Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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

In creating a fable about the Holocaust this question rises: Is this a topic that really needs further simplification? With The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, it’s hard to figure out just what the movie thinks it’s offering beyond the simple conclusion that Hitler and the Holocaust represent humankind at its worst. The story is told from the viewpoint of 8-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the son of a Nazi commander (David Thewlis) assigned to run Auschwitz. Sheltered from the brutal realities of his father’s position, lonely Bruno believes that their beautiful country manor sits beside a strange “farm.” Until one day he sneaks out and encounters Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a scrawny boy on the other side of an electrified fence. Meanwhile, back at home, Bruno’s mother (Vera Farminga) discovers the awful scope of what’s going on at the camp and slowly descends into depression, while Bruno’s older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) turns her schoolgirl crush for a handsome soldier into a full-blooded embrace of Nazi fascism. Based on a children’s novel by John Boyne (who also scripted), it’s unlikely that parents will drag their kids to this self-described fable.

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Days and Clouds

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

Elsa (Margherita Buy) has always relied upon her even-keeled husband Michele (Antonio Albanese) to chart a steady course for their family. As she finishes the requirements for a long-deferred art history degree, he throws an extravagant surprise party in their sizable Genoa apartment, where giddy well-wishers heap praise on her accomplishments. With a few quick strokes, Italian filmmaker Silvio Soldini paints Elsa and Michele as prosperous and generous, worldly and sophisticated. They’re none too pleased that only daughter Alice (Alba Rohrwacher) has forgone college to open a restaurant, and has moved in with her working-class boyfriend. That solid self-image begins to crack the morning after the party, when Michele confesses that he’s been out of work for two months; squeezed out of the shipping company he founded 20 years ago. Horrified by his lies, Elsa nonetheless helps him deceive their friends, even as she fears they’ll go broke before Michele finds another job. They also choose not to tell Alice, picking fights with her rather than admitting to any failures. The resigned Elsa and hesitant Michele begin to restructure, but even as they confront a steep financial decline, they can’t grasp the idea of diminished expectations.

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I’ve Loved You So Long

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

The elegant Kristen Scott Thomas is Juliette, a former doctor newly released after a lengthy stay in prison for an unspeakable crime. The details of that crime get doled out cautiously, like tiny nibbles on a scone over a long brunch, but, in true French fashion, the film is about feeling and not incident. Juliette’s younger sister Lea (Elsa Zylberstein) is eager to welcome home the woman she no longer knows but has idealized and feared for many years. Her family is a little less enthused, from her reticent husband (Serge Hazanavicius) to her adorable adopted Vietnamese daughters, who don’t know quite what to make of their sullen “auntie.” She’s not sure what to make of herself, so beaten down and shameful from isolation she can’t even begin to understand what feeling normal again would mean, or if she has a right to such a thing. But try as she might to punish herself, life’s tiny pleasures start to erode her walls, a cup of coffee, a relaxing swim, the energy of her little nieces, and the smiles of men who notice her beautiful features even if she’s forgotten her own face.

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My Name is Bruce

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

The always-game star directs himself as a loutish, self-centered B-movie actor named Bruce Campbell, doomed to keep grinding out schlock monster movies just to maintain his small fame, his booze supply and his hefty alimony payments. In a plot that’s equal parts Three Amigos and Scooby Doo, the professional faker gets enlisted to do battle with a real ghoul, the vengeful ancient Chinese spirit Guan-Di, who’s also the patron saint of bean curd. After some horny Goth teens disrupt his resting place, the goofy, glow-eyed specter begins twirling his long white mustache and hacking heads off residents of a remote mining town, which is, of course, the perfect milieu for redneck gags, Asian stereotypes and an embarrassing Brokeback Mountain joke. Unfortunately, this intentionally crummy movie spoofing even lamer ones, slyly lampooning the whole notion of spoofs, is too much for even Campbell to pull off.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

5 The Hard Way

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

On Aug. 15 of this year, while opening for Blue Oyster Cult at Hart Plaza with his band Spitting Nickels, 43-year-old guitarist Tom Furtaw collapsed onstage and passed away. It's with no small amount of pleasure (and, admittedly, a little relief) that we can say 5 The Hard Way is a fine example of Motor City blues rock.

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Role Models

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

Wiseass Danny (Paul Rudd) and amiable dude Wheeler (Seann William Scott) have a peculiarly demeaning job — they cruise around in a monster truck peddling an antifreeze-colored energy drink to middle schoolers; Wheeler wears a furry costume while Danny delivers the bullshit pitch. The dead-end gig is turning Danny into a royal jerk, and when his long-suffering girlfriend (lovely Elizabeth Banks) dumps him, it leads to a major road-rage blowout with Wheeler stuck in the shotgun slot. This tantrum earns the guys 150 hours apiece of community service, reluctantly served as youth mentors. They’re quickly saddled with a hilarious pair of problem kids, pint-sized potty-mouth Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson) and fantasy-obsessed dorkling Augie, in another standout geek performance by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad). It’s not freshest premise, but it’s enough for these funny pros to work, smuggling very smart stuff into a dumb comedy, Trojan horse-style. Wain co-scripted Role Models with Rudd, and what could’ve been another wincing exercise in cuteness (Daddy Day Camp, we’re gazing at you) is punched up with nudity, a dash of raunch and clever punch lines about Marvin Hamlisch, Fellini and live-action role playing.

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Soul Men

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

And though it’s bound to be a mere footnote in Isaac Hayes' and Bernie Mac's distinguished careers, Soul Men ain’t a bad way for either to go out, fondly satirizing the soul music Hayes embodied with one of Mac’s better screen performances. And in Samuel L. Jackson, Mac has a perfectly matched co-star, someone with an equally intense glare, a commanding voice and a gift for delivering profanity as poetry. As an estranged and embittered R&B duo back on the road for one last hurrah, each performer is allowed to unleash the full power of his comedic fury. Unfortunately, limp pacing and a clumsily deployed supporting cast only get in the way.

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Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa

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

This animated sequel quickly picks up where the other Madagascar left off. The four animals — lion Alex (Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) — who were raised in captivity and pampered in a New York zoo all their lives, are still stranded in the wild and want to go home. With the help of cross-dressing, egomaniacal King Julien (Sacha Baron Cohen in full off-the-hook mode), a pair of uppity monkeys and some straight-talking penguins, the stars board a broken-down plane destined for New York City. The doomed trip ends with a crash-landing in Africa, where the foursome quickly adapts to its new surroundings: lush green fields filled with other lions, zebras, giraffes and hippos. For the first time, the formerly caged critters experience freedom and the joys of frolicking with their own kind — as long as they stay on the reserve.

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The boy looked at Patti

New film documents a rock 'n' roll matriarch, from her home in Detroit and beyond

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

Fashion photographer Steven Sebring met Smith 11 years ago, during a photo session, and approached her with the idea of a personal documentary. Smith agreed, and the documentarian was given extraordinary access to his subject for more than a decade. Smith narrates the film herself — both in verse and plain speaking — and her biggest fans will find much here to love. Early in the film, we’re treated to footage of her old home in Grosse Pointe, as well as a visit to late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith’s grave. The Smith’s children — Jackson and Jesse — figure predominantly throughout the film, both as young children and young adults. There’s also moving footage of Smith with her seldom-seen, now-deceased parents at their family home in New Jersey. And there are images, as well as footage, of Smith with iconic friends, from the great (Dylan, Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Phillip Glass) to the questionable (Ralph Nader, Red Hot Chili Pepper asshole Flea). And remembrances of Burroughs at the Chelsea Hotel are hilarious. But one wishes that Sebring had concentrated more on Smith’s humorous and humanistic side, like those mentioned above, and less on the pretentiousness. Another major complaint is that while trying to show that Smith is more than a rock star, the director (and perhaps Smith herself) short changes the importance of Patti the rock ’n’ roll star. Smith is one of the greatest rock performers this reviewer ever saw during her mid-’70s heyday. While there’s no footage of her as the young performing wildcat, there are scenes (perhaps not enough, though) of some more recent and overwhelming performances in various parts of the world.

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Clint Puts "Gran Torino" on a Trailer

Posted on Fri, Nov 7, 2008 at 2:11 PM

This past summer, Clint "Dirty Harry", "The Man with No Name" Eastwood was in town shooting a little film called "Gran Torino". Check out the trailer! As your good pal Corey Hall, Metro Times reviewer and "First Friday Film Forum" co-host, says it looks like "Grumpy Old Men" meets "The...

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