April 14, 2008
RIP, Minghella

I wrote a short appreciation of the director Anthony Minghella when he died last month at the age of 54. I have a new, longer piece on the filmmaker in the April 21 issue of The Weekly Standard (which has been given a wonderful headline, by the way):

Some might think that Minghella will be remembered as a capable but not particularly creative interpreter of other people's work. That's like calling Alfred Hitchcock or David Lean mere translators rather than the genre-changing geniuses they were. Of course, Minghella hasn't left a legacy as rich as theirs, but his body of work is stunning, and includes one film every bit as masterful as their best.

Minghella's films--besides the instant classic The English Patient, his best known are Cold Mountain (2003) and The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)--are a varied lot, but just about every one features the music of Bach.

"I listen to Bach every day," he told me when I interviewed him at the Toronto International Film Festival a year and a half ago, noting that he keeps two photographs on his desk: one of Samuel Beckett and the other of the pianist and Bach interpreter Glenn Gould. (Minghella was a very learned man, but wore his learning lightly.) Like many English actors and directors, he began his career in theater and television; he actually got his start as a student at the University of Hull writing incidental music for the theater. He wanted to become a pianist or a composer but didn't feel he had the talent. Instead, more than any other contemporary filmmaker, he brought a distinctly musical sensibility to the cinema...

April 11, 2008
In print

In today's Washington Times:

I reviewed the French flick The Duchess of Langeais:

It's not easy to make Balzac, at his most melodramatic, engrossing on the modern screen. With The Duchess of Langeais, Jacques Rivette not only accomplishes this feat, the French director suggests a new model for the literary adaptation, one that keeps some of the wordy beauty of the novel while taking advantage of the poetic possibilities of the cinema...

I reviewed Smart People, opening wide after Sundance buzz:

Vanessa Wetherhold (Ellen Page) and her father, Lawrence (Dennis Quaid), don't feel they have to do charitable works or even be nice because their intellectual accomplishments contribute enough to the world.

Two people arrive on the scene and turn that assumption on its head in Smart People, a film that, despite agreeable performances and some witty lines, is all too predictable...

In the Media Room column, I look at the DVD release of Fortysomething, which starred and was partly directed by Hugh Laurie:
Fans of Hugh Laurie and there must be many, given that he was just named America's fourth favorite TV personality in a Harris Poll will want to snap up this British series that ran for six episodes in 2003. Don't expect the same man that plays the brash, overconfident American doctor Gregory House in Fox's medical drama "House," though. In Fortysomething, Mr. Laurie again plays a doctor, but this time a bumbling, insecure one who's facing his forties with some fear...

April 09, 2008
Radicalism born and reborn

And while I'm playing catch-up, I realized I forgot to post a link to my review of Hari Kunzru's novel My Revolutions, which ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer a couple Sundays ago:

How does fervent idealism morph into at-any-cost fundamentalism? What makes a radical cross the line to revolutionary? What goes on in the mind of a terrorist?

In My Revolutions, his third novel, British author Hari Kunzru offers one answer to those questions, which have particularly troubled us over the last 6 1/2 years. His novel focuses on just one man, who, in his quest to make people's lives better, found himself threatening those lives, but its insight and implications reach much further.

My Revolutions is no boring political parable, though. Kunzru is not just a thinker, but an impressively talented storyteller and stylist as well...

In print

From Friday's Washington Times--

I wrote a feature on how high-definition television is spurring a new industry -- high-def makeup:

The high-definition revolution calls for a slew of new products big flat-screen televisions, pricey DVD players, surround sound stereo systems, state-of-the-art makeup.

Makeup?

High-def TV provides an unprecedented clarity of picture. Anyone who's bought an HDTV has compared regular and HD channels and marveled at the difference in quality. When the camera catches an actor in close-up, it's no exaggeration to say you can practically see the person's pores.

And therein lies the problem. The same technology that lets you see a perfect sunset in jaw-dropping detail also lets you see an imperfect face in jaw-dropping detail. Wrinkles and blemishes are suddenly visible. Actresses that look perfect in airbrushed magazine photographs or the more forgiving medium of film begin to look a little more like the rest of us in high-definition.

The cosmetics industry is responding...

For the Media Room column on new DVD releases, I spoke with Robert Elswit, the cinematographer who won an Oscar for There Will Be Blood:

Robert Elswit is a busy guy. While directors rarely make more than one film a year, cinematographers are often responsible for two or more. If you're Mr. Elswit, both might get Oscar nominations for best picture he was the director of photography for There Will Be Blood and Michael Clayton. Now he's filming Duplicity, Tony Gilroy's follow-up to Michael Clayton, but instead of kicking back on his day off, he's spending it talking to reporters, promoting the DVD release of There Will Be Blood...

I reviewed Priceless, a delightful French flick starring Audrey Tautou and Gad Elmaleh:

Priceless, which centers on a woman who makes her living dating rich men and the impoverished man who loves her but ends up becoming her "colleague," will inevitably be compared with Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Like the exclusive south-of-France resorts in which the French flick takes place, though, Priceless is in a class of its own...

From last Friday's Washington Times--

I reviewed Stop-Loss, the latest Iraq War-themed film:

War-on-terror-themed films, on the whole, didn't do well at the box office last year. Although these movies were made by acting powerhouses including Robert Redford, Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep (Lions for Lambs) and writing-directing powerhouses including Crash's Paul Haggis (In the Valley of Elah) audiences proved uninterested in having their entertainment mirror their headlines.

Kimberly Peirce, with her first film since her 1999 debut, Boys Don't Cry, might believe her movie will have a different fate. Perhaps she would point out that Stop-Loss isn't merely a war film but something of a fast-paced thriller, too. Maybe she would argue that Stop-Loss isn't an antiwar film but a pro-troop one.

Elah could have made those same claims, however, and they didn't help. What Stop-Loss has that the other films didn't, though, is a first-rate young cast that could draw in the younger crowd. It's too bad the script they were given, co-written by Miss Peirce with Mark Richard, is so riddled with ridiculousness...

I wrote the second item in the Beyond Hollywood column, an interview with British actor Jim Sturgess:
Jim Sturgess is on the brink of stardom. He has top billing on a big-budget film opening today, 21, while appearing in a smaller role in another film currently in wide release, the period drama The Other Boleyn Girl. He was named one of Entertainment Weekly's "30 Under 30" actors just last month.

The 26-year-old English actor is quick to point out he's no overnight success, but he notes that when success starts happening, it starts happening pretty fast. "It comes in a big tidal wave," he says in an interview in the District earlier this month. But "I didn't just fall out of bed and someone gave me the opportunity to be in a film," he quickly adds. "It's a process that's gone on all my life, really."

Anyone who saw last year's Across the Universe could have predicted this tidal wave. Mr. Sturgess was the best thing about the Beatles musical; the virtual unknown with the boyish face who could sing and act flawlessly was the find of the year.

Some actors carefully plan out their careers, working ruthlessly toward stardom. Not Mr. Sturgess, as he amusingly relates...

In the Media Room column, I looked at new releases, including David Lynch's Lost Highway, finally making its debut on DVD in this country:

Lost Highway, which begins when a couple's life is disrupted by the arrival of videotapes showing their home under surveillance, marked a turning point in avant-garde director David Lynch's career. It and his films since, with the exception of the aptly titled The Straight Story, explore our deepest desires through increasingly blurred lines between reality and dreams.

Although a decade old, Lost Highway holds up well not even its distinctively claustrophobic rock soundtrack sounds dated...