow Films. I often find myself so hard put to navigate Desplechin’s multiple allusions to and borrowings from Philip Roth and Woody Allen (for me, the most overrated and least interesting members of his overstuffed pantheon), much less those from James Joyce, Alfred Hitchcock, Norman Mailer, and Alain Resnais, that I have to forsake any sustained effort to rationalize how these and countless other figures could all belong to the same curious tribe of role models. Maybe this is because Desplechin appears to regard these touchstones as sacred talismans more than as meaningful or helpful artistic influences. Apart from naming László Szabó and Louis Garrel’s characters “Bloom” and “Dedalus,” respectively, it’s difficult to determine how much he’s actually learned or adapted from Ulysses—and when he combines nods to both Ulysses and Vertigo (1958) in the name of Marion Cotillard’s character “Carlotta Bloom,” the whole thing begins to seem like the silliest kind of fool’s game. As for Ismaël himself (Mathieu Amalric), is his name supposed to start us thinking about Moby-Dick, the Bible, or maybe both?… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 14, 1995). I’m not sure why, but this is one of the most popular posts on this site. — J.R.
Directed by Antonia Bird
Written by Jimmy McGovern
With Linus Roache, Tom Wilkinson, Cathy Tyson, Robert Carlyle, James Ellis, Lesley Sharp, Robert Pugh, and Christine Tremarco.
A friend of mine who hasn’t even seen Priest calls it “post-Oprah,” and it’s easy to see what he means — in terms of pacing as well as subject matter. Its first incarnation was as a 200-page script by Jimmy McGovern for a four-part BBC miniseries, but he shaved it to 65 pages when the BBC decided to make it a feature. When it went out to festivals last year (where it won numerous awards), director Antonia Bird’s cut was 109 minutes; since then it’s been trimmed by 8 minutes, apparently to make it eligible for an R rating: its distributor, Miramax, now under the control of the Disney studio, isn’t allowed to release any NC-17 pictures. I haven’t seen the longer version, but it’s likely that these successive abridgments have both produced the taut narrative that’s central to the movie’s powerful impact as entertainment and limited it as art and as a piece of sustained thought.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (November 10, 2006). I’m currently attending a Portabella retrospective in Croatia as part of Tanja Vrvilo’s 12th annual Movie Mutations event. — J.R.
Pere Portabella: Cinema From the Spanish Underground
The first North American retrospective of Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella started last week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and it’s one of the year’s biggest cultural events. None of his films has ever been screened in Chicago, and none has ever been released anywhere on DVD or VHS. All five of his features are showing here (though none of his ten shorts), and if you don’t see them now, chances are you never will.
Most of Portabella’s films can be classified as experimental, though they have little in common with the films usually given that label, which tend to be nonnarrative and shot in 8- or 16-millimeter or on video. All of his features are in 35-millimeter and use narrative, though they never tell a complete story. They all have rich sound tracks that go in and out of sync with the images, sometimes reinforcing what we see, sometimes contradicting it. They all drift smoothly, often unexpectedly, from narrative to reverie and from fiction to documentary, interjecting rude shocks along the way.… Read more »
The following essay was commissioned by Pere Portabella himself in 2009 when he was planning to include some written materials with a DVD box set of his complete works — a box set that he eventually decided to release four years later without any written material. This essay has subsequently appeared in my 2010 collection Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia and, in Spanish translation, in El mundo in March 2013.
I’m speaking today about Portabella at the 12th annual edition of Tanja Vrvilo’s Movie Mutations event in Zagreb, where a Portabella retrospective is in progress. — J.R.
Filmmakers who reinvent the cinema for their own purposes generally operate under certain distinct handicaps. In a few privileged cases (Griffith, Feuillade, Chaplin, Hitchcock) it’s the cinema itself, as art form and global institution, that winds up readjusting to the reinvention. But what happens more often is either a prolonged banishment of the filmmaker’s work from public awareness or a protracted series of misunderstandings until (or unless) the new rules are recognized, understood, and assimilated.
In the case of Pere Portabella, where some of the principles of production, distribution, and exhibition have been reinvented along with some concepts of reception, the frequent time lags between completed projects have only exacerbated some of the difficulties posed to uninitiated viewers.… Read more »
This appeared in the May 21, 1993 issue of the Chicago Reader. Although the YouTube link given below no longer works, I can happily report that it’s out now on DVD. — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Alexander Cassini
With Michael St. Gerard, John P. Ryan, Maureen Teefy, and Thomas Newman.
I doubt that any current media buzz term is more ideologically polluted than “family values.” Even its alternative, “suitable for the whole family,” doesn’t contain the same puritanical lies. The egregious false assumptions built into this phrase as it’s now used are breathtaking: that families are all alike when it comes to their values; that these shared values are somehow independent of — and therefore free of — the sex and violence purveyed by Hollywood movies (“sex and violence” invariably viewed as an irreducible entity that also mysteriously includes profanity); and that, because they eschew sex and violence, “family values” are uniformly good and healthy. These assumptions seem predicated on the notion that everything bad that happens in society necessarily occurs outside the home, on the streets. Never mind that statistics show that an inordinate amount of lethal violence occurs during national holidays, in homes, between family members; this is factored out of the discussion along with the inconvenient fact that babies (and therefore families) are generated by sex, not storks.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1989). — J.R.
Postmodernism with a vengeance. This 1988 Australian comedy made some tidal waves on its home turf — perhaps because, like the subsequent and even more enjoyable Children of the Revolution, it offers a cheerful alternative to the usual Australian self-hatred. A distant cousin of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it has the charm and advantage of a genuine visual style of its own, both laconic and witty, as well as a likably dopey plot and cast of characters. Directed, written, coproduced by, and starring Yahoo Serious, the movie follows the adventures of a teenage Tasmanian apple farmer named Albert Einstein, who splits the atom in order to produce a beer that contains bubbles, falls in love with Marie Curie (Odile le Clezio) and follows her to Paris, meets Charles Darwin, and invents rock ‘n’ roll in the process of draining off the atomic energy in a nuclear beer keg fashioned by the villain (John Howard). Invert the auteur’s name and you get a partial notion of what he’s up to — which is not exactly serious in its own right, but is at least serious from a yahoo standpoint. 90 min.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 13, 1990). — J.R.
THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed and written by Peter Greenaway
With Richard Bohringer, Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, Alan Howard, and Tim Roth.
On the face of it, this movie seems to have a good many things going for it. Although he was born in 1942, Peter Greenaway is still probably the closest thing that the English art cinema currently has to an enfant terrible. A former painter and film editor who started making experimental films in the mid-60s, he achieved an international reputation with The Draughtsman’s Contract in 1982; he went on to become a star director and cult figure in Europe with several TV films and three more features that had considerable success in both England and France as well as on the international festival circuit — A Zed & Two Noughts (1986), The Belly of an Architect (1987), and Drowning by Numbers (1988) — although they have had only limited circulation in the U.S. A fair number of my film-buff friends swear by him, and he is commonly regarded as the most “advanced” art-house director currently working in England.
Greenaway’s latest feature makes sterling use of many of his longtime collaborators: Sacha Vierny, one of the best cinematographers alive (working here in ‘Scope), whose credits include Hiroshima, mon amour, Last Year at Marienbad, Muriel, Belle de jour, and Stavisky, as well as films by Raul Ruiz and Marguerite Duras; composer Michael Nyman, a sort of neoclassicist who has worked for everyone from the Royal Ballet to Steve Reich to Sting; and production designers Ben Van Os and Jan Roelfs, former interior designers who have worked in the Dutch film industry since 1983.… Read more »