Daily Archives: September 8, 2022


A catalogue entry for the 2022 Viennale. — J.R.

In contrast to the relative timelessness of Elaine May’s first three features, Ishtar (1987) is a satirical farce plainly grounded in the era of Ronald Reagan, where a peace settlement between a North African dictator and his rebellious populace can be negotiated by a cynical American show-biz agent (Jack Weston) on behalf of his talentless songwriter clients. These are Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman, both cast against type as a gauche Texan without sexual confidence and a self-styled stud calling himself The Hawk.

Yet the most striking thing about the disastrous U.S. reception of this comedy was the blindness of its audience to its political target — American stupidity in the Middle East, whether innocent (Beatty and Hoffman) or corrupt (Charles Grodin’s CIA agent), years before our dimwitted American assaults on Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan yielded much bad music of their own. May’s unique capacity to make all her monstrous characters (along with Isabelle Adjani’s “leftist” rebel) weirdly lovable is what keeps this movie tender even when its ridicule is at its most corrosive. And the fact that May, Beatty, and Hoffman all collaborated with Paul Williams on composing their awful/wonderful songs only proves how much competitive team spirit prevails. Read more

Collected Consciousness [on MYSTERIOUS OBJECT AT NOON]

From the March 22, 2002 Chicago Reader. I’ve seen a good many more Apichatpong Weerasethakul films since then, including many of his early shorts, and he continues to amaze me with his range, versatility, and poetics. — J.R.

Mysterious Object at Noon

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Written by Thai villagers

With Somsri Pinyopol, Duangjai Hiransri, To Hanudomlapr, Kannikar Narong, Kongkiert Komsiri, and Mee Madmoon.

In America the cultural objects we know consist mainly of things publicists know how to advertise, journalists know how to describe, and teachers know how to classify. This might not be so bad if publicists, journalists, teachers, and the organizations they work for didn’t have fairly rigid ideas about cultural objects — about where they come from and what we’re supposed to do with them. Movie entertainment, we’re told, is produced in this country and Hong Kong; movie art is more apt to be produced in Europe. So when Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar makes an arty thriller — such as the 1997 Open Your Eyes — it gets shown here in a few art houses; when his film is remade as an even artier, though not as good, Hollywood thriller — last year’s Vanilla Sky — it winds up in thousands of shopping malls. Read more

The Wedding March

From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 2002). — J.R.


I seem to be in the minority in considering Erich von Stroheim’s 1928 extravaganza to be less than a masterpiece. It’s a bit obvious and redundant (apart from a brilliantly edited and extended mutual flirtation sequence), and it doesn’t compare with Blind Husbands, Foolish Wives, Greed, The Merry Widow, or Queen Kelly. But it’s exceptionally subtle and witty at times (one highlight is an early sequence in two-strip Technicolor), and even minor Stroheim is considerably better than most other filmmakers’ major work. The director, also one of the great silent actors, plays the lead, a flirtatious prince who agrees to marry for money to help his parents (ZaSu Pitts is the expectant bride, a crippled heiress) but falls in love with a poor woman (Fay Wray) shortly before the wedding. At great expense Stroheim re-created the decadent splendor of the Vienna of his youth, then saw his film mutilated by Paramount; the first half of the story is all that survives today in any form. 113 min. (JR)

TheWeddingMarchposter Read more

Naturally Shortsighted [HUMAN NATURE]

From the Chicago Reader (April 12, 2002). — J.R.

Human Nature

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Michel Gondry

Written by Charlie Kaufman

With Patricia Arquette, Tim Robbins, Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Robert Forster, Mary Kay Place, Rosie Perez, and Miguel Sandoval.

The energizing comic wackiness of Being John Malkovich made me wonder what to expect next from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze. But their latest collaboration, Human Nature — which Kaufman wrote, Michel Gondry (a music video director, like Jonze) directed, and Jonze produced, along with three other people, including Kaufman — is disappointing. It’s almost as wacky in spots as Being John Malkovich, and at first I found it funny and provocative. But by the end of the ride I felt I’d been taken for one. Then I remembered that Being John Malkovich had also left me with a somewhat sour feeling; ultimately Kaufman had overplayed his hand.

The diminishing returns may have something to do with the filmmakers’ postmodernist approach — the flip attitude that puts somewhat mocking quotation marks around everything, so that a more apt title of this movie might be “Human” “Nature.” This makes me wonder if the TV backgrounds of Kaufman, Gondry, and Jonze have something to do with their built-in skepticism. Read more