Daily Archives: March 1, 2001

Beetlejuice

From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 2001). — J.R.

Beetlejuice

An appealing mess. Director Tim Burton joins forces with writers Michael McDowell, Warren Skaaren, and Larry Wilson, and a cast headed by Michael Keaton as the eponymous lead — a scuzzy miniature bio-exorcist — to create a rather original horror comedy out of what appears to be a strong first-draft script and a minuscule budget (1988). Faces stretch like Silly Putty and a ghost couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) try to oust a yuppie couple (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara) from their New England mansion. The pasteboard special effects, which have a special charm of their own, make up in verve and imagination what they sometimes lack in polish, and Keaton has such a time with his extravagant turn as a demonic hipster bum that one can forgive the less inspired contributions of Glenn Shadix, Sylvia Sidney, and Dick Cavett, among others. PG, 92 min. (JR)

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The Pajama Game

Film scholar Jane Feuer has argued that the Hollywood musical is a politically conservative genre, a notion challenged by the Warners musicals of the 30s, Bells Are Ringing (1969), and this exuberant, underrated 1957 movie. Adapted from George Abbott’s Broadway hit, it concerns a strike in a pajama factory, with Doris Day as the shop steward and John Rait as her boss. Though the sexual politics are far from progressive, this is the sort of labor musical that inspired Jean-Luc Godard’s admiration. Bob Fosse’s airy choreography is terrific, and so is the score, which includes “Seven and a Half Cents” and a steamy “Steam Heat”. Stanley Donen directed with verve and energy. 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

April Fool’s Day

Deborah Foreman plays a joker who invites college friends to spend a weekend in her family’s mansion on a remote island, where each of them gets killed. This comic scare show (1986, 88 min.), directed by Fred Walton and shot in Panavision, is almost certainly panned and scanned here, so expect to do without a third of the image. (JR)… Read more »

The Brothers

If you can get past all the commercial safeguards (such as more happy endings than you can shake a stick at), this is a notable first feature from novelist, lawyer, stand-up comic, and now director and screenwriter Gary Hardwicka comedy about four young black men who are friends and how they relate to women and each other. The psychological and psychoanalytical probes into sexual and emotional problems keep this reasonably lively, and the actors respond well to the material. With Morris Chestnut, D.L. Hughley, Bill Bellamy, Shemar More, Tamala Jones, and Gabrielle Union. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me

If I were gay, the text of David Drake’s one-man show would probably make me cringe with its boilerplate history of gay lib and gay pride. But as performed by Drake before a live audience, directed by Tom Kirkman, and edited by Caitlin Dixon, it’s sufficiently commanding and inventive to overcome its cookie-cutter treatment of gay individualsat least part of the time. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »

Me You Them

This dry Brazilian comedy, vaguely inspired by a TV documentary, concerns a woman (Regina Case) who spends ten years living pretty happily in a rural house with her three husbands (Lima Duarte, Stenio Garcia, and Luiz Carlos Vasconcelos). Despite a certain amount of folkloric hokum, the film works quite well: it manages to suggest the magical realist tradition without actually belonging to it, uses gorgeous ‘Scope framing to take full advantage of the landscapes of northeastern Brazil, and despite explaining almost nothing psychologically makes everything fall into place with a certain logic. This is only the second feature of Andrucha Waddington, but he seems so relaxed around his characters that we’re encouraged to go along with the dreamy drift of their lives. Elena Soarez wrote the purposeful and mysterious script. 107 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Taste Of Others

Actress and screenwriter Agnes Jaoui makes her directorial debut with this poignant 2000 comedy about the difficulties of getting beyond one’s own social circle. The film’s main triumph is Jean-Pierre Bacri’s wonderfully touching and delicately shaded performance as a married businessman living in a suburb of Rouen who becomes infatuated with his English tutor (Anne Alvaro), a stage actress turning 40 who lives in a world very different from his. Jaoui herself plays a waitress-barmaid who moonlights as a hash dealer and becomes involved with the businessman’s bodyguard. She’s quite sensitive as a director of actors, though the fact that she cites Woody Allen as a model shows how much she thinks as a writer-performer. The script, by her and Bacri, is one in a series of collaborations that includes Cedric Klapisch’s Un air de famille and Alain Resnais’ Same Old Song. In French with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Big Band Bop

Jazz clips from the collection of Bob Koester, owner of Jazz Record Mart, including performances by Billy Eckstine and the strange and irreplaceable low-budget concert feature Jivin’ in Bebop (1947), featuring, among others, Dizzy Gillespie and all the original members of the Modern Jazz Quartet. (JR)… Read more »

One Day In September

This 1999 feature won an Oscar for best documentary, but it’s jazzed up to give a true storythe kidnapping of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympicsthe pacing, punctuation, and suspense of a Hollywood action film. Director Kevin Macdonald (the grandson of producer Emeric Pressburger) knows how to put on a grand show, if you’re entertained by real-life carnage; frankly I’m not, and when the offscreen voice of one witness declares, It wasn’t a James Bond, it was the real thing, I had to wonder why the music suggested nothing so much as a James Bond thriller. To be fair, the film’s treatment of the Palestinians is a little less rancorous than one might expect from an academy favorite, even if home-movie footage of the wedding of one Jewish victim is brandished with all the subtlety of Roberto Benigni. But I felt throughout that I was being asked to participate in something indecent; this is the perfect evidence for anyone wishing to prove just how bloodthirsty Americans have become. Perhaps Series 7: The Contenders, the recent satire of reality TV, isn’t so excessive after all. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

Suzhou River

A fitfully employed videographer in Shanghai, who never appears on-screen, gets involved with a go-go dancer and then meets a motorcycle courier who’s convinced that the dancer is actually his girlfriend, who’s vanished mysteriously after jumping off a bridge. This moody Chinese independent (2000, 83 min.), the debut feature by Lou Ye, at first seems like a Wong Kar-wai remake of Vertigo, but in fact it’s something much stranger, drawing on not only Hitchcock and Chungking Express but also Hollywood noir and Hans Christian Andersen to create something relatively fresh from the confluencea postmodern fairy tale about romantic obsession. This is well worth checking out. (JR)… Read more »

Esther And The King

Raoul Walsh directing Joan Collins and Richard Egan in the title roles? I haven’t seen this 1960 ‘Scope feature, but it sounds like it would be hilariousespecially in a synagogue shortly before Purim. With Dennis O’Dea. 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cab Calloway

Short films and clips featuring the jivey swing conductor and singer between 1931 and 1951, all drawn from the jazz film collection of Bob Koester, owner of the Jazz Record Mart. Doc Cheatham and Jonah Jones are among the many featured artists.… Read more »

The Saragossa Manuscript

Jerry Garcia proclaimed this 1965 Polish feature his favorite movie, having seen a pared-down version in San Francisco’s North Beach during the 60s, and a few years back he, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola helped to restore it to its original three-hour length. It’s easy to see how it became a cult film: toward the end of the Spanish Inquisition a Napoleonic military officer (Zbigniew Cybulskithe Polish James Dean, though pudgier than usual here) is morally tested by two seductive Muslim princesses, incestuous sisters from Tunisia, and no less than nine interconnected flashbacks recounted by various characters figure in the labyrinthine plot, its tales within tales imparting some of the flavor of The Arabian Nights and occasional echoes of Kafka (mainly in the eroticism). Krzysztof Penderecki’s score runs the gamut from classical music to flamenco to modernist electronic noodling, and the stark, rocky settings are elegantly filmed in black-and-white ‘Scope. The late Wojciech Has was a good journeyman director, but a film of this kind really calls for someone more obsessive, like Roman Polanskior at least someone more personally engaged with the material. Adapted by Tadeusz Kwiatkowski from Jan Potocki’s 1813 novel, it’s certainly an intriguing fantasy and a haunting reflection on the processes of storytelling.… Read more »

Chuck Jones Program #3: Seeing Stars

Eight 35-millimeter cartoons, dating from 1948 to the mid-60s, that chart the character development of Daffy Duck (the brilliant Duck Amuck, 1953), Elmer Fudd, the Road Runner, Bugs Bunny, Pepe Le Pew, and Porky Pig. The program closes with Jones’s TV adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), narrated by Boris Karloff. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

White Hell Of Pitz Palu

White goddess Leni Riefenstahl, who later directed such ideological entertainments as Triumph of the Will, starred in this silent 1929 mountain-climbing epic, codirected by the great G.W. Pabst and the more modestly pictorial mountain film specialist Dr. Arnold Fanck. It’s reputed to be one of her best early efforts as an athletic actress. 150 min. (JR)… Read more »