From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 1999). — J.R.
Wes Anderson’s second feature (1998) has some of the charm and youthful comic energy of its predecessor (Bottle Rocket), also coscripted by Owen Wilson, but it also represents a quantum leap. Jason Schwartzman plays an ambitious working-class tenth grader who’s flunking out of a private school — the Rushmore of the title — because he’s too engrossed in extracurricular activities. To make matters worse, he develops a crush on a young widow (Olivia Williams) who’s a grammar-school teacher there. His two best friends are a schoolmate who’s much younger and a disaffected millionaire alumnus (Bill Murray) who’s much older, and part of the lift of this movie is that it creates a utopian democracy among different age groups. Things come to a crisis when the millionaire becomes the hero’s romantic rival. Stylistically fresh and full of sweetness that never cloys, this is contemporary Hollywood filmmaking at its near best. R, 93 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (February 5, 1999). — J.R.
Raul Ruiz’s first mainstream release, which is getting its Chicago premiere at an art house rather than a multiplex, may not be one of his best — given his hundred or so shorts and features, there’s a lot of competition, and this is one of the rare Ruiz movies scripted by someone else. But it certainly provides some provocative and enjoyable jolts. Anne Parillaud plays a professional assassin in Seattle who dreams she’s a vulnerable newlywed honeymooning in the Caribbean and recovering from a rape; she also plays a vulnerable bride who dreams she’s an assassin. William Baldwin plays the significant other of both women, bearing the same name, and the contrapuntal play between Parillaud the victimizer and Parillaud the victim is pushed to dizzying extremes. Beautifully shot by Robby Muller, with periodic allusions in the score (by Ruiz regular Jorge Arriagada) to Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock, this head-scratching thriller should keep you entertained throughout, at least if you’re feeling adventurous. Ruiz didn’t even have final cut, but he clearly enjoyed himself making this film. Duane Poole wrote the distinctly Ruizian script, featuring twists at every turn, and the costars include Graham Greene and Bulle Ogier.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1998). — J.R.
A middle-aged man who’s contemplating suicide drives around the hilly, dusty outskirts of Tehran trying to find someone who will bury him if he succeeds and retrieve him if he fails. This minimalist yet powerful and life-enhancing 1997 feature by Abbas Kiarostami (Where Is the Friend’s House?, Life and Nothing More, Through the Olive Trees) never explains why the man wants to end his life, yet every moment in his daylong odyssey carries a great deal of poignancy and philosophical weight. Kiarostami, one of the great filmmakers of our time, is a master at filming landscapes and constructing parablelike narratives whose missing pieces solicit the viewer’s active imagination. Taste of Cherry actually says a great deal about what it was like to be alive in the 1990s, and despite its somber theme, this masterpiece has a startling epilogue that radiates with wonder and euphoria. In Farsi with subtitles. 99 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (November 13, 1992). — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Bernt Capra
Written by Floyd Byars, Fritjof Capra, and Bernt Capra
With Liv Ullmann, Sam Waterston, John Heard, and Ione Skye.
Made two years ago, Mindwalk is finally arriving in Chicago (at Facets Multimedia for a week), after having been announced and then withdrawn as an attraction at the Fine Arts many months ago. However, the surprise isn’t so much that the movie is turning up here late as that it’s turning up at all. In this virtual talkfest about Serious Matters set on Mont-Saint-Michel — the islet in the English Channel a mile off the coast of France — three people discuss the state of the world over the course of an afternoon. An American senator (Sam Waterston), a conservative Democrat who has just done poorly in a presidential primary, has gone to visit an expatriate poet friend (John Heard), and the two of them meet by chance a disillusioned European-born physicist (Liv Ullmann). She does most of the talking while they all walk around Mont-Saint-Michel; the two men chiefly ask questions and occasionally offer a skeptical rejoinder or corroborating gloss. The only other character of any importance is the physicist’s daughter (Ione Skye).… Read more »
From the July 1, 1998 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
An uncharacteristically somber and mainly straightforward 1997 drama by prolific Chilean-born French postsurrealist Raul Ruiz (Three Lives and Only One Death). Catherine Deneuve plays a defense lawyer whose young client (Ruiz standby Melvil Poupaud) has murdered his aunt. (The aunt had belonged to a psychoanalytic group that believed criminal tendencies form by the age of five, an issue prominently debated throughout the film.) Over time the young man begins to associate the defense lawyer with his dead aunt while she identifies him with her dead sona relationship that grows even stranger once the two become lovers. The film has strong performances by Deneuve and Poupaud as well as by Monique Melinand (as the lawyer’s mother), Michel Piccoli (as the head of a psychoanalytic group), and Bernadette Lafont. Beautifully shot and relatively concentrated for Ruiz — who usually prefers to ramble, constructing baroque visual tangents to his fictions — it delivers the sting of a sharp novella. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2000). — J.R.
A failure, but an endlessly fascinating one. Between making his only SF film (The Damned) and his first successful art movie (The Servant), blacklisted expatriate Joseph Losey directed this 1962 film, adapted by Hugo Butler and Evan Jones from a James Hadley Chase novel, about a washed-up Welsh novelist of working-class origins (Stanley Baker) who unsuccessfully pursues a high-class hooker (Jeanne Moreau) while effectively driving his wife (Virna Lisi) to suicide. The film is pretentious and plainly derivative; I’ve always regarded as unwarranted and philistine Pauline Kael’s ridicule of Antonioni, Resnais, and Fellini in an article of the period called “The Come-Dressed-as-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe Parties”, but she might well have included Losey’s film, with its clear debt to all three. It’s a painful testament of sorts (Losey himself can be glimpsed in a bar during a pan that also introduces the hero, showing his personal stake in the proceedings from the outset), though it makes wonderful use of locations in Venice and Rome and features an excellent jazz score by Michel Legrand (with a pivotal use of three Billie Holiday cuts). A decadent period piece and a sadomasochistic view of sexual relations, this singular, resonant, and at times even inspiring mannerist mess is far more interesting than a good many modest successes.… Read more »
From The May 22, 2000 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
This is obviously a sequel, but whether its true predecessor is Mission: Impossible, Face/Off, or Dr. No is less certain. Like its predecessor, it stars coproducer Tom Cruise, costars Ving Rhames, was written at least partially by prestigious hack Robert Towne (who takes solo credit here), and whimsically glorifies the CIA as a band of efficient sophisticates devoted to inventing new ways for its employees to perform fancy stunts. Like Face/Off, it was directed by John Woo, features a fair amount of sadistic cruelty, and dispenses so many rubber masks to allow the characters to swap identities that no hero or villain winds up carrying any moral weight at all. (How they sometimes manage to imitate one another’s voices is poorly explained, but credibility is so thin throughout that this movie only came into its own when it became available on video and thus truly disposable.) Like Dr. No, it’s a piece of nostalgia for colonialism (the main urban setting is Sydney), Playboy, Cary Grant, high-tech gadgets, and apocalyptic fantasies, and if Cruise makes an unconvincing Bond when compared to Sean Connery, Anthony Hopkins is perfectly cast as Cruise’s chief, and Thandie Newton — as a thief enlisted by the CIA to fuck her former boyfriend, villain Dougray Scott — arguably makes an even better babe than Ursula Andress.… Read more »
From the August 2, 1991 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
For my money, this is funnier than both Naked Guns combined, even down to the final joke-strewn credits. Putatively a parody of Top Gun, it also includes send-ups of Dances With Wolves, Full Metal Jacket, The Fabulous Baker Boys, Superman, and even Gone With the Wind. Directed and cowritten (with Pat Proft) by Jim Abrahams, one of the three writer-directors who launched Airplane!, this shares more with that 1980 laugh getter than an exclamation point and Lloyd Bridges; there’s also much of the same pleasure in milking cliches and ridiculing poker-faced straight men with their own compliance (Charlie Sheen is every bit as well cast here as Leslie Nielsen is in the Naked Gun movies), and the airborne antics are realized with a lovely sense of craft. With Cary Elwes, a very sexy Valeria Golino, Kevin Dunn, Jon Cryer, William O’Leary, Kristy Swanson, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Webster Place, Ford City, Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Golf Mill, Lincoln Village, Water Tower)
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From the September 1, 1995 Chicago Reader. I was shocked to discover that this is the only Kelly Reichardt film I ever reviewed in the Reader. Having just seen the amazing First Cow for the first time, I can’t understand how I ever allowed this to happen. If you decide to voyage out anywhere during the coronavirus lockdown, you can’t afford to miss this mysterious mind-bender and the singular world it simultaneously creates and discovers. — J.R.
A canny, contemporary portrait of shiftlessness, this adept first feature (1993) by American independent Kelly Reichardt, set in the Florida Everglades, is about people so bored they jump at the chance to go on the lam — taking off even before they’ve committed a crime. Reichardt has an original sense of how to put together a film sequence and an effective way of guiding her cast of unknowns through an absurdist comedy of errors. With Lisa Bowman, Larry Fessenden, Dick Russell, Stan Kaplan, and Michael Buscemi. (JR)
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The cinema has produced few more impressive pieces of investigative journalism than this epic 1971 documentary by Marcel Ophuls — 260 minutes long, plus a 15-minute intermission — about the German occupation of France. Ophuls, son of the great Max Ophuls, devotes the first part to the fall of France, the second part to everyday life during the Occupation up through the Liberation. In both parts he focuses on the city of Clermont-Ferrand, not far from Vichy, and the heart of the film consists of relaxed interviews with survivors — French as well as German, resistance fighters as well as collaborationists — and newsreels and propaganda films from the period. The interviews are dated somewhat by the dearth of female subjects (only one out of the 36 principal speakers, and a Petain supporter at that); women are often visible, but apart from the occasional interjection they function mainly as domestic decor. One of the film’s abiding strengths is Ophuls’s refusal to rely on easy ironies or facile divisions between heroes and villains, despite his implicit emphasis throughout on ethical issues. Near the beginning and end of the film he employs the unsettling technique of freezing the frame while the subject’s voice continues, which suggests that even the “frozen” past still has fresh things to tell us.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader in July 2000. — J.R.
With the possible exceptions of Killer’s Kiss and A Clockwork Orange all of Stanley Kubrick’s features look better now than when they were first released, and Barry Lyndon, which fared poorly at the box office in 1975, remains his most underrated (though Eyes Wide Shut is already running a close second). This personal, idiosyncratic, and melancholy three-hour adaptation of the Thackeray novel may not be an unqualified artistic success, but it’s still a good deal more substantial and provocative than most critics were willing to admit. Exquisitely shot in natural light (or, in night scenes, candlelight) by John Alcott, it makes frequent use of slow backward zooms that distance us, both historically and emotionally, from its rambling picaresque narrative about an 18th-century Irish upstart (Ryan O’Neal). Despite its ponderous pacing and funereal moods, the film is highly accomplished as a piece of storytelling, and it builds to one of the most suspenseful duels ever staged. It also repays close attention as a complex and fascinating historical meditation, as enigmatic in its way as 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Music Box’s weeklong Kubrick retrospective includes a new print of this and several other films, and it offers an excellent opportunity to reevaluate a filmmaker whose work continues to deepen after his death.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1997). — J.R.
George of the Jungle
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Sam Weisman
Written by Dana Olsen and Audrey Wells
With Brendan Fraser, Leslie Mann, Thomas Haden Church, Holland Taylor, Richard Roundtree, Greg Cruttwell, Abraham Benrubi, and the voice of John Cleese.
There’s no getting around it: George of the Jungle is an amiable, highly ingratiating piece of lowbrow entertainment, and the audience of mainly young children and parents I saw it with on Saturday night clearly had a ball. So did I, for that matter. If consumer advice on where to take your kids is what’s needed, change “worth seeing” into “a must-see.” On the other hand, if I — a nonparent — had to choose between seeing it a second time and seeing the black-and-white Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942) for the third or fourth time on video, I wouldn’t blink before selecting the latter. Both movies, as it happens, are comedies — though klutzy George, who swings on vines directly into trees, is an even more ironic version of the noble savage — but there are also major differences between them that I suspect are generational. I suppose I could rattle on about the reverse-anthropological satire of “civilization” in Tarzan’s New York Adventure, but in George those gags have their counterparts in the plentiful subtitles (for the spoken Swahili) and the jokes derived from them, which are every bit as sophisticated.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 25, 1998). — J.R.\
This unusually charming and touching Ismail Merchant-James Ivory film feels closer to memoir than fiction; it’s drawn from an autobiographical novel by Kaylie Jones (daughter of novelist James Jones), but Ivory, working with his usual screenwriting collaborator, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, reportedly fleshed out the story with some of his own experiences. In “Billy,” the first of the film’s three sections, an expatriate novelist in Paris (Kris Kristofferson) and his wife (Barbara Hershey) adopt a six-year-old French boy who’s initially resented by the couple’s natural daughter. “Francis,” set a few years later, recounts the daughter’s friendship with an eccentric American schoolmate (Anthony Roth Costanzo), and Jane Birkin has a field day as his doting single mother. Yet these last two characters, as well as the family’s maid (Dominique Blanc) and her boyfriend (Isaac de Bankole), disappear in “Daddy,” which follows the family’s return to the States once the siblings are teenagers and the father’s health is deteriorating. The three parts add up to a rather lumpy narrative, and the characters are perceived through a kind of affectionate recollection that tends to idealize them, but they’re so beautifully realized that they linger like cherished friends.… Read more »
A very special movie, about two jazz musicians with Tourette’s syndrome getting acquainted in Greenwich Village. One’s a white 12-year-old pianist (Christopher George Marquette); the other’s a black tenor saxophone player (Gregory Hines). Polly Draper (Thirtysomething), who does a beautiful job of playing the boy’s mother, wrote the sensitive script, which falters only when it reaches for an overly hasty resolution. She’s the wife of jazz pianist Michael Wolff, who’s in charge of the music here and has a mild case of Tourette’s, so she has a particular reason to be thinking about some of the fascinating questions posed hereabout willful and involuntary improvisation and how they might live together. The moments when the story and music become one are sublime, and more generally this is a very sweet and touching story about various West Village people. The jazz milieu is caught with flavor and feeling. With Desmond Robertson, Bill Nunn, and Tony Shalhoub. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »
Originally posted online in Moving Image Source, December 3, 2010. — J.R.
Jacques Tati’s Playtime, a contemporary comedy chronicling a day spent by American tourists and various locals in a studio-built Paris, premiered in 70 mm (or, more precisely, according to Criterion, 65 mm) in Paris on December 16, 1967; at the time it was 152 minutes long, and over the next two months — under pressure from exhibitors, and to avoid an intermission — Tati reduced the length by 15 minutes.
Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a science fiction adventure that stretches roughly from East Africa in the year 4 billion B.C. to the outskirts of Jupiter around 2002, first opened in Cinerama in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 1968, and then, in the same format, in New York the following day and in Los Angeles on April 4, during which time it was 158 minutes long; over the following week, based on his own responses to audience reactions, Kubrick in New York reduced its length by 19 minutes, making it only two minutes longer than the shortened Playtime.
Large-format restorations of both these films, along with David Lean’s 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, are coming this month to the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto for extended runs.… Read more »