Monthly Archives: October 2019

Extraordinary People [LITTLE MAN TATE]

From the Chicago Reader (October 25, 1991). — J.R.

LITTLE MAN TATE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Jodie Foster

Written by Scott Frank

With Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodie Foster, Dianne Wiest, Harry Connick Jr., David Pierce, Debi Mazar, and P.J. Ochlan.

Part of what’s refreshing about Jodie Foster’s first feature as a director is its quirky style and vision; even the picture’s limitations have a certain offbeat integrity. In 90 percent of the movies we see the flaws are the same old flaws endlessly recycled (inherited like family curses, passed along like viruses): sentimentality, cliched characters and behavior, and stock attitudes, camera placements, and audience manipulations. Relatively free of these familiar blemishes, Little Man Tate winds up with a few of its own — “missing pieces” might be more accurate — but most of these problems seem to have been arrived at honestly rather than automatically imported from other movies.

The title hero is a boy genius named Fred (Adam Hann-Byrd) who occasionally narrates his own story, which transpires mainly between his seventh and eighth birthdays. He’s gifted in so many ways that, at least on the schematic level of Scott Frank’s script, he often seems like several boy geniuses jammed together: a self-taught reader by age one, he also quickly reveals himself to be a talented visual artist, a remarkable classical pianist, an original and accomplished poet, and a mathematical wizard who breezes through a college course in quantum physics when he’s seven. Read more

He Said, She Said

From the February 22, 1991 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

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Try to imagine Siskel and Ebert not as Chicago film critics but as a heterosexual couple in Baltimore, both of them general interest reporters whose combative instincts and political and temperamental differences become the focus of a TV show, and you more or less have the premise of this romantic comedy. Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Perkins play the leads, and a real-life couple (Ken Kwapis and Marisa Silver) direct the separate versions of their story (both scripted by Brian Hohlfeld). The attempt to tell the same story twice from separate viewpoints a la Rashomon or Les Girls doesn’t always yield as much ambiguity or complexity as one might wish. But on the whole, this is an honorable attempt to revive the feeling and ambience of a Hoilywood comedy of the 50s, complete with sumptuous romantic music (score by Miles Goodman), ‘Scope framing, and a magical last-minute resolution, and, as such, it’s pretty pleasurable to watch. With Sharon Stone. (Esquire, Norridge, Old Orchard, Webster Place, Ford City, Lincoln Village)

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Recommended Reading: By and About Lindsay Anderson

NEVER APOLOGISE: THE COLLECTED WRITINGS by Lindsay Anderson, edited by Paul Ryan, London: Plexus, 2004, 612 pp.

MOSTLY ABOUT LINDSAY ANDERSON by Gavin Lambert, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, 384 pp.

I’ve never considered myself a particular fan of Lindsay Anderson, either as a filmmaker or as a film critic, so what am I doing recommending these two books? I wound up reading the Lambert memoir, which I now regard as perhaps Lambert’s most affecting book, for what it had to say about Nicholas Ray, but what it has to say about Anderson turned out to be pretty moving and compelling as well. And then running across a copy of Anderson’s collected film criticism, quite by chance, in a New York Barnes & Noble outlet last month eventually encouraged me to order a copy from Amazon U.K., which turned up today. Judging from the sampling that I’ve done so far, I don’t expect to agree with very much in it, but this is beside the point: as a mammoth film chronicle covering several decades, it seems comparable in importance, simply as a historical artifact, to the more recent Farber on Film: The Complete Film Writings of Manny Farber, with plenty of flinty iconoclasm in its own right, as its title suggests. Read more

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From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1989). I can happily report that this expertly realized tour de force — a brilliant adaptation of what is essentially highly theatrical material, rehearsed and blocked to the nines — is now out on a Twilight Time Blu-Ray. For all its nervy desire to wear its sordidness, black comedy, and sheer roughness on its sleeve, which kept it from having a commercial success in the 70s  and may still alienate some viewers now, this is basically a comedy about sexual vulnerability and shifting power plays between jaded Hollywood types with more bark than bite, and a surprisingly sweet aftertaste shining through all the harsh pseudo-toughness. — J.R.

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John Byrum’s controversial first feature, made in 1976, stars Richard Dreyfuss as a burned-out Hollywood genius director of the 20s, reduced in the 30s to making porn films in his own mansion. Wittily scripted and engagingly acted (by Dreyfuss, Jessica Harper, Veronica Cartwright, and Bob Hoskins), the film restricts all its action to a few hours in the director’s mansion, and is peppered liberally with inside movie references. Chances are you’ll either be bored stiff by the conceits or exhilarated; personally, I found it gripping throughout. (JR)

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Stavisky…

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1989). — J.R.

Alain Resnais’ comeback in 1974 after five years’ absence (precipitated by the commercial failure of Je t’aime, je t’aime), and like many other of his films, it has improved with age. Scripted by Jorge Semprun (La guerre est finie, Z), it tells the true story of a notorious international financier (Jean-Paul Belmondo) whose ruin in 1933 led to a major political scandal and his own death. While the script isn’t always lucid — some attempts to counterpoint Stavisky’s destiny with that of Leon Trotsky, given political asylum in France during the time of the events covered, appear a bit forced — the power of Resnais’ evocative editing is as strong as ever. Using a gorgeous original score by Stephen Sondheim, elegant sets and locations, and beautiful color cinematography by Sacha Vierny, Resnais models his liquid, bittersweet style on Lubitsch, and the shimmering, romantic results are often spellbinding and haunting. With Anny Duperey, Charles Boyer (in what may be his last great screen performance), Michel Lonsdale, Francois Perier, Claude Rich, and, in an early cameo, Gerard Depardieu. (JR)

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Street Of No Return

From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 1994). — J.R.

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After the extensive recutting of his The Big Red One and the virtual shelving of his White Dog, American writer-director Sam Fuller reluctantly chose creative exile in Paris. In many ways the most elaborate and ambitious of his post-American features is this 1989 noir, an adaptation (by Fuller and producer Jacques Bral) of a David Goodis novel that was shot in Portugal. It stars Keith Carradine as a famous pop singer who winds up on skid row after he falls for a mysterious woman and gets his throat cut by her gangster boyfriend; much of the story is told in flashback after he’s arrested during a race riot. Recognizably (and enjoyably) Fuller-esque in its caustic violence, its punchy yellow-press dialogue, and its campy sensationalism, the movie is hampered — to the point of becoming weirdly discombobulated — by its use of Lisbon locations to stand in for American ones; the experience is every bit as disconcerting as Anthony Perkins’s American accent in Orson Welles’s version of Kafka’s The Trial. The singular vision of Fuller in his late 70s, tied as always to his passionate and radical view of the U.S., Read more

Comic Book Confidential

From the Chicago Reader (June 30, 1989). — J.R.

A very enjoyable documentary survey of American comic books, from their inception in 1933 to the present, by Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann (Imagine the Sound, Poetry in Motion). Newspaper comic strips such as Little Nemo in Slumberland, Krazy Kat, Dick Tracy, Li’l Abner, and Peanuts are omitted, but within the comic-book field, Mann’s reach is fairly broad, extending from diverse superheroes such as Superman and the Fantastic Four to EC Comics to underground artists such as Robert Crumb and Spain Rodrigues to recent figures such as Art Spiegelman, Lynda Barry, and Sue Coe. Jazzy graphic devices are employed to represent the work, including simplified animation and individual frames accompanied by the artists reading the captions and dialogue aloud, and the interviews are generally both lively and pertinent. Mann also gets a lot of amusing mileage out of archival footage of anti-comic-book propaganda from the 50s. One misses the kind of in-depth formal analysis given to comics by such overseas experts as Francis Lacassin, but otherwise Mann’s grasp of his subject is lively, penetrating, and affectionate. A Chicago premiere. (JR) (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, June 30 through July 6)

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Parenthood

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1989). — J.R.

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This movie has its share of laughs, but it’s also Ron Howard’s most personal film, and clearly his most ambitious — a multifaceted essay in fictional form about the diverse snares of child rearing. The movie tries for so many things in so many different registers — there are a number of fantasy interludes and raunchy gags along with an overflowing cast of characters (including Steve Martin, Tom Hulce, Rick Moranis, Martha Plimpton, Keanu Reeves, Jason Robards, Mary Steenburgen, and Dianne Wiest) — that the results are often unwieldy, but they’re certainly heartfelt: Howard’s grown-up sentimentality is the perfect antidote to the infantilism of Spielberg and Lucas and their disciples. The film never shies away from real problems, and the complex mix of comedy and seriousness in its treatment of the pitfalls of parenthood steadily grows in feeling and power. The movie may wind up being as messy as it argues that family life is, but it commands admiration and respect. The screenplay is by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, based on a story that they wrote with Howard (1989). (JR)

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When Harry Met Sally . . .

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1989). — J.R.

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Fans of Billy Crystal’s amphibian qualities may be amused, but the rest of us have to contend with a slavish Woody Allen imitation in this New York comedy scripted by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner (1989). Everything from the background music to the jogging dialogue strains to create the atmosphere of an Annie Hall or a Manhattan, with Meg Ryan in the Diane Keaton part, Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby as the best friends/other couple, and half a dozen elderly New York couples periodically discoursing cutely about how they met. The title couple meet on a drive from the University of Chicago to Manhattan in 1977, and the movie charts their gradual and grudging bonding up to the present. Very slickly and glibly put together, with a sharp eye for yuppie decor and accoutrements; even Woody’s habitual, fanciful vision of an all-white New York is respected. 95 min. (JR)

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War Fever [on MATINEE]

This review appeared in the Chicago Reader on February 5, 1993. —J.R.

 

MATINEE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Joe Dante

Written by Charlie Haas and Jerico

With John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub, Kellie Martin, Jesse Lee, Lucinda Jenney, James Villemaire, and Robert Picardo.

I suggested a few new promotional gimmicks for the play — a closed black coffin outside the theater and Oriental incense to get the audiences in the mood. The stage manager agreed to try another of my ideas — Count Dracula would vanish on stage in a cloud of smoke, then suddenly reappear in the audience. Snarling at the frightened spectators, he would again vanish and appear back on stage. I began to learn firsthand the value of good publicity and showmanship.

Adolf Hitler was unwittingly to teach me the lesson again nine years later. Hitler was indirectly responsible for opening the doors of Hollywood for me. — William Castle, Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America: Memoirs of a B-Movie Mogul

It’s not the Russians — it’s Rumble-Rama. Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) in Matinee

As luck would have it, I saw Joe Dante’s ferocious and lighthearted new comedy, Matinee — about John F. Read more

Kids Stuff [THE HUDSUCKER PROXY]

From the April 1, 1994  Chicago Reader. — J.R.

* THE HUDSUCKER PROXY

(Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Joel Coen

Written by Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, and Sam Raimi

With Tim Robbins, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Paul Newman, Charles Durning, John Mahoney, Jim True, and William Cobbs.

A black man called Moses but who might as well be named Rastus serves as the narrator for the opening and closing segments of Ethan and Joel Coen’s The Hudsucker Proxy. A janitor type who takes care of the giant clock near the top of the Hudsucker Industries building, an art-deco skyscraper in midtown Manhattan, Moses (William Cobbs) knows everything of importance there is to know about Hudsucker Industries, including all of its secrets. And in case you’re wondering how he knows, the Coen brothers have a ready answer: this is Hollywood, and like every other figure in the movie, Moses is a Hollywood cliché. In old-fashioned studio pictures, black janitors or clock tenders with names like Moses are chock-full of down-home wisdom as well as concrete information about what all those funny white folks is doing.

Resurrecting a racial stereotype like Moses for a 90s comedy may sound dubious, but I suspect the Coens would have an answer to that as well. Read more

Recommended Viewing: Travel Ban

Because everything that we call news qualifies in some ways as propaganda that seeks to entertain as well as engage us, what we’re usually seeking is entertaining propaganda. From this standpoint, one of the most watchable and entertaining things I’ve seen lately is Travel Ban: Make America Laugh Again, a lively documentary about Middle Eastern standup comedians in the U.S. It’s every bit as funny and as lively as Bill Maher’s Real Time, and it’s well worth an hour and a half of anyone’s time. [10/14/2018]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnT1sKFu7XM

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The Jester And The Queen

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1989). — J.R.

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Since the 1960s, when she did brilliant, radical work (Something Different, Daisies, Fruit of Paradise) that arguably made her the most inventive living Czech filmmaker, Vera Chytilova has had a checkered, uneven career. This is in part because, unlike such compatriots as Passer and Forman, she chose to remain in her country, where her work has ranged from bouncy sitcom (The Apple Game) to fairly unabashed state propaganda (Prague) to more ambitious fare (Prefab Story). This feature — adapted by her and Bolislav Polivka from a comic stage piece he wrote, and starring Polivka (a gifted mime) and his real-life wife Chantal Poulainova — is probably Chytilova’s best since the 60s. A quixotic custodian of a castle (Polivka) serves as a guide to a German tourist (Jiri Kodet) and his French fiancee (Poulainova); he imagines himself as a medieval court jester, with Poulainova as queen, and the film switches back and forth between the real characters and their fantasy counterparts. As eclectic and as aggressive a stylist as Charles Mingus, Chytilova employs wide-angle lenses, dizzying camera movements, and restless editing; as in Daisies, her fascination with power and gender roles projects a dangerous, Dionysian sexuality, and the trilingual dialogue spoken by the three leads adds complexity to the proceedings. Read more

A Note on the Demographics of My Web Site

According to Google Analytics, 81.8% of the 4,052 visitors to jonathanrosenbaum.net over the past week, who paid 6,035 visits to this site, were new visitors, and only 18.2% were returning visitors. Why is this the case?I have no idea. These visitors came from 139 countries, and I’m almost equally puzzled by the fact that most of them by far (almost 40% of the total) are between 25 and 34 years old, less than half my own age, and male (about 70%)–at least among the 32% that Google Analytics apparently knows about. The relevant charts showing this information are below. [10/12/2019]

 

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When Worlds Collide [WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT]

From the Chicago Reader (June 24, 1988). — J.R.


WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman

With Bob Hoskins, Joanna Cassidy, Christopher Lloyd, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, and the voices of Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner.

Imagine, if you can, that the characters who appear in animated cartoons actually exist. A repressed minority and endangered species known as Toons, they live on the fringes of Hollywood in 1947 in a ghetto known as Toontown; when they aren’t working for Disney or the other cartoon studios, they take on menial positions as waitresses, bartenders, cigarette girls, bouncers, and entertainers — at a segregated club called the Ink and Paint. (Among the acts at this dive are Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, who perform a duet on two pianos, and a vocalist named Jessica, a curvy vamp who’s a human Toon, accompanied by the bebop crows from Dumbo.)

Imagine, as well, that the live-action 40s Hollywood that these Toons are working in is the world of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, or at least that world as it was revised and “updated” by Robert Towne when he scripted Chinatown in the 70s. In the place of Chandler’s Marlowe and Towne’s Jake Gittes is Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a gumshoe whose jobs are mainly Toon-related, and whose partner and brother Teddy was killed a few years ago when an unknown Toon dropped a piano on the brothers, considerably dampening Eddie’s sense of humor and appreciation of Toons in the process. Read more