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Experimental medical research on inmates is on the rise.
What Bush should have learned from the Cold War.
Inside Ashcroft's police state.
The AFL-CIO regroups.
Racism on Trial
Affirmative action on the ropes.
England moves to decriminalize narcotics.
Back in the U.S.S.R?
No, but former Communists are retaking power in Eastern Europe.
Mexicans head south of the border.
Death threats and plant closings threaten workers rights in Guatemala.
Pearl Watson: A Woman, A Plan, A Canal.
BOOKS: Vivian Gornick's political struggle.
2G or not 2G?
BOOKS: Stories of The Holocaust Kid.
FILM: The Royal Tenenbaums, Lord of the Rings, Ocean's Eleven.
The clubs were alive with the sound of John's sax ...
December 7, 2001
Royals, Lords, Jesters
drama, long-winded sagas, maybe even a little violence: Soon many of us will
be returning home to family. Whats that you say? Yours deserves a three-hour
movie too? I thought so, but until the camera team touches down on the front
lawn, well have to make do with other extraordinary clans: twirling von
Trapps, blood-and-sauce-spattered Corleonesor at least those tough-loving
The Royal Tenenbaums is about a family of lapsed geniuses no less, three child
prodigies uncomfortably reuniting with estranged parents and lovers at their
New York townhouse, the rose-wallpapered site of so much former glory. If it
sounds bittersweet, it is, but like the best family albums, Tenenbaums is split
wide with open-heartedness, and equally generous with its triumphs and failures.
Is there a gentler chronicler of youthful ambition than Wes Anderson? With
Rushmore, he gave uncommon voice to the smallest of objects, a boarding-school
scrapbook of medals and awards, of kite-flying and elaborate stage plays of
Serpico. Anderson tends to turn his frame into a proscenium, onto which march
tiny performers and title cards. The effect would come off as precious were
it not for a loving sense of preservation, even stronger in Tenenbaums: a closet
stocked floor-to-ceiling with well-worn board games, a tiny helmet for a pet
hawk that reads Mordecai.
Anderson often crams it all into sprinting assemblages that have become his
signatureexhilarating accomplishment sequences like Max Fishers
torrent of extracurricular activities in Rushmore. These make even more sense
here, cataloging the long-treasured snapshots of a genealogy of over-achievers:
Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), a grant-winning playwright at age 15; Chas (Ben Stiller),
a financial whiz-kid of preternatural gifts; Richie (Luke Wilson),
a precocious tennis pro once known internationally as The Baumer.
The kids are all grown up now, retreated into their private neuroses: Chas
has lost his wife to a plane crash and monitors his two young sons, Ari and
Uzi, with a drill sergeants intensity. (The three of them, all clad in
primary red Adidas tracksuits for the sake of quick spotting, make for a bizarre
nucleus themselves.) Margot languishes in six-hour baths and an inert marriage,
while Richie, after choking spectacularly on the court, roams the sea on passenger
freighters. Anderson seasons these unresolved tensions with the unexpected return
of Royal (Gene Hackman), the pater familias.
A disbarred lawyer freshly evicted from his hotel residence, Royal, who abandoned
the family when his children were small, strains under his own lifes shortcomings.
One cant conceive of another actor inhabiting the tricky roleequal
parts bluff, bluster and shamemuch less nailing it as Hackman does, in
the fulfillment of his masterful career. Its no stretch to imagine how
he and his archeologist wife, played by Angelica Huston, could have produced
such a whip-smart bunch. Royals sensibility can take relief in being called
a sonofabitch and not an asshole; he can ponder the consequences of his own
betrayal of responsibility while treating his grandsons to a whirlwind adventure
of shoplifting, waterballooning strangers and piggybacking on garbage trucks.
Tenenbaums doesnt explore issues of rejection and class as rigorously
as Salinger or even Rushmore did; this time were on the inside with the
family. (Theres still some room for discomfited guests, notably Danny
Glover as a dignified suitor to Huston; Bill Murray, bearded and morose as Margots
husband; and the superb Owen Wilson as the cowboy-next-door, grown up into a
wild, wanna-be Tenenbaum.) But something similar to expulsion, a faintly tragic
loss of identity, divides the confident wunderkind Chas selecting ties off his
motorized rack from the grown-up version, who demonstrates his toy to unimpressed
kids. Precociousness only lasts so long; family is forever. In the beautiful
moments when Anderson judiciously reveals maturity to his splintered tribelike
Margot striding in slow-motion, a secret grin on her face, toward her baby brother
waiting at the depot while Nico coos These Days on the soundtrackthe
future looks bright if only for being less dysfunctional.
stalled eccentrics might remind you of Hollywoods own ambitious phaseof
Five Easy Pieces or Harold and Maudealso interrupted prematurely.
What followed in its stead, all wizards and maidens and glowing swords, will
surely be reworked as long as there are accountants and teen-age boys. This
is not to call the first installment of The Lord of the Rings a mercenary
undertaking; if anything, its been fleshed out with a fair degree of warmth
and even a joke about dwarf-tossing.
The visionary responsible (all trilogies, it seems, spring from such stock)
is Peter Jackson, a New Zealander who quietly turned out one of the bona-fide
masterpieces of the past decade, Heavenly Creatures, a true story about two
schoolgirls who committed murder to protect their budding affair. Jackson infused
their plotting with elaborate fantasy sequences of unicorns and magic castles,
little pink explosions of their private escapes. The Fellowship of the Ring,
as you may have heard, is not about schoolgirls, but bringing it off must have
required a comparable psychic obsession. And were lucky to have on the
job a filmmaker acquainted with real human beings.
The gleaming Ring itself is the ultimate source of power in all of fog-shrouded
Middle-earth, contested over for centuries by mortals, hobbits, elves, orcs,
the GollumOK, wake up. Actually, Jackson and his team have achieved something
close to miraculous navigating the texts density, making it clear and
compelling with a minimum of pruning. $300 million helps too, but the human
grace notes are key: Ian McKellan makes a towering (if slightly self-amused)
Gandalf, and Elijah Woods Frodo Baggins is an uncertain quester.
Jackson is working from obvious passion; he knows the most special of effects
are expected of him but deploys his technology smartly. Certain life-size actors
have been shrunk or heightened by trick sets and computers (McKellans
head hovers dangerously close to the chandeliers of a hobbits cozy abode),
and only the subtlest tweakings are made to New Zealands already ravishing
glens. Fellowship leaves you vaguely exhausted but far less than one might have
guessed; its a tribute to Jacksons faith that you exit musing not
on the money but the spell of Tolkiens quaint variety of deep thoughts,
once so beloved by the counterculture: To bear a ring of power is to be
alone. (A note of concern to Jackson, the lonely bearer: Before next winter,
you may want to rethink that second books title, The Two Towers.)
it really be Christmas without a remake? The first Oceans Eleven
was basically an excuse for the Rat Pack to do its well-marinated shtick on
camera, and in a place where they could all properly spend a per diemVegas.
(Did the crew just meet them out there?) The plot, like a maraschino cherry,
still feels thrown in at the last minute: a multi-casino heist of hubristic
bluster, promising eight-figure payoffs for all 11 hoods. Go ahead and do the
math if you like; my considerable pleasure came from savoring the cocktail,
which now gets its punch not from aged spirits but the skill of the bartender.
As we live and breathe, Steven Soderbergh is making the best kid-stuff for
adults since Howard Hawks put Cary Grant in a sombrero. Its no small achievement.
Too few directors come to the realization that speed can actually relax an ensemble:
George Clooney and Brad Pitt riff magnificently on the Frank and Deano roles
respectively, and with even better chemistry. As for the 11, though its
hard to choose, highest adulation must be offered up to Elliot Goulds
gauche financier, whose hairy chest has room for a golden chai, a star of David,
and what looks like a miniature Ark of the Covenant.
A piece of nonsense? Fine, if you must insist, but a perfect pieceone
with room for a foldable Chinese contortionist, remote-controlled cars and Julia
Roberts, not to mention the still-witty stroke of having all those candy-colored
streetlights suddenly go black after the Grease Man cuts the power. Or, to translate
into High Roller-ese: Dat is da sexiest thing I ever seen.
Joshua Rothkopf can be reached at email@example.com