Wrestling with Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner (Balcony) Al Franken: God Spoke (Balcony) About Tony Kushner as a playwright, debate continues. About Kushner as a human being, the matter is settled. A new documentary, called Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, presents the Jacob who wrestled with angels in America, now doing most of his wrestling with devils.
Old Joy (Kino International) The Beat movement in literature is said to have begun in 1952 with Jack Kerouac and John Clellon Holmes. No such specific date that I know is cited for the movement’s spread to films. (Underground film is something else.) The first Beat picture that I can remember didn’t come until almost forty years later, with Richard Linklater’s Slacker in 1991. Since then there has been a fairly steady stream. I’d dub them Listless Films, even though that term is easy to misunderstand. The people in these films, mostly in their twenties, are not dull or lazy.
The Devil Wears Prada (20th Century Fox) Heading South (Shadow) The title fixes the place and the tone: a film that is called The Devil Wears Prada must live in the world of fashion and its diabolics. The specific place is a slick magazine called Runway, and the air around it is filled with the slash of verbal rapiers and stilettos, lunging and parrying. The screenplay by Aline Brosh McKenna, derived from Lauren Weisberger's novel, begins with reminders of a previous picture about a fashion mag, Stanley Donen's Funny Face (1957).
TSOTSI (Miramax) THE FILM SNOB’S DICTIONARY (Broadway Books) AN OLD MYTH TELLS OF A bird that had to press its breast against a thorn in order to sing, which it then did beautifully. Political troubles have served as that thorn for some writers, and the end of those troubles has, along with its benefits, deprived them of their singing. George Konrád, the Hungarian author of major novels about the travails of life under totalitarianism, has dwindled as a novelist since democracy reached Hungary.
FATELESS (THINKfilm) CONVERSATIONS WITH THE GREAT MOVIEMAKERS OF HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE AT THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE (Knopf) MANY OF US HAVE reservations about the Holocaust as a subject for enacted films. Claude Lanzmann, who made the monumental documentary Shoah, said, "Fiction [about the Holocaust] is a transgression. I deeply believe that there are some things that cannot and should not be represented." Still, even if we too think that we believe this, when a Holocaust film is manifestly serious--one can almost say consecrated--it is hard to resist.
IF THERE IS A HEAVEN FOR COMIC iconoclasts, Laurence Sterne is leaning out of it, smiling. The film made of his novel Tristram Shandy—more properly, the film instigated by his novel—has caused a stir because it juggles cinematic conventions just as he gamboled with the conventions of the novel. However, as he views things from his present perch, Sterne can see that, unlike his own daring, this picture had predecessors in wry film-consciousness.
Cachè (Hidden) (Sony Pictures Classics THE NEW FILM YEAR BEGAN in at least one heartening way: Daniel Auteuil arrived in a new picture. This French actor is so incredibly credible, so unostentatiously fine, that he makes his way from film to film without attracting the hoopla that attends more consciously virtuosic actors. I mention here only two of his many roles. In The Widow of Saint-Pierre, set on that French island, Auteuil was a nineteenth-century army captain whose spiritual tenor changes while he waits for the arrival of a guillotine to execute a murderer in his charge. In Apres Vous,
By now the filmgoing world knows that Steven Spielberg has three selves. First is the self most frequently summoned, the maker of superlative entertainments (Jaws, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial). His second self applies his talent seriously to serious subjects (Schindler's List, Amistad). The third self produces hybrids, films that use both of the other two selves (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saving Private Ryan). Spielberg's new film, Munich, was made by the third self.
Ang Lee continues to astonish. In 1995, when his best-known film was Eat Drink Man Woman, set in his native Taiwan, the producers of Sense and Sensibility tapped him to direct their picture: an act of perception, of courage, for which all of us owe them thanks. Lee proceeded—incredibly—to make the best of the Jane Austen films.
Proof (Miramax) Everything Is Illuminated (Warner Independent) John Madden, the English director of theater and film, is best known in this country for Shakespeare in Love, though Ethan Frome and Mrs. Brown were also exceptional. Gwyneth Paltrow is a gifted actress who needs a good director. Other directors have helped her, but her performance in the Shakespeare picture under Madden’s hand took her into new reaches.