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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Filth and Wisdom

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

First-time director Madonna's larger-than-life aura pervades this indie project. A ballet dancer who spends more time in class than on a stage, Holly (Holly Weston) finds work as a stripper until that elusive big break comes. Her best scenes are extended dance sequences. Obsessed with helping starving children in Africa, Juliette (Vicky McClure) has left her posh family to work at a pharmacy. A child of privilege with serious daddy issues, Juliette is eager to give herself over to suffering. Weston and McClure come off as lightweight Factory girls compared to Eugene Hutz (Everything is Illuminated), the force of nature who makes Filth and Wisdom more than just Madonna’s home movie. His Andrly Krystiyan is a multitasker, self-promoter and altruistic narcissist, ruefully delivering Her Madjesty’s philosophical musings, offering ritualized domination by appointment only, and tending to a blind poet.

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Pride and Glory

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A solidly made but relentlessly bleak cop drama loaded with strong performances and tightly controlled bursts of intensity, this film’s also pretty daunting, with a creeping sense of doom as inevitable as nightfall. It trudges a familiar beat: corrupt big city cops, who fight, and scream and steal and abuse their livers in dingy barrooms decorated with faded tinsel shamrocks. Ed Norton’s casually — that’s predictably — brilliant as Detective Ray Tierney, the most scarred but noble member of the bunch, forced out of self-imposed semi-exile and pushed back into the game by a shadowy drug den shootout that leaves four cops dead. Older brother Francis Jr. (Noah Emmerich) is their commanding officer, a good guy who refuses to believe what he knows is the dirty secret behind the mysterious slayings, while over-proud papa Francis Tiereny Sr. (Jon Voight) tries to drink his way through any obstacle. Colin Farrell does his trademark loose-cannon shtick as Jimmy, the Tierney clan’s unhinged fuck-up brother-in-law. Director Gavin O’Connor shoots everything for optimum mid-winter gloom, and knows when to clamp down for one of his star actor’s many obscenity-laced, saliva-flinging tirades. These guys are giving it their best shot, but there’s nothing here we haven’t seen them do before — and no willful act can make this story any less predictable.

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Perfect union

Jonathan Demme goes vérité, coaxes out great performances in new film

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Director Jonathan Demme has traded longtime collaborator Tak Fujimoto for cinematographer Declan Quinn, taking a roving hand-held cinéma vérité approach that not only makes you feel embedded in this Connecticut wedding but reveals keenly observed moments. Sprung from rehab for the weekend, Kym (Anne Hathaway) heads home to attend her sister’s (Mad Men’s Rosemarie DeWitt) wedding. As you’d guess, the sibs love each despite tons of baggage, not the least of which is Kym’s history of addiction. Dad (Bill Irwin) worries and frets while trying to keep everyone happy for the big day. Their divorced mom (Debra Winger) stays away as much as humanly possible. Needless to say, a past family tragedy looms in the shadows, ready to emotionally blindside everyone. From visits to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting (where she spies the best man) to a self-obsessed rehearsal dinner toast, Kym’s personal dramas intrude on every corner of the wedding. She’s abrasive, petulant, funny and, miraculously, sympathetic.

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Thinking outside the flood

The poet as witness to disaster

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

In 1966, poet, novelist, essayist and National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu escaped Romania's communist regime. He became a U.S. citizen in 1981. In his poetry, those experiences are still heavy and palpable — a portable exile that he carries with him.His latest collection, Jealous Witness, is mostly about his...

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Detroit noir

Handsome coffee-table book melds photography and classic Estleman passages

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Estleman fans waiting for an Amos Walker mystery to hit the big screen will have to console themselves with Amos Walker's Detroit, a handsome coffee-table book and lovely pictorial of the Poletown P.I.'s stomping grounds. Published locally by Wayne State University Press and photographed by Michigan's Monte Nagler — with...

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Ashes of Time Redux

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

This absurdly gorgeous fantasia looks as if it was shot through a fine silk scarf. And the calmer moments are infused with glorious shafts of light. The film’s visual excess and narrative obscurity divided critics upon its 1994 release — many found it exceedingly precious and willfully obtuse, and some simply didn’t know what to make of it. Now, devoted fans and curious film lovers alike get to see what they’ve been missing; this revised and remastered print comes complete with new music by Yo Yo Ma, additional scenes and digitally enhanced color that makes the imagery even more otherworldly. The late Leslie Cheung leads a stellar cast of Hong Kong stalwarts. He plays Ouyang Feng, a martial arts master who recalls times he recruited hired killers for customers (who’d manage to find him at his lonesome desert outpost). Murong Yang (Brigitte Lin) commissioned him to kill the man who jilted his beloved sister, who herself orders a hit on her cruelly possessive brother. Another thread involves a traveling swordsman with fading eyesight (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) who wants to see the peach blossoms once more before he goes blind, but accepts what’s basically a suicide mission. Ouyang himself has a hidden heartache involving the exquisite porcelain features of the great Maggie Cheung. All characters suffer from lovesickness and are willing to go to great extremes to blot out their hurtful memories, no matter what the cost.

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Eminem grows up

Detroit’s biggest and most maligned star export comes clean, sort of

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

My former colleague Dave DiMartino interviewed Eminem for Yahoo! Music at the height of the artist's Slim Shady superstardom. When asked what his impressions were, DiMartino said Marshall Mathers — because that's who he interviewed — was "a super nice guy. I really liked him. I also felt a little...

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Beat around the Bush

Sir Stone eschews muckraking in a fey grasp at the lame-duck prez

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

By any yardstick, our soon-to-leave-office leader has been an unmitigated disaster. How then does Stone neglect to include his Air National Guard years (or all of Vietnam, for that matter), the 2000 election fight, the 9/11 attacks, the failures during hurricane Katrina, the 2004 election, or even Terry Schiavo’s right-to-die battle? Amazingly, Stone misses the moments that matter. Part of the problem is screenwriter Stanley Weiser’s decision to end the film before W’s second term begins. To meet the upcoming presidential election deadline, the choice makes sense but dramatically it’s unsupportable, robbing the film of any meaningful conclusion. It’s a blatant triumph of commerce over art. Sure, if Stone had focused the story on specific character-defining moments to make some deeper point about Bush’s evolution, the approach could be justified. Unfortunately, the film really has no point. It’s a sketchy biography filled with simplistic Freudian psychology, a few subtly satirical flourishes and an over-reliance on knowledge of current history. Viewed 50 years from now and knowing little of his presidency, it would be hard to contextualize W in any meaningful way. Despite these shortcomings, the cast is a very good at evoking their real-world counterparts. But it’s Josh Brolin as W who demonstrates his range by sidestepping simple mimicry of Bush’s mannerisms to create a flesh-and-blood character. You could quibble that he misses W’s entitled sense of smugness, but everything else’s right and true. It’s a terrific performance that holds the disjointed picture together.

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Sex Drive

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Fresh-faced Josh Zuckerman is Ian, the sweetly hapless virginal teen who makes what appears to be a love connection online and conspires to “borrow” his jerky older brother’s cherry ’69 GTO Judge and head to Knoxville for some nookie. His efforts are goaded by hyper-cocky pal Lance, played with breakout chutzpah by newcomer Clark Duke. The road trip is filled out by tough, Hot Topic refugee Felicia (Amanda Crew), whom Ian secretly has the major hots for but is too much of a weenie to “spoil the friendship.” Wanna bet that wacky open road high jinks ensue? Yup.

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What Just Happened

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Based on producer Art Linson’s insider memoir, "What Just Happened" features one of Robert De Niro's more interesting recent turns, playing a high-powered but slowly sinking producer Ben, a guy overwhelmed by diva directors, petulant actors, heartless corporate masters, tasteless foreign financiers and an ex-wife who can’t forgive him his excesses in the light of all this. The film follows Ben on a particularly harried week. With a Bluetooth attached, he’s driving around Los Angeles in his SUV, juggling multiple projects that are verging on collapse while his home life’s in total ruin. He’s got a gritty indie crime drama that stars Sean Penn (who plays himself here) and is directed by childishly temperamental Jeremy (Michael Wincott), who refuses to re-cut the film’s downer ending. When the ball-busting studio chief (Catherine Keener) demands that violent bits get trimmed, Jeremy throws a table-pounding tantrum, but Ben’s the one who gets hammered. Worse, he’s got a big-budget action flick ready to roll, except that its star Bruce Willis (also as himself) angrily refuses to shave off his ZZ Top-thick beard, citing “artistic integrity.” Ultimately the weight of the movie rests on De Niro’s broad, sagging shoulders. But his gloomy presence drags scenes down and you can’t believe he’d ever take this kind of crap from anyone.

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