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  • Issue of
  • Oct 3-9, 2007
  • Vol. 27, No. 51

News & Views

Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • Pierrot Le Fou

    Perhaps the most colorful noir ever made, Pierrot is a loopy romantic fantasy in caper garb, a dashed-off satire of crime-spree pictures that very casually manages to be great. Jean-Pauls Belmondo is Ferdinand, a bourgeois Parisian trapped by family and career who walks out on his life by exiting a dull party. In tow is his babysitter and former girlfriend Marianne, played fearlessly by the gorgeous Anna Karina. Their fling becomes an escape — Marianne happens to be running from Algerian gangsters — and the impulsive lovers flee to the countryside where they burn through money, cars and identities. The pair roams the Mediterranean coast downing a steady cocktail of romance and danger, if only to keep themselves interested in each other, in life. As the stakes rise their relationship frays. Ferdinand (who Marianne calls “Pierrot”) realizes too late that he’s been played for a fool, dragged into a fight with gangsters that he didn’t start.
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  • The Scene
  • Across the Universe

    You don’t have to love the Beatles to hate Across the Universe. The beauty of director Julie Taymor’s latest exercise in cinematic bombast — a deafening blur of Fab Four tunes rerecorded, recontextualized and retarded to fit a sappy, late-’60s romance — is that it can inspire the same stupefied reaction in both a Lennon-phile and a 13-year-old whose only experience with the band is through mall-restroom Muzak. It’s a reckless act of boomer necrophilia, a colossal miscalculation that trivializes its original source as it renders it lame to a whole new generation of potential fans. As each arbitrary musical number runs into the other, you beg for relief — or at least the closing credits — and you almost get it in the form of Salma Hayek, playing a naughty nurse in the “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” number. Slinking around a veteran’s hospital with an oversized syringe, she’s the only genuinely erotic creature in the movie. It helps that her song is the one instance where Taymor and company can’t shoehorn Lennon’s abstract lyrics into their paint-by-numbers narrative. If only the rest of Universe made as little sense.
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  • The Scene
  • Feast of Love

    Multiple story lines are clumsily held together by Morgan Freeman’s deep and soothing narration. Freeman appears too, strolling through several scenes as Harry, a philosophy professor who’s lost his mojo. On an extended hiatus, Harry now prefers to spend his time wandering around Portland, dispensing relationship advice to the lovelorn like a wizened, tweed-jacketed Mary Worth. Dopey living-doormat Bradley (Greg Kinnear) is a nice guy with a tragic addiction to bad girls. He’s very much in need of Harry’s wisdom. First-love struck Brad is too giddily oblivious to notice that his wife (Selma Blair) is making major goo-goo eyes at the shortstop on her femme softball team — and then he’s too desperate to notice that his sexy real estate agent girlfriend (Radha Mitchell) isn’t just selling him a new house but lines of crap about her faithfulness. She’s still caught up in an affair with a shallow married man, played by Billy Burke as if he’s a preening yuppie villain straight from a mid-’80s rom com.
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  • The Scene
  • The Kingdom

    What does a well-intentioned director to do when he’s given $80 million and Jamie Foxx for his Middle Eastern action-thriller? It all starts promisingly, with one of the year’s best credit sequences — a condensed 70-year history lesson of U.S.-Saudi relations. From there, the film precipitously falls from geopolitical grace to depict a horrifying terrorist attack on an American oil company housing project in Saudi Arabia. Not to worry, FBI agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) is on the case. By Act 3, Matthew Michael Carnahan’s superficial script detours from its police procedural into a hail of gunfire, explosions and the threat of an Internet-broadcast beheading. Shifting gears from serviceable thriller to jittery Jason Bourne-like action, Foxx’s quartet goes all Rambo on terrorist ass, operating like an elite Special Forces unit, mowing down anyone in a caftan. Much as Black Hawk Down reduced Somalis to faceless targets, Berg turns a neighborhood of Arabs into a video game shooting gallery.
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  • The Scene
  • Manufactured Landscapes

    Director Jennifer Baichwal completed her 2006 documentary before relations soured between Chinese industrialists and the world media, capturing a fleeting moment of history that meshes perfectly with the philosophy of her film’s subject, Edward Burtynsky. The Canadian photographer has made a specialty of revealing the hidden splendor in landscapes manufactured by massive earthworks projects such as quarries and mines. These are places most people view as solid and immovable, but Burtynsky knows they’re actually fleeting and temporary, worlds in constant transition.
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  • The Scene
  • Trade

    Merging sub-Lifetime storytelling with the oh-so-fashionable shaky-cam style of Traffic and Babel, Trade tells the coincidence-laden tale of two kidnapped girls — a single teen mom from Russia (Alijca Bachleda) and a valuable-commodity virgin from Mexico City (Paulina Gaitan) — and the devoted family men who valiantly try to track them down. Though it wants to be seen as hard-hitting, it's simply over-the-top and ridiculous, lingering on abuse in a way that manages to be sleazy, laughable and unconvincing, all at the same time. Mostly, Trade is content to wallow in the morbidly predictable antics of Really Bad Men: If the abductors’ moustaches were any longer, they’d twirl them, and if there were a set of railroad tracks handy, no doubt the girls would be tied to them.
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  • The Scene
  • The Game Plan

    At its core, The Game Plan is a hybrid of two Disney staples: the uplifting sports movie and the selfish-man-saved-by-a-wise-child morality tale. What makes all this calculation go down easy are the genuinely winning performances of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as football quarterback Joe "The King" Kingman, who discovers he has an 8-year-old daughter just as his team heads to the playoffs, and Madison Pettis, whose smart, confident Peyton is more on the ball than her playboy dad. The Rock has great comic chops, utilizing those outsized facial expressions he perfected as a professional wrestler, throwing himself into physical comedy without regard for his dignity. Director Andy Fickman (She’s the Man) seems to relish the scenes that bring the "freakishly large man" down to little girl size, and Johnson is always game. Not only does the former defensive tackle hit the football field again, he dabbles in ballet, sings an Elvis Presley tune, and thoroughly proves W.C. Fields wrong by successfully sharing the screen with a kid and an animal. (The King has a bulldog.)
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  • The Scene
  • In the Shadow of the Moon

    A reflection on the ’60s space race and the almost insurmountable setbacks NASA conquered to realize Kennedy’s dream of putting a man on the moon, this fascinating documentary features new interviews with nine of the astronauts who flew on the Apollo missions (not surprisingly, the reclusive Neil Armstrong isn’t one of the them). Their anecdotes are warm, and their humble amazement at being chosen for such an earth-shattering job is infectious. The file footage is even more impressive. The material filmed by the astronauts themselves while launching, in orbit and on the hostile, craterous moonscape are so well preserved you’d think they were newly produced dramatizations. But those majestic shots of flying shrapnel are the real deal, many of which are being exhibited here for the first time. Still, you’d be best to walk out before the last 10 minutes, which exploit this essential piece of historical record to cheaply and irrelevantly comment on the earth’s eco crisis.
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Food & Drink

  • Table and Bar
  • Beyond chop suey

    Start with a steamed vegetable dumpling, move on to the cold smoked duck appetizer, then try the soft-shell crab with garlic sauce or the Chinese eggplant stuffed with minced shrimp. This food isn't overly Americanized, and adventurous (and stubbornly persistent) American customers can demand a taste of genuine Chinese fare.
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Music

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