James Parker

James Parker is the American Prospect's film critic.

Recent Articles

Plumbing the Depths

T here are many reasons to applaud K-19: The Widowmaker , not the least of which is that it is such a hellish bummer. Here's the scenario (and it's based on a true story): In 1961, with the Cold War glacially raging, the Soviet nuclear submarine K-19 puts out to sea. Untested, undermanned and undersupplied, it is rushed into action by the brutal logic of the arms race. Its mission is one of straightforward intimidation: to fire a dummy warhead and then loiter menacingly off the eastern seaboard, within striking distance of New York and Washington. At the helm is Captain Alexei Vostrikov (Harrison Ford), a second-generation officer whose much-decorated father ended up in the Gulag. Vostrikov, a last-minute appointment, inherits a creaking sub and a restive, sullen crew whose first loyalty is to its previous captain, Mikhail Polenin (Liam Neeson), now serving under Vostrikov. Tension on the bridge is followed by mutinous mutterings in the officer's mess, as the unloveable Vostrikov...

Future Imperfect:

T he claim Philip Kindred Dick, California nutcase and sci-fi seer, holds on our imagination is a particular one. Dick's signature as a writer is a sort of pre-epileptic hum or aura, an intimation of fast-approaching crisis. Something dislocates, something accelerates, a wire touches another wire and we know -- quiveringly -- that we have to fit ourselves for a lasting ontological derangement. Quality control was never Dick's problem (capable, in his speed-gobbling prime, of writing up to 30 short stories a year, he barely had time to look over his shoulder at the exhaust cloud of output in his wake). But it is ours, and nearly 50 years after it was written, "The Minority Report," Dick's short story, makes for very shaky reading. Soft-boiled, snatching at clichés ("Witwer is making hay, hand over fist," bellows one character unbelievably. "He's got the whole country screaming for your blood!"), it gives off the special low-rent musk of poorly paid hackwork, of a writer selling out for...

A Film Divided

H ollywood made some healthy contributions to the "rogue cop" genre in the 1990s. One was Internal Affairs , in which Richard Gere, as a cop gone bad, was corrupt, porkily sexual, running rackets, and siring children like a Greek god. Gere's character had no conscience; his ethical sense was entirely displaced onto the person of the grim, obsessed Internal Affairs officer who was investigating him. The screenplay for Internal Affairs was written by Henry Bean, who then expanded his brief with Deep Cover , the story of a narcotics agent (played by Laurence Fishburne) who is taken over, werewolf-like, by his undercover identity. Split men, men swallowed by their own shadows: Bean clearly had an interest in the roles and counter-roles of a divided world, but who could have predicted that he would one day write and direct a film about a Jewish Nazi? The Believer gives us Danny Balint, former yeshiva boy and current racist skinhead, swastika T-shirt and all. The film won prizes at Sundance...

Easy on the Adrenals

I could have walked out of Enigma . Not in anger -- not in that state of congested indignation that sometimes forces cinemagoers to their feet, huffing and puffing and clawing for their coats in the darkness -- but through simple lack of concern. Which surprised me, because almost any film set in England in 1943 has, for me, an automatic power and pull: wartime England, my God, I am (aren't you?) rank with false nostalgia for it -- with implanted memories of the brave cities and the murmuring countryside, the voices of leaders on the radio, the turned-up trousers and the coal smoke, the pluck, the pep, the upper lip! Further, Enigma is about the code breakers of Bletchley Park, the quiet wizards of decryption who sat in stuffy rooms 60 miles outside of London and burrowed into Hitler's orders for his U-boats, changing the course of the war at sea and thereby saving uncounted thousands of lives. Heroes all. Tom Stoppard wrote the screenplay (adapted from a novel by Robert Harris) and...

Dogtown Chronicles

T he vicious drought that struck California in the mid-1970s killed lawns, turned golf courses to dust, and created the modern skateboarder. A team of street riders from "Dogtown" -- south Santa Monica -- began hitting Los Angeles's dried-out swimming pools in search of new curves and walls. And these desecrated bowls, filled suddenly with the combustive roar of urethane-coated wheels, became crucibles of transformation. Water gave way to fire, to a new hardness and dryness, a scorching fluency. Limits were abolished daily, unguessed-at achievements became routine. For skating -- and for America's youth -- the future had arrived. Dogtown and Z-Boys is a documentary by director and former skateboarding champion Stacy Peralta. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, superb. Half of it whips by in a near-ecstasy of classic rock and jaw-dropping skate antics; the other half (narrated by Sean Penn) carefully researches the birth of a phenomenon -- skateboarding's roots in outlaw surfing...

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