Some years back I caught a British TV serial, Traffic, about the UK government’s futile efforts to beat the drug trade. It bored me silly but Stephen Soderbergh’s film version, TRAFFIC, was anything but dull.Michael Douglas plays the judge recently promoted to federal drug czar, confident he can succeed where his predecessors failed. But as he soon discovers, the demand is huge, the cartels’ resources and ruthlessness huge and his efforts amount to bailing out the Atlantic with a tea cup. None of this is a novel insight, of course, but the film turns it into riveting drama and earned Soderbergh a Best Director Oscar. It doesn’t hurt that we have a fantastic cast: Benicio del Toro and Don Cheadle as cops, Erika Christensen and Topher Grace as drug-using teens, Steven Bauer and Catherine Zeta-Jones as drug kingpins and Amy Irving as Douglas’ wife. “If you’re going to start on the fucking war metaphors, I’m going to wrap this car around a telephone pole.”
TRAFIC (1972) was French comic Jacques Tati’s next-to-last feature, in which his eternally hapless Mr. Hulot is just one part of the ensemble struggling to get a new-model camper to a Belgium auto shop in the face of French holiday traffic. I’ve only seen a little of Tati’s work but this seemed much less slapstick than his earlier work, though it still kept me watching. “You left the motor running and I have to do the cranking.”
ANTOINE AND COLLETE (1962) was the first of Francois Truffaut’s sequels to The 400 Blows, wherein Antoine, now 17 and living on his own, falls for a college student who persists in seeing him as Just A Friend (while this bums him out, Truffaut treats this as just hard luck, not some cosmic injustice). While I saw this on its own, it’s actually part of the French anthology film Love at Twenty. “You think there’s a difference between a reason and an excuse — I don’t.”
My birthday presents was tickets to a touring production of CHICAGO which finally hit town at the end of April. As y’all may know, the show centers on a conniving adulteress (“First I fooled around, then I screwed around, which is like fooling around without them buying me dinner.”) on trial for murdering her lover before he could dump her. She hopes the celebrity will jump-start her failed showbiz career but that’s only going to happen if her attorney can successfully rebrand her as a wronged innocent.Strippers, Showgirls and Sharks says this flopped when it opened in 1975 but its 1990s revival found audiences connected better with its cynical take on corruption and show business. This was a dynamic show, full of energy and great dances (clearly channeling some of the style Bob Fosse gave the original production); if you’ve seen the movie version, Catherine Zeta-Jones has a much bigger role than the same character here (I’m guessing it’s because CZJ had more stage-musical experience than costars Renee Zellwegger or Richard Gere). The photo above is the spare but effective set after the show ended. “So I fired two warning shots … right into his head.”
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