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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Terminal sickness

Cyber-thriller is more than just one torture scene after another — but not by much

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Diana Lane’s cyber-thriller would be just one torture scene after another, if not for the dull dialogue, thinly sketched characters and incomprehensible computer jargon. The film has Portland-based FBI Cyber Crimes agent (and single mom) Jennifer Marsh (Lane) stumbling across an untraceable Web site where a murderer tortures to death his victims. It's a second rate serial-killer show with an ending so preposterously asinine the only appropriate response is a derisive snort.

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Note by Note: The Making of Steinway LI037

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Director Ben Niles’ documentary is as deliberate and lovingly handcrafted as the 88 keys of its subject: The Steinway piano. Each Steinway passes through many hands on its way to the sales floor, especially on the factory floor of Steinway’s Queens plant, a holy place staffed with a merry international polyglot of Slavs, Bengalis, Filipinos and Brooklyn-bred schmoes. This passion for the finished product is reflected by the idol worship of a variety of top-notch musicians who wax rhapsodic about the ethereal qualities of the strings and the pedals.

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Rambo

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Sly Stallone’s second most durable macho man returns in an installment that’s smaller in scope and focus, but way larger in raw carnage, boasting one of the highest onscreen body counts in decades. What old John Rambo has been up to all these years is a mystery, but one look into his numb, droopy sheepdog eyes and we can tell that time has been a bitch. The former ’Nam snake-eater is discovered in Thailand, reluctantly recruited to escort a group of Christian relief workers from the United States up river into Burma. Soon enough our Pollyanna Americans are trapped knee-deep in the atrocities, forcing Rambo to pick up his machete. He gets backup this time from a squad of rough-and-tumble mercenaries. Taken as an action picture, Rambo is fairly effective, the action fast and wicked, even somewhat believable, but as political statement, the movie’s a murky slog into uncomfortable waters.

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My Unwritten Books

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

"Literary criticism should arise out of a debt of love," wrote George Steiner at the outset of Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in the Old Criticism, his first book. Nearly 50 years after that study’s publication, and nearly a quarter century after the release of A George Steiner Reader, the...

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The Rape of Europa

Posted By on Wed, Jan 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM

This engrossing and thoroughly impressive documentary chronicles the Third Reich's staggering blow to the cultural treasures of Europe. A fine art collection was seen as paramount to the personal worth of a good Nazi officer, and what art the Nazis weren’t greedily amassing for personal wealth, they were busy blowing up, with much of the continent’s greatest landmarks in constant danger of shelling. The film also showcases the heroic efforts of the Allied “monuments men,” soldiers that worked feverishly to preserve masterworks even while the bombs were still falling, and continued to try to recover missing or damaged pieces for decades.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Cassandra’s Dream

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Scotsman Ewan McGregor adopts a proper Michael Caine cockney accent with much greater ease than his Irish co-star Colin Farrell. One is a mechanic who fancies the dog track and the poker table, and the other a restaurant manger with wanderlust and a taste for flashy cars and ladies above his station. Both are in way over their heads, until their wealthy uncle returns from the colonies, eager to front the cash if only they’ll do him a nasty little favor and tie-up his one loose end.

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Mad Money

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The unshakable Diane Keaton stars as would-be thief Bridget Cardigan, breezing through the storyline with a free ease that only comes with years of experience, and large piles of box office receipts to back it up. In support are comedy vets Ted Danson, as Keaton’s laid-off white-collar husband Don, and Queen Latifah as Nina, her sassy single-mom partner-in-crime. The robbery in question is a victimless one, an inside heist of worn-out cash on it’s way to the shredder at the Kansas City Federal Reserve compound, where the ladies do thankless grunt work. They cook up a simple plan to switch the lock on the money bin with a store-bought new one, lift the dough and stash it in garbage bags. Bridget is the janitor, Nina works the shredder, but they need a third member — someone with access to the rolling money carts. Enter scientology’s fave incubator pin-up Katie Holmes, in a charmingly ridiculous performance as eccentric party girl Jackie.

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Persepolis

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Teamed with French animator Vincent Paronnaud, Satrapi adapts her two-part graphic memoir into a politically astute yet personally intimate portrait of love, life and rebellion under Khomeni in 1970s Iran. Using 2-D, black and white hand-drawn animation (a rarity these days), the film captures the spirit of its source comic while remaining fluid and expressive. With a feather-light touch, the images compress themes of religious oppression, sexual awakening, teenage rebellion, cultural (and generational) conflict and war into a vibrant profile of personal and political exile. Savvy historical flashbacks often give way to deeply personal (if somewhat embellished) anecdotes and even sublime humor. The tone is wistful but never bitter and while there’s no mistaking its view of fundamentalism, Persepolis never preaches.

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27 Dresses

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Story features glamour kitten Katherine Heigl and her colorless yuppie pals, nailing all the wedding-fetish points in a predictable, flowery matrimonial fantasia. Thanks to Anne Fletcher’s flat, amateurish direction and limp script by Aline Brosh McKenna, 27 Dresses avoids outright disaster thanks to the appealing cast, headed by the very likeable Heigl, as Jane, a career bridesmaid now faced with the horrifying prospect of watching her flighty younger sister Tess (Malin Akerman) zip in after a streak of jet-setting and tramping, only to put the moves on Jane’s dashing boss and secret crush (Ed Burns).

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Beast of burden

Manhattan’s latest terrorist rises from the primordial ooze

Posted By on Wed, Jan 23, 2008 at 12:00 AM

This “Blair Godzilla Project” is a first-person record of a giant monster attack on New York City via “recovered” video footage. Handsome, rakish Rob (Michael Stahl-David) is about depart for a new job in Japan and his hipster pals are sending him off with a fabulous Manhattan loft party. His dopey but sweet-natured best friend Hud (T.J. Miller) has been charged with taping the festivities. When all hell breaks loose, he becomes our eyes and snarky commentary track as the massive unknown menace begins hastily ruining midtown. It’s hard not to read subtext into the scenes of buildings collapsing and frantic crowds running from smothering dust clouds, with shots that might as well be 9/11 news footage, but Cloverfield is more revolutionary in style than substance.

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