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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

August Rush

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

The protagonist of this back-door music is August Rush (Freddy Highmore), a ward of the state whose parents — a scruffy Irish rocker (Johnathn Rhys Meyers) and an elegant concert cellist (Keri Russel) — don’t know he exists. The orphan won't give up home he'll be claimed, so, to avoid being placed in yet another home, he runs to the streets of NYC, where he falls in with a flock of runaways led by the tweaked-out hustler Wizard (Robin Williams), who christens the kid August Rush and turns him out on the streets to earn cash with his amazingly advanced guitar skills. As his unbelievably attractive (but dim) parents begin to piece together the puzzle about their lost child, the Wiz tightens his grip on the kid. Not a moment of this exists in a believable universe, but the movie hugs its own fairytale nature and holds on for dear life.

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Chopper Show

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

If you get your kicks watching static shots of guys popping wheelies in front of the ruins of Tiger Stadium, then this flick’ll sit well with you. For everyone else, the utter lack of voiceover narration, title cards, interviews or the merest bit of context explaining why anyone, anywhere, should give a flying fuck about this shabby assemblage of bad tattoos and frayed denim, it’ll likely be a bit of a bummer.

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Holly

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

Patrick (Ron Livingston), an American expat aimlessly drifting from one poker game to the next, sees the child sex trade in Cambodia as an entrenched evil, part of a cycle of poverty and dependence. He explains to his enigmatic boss Freddie (the late great Chris Penn) that he’s learned to avoid making eye contact with the children selling trinkets or themselves. That is, until he encounters Holly (Thuy Nguyen), a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl living in a low-rent brothel. Well-aware of the future that awaits her, she’s resilient and resourceful, always looking for a way out without really understanding just how much the deck is stacked against her. A chaste but charged friendship that develops between Patrick and Holly, and it’s clear that he makes for an unlikely savior. But that’s the leap of faith Holly takes — that this self-centered man would upend his life to change the course of someone else’s. Despite a few clunky plot twists — including some convenient but highly improbable chance encounters — Holly rises above the usual preachy exposé. Much of this is achieved by the way it’s filmed: intimate widescreen images in sweat-soaked color combined with the immediacy of hand-held camerawork.

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12:08 East of Bucharest

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

Writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu uses the off year, as well as the off-the-beaten path locale of his hometown Vaslui, in northeast Romania, to create a mordantly funny exploration of post-revolution malaise. Porumboiu tackles the macrocosm of Romania, and the film takes place from dawn to dusk on December 22, 2005, as three men gather to discuss where they were at 12:08 pm in 1989 when Nicolae Ceausescu and wife Elena fled their palace in Bucharest, abdicating their absolute power. The film’s English title tries to express how far Vaslui residents were from the capital when this happened, but the Romanian title — “A fost sau n-a fost?” which literally means “Was it or wasn’t it?” — better captures Porumboiu’s dual meaning.

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Total recoil

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

When Andreas Ramsfjell (Trond Fausa Aurvåg) finds himself dropped off in a lovely, well-ordered city, handed the keys to his apartment and a dossier detailing his new job, he’s befuddled but accepting. He gets along by going along with his cheerful and accommodating co-workers, including his boss Håvard (Johannes Joner), who’s more concerned with his happiness than productivity. Something is off, Andreas can feel it, but he seems to be the only one. Everyone around him seems satisfied to continually decorate their stylish homes, like his girlfriend Anne-Britt (Petronella Barker), and keep their surfaces shiny and immaculate. It isn’t until he hears Hugo (Per Schaanning), who uses the anonymity of a men’s room stall to unleash a tirade about how nothing has a taste anymore, that Andreas can begin to pinpoint his gnawing dissatisfaction. It’s as if his memory of a past life wasn’t sufficiently washed away, and he becomes grimly determined to break out of the suffocating cocoon, even if it means only a short time flying free. Expect the unexpected. Just when you think you know where screenwriter Per Schreiner is heading, the story swerves into uncharted territory.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Fred Claus

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

Vince Vaughn stars as the title lout, the long-neglected brother of St. Nick, who’s grown slightly crabby in the shadow of his beloved sib, here played by Paul Giamatti. Smooth-talking Fred gets by as a repo man in Chicago, but he needs a major chunk of change to win back the affections of his long suffering gal pal Wanda (the lovely Rachel Weisz). Being a saint and all, jolly old Nick offers his bro a chance to earn the cash by coming to the North Pole and pitching in with the family business. It takes all of 30 seconds for this decision to backfire, made worse because Santa’s also under the gun. An odious efficiency expert (Kevin Spacey) threatens to outsource the whole operation to the South Pole. Ultimately the film isn't funny enough for its brutally endless two-hour run time. Awkward PG-rated humor doesn't give the high-grade cast many opportunities to shine.. Worst off is poor John Michael Higgins, a dynamo in Christopher Guest’s movies, but here forced into an unbelievably creepy role as chipper head elf Willie — his noggin is digitally fused onto the body of a real little person, but in a cheesy, horribly distracting way. None of the bells and whistles help make any of this junk funnier, with many scenes desperately defaulting to violence, often with Vaughn fist-fighting dwarves, which sounds like it should work but just doesn’t.

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Blade Runner: The Final Cut

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

Grafting a ’40s-style detective story onto a dystopian thriller, Blade Runner’s tale of a cop (Ford) who hunts down renegade replicants (artificial human beings) in the crumbling, rain-soaked techno-hell of 2019 Los Angeles was visionary. Since its release, Scott has continually tinkered with the film, releasing various remastered versions. In 1992, a “Director’s Cut” restored his ambiguous ending along with extra scenes and, most noticeably, dropping Ford’s tacked-on narration. Now, on its 25th anniversary, Blade Runner: The Final Cut hits the screen and, truth be told, Scott nails it: The story’s tighter and nagging gaffes are corrected. In particular, an embarrassingly bad chase scene — which featured a beefy stuntman in drag standing in for Joanna Cassidy — was reshot with the actress’ cooperation.

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No Country for Old Men

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

Their faithful adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel is bloody, relentless and fatalistic, yet the story’s real focus is morality, not mortality. The ruminations of Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), who watches over the hardscrabble terrain of Terrell County, Texas, in 1980, are at its heart, and he’s one disheartened man. The influx of drugs, guns and money is making Bell’s brand of community policing quaintly outdated, and he’s concerned with the crumbling of polite society represented by a breakdown in manners: “Anytime you quit hearing ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am,’ the end is pretty much in sight.” What the Sheriff fears — a new kind of Wild West mentality — has come to pass, and it’s epitomized by the pitched battle between Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), an unemployed welder and Vietnam vet who finds a satchel of money from a drug deal gone bad, and Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the relentless enforcer sent to retrieve it. These men aren’t simply the hero and villain — they embody the conflicting impulses of their amoral environment.

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Beowulf

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

In this animated 3-D adaptation of the Old English epic, a Saxon stud has been summoned to Denmark to slay a horrible, oozing demon named Grendel (Crispin Glover), who has a seriously bad attitude and a nasty skin condition. After a few protracted fight scenes, Beowulf thinks the groovy ghoul problem is handled, only to be told by King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), that the real menace is Grendel’s mother. The two fight and flirt, and then the movie veers so far from the source it will force English lit professors to yank their few remaining hairs out.

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The air out there

Nihilism rages at the multiplex

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

Frank Darabont’s The Mist, a perfectly eerie addition to the apocalyptic horror genre, thinks so. Essentially a Lovecraftian take on Hitchcock’s The Birds, this B-movie slitherfest offers two hours of arm-gripping suspense only to conclude with an unnecessarily depressing and pretentious conclusion. When a mysterious storm rolls through a peaceful Maine community, David Drayton (Thomas Jane) and his young son Billy (Nathan Gamble) head to the grocery store for supplies. Outside, a malicious mist envelops the town and before you know it a blood-covered local runs in screaming that something horrible is in the mist! While most store customers stay inside, a few rush out to the parking lot never to return.

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