A 2018 column for Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, submitted shortly before the New Year. — J.R.
Shortly before Christmas, I flew from Chicago to New York in order to witness Elaine May on Broadway as she powerfully and persuasively played the lead role in a two-act Kenneth Lonergen play, The Waverly Gallery, about her character’s encroaching senility and memory loss. It’s as if May, now pushing 87, asked herself, “What terrifies me more than anything else?” and then decided to enact, embody, and exorcise that terrifying condition eight times a week, playing a compulsive talker who is gradually losing both her mind and her ability to communicate with her daughter, her son-in-law, her grandson, and the only new painter in her Greenwich Village gallery, all of whom eventually give up on her even when they start to share some of her irrationality and incoherence.
Although I usually process May’s genius more in terms of cinema than in terms of theater, perceiving the grim darkness of her performance here in relation to the tragic finality of her feature Mikey and Nicky, this also makes an intriguing bookend with An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May, which ran on Broadway 58 years ago under Arthur Penn’s direction and featured a certain amount of improvisation.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 4, 1991). — J.R.
Looking over a list of all the new movies I saw in 1990, I was shocked to discover how forgettable many of them were — so much so that it took considerable effort in many cases for me to remember much more than their titles. Crazy People, Bad Influence, Opportunity Knocks, I Love You to Death, Short Time, Cadillac Man, Die Hard 2, Another 48 Hrs., Funny About Love, and Sibling Rivalry all started turning into mush as soon as I saw them. Summoning them up weeks or months later is a bit like trying to remember what I had for lunch on the days I saw them.
Maybe it’s my middle-age talking, but I think something else is involved as well. We’ve been told repeatedly over the past couple of years that the most serious problem affecting this country is not poverty, not AIDS, not violations of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, not a warmongering president or racism or misogyny, and not corporate and governmental skulduggery and deception — but the sale of harmful drugs. Yet during this same period Hollywood movies that will cause comparable amounts of brain damage have commanded almost as much space and attention in the media as all these problems combined.… Read more »
From the March 1, 1988 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Based on a play that constitutes part two of Neil Simon’s autobiographical trilogy, concerned with the experiences of the hero (Matthew Broderick) at boot camp in Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1943, this is an engaging, well-crafted comedy that receives very able direction from Mike Nichols. The period decor and details are nicely handled (apart from the silly decision to adapt clips from Buck Privates and Movietone News to the ‘Scope format, yielding an unnecessary anachronism), and while most of the characters are fairly standard types — sadistic drill sergeant (Christopher Walken), Jewish intellectual (Corey Parker), Polish lout (Matt Mulhern), raunchy prostitute (Park Overall), sophisticated girlfriend (Penelope Ann Miller) — the actors give them their best shot, including the somewhat miscast Walken. The nostalgic visual style of the film, successfully modeled on Norman Rockwell by production designer Paul Sylbert and cinematographer Bill Butler, is especially fetching, and the somewhat Woody Allen-ish offscreen narration shows Simon at his best. Perhaps this movie isn’t as wise or as profound as Simon wants it to be, but it is certainly a cut above sitcom complacency, and packed with wit and charm (1988). (JR)
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