Film Reviews - 2000
by Dr. Bob Blackwood

These articles appeared in the Near North News, Chicago and are copyright, Bob Blackwood.

Hyperlink index:

Three Fine Little Films

Keep The Script, Baby

“Braveheart Redux” and AA Twice

Hamlet & Small Time Crooks

Pola X: Visual Poetry

Retro Fellini sans Mastroianni: 8 ½ Women

Steal This Paper But Read This Review

Unbreakable Is Solid and Heavy Too

Link back to film index page

Three Fine Little Films: High Fidelity, The Ninth Gate, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai by Bob Blackwood

British director Stephen Frears did "The Grifters" (1990) with John Cusack, Annette Bening and Angelica Huston, a wonderful study of con artists up against the hard edge of reality.  His "The Van" (1996), set in Ireland, also brought out the real thing on the life and activities of an alcoholic Irish patriarch.  Now, ten years later, we are viewing his "High Fidelity," a romantic comedy with the more than competent John Cusack and the attractive Iben Hiejle for the thirtysomethings with many references to contemporary music.

Cusack, as the owner of a record shop on Chicago's north side (oh yes, the novel was set in England), does a lot of direct address to the camera.  Now, this worked well with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in the "Road" pictures.  It works pretty well with John Cusack as he tells us the story of the ups and down of his romantic encounters, except that it goes on a bit too much.  He becomes less likeable as his character moans about the women who did not cater to his ego.

"High Fidelity" needed 15-20 minutes cut out of the middle; it runs 113 minutes.  The audience was getting restive at mid-point; luckily the film has a few rousing scenes at the conclusion, thanks not only to Cusack and Hjejle but also to the clerks in the record store--Jack Black as an egotistical music lover and not a bad singer and Todd Louiso as the geek.

In addition, cameos by Lisa Bonet, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joan Cusack, and Tim Robbins keep things lively.
Roman Polanski's horror film, "The Ninth Gate" (1999), is a well made film, a puzzle within a puzzle.  The last horror film of Polanski's which I remember was his version of "Macbeth" (1971).  It is, in my perspective as a Shakespearean scholar as well as a film critic, the best film depiction of that tragedy.  His previous horror film, "The Fearless Vampire Killers" (1967), was the best spoof of horror films I have ever seen (yes, I include "Scream").

Johnny Depp stars as a rare book buyer who is pursuing a volume from the Italian Renaissance which will open the gate to Satan and, allegedly, give him equality with the Prince of Darkness. Good luck in that one, humans; Satan is also the Prince of Attorneys.

Frank Langella is perfectly cast as the billionaire in search of the arcane volume.  I really do appreciate film in which a source for money is established.  Langella's mellifluent tones on the telephone are winners too.  Emmanuelle Seigner as Depp's sometime companion is just perfect for the roll as is Lena Olin as a would be witch with an itch.

As always, Depp gives a good performance.  No matter what the script, which is not always a winner, he does his best with it.  He, though prettier, and Cusack are probably rivals for some roles at this point.

Jim Jarmusch's "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" (1999) is pleasing its audiences.  How a twenty-first century African American can be guided by the precepts of a medieval samurai is a bit hard to understand, but Forest Whitaker does his best.  Even as he twirls his pistol barrel, he evokes the mood of Toshiro Mifune.

Jarmusch is an alternate film guru.  His "Dead Man" (1995) was a tedious series of in-jokes with Johnny Depp, and his "Night on Earth" (1991) was a success.  In "Ghost Dog," he employs written samurai precepts for life and death flashed on the screen to create a mood.  Sometimes it works; at other times, Whitaker comes to the rescue.

Ah, Whitaker, how about another effort as a director as good as your "Waiting to Exhale" (1995)?