From the August 23, 1991 Chicago Reader. This review is also reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies (1995). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Joel Coen
Written by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen
With John Turturro, John Goodman, Judy Davis, Michael Lerner, John Mahoney, Tony Shalhoub, and Jon Polito.
I’m not one of the Coen brothers’ biggest fans. I walked out of Blood Simple, their first feature. The main sentiment I took away from Raising Arizona and Miller’s Crossing — their second and third efforts, both of which I stayed to the end of — was that at least each new Coen brothers movie was a discernible improvement over the last. Raising Arizona may have had some of the same crass, gratuitous condescension toward its country characters as Blood Simple, but it also had a sweeter edge and more visual flair. In both craft and stylishness, Miller’s Crossing was another step forward, and even if I never really believed in either the period ambience or the characters — the dialogue bristled with anachronisms, and Albert Finney’s crime boss seemed much too blinkered and naive for someone who was supposed to be ruling a city — the film nevertheless demanded a certain attention.… Read more »
From the October 2008 issue of Artforum. (This is also reprinted in my 2010 collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia.) — J.R.
No major figure in postwar Japanese cinema eludes classification more thoroughly than Nagisa Oshima. The director of twenty-three stylistically diverse feature films since his directorial debut in 1958, at the age of twenty-six, Oshima is, arguably, the best-known but least understood proponent of the Japanese New Wave that came to international prominence in the 1960s and ’70s (though it is a label Oshima himself rejects and despises). Given the size of his oeuvre and the portions that remain virtually unknown in the West — including roughly a quarter of his features and most of his twenty-odd documentaries for television — the temptation to generalize about his work must be firmly resisted.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 2, 2004). — J.R.
André Bazin reportedly once hypothesized that if Hollywood were the court of Versailles, Gilda (1946) would have been its Phedre — which may just be a fancy way of pointing out the enduring greatness of a campy melodrama that, from certain points of view, isn’t even very good. Directed by Charles Vidor, memorably shot by Rudolph Maté, and written by Marion Parsonnet, it’s set in a highly fanciful Buenos Aires (with mountains), where a professional gambler (Glenn Ford) goes to work for a casino owner (George Macready) who then marries the gambler’s old flame (Rita Hayworth), thereby setting off the sickest and weirdest bout of repressed love and hatred (both hetero- and bisexual) you ever saw. And Hayworth, whether she’s performing “Put the Blame on Mame” (dubbed by Anita Ellis) or just being her glamorous self, was never more magnificent. With Joseph Calleia and Steve Geray. 110 min. (JR)
… Read more »