Daily Archives: February 11, 2022

Master Thief (FEMME FATALE)

This appeared in the Chicago Reader’s November 8, 2002 issue. –J.R.

Femme Fatale

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Brian De Palma

With Antonio Banderas, Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, Peter Coyote, Gregg Henry, Rie Rasmussen, and Eriq Ebouaney.

By my count, Femme Fatale is Brian De Palma’s 26th feature, and as I watched it the first time two months ago I found myself capitulating to its inspired formalist madness — something I’ve resisted in his films for the past 30-odd years. De Palma’s latest isn’t so much an improvement on his earlier work as a grand synthesis of it — as if he set out to combine every previous thriller he’d made in one hyperbolically frothy cocktail. So we get split-screen framing; bad girls; sweetie-pie male suckers; verbal and physical abuse; lots of blood; a melodramatic story stretched out over many years; slow-motion, lyrically rendered catastrophes; noirish lighting schemes favoring venetian blinds; it-was-all-a-dream plot twists; scrambled and recomposed plot mosaics; obsessional repetitions of sound and image; pastiches of familiar musical pieces (in this case Ravel and Satie); nearly constant camera movements; and ceiling-height camera angles. Best of all, we often get several of these things simultaneously. (One of the few De Palma movies for which he takes sole script credit, Femme Fatale is nothing if not personal.) Read more


From the Chicago Reader (December 6, 1996). – J.R.


Breaking the Waves

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by

Lars von Trier

With Emily Watson, Stellan

Skarsgard, Katrin Cartlidge,

Jean-Marc Barr, Adrian Rawlins,

Jonathan Hackett, and Udo Kier.

Ever since I first encountered Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves in Cannes, where it won the grand jury prize, I’ve been debating within myself about it, because I find it simultaneously shameless, boldly original, contrived, highly affecting, transparent, cynical, hopeful, ironic, sincere, ugly, beautiful, and downright baffling. In a way, my debate isn’t so different from that of Bess (Emily Watson) — the innocent and high strung (or unstrung) young heroine who lives on the northwest coast of Scotland in the early 70s and for much of the film carries on a furious internal debate with “God,” speaking her own part in a squeaky high voice and God’s in a patriarchal low one.

Where Bess, a devout believer, has God, I, a nonbeliever, have the late Carl Dreyer, the film artist von Trier and I both revere above all others. And where Bess speaks to herself not as God but as her sense of God (which overlaps on rare occasion with her sense of Jan), I speak to myself not as Dreyer but as my sense of Dreyer’s achievement (which overlaps on rare occasion with my sense of von Trier’s achievement). Read more


From the Chicago Reader (August 6, 2004). — J.R.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Takeshi Kitano

With “Beat” Takeshi [Kitano], Tadanobu Asano, Michiyo Ookusu, Yui Natsukawa, and Gadarukaru Taka.


*** (A must-see)

Directed by Michael Mann

Written by Stuart Beattie

With Tom Cruise, Jamie Foxx, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Berg, Javier Bardem, Bruce McGill, and Irma P. Hall.

What do Takeshi Kitano’s Zatoichi and Michael Mann’s Collateral, both opening this week, have in common? Judging by what some of my colleagues have been saying, they’re both effective action movies directed by talented genre specialists. But I would argue that this description applies only to Collateral.

Although Mann stretched himself somewhat with Ali, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Insider, he’s first and foremost a maker of adroit crime thrillers: Thief, Manhunter, Heat, and now Collateral. Kitano, on the other hand, is actually an adventurous director of art movies who periodically defaults to the crime genre in order to finance his other projects. In this respect he resembles Clint Eastwood, who, since emerging as an auteur in his own right, has alternated between making action movies for the studio and art movies for himself. Read more