Daily Archives: December 14, 2022


From the April 9, 1993 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

A masterpiece by Stanley Kwan, the greatest Hong Kong film I’ve seen (also known as Ruan Ling Yu and Center Stage). The story of silent film actress Ruan Ling Yu (1910-1935), known as the Garbo of Chinese cinema, it combines documentary with period re-creation, biopic glamour with profound curiosity, and ravishing historical clips with color simulations of the same sequences being shot — all to explore a past that seems more complex, mysterious, and sexy than the present. Maggie Cheung won a well-deserved best actress prize at Berlin for her classy performance in the title role, and a large part of what Kwan does as a director is to create a kind of nimbus around her poise and grace. (If I had to pick Kwan’s Hollywood equivalent, I’d opt for George Cukor.) Kwan also creates a labyrinth of questions around who Ruan was and why she committed suicide — a labyrinth both physical (with beautifully ambiguous uses of black-and-white movie sets) and metaphysical — and keeps these questions perpetually open. You should be prepared for a picture that lasts 146 minutes and invites you to relish every one of them — not only the stylish beauty of an imagined Shanghai film world of the 30s, but also the flat abrasiveness of Kwan chatting with Cheung on video about what all this means and coming up with damn little. Read more

Punch-Drunk Love

From the Chicago Reader (October 4, 2002). — J.R.


The fourth feature of writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson (after Hard Eight, Boogie Nights, and Magnolia) is a stridently wacky romantic comedy that stands or falls on whether you find Adam Sandler funny as a small businessman working out of a warehouse in greater Los Angeles. He didn’t make me laugh once, and neither did his costar Emily Watson, though Philip Seymour Hoffman, in what amounts to a cameo, made me laugh once or twice. I tend to like quirkiness, but this arch effort is so eager to be quirky nearly everything winds up willfully mannered, from Jon Brion’s flashy percussive score to the hyperbolically absurdist plot. Still, I wouldn’t have minded the Hollywood schlock lurking behind the studied weirdness if I’d believed in any of the characters on any level. With Luiz Guzman. 91 min.[2020 postscript: This movie lingers in my memory more pleasantly than this capsule review suggests, which must mean something positive] (JR)

punch-drunk-love2 Read more

Crossing Kelly Reichardt’s Wilderness

Written for the Viennale in August 2020 for a late October publication called Textur #2 and devoted to Kelly Reichardt. — J.R.

  “More nameless things around here than you can shake an eel at.”

— King-Lu in First Cow

I suspect that the first important step in learning how to process Kelly Reichardt’s films is discovering how not to watch them. A few unfortunate viewing habits have already clustered around her seven features to date, fed by buzz-words ranging from “neorealism” (applied ahistorically) to “slow cinema” (an ahistorical term to begin with) — especially inappropriate with a filmmaker so acutely attuned to history, including a capacity to view the present historically — and, in keeping with much auteurist criticism, confusing the personal with the autobiographical. 

Interviewed by Katherine Fusco and Nicole Seymour, the coauthors of a monograph about her, Reichardt rightly resists fully accepting any of these categories,[1] however useful they might appear as journalistic shortcuts. (E.g., J. Hoberman on Wendy and Lucy in the Village Voice: “Reichardt has choreographed one of the most stripped-down existential quests since Vittorio De Sica sent his unemployed worker wandering through the streets of Rome searching for his purloined bicycle, and as heartbreaking a dog story as De Sica’s Umberto D.”) Read more