The Tailor of Panama (Columbia). Critics say this is a “spiffy” (Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times) spy-movie spoof with great creds (directed by John Boorman, based on a novel by John le Carré—itself based on one by Graham Greene—starring 007 Pierce Brosnan as the anti-Bond) that’s marred by a bad ending. The plot: The tailor (Geoffrey Rush) to Panama’s bigwigs, paid by Bronson to eavesdrop, feeds him a made-up story that leads to military response from Britain and the United States. The upside: provocative parody that a) is “a terrific movie counter-myth” (David Edelsetin, Slate) revealing “the sleaziness that was always the flip side of 007’s suavity” (A.O. Scott, the New York Times); and b) is an “empire’s new clothes” take on a “voluptuously confused instance of Anglo-American immersion in third-world corruption” (J. Hoberman, the Village Voice). The downside: an unconvincing, uncynical ending that “veers toward the absurd” and “builds to nothing” (Stephen Hunter, the Washington Post). (Click here for a le Carré interview about—and a reading from— Tailor; click here for a Boorman interview and filmography.)— Y.S.
Spy Kids (Dimensions). A different, more surreal and silly spy spoof; “Think James Bond Jr.” (Kirk Honeycutt, the Hollywood Reporter) with a Gaudi twist. What makes it good: It’s fast-moving, funny, unpatronizing, un-Disney (more Willie Wonka or Dr. Seuss, with a splash of the Matrix), loaded with spy-kid gizmos (electroshock bubblegum, jet backpacks, and magic submarine pods), and “Play-Doh Fun Factory” sets (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times). A minority of critics say parents may find the film unsatisfying because of predictable product placements, a “soulless” story line, and special-effects overkill (Desson Howe, the Washington Post). But most say there’s enough here for parents to enjoy, like an “absurdly sexy” Antonio Banderas who is “game for making fun of his sexy Iberian looks” (Mitchell) and enough Latin cultural references to score diversity points from Family Filmgoer Jane Horwitz (the Washington Post). (Click here to read about director Robert Rodriguez’s spy uncle and here for trailers.)—Y.S.
Someone Like You (20th Century Fox Film Corp.). Resolutely bad reviews for this romantic comedy. Someone Like You is pronounced “every bit as memorable as its title” (A.O. Scott, the New York Times). Its worst sin? Predictability. The formula could not be more clichéd: Spunky, adorable Jane (Ashley Judd) falls for the Wrong Guy (boyish yet shifty-eyed Greg Kinnear), only to have him dump her, leaving her heartbroken and homeless, whereupon she moves in platonically with the Right Guy, rakish, promiscuous Eddie (X-Men’s lupine Hugh Jackman). The whole movie is practically without charm of any kind; Scott says there is “exactly one sort-of-funny line” and that the banality “forc[es] you to avert your gaze even from Ms. Judd’s gorgeous bone structure.” In fact only two things about the movie win kudos—the supporting cast (Ellen Barkin as a Diane Sawyeresque TV host; poor Marisa Tomei as the obligatory pert, cynical best friend) and the physiognomies of the two stars. This saccharine dreck “goes down easily only because Judd and Jackman are eye candy” (Jami Bernard, the New York Daily News). (Mr. Showbiz has a star bio of Jackman here. Click here to read a Slate“Diary” by Linda Obst, one of the movie’s producers, while it was in production.)— S.G.
Amores Perros (Lion’s Gate). Great reviews for this visceral and violent Oscar-nominated Mexican film whose title, slang for tough love, announces its theme. Three stories (a teen-ager from the slums who goes for his brother’s wife, a businessman whose famous and beautiful new lover loses her leg, a former revolutionary who tries to change his life and make amends with his daughter) are held together by a Mexico City car crash and shocking dog injuries (simulated)—metaphors for the characters’ own broken states and overheated emotions. Critics praise first-time director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for unabashedly “immers[ing] this tough-minded, episodic film noir in freshets of melodrama” (Elvis Mitchell, the New York Times) and bringing the city “so close that you need to take a shower afterwards” (Anthony Lane, The New Yorker). Many rave shamelessly: Richard Pena calls it “a knockout, the great revelation of Cannes 2000” (Film Comment) and Lynn Hirschberg says it’s “the most ambitious and dazzling movie to emerge from Latin America in three decades” (the New York Times Magazine). One critic writes off Mitchell’s declaration that this is “one of the first art films to come out of Mexico since Buñuel worked there” as a suggestion of “the total redefinition of ‘art film’ in American terms” (J. Hoberman, the Village Voice). (Click here for Lynn Hirschberg’s interview with the director and here for the film’s official site.)— Y.S.
Books Dreamcatcher, by Stephen King (Scribner). Mostly positive reviews for this long horror story that critics say is alternately poignant, overwrought, plodding, and gross. The plot is trademark King: Four pals meet virus-carrying aliens in the Maine woods. Central characters and images: a yellow Scooby-Doo lunch box; the dreamcatcher Duddits, who is mentally retarded and has mystical powers; a bacon fiend named Mr. Gray, who takes over the mind of King’s stand-in; a demonic, commanding officer named, not very subtly, Kurtz; an alien fungus nicknamed, not very subtly, Ripley; a ballpoint pen shoved through an eye and into a brain; and some erupting bowels. What makes this book different: 1) The toilet humor is “here carried to hitherto uncharted extremes” (Bernard Welt, People) (click here and scroll to the end for King’s commentary on the meaning of the bathroom); 2) “the postmodern design of certain passages” (Joe Husko, Wall Street Journal); 3) earnest autobiographical elements (the aforementioned stand-in has painful memories of a car accident like the one that nearly killed King in 1999); 4) “for long stretches it seems as if King is more interested in airing out his philosophical concerns than scaring us out of our wits” (Jabari Asim, the Washington Post). A minority find it overwhelmingly “derivative” and occasionally “maudlin” (Bruce Fretts, Entertainment Weekly). The majority deem its story sufficiently scary and its flashbacks good writing. (Click here for excerpts.)— Y.S.
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Doin’ Something, by Soulive (Blue Note). Soulive is the third in a recent spate of young up-and-coming jam-jazz bands to score a contract with the classic Blue Note label (their peers are Medeski Martin & Wood and Charlie Hunter). The Soulive twist: dapper suits and hip instrumental soul/groove-jazz both rooted in tradition and aware of its contemporaries (this album features tributes to alto-saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest). “This organ trio of 20-somethings aims for the feet. And it doesn’t hurt that they brought in a horn section led by the great Fred Wesley, who played on much of James Brown’s best work” (Tad Hendrickson, CMJ). Guitarist Eric Krasno, whose style has been compared to that of Grant Green, told Downbeat: “I don’t think at all in terms of any comparison, other than that we are on Blue Note now. … I grew up listening to everybody from Wes Montgomery to Jimi Hendrix, and a lot of stuff of my generation. Part of our whole thing is trying to develop our own sound.” (Click here for their Web site and here to read a comparison between them and MMW.)— Y.S.
To purchase this CD from 800.com, click here.
Event 73rd Annual Academy Awards. What made this year’s Oscar night different from the others? Critics insist that these ceremonies had more class than those of recent years. Notably classic elements: the grand, epic winner, Gladiator, for best picture; the “old fashioned, ‘50s” glamour gowns (Cynthia Robins, San Francisco Chronicle); performances by Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman; Julie Andrews’ presentation of an honorary Oscar to screenwriter Ernest Lehman; the dryly witty Steve Martin (deemed “best Oscar host since Johnny Carson” by Tom Shales of the Washington Post). Notably unclassy moments: Pepsi commercials starring Britney Spears and Bob Dole with his aroused dog; Danny DeVito caught eating on camera; Björk wearing a swan (although her singing was great). Critics insist this years’ Oscars proved the “movie industry has learned to share” (Rick Lyman, the New York Times) and note how global the awards were (big winners Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Italy’s Dino De Laurentiis winning the Thalberg, Benicio Del Toro’s Spanish-speaking best-supporting role in Traffic, etc.), which makes the absence of black nominees all the more remarkable. (Click here to read about the relationship between heightened globalism and lack of diversity.) Also, the looming writers’ strike was all but ignored; a notable exception was Lehman’s comment that “a movie begins and ends with a screenplay.” Steve Martin mocked the gaudiness of the industry and some of its stars, calling Best Actress Julia Roberts the cause of New York’s movie ticket price hike and hinting at Best Actor Russell Crowe’s penchant for affairs with co-stars. Some critical disappointments: the “undistinguished” “default” Holocaust-themed documentary winner and the “shoddy” best visual effects of Gladiator (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times). Consensus: one of the best award shows in a while, despite problems with the academy and the industry. (Click here for Slate’s Oscar coverage.)— Y.S.