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  • Issue of
  • Nov 8-14, 2006
  • Vol. 27, No. 4

News & Views

Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • Entre La Mer Et L’eau Douce

    The effects of the French New Wave didn’t end at the Atlantic Ocean. Quebecois filmmaker Michel Brault — inspired by the low-cost, on-the-fly techniques of Godard, Francois Truffaut and others — cobbled together a small budget and cast of unknowns to make the strange, entrancing slice-of-life drama Entre La Mer Et L’eau Douce. Brault’s film is a meandering snapshot of Montreal as it existed in 1967, as seen through the eyes of a rough-and-tumble folk singer from a fishing town who’s trying to find work and love (or at least sex) in the big city. This being the late ’60s, there’s plenty of political-philosophical rumbling going on beneath the surface of the film. But as searing, late-’60s counterculture statements go, Entre La Mer isn’t what you’d expect — it’s more of a mellow mood piece than a call to arms. But as an atmospheric time capsule, it succeeds brilliantly.
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  • The Scene
  • Flushed Away

    Though Aardman Animations has been bought by Dreamworks, the new Aardman film Flushed Away maintains the look and tone of Aardman’s clay style, expanding the limits of what they can create. The film is so jam-packed with visual jokes, sly satire and wacky digressions it sometimes feels like an amped-up episode of The Simpsons. Roddy (Hugh Jackman) is a pampered pet mouse in an upscale London home. When his owners go on holiday, a loutish sewer rat named Sid (Shane Richie) flushes Roddy down the toilet and into London’s vast underground sewers. There, he discovers a rat metropolis, where he falls in with adventuring mouse Rita (Kate Winslet), and runs afoul of the dastardly Toad (Ian McKellen) and his rat goons (Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis). Desperate to get home, Roddy must thwart Toad’s nefarious plan to flood rat city. Though it lacks the subtlety of Wallace and Gromit and stuffs a few too many pop songs onto its soundtrack, Flushed Away’s verbal and visual delights offer both kids and adults a cracking good time.
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  • The Scene
  • C.R.A.Z.Y.

    Growing up in suburban Quebec in the 1960s, 7-year-old Zac is deathly afraid of disappointing his father, desperately praying that he won’t become what his macho dad seems to hate most: “a fairy.” When dad catches him dressed in Mom’s jewelry, cooing over the new baby, the jig is up: “I had just turned 7 and unwittingly I had declared war on my father,” Zac says. It’s the kind of heartbreak you’d expect from a coming-out tale, but C.R.A.Z.Y. is more than just a “Mom, Dad, I’m gay” flick. Director Jean-Marc Vallée has crafted a rich, complex and entertaining coming-of-age comedy, that’s both spiritual quest and family drama. Vallée and co-screenwriter François Boulay follow Zac — played by a trio of actors, including the director’s son — from his Christmas Day birth to a tragedy involving one of his older siblings some 20 years later. At first, Zac is the favorite child of his father, Gervais (Michel Côté). They share a love of music (lots of Patsy Cline and old Francophone crooners), ride in shiny, fast cars and take field trips to a favorite food stand. But Zac starts to fall out of favor as Gervais grows suspicious of his son’s idiosyncrasies. He’d rather have gotten a baby-doll carriage than a hockey game for his birthday, and his mother Laurianne (Danielle Proulx) is certain Zac is gifted with healing powers. As Zac gets older, Gervais keeps a watchful eye on the boy, secretly cheering when he suspects Zac groped his girlfriend, and flipping out when he catches his son jerking off in the back seat of his car with a male schoolmate. Zac, meanwhile, spends most of his energy trying to suppress anything that might make his dad or family suspicious of his sexuality. He also rebels against their religion, dismissing his mother’s faith in God and the Catholic Church, and her certainty of his own healing powers. After all, why hadn’t he been able to “cure” himself? Where other directors use catchy soundtracks as mere nostalgic window dressing, music is the central component of Vallée’s storytelling. Zac goes from admiration to mockery to disgust as his dad spins his cherished Patsy Cline LPs, or sings along at parties to Charles Aznavour (something of a French Sinatra). When Zac was 7, Gervais seemed so cool — but at 20, he thinks his dad is out of touch. Then it all comes full-circle, and a dusty old LP becomes part of a father-son reunion. Bowie’s “Ziggy Stardust” and the Cure’s “10:15 Saturday Night” mirror teenage Zac’s emotional development — he’s mixed up and feels like an outsider, but longs for something different, something his dad’s mainstream point-of-view won’t allow. Vallée uses heavy doses of religious symbolism as well, sometimes laying it on too thick. Zac’s mom urges him to pray to the Baby Jesus because they share a birthday; but when he makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to find himself — not so much spiritually as sexually — the connections seem too forced. It doesn’t help that his first big, gay encounter there is with a longhaired guy who looks like Jesus. It’s easy to forgive Vallée the few trespasses, as the rest of the movie is so well scripted, acted and shot. C.R.A.Z.Y. has all the trappings of a subpar memoir, but it’s much more than that. Zac’s story is filled with repression, religious confusion, redemption and forgiveness — and Vallée captures it well, with the bonus of a great soundtrack and a keen sense of humor. —Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey
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  • The Scene
  • The King

    For Elvis Valderez, being a bastard sucks. While his whore mother wastes away in some sleazy brothel, his dad gets born again, moves to a posh suburb and starts a lily-white family of Christian rockers who protest their school’s policy of teaching evolution. Meanwhile, Elvis does his time in the Navy, learns a thing or two about killing people, and spends years plotting his revenge (after banging his teenage half-sister). After his discharge, Elvis (Bernal) tracks down his Baptist father David (William Hurt) in southern Texas, where he presides over a fundamentalist congregation. Elvis makes the shocking announcement that he’s the product of David’s pre-righteous days; David doesn’t deny it, but also he doesn’t reveal this past indiscretion to his high school-age children, Paul (Paul Dano) and Malerie (Pell James). He forbids Elvis from making any contact with his new family, which of course drives him to seduce the unwitting Malerie for a little keep-it-in-the-family fornication. Elvis insinuates himself into the family further, jockeying for position as David’s real favorite son, all the while maintaining a secret romance with his clueless half-sister. And if you’re wondering why Elvis keeps fondling his military-issue rifle, you’ll get an answer to that question soon enough.
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  • The Scene
  • Babel

    Director Alejandro González Iñárritu has made a film of often stunning beauty and power, marred by more than a few manipulative, implausible plot twists. The movie connects the dots among more than a dozen lives spread across the globe, brought together by a single gun shot. It’s fired in Morocco by a couple of peasant boys, testing the capabilities of their father’s shiny new hunting rifle. Using a tour bus for target practice, the boys unwittingly shoot Susan (Cate Blanchett), an American woman on vacation with her increasingly distant husband Richard (Brad Pitt, sporting some comb-in grey hair coloring). Back at home in San Diego, Susan and Richard’s precious, towheaded children are in the care of their live-in nanny Amelia (Adriana Barraza). Amelia has to attend her son’s wedding in Tijuana, but won’t leave the kids she calls her own with just anyone; hence, she phones her loose-cannon nephew (Gael García Bernal), piles the kids into his car and takes them along with her as she heads south of the border. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, Chieko (Rinko Kikuchi), a deaf-mute teenaged girl sick of being looked at like a “monster” begins flaunting her sexuality: first at her dentist, then a group of questionable boys, then at a police officer investigating her father.
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  • The Scene
  • Brothers of the Head

    Though faux reality presentations have been around since Orson Welles first scared the hell out of New Jersey in 1938 with War of the Worlds, the term “mockumentary” didn’t enter our lexicon until Rob Reiner first used it to describe This Is Spinal Tap. Despite a few notable exceptions (Blair Witch Project, Man Bites Dog), the genre has almost always been associated with comedy, with such hilarious, subversive works as Christopher Guest’s Best in Show and Waiting For Guffman, Tim Robbins’ Bob Roberts, Woody Allen’s Zelig and Peter Jackson’s Forgotten Silver. Though one might guess the story of conjoined twins who front a rock ‘n’ roll band would lend itself to comedic gold, Brothers of the Head turns out to be a surreal and haunting melodrama. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe — whose terrific documentary, Lost In La Mancha, captured Terry Gilliam’s failed attempt to make a movie about Don Quixote — have created a moody and ambitious film that doesn’t always work but still gets under your skin. Based on a novel by Brian Aldiss, the story follows the rise and fall of Tom and Barry Howe (real-life twins Harry and Luke Treadaway), rockstar-beautiful conjoined twins who become the ‘70s punk sensation The Bang Bang. Sold by their impoverished father to a rock ‘n’ roll impresario (Howard Attfield), the boys are coached and bullied into becoming musicians — a process supposedly captured on film by a hired documentarian. When an attractive journalist enters the mix, love, drugs and jealousy tear the brothers’ relationship apart. Fulton and Pepe use grainy film stock, talking head interviews and handheld camera work to meticulously recreate the period, and have assembled a terrific musical catalogue for the brothers, emulating the glam-punk of T-Rex or Joe Strummer’s 101ers. Twisting British rock history into a pretzel, they even enlist director Ken Russell to wax poetic on his unfinished movie about the twins, showing clips and outtakes of the fake follow-up to Tommy. The cast is effectively anonymous and remarkably true-to-life. The Treadaway brothers — first time actors — are raw and spontaneous, capturing the profound physical and emotional intimacy of conjoined siblings trying to work, live and love alongside each other as individuals. Unfortunately, Fulton and Pepe never let us get inside their agonized psyches to see what makes them tick. Despite the tinges of homoerotic longing and severe identity issues, Brothers of the Head lacks psychological depth.
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