Land That Time Forgot
May 11, 2004
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.
April 27, 2004
Anyone seeking evidence of the death of romantic comedy will find it in abundance in Love Actually, which arrives in video stores this week. Written and directed by Richard Curtis (best known for penning Bridget Jones's Diary, Notting Hill, and Four Weddings and a Funeral), Love Actually announces its ambitions early: Too bold to offer us a thin, unconvincing romance, it instead offers us half a dozen.
Love and War
April 20, 2004
It's an odd claim to make for a film that won the Oscar for cinematography, but at its best Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (released on video this week) is less a visual experience than an aural one. Director Peter Weir opens with aerial shots of a tall ship accompanied by on-screen text--"H.M.S. Surprise ... N. coast Brazil. Admiralty orders: ... 'Intercept French privateer Acheron en route to Pacific.'"--before swiftly shifting to a nighttime change of watch aboard the vessel.
January 26, 2004
So many elements in film-making have become so dependably fine—cinematography, editing, production design—that by now only the exceptions are surprising. Screenwriting is a great deal more variable: the good work of the designers and others is often wasted on trash. Acting, however, is less variable, because most film scripts don't demand much more than verisimilitude from the cast, and many film actors, especially those with salable personalities, are skilled in what might be called behaving—without much distinction between what is on camera and what is off.
May 05, 2003
The Guys (Focus) and The Good Thief (Fox Searchlight) Temptation for a writer lurks behind catastrophe. Whenever something dreadful happens in the political world, writers are tempted to respond. When Hitler appears, when the atomic bomb makes its double debut, some playwrights and novelists are impelled to respond in their art. Film writers are not immune, though for intrinsic reasons of their medium, their response is not so quickly apparent. The impulse of these writers is more than understandable: the lack of it would be moribund.
April 14, 2003
They decided to keep the French title on Cet Amour-La, which turns out to be a sound idea for two reasons. First, the subject is Marguerite Duras, more specifically the last years, the last love, of this thoroughly French novelist, essayist, film writer, and director. That last affair is so like a novel Duras might have written that a translated title might have jarred--just as Hiroshima Mon Amour, made from a Duras screenplay, fits rightly under its Gallic cap.This screenplay by Josee Dayan comes from an autobiographical novel by Yann Andrea, Duras's young lover in that last affair.
Truth and Inconsequences
June 24, 2002
In the August 9, 1922 issue of this magazine, Frances Taylor Patterson wrote: "In a day of emotional and artistic deliquescence on the screen, a picture with the fresh strength and pictorial promise of Nanook of the North is in the nature of Revelation." The screen has recurrently deliquesced since then, and once again comes a film from the north to remind us of that fact by its revelation of strength. Robert J.
March 25, 2002
It’s back. Not that it is ever absent for long, but the present instance is particularly irritating. Here again is the oxymoron—the picture that combines strong execution and a poor screenplay. In this case the screenplay is not merely poor, it is dreadful, but it is more ostentatiously so because the other components are so fine. Harrison’s Flowers (Universal Focus) is a French-financed venture with a French director and with American and British actors in the principal roles.
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Sense and Sensibility
October 29, 2001
David Lynch once said: "I don't think that people accept the fact that life doesn't make sense. I think it makes people terribly uncomfortable." This is a truth past question, I'd say, but how is an artist to make use of this truth? Lynch, whose directing and writing career glows with talent, has developed a mode that serves his perception. He devises films that seem sensible, sufficiently so as to engage us, and then he proceeds to subvert sense. Other artists structure their work in an order that itself pleases us and then use their order as an avenue to fundamental disorder.
Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Unflinching
September 24, 2001
Comparisons and pigeonholes are first aids for critics. Examples: "Mr. A's film treats the same theme as Mr. B's, but it doesn't [or does] surpass it." And: "Mr. A's film is one more of the line that began with Mr.