(A-4, R): Johnny Depp’s charisma lights up this sad but
powerful film about the rise and fall of George Jung, a
big-time drug dealer. Director Ted Demme (Life) makes
clear that the real-life Jung (now in prison until 2015)
contributed significantly to the cocaine epidemic in America
in recent decades.
accompanying misery is for movies like Traffic to
describe. (The two would make a nice double bill.) In Blow
(the title is one of the street words for cocaine),
there are some coke-snorting scenes but no ugly drug moments.
The first half is a dark Horatio Alger success story in
which George, a smart, aggressive young guy from the Boston
area, goes to sinful, sunny California in the 60s and rises
as a marijuana smuggler.
he tells his disapproving dad (Ray Liotta), somewhat guiltily,
“I’m really great at what I do.” Inevitably busted, George
goes to prison and comes out with a “doctorate in cocaine.”
His cellmate, a Colombian named Diego (Jordi Molla), gets
him involved with drug lord Pablo Escobar, who wants to
open up the American drug market. George is soon Escobar’s
main importer to the United States.
falls for a Colombian beauty (Penelope Cruz) who likes the
money and lifestyle. He seems to have everything but feels
his father’s judgment. (Liotta, the film’s moral center,
plays a decent man who loves his son but cannot approve
of what he does.) Ultimately, George is betrayed by friends
for whom he has risked his life.
a crime movie, Blow speaks eloquently about the values
that are important in life. Although Depp carries the film,
he gets plenty of help from others in the cast. Drug
action and amoral sexuality, minimal genre violence; redeemed
by a climax of repentance, love and reconciliation; recommended
for mature audiences.
Along Came a Spider
CAME A SPIDER (A-3, R): Morgan Freeman is Alex Cross, a
Washington-based forensic psychologist and profiler. Spider,
loosely adapted from James Patterson’s first best-selling
Cross novel, is more digestible than the grim introductory
Cross movie, Kiss the Girls (1997), which tried too
hard for horror and serial-killer shocks.
the nursery-rhyme title suggests, Spider’s endangered
victim is a child, Megan Rose (Mika Boorem), a senator’s
daughter snatched from a private school by a cerebral criminal
who wants to become famous. Cross, who is grieving over
a mistake that cost the life of a partner, is persuaded
to team with guilt-ridden Jezzie Flannigan (Monica Potter),
the Secret Service agent responsible for guarding Megan.
psyche is explored deeply, and it’s easy for an actor as
cool as Freeman. Spider is mostly a chase-and-track-down-the-kidnapper
suspense yarn, happily avoiding some lurid temptations.
Megan proves to be a formidable captive who refuses to be
an easy victim.
Lee Tamahori (The Edge) provides several tingling
episodes, especially a ransom-drop sequence that takes Cross
and Jezzie through the D.C. streets and subways. Some plot
twists will stir up the audience but are not exactly Alfred
Hitchcock class either, not to mention Sherlock Holmes or
Ellery Queen—genius doesn’t come along too often. Genre
violence; satisfactory for mature viewers.
Bridget Jones's Diary
JONES’S DIARY (A-4, R): Texas girl Renee Zellweger startles
everyone by following Nurse Betty with a convincing
impression of Britain’s favorite comically desperate “singleton.”
She’s a vodka-swilling, 30ish bachelorette a bit klutzy
at her job, unhappy with her weight and dim prospects for
worldwide were amused enough at Bridget’s antics to buy
four million copies of Helen Fielding’s book. The film sticks
close, including famous moments when TV journalist Bridget
has to climb up a fire pole or wears a Playboy-bunny
costume to a party that is no longer a costume party. Fielding
wrote the screenplay; many of her longtime friends were
involved, including director Sharon Maguire.
is very much not a feminist or politically correct.
She makes plenty of blunders but fares rather too well,
ultimately having to choose between her promiscuous boss
(Hugh Grant) and a staid but surprisingly passionate barrister
(Colin Firth). His shy line is: “I like you very much, just
as you are.” (Brit critic Anthony Lane says this is an Englishman’s
code for uncontrollable lust.)
fans will certainly notice that the flavor of Bridget’s
point-of-view can’t be duplicated by half-hearted voiceovers.
Like most contemporary romantic comedies, Bridget
also follows the mores of the times. In addition, the neurotic
heroine and friends get into some sexual situations that
in real life you’d want to avoid. Excellent performances
fail to rescue this Bridget from mediocrity; not
The Tailor of Panama
TAILOR OF PANAMA (A-4, R) is a grim but elegant satire by
spy storymaster John Le Carré (adapting his 1996 novel)
and director John Boorman. Not far from the hyperbolic mood
of Dr. Strangelove, it’s about Andy Osnard, an evil,
womanizing British agent (the dark side of James Bond, aptly
played by Pierce Brosnan). He’s messed up his career and
gets a last-chance assignment in the backwater of Panama.
exploits a vulnerable, money-desperate tailor (deftly played
by Geoffrey Rush) into fabricating information that tells
the hawks in London and Washington what they want to hear
(that the locals are planning to sell the canal, probably
to the Chinese). This brings on another American invasion
of Panama, makes Andy money and destroys some patriotic
It’s witty and cynical, unexpected from a Brosnan spy flick.
The images of Panama are unflattering (skyscrapers are referred
to as “laundromats,” as in the banks that launder money).
Andy’s sexual appetites are persistent. Jamie Lee Curtis
is good as the tailor’s wife. High I.Q. but a strain;
for adults; not especially recommended.
King and the Empty Mall
AND THE EMPTY MALL: The Alcatel commercial that shows the
Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., giving his famous 1963 “I
have a dream” speech on the Mall in Washington, D.C.—with
absolutely no one there to hear him—is pretty scary.
It tries to make the point that content is nothing unless
it connects to an audience. The idea registers, but you
get another meaning from the image.
audience seamlessly disappears, edited out by electronic
magic. He is that tree falling in the forest and not making
noise. How can you ever trust the truth of a visual image
Alcatel restores faith and gives M.L.K. his audience back
for the final five seconds.
The Face: Jesus in Art
FACE: JESUS IN ART (PBS): This dazzling two-hour documentary
on the history of the image of Jesus in art in all the world’s
cultural traditions fills an enormous need. Financed in
part by the Catholic Communication Campaign and produced
and directed by Craig MacGowan, it premiered at New York’s
Radio City Music Hall before its April showings on various
the only legitimate complaint is that it isn’t long enough;
doesn’t include everything. But it’s a banquet, beginning
with less frequently seen images from the East (many from
the treasured collection in Istanbul’s magnificent Hagia
Sophia, which is now a museum), the early emphasis on Christ’s
sufferings and the intriguing tradition of Veronica’s Veil
(carried on in the Stations of the Cross). Depiction of
the divine has always been more controversial in Asia, and
The Face recalls the bitter war in the Byzantine
Empire over whether or how to image Jesus, which ended in
second hour brings on more familiar masterpieces of the
West, influenced by classical realism and Greek standards
of beauty: the extraordinary windows at Chartres, the Sistine
Chapel and Da Vinci, of course.
get a much closer look at The Pietà than is possible
to visitors at St. Peter’s and are stunned by the strength
of Michelangelo’s slightly less famous Risen Christ.
From a later century, I especially liked the portrait by
Rembrandt, emphasizing a compassionate Christ.
modern era and pop also get some splendid footage: Rio’s
great Christ the Redeemer in its awesome setting
2,300 feet above the harbor, Marc Chagall’s unique White
Christ and various ethnic impressions. It even covers
the universally familiar 1940 painting that accompanied
so many American G.I.s into combat.
project stays clear of movie images, which are kinetic;
movement and personality would become factors.
narrative helps provide context (narrators range from Mel
Gibson and Bill Moyers to Ricardo Montalban and Patricia
Neal). The accompanying music seems as carefully chosen
as the images.
A delightful cinematic device morphs the faces of Jesus
to illustrate both differences and similarities across time
and geography, confirming the proposition that they are
“as numerous as the peoples of the earth.” (The videotape
is available through PBS by calling 800-336-1917: $24.95,
plus $4.95 shipping and handling.)
PACIFIC (ABC): It was strange and yet satisfying to see
this 50-year-old Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein blockbuster
air during March in the time slot that replaced Monday
Night Football. I liked spirited Glenn Close as Nellie,
but it’s tough to think of the “corny as Kansas in August”
nurse as closer to 50 than 20.
the heroic and doomed Joe Cable, Harry Connick, Jr., seems
born to play the part. But you still have to wonder about
the glorification of sexual fascination at the heart of
the Cable-Liat-Bloody Mary story. It’s odd how time provides
perspective: the military then, Cable and DeBecque gambling
their lives to go into enemy territory, the celebrations
of victory as the G.I.s headed home. All were idealistic
and seem unreal today. But those were idealistic and hopeful
times (at least in stage musicals).
also impressive that of all the now-classic songs (“Some
Enchanted Evening,” “Bali Hai,” etc.) the one that gets
the most respect—that retains even more power now than then—is
“You’ve Got to Be Taught.” Cable tries to explain American
attitudes: “You’ve got to be taught/before it’s too late/before
you are six or seven or eight/to hate all the people your
relatives hate/you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Thanks
for that one, Oscar.