From the Chicago Reader (December 17, 2004). I’m wondering now (August 2015) whether I underrated Spanglish as much as I overrated As Good As It Gets. But the fact that I keep changing my mind about James L. Brooks probably says as much about me as it says about him. (In March 2016, having just reseen this, I like it still more, although, as always with Brooks, some irritations remain.) — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed and written by James L. Brooks
With Adam Sandler, Tea Leoni, Paz Vega, Cloris Leachman, Shelbie Bruce, Sarah Steele, and Ian Hyland
One reason I can’t regard Pauline Kael as a great film critic is her unshakable belief that she needed to see a movie only once — that she could immediately form an opinion and never have to revise it. She was thought of as an industry gadfly, but her blind faith in first impressions often fit industry calculations perfectly, helping to validate things like test-marketing and seeing movies as disposable.
I readily admit that changing one’s mind about movies days or years later can also be a problem. But we outgrow some films and mature enough to value the challenges of others.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 23, 2004). Although I don’t want to begrudge Errol Morris his Oscar, I do wish he’d had more to say in this film about political choices with some bearing on the present. — J.R.
The Fog of War ** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Errol Morris.
In The Fog of War, Errol Morris interviews an 84-year-old Robert S. McNamara, who served as secretary of defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson and is widely regarded as the architect of the American war in Vietnam. There’s something undeniably masterful about the film, which also includes archival footage, but that mastery is what sticks in my craw: it’s a capacity to say as little as possible while giving the impression of saying a great deal, a skill shared by McNamara and Morris. I’m not sure what we have to gain from this — the satisfaction that we’re somehow taking care of business when we’re actually fast asleep?
This sleight of hand takes many forms, including the film’s title, repeated shots of dominoes lined up on a map of southeast Asia, and the “eleven lessons from the life of Robert McNamara” dispensed in intertitles to introduce the various segments — portentous platitudes ranging from “Rationality will not save us” and “Maximize efficiency” to “Get the data” and “Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.”… Read more »