Michael Hastings

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Category: Arts Stories & Interviews229

Year: 200759 200679 200679 200582 20049

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Guess Who March 30, 2005

Recent Articles

  • Juno

      It is possible not to be charmed by Juno McDuff. The motor-mouthed 16-year-old martyr and the new movie that bears her name both take aim at some sacred cows of American culture: Teen sex, abortionists, suburban class warfare. To her credit, the actress playing this rebel dork is talented enough to make her character’s contradictions almost make sense. As played by Ellen Page, the defiantly pregnant Juno is a headstrong mix of know-it-all arrogance and hedonistic pride. She’s the type of kid you could see having sex for fun, regardless of the emotional consequences. But, for a film that claims to worship at the altar of ’70s punk — specifically Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and the Runaways — Juno sure as hell doesn’t rock. Reitman chooses instead to borrow more than a few tricks from the Wes Anderson Academy of Twee: hand-illustrated title cards marking off the four seasons, jokey cutaway scenes, and a wall-to-wall soundtrack of acoustic guitar with deliberately off-key vocals. (You’d think he’d avoid going so far as to include tracks by Anderson faves like the Kinks and the Velvet Underground, but perhaps imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) All of which runs contrary to what Juno herself would drop onto her turntable: “When you’re used to listening to the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges, everything else just sounds kind of precious by comparison,” she says. If you’re accustomed to smart, truly acerbic teen flicks like Ghost World, Election, Rushmore or even Clueless, you could say the same thing about Juno.
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  • War and lies

    In sprawling WWII epic, the first casualty of conflict is still truth
      The new World War II romance has gaping, pus-filled wounds, love forbidden by social status, horses shot in the head, sibling sexual rivalry and bitter truths that go untold until they’re no longer able to do anyone any good. If you’re unfamiliar with Ian MacEwan’s book — or the film’s sweeping trailers — you might think you’re sitting down to a seething tale of class conflict and lust in the bucolic British countryside. And yet this isn’t stuffy, starched-collar Merchant Ivory territory: Director Joe Wright subtly foreshadows the impending war, as rich, impudent 13-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) becomes enamored of strapping, twentysomething servant Robbie (James McAvoy). Lies are told, constables are called, and what Briony thinks she sees on that lazy summer night becomes the “truth” that sends Robbie off to battle, in lieu of going to prison. What follows is the movie promised in the ads: the breathtaking crane shots, the separated-by-fate lovers chasing after each other in busy city streets, and the unsubtle visual allusions to Gone With the Wind.
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  • Nice device

    De Palma's most vital film in years
      It's nice to know that, at age 67, Brian De Palma has finally discovered something that really pisses him off. The director of Carrie, The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible has fashioned an entire career out of having a cool, ironic point-of-view and, more often than not, notably calorie-free material: For proof, look no further than the trashy decadence of 2002's Femme Fatale, in which Rebecca Romijn dons a catsuit and seduces the designer jewels right off another supermodel's ample cleavage. So what happens when this maestro of fetishistic violence, America's number-one Hitchcock necrophiliac, attempts a ripped-from-the-headlines tale of horrific military misconduct during the U.S. occupation of Iraq?
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  • Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

      The sad truth is that for all of its tantalizing elements, the film is essentially a drab little thriller that deserved a quick-and-trashy presentation, with an ample injection of jet-black humor. Instead, it has received a ponderous, would-be Shakespearean makeover from a long-in-the-tooth director and a talented but overindulged cast. What should’ve been an underrated straight-to-cable gem has become an overrated "return to form."
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  • Lights in the Dusk

      When watching a movie by the Finnish writer-director Aki Kaurismäki, you have to remember to accustom yourself to silences. His movies are so grim, scrappy and loaded with irony, it’s best to just succumb to the emptiness and try to fill in the blanks yourself. You’ll have plenty of voids to contemplate in Lights in the Dusk. In rough outline, it’s a neo-noir, a classic tale of a lonely security guard everyman used and abused by an icy femme fatale. But the filmmaker’s careful, meted style prevents you from predicting what’s going to happen and when. Even as the movie seems inexorably headed towards nihilistic tragedy, it’s the asides — the weird, static shots of Helsinki’s factories and vistas, or the golden morning light creeping over the city — that make you think there might be more to this simple little story than meets the eye.
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