Daily Archives: May 2, 2021

Welcome, Stranger [UNCLE NINO & BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE]

From the Chicago Reader (February 18, 2005). — J.R.

Uncle Nino

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Bob Shallcross

With Joe Mantegna, Pierrino Mascarino, Anne Archer, Trevor Morgan, and Gina Mantegna

Because of Winn-Dixie

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Wayne Wang

Written by Joan Singleton

With AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews, and Eva Marie Saint

An uninvited guest joins an already stressed household, causing pandemonium and upsetting the neighbors as well. The preoccupied, absentminded father assumes this obstreperous if good-natured invader is visiting only temporarily, but on and on he stays, irritating almost everyone apart from the young daughter. Eventually the interloper wins everyone over and brings them all together.

That’s the familiar plot of not one but two current commercial releases, both wholesome family pictures. The visitor in Uncle Nino, which opened last week, is the title hero (Pierrino Mascarino), an elderly Italian peasant with a minimal knowledge of English who flies to the U.S. to visit the family of his nephew Robert (Joe Mantegna) after his brother, Robert’s father, dies. The visitor in Because of Winn-Dixie, which opens this week, is also the title hero, a stray dog in a small town in southern bayou country that’s taken in by the ten-year-old heroine, Opal (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of a Baptist preacher (Jeff Daniels).… Read more »

The World in a Beijing Theme Park

From the Chicago Reader (July 29, 2005). — J.R.

The World

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and Written by Jia Zhang-ke

With Zhao Tao, Chen Taishen, Jing Jue, Jiang Zhongwei, Huang Yiqun, Wang Hongwei, Liang Jingdong, Ji Shuai, and Alla Chtcherbakova

The title of Jia Zhang-ke’s 2004 masterpiece, The World — a film that’s hilarious and upsetting, epic and dystopian — is an ironic pun and a metaphor. It’s also the name of the real theme park outside Beijing where most of the action is set and practically all its characters work. “See the world without ever leaving Beijing” is one slogan for the 115-acre park, where a monorail circles scaled-down replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, London Bridge, Saint Mark’s Square, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Pyramids, and even a Lower Manhattan complete with the Twin Towers. Extravagant kitsch like this may offer momentary escape from the everyday, but Jia is interested in showing the everyday activities needed to hold this kitsch in place as well as the alienation in this displaced world — and therefore in the world in general, including the one we know.

Jia, with his choreographed wide-screen long takes in long shot, may be the best cinematic composer of figures in landscapes since Michelangelo Antonioni.… Read more »

The Greatest Film Ever Made?

This appeared in the May 1, 2008 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Last Year at Marienbad ****

DIRECTED BY ALAIN RESNAIS

WRITTEN BY ALAIN ROBBE-GRILLET

WITH GIORGIO ALBERTAZZI, DELPHINE SEYRIG, AND SACHA PITOEFF

It’s too bad Last Year at Marienbad was the most fashionable art-house movie of 1961-’62, because as a result it’s been maligned and misunderstood ever since. The chic allure of Alain Resnais’ second feature — a maddening, scintillating puzzle set in glitzy surroundings — produced a backlash, and one reason its defenders and detractors tend to be equally misguided is that both respond to the controversy rather than to the film itself.

“I am now quite prepared to claim that Marienbad is the greatest film ever made, and to pity those who cannot see this,” proclaimed one French critic, even as others ridiculed what they perceived as the film’s pretentious solemnity — overlooking or missing its playful, if poker-faced, use of parody as well as its outright scariness. Dwight Macdonald, who admitted to seeing the movie three times in a week, confessed in Esquire that it made him feel like a dog in one of Pavlov’s experiments. In the Village Voice, on the other hand, Jonas Mekas claimed that “the film begins and ends in the brain of Alain Robbe-Grillet, who wrote the script” and added, “Its forced intellectualism is sick.”… Read more »