Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s second feature (1969) is something like the decanted essence of his work. There’s less plot than usual, but the portraiture already seems firmly in place. Based on his own play, the film consists largely of a lot of deadbeats standing around on the street in a Munich suburb, abusing women and showing one another how macho they are. (The title is Bavarian slang for “stud.”) Eventually a Greek immigrant (played by Fassbinder himself) turns up and becomes the target of their xenophobia. Hanna Schygulla is also present in one of her earliest roles. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, May 31, 7:45, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »
Children of the Revolution
For a notion of how cockeyed the cold war and its aftermath look to an Australian, this bubbly comedy, written and directed by newcomer Peter Duncan, is a good place to start. Judy Davis plays a fervent Australian communist who writes passionate letters to Stalin in the early 50s, is invited to the Soviet Union to see him, and appears to go to bed with him just before he dies. Back in Australia she gives birth to a son she names Joe, who grows up to become a radical labor organizer. A spy (Sam Neill) who may also be Joe’s father turns out to be the father of the Latvian policewoman who repeatedly arrests Joe for being a subversive and winds up marrying him. If all this sounds silly, it’s also highly suggestive as an Australian myth of origins–and Duncan puts it together with a stylish flair that occasionally evokes Ernst Lubitsch. With F. Murray Abraham, Shine’s Geoffrey Rush, Richard Roxburgh, and Rachel Griffiths. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 30 through June 5. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 16, 1997). — J.R.
Rating * Has redeeming facet
Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Written by Mostow and Sam Montgomery
With Kurt Russell, J.T. Walsh, Kathleen Quinlan, M.C. Gainey, Jack Noseworthy, Rex Linn, Ritch Brinkley, and Moira Harris.
Night Falls on Manhattan
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Sidney Lumet
With Andy Garcia, Ian Holm, James Gandolfini, Lena Olin, Shiek Mahmud-Bey, Colm Feore, Ron Leibman, and Richard Dreyfuss.
About three-quarters of the way through Breakdown – the well-crafted theatrical-feature debut of director and cowriter Jonathan Mostow, a thriller offering more bang for your buck than almost any other recent release — I started to feel nauseous. It’s a problem I encounter during a lot of commercial American movies these days, usually for more or less the same reason; if I had to encapsulate this reason in a single phrase, I’d say it’s the way they turn people into garbage. By “people” I mean mainly fictional characters, but also filmmakers and filmgoers, because when people on-screen are treated like garbage and the movie “works” — clicks, delivers, offers more bang for our buck — the filmmakers are turning themselves and us into garbage as well.… Read more »
Recently nominated for an Academy Award, this portrait of the great Broadway caricaturist by Susan Dryfoos is absorbing not only because of his work and milieu, but also because he’s been around so long, from his early career in Hollywood to a period working for New Masses to a long tenure at the New York Times. Still working at 94, he’s seen a lot, and this decade-by-decade account is a very entertaining history lesson. On the same program, Jessica Yu’s Better Late and Martin Murphy’s Adventures of Handyman. Film Center, 4:00. –Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »
My candidate for the most disgusting feature at Cannes in 1996, this French-Belgian film by Jaco van Dormael is shameless. The obvious precedent is Rain Man, but that film’s opportunism hinged on the decision of a famous star, Dustin Hoffman, to play an idiot savant alongside Tom Cruise. Here the recipe consists of casting a star, Daniel Auteuil, alongside a person who really has Down’s syndrome, Pascal Duquenne. The danger of such calculation is that the pseudoreality of the star and the hyperreality of his costar might clash, a possibility cleverly avoided through the use of an expanding magical realism that turns both characters into animated cartoon figures, so that the best reference may be neither Rain Man nor the lachrymose Zorba the Greek but the overblown child’s landscape of the tear-jerking Dumbo. In awarding the actor’s prize jointly to both leads, the Cannes jury took the bait, and the tearful standing ovation in the Palais seemed to express a self-congratulatory recognition that a handicapped person is just as lovable as a movie star, that a movie star is just as real as a handicapped person, and that genuine innocence can’t survive in the worldexcept it does, because this film exploits it.… Read more »
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
After 30 years of cryogenic preservation, the title hero (a spin-off of James Bond and his clones) and his archenemy, Dr. Evil–both played by writer and coproducer Mike Myers (Wayne’s World)–emerge in the present to match wits all over again. What’s really fun about this silly but spirited comedy isn’t just the ribbing of “swinging London” clothes styles and social attitudes but the use of the compulsive zooms and split-screen mosaics of commercial movies of the 60s (some of the funniest gags derive from camera placements). There’s a little bit of fudging when it comes to the romantic interest; sidekick Elizabeth Hurley initially blanches at Austin Powers’s advances but succumbs as soon as he treats her to a night on the town in Las Vegas, complete with champagne and Burt Bacharach. But 60s (and 50s) icons such as Robert Wagner and Michael York (playing someone called Basil Exposition) make this exercise in historical relativity even funnier. Jay Roach directed with just the right amount of period tackiness. With Mimi Rogers, Seth Green, and Fabiana Udenio (as Alotta Fagina). Broadway, Esquire, Evanston, Ford City, Golf Glen, Lake, Lincoln Village, Norridge. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo of Mike Meyers and Elizabeth Hurley.… Read more »
The girlfriend of a small-town astronomer runs off to New York and shacks up with a French restaurant owner (Tcheky Karyo); her obsessed ex-boyfriend (Matthew Broderick) sets up shop in a nearby condemned building to spy on the couple with astronomical equipmentshortly to be joined by the Frenchman’s jilted lover (Meg Ryan), who decides to bug their conversation as well. There’s too much pain in this light 1997 romantic comedy, physical as well as emotional, for it to come across as funny, though it certainly has its share of offbeat premises, and Ryan’s abrasive and rather creepy character is something of a departure for her. Griffin Dunne directed the script by Robert Gordon; with Kelly Preston and Maureen Stapleton. (JR)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 2, 1997). — J.R.
An adventurous and sometimes sexy, if only fitfully successful, adaptation of Louise Kaplan’s celebrated nonfiction book by Susan Streitfeld, working with a script she wrote with Julie Hebert (1996). The focus is on the life of a successful single prosecutor (British actress Tilda Swinton, displaying an impeccable American accent) as she waits to discover whether she’s been appointed as a judge, her kleptomaniac-scholar sister (Amy Madigan), the prosecutor’s boyfriend, a lesbian psychotherapist she has a fling with, and other people in her orbit. Oscillating between everyday events in her life and her dreams and fantasies, the film is much more successful with the former than with the latter, which often get heavy-handed and obscure. But the freshness of Streitfeld’s approach toward gender anxiety and social conditioning fascinates even when the overall clarity diminishes. Not for everyone, but those who like it will probably like it a lot. With Karen Sillas, Clancy Brown, Frances Fisher, Laila Robins, Paulina Porizkova, and Dale Shuger. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 2 through 8. — Jonathan Rosenbaum
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Francesco Rosi’s 1965 feature is widely (and plausibly) considered the best movie about bullfighting, in part because of its irony and finesse in capturing how the sport springs from and plays against the social reality of Spain. The young hero is played by Miguel Mateo Miguelin, Spain’s third-ranking matador at the time. (JR)… Read more »
This 1963 Italian film by Francesco Rosi features Rod Steiger as a real estate developer in Naples, one of whose tenement buildings collapses. Like many of Rosi’s films, this is an intricate political and social analysis, and Rosi actually managed to cast some real-life Neapolitan town councillors as deputies. (JR)… Read more »
To my taste, Robert Breer is the greatest living experimental filmmaker working in animation, and this program of 11 short films spanning his careerfrom A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957) to Sparkill Ave! (1992)is essential viewing. I’ve seen everything here but Sparkill and the 1986 Bang!; the brilliant LMNO (1978) is probably my favorite, but all the others66 (1966), Gulls and Buoys (1972), Fuji (1974), Rubber Cement (1976), 77 (1977), Swiss Army Knife With Rats and Pigeons (1981), and Trial Balloons (1983)are well worth seeing and reseeing. (JR)… Read more »
Director Sidney Lumet and the New York legal system seem to go together like ham and eggs, and in one way or another Lumet has been periodically remaking and refining his own Serpico, about police corruption, over the past quarter of a century, in pictures like Prince of the City and Q & A. Night Falls on Manhattan, which he adapted from Robert Daley’s novel Tainted Evidence, may well be his best effort yet in this direction. Even if Andy Garcia as an honest rookie cop turned DA is no Al Pacino, the overall New York ambience and the street-smart grasp of the way this world operates keep this movie potent throughout. And some of the performancesespecially by Ron Leibman and James Gandolfinivirtually knock you out of your seat. With Ian Holm, Lena Olin, Richard Dreyfuss, and Shiek Mahmud-Bey. (JR)… Read more »
For a notion of how cockeyed the cold war and its aftermath look to an Australian, this bubbly comedy, written and directed by newcomer Peter Duncan, is a good place to start. Judy Davis plays a fervent Australian communist who writes passionate letters to Stalin in the early 50s, is invited to the Soviet Union to see him, and appears to go to bed with him just before he dies. Back in Australia she gives birth to a son she names Joe, who grows up to become a radical labor organizer. A spy (Sam Neill) who may also be Joe… Read more »
The two earliest surviving films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (the very first, in 8-millimeter, no longer exists), as well as his powerful half-hour self-portrait in the collective 1978 feature Germany in Autumn. The City Tramp (1966), in 16-millimeter, is about a tramp who finds a gun in an alley; The Little Chaos (1967), in 35-millimeter, is about three young people attempting a swindle. Fassbinder appears in all three. (JR)… Read more »
Billy Crystal and Robin Williams costar in yet another Hollywood remake of a Francis Veber boulevard comedy, this one taken from Les comperes (1984). A mother trying to recover her runaway son recruits two of her ex-lovers in the search (Crystal as a big-time lawyer and Williams as a weepy neurotic) by telling each that he’s the boy’s real father. Ivan Reitman directs Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s adaptation like standard-issue sitcom, inviting Williams to pursue his usual overacting shtick and Crystal, who seems much closer to an actual human being, to adhere to his terse one-liners. What Dave Kehr wrote here about Les comperes applies equally to the recycling: The mechanical possibilities are worked out with precision and relish, but [the director] is careful not to allow the comedy to linger too long in the realm of real feelings. A platitudinous ending restores a safe and sane emotional order. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nastassja Kinski. (JR)… Read more »