Daily Archives: September 20, 2020

International Sampler (GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI)

From the Chicago Reader (March 17, 2000). I’m delighted that Criterion recently invited me to retool this review for a new edition of this film, scheduled to appear in November. In some ways, I like Ghost Dog more now than I did 20 years ago. — J.R.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Jim Jarmusch

With Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Cliff Gorman, Frank Minucci, Richard Portnow, Tricia Vessey, Henry Silva, Isaach de Bankolé, and Camille Winbush.

Jim Jarmusch’s seventh narrative feature, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, which I’ve seen three times, may be a failure, if only because most of its characters are never developed far enough beyond their mythic profiles to live independently of them. But if it is, it’s such an exciting, prescient, moving, and noble failure that I wouldn’t care to swap it for even three or four modest successes.

Compared with a masterpiece like its controversial predecessor, the 1995 Dead Man, Ghost Dog seems designed to get Jarmusch out of the art-house ghetto, at least in this country, and into something closer to the mainstream. It’s full of familiar elements reconfigured in unfamiliar ways: Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker), whose life was once saved by Louie, a New Jersey hoodlum, becomes Louie’s samurai hit man, communicating with him exclusively with homing pigeons.… Read more »

James L. Brooks: High-Stakes Gambling, The Ethics of Over-Privilege, and the Comedy of Dysfunction

Written for a collection edited by Adam Cook, Making the Case: Contemporary Genre Cinema, whose publisher belatedly changed his mind about publishing. This is the article’s first appearance, although it’s also reprinted in my latest book, Cinematic Encounters 2: Portraits and Polemics. — J. R.

james-l.-brooks-03

Out of his half-dozen comedy features to date as producer-writer-director — Terms of Endearment (1983), Broadcast News (1987), I’ll Do Anything (1994), As Good as It Gets (1997), Spanglish (2004), and How Do You Know (2010) — James L. Brooks has had three big commercial successes (the first two and the fourth) and three absolute flops (the third, fifth, and sixth). And because all six of these movies are concerned equally with personal failure and personal success, functionality (emotional and professional) as well as dysfunctionality (emotional and professional), it somehow seems fitting that each one has represented a highly ambitious as well as a highly risky undertaking.

The above paragraph has the disadvantage of making Brooks seem so unexceptional as a commercial filmmaker that one might wonder, on the basis of this description,  whether he’s worth examining at all. Some might also question whether all six of his movies qualify as comedies, despite Brooks’ own insistence that they do.… Read more »

Blackboard Jungle

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 2001). — J.R.

One of the great transgressive moments in 50s Hollywood was Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock” playing over the opening credits of this black-and-white melodrama (1955, 101 min.) about unruly boys in a slum high school. This was released a year before the movie Rock Around the Clock, and the fact that the earlier film was an MGM release only added to the punch. A crew-cut Glenn Ford, the squarest of teachers, tries to tame Vic Morrow and Paul Mazursky, among other hoods, and win over Sidney Poitier (in one of his best early roles). As Dave Kehr suggested in his original Reader capsule, the kids are better actors than the adults (who also include Anne Francis, Louis Calhern, and Richard Kiley). Writer-director Richard Brooks had a flair for sensationalism, and his adaptation of Evan Hunter’s novel is loads of fun as a consequence, but don’t expect much analysis or insight. (JR)

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