Daily Archives: September 9, 2020

The Mask of Fu Manchu

From the Chicago Reader (August 1, 1997). — J.R.

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Though light-years away from anything resembling political correctness, this 1932 horror thriller is often magnificent, imaginative stuff — bombastic pulp at its purple best. Boris Karloff stars as the archvillain of the Sax Rohmer novels, a Chinese madman menacing an expedition to the tomb of Genghis Khan. Charles Brabin directed; with Lewis Stone, Karen Morley, Jean Hersholt, and Myrna Loy (as Karloff’s daughter). 72 min. On the same program, chapter seven of the 1938 serial Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. LaSalle Theatre, LaSalle Bank, 4901 W. Irving Park, Saturday, February 16, 8:00, 312-904-9442.

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Ulee’s Gold

From the Chicago Reader (June 16, 1997). — J.R.

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On the strength of this film and Ruby in Paradise, Florida independent Victor Nuñez may actually be the best director of actors in American movies right now. See what he does here with someone as unpromising as Peter Fonda, not to mention Jessica Biel, J. Kenneth Campbell, and the wonderful Patricia Richardson. When the beauty of his writing is factored in with the solid, patient realism of his direction — in both his adaptations (Gal Young ‘Un, A Flash of Green) and his more recent originals — he seems to be one of our most adept novelistic filmmakers as well. The only limitation of his fourth feature is a story that’s fairly familiar, both as an account of personal redemption — Fonda as a Vietnam vet, beekeeper, widower, and grandfather trying to hold the remainder of his family together — and as a crime story involving the former cronies of the veteran’s wayward and incarcerated son. Still, this is so stylistically fresh and sensitively nuanced that you aren’t likely to mind much. (JR)
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Restoration Heaven: Il Cinema Ritrovato [2011]

Written for Sight and Sound‘s blog in July 2011. — J.R.

Not exactly a film festival or a conference in the usual sense, Il Cinema Ritrovato has many of the benefits of each without their professional drawbacks -– namely the frantic boom-or-bust atmosphere promulgated by the entertainment press at Cannes, and the relative dullness and institutional oppressiveness of a long succession of academic papers.

A relaxed yet intense eight-day bash devoted to film restorations, Il Cinema Ritrovato is held over some of the hottest days of the summer in the oldest university town in Europe, and sponsored by one of film restoration’s leading institutions, the Cineteca Bologna, which boasts the rejuvenation of Charlie Chaplin’s works among its achievements. Frequented chiefly by teachers, students, archivists, programmers, film historians and various others involved with restoration (such as people working for various DVD labels), the events are usually split between three auditoriums in the daytime –- although this year a fourth screen was added, making for many more choices as well as conflicts -– followed by huge, free outdoor screenings for everyone in the Piazza Maggiore every evening.

Whether the individual attractions are populist (among the Piazza restorations this year were Nosferatu (1922) and The Phantom of the Opera (1925) with full-scale orchestral -– and in the latter case vocal -– accompaniments, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945), the 1940 Thief of Bagdad and Taxi Driver (1976) or more specialized (some of this year’s retrospective subjects were Boris Barnet, Albert Capellani, early Howard Hawks, Elia Kazan and educational documentaries by Eric Rohmer, Maurice Tourneur and Conrad Veidt), the opportunities to reevaluate film history are plentiful.… Read more »

Temptress Moon

I’ve never been a big fan of Chinese director Chen Kaige’s work, but this opium dream about incestuous longings is clearly his best piece of direction, stylistically voluptuous and pictorial in the best sense. Shot by the remarkable Christopher Doyle, perhaps the most talented cinematographer working in Asia, and starring Gong Li and Leslie Cheung, it’s full of ravishing poetry, even though it isn’t very involving on a narrative level. Since its Cannes premiere it’s been cut by ten minutes or so and decked out with titles intended mainly to clarify the story line and distinguish characters (the usual aim of Miramax’s compulsive meddling), but this has done damage to the film’s hypnotic and hallucinatory rhythms, especially in the early sections. Once one gets past this choppiness, Chen’s use of offscreen sounds as emotional and atmospheric punctuation and his exquisite uses of color, lighting, framing, and camera movement conspire to make this a beautifully overripe example of Baudelairean cinema. Shu Kei wrote the elliptical script, based on a story by the director and Wang Anyi, set in and around Shanghai from 1911 to sometime in the 1920s. Water Tower. (JR)

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Pushover

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1997). — J.R.

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Richard Quine, a sometime actor best known today for his career as a director at Columbia in the 50s and early 60s, never became a cult hero, but a surprising number of his pictures hold up pretty well. This is one of them, a 1954 noir item with echoes of Double Indemnity. An aging cop (Fred MacMurray) falls in love with a bank robber’s girlfriend (Kim Novak in her first major role, and if you’re as much of a pushover for her early work as I am, you can’t afford to miss this. Adapted by Roy Huggins from two novels — Thomas Walsh’s The Night Watch and William S. Ballinger’s Rafferty; with Phil Carey, Dorothy Malone, and E.G. Marshall. (JR)

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