Daily Archives: January 8, 2018

Best Seller

From the Chicago Reader (September 25, 1987). — J.R.

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While it may not add up to anything very profound, this paranoid thriller is put together with so much craft and economy that a significant part of its pleasure is seeing how tightly and cleanly every sequence is hammered into place. Brian Dennehy is Dennis Meechum, an incorruptible police detective who doubles as a successful crime writer; James Woods is Cleve, a hit man who doubles as a corporate executive, and who wants Meechum to write a nonfiction best seller exposing his ruthless and respectable former boss — a philanthropist tycoon who has stealthily slaughtered his way to the top. Dennehy’s square and skeptical cop is an adroit reading of a dull part, but he makes a wonderful straight man for Woods’s fascinatingly creepy yet sensitive killer — modeled in part on Robert Walker’s Bruno Anthony in Strangers on a Train, with a comparable homoerotic tension between the two men. Tautly and cleverly scripted by Larry Cohen, crisply shot by Fred Murphy, and directed by John Flynn without a loose screw in sight, this is first-class action story telling, stripped to its essentials: no shot is held any longer than is needed to make its narrative point, and the streamlining makes for a bumpless ride.… Read more »

Phantom India

From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 1999). — J.R.


Louis Malle’s seven-part, 378-minute 1968 documentary series is one of my favorites among his works. His upper-class misanthropy and morbidity usually alienate me, but this essayistic travel diary avoids any pretense of objectivity in order to present itself as a highly personal search — narrated in excellent English by Malle himself in the version I’ve seen, but in French with subtitles in this version. In the first episode he addresses the problem of everyone he meets in India describing the country in Western terms, then goes on to reflect on how his filmmaking affects his subjects; from there he takes in everything from a water buffalo being devoured by vultures to interviews with a few European hippies about why they’re in India. With his wide-ranging but rambling approach Malle undoubtedly misses or skimps on certain topics, but his mercurial intelligence keeps this lively and fascinating. (JR)… Read more »

Life on the Edge [DRIFTING CLOUDS]

From the Chicago Reader (July 10, 1998). One thing that has recently led me to reconsider my estimation of Aki Kaurismaki is this superb, engaging appreciation of him by Girish Shambu.– J.R


Drifting Clouds

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Aki Kaurismaki

With Kati Outinen, Kari Vaananen, Elina Salo, Sakari Kuosmanen, Markku Peltola, and Matti Onnismaa.

It might be risky to generalize about national character after visiting a country for only a week, but the particular kind of self-deprecating humor in all six features I’ve seen by Aki Kaurismaki was equally apparent during my recent visits to both Helsinki and the Midnight Sun film festival in Sodankyla. Kaurismaki and his older brother Mika, also a filmmaker, are the founders and guiding spirits of this festival, and its artistic director is one of their best friends, so the humor I’m describing is probably a type that flourishes under their eccentric auspices.

Roughly speaking, this attitude derives in part from the belief that Finns are perceived as the Poles of Scandinavia. Their language shares more roots with Hungarian and Estonian than with Swedish, Danish, or Norwegian, and Helsinki, by virtue of being only a few hours from Saint Petersburg, may have more links with Russia than with its Nordic cousins.… Read more »