From the July 1, 1993 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
More mud pies and occasional musical numbers from Mel Brooks in his parodic Blazing Saddles mode (has he any other?) — predictably slapdash but indefatigably good-natured and sometimes funny to boot. Completely disregarding the PC guidelines of left and right alike, this medieval romp features gags about Jews, blacks, gays, blind people, and the clergy, among others, but none of it seems mean spirited. Dom DeLuise does a very funny impersonation of Brando impersonating Don Corleone; with Cary Elwes, Amy Yasbeck, Isaac Hayes, Roger Rees, Tracey Ullman, and Brooks himself as a rabbi. Evan Chandler and J. David Shapiro collaborated with Brooks on the script. (JR)
From the Chicago Reader (September 10, 1993). — J.R.
The least known, though far from least interesting, of producer Val Lewton’s exemplary, poetic B-films, this was withdrawn from circulation for nearly half a century due to an unjust plagiarism suit that Lewton had the misfortune to lose. Like many of Lewton’s best efforts (Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man), this is a taut thriller promising fantasy in its title but offering a dark look at human psychology that becomes even more disturbing through what’s left to the viewer’s imagination. The plot concerns a young third mate (Russell Wade) on a cargo ship who’s befriended by a lonely captain (Richard Dix), whom he gradually discovers is a disturbed tyrant with little of the self-confidence he initially shows — a cracked father figure whose crew is mysteriously loyal in spite of his weaknesses. Like Lewton’s other early pictures, it’s carefully scripted (by Donald Henderson Clarke), efficiently directed (by Mark Robson), and evocatively shot (by Nicholas Musuraca). This 1943 “second feature” boasts a large and well-defined cast of characters and a very involved plot, though it lasts only about 70 minutes — there’s scarcely a wasted motion, a bracing object lesson to nearly all feature makers today. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (October 24, 1997). — J.R.
Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Chantal Akerman.
This weekend the Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of its exhibit “Hall of Mirrors: Art and Film Since 1945,” is presenting not only Chantal Akerman, one of the finest filmmakers working anywhere, but also the two features I would describe as her greatest achievements — the 200-minute narrative Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) and the 107-minute documentary From the East (D’est, 1993). To make the program even more fully rounded, the museum is also showing a 64-minute self-portrait, Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman (1996), which provides an excellent introduction to her work as a whole. (This film and Akerman herself will appear on Sunday; From the East shows on Friday, and Jeanne Dielman on Saturday.)
Despite her significant and still growing international reputation, Akerman isn’t yet considered an “established” mainstream or avant-garde artist, because many critics in both spheres still treat her as something of an interloper, even an irritation or a threat. A friend who’s a highly respected novelist and film critic recently told me that he regards all her work as worthless, even though he hasn’t bothered to look at all of it. Read more