Okay, even though I’ve refused to place The Artist on any of my lists of end-of-the-year favorites, I’ve just finished reseeing it, and I have to admit that if I were a member of the Academy and could offer write-ins, Uggie the dog would be somewhere near the top.
Let’s be frank: we all have different thresholds when it comes to shameless bids for our affection, and these thresholds are invariably matters of taste. While I haven’t been able to forgive The Artist for pilfering and then brandishing a sizable chunk of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score near its closing stretches to impart a sense of tragedy — even after I’ve forgiven Michel Hazanavicius for all his other outrageous breaches of period and silent movie syntax (in short, his diverse and mutifaceted ahistorical outrages), not to mention his abject appropriations of diverse narrative chunks from Singin’ in the Rain, A Star is Born, and Citizen Kane – I’m still periodically won over by some of his audiovisual ideas as acts of audacity and stylistic flourishes in their own right.
Above all, I’m flabbergasted by the performance of Uggie the dog, mutt extraordinaire, which has got to be one of the best canine turns in the history of cinema.… Read more »
From the June 1, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
I never saw The Wild Wild West, a comic SF western series about two undercover agents working for President Grant that ran on TV from 1965 to 1970, but from the look of this sprightly spin-off it must have been pretty good. The director (Barry Sonnenfeld) and costar (Will Smith) of Men in Black join forces with Kevin Kline and half a dozen writers to yield an entertainingly offbeat blend of 19th-century science fiction and Hope and Crosby Road comedies (with Salma Hayek in the Dorothy Lamour part). The putative plot involves a mad scientist and Confederate sore loser reduced to an upper torso (Kenneth Branagh) who’s contriving to take over the United States with the aid of an 80-foot mechanical tarantula. Though the movie is as gadget happy as any Bond flick, the pictorial pleasures deriving from Bo Welch’s production design and Michael Ballhaus’s cinematography are central to its charms. This is even lighter stuff than Men in Black, but Sonnenfeld’s cheerful irreverence keeps it reasonable. (JR)
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In memory and appreciation of Sidney Lumet (1924-2011). This appeared in the March 17, 2006 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Ask the Dust *** (A must see)
Directed and written by Robert Towne
With Colin Farrell, Salma Hayek, Idina Menzel, Donald Sutherland, Eileen Atkins, and William Mapother
Find Me Guilty *** (A must see)
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Lumet, T.J. Mancini, and Robert J. McCrea
With Vin Diesel, Ron Silver, Peter Dinklage, Linus Roache, Tim Cinnante, Annabella Sciorra, Raul Esparza, and Alex Rocco
John Fante’s slim 1939 novel Ask the Dust, one of four autobiographical novels about his surrogate, Arturo Bandini, has a childlike lyricism that recalls William Saroyan and Jack Kerouac. “I climbed out the window and scaled the incline to the top of Bunker Hill. A night for my nose, a feast for my nose, smelling the stars, smelling the flowers, smelling the desert, and the dust asleep, across the top of Bunker Hill. The city spread out like a Christmas tree, red and green and blue. Hello, old houses, beautiful hamburgers singing in cheap cafes, Bing Crosby singing too.” In this novel Fante celebrates his 20-year-old self from a vantage point of almost a decade later, but unlike Saroyan and Kerouac, he also criticizes that earlier self.… Read more »