From the Chicago Reader (August 30, 1996). — J.R.
This eccentric and soulful anarcho-leftist utopian fantasy is probably the most underrated of all Depression musicals. Directed by Lewis Milestone in 1933 from a script by Ben Hecht and S.N. Behrman and with a score by Rodgers and Hart that features rhyming couplets, the film stars Al Jolson as a Central Park hobo who actually likes being homeless — until he falls in love with an amnesia victim (Madge Evans) who’s a former mistress of the mayor (Frank Morgan) and has to get a job to support her. The overall conception may owe something to Chaplin’s City Lights, released two years earlier, but the remarkable editing and mise en scene show Milestone at his most inspired and inventive. (There’s a parodic Eisensteinian montage cut to the syllables of “America” that has to be seen to be believed, and a tracking shot past muttering customers in a spacious bank is equally brilliant and subversive.) Harry Langdon is memorable as a Trotskyite who sternly lectures the hero, and Richard Day’s deco art direction is striking. Jolson’s most memorable numbers include the title tune and “You Are Too Beautiful,” one of the loveliest of all Rodgers and Hart ballads.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 15, 2003). — J.R.
“Rene Fontaine” and “Sergei Petrov,” the credited screenwriters of this mannerist fantasy, are pseudonyms for star Bob Dylan and director Larry Charles, a veteran of Seinfeld. In fact, every character talks like Dylan, and his character, a legendary singer called Jack Fate who turns up between prison terms to perform a benefit concert, is a fanciful but recognizable version of his own persona. Set in a contemporary America that suggests an endless skid row, with such Latin American trimmings as an ongoing civil war and a dying dictator whose likeness hangs everywhere, this is at once a spin on Dylan’s mythology, an excuse to feature as many of his songs as possible, and an unblinking look at American greed, corruption, and self-absorption. And for all its pretensions and avant-garde narrative dislocations, the star-studded cast — including Jeff Bridges, Penelope Cruz, John Goodman, Jessica Lange, Luke Wilson, Angela Bassett, Val Kilmer, Mickey Rourke, and many others in cameos — keeps this buzzing. 106 min. Music Box.
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From the Chicago Reader (September 5, 2003). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Samira Makhmalbaf, Claude Lelouch, Youssef Chahine, Danis Tanovic, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Ken Loach, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Amos Gitai, Mira Nair, Sean Penn, and Shohei Imamura
Written by Makhmalbaf, Lelouch Chahine, Tanovic, Ouedraogo, Paul Laverty, Vladimir Vega, Gonzalez Inarritu, Gitai, Marejos Sanselme, Sabrina Shawan, Penn, and Daisuke Tengan.
It was probably inevitable that the terrorist attacks of September 11 were immediately seen as a blow against America rather than as crimes committed against humanity, the world community, or even just the people, many of whom were not American, who happened to be occupying three particular buildings. We deduced from the reported beliefs and intentions of the terrorists that America and what it represented to them was the desired target. But the willingness to privilege this vision over every other possible understanding of the tragedy may be dangerous. It even suggests a certain ideological defeat, because it has allowed the enemy to set the terms of the conflict.
The reflex is understandable. “Humanity” and “world community” are abstract. “America” is also abstract but feels closer to home. Because it’s familiar, it’s treated as if it were the only reality, as if it were, in fact, the world.… Read more »