Daily Archives: October 3, 2003

See the World

From the Chicago Reader (October 3, 2003). — J.R.


A friend of a friend recently visited an uncle who’d just come back from fighting in Iraq. He conceded that the invasion hadn’t reduced the threat of terrorism or uncovered any weapons of mass destruction or exposed any links between September 11 and Saddam Hussein. “Just the same,” he said, “September 11 happened almost two years ago–and somebody’s got to pay.”

I was reminded of his words a couple days later at the Toronto film festival, when I saw Gus Van Sant’s Elephant – a fiction film about the 1999 killings at Columbine High School. No one has been able to adequately explain that massacre, and Van Sant doesn’t even try. Yet one of the teenagers’ motives may well have been “somebody’s got to pay.”

Elephant is Van Sant’s first decent film in years, but it made Variety‘s Todd McCarthy so indignant when it premiered at Cannes this past spring that his anger may have been the biggest news at that festival. This is less peculiar than it sounds, since the Cannes festival is held mainly for the press — unlike the Chicago festival, which is held for the public, or the Toronto festival, which is held for the press, the industry, and the public — and that creates an overheated critical climate where all the competing films are commonly declared either wonderful or terrible.… Read more »


This romantic comedy-drama by Mark Decena promises more than it delivers. A computer programmer (John Livingston) who’s helping to develop an artificially intelligent life form falls for a kindergarten teacher (Sabrina Lloyd). Decena intermittently suggests that relationships are programmed, but there isn’t enough to connect the increasingly conventional love story with the scientific speculation. 79 min. (JR)… Read more »

The School Of Rock

Broadly speaking, this is Richard Linklater’s French Cancanthat is to say, a humanist’s joyful exploration of the musical in which the actors’ personalities resonate as much as the characters they play. Or maybe it’s what Jean Renoir might have come up with if he’d remade Don’t Knock the Rock and cast fifth-graders as the musicians. Though this seems like a personal film, Linklater was hired to direct a cannily commercial script by Mike White, about a rock ‘n’ roll loser (Jack Black) who, fired from his job and his band, impersonates his wimpy substitute-teacher roommate (White) to land a teaching position at an upscale elementary school. This infantile character hasn’t got a thought in his head except for rock music, but somehow he becomes a model teacher, and through stealth and sheer perseverance he turns his class into an inspired gang of rockers. The kids, all real musicians performing, are wonderful, and so is Black; Joan Cusack is both charming and funny as the principal. PG-13, 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Homecoming

For the most part, this is a faithful transposition of Peter Hall’s London stage version of one of Harold Pinter’s best plays, done for the American Film Theatre series in 1973. Two of the cast members are different, but far more consequential are the formal losses from stage to screen: the theater curtain that signaled the play’s division into two acts and the spectator’s fixed distance from the action, which occurs in a hyperrealistically oversize living room. Both acts end with Max (Paul Rogers), a retired butcher and the presiding patriarch of a North London family, demanding a kiss from someone, and after the first act masterfully seduces an audience into accepting the characters’ behavior on a quasi-naturalistic level, the second elucidates the moral implications of that acceptance in a devastating manner. As in middle-period Ibsen, Pinter discloses facts about his characters at precise junctures so that events and identities click into place simultaneously. With Cyril Cusack, Ian Holm, Michael Jayston, Vivien Merchant, and Terence Rigby. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Light That Failed

Brisk and polished in the best 30s Paramount manner, this mounting of Rudyard Kipling’s first novel is limited mainly by its Classics Illustrated impulse to synopsize the story even as it preserves extended chunks of literary dialogue. As an English painter and former colonial soldier in the Sudan who’s losing his eyesight, Ronald Colman is so stiffly decorous that he sometimes seems to have been painted onto William Wellman’s artfully composed frames. Ida Lupino, as Colman’s brash cockney model, and Walter Huston, as his faithful friend, are particular standouts; Robert Carson scripted this 1939 feature. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »


Joseph Losey’s 1974 film of the great Bertolt Brecht play (which Losey directed onstage with Charles Laughton in 1947) isn’t everything it might have been, if only because Topol, who plays the title role, is clearly no Laughton. But this is still the best film version of a Brecht play that I’m aware of, and the secondary castEdward Fox, Michael Lonsdale, John Gielgud, Patrick Magee, Margaret Leighton, John McEnery, and Tom Contiis fine. 145 min. (JR)… Read more »