Daily Archives: October 13, 2020

The Steel Helmet

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 2005). — J.R.

Sam Fuller’s first and greatest war film (1951) is even better in its terse and minimalist power than the restored version of The Big Red One released last year. The first Hollywood movie about the Korean war, this introduced Gene Evans, the gruff star Fuller was to use many more times, as a crude, bitter, savvy sergeant who, despite his obvious racism, bonds with a South Korean war orphan. In addition to being visually and aurally brilliant, the film includes virtually unprecedented debates about America’s racial segregation and the internment of Japanese during World War II. An independent production, The Steel Helmet did so well that it immediately won Fuller a contract at 20th Century Fox. With Steve Brodie, Robert Hutton, and James Edwards. 84 min. (JR)

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Peep “TV” Show

From the August 20, 2004 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

I headed the critics’ jury at Rotterdam in 2004 that gave its top prize to Yutaka Tsuchiya’s exceedingly weird fiction documentary video about teenyboppers drifting around Shibuya, Tokyo’s fashionable shopping district. (Another big fan of the film, incidentally, is Claire Denis.) Bewildering in the best sense, this kinky low-tech digital video is fascinating for its Martian-like characters — dressed like fairy-tale figures and preoccupied with obscure rituals — and its singular use of space, which combines the claustrophobia imposed by small cubicles, TV screens, and surveillance cameras with the vast exterior reaches of the urban landscape, confounding our usual grasp of inside and out, public and private. Imagine Blade Runner restaged inside someone’s closet. In Japanese with subtitles. 98 min. (JR)

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Where the Kids Are

From the Chicago Reader (June 10, 2005). — J.R.

It seems like hardly anyone in the U.S. ever saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, despite its enormous success elsewhere, apparently not so much because kids had trouble with it as because of the adult suits handling it. But Roger Ebert gave this film only two and a half stars while assigning Mr. and Mrs. Smith three stars the same week (June 10, 2005), suggesting that one of us was probably wrong — or maybe just that Japanese kids and I are both helplessly out of touch with the American mainstream as defined by some grown-ups. — J.R.


Howl’s Moving Castle

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and Written by Hayao Miyazaki

With the voices of Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Blythe Danner, Emily Mortimer, Josh Hutcherson, and Billy Crystal

The Adventures of Sharkboy & Lavagirl in 3-D

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Robert Rodriguez

Written by Rodriguez and Racer Rodriguez

With Cayden Boyd, Taylor Dooley, Taylor Lautner, George Lopez, Jacob Davich, David Arquette, and Kristin Davis

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

no stars (Worthless)

Directed by Doug Liman

Written by Simon Kinberg

With Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Vince Vaughn, Adam Brody, Kerry Washington, and Keith David

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sometimes movies earmarked for kids are a lot more nuanced, sophisticated, and mature than the ones that are allegedly for grown-ups.… Read more »

Orson Welles at 90

This is the first article I ever wrote for Stop Smiling — their “auteur issue” (no. 23) in 2005. Like virtually all Welles reporting, this is of course drastically out of date, but often in a good way; it’s delightful to see how much more of his work has become available over the past 15 years. — J.R.
If Orson Welles were still alive, he would have turned 90 last May 6th. Chances are, no matter what he did in his final years, a certain number of people would still be griping that he never lived up to his promise. But I
wouldn’t be one of them.
This Midwestern whiz kid, a master of radio, theater, and film, terrorized the populace when he was 23 with a mockumentary radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds that was taken for real. At 25 he scandalized Hollywood with a first feature called Citizen Kane that ridiculed newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Welles was clearly expected to cause a sensation regardless of what he did after this. But to manage that, he would have needed continued public visibility, which Welles rarely had after those two early peaks. And in fact he was after more than sensation.
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