Joan Acocella treats a review of "The Playmate Book: Six Decades of Centerfolds" as starting point for a lively, free-ranging essay on Playboy as cultural document—a monthly anthropological survey of American male heterosexual standards. Her take on the playmate's changing physique is especially sharp; between the 1950s and today, the post-World War II feminine ideal (the pillowy-ripe gal next door) gave way to flower-child-nymph stylings, disco cheer and then, post-'80s, to a more sculpted, even fabricated norm. "In the nineteen-eighties and thereafter, the artificiality only increased, as did that of all American mass media," Acocella writes. "The most obvious change is in the body, which has now been to the gym. Before, you could often see the Playmates sucking in their stomachs. Now they don't have to. The waist is nipped, the bottom tidy, and the breasts are a thing of wonder. The first mention of a 'boob job' in 'The Playmate Book' has to do with Miss April 1965, but, like hair coloring, breast enlargement underwent a change of meaning, and hence of design, in the seventies and eighties. At first, its purpose was to correct nature, and fool people into thinking that this was what nature made. But over time the augmented bosom became confessedly an artifice."
In the same issue, though, Anthony Lane muffs a potentially insightful review of Spike Lee's bank heist thriller "Inside Man" by digressing into his usual cocktail party standup routine. Scrutinizing Russell Gerwitz's admittedly unwieldy, half-real/half-genre-fantasy screenplay, Lane lists "mistakes" that take us out of the movie. "These include: (1) Voice recognition. [Clive Owen's bank robber] Russell may be clad in shades and a white balaclava, but he converses with [Denzel Washington's detective] Frazier in person, and, given that Owen's American accent keeps slipping like an old sock, it should not be hard to pick him out of a lineup. (2) If you own a document that could annihilate your reputation, why keep it in a bank for more than sixty years rather than, say, tossing it in the fire? (3) The document in question, as we learn early in the film, shows that [bank owner] Arthur Case had links with the Nazis. This cannot be true, for one reason: he is played by Christopher Plummer, and, excuse me, but Christopher Plummer does not make friends with Nazis. He sings at them! He plays guitar at them! In a daring, nun-assisted escape, he flees from them over the hills with an annoying child on his back! Come on." I admit that (2) is pretty dumb, but objections (1) and (3) presuppose that every viewer is as loftily bemused by movies as Lane, and as seemingly incapable of suspending disbelief while watching a glossy Hollywood genre flick stocked with big-name actors. Beneath this review's breezily charming veneer lies a disquieting presumption: that stars should stick to roles like the ones that made them famous. If Lane ran Hollywood in the '50s, James Stewart would never have gotten anywhere near Alfred Hitchcock or Anthony Mann.
Time magazine's lengthy feature on cinema's digital future quotes most of the big names you want to hear from (George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Robert Rodriguez, Michael Mann) and covers a lot of technological and historical ground. But writer Richard Corliss errs, I think, by presenting the film-to-digital changeover as the latest in a long line of technological shifts and implying that anyone who laments it is a fuddy-duddy. Yes, digital filmmaking has made real leaps in the past five years; my own feature "Home" was shot, edited and shown digitally, and could not have affordably finished without that technology, which allowed me to shoot with multiple cameras and edit the whole thing in my house. But as my colleague Godfrey Cheshire observed in his prescient 1999 New York Press piece "The Death of Film/The Decay of Cinema," video will never replicate the flickering chemical radiance of film, it will only approximate it. Plus, there are practical objections to the changeover that Corliss fails to address. One is the notion (endorsed by Corliss) that digital is a sturdier format than film, an assertion that depends on your definition of sturdy. Yes, film stock tends to scratch, and when improperly stored, it degrades. (As a film archivist in college, I had to throw out donated 16mm and 35mm prints that disintegrated when I removed them from the cans.) But on the other hand, properly stored motion picture film stock preserves its information (picture and sound) much more reliably than digital formats, which tend to be more susceptible to data corruption—and more vulnerable to sudden tech fads that render today's industry standard obsolete tomorrow.
Meanwhile, over at Reverse Shot, Robbiefreeling gives "L'Enfant" the most ringing endorsement I've read yet. "How good is it? Let me put it this way: I was walking down the street during lunch break yesterday on this particularly sun-dappled afternoon, and suddenly my mind spontaneously jumped to 'L'Enfant,' which I first had seen last fall at the New York Film Festival. The quick recall of the film made me overwrought with emotion, and just the recollection of its encompassing power made me momentarily lose my senses, pass in front of a red streetlight, and almost walk into an oncoming speeding car." And Clarencecarter defends V for Vendetta as both anti-Bush agitprop and (more intriguingly) as one of "the most openly pro-gay blockbusters ever." A politically-charged comments thread ensues. Similarly, Larry Gross at Movie City News begins his own piece with the proposition, "V is about the gayest superhero of all time." Meanwhile, Slate's Matt Feeney unfavorably compares V for Vendetta with Terry Gilliam's Brazil and dissects Gilliam's more complex portrait of totalitarian rule. "Whereas 'V for Vendetta' adopts the highly movieish perspective of an avenging Übermensch who has himself escaped the tyranny that ensnares everyone else, 'Brazil' observes the totalitarian order from within. It presents the subjective experience of administrative tyranny. And it presents this tyranny not as expressing the conscious design of an evil omnipotent dictator everyone can wholesomely hate, but as an inexorable process that slowly envelops the individual trying to navigate it. "