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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

CINEMA REVIEW

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

For their second feature-length film the Quay Brothers, identical twins and stop-action animators, have chosen a live-action narrative to showcase their obsession with all things antique, decaying, dehumanized and obtuse. Exquisitely detailed and meticulously crafted, this nightmarish tale of a beautiful opera singer, a mad scientist and a beguiled piano tuner is as visually audacious as it is dramatically impenetrable.

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Number 23

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Joel Schumacher’s glossy and persistently bizarre thriller sure looks pretty. Jim Carrey struggles mightily to keep his twitchy performance in check in a genre far beyond his comfort zone. Even this failed effort is more engaging than some "serious" actor’s best stuff. His manic energy and quirky magnetism keep the films watchable long after the script’s freaky brew of numerology, paranoia and pop psychology grows irritating.

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Flannel Pajamas

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

This relationship-under-a-microscope drama has nothing to say. For two overly long and chatty hours, writer-director Jeff Lipsky drags us through the highs and mostly lows of New York couple Stuart and Nicole’s courtship, marriage and prolonged disintegration. In the end, we’re drowning in second-rate banter, in tears of boredom and wishing we could sign the divorce papers ourselves and get this mess over with.

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Reno 911!

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Comedy Central’s cops spoof has made the wholly unnecessary but occasionally hilarious jump to the cinema. The premise is utterly simple: The inept cops of the Washoe County Nevada Sheriffs department have been invited to a national cop convention in Miami. Their exasperated leader is LT. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon), who has lately been thinking career advancement. Opportunity strikes when a terrorist chemical attack quarantines every other available officer inside the convention center, and the Reno gang jumps at the chance to go big time, if they don’t manage to destroy the city first.

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Astronaut Farmer

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Billy Bob Thornton builds a rocket ship in his barn, an entirely functional, full-scale Mercury-style rocket on his downtime from tending to his sprawling Texas ranch. He slips on a space suit and his most earnest smile to star as the conveniently named Charlie Farmer, a former NASA candidate who had to abandon the stars to rescue the family farm. Of course big dreams die hard, so despite the concerns of friends, the government and rules of logic, he can’t be dissuaded from reaching for the cosmos.

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Amazing Grace

Posted By on Wed, Feb 28, 2007 at 12:00 AM

William Wilberforce’s (Ioan Gruffud) tries to abolish the English slave trade. The script smartly steers clear of dwelling on the horrors of the slave trade and focuses on the politics and morality of those who held the reins of power. Unfortunately, his characters are terribly opaque. There are no personal epiphanies or internal conflicts for Wilberforce to resolve, only the stoic certainty of his cause.

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Grim glitterati

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Every year it’s pretty much the same: Celebs grit their teeth and applaud for nominees they’ve never heard of and films they’ve never seen while members of the home audience take a bathroom break. A tradition since 1932, short subject films are the red-headed stepkids of the Oscars. When these awards — now divided into live action and animated categories — are given out on Sunday night, you and all but a handful of people at the Kodak Theater will be clueless about who deserved to win. With advent of YouTube, iFilm, Atomfilms and hundreds of other Web-based video sources, you’d think that short film nominees would have a built-in network of fans. Unfortunately, these Oscar contenders are all but hidden from public view, their releases tightly controlled and limited at best. If it seems bizarre that the Academy asks you to applaud anonymous work, you’re not alone. Can you imagine the TV ratings if the feature film categories were handled in the same way? The time has come for the Academy to require every nominated film to be widely accessible to general audiences. Until then, film fans will have to rely on institutions like the Detroit Film Theatre, which will be running the 2007 nominees for short live action and animated films.

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Breach

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

From the opening frame, "Breach" is all business. It’s a thriller as brisk, economical and keenly honed as its central character. Robert Hanssen is a buttoned-down professional, a pious catholic, devoted family man and one of the most infamous espionage traitors in U.S. history. Hanssen spent 25 years as one of the FBI’s leading Soviet analysts, and for most of those years he was selling vital secrets to the very enemy he was monitoring. Chris Cooper absolutely shreds the screen as Hanssen, and, much as Ethan Hawke did with Denzel in "Training Day," Ryan Phillipe more than holds his own opposite Cooper, as Eric O’Neill, the ambitious but green operative who serves as point man on the bureau’s massive effort to snare Hanssen. The standard-issue spy movie themes of trust, deception, duty and paranoia get a workout here, but in a way that never seems forced or overdramatic, and Ray keeps the picture on an even keel.

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Ghost Rider

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

It’s tricky stuff adapting comic books to the screen. Writer-director Mark Steven Johnson made his first stab at the genre with Ben Affleck’s "Daredevil." Maligned by many critics, it really wasn’t that bad of a film. In this flick, Cage plays an Evel Knievel-style stunt rider who once sold his soul to Mephistopheles (a wildly miscast Peter Fonda) to cure his father of cancer. Bound to do the devil’s bidding as the Ghost Rider — a flaming skeleton on a pimped-out motorcycle — he hunts down and destroys renegade demons from hell. A weird mix of clunky video-game action, stupid humor and jumbled origin myth, Johnson’s script leaves no cliche unturned. He never settles on a consistent tone, bouncing between horror and camp, failing miserably at both. The movie is silly and stupid, and Cage’s wacky character additions (a fondness for jelly beans and Karen Carpenter) don’t help the situation.

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Iraq in Fragments

Posted By on Wed, Feb 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

"You have to study the Iraqis to know them," says an old man taking a pull off a hookah about halfway through the new documentary Iraq in Fragments, right as an artillery shell sounds in the distance. "It’s impossible to change us with the barrel of a tank." Made over the course of three years in the U.S.-occupied country, director James Longley’s Oscar-nominated film suggests that we’ve got a lot of studying left to do. This isn’t one of those incendiary docs that popped up in the wake of Fahrenheit 9/11. Iraq in Fragments is far more measured, contemplative and atmospheric than the foaming-at-the-mouth lefty agitprop — however right some of it may be — that has pervaded the national discourse in the past two years or so. Like the best fictional filmmakers, Longley knows that by keeping his focus small, he can say much more about a nation’s conflicts — both with themselves and with their unwanted "liberators" — than he ever could by recording a bunch of talking heads making sweeping pronouncements.

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