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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Igor

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The premise is solid enough. In the blighted land of Malaria, where the sun never shines, evil scientists fuel the economy by blackmailing the rest of the world with monstrous inventions. Each year, the kingdom holds an Evil Science Fair, where the threat of the year is chosen. When his cruel but incompetent master (John Cleese) blows himself up in the lab, Igor (John Cusack) sees his chance to enter his own evil invention and prove, once and for all, that hunchbacks can be geniuses too. Assisted by Scamper (Steve Buscemi), a suicidal but indestructible bunny, and Brain (Sean Hayes), a defective brain in a jar, Igor does the unthinkable; he creates life. Unfortunately, his gigantic Frankenstein monster turns out to be Eva (Jennifer Coolidge), an aspiring actress who wouldn’t hurt a fly. If you were hip to the concept until that last sentence, you’re not alone. The monster-turned-thespian backbone of the story is so horribly from left field and so ill-considered that the film never recovers. Instead it throws one lame-ass pop culture joke at the screen after another while frantically counting down the clock with hyperactive shtick.

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Ghost Town

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Ghost Town looks like a pretty obvious stinker with a goofy, hackneyed premise straight out of the 1940s, but it's really a shiny little gem, a sharply funny and very modern spin on timeworn supernatural comedies. As misanthropic dentist Bertram Pincus, the brilliant Ricky Gervais is allowed to exercise his singular gift for petty churlishness, a bite that lifts the movie miles above the standard studio fare. Bertram is a callow, fussy little shit, refusing to hold elevator doors, shunning eye contact, and recoiling at the most basic inquiries on a hospital questionnaire, as he checks in for a minor but embarrassing surgery. He wakes to find the staff lawyer and his ditzy, tanned-in-a-can-young surgeon (SNL’s gawky marvel Kristen Wiig) informing him that he died (technically) on the table for seven minutes, though he signed a release form and therefore can’t sue them. The tidbit doesn’t sit well with him, nor does the fact he can suddenly see dead people, and no, he doesn’t spot Bruce Willis, but he does see a smarmy Greg Kinnear. Turns out these sad spirits are still hanging around Manhattan to wrap up unresolved personal business. Kinnear’s Frank was a philandering husband while alive, but now he wants to look after his widow (Tea Leoni) from beyond, and he enlists Bertram to break up her impending marriage to a twit.

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Lakeview Terrace

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Writer-director Neil Labute made his name with scabrous satires of sexual politics, wherein men and women not only can’t be friends, but are sworn enemies. Here he turns his venom towards race relations, though the poison goes down slightly easier thanks to the standard-thriller coating it’s given. Samuel L. Jackson dominates the action as Abel Turner, a widowed veteran L.A. cop vainly attempting to protect his kids by remaking the world around them in his image. He’s got rules: The first and most important one being “There are rules” and anyone who fails to observe this code will feel his wrath. Of course, nobody sent a memo to the progressive yuppie couple who moves into the scenic McMansion next door. They’re blissfully unaware that there’s a viper in this suburban Eden, or that the simple nature of their relationship — she’s black, he’s white — is enough to set Abel off on a dangerous path. At first hubby Chris (Patrick Wilson) tries to make nice, though his attempts are met with subtle scorn, minor threats and taunts about “stealing brown sugar” and other less-than-friendly jibes. Wife Lisa (Kerry Washington) is less forgiving, but lets hubby do it his way, at least until the petty squabbles over flood lights and landscaping get very ugly.

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Helter Skelter

Gifted director Roman Polanski humanized in new doc

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Mention Roman Polanski in mixed company and you’re just as likely to hear “child rapist” as you are “Oscar-winning director.” As with all things, the facts of the case are a bit more complicated than most realize. And it’s to Marina Zenovich’s considerable credit that her documentary approaches Polanski’s story as something other than a sordid morality tale of fallen genius or a sympathetic whitewash of a misunderstood artist. Instead, this doc makes no bones about the filmmaker’s crime, but rather puts it within the context of a life blindsided by both outlandish fortune and unspeakable tragedy. The result is a convincing and nuanced re-evaluation of a complex and controversial man. More importantly, however, Zenovich’s terrifically constructed film acts as a subversive and, at times, shocking exposé of judicial misconduct and media abuse. Through archival footage, cannily inserted film clips, and unbelievable access to still-living witnesses, the doc presents a convincing rationale for Polanski’s flight from the U.S.

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I Served the King of England

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Any attempt to infuse World War II-era atrocities with an ironic sense of whimsy is a risky gambit. Filled with affecting grace notes and gentle gags, this episodic tale of a young man’s dreams to become a hotel magnate is frustratingly superficial, unable to reconcile its past- and present-time storylines to deliver a message worth ruminating on. The film opens with aging Díte (Oldrich Kaiser) as he is released from prison. He has served 15 years for an unnamed crime and is banished to a dilapidated cottage in a deserted, wooded village. There, among other outcasts and misfits, he reflects back on the fickle finger of fate that pushed him through life. Bouncing between Díte’s growing desires for exiled Marcela (Zuzana Fialová), a budding intellectual and former nymphomaniac, and flashbacks to his youth, Menzel attempts to present a portrait of the man who was and the man who is. What we quickly discover, however, is that Young Díte (Ivan Barnev) is far more likable and interesting than his senior counterpart. A rail station hot-dog seller, this diminutive everyman has the remarkable ability to fall upward, capitalizing on unexpected and often ridiculous opportunities. And when the machines of Hitler’s war intrude, Díte is brought into the fold by his ultra-nationalistic fräulein (Julia Jentsch).

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Towelhead

Posted By on Wed, Sep 24, 2008 at 12:00 AM

There’s a difference between provocative and profound, and writer-director Alan Ball (American Beauty, Six Feet Under) seems to confuse the two. Towelhead, as its in-your-face title implies, sets out to shock the audience with its sexually frank and purposefully dark coming-of-age story. Presenting a scornful view of American suburbia, Ball’s graceless and contrived exercise in cynicism is also unexpectedly honest and, at times, quite moving. Based on the novel by Alicia Erian and set during the first Gulf War, Ball’s film follows 13-year-old Jasira (newcomer Summer Bishil), the mixed-race daughter of a neurotically selfish white mother (Maria Bello) who ships her off to live with her abusive Lebanese-immigrant father (Peter Macdissi). A NASA engineer, Rafit lives in a well-groomed Houston suburb surrounded by Bush-cheering rednecks. There’s an odious little boy and his predatory Army-reservist dad (Aaron Eckhart), an overprotective pregnant neighbor (Toni Colette), a black boyfriend and, of course, the relentless taunts of bigoted schoolmates. In other words, it’s another example of Ball’s obsessively bleak view of suburban decay. Caught in this exhaustive obstacle course of human ugliness, Jasira experiences the first pangs of sexual desire, encouraging Ball to launch a full-out assault on our puritanical sense of propriety. Porno magazines, masturbation, bloody tampons, used condoms and, tragically, rape are all stirred into a heady broth of claustrophobic melodrama.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

“I didn’t know there was a number 2?”

Posted on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 at 3:49 PM

Out and about today I happened upon another film crew taking in the sights around Detroit. At Woodward and Congress, just up from "the fist" and "the spirit" and just south of Campus Martius Park filming was underway in a little diner for the third installment of The Butterfly Effect....

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Operation Filmmaker

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

It’s pretty clear that Nina Davenport didn’t set out to make the documentary she ended up with. Operation Filmmaker was to be the triumphant tale of a 25-year-old Iraqi film student plucked from the war zone by benevolent artists and given a chance to fulfill his dreams of becoming a devoted student of cinema. Instead, West Bloomfield native Nina Davenport was pulled into an emotional rollercoaster ride of liberal guilt, American arrogance and personal manipulation as her camera-ready subject reveals himself to be a manipulative and selfish jerk. Inspired by an appearance on an MTV documentary about the bombing of Baghdad’s only film school, actor Liev Schreiber decides to “rescue” aspiring filmmaker Muthana Mohmad by making him a production assistant on his film. Schreiber’s hope was to give the young Iraqi the once-in-a-lifetime experience of working on an American production. Unfortunately, what starts as the portrait of a fresh-faced hopeful quickly turns into a cautionary tale of cross-cultural disconnection. It turns out that Muthana is lazy, self-centered and dishonest. He misses deadlines, reneges on promises, mismanages his money, and repeatedly depends on others to bail him out.

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Burn After Reading

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Burn After Reading is a farce, but bleak, casually cruel and existential. John Malkovich is Osborne Cox, a mid-level CIA desk jock forcibly ejected from the endless hallways of bureaucracy. His relative irrelevance is lost on the nitwits at Hardbodies gym, who find a rough draft of Ozzie’s memoir on the locker room floor, and confuse it for major trade secrets. For middle-aged trainer Linda Litzke (the incomparable Frances McDormand), who sees this dossier as the leverage she needs to pay for the extensive lipo and fanny lift she so desperately wants. She enlists her airhead buddy Chad (Brad Pitt) to help her shop the disc to the highest bidder, and they begin poking their noses into places two people this dim should never dare. Meanwhile Ozzie is getting pinched on the home front by his cheating wife Katie (Tilda Swinton), who’s busy getting it on with her Michael Clayton co-star George Clooney, a womanizing federal marshal without a clue, even while dating Linda on the side and getting tailed by mystery men. The supporting cast is equally stocked with great character actors, but the mayhem occasionally turns brutal, and undeserving characters meet nasty ends, which undercuts the comedic flow.

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The Women

Posted By on Wed, Sep 17, 2008 at 12:00 AM

What use do we have for a remake of 1939’s "The Women"? Despite the careful updating from writer-director Diane English, there’s something quaintly old-fashioned about this film, the story of beloved society matron Mary Haines (Meg Ryan) discovering that her high-powered husband is having a fling with the sultry Crystal Allen (Eva Mendes), who works at a department store perfume counter. Mary’s tight circle of friends rally around her, with the queen bee of their well-heeled hive, the ferociously opinionated Sylvie Fowler (Annette Bening), taking charge. But when it comes to squeezing these new women into the restrictive mindset of their 1930s grandmothers, English is less than successful. English wants to elevate the conversation about women’s lives using a mass-media form that has become all about the lowest common denominator, and the film becomes a toothless talkfest with too little to say.

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