Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Dick of tricks

Nixon as a key George W. parable

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

Richard Milhous Nixon was no ordinary politician; the notoriously secretive exec openly hated the press, yet in the aftermath of Watergate he was eager to get back in the spotlight and in need of a splashy way to do it. The opportunity for a political rehab came from the unlikeliest source in David Frost, a guy desperate for a bit of respectability. The film succeeds on good source material, adapted from Peter Morgan’s hit 2006 play, and features the original stage stars. Frank Langella nimbly nails Nixon in all his awkward, jowly, glowering menace, a man convinced of his great superiority, but completely uncomfortable in his own skin. Michael Sheen has the tough task of adding gravity to a seeming flyweight, but he’s brilliant, conveying a fierce intelligence in the eyes behind Frost’s cheesy showbiz twinkle.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still

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

It’s not Keanu’s fault. Really. As far as emotionless aliens go, he’s fine. Sure, actors such as Jeff Bridges (Starman) and David Bowie (The Man Who Fell to Earth) did something interesting with their extraterrestrial roles while Keanu … well, let’s say his performance here is a good exercise in minimalism. Still, you’ve got to envy the guy for cashing in on what was probably the easiest paycheck of his acting career. For an effects-laden blockbuster that’s supposed to save us from the onslaught of high-minded Oscar-ready releases, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a remarkably lethargic and intensely boneheaded remake of a sci-fi classic.

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Nothing Like the Holidays

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

For members of the Rodriguez family, no matter what they do beyond the walls of their home in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, their most important function is in relation to each other. It doesn’t matter that the children of Eduardo (Alfred Molina) and Anna (Elizabeth Peña) are grown and gone. As soon as they walk through that front door, they fall right back into their old roles. Mauricio Rodriguez (John Leguizamo) may be a successful Manhattan lawyer on a partnership track, and his wife Sarah (Debra Messing) may be managing a Wall Street hedge fund, but this power couple fears his traditional Puerto Rican mother Anna, who openly advocates for grandchildren, and doesn’t hide her disdain for the Jewish daughter-in-law who tries, in her own brittle way, to fit in.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Punisher: War Zone

Posted By on Wed, Dec 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

This film jumps right in with special forces-trained avenger Frank Castle (Ray Stevenson), who's on a one-man takedown of the vicious Rusotti crime family. After painting a warehouse red with splattered mobster guts, Frank gets inventive and tosses cocksure boss Billy “the Beaut” Russotti (Dominic West) into a spinning glass bottle recycler that turns his face into fleshy confetti. Once stitched back together (a la Frankenstein), madman Billy adjusts by slapping on a white snakeskin Nehru jacket and dubbing himself “Jigsaw,” then breaking out his even crazier brother James “Loony Bin Jim” (Doug Hutchinson), for a bit of payback. And both have practiced their embarrassing goombah accents by listening to Andrew Dice Clay albums.

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Hoochie Coochie Men

Hollywood's version of the Chess Records story combines the best and worst of the classic rock 'n' roll biopic

Posted By on Wed, Dec 10, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Based on the story of Chicago’s legendary Chess Records label, which gave rise to such monumental musical figures as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry and Etta James, and, despite a host of errors that will irritate the rock and blues historian, it still manages to capture the essence of the story it’s trying to tell. Adrien Brody portrays Leonard Chess, a Polish immigrant junkyard owner who opens Chi-town’s Macomba Lounge in 1949 and begins presenting local blues artists (although, historically speaking, the club was originally a jazz hang; both Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington played its stage early on). At the same time, Muddy Waters (played by a terrific Jeffrey Wright), after being recorded by folk music archivist Alan Lomax (Tony Bentley), leaves his sharecropping life in Mississippi to seek something better in the Windy City. The movie — as narrated by Cedric the Entertainer playing Chess songwriter, bassist and producer Willie Dixon — then tries to tell the entire Chess story in the remaining 90 minutes, which, among other things, probably explains the absence of such pivotal Chess figures as Bo Diddley if not the dramatic license it often takes with facts. But Wright definitely gets Waters, reflecting the man’s nobility and quiet dignity, despite his character flaws, throughout the film. Brody, meanwhile, is merely serviceable as Leonard Chess, although he looks absolutely nothing like the real man.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Bolly high

Lush visuals and a breakneck script drive this modern fable

Posted By on Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Danny Boyle’s gritty, multilingual fairytale is an intoxicating brew of exotic locales, harrowing thrills, affecting romance and social consciousness. Dickensian in spirit but structured like The Usual Suspects, Slumdog chronicles the incredible twists of fate that lead uneducated street rat Jamal (Dev Patel) from the garbage-strewn alleys of Mumbai to the set of India’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, one question away from the ultimate prize. Accused of cheating, barely educated Jamal is brutally interrogated by police the night before he’s to tackle the final question. As he explains to the inspector (Irfan Khan) how he knew the answers to each of the game show’s queries, the film launches into elaborate flashback sequences, each illustrating the alternately horrific and joyous circumstances that lead to the answers. Still, as unapologetically entertaining as Boyle’s winking tale about fate is, it brings with it recognition of India’s worst social ills.

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Beauty in Trouble

Posted By on Wed, Dec 3, 2008 at 12:00 AM

Several years after the 2002 flood that devastated Prague, Marcela (Ana Geislerova) and her family are still sorting through the rubble. With no insurance, their ramshackle house is in disrepair and full of mold, while her mechanic husband Jarda (Roman Luknar) has turned the adjacent garage into a chop shop for stolen cars. Fed up with her circumstances, Marcela decides to leave Jarda, but not before some volcanic, hair-pulling sex that leaves their embarrassed kids covering their ears in the next room. Cramped into an apartment with her passive mother Zdena (Jana Brejchova) and loathsome stepfather Risa (Jiri Schmitzer), Marcela doesn’t notice the distrust and resentment building in her children; she’s too busy reliving the upheavals of her own adolescent psychodrama. Meanwhile, Benes (Josef Abrham) also finds himself in the midst of an awkward homecoming. An émigré who lives in Italy, he’s received his Prague family home in a court settlement, only to find the current occupant is caring for her dying mother.

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