James Parker

James Parker is the American Prospect's film critic.

Recent Articles

Bloody Good Fun

D r. Hannibal Lecter is the premier Hollywood monster of our time -- even scarier, in his way, than John Travolta. Fish-eyed and slightly phosphorescent, wearing an expression of icy beatitude, he hovers monklike behind his sheet of perforated plastic (which recalls the captivity of laboratory locusts), bodily contained but limitless as to his mind. Nothing -- no act or idea -- is beyond him, and his dastardliness is without degree: Criminology stops short of Hannibal the Cannibal, analysis stammers its excuses and psychiatry just bounces off (under sodium pentothal he merely recites exotic recipes). "Gruesome, isn't he?" laments Hannibal of his prison shrink. "He fumbles at your head like a freshman pulling at a panty girdle." Can we take another movie -- a fourth -- about this man? Oh, indeed we can. Oh, absolutely . If a film about a serial killer can ever be called a romp, Red Dragon is it. Director Brett Ratner -- young, spunky and stinking of the fat cash he made with the...

Show, Don't Tell

T he great god of laughter, his sides forever split, is not pleased by black comedies, for the simple reason that they tend not to be very funny. The comedy of blackness is usually a kind of local anesthetic, something frozen, producing not humor but a dead-skinned tolerance for the horrible; and there is no situation so ghastly that it cannot be made worse by a bad joke. In the opening scene of Burr Steers' debut Igby Goes Down , two well-dressed young men -- one slouched, one poised -- are sitting on their mother's deathbed. They are waiting for her to expire and they are getting restless. She's unconscious, but she won't go. The breath drains from her body in long, quavering snores -- each one a lament, a recessional, an adieu -- but she won't go. The boys consult their watches, swear peevishly and curse their mother's constitution ("[Too much] fucking tennis!"), but still she won't go. So they decide to speed things up by putting a plastic bag over her head. Ha ha! Or, rather, not...

A Not-So-Novel Approach

W hen a well-made film whistles past me without touching, when I've sat down and presented the astonished bull's-eye of my brain to the filmmaker only to hear the arrow go harmlessly by my left ear, I have to assume that it was aimed elsewhere -- that I may not, in fact, be the target audience. Who, to take a case in point, is Neil LaBute's Possession aimed at? Answer: my mother-in-law. She loved it. An avid and discerning cinemagoer, she found it entirely satisfying. It filled her, it covered her like a perfume. For me it didn't do much, but, as I say, that might be the point. LaBute, a caustic human-hater in the films he has written so far ( In the Company Of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors ), a poker of audiences in their soft underparts, is clearly romancing a different crowd with this one. Adapted from the novel by A.S Byatt, Possession breathily combines two love stories: the story of Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, a pair of passionate Victorian poets, and the...

No Surer Signs

O ne approaches the films of M. Night Shyamalan with the slightly hysterical goodwill of a parent attending a school play. Senses gaping, disbelief suspended a mile high, one so wants the evening to go well. And if clumsiness and mawkishness should rule the hour, well, so what? We'll clap like seals and go home happy that no one flubbed his or her lines or knocked over the scenery. The reason for this, I think, is the transparent sincerity of Shyamalan's effort to entertain. In today's Hollywood, it looks like innocence. Limpidly free of the contemporary vices of deftness, velocity and panache, Shyamalan works hard for his audience, and you can feel it. The carefulness of his settings, the thoughtfulness of his characters, the occasional crumminess of his dialogue -- his heavy hand makes us trust him, and trust the gravity of his intent to please and, beyond that, to communicate . His new film, Signs , for example, begins with a man lurching upright in bed, gasping awake as if...

A Party of One

T ony Wilson, narrator and protagonist of the fictionalized documentary 24 Hour Party People , is a hard man to pin down. Club owner, record label boss, self-proclaimed "serious journalist," daring entrepreneur, terrible businessman, style guru, buffoon, manipulator, facilitator, wide-eyed fan: He's here and he's there, a creature of contradiction. The people around him, when grasping for the essence of his character -- his pith -- seem drawn to a common theme. "Wilson, you cunt ," calls someone in a nightclub line as our man swishes by. Once inside, he will be loomed over by the bitter and pale-eyed singer of a local band, who confides, "You're a cunt , Wilson." And later -- hours and years later -- a boozed-up business partner, his face low and red over a bar, gets right down to it. "The problem with you, Tony," he explains, "is you don't know what you are. I know what you are." (He has it now, the truth like a stunned fish in his drunkard's grasp.) "You're a cunt ." "Ah, well,"...

Pages