Jack and Hank are professors at a small college in rural Oregon, and they are best friends. Jack is sleeping with Hank's wife, Edith. Hank seems to know this and seems not to mind. In part this is because he wants to sleep with Jack's wife, Terry, who is also Edith's best friend. Not only does Jack not mind, he goes out of his way to push Terry into Hank's arms. Ah, academic life. Not that anyone much enjoys themselves.
When Spider-Man hit theaters in the spring of 2002, I thought it had distilled the perfect formula for cinema superheroics, a careful blend of in-costume action and out-of-costume drama, seasoned with a dash of unrequited adolescent longing and liberal portions of Tobey Maguire's insistent adorability. There was no reason to doubt that the recipe would work equally well in a sequel. Clearly, the filmmakers also felt they had found a replicable formula; they just took the idea a little more literally.
Quentin Tarantino may have found his future vocation. His once shining career as a director clouded over a tad when Jackie Brown revealed his insistence on casting B-movie stars of the 1970s and his unwillingness to edit his work to a manageable length. The Kill Bill movies confirmed both directorial tendencies while also raising questions about whether Tarantino still knows how to write a screenplay. But now, with Hero, the door may have opened onto a new career path: impresario. "Quentin Tarantino Presents," the box cover of the Chinese kung fu epic announces in large type above the title.
I suspect I am not the only person who was a bit surprised when it was first announced that Alfonso Cuarón had been signed to direct Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third film adaptation of J.K. Rowling's (deservedly) ubiquitous novels. Yes, the Mexican-born director had helmed A Little Princess, a movie featuring a young protagonist who, like Harry, had lost her parents. But he had more recently (and more famously) directed Y Tu Mama Tambien, a sexually explicit film about the relationship between two teenage boys and an older woman.
Well, at least we find out how it ends. After two installments and four hours of running time, Kill Bill finally reveals whether it will fulfill the promise of its title. Now we can all move on. Regular readers may recall that I was not fond of Volume 1 of Quentin Tarantino's epic homage to kung fu movies, spaghetti westerns, and Uma Thurman's feet. The good news is that there is less to dislike in Kill Bill Volume 2--no parents casually murdered in front of their children, no jokes about pedophilia or raping the comatose, a vastly diminished body count.
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.
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.
Vachel Lindsay, the poet who was for a time the film critic of The New Republic, published a book in 1915 called The Art of the Moving Picture, a pioneer work in the field. In one of its many comprehensions, he said: "The supreme photoplay will give us things that have been but half expressed in all other mediums allied to it." I thought of Lindsay while I was watching Troy, the latest in a very long line of films made to give us those things that other mediums could not provide.
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.
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.