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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The X-factor

There's mutant action galore, but the misfit charm is missing

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2006 at 12:00 AM

When a scientist develops a serum that reverses mutant DNA, Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) worries that mutancy will be regarded as a disease, while supremacist Magneto (Ian McKellen) views the government’s weaponized “cure” as a declaration of war. This sets the stage for a cataclysmic showdown between man and mutant, as Dr. Henry McCoy — the Secretary of Mutant Affairs and the blue and hairy Beast, as played by Kelsey Grammer — scrambles to find a diplomatic middle ground. Meanwhile, Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) emerges from her watery grave, reborn as the Phoenix, a wildly powerful and malevolently impulsive alter ego who threatens to unleash unspeakable destruction. There are a lot of meaty socio-political issues to be mined in a story like this. Unfortunately director Brett Ratner misses just about all of them. Moral questions about intolerance and self-acceptance are quickly overshadowed by balls-to-the-wall action. With expert pacing, Ratner launches the film like a rocket and never gives it a moment to breathe. Beloved characters are dispatched right and left; flashy set pieces and extravagant CGI effects fill the screen; and it’s almost impossible not to get swept up in all the commotion. In particular, Ratner delivers an iconic comic book moment as Magneto tears the Golden Gate Bridge from its moorings and reroutes it to Alcatraz Island.

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The Purple Rose of Cairo

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Cecilia (Mia Farrow), a timid Depression-era housewife trapped in a marriage with a penny-pinching bum (Danny Aiello), finds sanctuary at the local bijou watching her favorite film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, again and again. One day Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), the film’s archeologist hero, magically steps off of the screen to be with his adoring fan. His decision to join the real world sends the movie studio, the theater owner and the actor who plays him (Daniels again), into a panicked tailspin. They beg Cecilia to convince their leading man to return to his film world before they’re financially ruined. Worse, Tom discovers that life on the other side of the screen is a lot less noble and chaste than the fantasy world he left behind.

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Down in the Valley

Posted By on Wed, May 31, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Plenty of indie filmmakers are indebted to the great American movies of the ’70s, but few wear their influences on their sleeve as blatantly as writer-director David Jacobson. In his striking, extremely well-acted new tragedy Down in the Valley, Jacobson lifts scenes from such classic tales of misplaced obsession as Taxi Driver, Badlands and even Apocalypse Now. At first, the movie has a powerful, narcotic effect. But as it crawls towards its violent, nonsensical conclusion, you start thinking Martin Scorsese and Terrence Malick should sue for royalties.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fight back

Seven years later the Fight Club still wants to have your abortion

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM

It’s been nearly seven years since Fight Club left its trail of blood and spit in middle-American theaters, but with each passing year, it seems more like an eon. After 9/11, the "war on terror," a few cataclysmic natural disasters, six years of Bush II and six seasons of Fear Factor, director David Fincher’s apocalyptic ode to finding and destroying your inner frat boy seems more and more locked in a time capsule of its own making.

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The Da Vinci Code

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Dan Brown’s bestseller-that-won’t-quit has kept readers engaged for so long because it’s a juicy little pop thriller seductively packaged with a (very) thin veneer of intellectualism, mythology, archaeology and religious symbolism. Plus, religious controversy is always reliable for a hefty boost in sales. Somehow, director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman forgot the juicy thriller part in their film adaptation, meaning all the controversy and the build-up was all for a snore.

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Over the Hedge

Posted By on Wed, May 24, 2006 at 12:00 AM

The villain in the new Dreamworks animated flick is a modern-day Cruella De Vil: a gourmet-coffee-guzzling, SUV-driving, chattering homeowners’ association president who, with cell phone glued to ear, is out to eradicate the woodland creatures encroaching on her little corner of suburbia. Could Over the Hedge be the first animated kiddie flick endorsed by the Urban Land Institute? A group of animals led by Verne the turtle (Garry Shandling) awake from hibernation to find that a hedge has been erected around their small woodland outpost, and it’s all that separates them from a neighborhood of new homes. This innocent brood of foragers had been living a quiet existence, working together to stash away enough food to last them a winter — and panic ensues when they discover their beloved berry bushes and nut trees are now manicured lawns with sprinkler systems and two-car garages.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Recently widowed, Sarah Palfrey (Plowright) moves into the Claremont, a resident hotel where old Brits go to eat marmalade, watch Sex in the City and die in obscurity. One day she accidentally meets aspiring writer and all-around hunk Ludovic (Rupert Friend), whom she ends up passing off as her grandson to the other residents. Ludo and Sarah discover they have much in common and develop a May/December friendship filled with bittersweet, sometimes patronizing epiphanies about love, aging and finding the family you need. Inevitably, it all slides into the standard tearjerker.

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Poseur's portrait

New Zwigoff film skewers the MFA-mill, but lacks crackle and sass

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Art School Confidential effectively savages the poseurs, burnouts, hyperbolic filmmakers and failed artists-turned-professors that populate so many of our fine-art institutions. Too bad HBO’s Six Feet Under beat them to most of the punch lines. But that’s not what undermines filmmaker Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, Bad Santa) and cult comic book auteur Daniel Clowes’ incredibly disappointing and wholly unsatisfying follow-up to the cynically snappy Ghost World. It’s the film’s complete lack of emotional resonance or dramatic center. A messy blend of art school satire, coming-of-age love story and serial murder mystery, Art School Confidential manages to ultimatelyfail in all three genres.

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Water

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2006 at 12:00 AM

The setting is India, 1938. In the middle of the night, 8-year-old Chuyia (the singularly named Sarala) is awoken and informed that the boy she was to one day wed, whom she never knew, has died. Her head is then shaved and she is swiftly removed from her family’s home and sent to an ashram for widows, who are forced into seclusion and poverty by the rigors of tradition. Chuyia’s arrival creates a shock wave at the confinement center, a mixture of confusion, chaos and hope. The film's production caused intense controversy and outrage in India. The original sets were destroyed by fundamentalist Hindu protestors, and it took several years to complete the project (after a move to Sri Lanka under a blanket of secrecy). The chaotic move was fortuitous: It led to the casting of the gifted child actress Sarala, whose sparkling performance, along with the sheer beauty of the setting and cinematography, help keep the bleak subject matter afloat.

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Just My Luck

Posted By on Wed, May 17, 2006 at 12:00 AM

After a successful run of teen and preteen flicks, the raspy-voiced gossip-magnet Lindsay Lohan has decided to start her grown-up movie career with a dopey screwball comedy in which she throws parties for a living, battles suds from an overflowing washing machine and never utters anything more profane than the word "crap." This film is one of those cookie-cutter romantic fantasies that stars a gaggle of women in their early 20s, but in terms of wit and sophistication is really aimed at girls who aren’t old enough to drive themselves to the mall. It should do for Lohan’s career what Uptown Girls and Little Black Book did for Brittany Murphy’s -- nothing.

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