If there is a movie that can make you feel optimistic about the possibilities of forming community in America, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is it. In September 2004 Chappelle, an African-American stand-up comic, celebrated his $50 million contract with Comedy Central by throwing a free hip-hop party in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Classic romantic comedies follow this scenario: the hero and heroine begin as adversaries but are irresistibly drawn to each other; they overcome a series of obstacles and recognize that they belong together; their willingness to change—to discard the prejudices that kept them apart—denotes their growth as human beings and shows that they deserve each other.
Adopting the approach of most movies made about the life of the notorious pleasure seeker, Lasse Hallström’s Casanova isn’t a biography but a free-form embellishment. It treats Casanova as a legend, a symbol—like Zorro.
If you grew up on C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books, you won’t be disappointed in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first in a projected series. It’s visually rich and imaginative, and emotionally stirring.
If Vietnam, with its baffling, Venus-flytrap landscape, is the perfect dramatic background for an existential drama, the Gulf War would appear to be an ideal setting for an existential comedy: so many servicemen all suited up but with nowhere to go and nothing to do. That’s how David O. Russell’s great 1999 film Three Kings began.
Christmas recommendations for Off the Map,Crash, Look at Me and more new DVDs—from film reviewers John Petrakis and Steve Vineberg. For recommendations in fiction, nonfiction, memoirs, theology and more, see the December 27 issue of the Century.
Whenever Hollywood has tackled the subject of Joseph McCarthy and the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the results have tended to be fatuous if not downright embarrassing. George Clooney breaks through the barrier in Good Night, and Good Luck, a compelling portrayal of the last days of McCarthy’s influence.
When he wrote Oliver Twist in 1837, Charles Dickens had a cause: he was protesting the harsh and unjust treatment of children in England. His depiction of the situation was searing—more so than the best-known movie adaptations.
Like many John Le Carré novels, The Constant Gardener boasts a gripping, intricately plotted narrative that makes it ideal for the movies. In the years since the Berlin Wall tumbled and the Soviet Union collapsed, the master of the cold war espionage thriller has turned his attention to thorny moral issues in other parts of the world.
Fairy tales tend to be parables. They teach us to look beneath the surface (Beauty and the Beast), to exercise patience and to work to overcome obstacles (Sleeping Beauty), to avoid easy gratification and hold out for the real prizes in life (Pinocchio). In the fairy-tale films of the great Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, the meanings are often layered.
Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds churns up an emulsion of suspense and horror that engulfs you with the gray relentlessness of a low-grade fever. This is not the kind of thrilling, soaring adventure Spielberg created in Jaws or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; it’s a cheerless piece of visceral manipulation.
Intelligently detailed, impressively mounted, absorbingly told and undeniably gripping, Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter is a very satisfying movie—unless you’re seeking something more than a thriller that only superficially engages its political subject.
Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar’s The Sea Inside is a triumph-of-the-spirit picture with an unconventional premise: the hero, Ramón Sampedro (played by Javier Bardem), a quadriplegic for two decades as the result of a diving accident, is seeking the right to end his life.
In The Woodsman, Kevin Bacon plays Walter Rossworth, a pedophile who, having served a 12-year prison sentence, tries to settle down to a normal life. His sister has disowned him, but his brother-in-law (Benjamin Bratt) remains friendly.
Purporting to deliver the straight goods on modern sexual interactions, Closer is glossier than last summer’s similarly themed We Don’t Live Here Anymore, and it has a more impressive pedigree—an award-winning director (Mike Nichols), a highly acclaimed British stage play (by Patrick Marber) for its source, and a glamorous cast: Julia Roberts, Clive Owen, Jude Law and Natalie Portman
It’s by chance that Ray appears mere months after the death of its hero, Ray Charles, but it offers a needed lift for many of us laid low by the passing of the rhythm-and-blues genius. Director Taylor Hackford has made a bristling, dynamic mélange of entertainment whipped up around the inspired music and gargantuan persona of its subject.
The primary appeal of sports movies is in the way they combine the drama of competition with other genres—the triumph-of-the-spirit movie, for example, or the coming-of-age story, or the romantic comedy. Even a conventional picture like Miracle (which came out early this year and is now available on DVD) or Mr.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).