Universal

There are some rather dumb—but in a way brilliant—gimmicks that have a strong, and it would almost seem a perennial, public appeal. Books or plays or movies based on them don’t even have to be especially well done to be popular: readers and audiences respond to the gimmick. Sometimes this kind of trick idea is so primitive that it’s particularly attractive to educated people—perhaps because they’re puzzled by why they’re drawn to it and so take it to be a much more complex idea than it is. Frankenstein is one of these fantastic, lucrative “ideas”; The Pawnbroker is almost one.

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The Mogul Empire

Irving Thalberg: Boy Wonder to Producer Prince By Mark A. Vieira (University of California Press, 504 pp., $34.95)  There are times of such chaos and promise, danger and daydream, when all of us hope for a superb and flawless leader. If he can swing it, we are off the hook. But he need not be a hero who turns into a tyrant. He is not necessarily strong, fierce, and Herculean. Indeed, it may add to his charm, to his magic, if he is slight, youthful, on the pretty side, and--better still--dying.

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Heroine

David Hajdu: High on the music of Anita O'Day.

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ENRON: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM (Magnolia) THE INTERPRETER (Universal) A documentary called Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is about more than its immediate subject. Alex Gibney, who directed, based his screenplay on a book by Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, Fortune reporters. (It was McLean who first uncovered the Enron mess.) What Gibney has done, with sharp interviews, with some of Enron's own company footage, with television clips, and with insistent pace, is to fashion a film missile that pierces the facade of some American practices. Behind that front looms a large and ominous

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The third time was the charm. Well, if not charm exactly, at least some justification. The Bourne Identity (Universal) was the third film about the CIA--after The Sum of All Fears and Bad Company--that I had seen in three weeks, and it was the first to afford some entertainment. Adapted by Tony Gilroy and William Blake Herron from a twenty-year-old Robert Ludlum novel, it has a setup that tickles some interest in the eventual payoff (workaday terms, but applicable).

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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.

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