Books and Arts

On Familiarity
October 29, 2004

What is present other than all those things--physical, objects, ideas, and sensibilities as well as their traces and fragments--that have somehow persisted into our own time? It is a characteristic, yet peculiar condition of modern life: Even though our world is made up of just these things from the past, more often than not, they have become unintelligible to us, if not invisible.

Once Bitten
October 26, 2004

Bram Stoker must be spinning in his grave. In Dracula, he introduced one of the great hero-intellectuals in modern literature in Professor Abraham Von Helsing, "a philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day." In the movie Van Helsing, by contrast, Stoker's creation is rendered as basically a meathead. Not only has he lost his academic pedigree, he shows little familiarity even with the details of his chosen profession of monster-slaying.

Jimmy One-Note
October 11, 2004

In the first few oh-so-riveting minutes of Tim Story's remake of the French hit, Taxi, two undercover cops infiltrate the offices of Cuban phone card scammers. One actor is believable, but his fake-mustachioed partner hails from another planet, sporting retro-1970s leather and a terrible (and terribly inconsistent) Scarface accent. The idea is that this cop--this tries-too-hard hack--will blow the deal, and thus win laughs.

Girls, Girls, Girls!
October 05, 2004

"Cutting social commentary"; "acutely hilarious sociology"; "a harbinger of hope ... for future feminist comedies." These were some of the peculiar accolades bestowed upon the movie Mean Girls when it opened in theaters. Why did critics accord it such stature? Doubtless because it was, in the words of one, the "best teen comedy ever adapted from a sociological study." In actuality, the source material--Rosalind Wiseman's book Queen Bees %amp% Wannabes--is not a sociological study but a parenting guide, and Mean Girls is in no meaningful way "adapted" from it.

Show Stopper
September 29, 2004

Yesterday, at 10:15 a.m. Pacific time, an earthquake measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale hit central California; news reports claimed that you could feel the shakes in Los Angeles, but no one I spoke to in the area noticed a thing. One day prior a similar sort of seismic activity struck the entertainment industry: Conan O'Brien had finally signed a contract to succeed Jay Leno in 2009 as the network's newest "Tonight Show" host. It shocked me that Hollywood insiders I knew balked at speculating about the news. Were network omertas keeping them silent? No, they said.

September 28, 2004

It's often said that smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. This is nonsense. Yes, a scent may on occasion provoke an emphatic, unmediated recollection, but it is typically an imprecise one--a general period in one's life rather than a particular moment. Our specific memories, by contrast, are primarily visual and auditory, not unlike a movie playing in the mind's eye. It's hardly surprising, then, that cinema has often been described as a kind of synthetic memory.  As John Malkovich, playing director F.W.

Diminishing Returns
September 14, 2004

There are different ways a director can disappear from public consciousness. He can release films so infrequently that for long periods of time people forget he's alive (Terence Malick). Or he can hide in plain sight, steadily churning out movies that betray little sign of his former genius (Woody Allen). The Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan (the former directs, the latter produces, and both co-write), appear set on the latter course.

Baser Passions
September 08, 2004

It's almost embarrassing to write about The Passion of the Christ at this point. Nearly as much ink has been spilled lauding or condemning the movie as fake blood was spilled filming it. This is particularly problematic for those, like me, who found the movie cynical and grotesque: It's clear that its extraordinary success was due overwhelmingly to its attendant controversies, controversies it was consciously engineered to stoke. But it's hard to see how much more damage can be done now, 600 million dollars of global box office later.

Girl Trouble
August 31, 2004

I'd hoped to write about The Passion of the Christ this week but, as with its theatrical release, the film's appearance on video is shrouded in anticipation-enhancing secrecy. Its distributor, Fox--who else?--sent out only a very small number of specially marked review copies, and remarkably enough Home Movies did not make the list. Fox also took the highly unusual step of requiring reviewers to return the DVDs after 5 days.

August 24, 2004

<?xml:namespace prefix = dsl />Almost a decade ago, Danish director Lars von Trier co-founded the Dogme 95 movement, which produced an "indisputable set of rules" for filmmakers called "The Vow of Chastity." Among its ten commandments: "Shooting must be done on location"; "The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa"; "The camera must be hand-held"; "Special lighting is not acceptable."The Dogme manifesto was always a bit goofy, and better understood as a cri de coeur against overproduced Hollywood junk than as a practical guide to filmmaking.