Everything Is Illuminated

The Critics Speak

Asia Argento is a spoiled prima donna confabulist, sure. But come on, when your friend dates a jerk, doesn't it make you as irate as if he'd left her ball-gagged for three days? And when you're creating, doesn't your muse come and go like a boy rock star? And aren't powerful men who front as mentors just withered, zombified addicts who try to smother you and fuck out your vitality? And when you're bursting free of their influence, lunging through their paper-bag blindfolds, doesn't it feel like a birth? Well, doesn't it? —LAURA SINAGRA

No, Scarlet Diva is not a great movie (not sober, anyway). Nor is Asia Argento a particularly stellar actress, even when playing "herself." Then again, she's good enough to prompt those quote marks, no? —NICK RUTIGLIANO


Sneak Piques
What a carve-up: Diaz and Day-Lewis (#2 performance) in Gangs of New York (#11 film)
photo: Mario Tursi
What a carve-up: Diaz and Day-Lewis (#2 performance) in Gangs of New York (#11 film)

I really like that part where Arwen the elf tells Eminem, "I've got a feeling about you. You're gonna be great," before he leads the Dead Rabbits to battle the Butcher. Who says female characters are an afterthought? —LAURA SINAGRA

Denzel Washington and Halle Berry both suffered inane backlash from their Oscar wins, with angry white pundits demanding to know when politics entered the Oscar competition (the answer would be, day one). Angela Bassett checked in with the snooty assertion that she wouldn't have played Halle's part in Monster's Ball because she wouldn't play a whore. That part was many things—shoddily conceived, poorly written, and ineptly performed—but the character wasn't a whore. That Bassett and so many black folk saw it as such is very revealing about black folks' own puritanism, our deep-rooted apprehensions about the black body, as well as well-founded frustration that we never get to see that kind of physical and emotional nakedness in the context of a black-on-black relationship. —ERNEST HARDY

Collateral Damage, which inspired picketing in Colombia, reveals the degree of acceptable loss within the industry's saturation-bombing method of global marketing. The Kazakhstan-set Rollerball, meanwhile, reads as an unintended allegory of Hollywood's fear that those reliably exploitable territories might start producing American culture more profitably than we do—and with our own talent! Funny that the original Rollerball from 1975, with its futuristic vision of a benevolently totalitarian energy company (!), would now appear no less contemporary than the remake—which ultimately urges us sporting slaves to slam our corporate oppressors against the boards. Not to sound like a terrorist here, but I can't help wondering whether the lion that sits at the gates of MGM is trained in self-defense. —ROB NELSON

One of the year's great unsung pratfalls: Chuck Workman's three-minute splooge of nationalism, The Spirit of America, reportedly shown in thousands of theaters. Assisted by Hollywood unions and studios, Workman assembled a litany of chest-swelling movie moments subtitled with helpful generalities like "diversity," "family," and "patriotism." The industry's idiotic hypocrisy emerged whole and healthy: Amongst other foolhardy equations, Dr. Strangelove was summoned to evoke "courage"—excerpting George C. Scott's notorious speech advocating nuclear holocaust: "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed!" but leaving out, "But I do say, no more than 10 to 20 million killed, tops! Depending on the breaks!" We may all remember 9-11, but Hollywood would have us forget virtually everything else. —MICHAEL ATKINSON

Surely the most sustained frustration of the year has been provided by Wes Craven's planned remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Pulse. First the disappointment of realizing that Kurosawa's original wouldn't get a U.S. release, then the nagging info about Craven's version, which offered brief hope (Kirsten Dunst in the lead) only to crush it months later: Dunst pulled out, and Miramax is requiring Craven to retool the script. Meanwhile, thanks to Tom Cruise's creative consultants, the Pang brothers' inanely derivative The Eye, which transforms Pulse's doom-laden climax (a plane careening into a city, a hope-shattering image I first saw on September 10, 2001) into an opportunity for jingoistic heroism, is getting a U.S. release, as well as a remake. —JOHNNY RAY HUSTON

The five films on my undistributed list technically have distributors. However, Lions Gate released Dagon (which played a weekend at Anthology) straight to video. The original versions of My Sassy Girl (a gross-out love story along the lines of the Farrelly brothers, only better) and Pulse have been shelved to make room for remakes. Who knows when Tears of the Black Tiger and Avalon will make it out of Miramax's vaults? Hell, Abel Ferrara's 'R Xmas had a one-week, one-screening-per-day "release." Cine-philes have a lot of fun getting into a righteous lather about Miramax, but the practice of sending interesting films straight to video or burying them in favor of remakes is no longer restricted to Harvey Scissorhands. —STEVE ERICKSON

Attending My Big Fat Greek Wedding some 22 weeks into its legendary courtship of middle America, I felt like the nuptial party-crasher who shows up late for what he knows will be a mediocre meal, then leaves complaining about the meager portions. But really: Is there even enough meat on this movie's bones to fill half a gyro? Directed by 60-year-old TV-sitcom vet Joel Zwick as if he was auditioning for close-up work on a Crest commercial, Wedding is scarcely a minute into the second meeting of Toula (Nia Vardalos) and Ian (John Corbett) when it scurries for the safety of its genre's lamest convention: the cute musical montage. Never mind about sorry: Here, love means never having to say anything at all. —ROB NELSON

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