From the Chicago Reader (July 21, 1995). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Michel Blanc
With Blanc, Carole Bouquet, Philippe Noiret, Josiane Balasko, Christian Clavier, and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Wonders never cease. When Michel Blanc’s hilarious, vulgar farce Grosse fatigue won the prize for best screenplay at the Cannes film festival last year, the American press generally agreed that its chances of stateside distribution were just about nil. A nasty, abrasively funny insider’s look at contemporary French cinema, it was felt to be far too obscure in its references and far too politically incorrect, with its sexist and homophobic gags about rape, to find much favor among art-house patrons on this side of the Atlantic.
Proving us all wrong, Miramax is releasing the movie this week. I can only applaud their decision: offensive or not, Blanc’s fantasy/comedy qualifies in my book as a satire about the movie business far superior to The Player and Swimming With Sharks — two supposedly scathing looks at Hollywood that squander all their venom on a few west-coast executives with fancy ties and outsize salaries and let the audience that supports them neatly off the hook. Paradoxically, these American-made pictures argue that any system that supports people like these treacherous producer-villains has to be wrong, yet somehow they fail to broach the possibility that we in the audience could have anything to do with such a system ourselves.… Read more »
My exposure to Stan Brakhage’s massive oeuvre has been somewhat limited, but these four works made in 1998 are among the most exciting and ravishing I’ve seen, rivaling even Scenes From Under Childhood (1970). Aptly described by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice as “scratch-and-stain films,” these mainly nonphotographic works “are, among other things, a visual analogue to abstract expressionism.” Reel 1 (22 min.) registers as visual music in its development of motifs and its use of rests to divide the work into discrete sections–a music that pulses, throbs, and sometimes winks on and off like a strobe light. Reel 2 (15 min.) credits Sam Bush as the “visual musician” and Brakhage as the “composer”; more staccato, dramatic, and richly orchestrated than the first reel, it occasionally recalls early Stravinsky in its fierce rhythms. Reels 3 (15 min.) and 4 (20 min.) are my favorites: the former uses bursts of photography (water, sky, birds, forest, sand, a nude child, merry-go-round horses), and the latter often suggests animation, with a black field disrupted by tantalizing bursts and smears of color. Also on the program are two Brakhage works I haven’t seen — Coupling (1999, 5 min.) and Night Mulch & Very (2001, 7 min.).… Read more »
Just About Four and the American Spirit
For most of my life, I’ve been both haunted and baffled by a line in a popular song of the 50s (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4X2RVm8R4Q), one of those just-plain-folks outbursts in which the male vocalist, nostalgically and wistfully reflecting on his wife in particular and his life in general, notes at one point that “our children numbered just about four”. Apart from the obvious need of a lyricist to fill out a line, I’ve been wondering for decades now what this could possibly mean. Virtually all the plausible explanations have dark implications: That the narrator never learned how to count up to four with any confidence; that he used to know how until either senility robbed him of that talent or Alzheimer’s gutted his memory; that he and his beloved actually birthed five children, two of whom were only half formed when they emerged (leading to his uncertainty about the precise number). All the possible answers to this query are decidedly grim, yet the song itself is indefatigably cheerful. [7-8-2020]… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1988). — J.R.
Clare Peploe’s accomplished and intelligent first feature is a sunny tale of expatriates set on the Greek island of Rhodes, with a cast of characters and a set of crisscrossing destinies that occasionally suggest Graham Greene in one of his happier moods. The people include a talented professional photographer (Jacqueline Bisset) faced with the possibility of having to sell her house, her teenage daughter (Ruby Baker) and ex-husband (James Fox), an art historian who is her oldest friend (Sebastian Shaw), a tradition-minded Greek peasant (Irene Papas) and her rebellious son (Paris Tselios), and an English couple on holiday (Kenneth Branagh and Lesley Manville). Many of these characters are not who they initially seem to be, and there are various forms of comedy in how they relate (or fail to relate) to one another. For spectators who recall Mazursky’s Tempest, this is a much better and smarter handling of many of the same elements, done this time for grown-ups — pleasurable and diverting throughout. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (April 15, 2002). — J.R.
Clare Peploe’s mainly traditional adaptation of Pierre Marivaux’s 18th-century gender-bending romantic comedy has many of the virtues one would expect from the woman who made the highly entertaining High Season and Rough Magic. But despite the wonderful conclusion, when the film turns into a musical performed before a live audience, as well as the pleasures of the cast and the screenplay — which Peploe, working from an English translation by Martin Crimp, wrote in collaboration with her husband, Bernardo Bertolucci, who’s the movie’s producer, and screenwriter Marilyn Goldin — I was periodically put off by a certain self-consciousness of delivery. Mira Sorvino stars as a princess who, along with her lady-in-waiting (Rachael Stirling), dresses in drag in order to get close enough to the crown’s true heir (Jay Rodan) to offer him the throne that is rightfully his. Others in the cast include Ben Kingsley and Fiona Shaw. PG-13, 107 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (April 12, 2002). — J.R.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Michel Gondry
Written by Charlie Kaufman
With Patricia Arquette, Tim Robbins, Rhys Ifans, Miranda Otto, Robert Forster, Mary Kay Place, Rosie Perez, and Miguel Sandoval.
The energizing comic wackiness of Being John Malkovich made me wonder what to expect next from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze. But their latest collaboration, Human Nature — which Kaufman wrote, Michel Gondry (a music video director, like Jonze) directed, and Jonze produced, along with three other people, including Kaufman — is disappointing. It’s almost as wacky in spots as Being John Malkovich, and at first I found it funny and provocative. But by the end of the ride I felt I’d been taken for one. Then I remembered that Being John Malkovich had also left me with a somewhat sour feeling; ultimately Kaufman had overplayed his hand.
The diminishing returns may have something to do with the filmmakers’ postmodernist approach — the flip attitude that puts somewhat mocking quotation marks around everything, so that a more apt title of this movie might be “Human” “Nature.” This makes me wonder if the TV backgrounds of Kaufman, Gondry, and Jonze have something to do with their built-in skepticism.… Read more »