Films by Lewis Klahr
I haven’t seen Whirligigs in the Late Afternoon (1996), the longest show on this program, but Lewis Klahr’s dreamlike work is so special that I’m sure it’s worth checking out. I’m especially partial to Altair (1994), a gossamer “color noir” culled from late-40s pages of Cosmopolitan and set to the strains of a section of the Firebird Suite, and Pony Glass (1997), a collection of kinky and gender-bending nightmares involving repressed homoerotic fantasies, Superman sidekick Jimmy Olsen, and such stray elements as a maple leaf and a turtle. But Klahr is always doing something slightly uncanny, whether he’s confusing a toy carousel with actual traffic in the silent Green ’62 (1996) or animating cutouts to the music of Berg in Lulu (1996). Klahr will be present to discuss his work, and admission to this Chicago Filmmakers program is free. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, Friday, May 22, 7:00, 773-384-5533 or 312-346-3278. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited film still.… Read more »
This impressive first feature by Jill Sprecher, coscripting with her sister Karen, shows that she has an eye and ear all her own. The focus of this subtle and intelligent comedy is the experience of four office temps–played by Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding), Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow, and Alanna Ubach–who temporarily bond to stave off their alienation and frustration, and each is presented as an individual, not a type. Collette’s character, perhaps the most distinctive in the bunch, also narrates, and the movie is especially good at sizing up the social atmosphere and dynamics of an impersonal firm as perceived by relative outsiders, not to mention the overall look and feel of such an environment. With Paul Dooley, Bob Balaban, and Helen Fitzgerald. Fine Arts.
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Julian Mitchell’s screenplay, supposedly based on Richard Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde, focuses exclusively on the last stages of Wilde’s life and career: his marriage, his tortured relationship with Lord Alfred Bosie Douglas (played here by Jude Law in an upper-class reprise of his role in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and his subsequent martyrdom in court and in prison prior to his death. Though Brian Gilbert’s direction is certainly adequate, the only good reason for seeing this 1997 feature is Stephen Fry’s wonderfully nuanced, sweet-tempered, and charismatic performance as Wilde; almost everything else is PC hindsight and Merchant-Ivory spreads, though Vanessa Redgrave turns up briefly as Oscar’s mother. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »
Life and Nothing More
Known less accurately as And Life Goes On… (to distinguish it from Bertrand Tavernier’s Life and Nothing But), this 1992 masterpiece by Abbas Kiarostami uses nonprofessional actors to restage real events. Accompanied by his little boy, a film director from Tehran drives into the mountainous region of northern Iran, recently devastated by an earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people. He searches through various villages for two child actors who appeared in Where Is My Friend’s House? (a 1987 Kiarostami feature), but what we find is more open-ended and mysterious: the resilience and in some cases the surprising optimism of people putting their lives back together, the beautiful landscapes, the alternating and overlapping viewpoints of the director and his son. A picaresque narrative with a profound sense of presence and a philosophical sense of the long shot that occasionally calls to mind Tati, this haunting look at what does and doesn’t happen to people confronted by natural disaster won the Rossellini prize at the 1992 Cannes film festival, and it’s one of the very best Iranian features I’ve seen. Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, May 16 and 17. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
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From the Chicago Reader (May 13, 1998). — J.R.
It’s remarkable how over the course of just three nightlife features — Metropolitan, Barcelona, and this comedy set in the early 1980s — writer-director Whit Stillman has created a form of mannerist dialogue as recognizable as David Mamet’s, a kind of self-conscious, upper-crust Manhattan gab reeking of hairsplitting cultural distinctions. Fortunately, this time around the Ivy League characters project less of a glib sense of entitlement, making them more fun to watch, and Stillman himself gives more evidence of watching rather than simply listening. The characters include two young women in publishing (Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale) who find a flat together, their roommate (Tara Subkoff), an employee at the club where they hang out (the always interesting Chris Eigeman), a fledgling ad executive (Mackenzie Astin), a junior assistant district attorney (Matt Keeslar), and a lawyer (Robert Sean Leonard). Stillman does interesting things with all of them. 113 min. (JR)
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Forest Whitaker is a wonderful actor and a sensitive, if less distinctive, director of other actors. It’s his latter capacity that’s on view hereenhanced by such actors as Sandra Bullock and Gena Rowlands but limited by the absence of fresh material. (Steven Rogers’s script seems sincere enough but it’s awfully familiar.) A former prom queen (Bullock) married to her high school sweetheart and devoted to her daughter (Mae Whitman) discovers on a TV talk show that her best friend is having an affair with her husband, who no longer loves her. Still in a state of shock, she returns to her hometown in Texas with her little girl and tries to get her life back in order. Bullock, Rowlands, Whitman, and others in the castmost notably Harry Connick Jr.acquit themselves as admirably as the pedestrian script allows. (JR)… Read more »
The landscapes are lovely and the castRobert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill, Dianne Wiest, Scarlett Johannson, and Chris Cooperdoes an honorable job, yet there are times when this leisurely movie seems so much in love with its own virtue and nobility that there’s not much room left for the spectator. Redford directs this apparently upgraded adaptation by Eric Roth and Richard LaGravenese of Nicholas Evans’s best-selling novel, and seems bent on matching or outdoing Clint Eastwood’s The Bridges of Madison County as a class act. After a 14-year-old (Johannson) loses part of her leg and her favorite horse loses its mind in a freak riding accident in New York State, her mother (Scott Thomas), a big-time magazine editor, seeks to revive the girl’s spirits by having the horse cured by a legendary horse whisperer (Redford) in Montana. Too long for what it has to say and too evasive when it comes to spelling out certain key detailslike the financial arrangements (or lack of same) between the mother and the horse whisperer, and the full logic of the latter’s therapythis has loads of craft and honor but never quite takes off. (JR)… Read more »
This impressive first feature by Jill Sprecher, coscripting with her sister Karen, shows that she has an eye and ear all her own. The focus of this subtle and intelligent comedy is the experience of four office tempsplayed by Toni Collette (Muriel… Read more »
This defense of what I consider Robert Altman’s most neglected major work appeared in the May 8, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. I’ve deliberately refrained from including any stills from Kansas City — its “parent” film, which I continue to dislike. – J.R.
Jazz ’34: Remembrances of Kansas City Swing
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Robert Altman
With Jesse Davis, David “Fathead” Newman, Ron Carter, Christian McBride, Tyrone Clark, Don Byron, Russell Malone, Mark Whitfield, Victor Lewis, Geri Allen, Cyrus Chestnut, James Carter, Craig Handy, David Murray, Joshua Redman, Curtis Fowles, Clark Gayton, Olu Dara, Nicholas Payton, James Zollar, and Kevin Mahogany.
The best Robert Altman feature in more years than I care to remember isn’t playing at a theater anywhere. A shortened version aired on PBS’s “Great Performances” series last year, but the movie only recently came to my attention when a video copy (distributed by Rhapsody Films) arrived in the mail. A fascinating adjunct to Altman’s much more ambitious and much less successful Kansas City (1996), Jazz ’34: Remembrances of Kansas City Swing is one of the best jazz films I’ve ever seen. It’s what its parent film promised but failed to deliver — all the more interesting because it’s neither a documentary nor a narrative but an eccentric hybrid.… Read more »
He Got Game
Colleagues of mine have called this Spike Lee’s best feature since Malcolm X, though I don’t see how one can embrace that film without undervaluing the book it’s based on. But He Got Game is certainly Lee’s best narrative film in years, and the fact that it’s based on an original script–as were Do the Right Thing and Jungle Fever–is surely telling. The story focuses on the tortured relationship between a father in Attica (Denzel Washington at the top of his form) and the son he ruthlessly trained in basketball (the NBA’s Ray Allen), who’s already famous and about to graduate from high school on Coney Island. Having gone to prison for accidentally killing the boy’s mother, the father is granted a week outside to try to convince his son to attend the governor’s alma mater, with the promise of a reduced sentence if he succeeds. The son, however, despises his father, and though the light complexion of the mother (Lonette McKee) is never mentioned, it seems to play a significant role in the film’s complex emotional dynamics, as does the father’s brief affair with a white prostitute (Milla Jovovich). As usual, Lee tries many kinds of stylistic effects and uses wall-to-wall music (by Aaron Copland and Public Enemy); what’s different this time is how personally driven the story feels.… Read more »
This Manhattan-based romantic comedy might be fun if it didn’t hit you over the head with a sledgehammer every few minutes. The title heroine (Jada Pinkett Smith) goes on a blind date with a law clerk (Tommy Davidson) and everything goes wrong (cf After Hours). Since every pratfall and wisecrack is delivered with three times the emphasis needed, there’s not much opportunity to enjoy the charismatic leads. Daisy V.S. Mayer (Party Girl) directedor, rather, overdirectedDavid C. Johnson’s script; with Paula Jai Parker and LL Cool J. (JR)… Read more »
From the May 1, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. This marks the very beginning, the first baby steps, of my fascination with and research into the films of Yasuzo Masumura — an extended project that eventually culminated in a lengthy essay and a dialogue with Japanese critic Shigehiko Hasumi that’s included in a book called Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (2003) that I coedited with Adrian Martin. Although several Masumura films have subsequently become available on DVD in the U.S., the U.K., and France, including many of the films I discuss or mention here (e.g., Red Angel, Giants and Toys, and Manji in the U.S., Kisses in the U.K., and Tattoo in the France, the latter called Tatouage), I regret that several favorites — most notably A Wife Confesses and A False Student – continue to be unavailable outside of Japan (where Masumura has subsequently become a popular cult director). The first three illustrations and the very last one used here, incidentally, come from Tattoo [Irezumi] (1966) and A Wife Confesses (1961), respectively. –J.R.
To appropriate one of the categories of Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema, Yasuzo Masumura (1924-1986) is a “subject for further research.” I’ve yet to come across a complete filmography of his work, but he’s said to have made 57 films, a dozen of which are showing at Facets Multimedia Center this week.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1998). — J.R.
A middle-aged man who’s contemplating suicide drives around the hilly, dusty outskirts of Tehran trying to find someone who will bury him if he succeeds and retrieve him if he fails. This minimalist yet powerful and life-enhancing 1997 feature by Abbas Kiarostami (Where Is the Friend’s House?, Life and Nothing More, Through the Olive Trees) never explains why the man wants to end his life, yet every moment in his daylong odyssey carries a great deal of poignancy and philosophical weight. Kiarostami, one of the great filmmakers of our time, is a master at filming landscapes and constructing parablelike narratives whose missing pieces solicit the viewer’s active imagination. Taste of Cherry actually says a great deal about what it was like to be alive in the 1990s, and despite its somber theme, this masterpiece has a startling epilogue that radiates with wonder and euphoria. In Farsi with subtitles. 99 min. (JR)
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Throwing caution to the wind, producer-director-cowriter-star Warren Beatty sounds off about politics, delivering his funniest and liveliest film to date (1998). Beatty plays a senator up for reelection who suffers a nervous breakdown, takes out a contract on himself, and with nothing to lose finds himself blurting out what he actually believesmostly in the style of street rap. He addresses the lies of the government in general and the Democratic Party in particular, especially regarding black people, and once he starts hanging out with the daughter of Black Panthers (Halle Berry), whether the two of them will have sex becomes more of an issue than whether he’ll get reelected. This lacks the craft of Preston Sturges or Frank Capra, but it offers a personal statement that may be just as important, and some of it equals Richard Pryor’s concert films in farcical candor and reckless energy. Coscripted by Jeremy Pikser; with Oliver Platt, Jack Warden, Paul Sorvino, Don Cheadle, Amiri Baraka, and lots of enjoyable cameos. R, 108 min. (JR)… Read more »
In Adam’s Rib (1991), adapting a contemporary novel, director Vyacheslav Krishtofovich revealed a fine sense of absurdist anomaly in probing personal relations in the former Soviet Union. Working six years later with Andrei Kourkov’s adaptation of another novel, he gives us a piquant story about an unemployed intellectual in today’s Ukraine (Alexandre Lazarev) that’s entirely worthy of its predecessor. The hero’s married to an advertising executive who’s about to leave him for another man, and when an old friend proposes hiring a hit man to rub out his rival, he agrees but flippantly designates himself as the victim instead. A few days later, after meeting a cheerful prostitute, he decides he wants to live after all, and hires a second hit man to rub out the first. It’s a well-told story of a society where, as one character points out, business relationships have replaced friendships, and Krishtofovich recounts it with dry wit and telling detail. (JR)… Read more »