From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1998). — J.R.
If one can accept the revolting notion that ants are just like people — rather than the more demonstrable premise that some film workers, film publicists, and filmgoers are a little like ants — then one might easily find this 1998 computer-animation effort from Dreamworks as cute as its title. The real premise is that ants are just like superstars — people like Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sylvester Stallone, Dan Aykroyd, Danny Glover, Gene Hackman, Christopher Walken, and Jennifer Lopez, all of whom have lent their voices and screen personalities to ant characters. For example, Allen, in truth an emblem of herd instinct, inevitably is employed to represent individuality — in the form of an ant named Z who resembles E.T. and kvetches a lot. Disneyfied anthropomorphism is the name of the game here, and I was left wondering whether Pepsi paid for the use of Give Peace a Chance (rendered here as Give Z a Chance). I suspect an account of all the complex business transactions would be more fun than anything in the movie, where you can’t see a blue sky that doesn’t resemble the Dreamworks logo. PG, 83 min.… Read more »
A surprising consequence of my posting “My 25 Favorite Films of the 2000s (so far)” on this site on June 21 was that visits to my site suddenly quadrupled, going from about a thousand per day to well over 4,000. This was encouraging — and for me a good response to Robert Koehler’s charge that such list-making was pointless (because the need for viewing suggestions in a context where there are too many choices strikes me — and apparently many others — as self-evident).
Yet the haste with which I put together my original list also led to some subsequent second thoughts and demurrals. So with this in mind, I’ve come up with a new list of 50 instead of 25, substituting one title in the original list after my friend Janet Bergstrom persuaded me that Chantal Akerman’s From the Other Side was a much worthier example of Akerman’s work than Down There (which I’d listed partially as a provocation, without a sufficient amount of reflection). As with my original list of titles, I’ve stuck to the same rule of including only one film by each filmmaker, and the order is alphabetical. And again, with very few exceptions (e.g.,… Read more »
Adapted and condensed from “Comparaisons à Cannes,” translated by Jean-Luc Mengus, Traﬁc no. 19, été 1996. -– J.R.
In his introduction to Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan
records the consternation of one of his editors that “seventy-ﬁve
per cent of your material is new. A successful book cannot venture
to be more than ten per cent new.” From the vantage point of this year’s
Cannes Festival, a compulsion to contextualize everything new in
relation to something familiar reveals a comparable problem. Indeed, the
kind of movie pitch parodied at the beginning of Altman’s The Player,
in which every project becomes some version of one or two previous
hits — “The Graduate, Part 2,” “The Manchurian Candidate meets
Ghost” — has by now become a kind of journalistic shorthand for the
critic eager to make the ﬁlm fully accessible once it’s released. This
necessity of establishing old references in relation to new ideas is above
all an indication of how thoroughly the priorities of the ﬁlm business
have inﬁltrated ﬁlm criticism.
As useful as this practice is, it often functions as a kind of nervous
tic. For the writer or speaker too lazy to perform the less alluring task
of description, it poses a constant temptation — a means of short-
circuiting the critical process through a kind of magic or alchemy that
suddenly makes the invisible visible.… Read more »
It’s possible that I overrated Twilight and underrated The Big Lebowski in this Chicago Reader piece (March 6, 1998); I’d have to resee both these films in order to be sure. —J.R.
The Big Lebowski
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Joel and Ethan Coen
With Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Turturro, David Thewlis, Ben Gazzara, and Jon Polito.
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Robert Benton
Written by Benton and Richard Russo
With Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Gene Hackman, James Garner, Stockard Channing, Reese Witherspoon, and Giancarlo Esposito.
It’s purely a matter of chance that two neo-Chandler mysteries with contemporary Los Angeles settings are opening this week. But although Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Big Lebowski and Robert Benton’s Twilight differ in tone, style, milieu, and generational perspective, both films arrive at their private-eye stories through the unorthodox detour of the western. In Benton’s case the western reference is harder to detect but central to the conception throughout; the film even climaxes with the equivalent of a western showdown and shoot-out. In the Coens’ case it’s much more blatant but proves to be window dressing.… Read more »