Monthly Archives: November 2004

Edward Said: The Last Interview

If you’d like a clear sense of literary critic, social commentator, and Palestinian spokesperson Edward Said, check out this informal 114-minute interview, gracefully conducted by British journalist Charles Glass and unobtrusively recorded for British TV by Mike Dibb shortly before Said died of leukemia at age 67. I would have preferred more attention to his groundbreaking books, though his comments on Orientalism provide a succinct and lucid introduction. And his nuanced, impassioned remarks on the Palestinian struggle, including some highly critical remarks about Yasir Arafat, challenge the distortion of his positions that often surfaces in the press. (JR)… Read more »

Wr: Mysteries Of The Organism

We may forget that the most radical rethinking of Marx and Freud found in European cinema of the late 60s and early 70s came from the east rather than the west. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a headier mix of fiction and nonfiction, or sex and politics, than this brilliant 1971 Yugoslav feature by Dusan Makavejev, which juxtaposes a bold Serbian narrative shot in 35-millimeter with funky New York street theater and documentary shot in 16. The WR is controversial sexual theorist Wilhelm Reich and the mysteries involve Joseph Stalin as an erotic figure in propaganda movies, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs killing for peace as he runs around New York City with a phony gun, and drag queen Jackie Curtis and plaster caster Nancy Godfrey pursuing their own versions of sexual freedom. In English and subtitled Serbo-Croatian. NC-17, 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

WR: Mysteries of the Organism

We may forget that the most radical rethinking of Marx and Freud found in European cinema of the late 60s and early 70s came from the east rather than the west. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a headier mix of fiction and nonfiction, or sex and politics, than this brilliant 1971 Yugoslav feature by Dusan Makavejev, which juxtaposes a bold Serbian narrative shot in 35-millimeter with funky New York street theater and documentary shot in 16. The “WR” is controversial sexual theorist Wilhelm Reich and the “mysteries” involve Joseph Stalin as an erotic figure in propaganda movies, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs “killing for peace” as he runs around New York City with a phony gun, and drag queen Jackie Curtis and plaster caster Nancy Godfrey pursuing their own versions of sexual freedom. In English and subtitled Serbo-Croatian. NC-17, 85 min. 16mm. Thu 12/2, 8 PM, Northwestern Univ. Block Museum of Art.… Read more »

Edward Said: The Last Interview

If you’d like a clear sense of literary critic, social commentator, and Palestinian spokesperson Edward Said, check out this informal 114-minute interview, gracefully conducted by British journalist Charles Glass and unobtrusively recorded for British TV by Mike Dibb shortly before Said died of leukemia at age 67. I would have preferred more attention to his groundbreaking books, though his comments on Orientalism provide a succinct and lucid introduction. And his nuanced, impassioned remarks on the Palestinian struggle, including some highly critical remarks about Yasir Arafat, challenge the distortion of his positions that often surfaces in the press. Sat 11/27, 7:30 PM, and Wed 12/1, 6:15 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Kinsey

Writer-director Bill Condon won positive reviews for Gods and Monsters (1998), his gay-themed drama about film director James Whale. In contrast to that rigidly conceived movie, this biopic of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) might be described as thoughtfully inconclusive. Apart from some unexaggerated notations about American puritanism in the 1940s and ’50s, it’s more a work of exploration than a thesis, and Condon mainly avoids sensationalism. The period detail is better than in most Hollywood movies, and the secondary cast (Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, and Dylan Baker) isn’t bad. R, 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Murnau’s 4 Devils: Traces Of A Lost Film

This remarkable 40-minute re-creation of F.W. Murnau’s lost silent film 4 Devils, which he made at Fox just after Sunrise, was assembled by film historian Janet Bergstrom using stills, drawings, sketches, and script drafts. Originally released on a DVD of Sunrise, it’s the first comprehensive account of the film since its 1928 release. (JR)… Read more »

The Most Intelligent American Movie of the Year [THE BIG RED ONE: THE RECONSTRUCTION]

From the Chicago Reader (November 19, 2004). — J.R.

The Big Red One: The Reconstruction

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and Written by Samuel Fuller

With Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Stephane Audran, Christa Lang, Kelly Ward, Siegfried Rauch, and Fuller

When I enter his suite at the Plaza, he’s finishing lunch, expressing his regret about missing Godard in Cannes, remarking on the absurdity of prizes at film festivals, asking me what Soho News and Soho are. (The one he knows about is in London — he fondly recalls a cigar store on Frith Street.)

“It isn’t hard to figure out why Mark Hamill affectionately calls him Yosemite Sam, or why Lee Marvin simply says he’s D.W. Griffith. Bursting with the same charismatic, comic book energy that skyrockets through most of his movies, old crime reporter, novelist, war hero, writer-director and sometime producer Samuel Fuller, almost 69, still moves and talks like his daffy action flicks — like the wild man from Borneo — in quick, short, blocky punches, like two-fisted slabs of socko headline type.”

The purple prose was mine, the year was 1980. Fuller was promoting his semiautobiographical war picture The Big Red One, even though the studio had just cut half of it — something he wasn’t making any effort to hide.… Read more »

Park Row

This neglected Samuel Fuller feature from 1952, a giddy look at New York journalism in the 1880s, was his personal favorite–he financed it himself and lost every penny. A principled cigar smoker (Gene Evans) becomes the hard-hitting editor of a new Manhattan daily, where he competes with his former employer (Mary Welch) in a grudge match loaded with sexual undertones; meanwhile a man jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge trying to become famous, the Statue of Liberty is given to the U.S. by France, and a newspaper drive raises money for its pedestal. Enthusiasm flows into every nook and cranny of this cozy movie: when violence breaks out in the cramped-looking set of the title street, the camera weaves in and out of the buildings as through a sports arena, in a single take. “Park Row” is repeated incessantly like a crazy mantra, and the overall fervor of this vest-pocket Citizen Kane makes journalism sound like the most exciting activity in the world. 83 min. Also on the program: Jerky Turkey (1944), a cartoon by Tex Avery. Sat 11/20, 8 PM, LaSalle Bank Cinema.… Read more »

Kinsey

Writer-director Bill Condon won positive reviews for Gods and Monsters (1998), his gay-themed drama about film director James Whale. In contrast to that rigidly conceived movie, this biopic of pioneering sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (Liam Neeson) might be described as thoughtfully inconclusive. Apart from some unexaggerated notations about American puritanism in the 1940s and ’50s, it’s more a work of exploration than a thesis, and Condon mainly avoids sensationalism. The period detail is better than in most Hollywood movies, and the secondary cast (Laura Linney, Chris O’Donnell, Peter Sarsgaard, Timothy Hutton, John Lithgow, Tim Curry, Oliver Platt, and Dylan Baker) isn’t bad. R, 118 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley, River East 21, Wilmette.… Read more »

Communication Breakdown [SPANGLISH]

From the Chicago Reader (December 17, 2004). I’m wondering now (August 2015) whether I underrated Spanglish as much as I overrated As Good As It Gets. But the fact that I keep changing my mind about James L. Brooks probably says as much about me as it says about him. (In March 2016, having just reseen this, I like it still more, although, as always with Brooks, some irritations remain.)  — J.R.

Spanglish

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by James L. Brooks

With Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele, and Ian Hyland

One reason I can’t regard Pauline Kael as a great film critic is her unshakable belief that she needed to see a movie only once — that she could immediately form an opinion and never have to revise it. She was thought of as an industry gadfly, but her blind faith in first impressions often fit industry calculations perfectly, helping to validate things like test-marketing and seeing movies as disposable.

I readily admit that changing one’s mind about movies days or years later can also be a problem. But we outgrow some films and mature enough to value the challenges of others.… Read more »

An Affair At Akitsu

Adapted from a novel by Shinya Fujiwara, this early feature (1962) by Yoshishige Yoshida follows a love affair that serves as a metaphor for postwar Japan. With Mariko Okada, Yoshida’s wife. In Japanese with subtitles. 113 min.… Read more »

About Baghdad

Shot in July 2003, this collectively made video documentary is by far the most comprehensive account I’ve seen of how Iraqis view the U.S. war and occupation. The main interlocutor, a poet and novelist with an Iraqi father and an American mother, doesn’t conceal his opposition to President Bush, but the spectrum of positions is unusually broad, from plenty of pro-American people to Iraqis who’ve never forgiven the U.S. for its support of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. Most of the credited filmmakers have both Middle Eastern and American roots, which may help to explain why this national portrait shows a country as divided as the U.S. is. In Arabic with subtitles. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

After The Sunset

Pierce Brosnan isn’t playing James Bond this time around, but the setting (Paradise Island in the Caribbean) and the Playboy-like sensuality (concentrated on Salma Hayek and Naomie Harris) seem drawn from the same commercial/colonial fantasy. Brosnan’s a jewel thief resting up from his last score, Hayek’s his girlfriend and sometime assistant, Harris and Woody Harrelson are a cop and an FBI agent trying to snare him, and Don Cheadle is a suave local gangster. It’s silly adolescent stuff, but director Brett Ratner and screenwriters Paul Zbyszewski and Craig Rosenberg serve it up gracefully. PG-13, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

About Baghdad

Shot in July 2003, this collectively made video documentary is by far the most comprehensive account I’ve seen of how Iraqis view the U.S. war and occupation. The main interlocutor, a poet and novelist with an Iraqi father and an American mother, doesn’t conceal his opposition to President Bush, but the spectrum of positions is unusually broad, from plenty of pro-American people to Iraqis who’ve never forgiven the U.S. for its support of Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war. Most of the credited filmmakers have both Middle Eastern and American roots, which may help to explain why this national portrait shows a country as divided as the U.S. is. In Arabic with subtitles. 89 min. Sat 11/13, 5 PM, and Mon 11/15, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

The Adventures Of Iron Pussy

The experimental filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (who got his MFA from the School of the Art Institute) has proved himself a real original with films like Mysterious Object at Noon and Blissfully Yours. This 2003 video, codirected by Michael Shaowanasai, is a campy action adventure about a shy nobody who doubles as a butt-kicking government spy. Indefatigably cheerful about its own silliness, enlivened by muscial numbers and asides about Thai politics, it often feels like it’s about to collapse into giggles. It’s worthy of its title, if not its celebrated director. In Thai with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »