Daily Archives: August 1, 1997

The Mask of Fu Manchu

From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1997). — J.R.

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Though light-years away from anything resembling political correctness, this 1932 horror thriller is often magnificent, imaginative stuff — bombastic pulp at its purple best. Boris Karloff stars as the archvillain of the Sax Rohmer novels, a Chinese madman menacing an expedition to the tomb of Genghis Khan. Charles Brabin directed; with Lewis Stone, Karen Morley, Jean Hersholt, and Myrna Loy (as Karloff’s daughter). 72 min. On the same program, chapter seven of the 1938 serial Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. LaSalle Theatre, LaSalle Bank, 4901 W. Irving Park, Saturday, February 16, 8:00, 312-904-9442.

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A Different Kind of Swinger [GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE]

From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1997). — J.R.

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George of the Jungle

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Sam Weisman

Written by Dana Olsen and Audrey Wells

With Brendan Fraser, Leslie Mann, Thomas Haden Church, Holland Taylor, Richard Roundtree, Greg Cruttwell, Abraham Benrubi, and the voice of John Cleese.

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There’s no getting around it: George of the Jungle is an amiable, highly ingratiating piece of lowbrow entertainment, and the audience of mainly young children and parents I saw it with on Saturday night clearly had a ball. So did I, for that matter. If consumer advice on where to take your kids is what’s needed, change “worth seeing” into “a must-see.” On the other hand, if I — a nonparent — had to choose between seeing it a second time and seeing the black-and-white Tarzan’s New York Adventure (1942) for the third or fourth time on video, I wouldn’t blink before selecting the latter. Both movies, as it happens, are comedies — though klutzy George, who swings on vines directly into trees, is an even more ironic version of the noble savage — but there are also major differences between them that I suspect are generational. I suppose I could rattle on about the reverse-anthropological satire of “civilization” in Tarzan’s New York Adventure, but in George those gags have their counterparts in the plentiful subtitles (for the spoken Swahili) and the jokes derived from them, which are every bit as sophisticated.… Read more »

Is It Snuff? You Decide!

The exploitation title tells it all. New York underground filmmaker Joe Christ, appearing in the flesh, dares you to be interested. On the same program, some of Christ’s earlier short films, such as Sex Blood & Mutilation. (JR)… Read more »

She’s So Lovely

A streamlined, sometimes affecting Hollywood studio version of a maverick independent script by the late John Cassavetes, this 1997 film offers a fascinating glimpse at what Cassavetes was from the vantage point of what he wasn’t. Sean Penn (his choice for the lead ten years ago) stars as a crazy low-life city brawler deeply in love with his pregnant wife (Robin Wright Penn). One of his jealous rages gets him committed to a mental asylum for ten years, and by the time he gets out his wife has married John Travolta (who’s the best reason for seeing this movie), had a couple more kids, and moved to the suburbs. Nick Cassavetes (John’s son) is the director, though without the luxury of final cut enjoyed by his father on all his own features, and the brassy in-your-face music and ‘Scope framing both seem antithetical to the father’s style. Most of the characters (also including Harry Dean Stanton, Debi Mazar, and James Gandolfini), irrational and ineffable, are recognizable denizens of John Cassavetes’s world, though the way they’re sometimes pressed into sitcom routines robs them of some of their potential density. Not really a Cassavetes movie, but worth seeing anyway. (JR)… Read more »

The Mask Of Fu Manchu

Though light years away from anything resembling political correctness, this 1932 horror thriller about a Chinese madman (Boris Karloff) threatening an expedition to the tomb of Ghengis Khan is often magnificent, imaginative stuff: bombastic pulp at its purple best. Charles Brabin directed this adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s novel; with Lewis Stone, Karen Morley, Jean Hersholt, and Myrna Loy as Karloff’s daughter. 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

Fetishes

Amiable hack and faux-naif sensationalist Nick Broomfield (Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam) turns his documentary lens on Pandora’s Box, a legal New York establishment offering sadomasochistic services without intercourse, and gets the dominatrices as well as the (almost exclusively male) clientele to rattle on about what they’re doing and why, often during their sessions. Interesting up to a point but also fairly obvious in many of its discoveries (such as the fact that many of the customers craving discipline work around Wall Street), this is the sort of thing you find on cable late at nighthalf education, half titillation, and not too bothered about which is which. (JR)… Read more »

When The Cat’s Away

The original title of Cedric Klapisch’s 1997 comedy is Chacun cherche son chat, a French expression literally meaning Everyone looks for his own cat. The searcher in this caseultimately looking for a boyfriend as well as a petis a young makeup artist (Garance Clavel) who shares a flat with a gay man (Olivier Py), leaves her cat Gris-Gris with an elderly cat lover (Renee Le Calm) when she goes off on holiday, and returns to find Gris-Gris missing. Vaguely reminiscent of the 60s English comedy A Taste of Honey, this minor but agreeable charmer offers a much more authentic look at a Paris neighborhood (Bastille in this case) than most French movies; it was enormously successful in France, and given its relaxed populist spirit it isn’t hard to see why. (JR)… Read more »

My Sex Life . . . Or How I Got Into An Argument

Three hours long, Arnaud Desplechin’s highly watchable French comedy drama (1996) about the sex lives of 30ish Parisian intellectuals and academics has been compared to everything from Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore to Reality Bites. For me, it’s a lot better than the latter and not nearly as good as the former. Desplechin undeniably catches something generational and poignant about the various relationships of a part-time philosophy teacher (Mathieu Amalric)including one with a woman (Marianne Denicourt) who winds up getting engaged to his best friend. The influences here, by the way, are not only cinematic (the aforementioned Eustache) but also literary; novelist Philip Roth is the most overt reference point. 178 min. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Love Serenade

Another intriguing piece of Australian self-hatred, this comic first feature with dashes of magical realism by writer-director Shirley Barrett, set in a desolate backwater of Queensland, focuses on two lovelorn sisters living together, aged 21 (Miranda Otto) and 26 (Rebecca Frith), whose lives are disrupted by a glamorous middle-aged disc jockey from Brisbane (George Shevtsov) who moves next door to them. According to the neofeminist presuppositions of this fable, men are wholly other: the glib, villainous disc jockey literally proves to be a fish and even the 21-year-old’s employer, a nudist in his spare time, is at best a sympathetic geek. I could have done without the wall-to-wall music as well as the thematic confusion that can’t always distinguish between romantic desperation and sexist exploitation (although, God knows, this story has plenty of both); still, this has a lyrical sense of place that carries one over some of the rough patches. (JR)… Read more »

Woyzeck

Not the Berg opera but a 1995 Hungarian adaptation of the original Georg Buchner play, suitably grim and set around a moldering railroad yard. I can’t recall it very well, except for the fact that I preferred it to Werner Herzog’s previous version. Janos Szasz directed, and Lajos Kovacs plays the eponymous hero. (JR)… Read more »

Mao, The Real Man

An hour-long experimental documentary from Hungary by Szilveszter Siklosi (Cautionary Tales on Sex) about the mythical properties and manipulative uses of archival materials.… Read more »

The Organizer

Marcello Mastroianni in one of his best roles, as a late-19th-century labor leader orchestrating a strike at a Turin textile plant. Directed by Mario Monicelli (Big Deal on Madonna Street) with an exquisite handling of period, this powerful film had a sizable impact when it came out in 1963, though it… Read more »