Somewhere in the middle of Crash, the remarkable new film from David Cronenberg, James Ballard (James Spader) is caught in traffic. The cars on the highway are at a standstill, stymied by an impact farther up the blacktop. Ballard is driving a vintage Lincoln Continental, the kind of convertible JFK rode through Dallas. The car belongs to Ballard’s new friend Vaughan (Elias Koteas, from Exotica), a visionary of sorts who sees car crashes as “fertilizing,” rather than destructive, events. In the car with Ballard and Vaughan is Ballard’s wife, Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger), who is growing more and more attracted to Vaughan — she and Ballard seem to achieve sexual bliss more and more often by comparing notes on their most recent adulteries. You could almost consider this menage a trois a special kind of post-nuclear family.
On the day I left Boulder, Colorado, to move to New York, I bought a copy of Howard Stern’s just-released book, Private Parts, as a gesture toward learning about the customs of a strange new land. Anyone who paid attention to the ebb and tide of big media knew that Stern was the reigning “shock jock”of New York radio, that his “indecent” radio show had cost his corporate parents hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees payable to the FCC, and that “sophisticated” people were supposed to find him repugnant. (And, oh yes, Film Threat magazine had given a rave review to a Stern video called Butt Bongo Fiesta.) Along with Rush Limbaugh, Stern was the author who most offended Boulder’s excruciatingly correct political sensibilities.
These days, seeing the new Woody Allen film is a little like spending some time with an old lover. Things just haven’t worked out. Those once-charming quirks and peccadillos have grown into irritating mannerisms, and while you can’t put your finger on what’s missing, it just seems like the magic is gone. You get the feeling that the two of you have nothing left in common. But when your ex makes unexpected overtures toward seduction (say, by announcing that his new film will be a musical comedy) you’re intrigued. Stumbling toward your rendezvous, you’re shot through with anticipation as well as the fear that you’ll only be let down once again — how do you get yourself into these things, anyway?
Ruth Stoops, thank God, is no role model. In the course of her adventures, she does not learn a lesson. Hers is not a heartwarming story. It is, however, seriously funny, and in this era of dopey action and dim-witted farce, that in itself is heartwarming enough.
I’m not quite sure what to say about Mars Attacks!, which is obviously the work of a deranged genius. When Tim Burton’s twisted alien invasion comedy really works, it’s breathtaking and hilarious in equal measure. And when it doesn’t work, it’s just dull. I’m not even sure it works more often than it doesn’t, but where it counts — that is, when this gleefully evil invading force from the red planet gets down to the business of blasting us to kingdom come — Mars Attacks! is brilliant.
The shot I remember best from A Single Girl is of Virginie Ledoyen’s face in profile, nearly filling the screen as she changes her clothes. The camera watches from across the room as Ledoyen pulls off her shirt, but then cuts respectfully to the close shot, granting her modesty but never looking away. The movie has a confidence in this lovely face, a conviction that sometimes, it’s enough for us to simply watch. Continue reading
Breaking the Waves, a powerful fable from Danish director Lars von Trier (Zentropa, The Kingdom) is as daunting as it is satisfying. The satisfaction comes from von Trier’s audacious and ever-deepening sense for filmmaking — Breaking the Waves is his most ambitious and skillfully drawn narrative so far, and it offers the pleasure of undertaking an uncertain journey, unsure of where it might all end. That’s also what’s daunting. Breaking the Waves is epic in scope, careering wildly from warm and fleshy love story to grim tragedy to something else entirely over the course of its 158 minutes. It’s a film that demands your rapt attention bit by bit, plumbing ever-deeper corners of the soul and plunging at one point into the abyss. Finally, once it’s over, it will return day by day to haunt its audiences. This is seriously nervy filmmaking.