Written in August 2016 for my November 2016 “En movimiento” column in Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.
Do we value actors for their visible and audible skills, or for their capacity to make us forget that they’re actors? Over the past month, both at the Melbourne International Film Festival and back in Chicago, at cinemas or watching home videos, I’ve been asking myself this question in relation to such new films as Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, Albert Serra’s La Mort de Louis XIV, Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water, and Stephen Frears’ Florence Foster Jenkins, and such older films as Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73, Tony Richardson’s A Taste of Honey, and Jerry Lewis’s Smorgasbord. And, needless to say, my answers to this question differ enormously, mainly according to how familiar I am with the actors involved — which doesn’t necessarily mean how many times I’ve seen them before. For instance, prior to Paterson, I’d already seen Adam Driver in J. Edgar, Frances Ha, Lincoln, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Midnight Special, but I only know this now because I just looked up his credits.… Read more »
From the October 30, 2009 Chicago Reader. I was delighted to learn that Barney Rosset (1922-2012) Iiked this review. — J.R.
A tiresome film on an interesting subject, this 2007 documentary jives with fancy graphics and pop golden oldies as it profiles Barney Rosset, editor and publisher of the often scandalous Grove Press and Evergreen Review. The man who helped launch the career of Samuel Beckett is quickly overtaken by the one who operated a Soho literary salon while profiting as a porn merchant, and apart from noting Rosset’s wealthy Jewish-Irish origins, video makers Daniel O’Connor and Neil Ortenberg don’t give us much to differentiate him from someone like Hugh Hefner. A cable-TV interview of Rosset by Screw publisher Al Goldstein is given as much prominence as Rosset’s 1937 home movies of his trip through Europe, which suggests that swagger matters more than history or culture. There are more stupid sound bites than smart ones, but the directors don’t seem to care which is which. 97 min. (JR)
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From the January 29, 1999 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Because most of the acting is authentic and powerful (especially that of Nick Nolte, Sissy Spacek, and Jim True), the source (a Russell Banks novel) is more than respectable, and the subject — an all-around fuckup (Nolte) in a dying New England town becomes even more fucked-up — and winter setting are unrelentingly grim, one has to admire writer-director Paul Schrader for having the guts to make this picture. But I found it more punishing than edifying. A brave effort to stare down the specter of American failure, it gets off on the wrong foot by pretentiously turning the doomed hero into a Christ figure — a traffic cop with arms extended in crucifixion mode — before the story even gets started. Flashbacks come in two subjective styles — grainy and handheld to recount the meanness and violence of the hero’s awful father (James Coburn, a bit out of his depth), black-and-white to reconfigure the recent past. The hero’s brother (Willem Dafoe), daughter (Brigid Tierney), and ex-wife (Mary Beth Hurt) all have their say, but the narcissism of wounded macho gets in the last word, and it’s last year’s groceries. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 1999). — J.R.
Wes Anderson’s second feature (1998) has some of the charm and youthful comic energy of its predecessor (Bottle Rocket), also coscripted by Owen Wilson, but it also represents a quantum leap. Jason Schwartzman plays an ambitious working-class tenth grader who’s flunking out of a private school — the Rushmore of the title — because he’s too engrossed in extracurricular activities. To make matters worse, he develops a crush on a young widow (Olivia Williams) who’s a grammar-school teacher there. His two best friends are a schoolmate who’s much younger and a disaffected millionaire alumnus (Bill Murray) who’s much older, and part of the lift of this movie is that it creates a utopian democracy among different age groups. Things come to a crisis when the millionaire becomes the hero’s romantic rival. Stylistically fresh and full of sweetness that never cloys, this is contemporary Hollywood filmmaking at its near best. R, 93 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (February 5, 1999). — J.R.
Raul Ruiz’s first mainstream release, which is getting its Chicago premiere at an art house rather than a multiplex, may not be one of his best — given his hundred or so shorts and features, there’s a lot of competition, and this is one of the rare Ruiz movies scripted by someone else. But it certainly provides some provocative and enjoyable jolts. Anne Parillaud plays a professional assassin in Seattle who dreams she’s a vulnerable newlywed honeymooning in the Caribbean and recovering from a rape; she also plays a vulnerable bride who dreams she’s an assassin. William Baldwin plays the significant other of both women, bearing the same name, and the contrapuntal play between Parillaud the victimizer and Parillaud the victim is pushed to dizzying extremes. Beautifully shot by Robby Muller, with periodic allusions in the score (by Ruiz regular Jorge Arriagada) to Bernard Herrmann’s work for Hitchcock, this head-scratching thriller should keep you entertained throughout, at least if you’re feeling adventurous. Ruiz didn’t even have final cut, but he clearly enjoyed himself making this film. Duane Poole wrote the distinctly Ruizian script, featuring twists at every turn, and the costars include Graham Greene and Bulle Ogier.… Read more »