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.
Lila Says (Samuel Goldwyn) and My Summer of Love (Focus) Sex can be very helpful. For a screenwriter who wants to treat a subject that might seem insufficiently interesting to some viewers, a strong sexual element can serve as hook and medium. As multiple instances have shown, that sexual element can bring along the background material that may have been the first reason for making the picture. The latest example is Lila Says. The screenplay of this French film is by Ziad Doueiri, who is Lebanese-born and has done a lot of technical work in Hollywood, particularly for Quentin Tarantino.
ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (Magnolia) THE INTERPRETER (Universal) A documentary called Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is about more than its immediate subject. Alex Gibney, who directed, based his screenplay on a book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, Fortune reporters. (It was McLean who first uncovered the Enron mess.) What Gibney has done, with sharp interviews, with some of Enron's own company footage, with television clips, and with insistent pace, is to fashion a film missile that pierces the facade of some American practices. Behind that front looms a large and ominous
EROS (Warner Independent) WINTER SOLSTICE (Paramount Classics) MICHELANGELO ANTONIONI, a master of masters, has contributed a short film to a trio of shorts called EROS. His film is “The Dangerous Thread of Things,” which is also the title of one of three brief prose pieces in a book of his. (The book itself is That Bowling Alley on the Tiber.) The pieces were adapted for the screen by Tonino Guerra, his collaborator since L’Avventura (1960). For any Antonioni enthusiast, and I insist on a place in the front rank, all this advance information was exciting.
The two leading actors in The Upside of Anger are so good that their performances, even more than the story they are in, keep us interested. Kevin Costner, who has played baseball stars, here is an ex-baseball star. His character, Denny Davies, has some resemblance to Jack Nicholson's ex-astronaut in Terms of Endearment: a man who peaked early in fame and income. Denny is now exploiting his past as a radio personality. Drinking fairly steadily with booze as both anesthetic and fuel, pleasant and tolerant, he is faced with the problem of living out the rest of his life.
SOME YEARS AGO I SPENT A weekend in Las Vegas and enjoyed it. The bounteous vulgarity in every possible way, from displays to entertainments to phalanxes of slot machines, seemed to me exactly what it ought to be. Anything more chaste and sensible would have been out of order, a disappointment. I watch the Oscars every year, and I have more or less the same reaction: that everything is in character.
Monsieur N (Empire) The Woodsman (Newmarket) When the stars fade, when the cosmos darkens, there will still be one spot of light on planet Earth. That light will be a film studio where they are shooting another picture about Napoleon. Napoleon's effect on the world's publishing industry is unnerving: the number of books about him is beyond fantasy. His effect on the film world is certainly not comparable; still it looms. This country made nine films about him before sound arrived; since then he has been played by Charles Boyer and Marlon Brando. Just two years ago Britain sent us The Emperor'
A letter from a reader in the Pacific Northwest asks wryly: "Do you invent some of the films you write about?" The question prompted a Borgesian temptation to invent, but I was soon calmed down by a sober fact—hardly new, still sobering. The reader's faintly desolate question underscored it. In terms of filmgoing possibilities, this country is schizoid. I, in New York, confront a fairly full range of available films. Only in a few large cities is anything like that range available; and those cities are only a small slice of this country's possible audience.
Twenty-five hundred years ago, in Agamemnon, a Greek soldier just returned from the Trojan War described what it was like to be in that siege: We had to camp Close by the enemy's wall, in the wet river-meadows, Soaked with the dew and the mist, ill from the damp clothes, our hair Matted like savages. Aeschylus might have been writing about the trench warfare of World War I. His lines depict the plight of the French troops in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's A VERY LONG ENGAGEMENT, except that Aeschylus had not encountered artillery and machine guns.