The movies tip-toe up to the meaning of September 11.Apr 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 31 • By GABY WENIG
AT THE END of "Gangs of New York," Martin Scorsese inserts a montage of the city across time--from a decrepit nineteenth-century slum to the modern megalopolis of Manhattan. In the last shot, right before the credits roll, two buildings stand out: the twin towers of the World Trade Center. They stand out not just because they are taller than other buildings, but because their presence in the film was a somewhat audacious move, a year and a half after the towers had been erased from the New York skyline.
Scorsese had a cinematographic reason for leaving the towers in "Gangs of New York": He wanted them as symbols of the pain, fear, and terror that--the bulk of his film argued--has always typified New York. But what's more interesting than this somewhat tendentious proposition is the change that the presence of the World Trade Center in the film signaled. "Gangs of New York" was released just before Christmas, the same day that Spike Lee's "25th Hour" hit the cinemas. These films, together with Jim Simpson's "The Guys," which opened this week, mark a move away from the bowdlerization of film that came after the attacks of September 11--when filmmakers, unsure of how to represent a tragedy from which the country was still reeling, obliterated mention of it altogether.
Such films as "Spiderman" and "Serendipity," in production before the terrorist attacks, went back and carefully eliminated scenes of the World Trade Center. Movies about terrorism made before September 11--such as "Collateral Damage," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a firefighter who hunts down the terrorist who killed his wife and child, or "Big Trouble," a mad caper that features, among other things, a bomb being smuggled onto a plane--were put temporarily on the shelf.
For similar motives, movies that cast a cynical eye on America's foreign or military interests (such as "The Quiet American," which suggested that nefarious actions may be swathed in altruism, or "Buffalo Soldiers," about drug-running soldiers) were held back, for fear of appearing unpatriotic. At the same time, movies like "Black Hawk Down" (which was the number one movie for four weeks in January 2002) and "We Were Soldiers" (a number one movie in March), both of which featured brave American soldiers who were willing to fight for their country and their brothers in the military, seemed appropriate expressions from Hollywood--although, it's worth noticing, both of these were in planning before September 11, suggesting the film industry's turn to a more patriotic stance has been building for some time.
Still, feature filmmakers remained curiously reluctant to address the central events of September 11. Crudely put, the attacks on the World Trade Center are a filmmaker's dream: apocalyptic and fraught with tragedy, bravery, and melodrama. The movie industry has never been exactly shy about exploiting human suffering, and yet September 11 has remained the province of news cameramen and documentary makers, such as Jules and Gédéon Naudet, whose film "9/11" was an accident born out of another documentary they were filming about firefighters. (Even that film, which is generally regarded as the documentary about the attacks, shied away from footage of bodies on fire and people falling from the upper floors of the building.)
"THE GUYS" is the first feature film whose subject is solely September 11, but it is such a controlled and confined film that the enormity of the actual event is diminished from a tragedy of mass horror to a minor drama. Originally a two-character play performed at the fledgling Flea Theatre in New York, "The Guys" is the story of a writer named Joan (played by Sigourney Weaver) who is approached by a fire captain named Nick (Anthony LaPaglia) for help writing eulogies. He needs to give eight eulogies immediately for men lost in the towers, and possibly 350 more in the next few months. "You've got to understand," he tells Joan. "Over a bad year we lost maybe . . . six. This was in one day. One hour."
The horror of what occurred transcends Nick's capacity for language. Initially, he describes the first of his eulogy subjects as "A schmo. If Bill walked into a room, nobody would even notice," but with Joan's careful prodding, Nick is able to find his voice and name the qualities that define the humanity he seeks to recreate. As his inarticulateness dissolves, Joan helps Nick uncover the language that transforms these ordinary guys into heroes with enough human detail to make them real.
Ronald Maxwell's new Civil War movie gives conservatives everything they've ever wanted from Hollywood. Is it enough?11:00 PM, Feb 20, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
THE URGE TO EMBRACE "Gods and Generals" is so strong as to be almost overwhelming. It is a beautiful, serious movie about the Civil War that holds tight to the trail of truth. It is well acted and scrupulously made. Anyone who has recently suffered through Hollywoodized history--Pearl Harbor, "The Messenger," "Thirteen Days"--will surely run to "Gods and Generals" if for no other reason than director Ronald Maxwell gets things right.
No small achievement, that.
Martin Scorsese's "Gangs of New York" recalls the birth of a city and the violence that defined it.11:00 PM, Dec 19, 2002 • By VICTORINO MATUS
THE FIRST THING you need to remember when going into a Martin Scorsese film is that it'll probably be long. Get food and drink. Go to the bathroom. Wear comfortable clothing. In fact, the last movie Scorsese made under 2 hours was released in 1986 ("The Color of Money," at 119 minutes). Ever since then, his epics have averaged a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes (his longest is 1995's "Casino," at 2:58). His second-longest film?
The wild life and times of America's latest ubiquitous pop culture presence: Jennifer Lopez.11:00 PM, Dec 16, 2002 • By MATT LABASH
WITH FLU SEASON UPON US, millions of Americans have rushed to their immunologists, hoping to avoid the cruel bite of the Moscow, New Caledonia, or Hong Kong strains of the influenza virus that are prevalent this year. But no matter the precautions, these doctors can do nothing to stave off the most insidious airborne pathogen to take root since the 1968 pandemic that claimed 34,000 American lives. For it is already here. And we have all suffered exposure. It is nothing less than the J. Lo virus.
Whether you call her Jen, Jenny, J, J.
Jerry Seinfeld's new movie, "Comedian," offers more than just good laughs (though it offers plenty of those, too).11:00 PM, Dec 15, 2002 • By LARRY MILLER
IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN Jerry Seinfeld's movie, "Comedian," you should. If it's not playing near you, or if it's no longer playing anywhere, buy the video when it hits the stores. Watch it often, buy several more, and give them to your friends, especially anyone who's ever said, "Ooh, I love 'Survivor.' Wouldn't miss it." Then insist that they pick up a bunch themselves and give them to their friends.
Show it to your children just before they go off to college.
A sign of the times: While the media obsess over J-Lo, Jacko, and Britney, they drop the ball on the Liesel Pritzker story.11:00 PM, Dec 12, 2002 • By DAVID BROOKS
I AM APPALLED by my journalistic colleagues' failure to fully exploit the Liesel Pritzker story. Once upon a time, the American media knew how to treat beautiful heiresses--exhaustively. They were our royalty. Now it's Jennifer Lopez. That represents a profound shift in our culture (I would say that, wouldn't I).
Let's review: The Pritzkers are one of the richest families in the world. The Chicago-based family's assets include Hyatt Hotels, Royal Carribbean Cruises, the Pritzker Realty Group, and a couple of casinos. The Pritzker Prize is one of architecture's loftiest awards.
Hollywood does the painter Frida Kahlo and her times.Dec 16, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 14 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
THE REAL STAR of "Frida," the much-hyped film biography of the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, is not Salma Hayek, the beautiful Arab-Mexican actress who handles the lead role, but Mexico--in all its legendry, folklore, and intensity of color and passion. Mexico has remained in large part untouched by the globalization of architectural dullness, and it provides the film a setting so magnificent it almost overcomes the film's tendentiousness.
So, too, the real subject of "Frida" is not Kahlo as she actually was, but Kahlo as she has become since her death: a global feminist icon.
The Godfather DVD Collection pulls you back in.12:00 AM, Oct 2, 2001 • By VICTORINO MATUS
OCTOBER 9, 2001, is a day many Americans are waiting for with bated breath. No, it isn't the date for an attack against Afghanistan (some of us hope that would come sooner). It is, instead, the DVD release of one of the greatest movies of all time: The Godfather Part II. (Oh, the joy of finding an excuse to write about your favorite movie.)
Now wait a minute, some of you might be saying. Don't you mean The Godfather? No, I don't mean The Godfather, though that movie does have its merits and I can certainly understand why many movie buffs prefer it to its sequel.
The bawd role of Mae West.Sep 24, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 02 • By LISA SINGH
Word has it that Mae West—that "plumber’s idea of Cleopatra," as W.C. Fields once wise-cracked—haunts her Hollywood estate; her reflection has been seen in the mirrors that in life she approached with the concentration of a card shark. In a world of haves and have-nots, West knew any man could be had; she called them all "suckers." As Broadway’s bad girl who brought her play Sex to the stage and then as a Hollywood newcomer who at age forty broke box-office records set by Garbo and Dietrich, she shrewdly stuck to her winning formula.
Andrew Ferguson, student of air guitar.Sep 10, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 48 • By ANDREW FERGUSON
I WAS SURPRISED TO READ in the newspaper the other day that the movie star Russell Crowe has just concluded a month-long tour with his rock ’n’ roll band, a group of Australians called "30 Odd Foot of Grunts." I was surprised for reasons that had nothing to do with the stupid name. I didn’t know Russell Crowe was on tour, for one thing; and I didn’t know Russell Crowe had a band. I wouldn’t have thought it necessary for him to have a band.
By any objective standard, he is a man who has won the decathlon of human existence.
Why must every Hollywood movie have wire-fighting scenes?Sep 10, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 48 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
HOLLYWOOD HAS ALWAYS RUN ON THE PRINCIPLE that what worked before must work again—and again and again and again, in movie after movie, until theatergoers reach the point of throwing things at the screen. The most recent example of mindless repetition is gravity-defying martial arts. And the time has come to clip its wings.
"Wire work," as it is called in the film world, involves harnessing actors and suspending them from thin cables high in the air.
Aug 13, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 45 • By
THE MAN FROM GLAAD
THROUGH THE YEARS, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)—the jackboot division of the gay community—has displayed a gift for publicity-seeking, whether breathlessly chronicling the media appearances of Ellen DeGeneres, counting the number of gay characters on Dawson’s Creek ("Jack continues to be out and proud at Capeside High"), or attacking the likes of Mel Gibson and Dr. Laura for homophobia. At the same time, GLAAD has operated as a behind-the-scenes pressure group with a surprising amount of success influencing the content of TV shows and movies.
Hollywood monkeys with a science-fiction classic.Aug 6, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 44 • By CHRISTIAN LOWE
IF YOU’VE SEEN THE PREVIEWS or read the Hollywood hype, then you know that this summer’s latest blockbuster, Planet of the Apes, is a movie that asks its viewers deep, deep questions. Across America, we’ve been warned for months that director Tim Burton—famous for his lushly dark versions of Batman and Sleepy Hollow—had taken a semi-schlock film from 1968 and remade it into a powerful allegory of man’s inhumanity to man and bestiality to beast.
There’s just one problem: It isn’t true.
A movie that will live in infamyJun 4, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 36 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
THE DIRECTOR MICHAEL BAY had a dream one night as he considered how to film an epic movie about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In his dream, he followed a bomb, falling from a plane, as it descended ever more rapidly to crash into the deck of a ship. He awakened, gripped with an obsession to realize his vision on film. And in the mammoth new Pearl Harbor, Bay's vision is realized.
Hannibal Lecter and the aesthetics of cannibalismFeb 26, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 23 • By MICHAEL LONG
One hesitates to burden entertainment with philosophical baggage. The great majority of moviegoers are wisely after the mindless pleasure of the thing. They don't want Kierkegaard's Either/Or. They want respite from worry, work, and the occasional screaming kid.
Yet some books and movies don't make sense without the baggage, and so it is with the newly released film Hannibal, made from Thomas Harris's novel of the same title. Issued in the spring of 1999, Harris's book was the publishing event of the year.
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