Support Local Journalism. Donate to Detroit Metro Times.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Starting Out in the Evening

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Frank Langella is Leonard Schiller, a New York novelist whose work has fallen out of print while he’s spent the last decade trying to finish his latest and probably last book. Leonard’s dedicated and serious; he dons a jacket and tie before sitting down at his typewriter. His routine is as regimented as it is uncompromising, dampening his relationship with his daughter Ariel (the luminous Lili Taylor) and cutting him off from much of the world outside his modest apartment. Enter Heather (Lauren Ambrose), an admiring grad student who proposes to save Leonard’s career by writing her thesis about him. An adoring and fiercely ambitious twentysomething, Heather’s literary and personal motives become hard to separate as she thaws Leonard’s guarded nature, earns his friendship then pushes things into a calamitously strange romance.

Continue reading »

The Kite Runner

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Marc Forster is a glossy filmmaker who carefully chooses his images, hits all the right emotional buttons and rarely achieves a moment of authenticity. Simultaneously conventional and lofty, The Kite Runner suffers from a distinctly outsider view of Afghan culture. Forster and screenwriter David Benioff (Troy) force a Western perspective on Khaled Hosseini’s lauded novel, and divide it into three unequal parts. The first segment (nearly an hour) is the most engaging, following wealthy Amir (Zekeria Ebrahimi) and his best friend Hassan (Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada) growing up in Kabul in 1978. Children of different classes, they share an unconditional love for competitive kite flying and each other, until Hassan is brutally assaulted by teenage boys and Amir does nothing to intervene. After escaping the Soviet invasion by fleeing to America with his father, Amir (Khalid Abdalla), now a young man, struggles to become a writer while living in San Francisco until a phone call gives Amir the unexpected chance to make amends with Hassan’s family, sending him on a dangerous personal mission into Taliban-occupied Kabul.

Continue reading »

Juno

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

It is possible not to be charmed by Juno McDuff. The motor-mouthed 16-year-old martyr and the new movie that bears her name both take aim at some sacred cows of American culture: Teen sex, abortionists, suburban class warfare. To her credit, the actress playing this rebel dork is talented enough to make her character’s contradictions almost make sense. As played by Ellen Page, the defiantly pregnant Juno is a headstrong mix of know-it-all arrogance and hedonistic pride. She’s the type of kid you could see having sex for fun, regardless of the emotional consequences. But, for a film that claims to worship at the altar of ’70s punk — specifically Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and the Runaways — Juno sure as hell doesn’t rock. Reitman chooses instead to borrow more than a few tricks from the Wes Anderson Academy of Twee: hand-illustrated title cards marking off the four seasons, jokey cutaway scenes, and a wall-to-wall soundtrack of acoustic guitar with deliberately off-key vocals. (You’d think he’d avoid going so far as to include tracks by Anderson faves like the Kinks and the Velvet Underground, but perhaps imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.) All of which runs contrary to what Juno herself would drop onto her turntable: “When you’re used to listening to the raw power of Iggy and the Stooges, everything else just sounds kind of precious by comparison,” she says. If you’re accustomed to smart, truly acerbic teen flicks like Ghost World, Election, Rushmore or even Clueless, you could say the same thing about Juno.

Continue reading »

The Savages

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The plot is simple: A father who never took care of his children forces them to find a way to take care of him … and, ultimately, themselves. Sibling would-be writers, University of Buffalo theater professor Jon Savage (Hoffman) and failed Manhattan playwright Wendy Savage (Linney) are suddenly called to retrieve their long estranged father, Lenny, (the terrific Philip Bosco) after his longtime girlfriend dies. Traveling from wintry New York to warm Sun City, Ariz., they find him in hospital restraints, suffering from dementia and Parkinson’s. With few options, they decide to bring the old man home and check him into a nearby nursing home. To help with the transition, Wendy decides to spend the holidays on her brother’s couch and a lifetime of guilt, disappointment and hard truths rears its ugly head. It’s also a minor-key comedy with dark humor, as well as a crumpled portrait of neurotic middle age introspection, brittle relationships and human dignity. Linney and Hoffman bring the kind of understated, lived-in, textured performances that turn genre into real life, never once manipulating our emotions.

Continue reading »

Close shaves

Depp and Burton sing a holiday yarn - of revenge and cannibalism

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Young Benjamin Barker (Johnny Depp) had the world in the palm of his hands. A promising barber with a beautiful wife and infant daughter, his life was snatched away when the depraved Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) had him falsely arrested and exiled in order to sleep with his betrothed. Returning to grimy smokestacks of Victorian London 15 years later under the name of Sweeney Todd, Barker learns that his wife poisoned herself and his teenage daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener), has become Turpin’s ward. Worse, the malignant old judge plans to marry the young girl. Driven mad with rage, Sweeney opens for business above Mrs. Lovett’s (Helena Bohnam Carter) Meat Pie Shop where he plots his bloody revenge. Soon the crazed barber and adoring pie baker have formed a sinister partnership, murdering the rich and grinding them into increasingly popular meat pies. All is prelude for the carnage to come: the demise of Turpin and his henchman (Timothy Spall) and the awful twists of fate that will damn Sweeney to hell.

Continue reading »

P.S. I Love You

Posted By on Wed, Dec 26, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Her husband may be gone, but for neurotic New Yorker Holly Kennedy (Hilary Swank), the charismatic Irishman lingers like a haunting refrain. Gerry seems charming and feckless in life, as seen in extensive flashbacks and the film’s opening scene, a drawn-out argument with dialogue ripped from Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Yet, after he dies from a brain tumor (which happens off-screen), a very different Gerry emerges, one who effectively micromanages his flighty wife’s life for the next year via the letters and a trip to his hometown in Ireland, where they met nearly a decade before. All of this is meant to be immensely romantic, but comes off as domineering and slightly creepy. Swank is in nearly every frame of this overlong film, and the usually tough-as-nails actress is feminized, but the result is a dolled-up Swank whose weepy, passive performance is devoid of her past powerful screen presence.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am Legend

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

By day, Robert Neville, military scientist (Will Smith), and his trusty dog Sam roam the deserted streets of Manhattan, scavenging supplies, waiting for someone — anyone — to answer their radio broadcast call for survivors and struggling to find a cure for the vampiric disease. By night, man and dog retreat to their fortified townhouse to listen to the howling bloodlust of starving cannibals rushing past their door. It also helps that Smith treats the material seriously. Though he’s too self-possessed an actor to convincingly wear the psychological strain of a man who refuses to surrender even when there’s no reason to continue, he grounds Neville’s superhero skills (he’s both a brilliant scientist and kick-ass soldier) with unassuming vulnerability. Unfortunately, the Hollywood blockbuster gears eventually kick in and a poorly conceived CGI spook-show rolls out. Even worse than I Am Legend’s final act onslaught are the messianic quasi-religious overtones that suddenly invade the narrative. What started as an introspective and existential tale of a lone human left to stalk the ruins of society like a vampire descends into visual and thematic clichés about hope, faith and heroism.

Continue reading »

War and lies

In sprawling WWII epic, the first casualty of conflict is still truth

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

The new World War II romance has gaping, pus-filled wounds, love forbidden by social status, horses shot in the head, sibling sexual rivalry and bitter truths that go untold until they’re no longer able to do anyone any good. If you’re unfamiliar with Ian MacEwan’s book — or the film’s sweeping trailers — you might think you’re sitting down to a seething tale of class conflict and lust in the bucolic British countryside. And yet this isn’t stuffy, starched-collar Merchant Ivory territory: Director Joe Wright subtly foreshadows the impending war, as rich, impudent 13-year-old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) becomes enamored of strapping, twentysomething servant Robbie (James McAvoy). Lies are told, constables are called, and what Briony thinks she sees on that lazy summer night becomes the “truth” that sends Robbie off to battle, in lieu of going to prison. What follows is the movie promised in the ads: the breathtaking crane shots, the separated-by-fate lovers chasing after each other in busy city streets, and the unsubtle visual allusions to Gone With the Wind.

Continue reading »

Dutch gold

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Veteran Dutch novelist Cees Nooteboom's work traces the inner spaces of globetrotting protagonists disconnected from their places of origin, so the deceptive synopses of his novels often sound either uneventful or strangely convoluted. Lost Paradise, his latest, belongs to the latter camp, revolving around multiple chance encounters between two very...

Continue reading »

Poor People

Posted By on Wed, Dec 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Most of us couldn't hang with William T. Vollmann's approach to tourism. The man lingers in the poorest slums of the world's poorest nations until he's sampled that region's most devastating drugs, most exotic diseases, and, yes, its most downtrodden women-of-the-evening. He's courted much criticism in the past for his...

Continue reading »

Best Things to Do In Detroit

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.