Daily Archives: March 10, 1998

The Leading Man

Maybe I’m just a sucker for backstage stories about theater people as well as for Thandie Newton (Flirting, Gridlock’d), but this English picture kept me absorbed, happy, and occasionally amused despite its dubious details. Lambert Wilson plays a celebrated London playwright having an affair with an emerging actress (Newton) who’s cast in his latest play. As he tries (with little success) to cope with the rage of his wife (Anna Galiena) and the ambivalence of his three children, the play’s lead actor (Jon Bon Jovi), a notorious womanizer from the States, offers to seduce the neglected wife. Eventually the playwright is brought face-to-face with his double standard. The dubious details include the play itselfwhich seems awful, but apparently isn’t supposed to beand some trumped-up melodramatics toward the end. The uneven John Duigan (The Year My Voice Broke, Flirting, Wide Sargasso Sea, Sirens) directed from a screenplay by his sister Virginia; with Barry Humphries and David Warner. (JR) Read more

The Man In The Iron Mask

The only other adaptations I’ve seen of the Alexandre Dumas novel (which I haven’t read) are the Classics Illustrated comic book and the 1939 James Whale potboiler, both of which I prefer to this vulgar and overwrought 1998 free-for-all, which makes you wait interminably for the story’s central narrative premise. (The Whale version spills the beans right away.) Written and directed by Randall Wallace (best known as the screenwriter of Braveheart), this starts off as a Three Musketeers sequel, trusting that its hefty cast and fart jokes will keep you interested. But to be fair, the story is close to foolproof once it finally gets going. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Parillaud, and Judith Godreche. 132 min. (JR) Read more

Primary Colors

I’ve only skimmed the best-selling novel that this is based on, so I can’t say precisely how much Elaine May’s screenplayproduced and directed by Mike Nicholstakes from it. But something resembling a Brechtian comedy about the Clintons and scandal-ridden politics in general has emerged from the adaptationsomething witty, thoughtful, timely, grandly entertaining, and ultimately very serious about the way presidential campaigns are run. It’s no surprise to learn that outside the movie the filmmakers support the Clintons over their enemies; what is surprising for a mainstream movie is that final moral judgments are basically left up to the viewer. (By comparison, Wag the Dog seems like a bit of flip arrogance.) John Travolta is wonderful as Clinton stand-in Jack Stanton, a southern governor running for president, and Emma Thompson as his wife is only a shade less convincing; Adrian Lester adeptly plays the idealistic black political strategist who goes to work for them and leads us into their world. Matching up the others with their real-life (and sometimes not-so-real-life) counterparts is part of the game this movie invites one to play, but whether one recognizes their characters or not, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, and Larry Hagman give May’s dialogue all the color and nuance it deserves. Read more