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  • Nov 5-11, 2008
  • Vol. 29, No. 4

News & Views

Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • The Human Condition

    Japanese filmmaker Masaki Kobayashi's blunt and beautiful, black-and-white epic follows the metamorphosis of Kaji (Tatsuya Nakadai), a Japanese pacifist living in occupied China during the final years of World War II, adapting Jumpei Gomikawa’s six-volume novel into a trilogy of films made between 1959 and 1961. Part 1, No Greater Love, finds Kaji making a life-altering decision to avoid conscription and marry his beloved Michiko (Michiyo Aratama). He leaves his desk job at a steel company to become the labor manager at an iron ore mine, planning to implement the egalitarian ideals he espoused in a report to Japanese upper management. Part 2, The Road to Eternity, sees Kaji as an Army recruit who makes a surprisingly effective soldier, although he can’t stomach the “personal punishment” techniques that pass for military discipline, which involve numerous beatings and violent hazing methods. The soul-crushing conclusion, A Soldier’s Prayer, details the disintegration of the Kwantung Army as starvation, guerilla warfare and infighting between Japanese refugees are followed by oppression imposed by the Soviet Union’s “people’s army.”
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  • The Scene
  • Changeling

    In a story that feels like James Ellroy should have written it, Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a 1920s single mom and phone-company supervisor in Los Angeles who comes home late from work one evening and discovers her 9-year-old son Walter is missing. At first, the police are indifferent, but suffering from mounting public distrust, they find the boy five months after his disappearance and reunite mother and son in a highly publicized event. The only trouble is that the child isn’t Christine’s son. Instead of admitting their mistake, however, the LAPD embark on a campaign to convince Christine that she is mistaken and, when that doesn’t work, lock her away as mentally unstable. Her plight attracts the attention of a radio preacher (John Malkovich) determined to bring down the police force’s culture of corruption. Drawing from a real-life event, screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) provides lots of clip-worthy scenes (tailor-made for the Oscars?) in a convoluted, dramatically inert story. While he and Eastwood are clearly hoping to land in the company of mythological masterworks like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, they fail to create a believable world. There’s murder, deceit, courtroom showdowns, a trip to a psycho ward and even a final death-row confrontation, and yet the movie, even with its endless epilogues, is unable to articulate a meaningful conclusion. For a true-life tale (unlike fictional Chinatown and L.A. Confidential) it doesn’t feel real. Worse, it’s hard to discern what attracted Eastwood to the material because he doesn’t have anything to say.
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  • The Scene
  • Happy-Go-Lucky

    Director Mike Leigh wants to test how cynical you really are, with Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a schoolteacher who's defiantly free-spirited and optimistic. Known for his rigorous explorations of despair and kitchen-sink realism, Leigh’s deceptively sunny Happy-Go-Lucky takes its relentlessly upbeat protagonist seriously, asking whether a person can navigate the mean world with an open and generous heart. While he may be on familiar turf with Poppy’s confrontational driving lessons (which take up a large part of the film), her frothy benevolence reveals Scott the instructor (brilliantly played by Eddie Marsan) as both scarily damaged and poignantly lonely. Poppy is so nakedly compassionate and trusting, at times you fear for her safety.
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  • The Scene
  • Stranded: I’ve Come From a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains

    The infamous ordeal of 16 Uruguayan soccer players who resorted to cannibalism in order to survive has already been chronicled in journalist Piers Paul’s best-selling Alive, its mediocre 1993 Hollywood adaptation (starring Ethan Hawke) and the 2006 survivor memoir Miracle in the Andes. Still, Arijon saw an opportunity to contextualize the event in broader social terms while meditating on the self-sacrificing community that allowed these young men to triumph over certain death. While he doesn’t dwell on their cannibalism, he doesn’t avoid the topic either. Instead Stranded confronts the pragmatic realities of their situation and how the group wrestled with its decision.
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  • The Scene
  • RockNRolla

    British mobsters and Russian gangsters come to unpleasant blows when a sexy accountant (Thandie Newton) recruits a trio of amiable thugs to intercept their money. Oh, and there’s also Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell), a violent, junkie rock star who’s the adopted son of limey mob boss Lenny (played with scenery-chewing panache by Tom Wilkinson). You’d think from the film’s opening scene (and concluding moments) that Johnny’s meant to be the protagonist, but you’d be wrong. Which is ultimately why Ritche’s film fails. He has no idea whose story he’s telling, refusing to settle on any one character for very long.
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  • The Scene
  • Zack and Miri Make a Porno

    Zack (Seth Rogen) and Miri (Elizabeth Banks) take a break from their financial woes at a 10th high school reunion, where in a perverse inside joke on the geek community, Smith casts Superman Brandon Routh as Miri’s old crush, Bobby, who is not-so-secretly gay. The cat gets let out of the closet by his hilariously inappropriate lover (a brilliantly droll Justin Long) whose lucrative career in gay porn gives Zack a brainstorm. What better way to make a quick buck than making porn? What follows is sort of the sitcom version of Boogie Nights; as they recruit a crew complete with adult starlets Katie Morgan and former icon Tracy Lords, and Smith’s comedy soulmates Jason Mewes (Jay) as a horny actor, and Jeff Anderson (Randall) as the camera man.
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  • The Scene
  • I.O.U.S.A.

    The devoted policy wonks of I.O.U.S.A. explain how we're a nation as addicted to easy fixes as to easy credit, and why tackling something as overwhelming as the national debt is going to take a major adjustment in not just actions, but attitude. That’s the concern of the subdued alarmists of I.O.U.S.A., led by U.S. Comptroller General David Walker and Bob Bixby of the Concord Coalition. Soft-spoken yet immensely passionate, they head off on a Fiscal Wake-Up Tour to get the word out, seemingly undeterred by small crowds and sparse media coverage. Walker and Bixby are like a great comic team; the now-retired Comptroller is the straight man, zealously espousing the dangers of unsustainable fiscal policies with the moral clarity of a true believer (despite years as a federal bureaucrat), and the Tab-imbibing sidekick provides a wry smile and droll observations about the absurdity of our appalling situation. And the talking heads back them up.
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Food & Drink

  • Table and Bar
  • Saloon style

    BlackFinn began its corporate life in 1994 as an Irish pub, but the only remnant of those origins is the Guinness sauce and marinade that appear on several dishes and the Bailey’s Irish Cream that enhances a mousse. Referred to instead as “an American saloon,” the pub theme is emphasized on the walls in vintage photographs of celebrated saloons. The sprawling, boisterous lounge and the much more sedate dining room, which seat around 120 people, feature the sort of dark wooden tables and walls that one would expect to find in the classic urban tavern, although with more than 20 flat-screen TVs. The substantial appetizers average around $9, including a pulled pork sandwich and three chicken and three steak skewers. Along with chili and a soup of the day, BlackFinn offers New England clam chowder chock-full of potatoes and clam bits. Some sauces overwhelm the entrees, but the honey-dill glaze on the Atlantic salmon ($16.99) served with rice pilaf is just about right. Among the desserts, there is a bit of the Irish in the luscious dark chocolate mousse laced with Bailey’s, served in a tall glass. And the small 25-bottle wine list will appeal to penurious tipplers with relative bargains.
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Music

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