Monthly Archives: November 2018

La Petite Marchande d’Allumettes

From Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 496). — J.R.

 

Petite Marchande d’Allumettes, La

(The Little Match Girl)

France, 1928

Directors: Jean Renoir, Jean Tedesco

Cert-U. dist–Contemporary. p–Jean Renoir, Jean Tedesco . asst. d–

Claude H eymann. Simone Hamiguet. Sc–Jean Renoir. Based on the

storv bv Hans Christian Andersen. ph–Jean Bachelet. a.d—Eric Aës.

m -excerpts from works by –Schubert, Strauss, Wagner, Mendelssohn.

m. d–Manuel Rosenthal, Michael Grant. Lp—Catherine Hessling (Karen,

the Little Match Girl), Jean Storm (Young Man/Soldier), Manuel Raby

[Rabinovitch] (Policeman/Death), Amy Wells (Dancing Doll). 1,030 ft.

29 mins. (16mm; also available in 35 mm.). English titles.

 

Karen leaves her humble-cottage to sell match boxes under a heavy

Snowfall. She gazes wistfully at a handsome young man emerging

from a restaurant, then looks through a frosted pane at the people

eating inside until boys throw snowballs at her. As she gathers up her

spilled boxes a policeman arrives, and together hey look at a display

of dolls and other toys in a shop window. After lighting matches in

an effort to warm herself, she falls asleep and dreams that she enters

the toy shop — having become the same size as the dolls –- and sets

them all in motion.… Read more »

Deja Vu

From the Chicago Reader (November 17, 2006). — J.R.

Deja-Vu-2006-dvdplanetstorepk-action-denzel-washington

After a terrorist explosion kills the passengers on a New Orleans ferry, an ATF agent (Denzel Washington), discovering that a form of time travel can send him back to the event, resolves to save the life of a woman (Paula Patton) killed shortly before, as well as prevent the explosion. The story recalls Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) in its romantic moodiness and has some of the philosophical poignance common to tales of time travel. But the SF hardware (enjoyable) and thriller mechanics (mechanical) of this Jerry Bruckheimer slam-banger don’t mesh very well with reflection, and the action trumps most evidence of thought. Tony Scott directed a script by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio; with Val Kilmer and James Caviezel. PG-13, 128 min. (JR)

Deja.Vu[2006].aviRead more »

Witness to the Persecution [CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS]

From the Chicago Reader (June 13, 2003). — J.R.

Capturing the Friedmans

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Andrew Jarecki.

It’s disconcerting to be appalled and even slightly nauseated by a masterpiece. But Andrew Jarecki’s Capturing the Friedmans is a documentary, and so it’s disconcerting largely because of its subject matter — it shocks us with the truth.

Yet if Capturing the Friedmans were less shapely and less of a masterpiece, I’d find it less troubling. Both times I’ve seen it I’ve felt that by the end practically everyone associated with the film seems tarnished in one way or another: the ostensible subjects (the Friedmans, an upper-middle-class Jewish family in the Long Island town of Great Neck), the members of their community who helped destroy much of their lives, the filmmakers, and the audience. We’re all tainted by the graphic exposure of family wounds, diminished by what we think and feel — and by what we don’t think and don’t feel. Frankly, I’m not sure whether the film deserves to be applauded or attacked for this.

The film’s story, most of which transpires over a dozen years, begins on Thanksgiving in 1987. Arnold Friedman — a highly respected and popular middle-aged schoolteacher who gives piano and computer lessons at home, and who, as Arnito Rey, led a mambo band in the late 40s and early 50s — is arrested for possessing child pornography and subsequently charged with sexually assaulting dozens of his former computer students.… Read more »

Critical Departures [in Tehran]

Written for the U.K. journal Underline in July 2018. — J.R.

JR with students at National Film School in  Tehran.jpg

In mid-July 2018, I had the honour and privilege of helping to launch an ambitious lecture series in English at the Iranian National School of Cinema – at their attractive and comfortable new headquarters, built only a couple of years ago – by giving a week of daily two-hour lectures about film criticism. Other guest lecturers over the next several months will include Dina Iordanova from Scotland, art historian Marion Zilio from France, Dudley Andrew from the US, Jean-Michel Frodon from France, Paolo Mereghetti from Italy, Carlos F. Heredero from Spain, and Raymond Bellour from France. Several Iranian film critics will also be featured.

The hundred or so students who applied to enroll in this moderately priced series had to take an exam testing their knowledge of film history and their proficiency in English, and roughly a quarter of these applicants were accepted. This winnowing out of applicants proved to be quite efficient in yielding a group of students who were appreciative of such contemporary filmmakers as Abbas Kiarostami, Béla Tarr, and Andrei Tarkovsky and able to write the sort of English that communicated in spite of some uncertain grammar.… Read more »

THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

Written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna (June-July 2017). — J.R.

asphalt01

It might be excessive to claim that The Asphalt Jungle (1950) invented the heist thriller (also known as the caper film), but at the very least one could say that it provided the blueprint for the most successful examples of that subgenre that would follow it, including (among others) The Lavender Hill Mob (1951), Rififi (1955), The Killing (1956), Seven Thieves (1960),  The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), and Reservoir Dogs (1992)—not to mention  such parody versions as Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) and most of the latter films of Jean-Pierre Melville, including Bob le flambeur (1956), Le deuxième souffle, (1966), and Le cercle rouge (1970). Indeed, The Asphalt Jungle was regarded as such a master text by Melville that one isn’t surprised to find over a dozen references to it in Ginette Vincendeau’s book about him. According to Geoffrey O’Brien, Melville once “declared that…there were precisely nineteen possible dramatic variants on the relations between cops and crooks, and that all nineteen were to be found in [John Huston’s masterpiece].”

In short, the reverberations in this MGM A-feature are multiple, although that doesn’t prevent it from still seeming fresh today.… Read more »

Imitation Flavors

From the Chicago Reader (July 20, 2001). — J.R.

America’s Sweethearts

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Joe Roth

Written by Billy Crystal and Peter Tolan

With Julia Roberts, Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, John Cusack, Hank Azaria, Stanley Tucci, and Christopher Walken.

The Score

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed by Frank Oz

Written by Kario Salem, Lem Dobbs, Scott Marshall Smith, and Daniel E. Taylor

With Robert De Niro, Edward Norton, Angela Bassett, Marlon Brando, and Gary Farmer.

“Talent means nothing if you don’t make the right choices,” says seasoned safecracker and jazz-club manager Robert De Niro in The Score, as he sets up “one last score” before he quits the game for good. It’s the only sensible thing anyone says in either this movie or America’s Sweethearts, a clunky ribbing of the movie industry, and whoever was making the big choices about these pictures should have taken it as advice. Both appear to be agents’ packages first and movies second, so that even though they’re trying hard to recapture the feel of Hollywood standbys — the heist thriller and the satiric screwball comedy — they seem to proceed from the premise that all that’s required is to throw the right number of “talented” elements in the same direction.… Read more »

Print the Legend: Media Manipulation in American Films: Try & Get Me, Ace in the Hole, Sweet Smell of Success

The following was written to accompany a film series put together by Ehsan Khoshbakht, Imogen Sara Smith, and myself for a tour in Turkey in late 2018 sponsored by the American Embassy. I don’t know yet if it’s being used in this form.  — J.R.

“Fake news”, the term paradoxically used by Donald Trump for journalism that exposes his own lies and corruption, evokes what George Orwell called New-speak in 1984, whose slogans included “war is peace” and “ignorance is strength”. Trump’s cleverness as a media manipulator consists of appropriating the very term that describes his own practice while reversing its meaning so that his opponents — including the people who put together this film program about “fake news,” my colleagues and myself — can no longer use it without speaking on Trump’s behalf. This is surely manipulation with a vengeance, where control over both language and presence becomes another form of class inequality. So when TV executives remark that Trump is bad for America but good for television, they’re only suggesting that these two latter entities have separate agendas and even separate owners, neither of which happens to be the American public.