Daily Archives: January 6, 2019

5 Against the House

 From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1996).  – J.R.

5-against-the-house-1955

One of Jack Finney’s best and most neglected thrillers, adapted by Sterling Silliphant and John Barnwell — about five college chums scheming to rob Harold’s Club in Reno, Nevada, to prove their ingenuity — yields a tidy Phil Karlson noir (1955), filmed in Reno with a fair amount of grit as well as polish. With Guy Madison, Brian Keith, and the incomparable Kim Novak.

5ATHRead more »

Something to Talk About

From the Chicago Reader (January 3, 2008). This was the last of my annual “ten best” pieces for the Reader. — J.R.

If I were playing by the usual rules, the contenders for my best of 2007 list would be drawn from the titles only millionaires could afford to promote. In that case, I would say 2007 was the worst year for new movies I could remember. But I’d be fudging, because I didn’t come close to seeing all the contenders.

Who did? Film Comment recently put together a list of eligible titles for its own annual poll. It’s 105 pages long, with roughly 23 films per page — more than 2,400 titles. “Major studios” released 119 films, or about one-twentieth of the total (I saw 33 of them), and 49 more came from “specialty divisions” (I saw 22 of those). “Independent distributors” were behind nearly 500 (90 of which I saw). The remaining 1,600-plus titles came out of festivals (where I saw about 50 not included in the other lists).

At least 30 of the movies I saw were so forgettable that I had to look them up in the Reader’s movie database to remind myself what they were about.… Read more »

Czar Babies [Review of Nabokov's LECTURES ON RUSSIAN LITERATURE]

From The Soho News (November 17, 1981). Ironically, this review was originally copyedited rather clumsily, so I’ve tried to restore some of its original logic and meaning. Incidentally, for those who might be interested, my earlier review of Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature for Soho News can be accessed here. — J.R.

Lectures on Russian Literature

By Vladimir Nabokov

Edited and introduced by Fredson Bowers

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95

Compare the book under examination to Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, reviewed in these pages last November. Is Volume II a worthy successor, an arguable improvement, or a distinct letdown? Explain. (Use concrete examples.)

All three. Issued in a uniform edition at the same price, only 50-odd pages shorter -– the jacket Indian-red in contrast to last year’s sky-blue –- the book can be considered a worthy successor. Insofar as it contains meaty selections from what I take to be Nabokov’s supreme act (and work) of literary criticism (not counting his voluminous notes on his translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which I haven’t read) –- namely, his eccentric and indelible Nikolai Gogol, first published by New Directions in 1944 -– it can arguably be deemed an improvement, even over his exhilarating and enlightening lectures on Flaubert and Kafka in the first volume.… Read more »

SMILE (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 501, October 1975. — J.R.

Smile

U.S.A., 1974Director: Michael Ritchie

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Thirty-three high school girls arrive in Santa Rosa, California, to compete in the annual Young American Miss Pageant. While the girls rehearse their individual and collective performances and are interviewed by a panel of judges — including former pageant winner Brenda DiCarlo [Barbara Feldon] and car dealer “Big Bob” Freelander [Bruce Dern], who codirect the event – Brenda’s husband Andy [Nicholas Pryor], a heavy drinker who runs a trophy shop, derides the silliness of the pageant and Freelander’s son, “Little Bob” [Eric Shea], takes orders from his friends for Polaroid nude snapshots of the girls. Professional choreographer Tommy French [Michael Kidd] arrives to train the girls in dance routines, “Little Bob” his caught with his Polaroid while the girls are undressing, a nude snapshot is confiscated by the police, and he is taken to see a psychiatrist by his father. Andy complains to “big Bob” about his sexual problems with Brenda, and is reluctantly persuaded to attend the Exhausted Rooster Ceremony (for local men who reach the age of 35) that night, the second evening of the pageant.… Read more »