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Friday, June 20, 2008

Shyamalan’s B-movie

In his novel The Terror, Arthur Machen imagined that the animals, sickened by the carnage of World War I, turned on humankind with tooth and claw. Later, Daphne du Maurier in a story adapted by Alfred Hitchcock thought the birds might strike at people for reasons known only to themselves. In The Happening, director-writer M. Night Shyamalan explores the idea that plants, threatened by our poor stewardship of their environment, might launch a holocaust against humanity. It’s the right message at a moment when much of our world seems to be collapsing, except for water levels and prices, which are on the rise. Is Shyamalan the wrong messenger? For their own inane reasons, movie critics . . .
Friday, June 20, 2008

An almost incredible Hulk?

At some point we’ve all felt as if we could explode in berserk rage and release the pent-up monster within. Maybe the moron on his cell phone who nearly ran you over at the intersection provoked the impulse? Or the numbskull boss dressing you down? How about the deceitful politician setting the world on fire to promote his own agenda? Most of us have been socialized to show restraint, whether from an ethic of behavior or fear of punishment. The person without restraint is called psychologically dysfunctional, when he’s not the superhero called the Incredible Hulk.
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Robert Downey’s superhero

If you’re anything like me, you know of Iron Man from the Black Sabbath song, not the Vietnam-era comic book that inspired it. But out in the hinterlands of fandom, Iron Man remained a popular Marvel superhero, even if Hollywood never lifted him from pulp pages to the big screen. It wasn’t for lack of interest. The one-man panzer division moved from studio to studio, attracting and repelling actors and directors. After more than 10 years in development, Iron Man has finally arrived, with Robert Downey Jr. in the title role and director Jon Favreau (Elf) behind the viewfinder.
Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Hollywood fairy tale

Ten years ago I described Tarsem’s feature debut as a director, The Cell, as an example of an emerging cinema whose impressions were visual more than verbal and whose visuals were achieved in part by quick montages of images. That Tarsem made his mark with the R.E.M. video “Losing My Religion,” as well as sneaker and soft drink ads, was held against him by critics who resisted the kinetic, jump cutting visual language of the MTV generation . . .
Sunday, June 15, 2008

From friendship to love?

Can close but Platonic friendship between man and woman grow into love and marriage? The romantic comedy Made of Honor explores the theme with humor and insight. One imagines the principal screenwriter, Adam Sztykiel, may have been close to the situation experienced by his protagonists, Tom (Patrick Dempsey) and Hannah (Michelle Monaghan). Made of Honor is effervescent as champagne but packs an eight-proof kick below the bubbles. The sharp edges of the script are felt in the opening scene, set at Cornell in 1998 during a student masquerade dance . . .
Sunday, June 15, 2008

When Strangers Knock

A beautiful young woman clutches a raised knife and advances fearfully into the dark unknown. It’s long been a visual clich in slasher and bad horror flicks, but The Strangers is neither. It stars Liv Tyler as Kristen, the woman trying to fend off danger with an uncertain grip on a kitchen knife. She is the terrific, fast-beating heart of a story that slips with sure steps into the twilight zone between crime drama and occult thriller. In bare outline, The Strangers is about a house invasion, a crime especially unsettling because it penetrates the most private sanctuary of domesticity.
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Return to the Big City

Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha are four years older than they were when their Emmy-winning series ended. As the movie version of Sex and the City begins, they are no wiser. By the conclusion, however, at least a few of life’s lessons have been learned. Running on HBO from 1998 through 2004, “Sex and the City” was a long series of comic vignettes on the lives of single young women in one of the world’s most glamorous places, Manhattan. The size of its success (millions still watch it on cable reruns) speaks to the chord . . .
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Adam Sandler’s cutting comedy

When a trained-to-kill Israeli commando switches professions and becomes a Manhattan hairdresser, a fish-out-of-water comedy is sure to follow. And when this Israeli hairdresser falls in love with the Palestinian woman who owns the salon, you can bet your last shekel that a socio-political message is struggling to be heard. In Adam Sandler’s comedy You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, Sandler plays a sex stud from a crack special forces squad who keeps his dream concealed . . .
Sunday, June 15, 2008

Love, lust and empire

Famed Indian producer Ismail Merchant is dead, but the brand name he developed with American director James Ivory lives on. Before the Rains, by Indian filmmaker Santosh Sivan, bears the tag “Merchant Ivory Presents” and is the sort of production Messrs. Merchant and Ivory relished. Before the Rains is a carefully recreated and opulent period drama that explores the psychology of individuals grappling, and losing their grip, with the historical conditions of their time. Several important Merchant Ivory films examined the uncertain relations between East and West in colonial times, especially in India . . .

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