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Sunday, August 31, 2008

But Have You Seen The Sweded Version?

Posted By on Sun, Aug 31, 2008 at 5:17 PM

So, back in February Michael Gondry's film Be Kind Rewind landed in theaters with a thud. It's total gross in the U.S was around $11 million. The plot, as I described it in my review was: "Mike (Mos Def) is the hard-working cashier of a dispossessed video rental shop in...

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What Hollywood celebrities bring to Michigan

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2008 at 10:47 AM

So, I'm standing at the Ann Arbor Whole Foods deli counter waiting for my turn to get a sandwich and I hear this voice that sounds awfully familiar. It takes me about 12 seconds to realize it's Juliette Lewis' voice. Weird, I know. After all, her Hollywood star wattage isn't...

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Race to the bottom

Instead of cheesy satire, big-budget remake is noisy, ignorant uninspired

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The original Death Race 2000 was a wickedly dark satire of plummeting media values, soulless politicians and the degraded public that let them get away with it. The new Death Race is a lackluster chase movie. Still, Jason Statham, with his steely gaze and Cockney Bruce Willis delivery, is compulsively watchable, even as the movie falls apart around him. Hack director Paul W.S Anderson keeps rubbing his incompetence in the audience’s collective face, with shapeless, excessively loud actions scenes that bleed into one long, screeching bore. More often Death Race takes itself too seriously, and lacks the wit and excitement it needs.

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The Longshots

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The impetus for Longshots was the 2003 national Pop Warner football tournament, featuring the Harvey Colts from Illinois. What made it a national news story was the appearance of 11-year-old Jasmine Plummer, the first female quarterback in the tournament’s 56-year history. What the filmmakers made of this story is both less and more: for dramatic effect, they have transformed the confident, gifted athlete into an uncertain 13-year-old social outcast in a dying industrial town. The shy, bookish Jasmine (Keke Palmer) has vague dreams of being the next Tyra Banks, longs for her absent father, and is mortified when her concerned mother (Tasha Smith) hires her aimless uncle as a babysitter. The resentment felt by frequently intoxicated former football star Curtis Plummer (Ice Cube) at being stuck in small, dead-end Illinois town is palpable, and his disconnect from the introverted Jasmine deep. That’s until he sees his niece throw a football. It’s a simple moment, but the effect is profound. What distinguishes this film is its low-key style, with widescreen visuals that hark back to the grainy naturalism of the 1970s. And Keke Palmer is The Longshots’ MVP, using the intelligence and stubborn perseverance she displayed as the spelling phenom in Akeelah and the Bee (2006) and taking it up a notch.

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Traitor

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Traitor has so much going for it — decent story, great cast, terrific production values — it’s almost criminal that its virtues are undone by a first-time writer-director who neuters his own political thriller of any thrills. Don Cheadle plays Samir Horn — a Sudanese-born U.S. operative and devout Muslim — who goes into deep cover to infiltrate an Islamic terrorist cell. Befriending one of its leaders (The Kite Runner’s Saïd Taghmaoui), Samir struggles to prove himself to his enemies while preventing their plans for catastrophic violence. Unfortunately, his assignment requires him to facilitate the very carnage he’s attempting to thwart. Worse, because his only outside connection is a CIA contractor named Carter (Jeff Daniels), he draws the attention of two FBI agents (Guy Pierce and Neal McDonough) who may, in their quest to bring him to justice, compromise his mission. All the elements are in place for a terrific little thriller with a healthy dose of moral and political complexity. The original story, which was created by Steve Martin (yup, that Steve Martin), presents some ingenious and intelligent dilemmas for its heroes. Too bad the script from director Jeffrey Nachmanoff (who penned The Day After Tomorrow) is filled with inscrutably shallow characters and dreadfully uneven dialogue. Tragically, his direction is listless and unfocused, cribbing its mournful world music, political posturing, and globetrotting locales from better films like Syriana and the Bourne series. None of which hides the fact Nachmanoff is unable to establish the most important ingredient in any suspenser: a sense of urgency.

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Hamlet 2

Posted By on Wed, Aug 27, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Steve Coogan plays a rather ambiguously named Dana, an enthusiastic, daft and questionably swishy Tucson, Ariz., high school drama coach, desperate to reverse his flagging fortunes by putting on an original hit show. Essentially the same plot as Christopher Guest's "Waiting for Guffman," the kooky conceits leading up to the big show don't generate big laughs, including extraneous subplots that fall flat. The play itself, a fairly solid knockoff of today’s overblown Broadway spectaculars, is amusing enough, involving the Bard’s great Dane traveling back in time to erase that “bummer ending” with the help of a tank-top-wearing hunky Jesus, some pyrotechnics, wire work and a laser sword battle.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Is it because Ben Stiller hates the handicapped?

Posted By on Sun, Aug 24, 2008 at 7:45 PM

After two weeks Tropic Thunder has pulled in $55 million. Which is respectable but hardly earth-shattering for a comedy that cost nearly $100 million to make and stars three pretty popular actors. When you compare it to Stiller's last flick, the craptacular Hearthbreak Kid ($37 million), I have to wonder...

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fly Me to the Moon

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

It’s the summer of 1969, and these three teeny malcontents take a break from buzzing the scrap heap and munching on dung long enough to listen to Nat’s doddering Grandpa (Christopher Lloyd) rattle on about how he once rode shotgun with Amelia Earhart. Somehow this tale inspires the boys to flap over to the Kennedy Space Center to stow away on the historic Apollo 11 moon mission. Nat’s worrying mom — voiced by Kelly Ripa — is a major buzzkill who keeps saying “dreamers get swatted” and gives disapproving looks through oversized pink cat-eye frames, which, of course, lack the hundreds of tiny frames a real fly needs. (Such nitpicking’s moot on a picture loaded with fart jokes, cutesy maggots and evil Russian flies with borscht-thick accents.) Adding to the old-school weirdness is the sight of the real-life and NASA-shilling astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who pops in to assure us that no flies were really in space. The whole affair has a musty aroma, harking back to a creaky era before Pixar forever raised the bar for big screen cartoons with beautiful, clever amusements that can entertain adults and kids equally. To distract from the flat, dreary animation and lameness of the comedy, there’s some nifty 3-D, with the big rocket launch being only slightly outclassed by the bit where Scooter eats floating drops of Tang. Yet the modern whiz-bang can’t cover the generally tired plot and sorry-ass gags and the strangely retro “let’s beat the Russkies” jingoism of the piece.

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Henry Poole is Here

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) has recently overpaid for a run-down house in his bland, aging suburban L.A. neighborhood, where he holes up all day on his black leather couch accompanied by his buddies Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Despite his insistence that he “won’t be here that long,” his super-perky real estate agent Meg (Cheryl Hines) has the outside stucco redone when Henry isn’t looking, leaving a curiously shaped watermark that just won’t go away, no matter how hard he scrubs. Equally hard to lose are his neighbors, the insistently nosy Esperanza (Adriana Barraza) and comely single mom Dawn, whose cherubic little daughter never speaks but likes to run around taping people’s conversations on her giant tape recorder. Since, apparently, every woman in town wants to save him, the poor guy can’t even buy booze in peace, since a cute — but frightfully myopic — young supermarket cashier named (ahem) Patience (promising newcomer Rachel Seiferth) persists in offering him chirpy sermons about faith. The intrusions only get worse when Esperanza decides that the water stain is actually a heavenly sign, and starts leading bingo ladies, her priest (George Lopez) and hordes of parishioners on daily pilgrimages into Henry’s back yard. The end result is likable but hokey. The mid-film shift from moody dark comedy to a basic “love conquers all” theme is fine, but Capra usually showed miracles rise from people not from divine intervention.

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Posted By on Wed, Aug 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Finally, by going totally CGI, George Lucas can spin his sparkly tales of galactic conflict without the nuisance of human actors gumming up the works. In lieu of flesh and blood we see stiff CG marionettes, who fly about the screen with dizzying, ADD swiftness but who sport faces as rigid and unchanging as action figures. The story is set between episodes II and III, in the long-discussed, never-seen nerd fantasia known as the Clone Wars. As cool as the prospect sounds, the clones are merely the Galactic Republic’s army of tube-grown stormtroopers. Not so clear are the arcane machinations of the war waged between a nefarious “trade federation” and the slowly crumbling Republic; as space feuds go, it’s a pretty ho-hum affair, yet we get pummeled with loads of exposition about it anyway. Leading the charge for the good guys are our intrepid Jedi Knights, stalwart Obi Wan Kenobi and future cyber-goth bad-boy Anakin Skywalker; who are continually dispatched across the cosmos to put out brushfires. The mission now is to rescue the kidnapped infant son of slimy crime lord Jabba the Hutt, since his clan controls vitally important trade routes, or some such crap. Along for the ride is Anakin’s newly appointed “Padawan” trainee Ashoka Tano, cheerfully voiced by teen star Ashley Eckstein. Though only a youngling, she has the enormous lips of a Bratz doll, a street-walker’s wardrobe and the snarky ’tude of a ninja turtle, incessantly referring to her boss as “Sky Guy.” She’s also got a nickname ready for Jabba’s baby boy, she calls him “Stinky,” and stench aside he’s a cuddly larva with giant anime eyes, just cute enough to be turned in a plush doll, if he hasn’t been already.

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