Matters of Fate
January 29, 2007
In the otherwise brilliant opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, dramatizing the American landings in France on D-day, Steven Spielberg made one small slip. He completely engulfs the viewer in the American assault; but when we are thus immersed, he inserts a brief clip of German machine-gunners firing at the Americans. This complete switch in view cracks our involvement. It takes a few seconds to become American-absorbed again. Knowingly or not, Clint Eastwood has converted the Spielberg slip into a triumph.
January 22, 2007
The Good German (Warner Bros.) A war correspondent for The New Republic, in the Berlin of July 1945, gets beaten up four times in pursuit of a story but nonetheless keeps going. That is one way The Good German could be described.
November 27, 2006
VOLVER (Sony Pictures Classics) IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS (Typecast Releasing with HBO) It happens to almost every successful director, and it has certainly happened to Pedro Almodóvar: he has entered the Age of the Larynx. In this age, sheer talk--the interview--becomes as much a part of a director's life as anything other than directing itself. Almodóvar interviews flood the press, especially just before a new film appears. He is more supple and funny than most directors can be, but even he can indulge in interview lingo. (From a recent one: "What always attracts me, and it's almost a physical need,
Men at Arms
November 13, 2006
These are the first minutes of FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, Clint Eastwood's new film about the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. When word came of an Eastwood film on this subject, the blood didn't exactly freeze, but it did become tepid. Did the twenty-first century really need another gung-ho tale of World War II? Eastwood's reply is no. His film is crammed with physical horror and courage in crisis, but the intent is not mere replication of battle.
Themes and Schemes
October 30, 2006
The Departed (Warner Bros.) Black Gold (California Newsreel) Of course Martin Scorsese has varied interests—remember The Age of Innocence and The Last Temptation of Christ—but it seems fair to say that his chief subject is crime. He was reared in Manhattan’s Little Italy, where, he has said, “There were two kinds of people who commanded respect, apart from parents. There were the mini-godfathers, who controlled the neighborhood, and the priests.” His films have dealt less with the priests.
October 16, 2006
All the King's Men (Columbia) 49 Up (First Run) Robert Penn Warren was a poet who also wrote novels. His poetry, much of which is lovely, won two Pulitzer Prizes, and he was the first U.S. poet laureate. But today he is probably best remembered for his novels, particularly All the King's Men, which was published in 1946, won a Pulitzer in 1947, was filmed in 1949, and has now been filmed again. To approach this second film with regard for Warren's poetry, which I certainly have, is to sit for two hours in moderate discomfort.
October 09, 2006
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.
Parting of Ways
October 02, 2006
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.
July 31, 2006
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).
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Slums, Snobs
March 20, 2006
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.