Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Condensed Milk

Van Sant and Penn avoid sentimentality and rouse cross-cultural folk

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Gus Van Sant's unabashed Hollywood-style biopic of Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), chronicles the last San Francisco gay activist's last eight years. In 1978, Milk became the first openly gay politician to be elected to public office in California. The film lays out Harvey’s political awakening, as he evolves from casual business owner to righteous citizen to the unofficial Mayor of Castro Street. Finally, Milk is elected a board supervisor, where his position and charisma make him the perfect foil for the religious right’s McCarthy-like assaults on the gay and lesbian community. Pulling it all together is Sean Penn’s spectacularly infectious performance: brave, provocative, cuddly and cunning in equal measure. The rest of the cast is similarly terrific, with Alison Pill as Harvey’s lesbian campaign manager, James Franco as his easygoing and, possibly, one true love, and Josh Brolin once again impressing as Dan White, the troubled colleague who eventually assassinated Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.

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Bolt

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A canine TV action star, Bolt (a vocally spry John Travolta) lives in a studio-created reality that has lead him to believe he’s truly a canine superhero, vigilantly protecting his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus), from the evil Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). The poor pup’s so fooled by the world he lives in, so committed to his job, that he’s incapable of relaxing or even enjoying a casual ball toss. Worse, the show’s cats are in on the secret, tormenting Bolt with late night visits to his trailer. Through a series of mishaps, Bolt ends up shipped to New York, convinced Penny has been kidnapped. Stranded in the real world, he slowly realizes that none of his super powers is real. Still, his mission’s clear: to find the little girl he loves. Teamed with a cynical alley cat named Mittens (Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman) and Rhino, a hilarious hamster-in-a-ball (Mark Walton), he struggles on a cross-country trek to Hollywood to reunite with Penny.

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Australia

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrman’s attempt at an Outback Gone With the Wind or Casablanca can’t decide whether it’s a rousing romantic Western or a brazenly manipulative World War II love story, so it inelegantly jams the two together. Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, an uptight English woman in Australia to search for her uncommunicative husband, convinced that he succumbed to the siren song of loose aboriginal woman. Instead, she discovers that he has been killed and his ranch is in danger of falling into hands of an unscrupulous cattle baron (Brian Brown) and his unsavory lackeys. Desperate to keep her husband’s land, Ashley teams up with the local Drover (Hugh Jackman) and a mystical half-aboriginal boy named Nullah (Brandon Walters) to lead a cattle drive across the desert to Darwin, where the livestock will be sold to feed American sailors. Inevitably, Jackman and Kidman fall in love and Nullah becomes their surrogate kid. Everything’s hunky-dory until old enemies come looking for revenge and the Japanese bomb Darwin. Where the first half brilliantly succeeds with stunning visuals, entertaining twists on Western genre conventions and focused conflict, the second half clumsily stumbles through a formulaic war-torn melodrama where lovers are separated, children are in danger and enemies attack with illogical rage. And, at 170 minutes, Luhrman’s sprawling tale is too damn long, going half an hour beyond the story’s requirements.

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A Christmas Tale

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The Vuillard family's crisis comes at Christmas, when the matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) receives dire news: Diagnosed with the same rare strain of leukemia that killed her eldest son, Junon now looks to her children for a bone marrow donor, aware that the treatment offers potentially lethal side effects. This familiar plotline — a family crisis during the holidays — is turned on its ear by French filmmaker Arnaud Desplechin, who plays tragedy like screwball comedy, and treats humorous moments with deadly seriousness.

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The Grocer’s Son

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

A box-office sensation in France, Eric Guirado’s modest and patient portrait of a sullen and selfish young city slicker who learns to care for others after heading to the countryside follows a fairly predictable route but benefits from small grace notes and an understated charm. Still, given The Grocer’s Son’s incredible success, one has to wonder how deep Parisian disconnection runs. After his father (Daniel Duval) suffers a heart attack, ne’er-do-well son Antoine (Nicolas Cazalé) is emotionally blackmailed by his mother to leave his cramped city apartment and head to rural Provence to drive the family grocery van, delivering goods to — surprise, surprise — a rogues’ gallery of eccentrics and wise but weird old fogies. Along for the trip home is his next-door neighbor Claire (Clotilde Hesme), who hopes that time away from the city will give her the mental space she needs to study for her university entrance exams. Antoine, of course, harbors a secret crush.

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Twilight

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Bella (Kristen Stewart) is smitten with the magnetic, aloof Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), not realizing this smart, solitary heroine realizes that her beloved bad boy is actually a vampire. Screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg makes the rainy small town of Forks, Wash., into a viable community instead of just a misty backdrop. Director Catherine Hardwick incorporates action and suspense while keeping the story grounded in two key settings: the high school and the dense surrounding woods. The supernatural elements aside, Twilight is a Pretty in Pink romance about the outsider girl and unattainable boy set in an evergreen Pacific Northwest, and Hardwick never forgets the squealing teens who’ve made Meyer’s books so successful.

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Four Christmases

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

From their home base of San Francisco, where an inconvenient fog has spoiled their plans for a flight to Fiji, Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) hit the road in their Land Rover for four Christmases in one day, driven by guilt and obligation. The desert ranch house where Brad’s macho father Howard (Robert Duvall) raised his bullying, wrestler brothers Denver (Jon Favreau) and Dallas (Tim McGraw) couldn’t be further from the airy retreat in Marin his mother Paula (Sissy Spacek) calls home. Likewise, the cougar den overseen by Kate’s mother Marilyn (Mary Steenburgen) is stripped of any trappings of a commercial Christmas, while the traditional home of her father Creighton (Jon Voight) is the model of a winter wonderland. But nothing quite prepares the shaky couple for the barn-like revival hall where Pastor Phil (Dwight Yoakam) stages a rousing nativity play, and Brad takes on the role of the modest Joseph like he’s starring in a one-man Jesus Christ Superstar.

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Synecdoche, New York

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

As far as ambitious, poetic and brilliant failures go, Kaufman’s directorial debut is singular in its attempt to double down on the meta-narrative. A theatrical director in Schenectady, N.Y., hypochondriac Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is obsessed with decay. Whether it’s his opening pronouncement (“I think I’m dying”), his fading marriage or his faltering career, he’s a sad sack who recognizes the depths of his failings but is unable to confront them directly. He shuffles between doctors, stages an inspired production of Death of a Salesman, and even examines his daughter’s stool for blood — all in an attempt to validate his grim worldview. Then, in a classic example of good news-bad news, Caden wins a MacArthur ‘genius’ grant soon after his wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him. He responds by trying to create a play that’ll capture his entire life experience, going so far as to build an ever-morphing replica of New York City inside a warehouse. Characters recursively play alter-egos of other characters creating a funhouse mirror of reality that endlessly reflects upon itself. Eventually, even the warehouse is replicated inside a smaller warehouse as Caden attempts to puzzle out every fleeting and fractal moment of his life. Emotionally draining and self-referential to the nth degree, Synecdoche, New York similarly burrows into itself, offering enough ideas to fill several movies but little narrative drive or emotional accessibility.

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Transporter 3

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Jason Statham is former British SAS badass-turned-topflight underground courier Frank Martin. He’s kicking back at his French villa with his fishing bud (Francois Bereland) when an unannounced visitor literally crashes his pad, driving right through the expensive stonework. Soon Frank’s forcibly enlisted in a trans-Europe caper involving the mob, government kickbacks, toxic waste and a politician’s daughter. Forgiving bad-movie lovers will enjoy her weird sexiness and savor her awkward delivery.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Terminator in a tux

Daniel Craig's blond Bond makes a quantum leap into bloody darkness

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2008 at 12:00 AM

The Bond of our youth is gone. Daniel Craig’s 007 is all lethal, all the time, a relentless killing machine. In the series’ first direct sequel, picking up shortly after Casino Royale’s bloody conclusion. Double-O is in a rage after the loss of his love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), and he opts to mask his pain the only way he knows how; wasting enemy goons and an expensive precision automobile. His boss, Judi Dench’s refined M, needs his head in the game because an enemy agent has put fear into the oaken halls of MI6. So it’s off on a global mole hunt, with stops in Italy, France, Haiti and La Paz, Bolivia, with enough jumps to give a GPS nervous fits. It’s all exciting as hell, but somehow the aggressively bleak paranoia of this new guy is already sooo Nov. 3, 2008.

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