December 07, 2004
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.
A Tale of Two Movies
November 30, 2004
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.
November 23, 2004
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.
November 02, 2004
It's not often a television show can make you reconsider the talents of a longtime celebrity. "Arrested Development," the nearly cancelled FOX sitcom whose first season is now out on video, has made me reconsider the talents of two: Ron Howard (whom I'd written off as a purveyor of tame commercial pabulum) and Liza Minnelli (probably best if I not detail my objections). Their mere involvement with "Arrested Development"--Howard as executive producer and folksy narrator, Minelli as a self-parodic supporting character--suggests I may have given neither adequate credit.
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.
Weather ... Or Not
October 12, 2004
In the 1994 movie Stargate, director Roland Emmerich presented us with an interstellar portal leading to a planet populated by ancient Egyptian look-alikes. Two years later, with Independence Day, he offered a genocidal alien invasion that was overcome by two guys spreading a computer virus. And two years after that, his Godzilla featured a 200-foot-tall radioactive iguana running amuck in Manhattan.
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.
As I Say
October 04, 2004
The splotch that appeared on satellite photos of North Korea two weeks ago was like a Rorschach blot for foreign policy wonks. A cloud of smoke that would have been considered benign in almost any other country (it being in actuality just a cloud) was immediately feared the result of a nuclear explosion, showing just how anxious national security types have become about Pyongyang's weapons program.
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.