From the Chicago Reader (August 21, 1995). — J.R.
To no one’s surprise but the producer’s, Robert Rodriguez’s bigger-budget spin-off/remake of (and occasional sequel to) his impressive action quickie El mariachi doesn’t stand comparison with its predecessor. On the other hand, Rodriguez is clearly a talent to watch, and there’s plenty to be entertained or impressed by here — fancy, violent action sequences (which gradually develop from barroom shoot-outs to outright war battles); a feisty interaction between hero (Antonio Banderas) and heroine (Salma Hayek) that suggests the influence of Howard Hawks; some enjoyable actorly bits by Cheech Marin, Quentin Tarantino (who’s at least around long enough to tell a funny joke), and Steve Buscemi; an enjoyable villain (Joaquim de Almeida, not a gringo here as he was in El mariachi); a nice Mexican score by Los Lobos; and even a halfway tolerable twist in the plot. What’s mainly missing is the sort of conviction and passion that gave El mariachi its charge; one feels at almost every moment that Rodriguez is fulfilling a contract rather than saying something he has to say. There’s a lot of panache here, but not much inspiration. (JR)
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From The Independent: Film and Video Monthly, November 1985 — J.R.
Having attended festivals of many shapes and sizes around the world, I can think of none that is more conducive to the serious viewing of original, offbeat work than the Rotterdam Film Festival. While Rotterdam lacks the global media coverage and accompanying hoopla of a Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Filmex, or Berlin, the festival offers filmmakers a congenial and sympathetic setting. Significantly, American independents as diverse as Jim Jarmusch and Mark Rappaport — as well as European figures like Manoel de Oliveira and Raul Ruiz — made their mark there long before they were treated to New York Film Festival premieres.
A cash prize is awarded each year to a film selected by the Dutch critics. Most recently, it went to Ruiz’s Manoel à l’ïle des merveilles (see two stills above), a French-Portuguese television co-production shot in 16mm, comprising three 50-minute episodes. However, the overall spirit of the festival is anything but competitive, and as a rule the critics prize will go to a film that the critics feel is deserving of special attention rather than an audience favorite.… Read more »
Written as a column for the May-June 1977 Film Comment. Some of the details here are dated, I think, in an interesting manner — especially the discussion of “Disco-Vision”. I should add that the only version of MIKEY AND NICKY that had been released in the mid-70s was an unfinished edit by Elaine May that the studio had taken away from her and put out without her consent. -– J.R.
The world had gone crazy, said the crazy man in his cell. What was nutty was that the movie folk were trafficking in illusions in the real world but the real world thought that its reality could only be found in the illusions. Two sets of maniacs.
– Walker Percy, Lancelot
Compare the ads for NETWORK and CARWASH. The former conjures up a hot exposé, a “real” behind-the-scenes glimpse of What Goes On behind the moneyed façade of big-time broadcasting; the latter suggests a frivolous, “irresponsible” fantasy to be seen for fun, not edification. Moving back to the U.S. after over seven years abroad — a sudden shift from reflective Paris chrome and ashen London gray to La Jolla baby-blue, from cinema to some medieval state of pre-cinema or post-Cinema — the foreignness and familiarity of the country both seem epitomized by the absurdity of that cockeyed distinction, which virtually gets it all backwards.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (September 11, 1998). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Shohei Imamura
Written by Motofumi Tomikawa, Daisuke Tengan, and Imamura
With Koji Yakusho, Misa Shimizu, Fujio Tsuneta, Mitsuko Baisho, Akira Emoto, and Sho Aikawa.
I’ve seen only five of Shohei Imamura’s 19 features, most of them so many years apart that it’s hard to see many stylistic or thematic connections. Yet there’s no doubt in my mind that his 18th, The Eel (1997) — which shared last year’s Palme d’Or with Taste of Cherry and opens this week at the Music Box — is the most interesting new movie around: funny, lyrical, provocative, imaginative, and consistently entertaining. That it happens to be Japanese is incidental to its interest, though I suppose a lot of people won’t go to see it because it isn’t in English. (I suspect the problem isn’t so much xenophobia as habit; most Americans have never seen a subtitled movie and probably regard the prospect of seeing one as work.)
It’s been a truism for quite some time that the Japanese cinema is in terrible shape, financially and aesthetically (particularly now that Akira Kurosawa has died) — though it’s not clear to what extent one should believe the overseas commentators who sift through the available evidence.… Read more »