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  • Issue of
  • Nov 9-15, 2005
  • Vol. 26, No. 4

News & Views

Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • Nine Lives

    Director Rodrigo García does more with 10 minutes than other writers and directors do with 90. The son of Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez, whose prose is rich and lush, the younger García has a more minimalist touch. In Nine Lives, we get the stories of nine very different women, with each tale spun in one continuous, gorgeous shot. It’s no wonder Glenn Close and Holly Hunter would want to work with García again, or that Robin Wright Penn or Sissy Spacek would sign on to Nine Lives. Some of the vignettes work better than others, but most are powerful snapshots capturing, in real time, an emotionally charged moment in each woman’s life.
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  • The Scene
  • Jarhead

    For all its great lines, potent images and nuanced performances, director Sam Mendes’ Jarhead, an adaptation of Anthony Swofford’s first-person account of life as a Desert Storm marine, isn’t the definitive statement on the Gulf Wars that it aspires to be. Admittedly, it’s part of the movie’s design to resist easy answers: It’s about the futility and absurdity of our first mission in the Persian Gulf, and all the boredom, craziness and apathy that’s bred by not seeing any action (in every sense of the word). But Mendes seems unwilling — or unable — to home in on the emotions that would make his sundry Big Themes connect with the audience.
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  • The Scene
  • I scream, you scream …

    In 1968, after visiting the Munch Museum in Oslo, filmmaker Peter Watkins wanted to portray the artist’s life without embellishment, employing nonprofessional actors and setting claustrophobic scenes within dank beer halls and dusty sitting rooms so cold you can see every breath like smoke. The result is 1973’s Edvard Munch, a detailed dramatization that lays out the arc of the artist’s career, with traumatic scenes from his childhood. The film is a remarkable collision of sequences reflecting the artist’s constant and probably exhausting state of psychic unrest. There’s no question what’s most beautiful about this film: extreme close-ups of a soft wet brush on canvas and the sound of pencil gouging board.
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  • The Scene
  • Shopgirl

    Pity the jester who longs to be a poet. Once the most popular comedian on earth, Steve Martin has dabbled with serious dramatic aspirations since 1981’s Pennies from Heaven, often with mixed results. This time he’s adapted his own novella into a screenplay that gropes for cosmic resonance in a story better suited as a frothy romantic comedy. Focusing on a faded lothario and the beautiful gamine who loves him, it’s hard not to read Shopgirl as therapy, an apology or a catalog of Steve Martin’s personal fantasies. The film is smart and maintains an atmosphere of enchanting melancholy, but never seems to peak.
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  • The Scene
  • The World

    “See the world without ever leaving Beijing” is the slogan at Beijing’s World Park, a surreal, low-rent Epcot that features small-scale replicas of the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, London Bridge, the Pyramids and even Lower Manhattan. Encircled by a monorail and hiding labyrinthine underground tunnels for its workers, the theme park promises visitors “a new world every day.” Yet this acts as a cruel taunt to frustrated employees who repeat the same jobs day in and day out. Filmmaker Zhang Ke Jia, known for his scorching criticisms of modern China (Platform), has seen his work banned in Beijing three times. Surprisingly, his latest film, The World, was given the blessing of the Chinese authorities. One can only assume government officials were unable to appreciate the movie’s acidic subtext.
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  • The Scene
  • Chicken Little

    Zach Braff voices the plucky Chicken Little, who brings shame to his family by setting off panic in his small town by telling everyone that the sky is falling. Only, the sky really did fall, but no one, not even his dad, believes him. Alas, it’s stale in the wake of two folk- and fairy-tale-skewering Shreks. In fact, most everything in Disney’s first CGI-movie feels like a rehash of other, better-written and far more original kiddy comedies. So what if the animators got the surface of a car so shiny you can almost see your reflection, or that sidewalks look gravelly enough to skin a knee? It may be high-tech, but Chicken Little — like most of Disney’s recent hand-drawn flicks — lacks a compelling story that’ll stand up well after the CGI “wow” factor has faded.
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