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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thrill blossoms

An ex-Detroiter rips the heartbreaking world

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Just for a Thrill, a collection of poetry published by Wayne State University Press and written by native Detroiter Geoffrey Jacques, is not what you'd call pretty poetry. It's not sunshine, roses and cheer. Rather, angry outcries, despairing jazz riffs and complete chaos color the landscape. Jacques is an early...

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Gush gush

Faith in the power of love and an artist’s right to dream; plus the director’s virginally hot girlfriend

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

The Fountain is such an audacious creative experiment, that it's easy to forget it's just three films in one: a faux historic action epic, a weepy medical melodrama and an interstellar freak-out that defies classification. Hugh Jackman is a model of focused intensity in a triple role, variously a fierce 16th century Spanish explorer on the hunt for the source of eternal life deep in the Mayan jungle, a dour modern medical researcher desperately racing to find a cure for his dying wife, and a bald, Buddha-like astronaut hurtling through the void in a soap-bubble shaped ship on a space odyssey to a distant nebula. All three share the name Tom or Thomas, and they may or may not be the same guy, or manifestations of the same soul, but all are driven lovesick by a consuming passion for a woman named Isabel. Fortunately, the film is more concerned with visuals than dialogue, dispensing with conventional storytelling and transfixing the viewer with a golden-hued cosmic light show.

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Fur: An imaginary an Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

That the biographical details of Arbus’ life aren’t exactly public knowledge doesn’t excuse the liberties taken with the facts. It is doubtful that Arbus (played here by Nicole Kidman) was inspired by a fur-covered neighbor(Robert Downey Jr.) to develop her creative sensibility. But even though the attempts at dreamland mystery often come off as sleepy rambling, there’s no denying that the picture is flat-out gorgeous, with rich visuals and terrific production design.

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Happy Feet

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Happy Feet’s astonishing visuals are a spectacular blend of real-world photography and computer-generated animation. Where Happy Feet falters is in its awkward storytelling. Mumbles (Wood) is a happy-go-lucky Emperor Penguin with a strange handicap; unable to perform his “heartsong” — something all penguins must do to attract a mate — he expresses himself through dance. In fact, his fancy footwork could give Fred Astaire a run for his money. Still, his mother (Nicole Kidman) worries he’ll be unable to find a wife, and his father (Hugh Jackman) struggles to hide his shame. Shunned by the other penguins, his flock’s leaders blame his un-penguin-like ways for their dwindling fish supply. Determined to prove that the shortage is not divine retribution, he goes on an expedition to discover the true reason their food supply has become endangered.

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Shut Up & Sing

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Since that one glorious fateful Bush crack back in ’03, these bumpkins with ’tude have been embroiled in a controversy that’s shaken the Nashville faithful and rankled Washington. It all starts with the Dixie Chicks — the best selling women’s band ever — on a London stop of their world tour. Onstage, Natalie Maines blurts out a comment between songs and is met with cheers from the Brits: “Just so you know, we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” The incident escalates from no big deal to minor crisis and finally to all-out war, as rabid right-wing country music fans turn their frothy-mouthed hysteria back on Maines and company, and faster than Jeff Gordon can complete a lap. But it’s not what Maines said, or even how the group responded to the outcry, that makes for the most compelling drama in Shut Up & Sing. The vitriol is shocking, not just the usual wrath of CD burnings and radio-play bans, but in the degree of hatred toward the women. How quickly the Chicks’ audience turned against is mind-blowing.

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Bobby

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Set during the 24-hour period before RFK’s assassination, 23 characters of all stripes struggle with life and love under the roof of the renowned Ambassador Hotel amid the political and social upheaval of the 1960s. There’s the politically progressive but personally flawed hotel manager (William H. Macy) who’s cheating on his hairdresser wife (a barely recognizable Sharon Stone) with a sexy switchboard operator (Heather Graham). Meanwhile the hotel’s racist kitchen manager (Christian Slater) refuses to let anyone off to vote and forces the wait staff to work a double shift. This leads baseball-loving busboy (Freddy Rodriguez) to sacrifice his Dodger tickets to chef Laurence Fishburne on the very night Don Drysdale broke the world record for pitching 58 scoreless innings. The hotel guests include a troubled husband and wife (Martin Sheen and Helen Hunt), two lonely old codgers (Harry Belafonte and Anthony Hopkins), whiskey-soaked Virginia Fallon (Demi Moore) and her put-upon husband (Estevez), a pair of acid-dropping Democratic volunteers (Shia LaBeouf and Brian Geraghty), and a teen (Lindsay Lohan) determined to marry her classmate (Elijah Wood) to save him from Vietnam’s front lines. Oh, and there’s also members of Kennedy’s campaign staff. Unlike Crash, there’s no unifying theme to tie the vignettes together other than the inevitable march toward Kennedy’s assassination. Few of the players connect as human beings; all are forced to spout awkward chunks of exposition. Which isn’t to say that Bobby is a complete failure. There are working moments, but they’re fleeting.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Cocked & loaded

There’s morphine, a spooky mansion and 13 dudes playing Russian Roulette. But is it any fun?

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Set in a drab, anonymous corner of France, the black-and-white film makes a much more convincing argument against identity theft than any CitiBank commercial. The trouble begins when lowly handyman Sebastian (George Babluani, looking like a sort of French John Mayer) becomes envious of the suspiciously cash-rich couple whose roof he’s redoing. He decides to pose as the man of the house in order to pilfer some riches of his own: Following the man’s usual routine, he steals his train ticket and wallet and heads for the countryside, where a group of nefarious men wait for him in a spooky mansion in the woods. By the time they realize they’ve got the wrong guy, it’s too late: Sebastian has unwittingly stumbled into a high-stakes gambling ring, where rich men pay working-class thugs to kill each other so they can place their bets on which one will survive. Doped up on morphine and given the promise of a huge payoff — provided they’re left standing — the guys are a mix of the desperate and the sadistic; the movie charts Sebastian’s indoctrination from the former into the latter category.

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Fast Food Nation

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s devastating Fast Food Nation corrals the book’s disturbing mountain of research into a fictional mosaic. Linklater follows in the footsteps of Steven Soderberg’s drug expose Traffic by threading together a trio of storylines that drive home the book’s muckraking facts about commercial meat processing and America’s obsession with fast food. Linklater’s trio of central storylines reveals the dark underbelly of corporate America. There’s the fast food marketing exec (Greg Kinnear) sent to a meat processing plant to investigate health problems — namely fecal contamination — only to find his conscience tested by the harsh realities of the business. Then there’s the illegal Mexican couple (Sandino Moreno and Wilmer Valderrama) that sneaks across the border, finds jobs at a massive meat packing plant and falls prey to an exploitative manager (Bobby Cannavale) and insidious corporate policies. Finally there’s the teenage burger cashier (Ashley Johnson) who, inspired by her idealistic uncle (Ethan Hawke), joins up with a group of student activists at the local college.

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Casino Royal

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Daniel Craig, a sinewy blond, has been skulking around weird little British movies for years, but nothing about him says Bond — at least not the Bond stereotype we’ve come to know and mock. He’s the first-ever rough-trade Bond. And it turns out that’s exactly what this on-the-verge-of-irrelevant series needed. Where it might have been laughable to have Brosnan leaping from 100-foot-high scaffolding or using human hostages as bullet shields, the new film dumps Craig into one massive stunt sequence after another without him blinking an eye. Director Martin Campbell is a fantastic choreographer of controlled chaos, and the first three set pieces don’t give you a chance to catch your breath. But the ace up the film’s sleeve is Craig’s foil, Eva Green, playing Vesper Lynd, the British accountant assigned to bankroll Bond’s escapades.

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Our Brand Is Crisis

Posted By on Wed, Nov 22, 2006 at 12:00 AM

Once upon a time, democracy was defined as this: of the people, by the people and for the people. Watching James Carville and his political consulting firm — GCS (Greenville, Carville and Shrum) — in Rachel Boynton’s Our Brand Is Crisis, it quickly becomes clear that brand marketing and focus groups have turned our main political export into this: despite the people, by the polling data and for the wealthy. The film follows the candidacy of former Bolivian President Sanchez de Lozada (aka Goni). Privileged, arrogant, condescending and graceless, he was an American-raised ex-pat with little understanding or empathy for the 90 percent of Bolivia’s population crippled by poverty. Carville’s team signed on (for a tidy fee) to secure his re-election using American-style campaigning. Their rationale was Goni was a neoliberal, market-driven candidate who would right Bolivia’s sinking ship. In other words, he embraced the policies of globalization. Boyton’s straightforward documentary exposes the unseen world of political strategy, offering a fly-on-the-wall perspective of day-to-day campaigning. With unprecedented and uncensored access to the consultants, advisors and candidates, the director unmasks a political process that is as captivating as it is unsettling.

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