Daily Archives: September 13, 2020

Asya’s Happiness

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1988). — J.R.

Originally entitled The Story of Asya Klachina, Who Loved a Man but Did Not Marry Him Because She Was Proud, Andrei Konchalovsky’s remarkable 1967 depiction of life on a collective farm, one of his best films, was shelved by Soviet authorities for 20 years, apparently because its crippled heroine is pregnant but unengaged and because the overall depiction of Soviet rural life is decidedly less than glamorous. (The farm chairman, for instance, played by an actual farm chairman, is a hunchback.) Working with beautiful black-and-white photography and a cast consisting mainly of local nonprofessionals (apart from the wonderful Iya Savina as Asya and a couple others), Konchalovsky offers one of the richest and most realistic portrayals of the Russian peasantry ever filmed, working in an unpretentious style that occasionally suggests a Soviet rural counterpart to the early John Cassavetes. Many of the men in the cast relate anecdotes about war and postwar experiences that are gripping and authentic, the interworkings of the community are lovingly detailed, and the handling of the heroine and her boyfriends is refreshingly candid without ever being didactic or sensationalist. Episodic in structure and leisurely paced, the film is never less than compelling.… Read more »

Twisted

From the Chicago Reader (February 27, 2004). — J.R.

A newly appointed homicide detective in San Francisco (Ashley Judd) tracks a serial killer whose victims are all men she has slept with. Director Philip Kaufman, who usually writes his own scripts, works with a cliche-ridden screenplay by Sarah Thorp, and his personal touches mainly seem to consist of selecting fashionable North Beach bars as locations. His usual flair for erotic detail largely deserts him here, and this thriller seems most interested in lingering over battered and bloodied male faces. Samuel L. Jackson and Andy Garcia costar. R, 97 min.

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Paranoia Rising: Origins and Legacy of the Conspiracy Thriller (2017 revision)

An updated revision of a 1999 essay, commissioned by and posted on Slate on May 24, 2017. — J.R.

 

One of the paradoxes of conspiracy thrillers is that seeing the world as if it were as orderly and coherent as a work of art is both satisfying and terrifying. If everything makes sense, then it’s hard to avoid the premise that someone somewhere is creating that coherence–either God or an equally unseen puppet master. And the fact that we don’t see the strings being pulled means that our imaginations are invited to sketch them in, making us co-conspirators in the process: And opting out of this creative participation means accepting chaos: “If there is something comforting—religious, if you want—about paranoia,” declares Thomas Pynchon in Gravity’s Rainbow, “there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.

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It’s a tradition that harks back to Louis Feuillade’s silent serial of 1915-1916, Les vampires, about a gang of ingenious working-class criminals headed by a beautiful woman and preying on the richa crime thriller evoked in Olivier Assayas’ 1996 dark comedy about a contemporary remake, Irma Vep.Read more »

Endless Possibilities [on PUMPKIN]

From the July 26, 2002 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

Pumpkin

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Adam Larson Broder and Tony R. Abrams

Written by Broder

With Christina Ricci, Hank Harris, Brenda Blethyn, Dominique Swain, Marisa Coughlan, Sam Ball, Harry Lennix, and Nina Foch.

When the New German Cinema started overtaking the French New Wave as a fashionable movement 30 years ago I felt alienated, as if someone had declared a major source of my moviegoing pleasure out-of-bounds. Taking the place of joie de vivre and jazzy invention were cynical disillusionment and cookie-cutter formal patterning — a new kind of style and content that its champions called subversive and its detractors (including me) called defeatist. Whether the mood was sarcastic (Rainer Werner Fassbinder), flamboyant (Werner Herzog), lyrical (Wim Wenders), or hieratic (Werner Schroeter), the overall message seemed to be that people and social conditions were doomed to remain mired in ruts and that hope was for suckers. The 70s were supplanting the 60s, and being glad you were alive was suddenly seen as wimpy and naive.

Little did I realize that this pessimism would remain in the culture while the German films heralding it would be forgotten even faster than the earlier French ones.… Read more »

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

From the Chicago Reader (March 3, 2004). — J.R.

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I don’t get it. As Dave Kehr has noted, the 1962 original was an audacious mix of cold war paranoia and twisted cabaret humor. Any remake that scuttles both had better have something good to replace them with; this offers only a vague retread of anticorporate thrillers from the 70s. The story’s been updated to the first gulf war (Manchurian is now just the name of an evil conglomerate) and deprived of its major shocks (involving formal inventiveness, over-the-top dialogue, and the way the incest is presented). Oddly, it does retain some of the original’s political murkiness — the right-wing villainess (Meryl Streep) resembles Hillary Clinton — but there’s no mythic or comic payoff. If you don’t care much about the first version, or what director Jonathan Demme’s name once meant, the cast does an OK job with Daniel Pyne and Dean Georgaris’s routine thriller script. But the bite found in the best recent political documentaries is missing. With Denzel Washington, Liev Schreiber, Jon Voight, and Jeffrey Wright. R, 135 min. (JR)… Read more »