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  • Issue of
  • Jan 10-16, 2007
  • Vol. 27, No. 13

News & Views

Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • Freedom Writers

    This story is based on Erin Gruwell’s efforts to inspire a Long Beach, Calif., classroom of students, just after Rodney King went down. The first-time English teacher enters the school with high hopes of really reaching the students, but she meets administration naysayers and resistant students at every turn. She perseveres, however, and through journaling and reading books about other troubled teens, Gruwell’s class becomes a room where the teens can openly discuss their problems. The irony here is Freedom Writers preaches that to reach troubled kids, educators have to be real. But there’s nothing honest about how Swank — with that polished mug and gleaming white teeth stuck in a perma-grin — chirps her way through the drama.
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  • The Scene
  • Miss Potter

    The story of children’s author Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit etc.), this Victorian-era biopic is perfectly likeable but ultimately unnecessary. Surprisingly, gifted Australian director Chris Noonan spent an entire decade choosing it as follow up to his whimsically sublime Babe. The well-heeled daughter of a genial father and avariciously social-climbing mother, Potter (Zellweger) is a 30-year-old “spinster” when Warne Press’ managing brothers decide to fob off her silly little book, Peter Rabbit, to their youngest sibling, Norman (Ewan McGregor). Unexpectedly, Potter becomes a best-selling author and — as you might expect — romantic sparks fly between publisher and author. Unfortunately, Beatrix’s parents (Bill Patterson and Barbara Flynn) rankle at the thought of a tradesman besmirching their lofty social circles. If you’re looking for an illuminating character study of this iconic children’s author, you’ll be disappointed. If undemanding sweetness and inoffensive whimsy matter to you, Miss Potter is a candy-coated morsel of tasteful moviemaking.
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  • The Scene
  • Notes on a Scandal

    Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett go head-to-head in a sordid tale of blackmail, underage affairs, latent-lesbian stalking and gallons of streaming mascara. Dench plays Barbara, a self-proclaimed “battle ax” teaching at one of the worst secondary schools in London. Her life of solitude and misery is disrupted by the impetuous new art teacher Sheba (Blanchett), a free-spirited blonde with a seemingly happy family life and a desire to do something meaningful now that her own children are teenagers. Unfortunately, Sheba’s wishes are undermined by her proclivities for pubescent Cockney boy-flesh, an indiscretion glimpsed by instant best-friend-forever Barbara one evening after class. In a mix of envy, attraction and disgust, Barbara decides to turn the screws against her younger colleague. With material like this, you’d think the movie would play out like a biting, caustic satire, but instead the movie has the pace of a thriller.
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  • The Scene
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

    Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (Ben Whishaw) is orphaned in grimy 18th century Paris after his fishmonger mother is hanged for trying to dispose of him. And Grenouille would be forever lost in the rotting underbelly of society if not for his amazing nose. A chance encounter leads to an apprenticeship with struggling perfumer Baldini (a hammy Dustin Hoffman), who’s seen better days but becomes smash success due to his charge’s ability to detect the individual components of the finest perfumes. Grenouille becomes obsessed with making the greatest scent imaginable, and accidentally discovers that a freshly killed virgin is the secret ingredient he’s been missing. Soon he retreats to the mountain town of Grasse, a place renowned for its advanced scent-making techniques and its ample supply of buxom young ladies. The town panics as its precious flowers get plucked, and only man-about-town Antoine Richis (Alan Rickman) is on to the grubby outsider. Richis makes it his business to stop him and to protect his own lovely daughter.
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  • The Scene
  • Letters from Iwo Jima

    This film about Iwo Jima, a companion piece to "Flags of our Fathers," takes the Japanese perspective on the gruesome 36-day battle to take a tiny pacific island, where 7,000 American and more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers perished. Ken Watanabe is Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the brilliant commanding officer whose innovative tactics are somewhat at odds with the “samurai ethic” of his more suicidal subordinates. Severely outgunned and low on supplies, Kuribayashi orders his forces to dig in to the mountains and lightly defend the beaches, an unconventional move that will only prolong the inevitable, but might make the U.S. cost of taking the island too high. There’s a chaotic and desperate feeling to the unglamorous battle scenes; as we know each flying bullet will tear through the flesh of a fighter we’ve emotionally invested in. All but eschewing the romance found in great war movies, we get a sense of honest war deconstruction not myth-building.
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Food & Drink

  • Table and Bar
  • More than mugs

    Like an upscale Ruby Tuesday’s or Applebee’s, the tavern serves sourdough bread and housemade desserts. All entrées also come with a soup or salad, adding to the affordability of the place. But when the menu yields to the public’s apparent demand to throw everything the chef can think of between slices of bread, the results are too busy. Take the tavern’s turkey sandwich, which is made with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers and Parmesan. Or salads big enough for four people, including meat, cheese and bacon in addition to fruit, vegetables and a thick dressing, leaving the greens a distant afterthought. A word of the very highest praise: The restaurant takes pains to honor reservations, which is always a smart move.
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