For anyone who found Spider-Man 2 an overwrought retread--there must be some of you out there; I can't be the only one--the video release of Hellboy this week may offer some consolation. An eclectic and fiercely entertaining blend of X-Men, Men in Black, and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Hellboy, like the first Spider-Man, has the infectious zest of a movie made by enthusiasts not yet worried about their place in box-office history.
Elmore Leonard is perhaps the most cinematic novelist writing in the English language. This is partly due to his usual subject matter—strong men and beautiful women on the edge of the law—but still more to the fact that his books read very nearly in real-time. Unlike most crime writers, for whom no physical or emotional detail is too small, Leonard has an extraordinary gift for concision: In any given scene he tells you just enough for the scene to play, and nothing more.
<?xml:namespace prefix = dsl />A woman and a man sit on a moonlit beach. She's a mobster's girlfriend, who shot him and absconded with $40,000. He's the private eye sent to bring her back. He's found her here, in Acapulco, and fallen for her. They kiss, and she pleads with him not to take her back: "I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know anything except how much I hated him.
A few minutes into City of God, the narrator offers (in English-subtitled Portuguese) a pointed description of the sprawling slum outside Rio de Janeiro that gives the film its name: "There was no electricity, paved streets, or transportation. But for the rich and powerful our problems didn't matter." This introduction could easily have marked the beginning of a filmic diatribe about the plight of the poor in Brazil, an earnest work intended to inform but not entertain. Instead it marks the beginning of a glorious exercise in cinematic style.
It's hard to believe, but Mystic River is Clint Eastwood's twenty-fourth feature film as a director. Since his debut behind the camera (he was also in front of it) in Play Misty For Me in 1971, he has directed more movies than either Martin Scorcese or Steven Spielberg. Some are memorable (Unforgiven), some are awful (Absolute Power), and at least one is equal parts each (A Perfect World; if you've seen it, you know which part is which).
Ben Stiller has the rare distinction of starring in two of the funniest American films of the last decade, the Farrelly brothers' There's Something About Mary and David O. Russell's lesser known Flirting with Disaster. Stiller also has the rather more common distinction of starring in a lot of utter rubbish. It will probably come as no surprise that Along Came Polly, out on video this week, falls into the latter category. In Polly, Stiller plays Ruben Feffer, an insurance risk assessor who is predictably terrified of any risk in his personal life.
Editor's Note: This article has been corrected. If the last few years have taught us anything about the Oscars, it's that the Academy loves a glamorous actress in an unglamorous role. There was Hillary Swank's reverse drag act in 1999, Julia Robert's white-trash beauty queen in 2000, Halle Berry's inmate's widow in 2001, and Nicole Kidman's Pinocchio act in 2002.
Last week MGM released a "special edition" extended version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Sergio Leone's classic spaghetti western from 1966. The concluding chapter of the "Dollars trilogy" (following on the heels of Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More), it involves the hunt by three ruthless men (Clint Eastwood, Eli Wallach, and Lee Van Cleef) for a hidden cache of gold coins in Civil War era Texas.
In the introduction to Home Movies I noted that, given the ascendance of video rental over theater attendance, movies are generally reviewed months before most people will see them. One exception, of course, is movies that aren't reviewed at all, having never been released theatrically. Ripley's Game, which Fine Line Features has put out on video after declining to distribute it to theaters, has not quite suffered this fate: A minor cause célèbre, it has gotten some attention in the press, and even enjoyed a three-night, sold out run in New York earlier this year.
Every now and then, a film comes along that clearly demonstrates how low our expectations for the medium have fallen: Give us a few laughs or thrills and avoid abject stupidities, and we'll probably be happy. Osama, the first film produced in post-Taliban Afghanistan, is a reminder that motion pictures can do more, that at their best they can transport us, with utter conviction, to a time and place far removed from our own. In this case the "time" in question is only a few years ago, before the toppling of the Taliban, but it might as easily be millennia.