Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The reservoir runs dry

Oh, Quentin Tarantino, won’t you please come home!

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

If you feel like shelling out 10 bucks to see yet another director exhume the corpse of Quentin Tarantino’s "Pulp Fiction," drag it out onto a blood-soaked, gold lamé stretcher and hit it with a pair of rusty defibrillator paddles again and again and again until all that’s left in the theater is a burnt electrical smell, this is the movie for you. Tarantino may have moved on to other genres, continents and methods of bloodletting, but the legions of filmmakers who genuflect in front of him are still waiting for their own “Royale with Cheese” moment, and damn it if they aren’t going to subject us to their efforts.

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Venus

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Lust, not love, saves the day in Venus. The lust of a very old, very washed-up actor named Maurice for a very young woman. The geezer is played by Peter O’Toole, who, at 75, still emits a singularly beguiling brand of iconic leer. Maurice (O’Toole) in his youth was an also-ran in the early-1960s British thespian renaissance. Today he spends his days at the pub with friend Ian (Leslie Phillips) and other journeyman actors recalling past glories. In pops Ian’s 19-year-old grandniece Jessie (Jodie Whittaker). She’s got a figure on her, and Maurice cannot help but be stirred by her in a way that if performed by any actor not named O’Toole would completely gross us out. Plus, there’s the safety net of knowing his staff of desire is long past its expiration date.

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Catch and Release

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Manic-depressives need romantic comedies too, and for them there’s Catch and Release, one of the weirdest, mopiest date movies to come down the pike in a long time. Set against postcard-perfect views of Boulder, Colo., the film chronicles the stop-and-start grieving process of Gray (Jennifer Garner), a young woman whose imminent wedding is preempted by the news that her fiancé has died in a boating accident. Stuck with a house she can’t afford and a truckload of wedding gifts to remind her of what could’ve been, Gray moves in with her fiancée’s slacker buddies and navigates a tenuous friendship with in-town-for-the-funeral playboy Fritz (Timothy Olyphant). Of course, they’re all secretly pining for the once-spunky Gray, a romantic tension that flips on and off like a light switch whenever the movie seems to be losing its way (which is often).

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Blood and Chocolate

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The coolest thing about werewolf movies, and the secret to horror lover’s decades-long infatuation with them, is the transformation scene; that absolutely essential cinematic money shot when man becomes beast. However, in this willfully dull snooze-fest, man becomes lame lycanthrope by imitating Baryshnikov — pirouetting through the air, morphing into flashes of light and hitting ground as a wolf. But these wolves aren’t the snarling, menacing creatures common to nightmares, they’re more like cuddly house pets. Forget silver bullets; these pups could be dispatched with a rolled up magazine or a scratch behind the ears. Hugh Dancy plays Aidan, a factory-issue American hipster tourist, visiting Romania to research a graphic novel he’s drawing about mysterious were-creatures called loup garoux. Luckily enough he stumbles into — and falls head-over-paws for — Vivian (Agnes Bruckner), a lovely but sulky candy maker with a hidden love of body hair and moonlit forest strolls. Soon she digs him too, but of course her supernatural family disapproves, especially moody uncle Gabriel (Oliver Martinez), the domineering pack leader. Predictable human-nonhuman tension ensues, sending the star-crossed lovers running in search of quality silverware to deflect frequent lupine attacks.

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Knife in the Water

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Once upon a time, Roman Polanski was considered the most promising director of his time. Though Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and Repulsion are true cinematic classics, 1962’s Knife in the Water first landed the Polish filmmaker in the spotlight. An economically crafted and remarkably unnerving psychodrama, Polanski masterfully wrung suspense from a tale confined to three characters on a boat. One has only to look at Phillip Noyce’s Dead Calm or Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley to see the long reach of Polanki’s influence. Husband and wife Andrzej and Krystyna impulsively pick up an attractive 19-year-old hitchhiker and invite him to spend the weekend with them on their lake boat. Slowly, sexual tension leads to a subtle game of one-upmanship between Andrzej and the blond beefcake hitcher as they each vie for Krystyna’s attention. It goes horribly wrong, of course, and the day ends in a horrible burst of violence.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Detroit in two tongues

Imagery of a city in past, present and future tense

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM

If there's a weakness in Chocolate City Latina, Esperanza Malave Cintron's first collection of poems from a large publisher, it's that the best poems are so well-hewn that weaker ones appear weaker than they really are. A fault of editing, not of the author: At 103 pages, the book feels...

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The Hitcher

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The random, psychotic-masochistic behavior of the film’s title character does not include hitchhiking at all, just a bunch of “how did he get there?” moments where our slasher anti-hero materializes in a monster truck, a small-town jail cell or the back seat of a station wagon. He might as well be from outer space, or maybe the future. This time around, the bloodthirsty creepo is played by Sean Bean, filling the shallow shoes left by ’80s B-movie idol Rutger Hauer.

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CINEMA REVIEW

Posted By on Wed, Jan 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The Last King of Scotland contains the most powerful, riveting performance you’ll see on a big screen this year, embodied within the giant frame of Forest Whitaker. He commands with a portrayal that’s deft in the shadings of Amin’s wild mood swings — from playful charmer to vicious intimidator. Whitaker plumbs the layers of Amin’s personality to perfection. Based on the fact-filled novel by Giles Foden, the film follows fictional Scottish med school graduate Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) who begins his practice in Uganda just as Amin is seizing command. The dictator takes an unexpected liking to the boyish physician, and makes him come to the palace as his personal MD. McAvoy is brilliant as Garrigan, a believable, ebullient man-child who turns a blind eye to Amin’s rule of terror. But it is Whitaker who walks away with it all in this graphic, brutal tragedy.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fluff ’n’ snuff

Bottom-feeding flick shoots straight for the money shot

Posted By on Wed, Jan 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Nick Cassavetes’ Alpha Dog is a long, hard march toward the pointless execution of a 15-year-old by teenage drug dealers, essentially an emotional snuff film. Johnny Truelove (Emile Hirsch) is a mid-level pot dealer in 1999 who is more poseur than gangster. When he falls out with raging speed freak Jake Mazursky (Ben Foster) over $1,200, he has his crew — Frankie (Justin Timberlake) and Elvis (Shawn Hatosy) — impulsively snatch Jake’s younger brother Zack (Anton Yelchin) and hold him as a “marker.” Though Cassavetes injects energy and style into his film (it’s never boring), there’s no getting around that he’s less interested in exploring the dramatic core of his tale than serving up cheap thrills.

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Pan's Labyrinth

Posted By on Wed, Jan 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Known for his stunning visuals in exciting genre vehicles like Hellboy and Chronos, del Toro throws everything he’s got at screen with a realist style that’s rich and unbelievably imaginative. Its vision resembles Tim Burton’s at his best, or what Peter Jackson did in Heavenly Creatures. Pan’s Labyrinth is a masterwork, the sort of passionate and alive filmmaking that does what movies should — infiltrate your dreams. —Corey Hall

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