Daily Archives: January 23, 2021

Character Flaws [MAJOR PAYNE]

From the Chicago Reader (March 24, 1995). I must confess that I’m immensely grateful that I no longer remember anything more than a stray detail or two about the dozen movies cited in the first paragraph, including the film under review. — J.R.

Major Payne *

Directed by Nick Castle

Written by Dean Lorey, Damon Wayans, and Gary Rosen

With Wayans, Karyn Parsons, Steven Martini, Andrew Harrison Leeds, Joda Blaire-Hershman, Stephen Coleman, and Orlando Brown.

It’s hard to remember when the mainstream releases have been as dismal as the offerings of the past few weeks. Admittedly, I haven’t seen everything, so it’s possible I missed the odd trick or two. But the rewards of The Quick and the Dead, Federal Hill, The Walking Dead, Losing Isaiah, Outbreak, Shallow Grave, Tall Tale, Circle of Friends, Bye Bye, Love, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Muriel’s Wedding, and Major Payne have been so paltry that I’ve been reluctant to search out further punishment. If there’s an element that unites this disparate dozen, it’s an absence of characters — an absence stemming from a lack of consistent vision of what characters are supposed to be.… Read more »

Black-And-White World [BLACK GIRL]

From the Chicago Reader, April 21, 1995. It’s lamentable that, although Black Girl is now available on DVD from New Yorker, the color sequence in it appears in black and white. (In fact, I only saw this sequence in color for the first time when I showed this film in a course on world cinema of the 60s that I taught in Chicago in 2008.) To see this sequence in color, order the film’s BFI edition from Amazon UK. — J.R.

Black Girl

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Ousmane Sembène

With Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Momar Nar Sene, Anne-Marie Jelinck, Robert Fontaine, Ibrahima Boy, and the voices of Toto Bissainthe, Robert Marcy, and Sophie Leclerc.

If you trace African film back to its first fiction feature, it is only 30 years old. Yet far from being underdeveloped, it begins on a more sophisticated level than any other cinema in the world. By some accounts Ousmane Sembène’s hour-long Black Girl was made in 1965, by others 1966, a characteristic ambiguity when it comes to African movies. Do you date them according to when they were made or when they were first shown? And given the scant and largely unreliable print sources that we have to check, how can we be sure about either date?… Read more »

Sex and the Single Codger (THE LAST GOOD TIME)

This appeared in the May 5, 1995 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

The Last Good Time

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Bob Balaban

Written by Balaban and John McLaughlin

With Armin Mueller-Stahl,Olivia d’Abo, Lionel Stander,Maureen Stapleton, Kevin Corrigan, Adrian Pasdar, and Zohra Lampert.

Bob Balaban, a native Chicagoan who’s best known as a prolific movie and stage actor, has directed only three features to date. I haven’t seen his second feature, My Boyfriend’s Back (1993), which some people tell me I’m better off having missed, but Parents, his first, was one of the most auspicious debuts of 1989.

Despite the radical differences between Parents and The Last Good Time in terms of genre, subject, style, and tone, they’re clearly the work of the same filmmaker. Part of this has to do with a precise feeling for place and a profound grasp of what sitting alone in a room feels like, even when other people are present. The solitary character in Parents is a ten-year-old boy who’s living with his parents in tacky 50s American suburbia. The monstrous (if typical) ranch-style house where they live is seen basically just as the boy experiences it — an expressionist, wide-angle nightmare etched in “cherry pink and apple blossom white” (to quote the song heard over the opening credits) that matches his parents’ taste and hypocrisy.… Read more »