Deposed Royalty

Impeached cult director Alex Cox fails to salute the late "emperor" Akira Kurosawa

And the director's latest flirt with the "mainstream," 1996's The Winner, is right at the bottom of the barrel--one of those cable movies that thinks "colorful noir" equals "Damon Runyon farce." Vincent D'Onofrio is a Vegas dimwit who can't place a losing bet; Rebecca DeMornay is the big-haired, lobster-slurping bimbo after his cash; and Billy Bob Thornton, Delroy Lindo, and Michael Madsen stand around in ill-fitting suits, counting the change in their pockets. Cox contributes some elaborately staged long-take sequences, wherein eight pages of dialogue play out in a single, gliding shot. But when the material is this bad, you can't help thinking: Man, that Steadicam operator's back has got to hurt!

And so the bastard son of Sam Peckinpah and Joe Strummer finds himself here, at the beginning of a new millennium, teaching "indie film"-loving teeny boppers about The Seven Samurai on cable TV, and hoping coeds will sign up for his Internet acting class. Hell, it could be worse: Peckinpah himself was doing Sean Lennon videos in his dotage. Cox just needs a little Keith Richards blood transfusion--he needs a writer with a Repo Man-ish sensibility to give him something tasty to chew on, along with a few well-placed boundaries and limits. (Cox, in a disciplined phase, could have handled the script of Being John Malkovich as well as Spike Jonze.) In the meantime, skip his cable documentary, go to his Web site, and spend a few bucks if you can: Cox's buyout checks from his aborted Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas won't last forever.


The lower depths: Director Akira Kurosawa as seen by Alex Cox
The lower depths: Director Akira Kurosawa as seen by Alex Cox

Kurosawa: The Last Emperor airs Monday at 3:00 p.m., Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., and additionally throughout February on the Independent Film Channel (cable channel 56B in Minneapolis, 73 in St. Paul).

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