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  • Issue of
  • Sep 17-23, 2008
  • Vol. 28, No. 49

News & Views

Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • In Search of a Midnight Kiss

    Writer-director Alex Holdridge shows a penchant for old-fashioned romanticism that’s at odds with the kind of anonymous hook-ups found via the Internet. Wilson (Scoot McNairy) studiously avoids celebrating New Year’s Eve, rejecting the holiday’s promise to wipe the slate clean and offer a newly optimistic outlook. But a particularly rough year has changed his viewpoint. His roommate, Jacob (Brian Matthew McGuire), suggests posting a “seeking companionship” ad to get Wilson out of his complacent funk. In what used to be known as a “lonelyhearts” ad, Wilson writes “Misanthrope seeks Misanthrope,” and to his surprise, Vivian (Sara Simmonds) answers. Jittery and demanding, delighting in her ability to put the defensive Wilson on edge, Vivian is not the simple solution to his anxious yearnings. An unemployed actress with a brittle exterior, she has her own complex agenda, and equally high expectations.
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  • The Scene
  • Burn After Reading

    Burn After Reading is a farce, but bleak, casually cruel and existential. John Malkovich is Osborne Cox, a mid-level CIA desk jock forcibly ejected from the endless hallways of bureaucracy. His relative irrelevance is lost on the nitwits at Hardbodies gym, who find a rough draft of Ozzie’s memoir on the locker room floor, and confuse it for major trade secrets. For middle-aged trainer Linda Litzke (the incomparable Frances McDormand), who sees this dossier as the leverage she needs to pay for the extensive lipo and fanny lift she so desperately wants. She enlists her airhead buddy Chad (Brad Pitt) to help her shop the disc to the highest bidder, and they begin poking their noses into places two people this dim should never dare. Meanwhile Ozzie is getting pinched on the home front by his cheating wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), who’s busy getting it on with her Michael Clayton co-star George Clooney, a womanizing federal marshal without a clue, even while dating Linda on the side and getting tailed by mystery men. The supporting cast is equally stocked with great character actors, but the mayhem occasionally turns brutal, and undeserving characters meet nasty ends, which undercuts the comedic flow.
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  • The Scene
  • The Exiles

    The Exiles is a remarkable cinematic find: Shot over a three-year period, the film is a remarkable cohesive, glorious black-and-white document of Native Americans off the reservation. British-born filmmaker Kent Mackenzie (1930-80) had both an astute eye and a strong social conscience, and the fusion of the two resulted in this 1961 film, a stunning example of social realism and aesthetic audacity. Mackenzie wasn’t a documentarian in the way that term’s commonly defined today; he was in the mold of Robert Flaherty, who would create a portrait of a community by using native nonprofessionals to participate in a narrative that reflected their concerns. The Exiles captures the experiences of a close-knit band of American Indians who had grown up in small communities or on reservations, but chose to migrate to a metropolis, hoping to participate in the greater prospects of urban life. Switching from superficial conversations soaked in alcohol, to interior monologues, the film follows Yvonne, Homer and the boisterous, outgoing Tommy, as they make their way through a tour of nocturnal L.A.
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  • The Scene
  • The Women

    What use do we have for a remake of 1939’s "The Women"? Despite the careful updating from writer-director Diane English, there’s something quaintly old-fashioned about this film, the story of beloved society matron Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) discovering that her high-powered husband is having a fling with the sultry Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes), who works at a department store perfume counter. Mary’s tight circle of friends rally around her, with the queen bee of their well-heeled hive, the ferociously opinionated Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), taking charge. But when it comes to squeezing these new women into the restrictive mindset of their 1930s grandmothers, English is less than successful. English wants to elevate the conversation about women’s lives using a mass-media form that has become all about the lowest common denominator, and the film becomes a toothless talkfest with too little to say.
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  • The Scene
  • Operation Filmmaker

    It’s pretty clear that Nina Davenport didn’t set out to make the documentary she ended up with. Operation Filmmaker was to be the triumphant tale of a 25-year-old Iraqi film student plucked from the war zone by benevolent artists and given a chance to fulfill his dreams of becoming a devoted student of cinema. Instead, West Bloomfield native Nina Davenport was pulled into an emotional rollercoaster ride of liberal guilt, American arrogance and personal manipulation as her camera-ready subject reveals himself to be a manipulative and selfish jerk. Inspired by an appearance on an MTV documentary about the bombing of Baghdad’s only film school, actor Liev Schreiber decides to “rescue” aspiring filmmaker Muthana Mohmad by making him a production assistant on his film. Schreiber’s hope was to give the young Iraqi the once-in-a-lifetime experience of working on an American production. Unfortunately, what starts as the portrait of a fresh-faced hopeful quickly turns into a cautionary tale of cross-cultural disconnection. It turns out that Muthana is lazy, self-centered and dishonest. He misses deadlines, reneges on promises, mismanages his money, and repeatedly depends on others to bail him out.
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