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  • Issue of
  • Jan 21-27, 2009
  • Vol. 29, No. 15

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Arts & Culture

  • The Scene
  • Last Chance Harvey

    Harvey Shine (Hoffman) is a commercial jingle writer whose career is on the outs. Flying to London to attend his estranged daughter’s wedding he struggles awkwardly to connect with old friends and family but mostly ensures his status as the familial outsider. Not satisfied to let Hoffman convey his character’s unease, writer-director Joel Hopkins punctuates these scenes with poorly conceived shtick involving hotel curtains, clothing security tags and a bed of stones at the rehearsal dinner restaurant. Enter Kate (Thompson), a single, middle-aged airline employee whose mum calls her 50 times a day and who believes her Polish next door neighbor’s a serial killer. Though the film has been cutting away to poor Kate’s loveless life, it’s 30 minutes before she runs into Harvey at an airport bar (he ditched his daughter’s reception). The two strike up an acid-tinged conversation that suggests Hopkin’s film might have some middle-aged bite yet. Unfortunately, it quickly devolves into a sentimental merging of minds (and hearts).
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  • The Scene
  • Let the Right One In

    Living in a drab working-class suburb of Stockholm with his neurotic mother, Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a fragile, 12-year-old loner who fantasizes about getting revenge on the cruel bullies who torment him daily at school. One cold snowy night in the courtyard outside his apartment he meets doe-eyed Eli (Lina Leandersson), the strange pallid girl who has moved in next door. She smells funny, her stomach gurgles painfully and she seems immune to cold. Still, Oskar has found a friend, one with the confidence he lacks. Too bad she’s a vampire. Worse, Eli’s a vampire who takes no joy in her need to feed. Aching loneliness and isolation bind the two together as Eli teaches Oskar to defend himself, and Oskar seems to accept Eli for who she is. In the end, each saves the other in acts of shocking and beautiful brutality. Is it true love or an unholy union? The final moments feel hopeful but hint that Oskar may be just be another lonely boy lured into Eli’s ageless fight to survive. Alfredson’s direction is effectively stark and understated, heightening the eeriness. Each act of violence carries with it the jolt of stumbling across it as a helpless bystander.
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  • The Scene
  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop

    As Paul Blart, TV star Kevin James plays a dumpy, mustachioed and overweight single dad and state trooper academy reject turned overzealous rent-a-cop, he’s such a needy and feckless sadsack that he’s almost more depressing than funny. Paul’s a “fun facts” windbag who’s ridiculously strict in all matters of Mall Security. He’s also a big open sore of insecurity whose hypoglycemia is a crutch to suck down more pie. His vulnerability borders on creepiness too; watch his awkward courting of a pretty kiosk worker Amy (Jamya Mays), who, by the way, looks like a generic knockoff of the other nerd crush, Anna Ferris.
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  • The Scene
  • Chandni Chowk to China

    Big-time action heartthrob Akshay Kumar — who could be the bastard child of Borat and Jerry Lewis — is Sidhu, a lowly vegetable-chopping street vendor working in the Delhi slum of Chandni Chowk. He’s constantly whining for a better life while praying to a potato that looks like the elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha. His big break comes when he’s swindled by a con man into playing the patsy in the fight to liberate a Chinese village from vicious thugs. The head crime lord Hojo — who sports a razor-edged hat like Odd Job from Goldfinger — is played with menace by Gordon Liu. The villagers think Sidhu’s their savior reincarnate, even though he’s an imbecile in way over his goofy head. Elsewhere there’s Roger Yuan as an amnesiac inspector and his beautiful, identity-swapping twin daughters, played by stone-cold knockout Deepika Padukone.
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  • The Scene
  • Defiance

    This film tells the true-life story of the Bielski partisans, a quartet of Jewish brothers in Belarus who rescued more than a thousand of their people by hiding them in the country’s deep forests. Led by thoughtful Tuvia (Daniel Craig), macho Zus (the excellent Liev Schreiber) and naïve Asael (Jamie Bell), the self-exiled Jews evade Nazi-collaborating Polish police forces, conduct hit-and-run raids, and build an impromptu society that’s forced to wrestle with unique moral and ethical questions. At issue are how to share rations, when to hunt their own, whether infants should be allowed, and even how marriage is defined by a community that might have to drop everything and flee at a moment’s notice. It’s a fascinating footnote in history that could’ve made for some provocative cinema. Instead Zwick gives us Red Dawn by way of Schindler’s List. Instead of putting ideas of gritty survival and complex characters at heart of the story, Zwick and Clayton Frohman’s script punctuates its formulaic combat skirmishes with mawkish emoting and barely rousing speeches.
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