Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Curse of the Golden Flower

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

When Empress Phoenix (the ravishing Gong Li) discovers that her husband (Chow Yun Fat) is slowly poisoning her into madness, she puts into motion an elaborate plan to overthrow the Emperor and secure the throne for her two sons, Prince Jai (Chinese pop star Jay Chou) and petulant teen Cheng (Qin Junjie). Things get complicated when Crown Prince Xiang (Ye Lui) catches wind of the plot. The son of the Emperor’s dead first wife, Xiang is a sensitive soul who has been sleeping with both his stepmom and members of the royal house staff. As the Emperor returns for the annual Chrysanthemum Festival — a celebration of the family’s moral pillars: loyalty, filial piety, dignity and righteousness (get the irony?) a massive showdown looms.

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Arthur and the Invisibles

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

With Arthur and the Invisibles (formerly titled Arthur and the Minimoys), director Luc Besson has all Pixar’s blockbuster elements in place: A-list celebrity voice work, eye-catching animation, a fantastical adventure and ambitious action sequences. But little of the film gels. Arthur (Freddie Highmore) has been left to live with his grandmother (Mia Farrow) while his parents struggle to find work in the big city. When a greedy land developer sets his sights on the family farm, Arthur vows to find his missing grandfather’s hidden treasure. Unfortunately, we’re never allowed to get our bearings or connect with the characters as the story frantically barrels from one chaotic scene to the next. Where Arthur succeeds is in its inventive and energetic action sequences.

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Stomp the Yard

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

From the moment the credits roll, you can tell Stomp the Yard is determined to prove that it isn’t just another dance movie churned out for 13-year-old girls with nothing better to do on MLK day. In a decrepit, Thunderdome-like warehouse, a bunch of multiracial thugs gather together to throw down on a dance floor that’s so rickety, the camera shakes every time they hit the floor. A demented clown oversees the proceedings, nu-metal blasts through the speakers — these guys are so hardcore, they don’t even dance to hip hop! — and the distorted, fisheye-lens close-ups make everyone look like they’re in a carnival freak show. But for all of director Sylvain White’s efforts, Stomp the Yard really looks about as hip as an old Busta Rhymes video. Come to think of it, it’s a surprise Busta isn’t in the movie somewhere, playing a guidance counselor or drug dealer or something. Instead we get a succession of flat, lifeless actors going through the usual soap opera paces that accompany your standard teen dance movie.

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Vital Vidal

How essential are the memories?

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

Gore Vidal's second memoir will make you laugh hard, even when — especially when — it shouldn't.Vidal has had as many careers as any American pop-star intellectual might want: activist, novelist, essayist, playwright, screenwriter, expat observer and all-around celebrity whore. In his prime, Vidal was known for his historical novels,...

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Chen Taijiquan: Lao Jia Yi Lu & Straight Sword

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

There are many who believe that performing tai chi is an all-natural key to maintaining health and boosting energy and healing powers. In fact, supposedly it can make you forget yourself, make you think you were someone else — someone good. That's probably reason enough for Lou Reed to study...

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

No Future for you

Sci-fi dystopia has mayhem, danger and a miracle child

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Children of Men is like Sex Pistols lyrics come to life, with war, poverty, disease and racism choking the life out of a London on fascist lockdown, in a world with literally “no future.” The gimmick here is that for unknown reasons the whole globe has gone infertile, with no new births in 18 years, leaving an aging population to go through the motions of their increasingly meaningless lives. In the midst of this chaos, Julian (Julianne Moore), leader of the pro-refugee terrorist group the Fishes, forcibly recruits Theo (Clive Owen) her former lover, an activist turned government drone, to help transport a very precious cargo, a young African woman named Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), who’s inexplicably pregnant.

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Notes on a Scandal

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett go head-to-head in a sordid tale of blackmail, underage affairs, latent-lesbian stalking and gallons of streaming mascara. Dench plays Barbara, a self-proclaimed “battle ax” teaching at one of the worst secondary schools in London. Her life of solitude and misery is disrupted by the impetuous new art teacher Sheba (Blanchett), a free-spirited blonde with a seemingly happy family life and a desire to do something meaningful now that her own children are teenagers. Unfortunately, Sheba’s wishes are undermined by her proclivities for pubescent Cockney boy-flesh, an indiscretion glimpsed by instant best-friend-forever Barbara one evening after class. In a mix of envy, attraction and disgust, Barbara decides to turn the screws against her younger colleague. With material like this, you’d think the movie would play out like a biting, caustic satire, but instead the movie has the pace of a thriller.

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Letters from Iwo Jima

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

This film about Iwo Jima, a companion piece to "Flags of our Fathers," takes the Japanese perspective on the gruesome 36-day battle to take a tiny pacific island, where 7,000 American and more than 20,000 Japanese soldiers perished. Ken Watanabe is Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi, the brilliant commanding officer whose innovative tactics are somewhat at odds with the “samurai ethic” of his more suicidal subordinates. Severely outgunned and low on supplies, Kuribayashi orders his forces to dig in to the mountains and lightly defend the beaches, an unconventional move that will only prolong the inevitable, but might make the U.S. cost of taking the island too high. There’s a chaotic and desperate feeling to the unglamorous battle scenes; as we know each flying bullet will tear through the flesh of a fighter we’ve emotionally invested in. All but eschewing the romance found in great war movies, we get a sense of honest war deconstruction not myth-building.

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Freedom Writers

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

This story is based on Erin Gruwell’s efforts to inspire a Long Beach, Calif., classroom of students, just after Rodney King went down. The first-time English teacher enters the school with high hopes of really reaching the students, but she meets administration naysayers and resistant students at every turn. She perseveres, however, and through journaling and reading books about other troubled teens, Gruwell’s class becomes a room where the teens can openly discuss their problems. The irony here is Freedom Writers preaches that to reach troubled kids, educators have to be real. But there’s nothing honest about how Swank — with that polished mug and gleaming white teeth stuck in a perma-grin — chirps her way through the drama.

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Miss Potter

Posted By on Wed, Jan 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The story of children’s author Beatrix Potter (Peter Rabbit etc.), this Victorian-era biopic is perfectly likeable but ultimately unnecessary. Surprisingly, gifted Australian director Chris Noonan spent an entire decade choosing it as follow up to his whimsically sublime Babe. The well-heeled daughter of a genial father and avariciously social-climbing mother, Potter (Zellweger) is a 30-year-old “spinster” when Warne Press’ managing brothers decide to fob off her silly little book, Peter Rabbit, to their youngest sibling, Norman (Ewan McGregor). Unexpectedly, Potter becomes a best-selling author and — as you might expect — romantic sparks fly between publisher and author. Unfortunately, Beatrix’s parents (Bill Patterson and Barbara Flynn) rankle at the thought of a tradesman besmirching their lofty social circles. If you’re looking for an illuminating character study of this iconic children’s author, you’ll be disappointed. If undemanding sweetness and inoffensive whimsy matter to you, Miss Potter is a candy-coated morsel of tasteful moviemaking.

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