James Parker

James Parker is the American Prospect's film critic.

Recent Articles

What's in a Name?

H al Hartley has a fine name, a bright exhalation of a name, prancingly rhythmic, mildly heroic, suggestive of things boyish, airy, lyrical. A better name, perhaps, for an athlete -- a high jumper or a thrower of javelins -- than a filmmaker, but there we are: The world is full of mismatches. Also full of mismatches is Hartley's new film, No Such Thing , in which monster fable and social satire are mingled to mutual confusion and distress. On a sea-sucked rock in Iceland lives the Monster (Robert John Burke), immortally bored and alcoholically foul-mouthed. Metaphysically he's finished, his once-vital function reduced to swipes of tired carnage -- a pile of bones, a blurt of flame, the occasional flattened Icelander -- and worn-out monologues: "I'm not the monster I used to be...," "The time it takes to kill these idiots is depressing...," and so on. There he sits with his whiskey bottle, a neutered Grendel, drably bitchy, no horror left except the horror of being alive forever...

Of Mice and Monkeys:

D on't go see Human Nature in the art house. Stay away, if you can, from the like minds and the cineastes and the smell of Central American coffee. The place to see a film as fluidly daft, as limpidly out-there as this is at the mall, where you can slide from the theater's darkness into a light that shelves upward through golden pleasure domes and plunges down escalators into caves of ice. You can gaze in woozy alarm at busy customers and fierce, iconic salespersons. You can trip across the moats and the jeweled yards, hearing the perfumed hiss of high-end retail. You can behave, in short, like a stoned 16-year-old until Human Nature wears off (it takes about 25 minutes). I call it getting your money's worth. It's safe, but only just, to say that Human Nature is a comedy -- an extended riff, really; a balloon-cheeked trumpet run on the themes of civilization and its discontents. Let's call it a sex comedy. Lila (Patricia Arquette) is a beautiful naturalist and writer -- Fuck Humanity...

Boffins and Eggheads

I was once at a club in London where the Philadelphian rapper Schoolly D was performing. It was a tense affair: Schoolly was notorious at the time for his super-vicious raps, and the English crowd -- lost in a thin, fuming rancor that seemed to find its outlet when one concertgoer doused another with lighter fluid and tried to ignite him -- was suffering acutely with feelings of inferiority and inauthenticity. Midway through Schoolly's set, the rapper stepped demurely into the wings and allowed his DJ, Code Money, a few moments of naked self-advertisement. Alone on the stage, Code Money scratched and span, flickering between his two turntables as if strobe-lit. The sounds he made were purely novel; his dexterity, preposterous. After five minutes or so, Schoolly D strode back on, exhorting our applause, and the rapping resumed. That was in the late 1980s, and it constituted -- as I learned from Doug Pray's lively new documentary Scratch -- a particular moment in the evolution of hip-...

Shooting Dumas's Dog

T here is poetry -- or a good rhyme, at least -- in the fact that Disney's new adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's 1845 novel The Count of Monte Cristo was written by a man better known as a producer and creator of TV game shows. Jay Wolpert has labored for decades in game-show land: Double Dare , Whew! , Hit Man , and Blackout are some of his creations, and for a time he produced The Price Is Right . As a devout student of fortune, of the kinks and quirks of the wheel, he should be better qualified than most writers to take on Dumas's epic study of ruin, reward, philosophy, and turning the world to one's ends. And as a onetime winner of Jeopardy! , he should be familiar with the figure of the strange, charismatic man dispensing magical wealth. Sadly, Wolpert's reading of The Count of Monte Cristo , directed by Kevin Reynolds ( Waterworld ), is a snooze. Here are a few of the more resonant close-ups: a man and his beloved, in silhouette -- he nobly stooping, she tenderly supplicating --...

Raw Loathing

I suspect filmmaker Todd Solondz of being the sort of man who has difficulties with public transport. I imagine him staggering gray-faced off the bus with his sense of self almost erased by the stink and proximity of his fellow man; or hanging grim as a bat in the far corner of a subway car, his mind flickering with antipathy. Am I being unfair? Perhaps I am. But so many things in his movies -- their generalized disgust, their unpleasant clarity of tone, and (most of all) their looming, one-dimensional people -- remind me of a low-level panic attack. In his latest, Storytelling , we even suffer the apparition of a classic anxiety symptom: a floating red oblong in the center of our field of vision. What the floating red oblong obscures, so I'm told, is actual penetrative sex between two consenting actors. You can hear it, you are fairly satisfied that it is going on, but you can't see it. The Motion Picture Association of America wanted Solondz to cut the scene altogether, but he...

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