November 2003 Archives

For its first half, Roberto Benigni’s surprising Oscar winner Life Is Beautiful is a sparkling, nimble romantic comedy — utterly charming and magical. And then it abruptly turns into a Holocaust drama. It’s still charming, and that’s its problem.

Dead-End Drunk

The recovering-alcoholic movie typically comes from earnest and intelligent filmmakers who — no matter their skill — find themselves stuck in the many requisite clichés; you simply can’t tackle the subject without them. Ken Loach’s fine, raw My Name Is Joe is richer than most movies of its type, but the formula just has too much baggage.

Polluting the River

Mystic River is a prime example of the danger of adapting rich novels for the screen. When screenwriters fall a little too much in love with source material, they become afraid to pare it down, and the result is often unwieldy. What’s curious with Mystic River is that the novel was adapted by Brian Helgeland, who took a meat cleaver to James Ellroy’s sprawling L.A. Confidential and miraculously produced a work that captured the spirit of the book without much fidelity to the plot.

Frustrating History

The Last Days begins with a statement from a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust: As World War II began to slip away from Hitler, the German führer chose to kill Jews with renewed urgency instead of fortifying his battle troops with death-camp soldiers. Why? This documentary never tries to explain. Implicitly, the movie says Hitler hated Jews more than he cared about winning the war. Perhaps that’s the only possible answer. But as glibly as it’s offered here, it’s deeply unsatisfying.

Two months before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, four African-American girls were killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Spike Lee’s documentary 4 Little Girls elevates the tragedy to Act of God status.

My Movie Life

The first movie I remember seeing was Bambi, probably when I was about four years old. We went swimming that day, and there was a thunderstorm, and the mental image the day conjures is me standing in the baby pool with nobody else around. I have no idea if the memory is accurate.