Daily Archives: July 3, 2020

The Sweet Hereafter

From the Chicago Reader (December 28, 1997). — J.R.

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Adapting a beautiful novel by Russell Banks, Atom Egoyan (Exotica) may finally have bitten off a little more than he can chew, but the power and reach of this undertaking are still formidable. At the tragic center of the story are the deaths of many children in a small town when a school bus spins out of control and sinks into a frozen lake (depicted in an extraordinary single shot that calls to mind a Brueghel landscape) and what this threatens to do to the community, especially after a big-city lawyer (a miscast, albeit effective, Ian Holm) turns up and tries to initiate litigation. Egoyan restructures Banks’s novel (which is narrated by several characters in turn and proceeds chronologically) into the kind of mosaic narrative used in his recent features and in most of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s novels (in which several different time frames and narrative lines are intercut and proceed simultaneously). He also adds some material about the Pied Piper, capturing the essence of some parts of the book but simplifying most of the characters and making the mountainous setting more mythical. Virtually all of Egoyan’s features revolve around emotional traumas, but this one seems less obsessive — for good and ill.… Read more »

Heartbreak Motel [on TAPE]

From the Chicago Reader (November 16, 2001). — J.R.

Tape ***

Directed by Richard Linklater

Written by Stephen Belber

With Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard, and Uma Thurman.

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It seems that the less we know about a subject, the likelier we are to be assertive about it. And journalists play a big role in making people feel knowledgeable about what they don’t know. That’s why we keep encountering more and more twaddle about the state of world cinema even though the growth of digital video makes it impossible for anyone to keep up with the state of local cinema in any large city, much less any country, still less the world. All journalists can honestly say is that more and more works are being made and that keeping up with them is no longer possible. It was only days after an Iranian friend and I completed a book about Abbas Kiarostami that a New York critic E-mailed us about two new Kiarostami works we hadn’t even heard of — a ten-minute short for an episodic feature and a fiction feature in DV that he’s in the final stages of editing.

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DV equipment is so easy to shoot with –it’s compact, light, inexpensive, unobtrusive — that it’s hard to keep up with how filmmakers are using the technology.… Read more »

Wonders of the World [The Ten Best Films of 1997]

From the Chicago Reader (January 9, 1998). — J.R.

Do movies come from the tooth fairy? When you consider the way that they’re often treated in this culture — in particular, what films are made available and are therefore considered “important” — the working hypothesis appears to be that movies magically appear and disappear. The general idea is that the designated tooth fairies of product flow — producers, directors, distributors, exhibitors, and critics — make things happen and the only thing viewers are supposed to do is show up for the movie, rent the video, or decide to do neither.

Most viewers understandably don’t want to be bothered with the machinations that determine which movies turn up and which don’t. To tell the truth, most critics don’t want to be bothered with these matters either. But sustaining such innocence may involve too high a price. Readers who complain that 1997 was a mediocre year for movies are probably counting only the multiplex entries, only one of which made it onto my ten-best list — though why anyone would eliminate everything else in a city like Chicago remains a mystery, perhaps explainable by saturation advertising, mass-media complicity in making everything but multiplex movies look unimportant, and the supposed inconvenient locations of some theaters.… Read more »