Be Cool

[National Review Online, March 4, 2005] Every once in awhile a comedy comes along that is bright and quirky enough that it lingers companionably in the mind a long time after. “Get Shorty” (1995) was one of those movies; the first time I saw it, I spent the ending credits wearing a big grin, thinking back over delicious scenes and wishing I could see more of those characters. They were reliably, satisfyingly odd, in the way that only someone who has a lot of complicated past history can be. What you saw on the screen had a tip-of-the-iceberg quality.

Because of Winn-Dixie

[National Review Online, February 18, 2004] A cute little girl with no mommy, a shaggy dog with no home, a preacher-daddy, and a sleepy southern town peopled with adorable eccentrics - who could ask for anything more? Those who are moved to beg for much, much less will want to steer clear of “Because of Winn-Dixie,” a film based on the beloved children's novel by the same title, authored by Newberry Award winner Kate DiCamillo. Yet the film has surprising charm, and yields some unexpected insights. While the prime audience will always be kids and their tag-along grownups (an audience that will find this film more than satisfying), the occasional grumpy outsider who wanders in will also find plenty to enjoy.

Million Dollar Baby

[National Review Online, January 31, 2005] Clint Eastwood's “Million Dollar Baby” has won a basketful of Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. If they gave one for Best Kept Secret, it might win that as well. There's a twist in the plot of “Million Dollar Baby.” It's not a whiplash turn, like that “Sixth Sense” or “The Usual Suspects.” It's more of an unexpected plot morph that turns it from one kind of movie into another.

In Good Company

[National Review Online, January 28, 2005] “In Good Company” opened the same week that Academy Award nominations were announced. Top honors went to movies about big-shouldered men: a crazy-brilliant inventor and filmmaker, a man who saved a thousand people from machete-wielding Hutus, the quiet genius who invented Peter Pan. Now comes Dennis Quaid as Dan Foreman, a suburban fifty-something who sells ad space in a sports magazine. Can this man be a hero?

Lemony Snicket’s ‘A Series of Unfortunate Events’

[National Review Online, December 19, 2004] When I got home from seeing “Lemony Snicket,” I read through “The Bad Beginning,” the first in the 11-volume series about the unfortunate Baudelaire children. What with small pages and large print, it took about an hour. There I discovered that thing more precious than gold in publishing circles: a unique authorial voice. Daniel Handler, writing under the pseudonym “Lemony Snicket,” narrates in a quietly morose, worried tone, recounting events that go from bad to worse and then worse again. The Baudelaires -- Violet, Klaus, and baby Sunny, who bites -- were left parentless by a fire that destroyed their home, and have been placed in the care of a distant, evil relative, Count Olaf. If you've never read any of these books, you think you can write it yourself from here. You can't.


[National Review Online, December 10, 2004] Director James L. Brooks works hard; in such films as “Terms of Endearment,” “Broadcast News,” and “As Good as it Gets” he's laboring all the time to tickle your heartstrings and wring a tear from your funnybone. When it all comes together, that's entertainment, buster. But with “Spanglish,” you get the feeling a whole other movie was left on the cutting room floor. It's a shame, because the point this movie is trying to make turns out to be a good one: parents should make sacrifices for their children, noble self-discipline is good, impulsive self-indulgence is bad, and breaking up a marriage, even a desperately unhappy marriage, is very bad.

Is This Shark Gay?

[Beliefnet, December 13, 2004] In this tense post-election climate there's a tendency to look for suspicious messages in everything but the stickers on grocery-store produce. That's the only way I can explain a writing assignment that included these instructions: “I need you to go to a movie and find out whether the shark is gay.” Now, sharks have done some memorable things in American movies, but this would be a first. Granted, they're usually engaged in disrupting social norms, but not in the size-twelve-high-heels way.


[National Review Online, December 3, 2004] This is about the saddest movie I've ever seen. Everyone in the movie is sad, everybody cries, everybody (at one time or another) looks like they were knocked down by a garbage truck and dragged down an alley. This is also a movie that has a lot of sex-talk in it; not much action, but about as much explicit description of sexual activity that a script can contain. There might be a connection. The title “Closer” is intended to mean intimacy, I think, as in “Come closer.” But it might also mean the closing events that happen in relationships; lovers run into a moment that is a “closer” and they can't go any further.


[National Review Online, November 22, 2004] A few years ago I was browsing in a thrift shop and came across a curious volume titled “Ideal Marriage: Its Physiology and Technique.” What's that got to do with “Kinsey,” the new film about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey? We'll get to that in a minute. First, let's look this specimen over merely in terms of its cinematic qualities, and set aside the sexual content. If this was a biography of any research scientist, we'd surely give it a solid A for visuals: costumes, lighting, props, cinematography, all contribute to a rich sense of environment and mood.

Finding Neverland

[National Review Online, November 18, 2004] Somebody, somewhere, hates imagination. In some Dickensian institution where children wear lace-up boots and stare glumly at their porridge, a wicked, wrinkled figure reflects gleefully that they will never hear of talking animals and flying ships. We know that such a killjoy must exist, because “Finding Neverland” is so heroically opposed to him. Throughout the film beautiful figures keep imploring us to welcome the liberating power of imagination, and they must be talking to *somebody*. I attended a screening for movie critics, and these tend to be more hard-boiled than most, but I still didn't spot anyone shaking his fist at the screen like Snidely Whiplash. I did eventually hear someone gently snoring.