Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let the Right One In

Posted By on Wed, Jan 21, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Living in a drab working-class suburb of Stockholm with his neurotic mother, Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a fragile, 12-year-old loner who fantasizes about getting revenge on the cruel bullies who torment him daily at school. One cold snowy night in the courtyard outside his apartment he meets doe-eyed Eli (Lina Leandersson), the strange pallid girl who has moved in next door. She smells funny, her stomach gurgles painfully and she seems immune to cold. Still, Oskar has found a friend, one with the confidence he lacks. Too bad she’s a vampire. Worse, Eli’s a vampire who takes no joy in her need to feed. Aching loneliness and isolation bind the two together as Eli teaches Oskar to defend himself, and Oskar seems to accept Eli for who she is. In the end, each saves the other in acts of shocking and beautiful brutality. Is it true love or an unholy union? The final moments feel hopeful but hint that Oskar may be just be another lonely boy lured into Eli’s ageless fight to survive. Alfredson’s direction is effectively stark and understated, heightening the eeriness. Each act of violence carries with it the jolt of stumbling across it as a helpless bystander.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

The cult of Snuggie

Posted By on Fri, Jan 16, 2009 at 2:58 PM

As we retreat inside for the winter each year, huddling around a nice warm television, there always seems to be one low-budget commercial for mail-order junk that bedevils us night after night. Over the years, we thought we'd seen it all: Clappers, ShamWows, Flowbees, Ginsu knives and Aqua Globes. What...

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Wrestler

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Rourke’s astonishing turn as Randy “The Ram” Robinson is one of those Halley’s Comet moments, when an actor and role become so intrinsically and profoundly linked that the line between reality and fiction is all but erased. Washed up and living in a trailer in New Jersey (when he’s not locked out for missing the rent), Randy Robinson is a former golden-maned wrestling star who desperately clings to the tatters of his former fame. Now he’s working a stock job at the local grocery, living for the weekends where he earns a few bucks as the star has-been at the bottom of the wrestling circuit. He’s a charming but self-destructive loser that lives in the margins, estranged from his lesbian daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) and harboring a crush on an aging stripper (the glorious Marisa Tomei) that’d be considered stalking in any other context. After a nauseatingly violent match, Randy suffers a massive coronary which drives him to retire from the ring, but the real world’s unforgiving of screw-ups and Ram is ill-equipped for the change. No longer able to justify his masochism with the roar of the crowd, he accepts that his impulses are habitually self-destructive and heads back to the ring, where, despite its profound risks, he feels safe from the casual cruelities of the world.

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Bride Wars

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The battling brides at the heart of this matrimonial dramedy aren’t grown-up mean girls, but the kind of codependent best friends whose personality ping-pong would drive a long-running sitcom. Control-freak corporate attorney Liv Lerner (Kate Hudson) and pushover elementary school teacher Emma Allen (Anne Hathaway) have little in common, outside of an obsession with all things bridal and an unwavering devotion to each other. The Bride Wars commence when these all important belief systems suddenly come into conflict with each other.

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The Unborn

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Ann Arbor native David S. Goyer specializes in comic book and horror scripts, with big hits (The Dark Knight) and big misses (Jumper), but as a director he’s 0 for 4, with this latest effort being the rare movie that can rightfully be called an abortion. It’s also rare in its use of Jewish folklore as a basis for horror — aside from the Golem, there aren’t many examples — but in every other respect it hews so closely to horror flick orthodoxy that it feels glued and assembled from pre-molded parts. Odette Yustman plays Casey, who’s babysitting a creepy little kid with an oversized melon, who promptly freaks out, hits her in the face with a mirror and declares: “Jumby wants to be born now.” This assault leaves Casey with a cool and Bowie-like different colored eye, but also sends her on a supernatural scavenger hunt, picking up clues about what’s bedeviling her. It turns out that “Jumby” is the haunted spirit of her unborn twin, possessed by a malevolent Hebrew demon called a Dybbuk, which was summoned by Nazi geneticists at Auschwitz and manifested in modern Chicago due to a family curse, now attempting to use Casey as a portal to the realm of the living. Um ...

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Revolutionary Road

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Sam Mendes adapts Richard Yates incendiary 1961 novel, re-teaming Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as Frank and April Wheeler, the seemingly quintessential young ’50s couple, golden and perfect in all ways except those that matter; there’s a glittering facade rotting from within. We get a brief, intoxicating glimpse of their meeting at a party, where they are turned on by each other’s smarts and mystery, then flash forward to the claustrophobic, volatile marriage in which they’ve found themselves trapped. The once-adventurous Frank is now a white-collar wage slave, and April wants something else, something better, but in her own desperate, foolish hope she’s no closer to the answers than he is. The true standout is Michael Shannon, as Bates’ intense son. He’s fresh from “the loony bin,” though his only malady appears to be a gift for blunt truths, which he blurts with every sentence.

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Lola Montès

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Max Ophüls’ overstuffed, magnificently plumed creature Lola (Martine Carol) is a self-made creature, an alluring Spanish dancer known more for her love affairs and ability to stir controversy than for her artistic abilities. Ophüls (Letter from an Unknown Woman) envisions her last act as the star attraction of the Mammoth Circus, a regal yet approachable — for a fee — sideshow freak. The booming ringmaster (Peter Ustinov) conducts the show, a series of tableaux in which traditional circus acts illustrate Lola’s infamous European conquests. The effect is both beautiful and bizarre, like the replicas of her head they use to collect coins from the audience. With the ease of a postmodernist, Ophüls moves from presenting the garish spectacle to the backstage concerns of the performers to a series of flashbacks that sometimes contradicts, and other times illuminates, the opulent farce this carny barker in fancy dress has fabricated.

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Thug life

Despite some excellent acting and drama, Notorious biopic whitewashes Biggie Small’s gangsta life and death

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

One of the film’s producers is Notorious B.I.G.'s mother, Voletta Wallace (played by the always excellent Angela Bassett); another is his manager. Sean “Puffy” Combs (played by Derek Luke) is its executive producer. So Notorious certainly has its, um, point of view (even if one of the funniest lines is when Voletta asks her son, “What kind of grown-ass man calls himself ‘Puffy’?”). Wallace is portrayed as lovable, almost a victim of circumstance — even when he’s selling crack to a pregnant addict. We don’t, for instance, see his much-reported alleged violent turn against autograph-seeking fans toward the end of his life. The Combs character, meanwhile, displays none of the arrogance or narcissism of which we all know he’s capable. In fact, he’s portrayed here as a totally stand-up guy. Hell, Biggie’s own son, 12-year-old Christopher (“CJ”) Wallace Jr., plays the dad he didn’t actually know in real life, for god’s sakes (and, in a slightly more ghoulish mode, raps with his father on the soundtrack album — shades of Hank Williams Jr.). Sean Ringgold portrays Suge Knight as a shadowy figure; he’s seen as evil, as well he probably should be, but both he and Shakur are pretty one-dimensional in that evil. And because no one has been charged, let alone convicted, in the murders of Wallace and Shakur, it’s hard to know who to believe. A filmmaker could make a long movie about the various conspiracies surrounding those deaths alone, a la Oliver Stone’s JFK.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Second to none?

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 2:42 PM

When Kwame a River, the show out at Second City-Novi, opened Dec. 31, local reviewers were understandably enthusiastic. Second City’s reputation for local topical comedy got a boost from the amusing spoof of Kwame Kilpatrick and the text-message scandal. But, lost somewhere in the glowing coverage, was the fact that...

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Friday, January 9, 2009

ALL HAIL THE PIMPAGE!

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 11:11 AM

It's 2009, a year if there ever was one about pimpin'. Pimpin' and hookin'. We're all forced to do either one or the other, if you think about it. See, to succeed in our hastily rotting culture one must either pimp oneself or manipulate others to get what one wants....

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