Daily Archives: October 20, 2017

En movimiento: How Do We Judge Actors?

Written in August 2016 for my November 2016 “En movimiento” column in Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.

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Do we value actors for their visible and audible skills, or for their capacity to make us forget that they’re actors? Over the past month, both at the Melbourne International Film Festival and back in Chicago, at cinemas or watching home videos, I’ve been asking myself this question in relation to such new films as Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Albert Serra’s La Mort de Louis XIV, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water, and Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins, and such older films as Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey, and Jerry Lewis’s Smorgasbord. And, needless to say, my answers to this question differ enormously, mainly according to how familiar I am with the actors involved — which doesn’t necessarily  mean how many times I’ve seen them before. For instance, prior to Paterson, I’d already seen Adam Driver in J. Edgar, Frances Ha, Lincoln, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Midnight Special, but I only know this now because I just looked up his credits.… Read more »

Switching Channels

From the Chicago Reader (February 12, 1988). — J.R.

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The fourth and least successful movie version — after Lewis Milestone’s (1931), Howard Hawks’s (1940), and Billy Wilder’s (1974) — of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s by now overrated farcical play The Front Page. In fact, by following Hawks’s His Girl Friday in making the leading character a woman, this updating by screenwriter Jonathan Reynolds and director Ted Kotcheff qualifies as a remake of a remake. The setting is now a cable news network instead of a big city newspaper, and there are many smaller substitutions (e.g., a copy machine in place of a rolltop desk). But despite a lot of overstrenuous efforts, the grafting of an 80s context onto a 40s adaptation of a play from the 20s mainly adds up to incoherence; the original’s treatment of journalistic behavior and ethics isn’t so much rethought as clumsily transposed, depriving it of any polemical bite and placing it miles away from the knowing details of Broadcast News. Burt Reynolds, Kathleen Turner, and Christopher Reeve are the leads; Henry Gibson is the hapless victim slated to die in the electric chair; and Ned Beatty is the corrupt politician who wants him to fry.… Read more »

The Good, the Bad, and the Future

From the Chicago Reader (October 29l, 1987). — J.R.

I. Good Things About the Chicago Film Festival

1. Quite apart from aesthetic considerations, any film festival that can boast films from 35 countries and encompass 70 years of filmmaking is performing an invaluable cultural service. The xenophobic and antihistorical cast of most pop culture in this country is such that the more the media expand, the narrower our sense of reality generally becomes, and any institution that can allow us glimpses of cultures and eras other than our own is bound to teach us something more than the average TV news broadcast. (The sharp moral distinction that we usually make between news and fiction–designating the first as “serious” and the second as “entertainment”–overlooks the fact that both are usually designed as narrative entertainment, offering consumable, hence disposable, stories with larger-than-life characters.)

2. Out of the 20 films in the festival that I’ve so far managed to see, more than half are eminently worth seeing, and roughly a third qualify as first-rate. If that’s a somewhat lower batting average than either Facets or the Film Center, it’s still a much higher one than what is achieved by the usual run of commercial mainstream releases.… Read more »