Film

Undercover Brothers

The Hong Kong crime thriller Infernal Affairs begins with a Buddhist epigram, though not a particularly memorable one (something about "Continuous Hell" being the worst of the eight hells).

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Village Idiocies

In 1999 it looked as though American filmmaking might be on the cusp of an exciting period not unlike the Coppola-Scorsese-Allen 1970s, with several original young directors coming into their own at once. That year, fortyish David O.

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Reality Bites

Reality is in, and not just on network TV. In indie filmmaking, too, there has been a shift away from the Tarantino- and Coens-influenced comic experimentalism of the 1990s toward simpler narratives told with a minimum of cinematic trickery.

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Half Empty

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.

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Web Alert

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.

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A Tale of Two Movies

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.

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Magical Realism

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.

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Dud Again

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.

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A Big Thud

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.

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Along Went Ben

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.

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