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"When Sunset Boulevard was first unveiled at private screenings in Hollywood, I remember an executive's coming away from it talking as if he'd just been to a wife-swapping session with his father. It's this self-shocking insularity of show-business people - like kids at school giggling wildly as they talk dirty about the teacher - that probably accounts for how simpleminded much of The Producers, which was written and directed by Mel Brooks, seems, and why it is acted and directed as if each bit of horseplay were earthshaking."

- Pauline Kael in Going Steady: Film Writings 1968-1969




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06.03.02 - 06.09.02
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09.13.02 - 09.26.02
09.26.02 - 10.08.02




1. Once Upon A Time in the West
2. Desk Set
3. If...
4. Portrait of Hell
5. Sons of the Desert


1. Once Upon a Time in the West (Ennio Morricone)
2. Superfly (Curtis Mayfield)
3. Paris, Texas (Ry Cooder)
4. American Grafitti (various)
5. Ascenceur pour L'echafaud (Lift to the Scaffold) (Miles Davis)


1. Sweet Smell of Success (Chico Hamilton & Elmer Bernstein, out of print)
2. Mishima (Phillip Glass)
3. In A Savage Land (David Bride)
4. The Hot Spot (Jack Nitzsche, Miles Davis & John Lee Hooker)
5. O Lucky Man (Alan Price)


1. Myrna Loy in any Thin Man film
2. Bonnie Bedelia as Shirley "Cha Cha" Muldowney in Heart Like a Wheel
3. Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels
4. Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein
5. Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night


6. The Conformist
7. The Loveless
8. The Palm Beach Story
9. Topper
10. Mr. & Mrs. Smith


1. Lillian Ross, Picture
2. Nasreen Muni Kabir, Bollywood: The Indian Cinema Story
3. Peter Biskind, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
4. Otto Friedrich, City of Nets
5. George Hurrell, Hurrell's Hollywood Portraits


Got a moment?



#0097 - BOLLYWOOD BROKE, BLAMES PIRATES, POOR PRODUCTIONS - Now can I get a job writing headlines for Variety? A BBC report claims that the Bombay film industry is in trouble, losing over US$30 million since the beginning of this year. Video piracy, long a problem in the industry, has finally bit hard enough that a fund is being set up to try and combat the problem, drawn from a 1% tithe on everyone working in the industry, at every level. It will have to be a truly international effort, on an Interpol-type scale, as piracy of Hindi films is happening wherever there's a market, and the vast Indian diaspora means that it's happening almost everywhere across the globe.

Piracy aside, the simple truth is that audiences aren't turning out in the usual enormous numbers for the films which, a few blockbusters like Devdas and Lagaan aside, are popularly judged to be of exceedingly poor quality. Komal Nahta, editor of Mumbai's Film Information, blames the studios, who got lazy during the industry's recent boom:

"They just put creativity on the back burner, they did not bother about the content of the film, they just pieced together projects ... and threw them in the market," said Mr. Nahta. "Obviously projects don't run on star names, they run on content."

A familiar lament, and proof that the two Woods - Bolly and Holly - are clearly running on parallel tracks. Could the Hindi film business be experiencing its own early 90s, an era when Hollywood was run by superagents like Michael Ovitz and the CAA agency effectively ran the major studios, a grim period known for "packaged" films put together in boardrooms? Is there a Bollywood Ovitz?

Elsewhere, the Guardian has two excerpts from Satyajit Bhatkal's book on the making of Lagaan. Bhatkal, a childhood friend of star Aamir Khan (one of the "three Khans" who star in nearly every Hindi feature), was invited to work on the production by Khan's wife Reena, after a dramatic reading of the screenplay for the assembled cast and crew by director Ashutosh Gowariker:

"Sitting together for four hours hearing the script they would all work towards filming, cheering together at the victory of the humble villagers, had created an intangible bond. They had drifted into the narration in large part as individuals, even strangers to each other. Now, suddenly, they seemed almost like a team."

Bhatkal tells a ripping yarn, which leaps from this almost Andy Hardy-like pre-production scene to one in the desert, over two years later, where 800 extras in period costume, hired for a 24-hour shoot, are on the verge of revolt:

"At a corner of the hill, an argument is simmering. The polite difference of opinion becomes less polite and Reema orders one of the village youth to leave the set. He retorts that he will take all his friends with him. He has around 150 friends here. If they all leave, the shooting day will definitely be lost."

A few hours later, the village extras who had spent the day in the beating sun are freezing in dhotis and turbans as night falls, huddling next to flaming mashaals for heat, while the main actors in their summer gear stand in the open, playing cricket for the camera. "There is something inspiringly insane about the whole idea...", Bhatkal writes. It sounds like a great story.

(posted 11:38pm | 10.22.02)

#0096 - WHY HOLLYWOOD IS HELL - A NY Times piece reports that Hollywood has, unbelievably, become even more hostile and pathological of late:

"Far from being an isolated occurrence, displays of selfishly hostile behaviour are increasingly common in Hollywood, and increasingly by small fry. Once the sole province of box-office stars and a handful of well-known producers and agents, divalike behavior has filtered down - sometimes way down - the chain of command. It is now the reflexive stance of personal assistants, who are obsequious to their bosses but aggressively disdainful toward others; of hairstylists to the stars, who show up an hour late for appointments with regular clients; and of unemployed screenwriters, who cancel dinner plans with old friends because they are suddenly 'busy.'"

Everyone apparently feels free to "blow off anyone not part of your own private movie", a pathology that's extended down from industry dinners and meetings to children's birthday parties. Veteran producer Robert Evans - who should know - describes it as a matter of a shrinking cinema economy, and ramped-up competition: "This is a town that used to make 120 pictures a year and now makes 50 or 60, so the pressure is really on... People act out of fear, because everyone is so hungry for a deal now. There's no etiquette in Hollywood because there is no peace of mind."

The cult of celebrity, never a benign phenomenon, has apparently spun completely out of proportion, as any bankable star has become almost sacred, with huge retinues - personal assistants, publicists, managers, trainers, stylists and nutritionists - that also demand perquisites and star treatment.

Everyone, even the legions of under- and unemployed, feel obliged to "spin their day", to pretend that "you have velocity, that you're a success." Linda Kairys, a psychotherapist, boils it down to a bleak picture: "People here are so narcissistic, which means they behave with a great deal of grandiosity, but it's coming from a sense of not feeling valued, so there's lots of jealousy, fear and anger. People are so afraid of rejection that they don't act directly, saying what they really mean, but instead act in very self-protective ways that create incredible amounts of hostility."

It sounds like a mix of a mental asylum and high school. Hell, plain and simple.

(posted 10:51pm | 10.21.02)

#0095 - DIRTY PICTURES - Paul Schrader's Auto Focus is out next month, a typically dark addition to the writer/director's bleak filmography, and the publicity machine for the film went into action over a month ago, at its North American premiere here at the Toronto Film Festival. Ironically, the best p.r. for the film is being done by Scotty Crane, the younger son of the subject of the film, Bob "Col. Hogan" Crane, star of "Hogan's Heroes". Crane's bland, affable has-been persona was blown open when he was found bludgeoned to death over twenty years ago, in a Scottsdale, AZ apartment where he was staying while doing the dinner theatre circuit. Crane, it turned out, was a sex addict who had been photographing, filming and videotaping his liaisons with women for years. Scotty, who was seven when his father was murdered, is putting the bulk of his father's collection online, on a website that's part diatribe, part shop, and part porn site.

In a Salon piece on Crane and the movie, Scotty Crane makes it clear that he's doing this to refute the film and its suggestion that it wasn't just John Carpenter - Crane's sleaze buddy who remains the prime suspect in his murder, even after his acquittal, played in the movie by Willem Dafoe - but Scotty's mom, Crane's second wife, who led him down the path of perversion. "I have thousands of pictures of my dad with nude women," Scotty Crane declares. "There is a picture from 1956 of my dad with a naked woman who isn't his first wife. I have the evidence. I have the pictures, police reports and autopsy reports. If you want to see it, I can get it to you. That's what the Web site is all about" Scotty's crusade against Schrader and Sony Pictures has been so relentless that he was ejected from a July press screening of the film.

The site has a small selection of Crane's photos to browse for free, and a members-only section for more explicit material, which Salon's Bob Calhoun describes unsettlingly: "Some of these show him participating in mass orgies on plaid couches while middle-aged men in polyester slacks look on as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening." Schrader's film contains a scene where Greg Kinnear as Crane shows off his new penile implant, which Scotty Crane refutes with both a coroner's report and a photo of his dad's fully erect Hogan: "Contrary to the film ... this document proves that Bob's 'johnson' was ALL NATURAL!"

Crane and Carpenter were swingers in an outmoded, almost quaint sense of the word, practitioners of what the New Yorker's David Denby, in his review of the film, calls "Old Sex - breast fixated, impersonal, brief, and, as Crane becomes a celebrity, increasingly easy to get." The site will probably have a lot of appeal for connoiseurs of vintage porn, a small but avid group, as well as morbid hipsters and celebrity skin fanatics jaded from too many Pam Anderson videocaps. Elsewhere, site visitors can pre-order a book of Crane's photos (no publisher has been found yet), and pick up a CD of Crane's radio show, a set of 1/6 scale "Hogan's Heroes" action figures, or a t-shirt with the wonderful picture above emblazoned on the chest.

As a guilty admission, I have to say that, ten years ago, before I became a married man, a nervously expectant father, occasional churchgoer and grudging booster of my community, I would have proudly worn that shirt.

(posted 10:07pm | 10.21.02)

#0094 - STOP THE MADNESS - Mary McNamara of the L.A. Times on Madonna's movie career, inspired by the ... underperformance, yeah, that's a diplomatic way of putting it ... of her new film, Swept Away: "...dancing around in your underwear and having sex with a lot of people is essentially a young person's sport, and if the film career is a dead-end, then perhaps its time to genuinely reflect."

Sage advice, the kind that a reasonable person would do well to heed, but for some reason I don't think we've seen a full stop to Mrs. Ritchie's filmography. McNamara is blunt - Madonna has gotten bad reviews for every one of the sixteen movies she's been in, not including the first, Desperately Seeking Susan, and let's be honest: it was the 80s, and we were all in a funny mood back then. "The thing is, the woman cannot act.", McNamara writes, and somehow it feels like an understatement. The reviews have been so gleefully harsh, and so pointedly focused on Madonna's particular awfulness, that Liz Rosenberg, Madonna's longtime flack, was moved to plead with the press to "stop being so mean!" With a few, surprising exceptions that read like the critic was in a cussedly contrary mood that morning, the consensus has been of a piece with David Sterrit's review in the Christian Science Monitor: "'s hard to remember the last time a certified celebrity gave a performance so monotonous, unimaginative, and all-around tiresome to watch."

Positive reviews, such as the Boston Globe's Wesley Morris' take are carefully qualified, imbued with what even feels like pity: "After a ghastly start, it becomes a curiously affecting document of a director trying to show the world why he loves his wife - not the changeling pop star, but the actress." The pity, however, seems directed toward Ritchie, whose talent many critics are probably worried about overburnishing, and who's gently regarded as yet another poor victim of a notorious wrecker of talent, a Midas whose touch doesn't gild, but trivialize.

The truth is that Madonna is a peculiarly unlovable individual, even for a celebrity. Once upon a time, it was fashionable to admire her as a force, a phenomenon, an idea made flesh, back when feminism was transforming itself into post-feminism, and her steely, rapacious, yet strangely joyless wantonness could be mistaken for a take-charge sexuality that was considered admirable. You could be a slut, but you could be smart about it, by becoming a kind of free-agent courtesan, a strega of steel. But those days are gone, and even longtime fan Camille Paglia can acknowledge how tiresome the woman has become, in the scolding tones of an exasperated teacher writing at the bottom of a report card: "In every social occasion, she must flirt, dominate, or act up like a teenager."

The act has hardened into a ritual, and as any Catholic can tell you, ritual without faith or meaning is exhausting. She long ago started believing her press, and crossed over into the illusion that, since she's so terribly famous, she must have something important to say. How else to explain the inexplicable English accent, the stern appearances on talk shows, the stunningly inarticulate appearance on Larry King, with this stuttering explanation of her interest in the Kabbalah:

MADONNA: ... it's a belief system. It's incredibly scientific and, as I said, it predates religion. I think people - a lot of the rituals, well, all of the rituals have been appropriated by the Jewish faith.

KING: But ...

MADONNA: But I think people have misinterpreted and/or have left out the true and deep metaphysical reasons for all of those things.

KING: What's it all mean?

MADONNA: What's it all mean and why's there so much chaos in the world? And is this just the way it goes? You know, and I wanted to know the answers. And I heard about these classes they were teaching. I heard they were very scientific in nature and not dogmatic and religious. And it didn't matter where you came from or what religious faith you were brought up in.

I don't know what makes me sadder: Madonna's gibberish about "science" and "chaos", or Larry King feeling the need to ask Madonna, with every outward sign of sober inquiry, "What's it all mean?"

(posted 11:04pm | 10.20.02)

#0093 - A BLOG ABOUT A MOVIE BY A MAN... The new Spike Jonze film, Adaptation, started life as a movie version of Susan Orleans' novel The Orchid Thief, but then Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman - the team behind Being John Malkovich - turned it into a film about a movie adaptation of a book by Susan Orleans called The Orchid Thief, featuring Nicholas Cage as Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother Donald. (At this point, I'm not entirely certain if Donald Kaufman actually exists, but that only adds to the fun, at least for me.) The trailer alone makes it look amazing, and raises the possibility of a decent Nicholas Cage performance for the first time since probably Raising Arizona, fifteen years ago, and if that's a depressing thought for me, I can't imagine how Nicholas Cage must feel.

(An aside: I love Jonze's work, but I hate typing his silly damn "stage name". His real name is Adam Spiegel, of the Chicago Spiegel catalogue Spiegels, which is proof of the adage that you don't need to be rich to be creative, but it sure helps...)

And now (thanks to Marc Weisblott for the link) there's a blog about the film, hosted on Orleans' own site, but written and administered by Jason Kottke. Orleans - who's obviously too busy to bother with a blog (as any really gainfully employed writer should be, and yes that's meant to be self-deprecating) - contributes observations on the hurlyburly of sudden movie celebrity. In the film, she's played by Meryl Streep, and has anecedotes like this to share:

"it was totally funny to meet ms. streep last night -- she was lovely and funny and gave me a huge hug and was just...great. what i found so funny was how many actors at the screening last night were congratulating me (huh???) on the movie. ha! like i did anything! kevin kline grabbed me and said, 'wow, i can't imagine what this is like for you!' how strange, coming from an actor."

(posted 09:42pm | 10.20.02)

#0092 - THE GREATEST THING EVER - Before I talk about Punch Drunk Love, the new Paul Thomas Anderson film starring Adam Sandler, I want to describe the opening sequence. I'd just like you to imagine it in your own head, in the hope that it will puzzle and impress you the way it did me when I watched the film at its second matinee on opening day a week ago. It's taken me a week to write this review, mostly because I found that I had too much to say. I think it's a pretty incredible film bit I think you'll figure out that for yourself.

Sandler is sitting at a metal desk in what looks like an enormous but empty storage locker. He's wearing a blue suit of such peculiar luminosity that it seems to glow in the murky light. He's talking on the phone with what sounds like a customer service drone, trying - like we all do from time to time - to get a straight answer from someone who's never been given the script for any question outside of a small number of possibilities. He's frustrated but patient and you immediately identify with him. Which is what makes the next five minutes so uneasy.

Sandler gets up and walks the length of the room to a roll-up door. He has an insulated glass in his hand, an early-morning commuter's standard coffee accesory. He opens the door and bright morning sunlight pours in; he walks out onto a driveway/parking lot, a long row of cars parked with their headlights pointed at the row of metal shutter doors stretching down to a street. Something about the light says it's California - a particular intensity, a cold yellow that seems unique to the area around Los Angeles, familiar to any moviegoer after decades of location filming. Sandler breathes in, and strolls down to the street. The shadows are long, and the street almost empty for traffic except for a lone SUV moving at speed from the left.

As Sandler stands there, the SUV reaches a point fifty yards or so from where he's standing, and suddenly pitches up from the asphalt, as if it had hit some invisible flaw in the road as large and hard as a parking barrier, lurching into a crushing roll, end over end, across Sandler's field of view and out of sight, scattering shattered plastic and other debris sprinkled over the road like coarse sugar.

As he stands there, coffee in hand, in obvious shock, a minivan taxi rears across the road, through the scene of the accident, and lurches to a stop in front of him. An arm hauls the sliding side door open and deposits a battered harmonium on the pavement in front of Sandler. The minivan roars away. There's the briefest of pauses for all of this to register with both Sandler and us.

And then Sandler is back at his desk, at the dark end of the huge, seemingly empty room. He's on the phone again, going through another one of those eerily formal phone conversations that measure our days. He gets up again, coffee in hand, and walks to the open warehouse door. He looks down the row of gates to the street. A car pulls into the driveway, manoevering carefully around the harmonium, and stops just one warehouse unit short of Sandler. A pretty but subtly odd-looking young woman - Emily Watson - gets out, asks a few confused questions about the garage that occupies the gate next door to Sandler, and asks if he could give them the keys to her car for some unspecified repair when they open. With a small display of reluctance, quickly overcome - we already sense that Sandler is a lonely, lonely man - he says yes. She walks away, but asks him if he knows that there's a small piano sitting at the end of the driveway. He says that he does.

It's almost a relief, at that moment, to know that the previous minutes of the film, the accident, the cab, the harmonium, actually happened. We're sure that it's probably a relief to Sandler that he has evidence, albeit after the fact, to what he saw.

Another cut. Sandler has made his way to the street again and stands staring, coffee in hand, at the harmonium. Once again, from his left side, we see a vehicle approaching, this time a huge white semi careening along a bit too close to the curb. Suddenly, as if it's traversed a hundred yards in a second, it's practically on top of Sandler, but not before he grabs the harmonium with both arms, dropping his coffee flask and running, terrified, up the driveway toward the camera, the huge semi and its trailer roaring past in a scirocco of dust.

The film has about eighty or ninety more minutes to run. It might actually take more time to read my description of the opening scene than the scene itself, though I doubt my recap can give any really accurate sense of the giddy unease those opening minutes create. By the end of it, I was absolutely transfixed. I was, I knew, watching something really special, and that isn't a feeling I get too often these days.

In Salon, Charles Taylor anticipates that Punch-Drunk Love "is likely to disgruntle those who go in expecting another Adam Sandler comedy, and it may be prejudged by critics and other moviegoers who can't stand Sandler." So far every review I've read has been glowing, and being the unoriginal jerkoff that I am, I'll add my shiny two cents to the chorus of praise. I think this is my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson film. It's easily my favorite Adam Sandler movie.

Taylor writes that "Punch-Drunk Love is about the inexplicable, life-changing nature of unexpected connections, and Anderson doesn't try to shortchange the power of romance by offering an explanation for it." Unexpected connections are the logic that rules the film, and part of the joy of watching it is the growing certainty, with every unlikely new scene, that it will be impossible to anticipate what happens next.

I watch a lot of movies, most of them newly released, at 10am critic's screenings, on advance cassettes and review DVDs, and I can say confidently that the plot of almost every film can be described within minutes of the opening scene, often right down to details, even key shots; genres have become slavishly generic, and since most movies are genre movies, formula has become a film language. Critics - I'm not alone, I know - often judge a film by how well it finesses clichés, using a word like "reinvents" when we should be saying "recycles". At no point during Punch-Drunk Love was I able to predict what would happen in the next line, never mind the next scene. Taylor calls it "something we haven't seen before: a manic-depressive romantic comedy that aspires to the soul of a musical. It's a new-fashioned love song."

In the NY Times, A.O. Scott writes that "many of the scenes are structured like musical numbers, building up into a swirl of sound and spectacle that leaves you addled, a little dizzy and overcome by a pleasing, unplaceable sensation - one best summed up in the movie's title." David Edelstein in Slate picks up the theme, writing that "the movie is so full of lurches and discordances and flabbergasting non sequiturs that at times it's like an avant-garde dance-theater piece with injections of Saturday Night Live."

Every critic is united in their praise for Sandler. Roger Ebert, ever the celebrity critic, typically turns it into a personal matter, facing off with the star at a Toronto Film Festival party: "He knows and I know that I have never given him a good review. That time we met backstage at Letterman, he was very decent, considering. He said he hoped that someday he would make something I liked. Now he has." I wonder sometimes when Ebert will finally give up on merely reviewing films, and devote the whole of his TV show to a single camera trained on him just watching the movie. He's become, in his own mind, the forest where the tree falls, the only witness to it falling.

Most critics center their reviews on Sandler, or rather, Sandler's star persona, and how well Anderson has used that to create Barry Egan. Sandler's Barry is "socially maladroit, emotionally cross-wired and a little creepy-looking - a loser, in short." (Scott in the NY Times); "He is, not to put too fine a point on it, not just some misunderstood nice guy but also a man who is truly disturbed." (Kenneth Turan in the L.A. Times); "Barry has what a shrink might call a problem 'integrating' his personality." (Edelstein in Slate); "Sandler's performance is ... about the agony of Barry's inarticulateness, his stunted desire to connect and communicate, and his inability to define his free-floating pain." (Taylor in Salon); "Anderson has detected qualities below the surface of (Sandler's) usual screen persona - a wounded insecurity, a sense of repression that's almost violent - that no director has called upon before, and they're exactly right for this peculiar little gem of a movie." (David Sterrit in the Christian Science Monitor).

It's not hard to see how Barry ended up this way after we've been introduced to his "seven thoughtlessly aggressive sisters who break his confidences and savagely tease him without a moment's remorse." (Turan in the L.A. Times.) It's his sisters who prompt Barry's first eruption of rage, a sudden attack on a set of glass patio doors. It's a mark of either Anderson and Sandler's skill at unveiling Barry, or a sad but resigned societal acceptance of stricken psyches, that Barry's rage seems completely acceptable, even correct. "I don't like myself sometimes," Barry confesses a moment later to one of his brother-in-laws (played by Saturday Night Live writer Robert Smigel).

Nevertheless, Emily Watson's Lena, a friend of one of his sisters, "elects, against all reason but with sublime decisiveness, to fall in love with Barry." (Scott in the NY Times.) This is, as it is with most of us, the great event in Barry's life, and along with Barry's plan to turn pudding cups into free air miles, it's the motivating force in Punch-Drunk Love. You'll get some idea of the random universe of the film by the simple fact that both events seem to have equal value, at least at first. When Barry and Luis Guzman are shown scouring the supermarkets for pudding cups, we see Sandler do a gleeful little soft show in the aisles, filled with pure joy. Whether he's inspired by his new love, or by the purpose his air miles scheme has given him, seems immaterial. It's a lovely little moment.

Anderson has admitted, and much has been made of, the influence of Jacques Tati on his film. As much as Tati's gentle, inept, chance-swept Hulot, there's also more than a bit of Frank Capra's heroes in Barry - Jimmy Stewart's Mr. Smith, Gary Cooper's Mr. Deeds and John Doe. Like Barry, they're real innocents; early in the film, Barry calls a phone sex line, seemingly just to talk to someone, a mistake that will come back to haunt him. Watson's Lena bears a low-key but unmistakable resemblance to Jean Arthur's wordly, slightly disillusioned romantic interests, whose love gives Barry/Smith/Deeds an iron purpose. "I have a love in my life," Barry declares when he confronts Phillip Seymour Hoffman's sleazy but self-righteous phone-sex scam operator, "and it gives me more strength than you could ever understand."

Barry's rage, which we see directed against patio doors and restaurant bathrooms, finally settles on the quartet of thuggish brothers Hoffman sends to extort money from Barry, and the brief but exhilarating scene where he beats them senseless is one of the few examples of truly cathartic cinema violence I can recall, free of gratuitousness or vindictive sadism, a pure expression of rage and self-defense that's almost balletic in its choreography.

It's ironic that Sandler's own re-make of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, released earlier this year, was such a failure in almost every way, but especially in spirit. Sandler's Deeds was also a mild-mannered goof, also capable of sudden, incredible violence that was the first and most flagrant betrayal of Capra's original, but the film was a typically shambling piece of work, of a piece with Sandler's other films, built around scenes that are more like skits, without much real plot or character development beyond Sandler's righteous goof somehow overcoming his enemies and/or his own loser status.

Anderson has somehow managed to update Capra utilizing the same Sandler persona that was so inappropriate to Mr. Deeds. Perhaps sadly, the political edge of Capra's films would be inappropriate today, issues of class and wealth and power having been banished to op-ed pages, partisan journals, and ponderous films like The Contender. Anderson works around it, and that might be one reason why Punch-Drunk Love feels both as dense as Anderson's other films and yet unmistakably slighter. (It "would fit inside Magnolia twice", writes A.O. Scott in the NY Times.) It would be as if Mr. Smith went to Washington and, instead of becoming a voice for reform, filibustering on the floor of Congress, he merely wandered around the Mall, falling in love with Jean Arthur, taking time out briefly to beat a gang of lobbyists senseless.

But Anderson's universe is one where love is the hardest thing to achieve, harder than sex or wealth or power or social equality. Going right back to Hard Eight, and especially in Boogie Nights and Magnolia, love is the one thing every character strives mightily - and often unsuccessfully - to express. Think of Julianne Moore's coked-out porn queen, full of frustrated mother-love, or James C. Reilly's gentle cop in Magnolia, falling in love with a drug addict. Achieving, expressing and returning love is the hardest thing to do in Anderson's films, and it's more than enough of a struggle for Sandler's Barry to overcome, a personal victory as immense as ending government corruption or redistributing wealth.

Which is what makes Anderson's films so profound and so sad. His world is a grimly post-Sixties one, where politics has become an abstraction, and mere love rare and almost unimaginable where sex is common and personal isolation the rule. Barry's triumph, aided significantly up-front by Lena's immediate and unquestioning will to love him, is a rare one in Anderson's films, a phenomenon that it takes a whole film to examine and celebrate.

(posted 10:23am | 10.19.02)

#0091 - LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS - Actually, we don't, not that often, but when we do they're often a lot more positive than this e-mail, which arrived today. It's by a local, from the sounds of it, who's familiar with the paper where I earn the bulk of my living these days. She's also a big Vin Diesel fan, but that should be obvious enough, I suppose.

Spelling and punctuation unaltered; printed as received.

Dear Rick,

I am writing to you in response to the ridiculous 1 star you gave knockaround guys and the degrading vin diesel comment you made. I would just llike to point out that first of all, i saw the movie twice and found it amazing. Second of all, even if it was a shitty movie (eventhough it wasn't, we'll just pretend) with looks and a body like vin diesel's it doesn't matter if the movie was good or not, HE played in it. So while he's making his millions (and i literally mean millions) and having almost every director fighting to have him star in their film, you're unfortunately sitting in that little shack of yours, which you call an office, writting for a free news paper that holmless people use to wipe their asses with. Vin Diesel has billions of fans who feel the same way i do about this shit you call a review you wrote on the movie and then dissed vin baby by saying, and i quote: " with his best friend, Taylor (Vin Diesel, in precisely the sort of role tailored for his particular limitations as an actor) " Exuse me? Have you seen any of his movies? or were you out their near the garbage cans trying to warm your hands? He is an amazing actor who has been out for less than 4 years and is already making as much as Tom Cruise. And i know that it's only your opinion, but guess what? We don't give a damn what you think about our man Vin!!! So next time, if you don't have anything nice to say about Vin Baby, keep your ass shout!

P.S your just a struggling writer, and yes that's right, STRUGGLING!!!

I shall endeavor, I promise, to keep my ass shout. In fact, I'll keep my ass shouting as often as I can; I hear it's excellent exercise for the prostate.

Seriously, though, is this a threat? Should I politely decline reviewing another Vin Diesel film for fear of offending his fans? I'm still amazed, after all these years, at the proprietary attitude celebrity inspires. Since his success, contrasted with my relative but all-too-obvious failure as a millionaire action movie star, invalidates my license to criticize his work, I suppose the next step is firing every movie critic and replacing them with a "jury of their peers", the only people qualified to judge the work of other actors. I'll be happy to let Tom Cruise do my job - he is, apparently, Vin Baby's closest peer, if I read this letter correctly - provided he thinks he can get by on my wages. The ball's in your court, Tom. Until then, honey, you're stuck with me and my pathetic kind.

And Vin, baby - call off your hounds. If anything happens to me, I've instructed the wife to file a class action suit.

(posted 12:14am EST | 10.16.02)

#0090 - HAPPY BIRTHDAY BACHCHAN - Amitabh Bachchan, the Burt Lancaster of Bollywood, is sixty, and the website has a tribute to the star of Sholay, Amar Akbar Anthony, Deewar, Coolie and other hits.

There's an interview with Bachchan, where he announces the marriage of his son Abhishek to Karisma Kapoor, the daughter of fellow Bollywood legend Randhir Kapoor. (In Hollywood terms, this would be the equivalent of Michael Douglas' son marrying Harrison Ford's daughter. This kind of thing happens all the time in Indian cinema - Bachchan and Kapoor are already related, through the vast connections of the Kapoor family.) Bachchan is cordial and correct, but he lets slip with a mild lament that should be familiar to any actor on the far side of leading man status: "It is not as though they are all rushing forward to sign me. Whenever an elderly actor is required, they come to me."

There are interviews with colleagues, and a fact file, which contains the kind of fan minutia that you rarely read outside teen mags:

"He once spent a few nights on a bench at Marine Drive, Mumbai, when he was a struggler trying to make it big in films."

"He is called Big B by the media, Munna by his parents and Amit by his close friends."

"AB loves Gulab Jamuns."

"BBC Online voted him Star of the Millennium, above Laurence Olivier, Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Brando."

"He has a wax replica displayed at Madame Tussauds in London."

"Recently, French perfume company Lomani launched a new fragrance, Amitabh B Pour Homme (for men) and Amitabh B Pour Femme (for women)."

In a poll on the site, 56% of his fans say they prefer him as an "angry young man". Ten percent prefer him as a game show host. Thirty-three percent prefer the "mature artiste".

Happy Birthday, Big B.

(posted 10:10pm | 10.10.02)