From the Chicago Reader (October 27, 2000). — J.R.
Alain Resnais’ first feature in English (1977, 110 min.) focuses on the imagination, dreams, and memories of an aging British novelist (John Gielgud) over one night as he mentally composes and recomposes his last book, using members of his immediate family — Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn, David Warner, and Elaine Stritch — as his models. Although David Mercer’s witty, aphoristic script can be British to a fault, the film’s rich mental landscape is a good deal more universal, with everything from H.P. Lovecraft’s werewolves to a painted seaside backdrop providing the essential textures. Like all of Resnais’ best work, this is shot through with purposeful and lyrical enigmas, but the family profile that emerges is warm and penetrating, recalling the haunted Tyrones in Long Day’s Journey Into Night rather than the pieces of an abstract puzzle. The superb performances and Miklos Rozsa’s sumptuous Hollywood-style score give the film’s conceit a moving monumentality and depth, and Resnais’ insights into the fiction-making process are mesmerizing and beautiful. This is showing in a 16-millimeter print, but later in the evening the Film Center will present 35-millimeter prints of Hiroshima, mon amour (1959) and Muriel (1963). Along with Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Melo (1986), these three powerful works are Resnais’ greatest features. Gene Siskel Film Center, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 28, 3:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
The angels are newDrew Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, and Lucy Liubut the mythology of the old TV show, with John Forsythe intoning the offscreen Voice of God (i.e., Charlie), remains the same. The first third or so offers all the dominatrix fantasies one might wish for, but then fantasy gives way to the aggressiveness of the special effects and optical effects, which reflect the background of the director, McG, in commercials and music videos and offer something like mild but frequent electric shocks. The plot fluctuations guarantee a costume change every few minutesat least until the closing stretch, when the movie becomes simply another James Bond derivativeand they might be enough to keep you interested. Bill Murray makes a fairly funny Bosley, and Tim Curry, Kelly Lynch, and Crispin Glover all do pretty well as heavies. The script is credited to Ryan Rowe, Ed Solomon, and John August. 92 min. (JR)
I had fun with this Harold Ramis remake of the 1968 Stanley Donen comedyabout an obnoxious nebbish who strikes a Faustian bargain with the devilas long as I didn’t worry about the character of the nebbish, played by Brendan Fraser, who starts off unbelievably stupid and winds up ridiculously enlightened. Much more believable and witty is the devil, incarnated by Elizabeth Hurley as a steamy babe, while the beautiful and ethereal woman the nebbish dreams about, adequately played by Frances O’Connor, isn’t much more than a prop. Each of the seven wishes the nebbish is granted yields a separate comic sketch in which he fulfills his fantasy but doesn’t gain his prizethe same structure as the original, which was British and basically consisted of sketch humor by Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. The only washouts are the sketches in which the hero is supposed to be sensitive or intelligent and witty, these being nothing but assemblies of stupid stereotypes. In other words, this is well crafted and mindless in the best Hollywood tradition. Larry Gelbart and Peter Tolan collaborated with Ramis on the script. 93 min. (JR)
This seminal 63-minute experimental film by French director Jackie Raynal kicks off Facets Multimedia Center’s weeklong retrospective on the “Zanzibar collection,” a group of mainly political films financed by heiress Sylvina Boissonnas between 1968 and ‘70. Raynal, a film editor working for most of the French New Wave directors, made Deux fois in black-and-white 35-millimeter during a visit to Barcelona and its environs, with herself as the main performer in practically every sequence. Instead of a story it offers a flow of sequential events that formally rhyme with each other, so that the title (”two times”) becomes a succinct reference to her method–though some things in the film appear three, four, or five times, always with distinct variations. Years later, faced by a team of feminist film theorists, Raynal admitted that the film is partially about “the representation of the image of woman as a sign,” but apparently in the more footloose, less gender-conscious 60s she was more interested in exploring the sexy forms of duplicity between various sequences, their secret points of accord and strongest points of tension. It’s a film about coupling (a man appears with Raynal in many of the sequences) but also about flirting with camera and spectator alike. If I wanted to convey the excitement of France in 1968, this brave, pleasure-driven provocation would undoubtedly carry me part of the way. Raynal and series curator Sally Shafto will attend the Saturday screening. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Chicago, Friday, October 13, 7:00; Saturday, October 14, 8:45; Monday, October 16, 7:00; and Wednesday, October 18, 8:30; 773-281-4114.
Janusz Kaminski, the cinematographer of Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, directs his first feature, a supernatural thriller that seems bent on remaking The Exorcist with some of the stylish look of Seven. Alas, look is everything here and storytelling and characters are next to nothing, so what emerges is oddly ineffectual and uninvolvingvisually striking set pieces set loose in a void. The plot has something to do with a famous writer (Ben Chaplin) who doesn’t believe in the devil but who gradually learns from a believer (Winona Ryder) that he’s scheduled to turn into the Antichrist himself. With Philip Baker Hall, Elias Koteas, and John Hurt; Pierce Gardner and Betsy Stahl are credited with the script. 97 min. (JR)