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  • Issue of
  • Apr 9-15, 2008
  • Vol. 28, No. 26

News & Views

Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • The Ruins

    As horror films go, The Ruins pretty much gives you what you came for: Hapless teens destined for body bags in a creepy locale. Four American college students on vacation in Mexico hook up with a German tourist who tells them his archeologist brother has discovered a Mayan ruin; do they want to go check it out? Hell, yeah! So, with little more than a daypack, the groups treks into the jungle (along with a Greek tourist who doesn’t last long enough to make an impression) and find the temple … as well as the remnants of the archeologists’ camp. Where’d they go? And why won’t the well-armed natives who have encircled the ruin let them leave? And whose goddamned cell phone keeps ringing deep in the bowels of the pyramid?
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  • The Scene
  • The Year My Parents Went on Vacation

    Finally, a film that addresses political repression, religious identity and cultural assimilation in the context of an intimate coming-of-age tale, and does it without cloying sentimentality or didactic sloganeering. The story is this: What 12-year-old Mauro (Michel Joelsas) doesn’t know won’t hurt him. That’s the logic his cautious parents use as they leave him in São Paulo to stay with a grandfather he’s never met and head for an open-ended “vacation” in an undisclosed location. When they drop him at an apartment building in that city’s ethnically diverse Bom Retiro district, Mauro’s biggest concern is whether Brazil will qualify for the upcoming World Cup. But Mauro is discovered waiting on his grandfather’s doorstep by an elderly neighbor, Shlomo (Germano Haiut), who is shocked to discover Mauro has no knowledge of his grandfather’s sudden death, and no way to contact his parents. Taciturn and solitary, Shlomo reluctantly takes him in, sharing the responsibility with the tightly knit Jewish community who once embraced Mauro’s grandfather and father.
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  • The Scene
  • Under the Same Moon

    On a Sunday morning, Carlos Reyes (Adrián Alonso) and his mother Rosario (Kate del Castillo) make their way to payphones for their weekly call. It’s Carlos’ ninth birthday, and the conversation reflects their deep connection as well as growing frustration. Rosario left her young son in the care of his grandmother four years ago when she made the treacherous crossing to the United States, settling in Los Angeles. She sends money home every month, but it’s becoming clear that as Rosario makes a living, she’s missing out on a life with her little “Carlitos.” Finally, during one tumultuous week, each decides to make drastic changes. Rosario begins to re-evaluate her worth in the shadow economy of the undocumented, and Carlos is doing what his caregivers have tried mightily to prevent: making the dangerous trek to el norte on his own.
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  • The Scene
  • Leatherheads

    Though it clearly esteems to be a classic screwball comedy on par with the work of George Cukor, Howard Hawks or Preston Sturges, Leatherheads is really well-made mediocrity. Some of the fault lies with Clooney’s awkwardly paced direction. Some of it lies with bland-as-plain-toast co-star John Krasinski. But most of the fault falls to screenwriters Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, who have neither the wit nor skill to pull together what’s essentially two different stories: a screwball love triangle and the origins of professional football. Clooney stars as aging football player Dodge Connelly. It’s 1925, and football isn’t much of a sport. Games are played in cow pastures and on local fields with rules that are often made up. Attendance is abysmal and sinking fast. College football, on the other hand, is all the rage and no one is bigger that Princeton star and heroic WWI vet Carter Rutherford (Jonathan Krasinski). Dodge sees an opportunity to turn his beloved sport into a moneymaking machine by bringing Carter into the fold. Unfortunately, The Chicago Tribune’s blonde bombshell, Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), is onto a hot story that the war-hero football star may not quite be what he claims. Unfortunately, this exciting premise is actually an overstuffed mess.
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  • The Scene
  • CJ7

    This low-rent, Hong Kong version of E.T. is a disappointing entry from director Stephen Chow. Little Dicky (Xu Jiao cross-dressing as a boy) comes from the slums, where his hard-working dad, Li (Chow), scrapes together every cent they have to send him to private school. Unfortunately, Dicky, in his soiled uniform and tattered shoes, is scorned by both teachers and students. Worse, he’s getting poor grades. One night, while rummaging through the garbage dump, Li discovers a strange green ball, which he mistakes for a toy and gives to his son. Before you can say Pokémon, a fur-headed alien with rubbery legs and peculiar powers pops out. Problems and high jinks ensue, lessons are learned and eventually everyone’s life gets a little bit better. Except, of course, for the grown-ups who drag their kids to see this subtitled mess.
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  • The Scene
  • Woman on the Beach

    Kim Jung-Rae (Kim Seung-Woo) is a famous, burnt-out director, struggling to finish a script and in desperate need of a scenery change to stimulate the old creative flow. So he hits the road for a sleepy beach resort, dragging along his assistant (Kim Tae-Woo), who in turn invites his semi girlfriend Moon-Sook (Ko Hyun-Joung) to join them. Before bags are unpacked, a love triangle’s afoot, and it’s fairly obvious that the older, smoother man has the moves of a jungle cat and the killer instinct to get the girl. She appeals to his vanity (she’s a big fan of his work, natch) and to his creative impulses by saying things like, “The stars gets lonely if we don’t look at them.” The two begin having trysts in the sand and stealing moments in empty hotel rooms, but the honeymoon is startlingly short-lived. When Moon-Sook admits to having had some foreign lovers while living in Germany, Jung-Rae erupts into tirade about Asian men’s sexual inadequacy, and lashes out at her in a jealous fit. He bolts town, only to return a few days later, quickly picking up a coffee shop manager (Song Sun-Mi) who reminds him of the girl he just ran away from. Complications ensue, as the lies pile up and the deceptions start to catch Jung-Rae faster than he can charm away from them. Fortunately, despite being the story of a cad, the likable film has charm to spare.
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  • The Scene
  • Nim’s Island

    This adaptation of Wendy Orr’s novel gives equal weight to the interior and exterior lives of Nim Rusoe (Abigail Breslin) and Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster). Eleven-year-old Nim and her marine biologist father Jack (Gerard Butler of 300 and P.S. I Love You) have made their own off-the-grid Utopia on a remote South Pacific island. They’re living not just green but ultramarine, harmoniously co-existing with oceanic wildlife (Nim befriends a sea lion, pelican, and bearded dragon), and staying connected with the outside world via a satellite Internet uplink. Alexandra, too, relies on her computer for communication, but her isolation is emotional, not geographic. She’s the agoraphobic author of best-sellers featuring a globetrotting rogue named Alex Rover, who throws himself into danger with reckless abandon. The fluttery, frightened Alexandra couldn’t be more different from her courageous, witty alter ego, or the resourceful and determined Nim, who devours these tales of derring-do with unabashed admiration. This visually dazzling film moves effortlessly from the perils of the outside world to the inner dialogues that nourish this only child and withdrawn woman.
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  • The Scene
  • In Search of Mozart

    Writer and director Phil Grabsky barely acknowledges the film responsible for casting Mozart as an irresponsible fop. Instead, this lengthy, didactic biographical documentary is made for music lovers, but not necessarily moviegoers. It’s informative but perfunctory, the kind of thorough and rote recitation best appreciated by the already converted. Where Grabsky excels is in the examination of Mozart’s brief, fiery life through his prodigious output. Interviews with conductors and opera directors, historians and musicians trace the footsteps of this child prodigy as he matured into the creator of music that remains widely performed 250 years later.
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  • The Scene
  • CJ7

    Little Dicky (Xu Jiao cross-dressing as a boy) comes from the slums, where his hard-working dad, Li (Stephen Chow), scrapes together every cent they have to send him to private school. Unfortunately, Dicky, in his soiled uniform and tattered shoes, is scorned by both teachers and students. Worse, he’s getting poor grades. One night, while rummaging through the garbage dump, Li discovers a strange green ball, which he mistakes for a toy and gives to his son. Before you can say Pokémon, a fur-headed alien with rubbery legs and peculiar powers pops out. Problems and high jinks ensue, lessons are learned and eventually everyone’s life gets a little bit better. Except, of course, for the grown-ups who drag their kids to see this subtitled mess.
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