James Parker

James Parker is the American Prospect's film critic.

Recent Articles

Not Slumming It

"On the fair green hills of Rio / There grows a fearful stain / The poor who come to Rio / And can't go home again." So wrote Elizabeth Bishop, although a visitor to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is just as likely to find something eerily beautiful in the apparition of the favelas , or slums, that litter the hillsides around the city. From a distance, at least, and at night, their disordered plenitude of lights has a fairy-like effect. Fernando Meirelles' City of God , the latest Latin American film to take on the slums, is a semi-fictional account of a decade of gang life in the Cidade de Deus housing project, which sits on the backside of one of these hills. Narrated by a gentle misfit named Rocket, a boy from the project who wants only the safety and space to cultivate his interest in photography, the film at times recalls Victor Gaviria's 1990 film Rodrigo D: No Futuro . The slums in that film were Colombian (the city was Medellin) but the hillsides were just as merciless, and Gaviria's...

Scorsese's Low Score

L et us hearken back to a time when gangs ruled the world. Gangs sizing each other up, puffed with pride, wagging their weaponry, painstakingly stylized in diction and dress. There were the Bowery Boys and the Forty Thieves, the Plug Uglies and the Dead Rabbits, the riders of Rohan and the Uruk-hai, the hobbits, the elves, the ents. And when Bill the Butcher and his crew finally faced the drooling host of Saruman the White at Helm's Deep (you know, in the Sixth Ward, where Isengard meets Broadway) and Frodo Baggins crossed swords with Leonardo DiCaprio, what a reckoning was there! Or am I confused? If so, I hope I may be pardoned: Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York and Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers were released in the same week, and the tremendous mishmash of legends has me intoxicated. The odd thing is, of the two movies, it's The Two Towers that feels closer to home -- that feels realer , so to speak -- and Gangs that looks like the monster conceit...

And the Winner Is ...

O ne leaf fibrillating on an otherwise naked bough, and a wind that seems to stain the lungs with ice: It's that time of year, so let's start rounding it up, let's start making our lists. Best films of 2002? Surveying the movie landscape of the past 12 months, it's hard to see the peaks and valleys. It's hard, in fact, to see anything at all. The movies are out there -- the jostling mediocrities, the genuine disgraces, the occasional pockets of virtue -- but a species of haze, a smog of indeterminacy, hangs over everything. What's going on? One answer is that the old forms have broken apart and the new have yet to arrive. Hollywood is in a post-human stage, what we might call the Age of Swordfish : Marketing has us more pinned down and demographically dissected than ever, and through the medium of focus groups, we reveal, as if under hypnosis, our smallest and silliest needs. The product, meanwhile, grows shinier, colder and less mammalian by the minute. The boys troop in to see Vin...

Hero Worship

A s if in answer to a special, seasonal wistfulness silently voiced by the moviegoing public, the film industry seems to hit us each fall with a couple of hero-centered megafilms. Die Another Day is the latest James Bond flick, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is the second movie made from the world-beating series of books by J.K. Rowling. Both the heroes are dark, English and privately educated, and both the films are sumptuous: From the blistering action sequences (Bond in his car, Potter on his broomstick) to the thespian blue bloods hired to add class (Bond has Judi Dench, Potter has Maggie Smith), the pulse and glamour of molten Hollywood bullion are overpowering. Of the two films, Die Another Day has the better writing. "One of the benefits of never sleeping -- you get to live your dreams," someone in the franchise's 20th film says. What a marvelous line that is! Faustian and yet post-Freudian, it's full of the mystery of the unconscious, of light's bargain with...

All Joking Aside

It's well known that stand-up comedians are among the most miserable bastards on God's green earth. What a wound it must be, the need to make people laugh, to stand pinned in the never-to-be-dimmed spotlight of one's own vanity, clicking and ticking with gags, bits, asides, routines and one-liners, living and dying by the noises made by a mob of drunk, unmerciful strangers. "You looked like you were having fun," offers somebody in the new documentary Comedian , after Jerry Seinfeld wraps up a short, exploratory set at a small club. "That's my job," returns Seinfeld, grimly. Yes, it's a rough, old business, even if you're at the top. And who is at the top? Well, Bill Cosby, as it turns out. Cosby's is the name breathed in awe by the big dogs of stand-up. Chris Rock tells Seinfeld that he just saw Cosby perform -- "two and a half hours . . . all new material !" -- and Seinfeld gulps. Because Comedian , you see, is largely the story of his attempt to craft a whole new act in the wake of...

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