Weekly meditations from your humble messenger
the Watchers (The Lives of Others, 4/2/07): "Dont
Frontlines of Passion (Little Children, 3/26/07): "Evolutionary
Digitally Enhance the Spartans (300, 3/19/07): "It was
Time (Zodiac, 3/12/07): "Did serial killers exist before
Creepy Buds of May (Venus, 3/5/07): "I make it a practice
the Labyrinth (Pan's Labyrinth, 2/19/07): "With a steady
output of Eragons and Narnias and Harry Potter
installments hitting the multiplexes, you'd think we're living through
the golden age of cinematic fantasy. Unfortunately, those franchises
bear about as much relation to good fantasy as Star Wars or Star
Trek do to complex, adult-oriented science fiction. The techniques
of computer-generated imagery (CGI) literally promise us the universe,
but all we seem to get are the same cast of dragons, trolls, wizards,
and cloaked heroes with pointy weapons. ..."
of the Republic (Rome, 2/12/07): "There are plenty of
TV shows today broadcast in high definition. HBO's Rome, however,
is the first that seems designed with the immersive detail of HD in
mind. The $100 million HBO/BBC co-production, now in its second season,
is the most comprehensive portrayal of ancient Rome put on any screen,
big or small. Yet curiously, the program's sprawling set (built at the
Cinecittà studio lot, outside of modern Rome) is less grandiose
with the Devil (The Last King of Scotland, 2/5/07): "For
those who grew up in the 1970's, Ugandan strongman Idi Amin Dada lived
up to the legacy of his surrealist namesake. This isn't to diminish
the magnitude of his crimes, or the memory of the 300,000 people he
killed. It's merely to say that, in a dull and serious world, his portly,
extravagant, strutting brand of dictatorship was nothing if not colorful..."
and Children First (Children of Men and Volver, 1/29/07):
"In Alfonso Cuarón's fine new futuristic thriller, Children
of Men, the day after tomorrow looks a lot like today's Iraq. The
British, having sealed off their borders against illegal aliens, have
erected a national security state complete with checkpoints, identity
cards, and the inevitable insurgency. London looks both tailpipe crusty
and hopped-up on digital imagery..."
for Baroque (Curse of the Golden Flower, 1/22/07): "It
only seems fitting that the great Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou has
recently turned to directing opera. With his First Emperor premiering
at the Metropolitan Opera in New York last month, and a new martial-arts
opus, Curse of the Golden Flower, now out in theaters, it appears
that his sensibility has gone truly operatic...."
de Redhead (Perfume: the Story of a Murderer, 1/15/07): "Did
women in the gutters of 18th century Paris smell especially good? This
is the unlikely question at the heart of Tom (Run Lola Run) Tykwer's
gothic horror, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Given that the
answer is certainly a resounding "no!", it is to the credit
of Tykwer and producer/co-writer Bernd Eichinger (Downfall, Last
Exit to Brooklyn) that their film still has an appealing fragrance,
with an earthy head chord and a base that is definitely nutty..."
Planet (The Road, 1/8/07): "Oscar Wilde once said 'One
must have a heart of stone to read the death of [Dickens's] Little Nell
without laughing.' Mirth may not be the first impulse of anyone contemplating
Cormac McCarthy's latest hellscape, but it's probably the one most conducive
to mental health. The Road (Knopf, 241 pp.) is a novel with all
the transformative power of a true ordeal, so terrible and inevitable
and deathly serious that to finish it is to invite laughter..."
Tale of Two Bodies (The Holiday, 1/1/07): "Nancy Meyers's
The Holiday is the kind of comedy that demands a large leap of
faith: the faith that charismatic people who look anything like Cameron
Diaz and Kate Winslet have ever spent a minute of their lives being
ignored by the less attractive, less fortunate mortals around them.
The key to the film's vague likeability is that it succeeds on this
Beethoven (Copying Beethoven, 12/25/06): "As far as
Hollywood is concerned, the name "Beethoven" is more closely
associated with the adventures of a certain slobberingly lovable St.
Bernard than with history's most formidable composer. Alas, the arrival
of Agnieszka Holland's Copying Beethoven will not change that
Over Time (The Fountain, 12/18/06): "Darren Aronofsky's
films can't be confused with anybody else's. In both Pi (1998)
and Requiem for a Dream (2000) he revealed a sensibility both
cerebral and mystic, featuring big, primal dramas driven to crisis by
repetition and pounding musical cues. His latest, The Fountain,
represents more of the same but also something new-the courage to be
tender and, in the process, to look ridiculous..."
Now (Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, 12/11/06): "It seems that
nobody is afraid to cast the first stone when it comes to condemning
Mel Gibson. To my mind, the crude anti-semitism many saw in Passion
of the Christ is regrettable, but hardly worse than the sub rosa
Jew-baiting in, say, The Phantom Menace, with its hook-nosed,
money-grubbing, vaguely Semitic-sounding alien slave-traders..."
Ain't Necessarily So (Letter to a Christian Nation, 12/04/06):
"A lot of things have happened since 9/11, but one thing you might
expect largely didn't. In the wake of the largest religiously-motivated
mass murder in US history, the tsunami of faith-based sectarian violence
in Iraq, and ongoing intimidation of free speech by Islamist zealots,
most Americans have not been driven to question the influence of organized
religion in the world..."
Say Not Again (Casino Royale, 11/27/06): "Like Democratic
election victories and US Olympic gold in basketball, good James Bond
movies come along so seldom it's easy to forget they're possible. When
it comes to Ian Fleming's iconic spy/assassin, the failure is especially
puzzling, since everything necessary for success is already in the source
for UN Ambassador (Borat..., 11/20/06): "Here's one
way to avoid the coming political train wreck over the confirmation
of Ambassador John Bolton to the UN: America should send Borat instead..."
Save the Queen? (The Queen, 11/13/06): "Perhaps the
most impressive of Helen Mirren's recent triumphs is getting any work
at all, given that Judy Dench seems to be everywhere these days. Judging
from Hollywood casting, you'd think that Dakota Fanning, Jessica Biel,
Cate Blanchett, and Dench were the only females left on the planet..."
Day (Flags of Our Fathers, 11/6/06): "Clint Eastwood
has always had the looks of someone with gravitas, but only lately
has he delivered. After what seemed like an endless run of mediocre
Westerns and copsploitation flicks, he shocked the critical establishment
in 1992 with his complex, compassionate Unforgiven..."
We Hardly Knew Ye (Marie Antoinette, 10/30/06): "In
the face of renewed popular fascination with Marie
Antoinette, The New York Times suggested last Sunday that Americans
are destined to empathize with a skinny, shopaholic, class-oblivious,
faux-nature-loving Queen. In other words, we have become a nation of
Down in Beantown (The Departed, 10/23/06): "A
few years ago Time magazine named Ang Lee the best living American
directora pronouncement that seemed more than a little absurd
given that Martin Scorsese is still very much alive..."
of the Toasters (Battlestar Galactica, 10/16/06):
"Those of a certain age remember the original Battlestar Galacticaa
post-Star Wars ABC-TV show that was cheesier than gruyere fondue
and curdled about as fast. Others may be vaguely aware that the Sci-Fi
Channel has been running a "reimagined" version of the series..."