February 08, 2005
First time tragedy, second time farce. Fifth time? Judging from Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge, by then you know what you're doing. The Japanese director has essentially been recycling the same eerie ghost story since 2000, first in two installments made for Japan's video market (entitled Ju-On and Ju-On 2), then in two theatrical-release remakes (Ju-On: The Grudge and Ju-On: The Grudge 2), and now in a Hollywood-produced English-language version, The Grudge, just released on video.
January 25, 2005
One of the most emotionally affecting moments of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow comes, unfortunately, during the closing credits, when jazz vocalist Jane Monheit sings "Over the Rainbow." It's a wistful, haunting rendition that plays beautifully off Judy Garland's Wizard of Oz version, becoming at once old and new, an homage and an original. It's this challenge, of simultaneously conjuring the classics and offering something fresh and vital, that largely eludes Sky Captain, released on video today.
January 18, 2005
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).
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 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.
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 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.
August 10, 2004
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.