From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 2000). — J.R.
It isn’t surprising that John C. Richards and James Flamberg won the prize for best screenplay at the 2000 Cannes film festival; this offbeat and unpredictable comedy-thriller throws so many curveballs, one right after another, that I doubt I’ve had more fun at an American movie this year. You should know as little in advance about the plot as possible, so let’s just say that the title heroine (Renee Zellweger), a poorly treated housewife in a small town in Kansas who’s addicted to a daytime soap and smitten with one of its main characters (Greg Kinnear), drives out west to find him, with a couple of bickering hit men on her tail. The latter are played by Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock — who may be the most exciting tragicomic duo to come along since Martin and Lewis and at the very least deserve a sitcom or comic strip detailing their further exploits. There’s a lot going on in this movie about fantasy fulfillment and folie a deux in general, and one of the most remarkable things about it is that it was directed by Neil LaBute, the writer-director of the highly misanthropic In the Company of Men and Your Friends & Neighbors; this starts out with a similarly nasty edge and then turns warmer, funnier, and perhaps even wiser by the minute.… Read more »
One of my first long reviews for the Chicago Reader (September 11, 1987). Reseeing the movie almost three decades later, shortly before being flown to New York to be interviewed about it for a Japanese documentary, I liked it even more, and would give it four stars if I was reviewing it today. — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Juzo Itami
With Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Koji Yakusho, Ken Watanabe, Nobuo Nakamura, and Mariko Okada.
True, we eat to preserve ourselves from dying. But cooking, the moment of preparing foods . . . is a pause in the most relentless of natural processes, a moment when the process is retarded, when the food exists as itself, no longer a dead thing, not yet assimilated to a living thing. It exists in a moment out of time, and can therefore become a source of esthetic pleasure — small, fleeting, often deceptive, yet a true esthetic object. So brief is its moment of objectivity, this bit of food, that it quivers with the life it came from and with the life it goes toward — and yet, always, it partakes of a stillness that transforms time. The raw stuff has become food — worked upon, transformed by love and care, made proper with a name — and it is a part, if of a stew, of all other stews ever made and ever yet to be made.… Read more »
From the June 1982 American Film. — J.R.
Fans of the brilliant, eccentric, and pioneering film critic Manny Farber who have been regretting his recent absence from the scene simply haven’t been looking in the right places. In fact, the sixty-five-year-old writer, teacher, and former carpenter has been a painter even longer than he’s been a critic, and over the past few years he’s been doing what he calls “auteur” paintings — canvases that recast the subjects and methods of his criticism in a number of fascinating ways.
Using a bird’s-eye view of small objects on a stagelike platform, his paintings, paens to such directors as Howard Hawks [see Howard Hawks II, 1977, 472 x 500, above], Sam Peckinpah, Marguerite Duras, and William Wellman illuminate the filmmakers’ styles and themes. “The compositions and structures are always always based on my take on the directors,” Farber says. “And they’re critical in the fact that I’m usually going away from what I think is known territory, in painting as well as in movies.”
One example of Farber’s oddball approach is his Stan & Ollie, which is full of references to the comedies of Laurel and Hardy, but scarcely uses their faces at all.… Read more »