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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Brand Upon the Brain!

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

As a viable, relevant art form, silent films began to lose their mojo in the late 1920s with the advent of talkies, but nobody seems to have mentioned this to Guy Maddin. Re-creating the look and antiquated feel of the silents, Maddin's hallucinatory plot finds the filmmaker returning by rowboat after decades away to Black Notch Island, his childhood home, where his parents ran an orphanage out of the lighthouse. His dying mother (Gretchen Krich) wants him to paint the old tower, so she can see it in its former glory, an act that washes him in a torrent of memories: The lonely preteen Guy (Sullivan Brown) is overwhelmed by the sudden arrival on the island of the lovely and famous Wendy Hale, an intrepid girl detective, one half of the “Lightbulb Kids,” whose daring exploits are recorded in glossy dime novels that Guy cherishes. Packed into 95 minutes, that's just too much to process.

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Talk to Me

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene was one of the unlikeliest media stars to arise from the boiling social cauldron of the late ’60s. A convict, a hustler and an all-around charmer, Greene got his start as a prison DJ, and after a parole for talking a fellow inmate off the water tower, he sweet-talked his way into an on-air gig at Washington, D.C.’s urban powerhouse, WOL-AM. Don Cheadle is Petey and runs with it like a man on fire, with a performance as broad and colorful as the lapels on his skin-tight jumpsuits; his charismatic stranglehold never relents.

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David and Layla

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

David (David Moscow), the host of local cable show, Sex and Happiness, becomes smitten with the mysterious and exotic Layla (Shiva Rose), a Kurdish Muslim refugee whose visa has expired. Unfulfilled in his relationship with a high-strung girlfriend (Callie Thorne), he desperately pursues Layla, despite the hysteria it causes in his Jewish family and the suspicions of her Islamic guardians. As the two lovers get to know each other better, the clash of cultures and religions raises its ugly — well, not ugly … let’s say — inconvenient head. Though this real-life story sells itself as a romantic comedy, David And Layla seems to understand little of the heart and far more of the politics that stand in love’s way.

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Spray job

Big-budget remake misses the point but delivers on the entertainment

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Hairspray is, for the most part, effortless fun, buoyed along by a hugely talented ensemble cast, fantastic dance numbers and the best atomic-age production design since director Todd Haynes’ meticulously retro melodrama Far From Heaven. Travolta notwithstanding, there’s no reason it should’ve worked this well. The movie — and the musical upon which it’s based — takes to heart everything the sultan of sleaze John Waters skewered in his 1988 indie comedy: dance shows, ’60s nostalgia, big girls with big dreams, even race relations. It doesn’t always come together, and Leslie Dixon’s script could do without the constant emphasis on “following your dreams” and the “thing in you that you want to set free.” But by taking his cues from the great movie musicals of the era — and not the clumsy, watered-down Oscar-bait of the past few years — director-choreographer Adam Shankman has come up with one of the purest entertainments of the summer.

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Army of Darkness

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

If you’re feeling nostalgic for Raimi’s glorious cheeseball period, then see Army of Darkness. Campy, brilliantly paced and boasting every hokey low budget effect known to man, Army Of Darkness is an exuberantly kitschy comic book gagfest. The plot follows S-Mart housewares salesman Ash (Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2 star Bruce Campbell) as he’s sucked into a time tunnel and deposited into the Middle Ages armed with a 12-gauge “boomstick” and a chainsaw for a hand. Prophesied to save the locals from an undead army, all Ash wants to do is make time with the castle hottie (Schindler’s List’s Embeth Davidz) and get back home. Unfortunately, the sorcerers and ghouls have other ideas.

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Space invaders

New book: Kick out the culture-jamming

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Pranksters, subvertisers, copyright daredevils, Naomi Klein, Gilles Deleuze — anti-corporate agitators of all stripes are united in Christine Harold's OurSpace: Resisting the Corporate Control of Culture (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95, hardcover, 232 pp.). Harold, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia, is overly ensconced in the world of...

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Native son

New film has aboriginal Australians telling one heck of a story

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Ten Canoes is an intoxicating look at the pre-colonial world of Australia’s aboriginal people that never falls into the staid ethnography of a National Geographic project. Director Rolf de Heer (The Quiet Room, The Tracker) seems to have simply wandered onto a timeless landscape and captured the inner workings of a tribal community. Ten Canoes is a model of cross-cultural respect and cooperation between the white crew and indigenous performers in the Northern Territory community of Ramingining. What makes it great is that there’s no deification or demonizing, just “a good story.”

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Introducing the Dwights

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Why is it that movies about comedians are never very funny? In the Aussie import Entertaining the Dwights, Brenda Blethyn plays Jean, a once-promising stand-up queen whose routine is full of hoary old puns involving ironing, menopause and sack-of-shit husbands. To watch her, you’d think Roseanne never happened: Her jokes sound more like crusty Henny Youngman one-liners in drag, or maybe some of Audrey Meadows’ lamer comebacks from old episodes of The Honeymooners. Still, the disconnect between Jean’s smothering homelife and her supposedly uproarious stage act eats away at the film like a termite. Blethyn’s old pal Mike Leigh might know how to mix misery with sentimentality — he directed her to an Oscar nomination in the improvised family drama Secrets and Lies — but it’s a combustible concoction, one Nolan can’t seem to master. She has the look and the mood of the film right: the hand-held cameras and drab surroundings underline the Dwights’ sad, not-quite working-class rut. And in Blethyn she has an expert performer who’s up for anything, including making herself look like a sneering, needy terror of a woman. But for the movie to be what it truly wants to be — namely, the Australian equivalent of a bittersweet indie comedy like Little Miss Sunshine or What’s Eating Gilbert Grape — it needs to generate a smile or two amid all the desperation.

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Eagle vs. Shark

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Lily (co-writer Loren Horsely) is a painfully timid fast-food cashier with a mad crush on video game store clerk, Jarrod (Jemaine Clement). Crashing his “Come As Your Favorite Animal” party, she ends up sleeping with the slack-jawed blowhard and inexplicably falls in love. Their relationship is tested when Jarrod reveals his deepest secret: He has vowed to take revenge on the bully who tormented him in high school. So, off to his family’s home they go, where Jarrod promptly dumps her to ready himself for battle. Stranded, Lily bonds with his eccentric family and learns the sad truth behind her boyfriend’s compulsive need to be macho. Though there are some wonderfully offbeat moments and a few delicate grace notes, Eagle vs. Shark can never quite decide whether to sympathize or make fun of its characters. As a result the film simultaneously moves and frustrates its audience.

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Joshua

Posted By on Wed, Jul 18, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Occupying a space somewhere between psychological drama and full-blown horror, the film is — for about two-thirds of its running time, at least — a terrifically queasy examination of what happens when parental neglect, pre-teen curiosity and the suffocating sanctimony of in-laws collide, just after the arrival of a newborn. Director and co-writer George Ratliff, in one of many Kubrickian touches, even marks off the narrative with helpful title cards charting baby Lily’s progress: “21 days old,” “35 days old,” and so on. The clinical growth chart might as well be ripped from the diary of Joshua (Jacob Kogan) himself, a glassy, distant little brainiac with an insistent fascination for his parents’ reproductive lives. It’s one thing to be jealous of a new sibling; it’s another to tell your folks, in the cheeriest possible voice, “Do you think I’m weird?” or “You don’t have to love me, you know.”

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