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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Gloriously bastardized

Quentin Tarantino’s latest grotesquerie of American pop art as influenced by Marvel Comics

Posted By on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The opening title card “Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France…” tells you nearly everything you need to know about Quentin Tarantino’s revisionist, alternate-dimension approach to the Holocaust. Shifting genres (horror, western, thriller, comedy), musical styles and languages (French, English, German Italian), QT curates all his totems into a camp-operatic stew that revels in its meta-fictional European affectations. Tarantino, working with a linear narrative for a change, juices things with two intriguing story lines. One concerns Brad Pitt’s Nazi-hunting “basterds”; the other’s a revenge plot by a beautiful Jewish survivor turned Parisian moviehouse owner. In fact, it’s the character of Shosanna (Mélanie Laurent) who articulates Tarantino’s cinematic fetishes: name-dropping German directors, plotting a filmic revenge and riffing on Hitler’s and Goebbels’ favorite flick, Metropolis, to announce their impending doom. Even the young Nazi sniper (and rising movie star) who courts Shosanna plays as the flipside to America’s real-life Audie Murphy. Despite failing to achieve epic greatness (or moral relevance), Inglourius Basterds is a helluva cinematic experience.

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Shorts

Posted By on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Robert Rodriguez brings his hypermanic pacing and homegrown special effects to the tale of a nerdy tween named Toe (Jimmy Bennet), who stumbles across a rainbow-colored wishing stone that, well, grants wishes. The magical rock is then passed from one kid to the next, unleashing all sorts of wacky unintended consequences. From castles and aliens to upright crocodiles and a giant dung beetle to the aforementioned booger monster, icky setbacks befall both kids and adults with Tex Avery-style aplomb. The paper-thin concept gets the director's usual energetic treatment, but never gets really funny.

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Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg

Posted By on Wed, Aug 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

This affectionate, by-the-numbers doc about the most famous celebrity you’ve never heard of is an unabashed valentine to a woman called the Oprah of her generation. Director Aviva Kempner, eschewing traditional narrative voiceovers, lays out the remarkable life story of writer-actor Gertrude Berg (aka Molly Goldberg), who built a 25-year media empire (1929-1955) that bridged radio, television and stage. Using descendents, former cast members and celebrity admirers (including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear and Susan Stamberg), along with extensive show footage, Kempner spotlights an inconceivably ambitious woman who exported her Jewish immigrant identity into the living rooms of everyday Americans and achieved unprecedented success. Audiences connected with her Molly Goldberg character; her gentle humor, dedication to family and relentless humanitarianism made her a pop icon. Though stumbling early, Kempner’s doc becomes a fascinating chronicle of American history once it starts charting Berg’s popular rise.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

from glitches to riches: $3.75 mil for arts & culture raised yesterday

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 1:40 PM

On Tuesday morning at 10 a.m., the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan opened its virtual doors to the public in order to raise funds for Detroit area arts and culture programs. CFSEM pledged $1 million towards a 50% donation match. Nobody expected what happened next. In the first two hours...

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Blowed 'em up good

District 9 is more than just Lethal Weapon with ray guns

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

This stunning mindbender of a movie attempts to prove that science fiction can handle the heftiest allegorical payloads, even the appalling shame of apartheid. For 28 years, a massive, derelict mothership has hovered over the city, abandoned by its operators but swarming with disorganized and unmotivated drones, now herded into District 9, a sprawling ghetto that’s heavily monitored by government agents and the mercenary army of a shady corporation called Multi National United (MNU). This semi-outlaw zone sports a booming black market, weapons trading, tech, prostitution and the dodgy cat food that the prawns are hooked on like crack, greedily sucking it down, cans and all. Jovial, dorky middle manger Wikus Van Der Mere (Copley) must forcibly evict the grouchy visitors to a settlement many miles out of town, far from the angry mobs of humans who’ve run out of hospitality. Wikus is a gung-ho company man, eager to please his father-in-law and other MNU top brass, cheerfully oblivious to their true motives. The real agenda involves the powerful alien weaponry, which is somehow linked to their genes and seems to only work for them. However, the plan is seriously fouled when Wikus gets exposed to a strange fluid and morphs into a human-alien hybrid, making him a fugitive and forcing him to team up with a clever prawn scientist — with the immigrant name of Christopher Johnson — as they battle for survival against heavily armed goons.

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The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Jeremy Piven is Don Ready, a sleazeball used-car liquidator, whose team is hired by a failing dealership in Temecula, Calif., to turn their Fourth of July sale into a business-saving success. And, well, that’s pretty much it. The rest is wacky Will Ferrell-style jokes (see his amusing cameo) — that hit and miss in equal measure. Piven is producer Adam McKay’s (Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) brother-in-law and, frankly, isn’t quite right for the lead. He’s great when he’s in Ari Gold-asshole mode but he doesn’t have the heart for sillier jokes. His cohorts (Kathryn Hahn, David Koechner and Ving Rhames), on the other hand, all have good moments, with James Brolin landing some hearty chuckles as a homosexually inclined father figure.

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Splish splash

Master animator Hayao Miyazaki works his magic in an allegorical yarn of wonder

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Five-year-old Sosuke (voiced by Frankie Jonas), who lives by the sea with his mom (Tina Fey) and much-absent dad (Matt Damon). One day, he meets an overeager goldfish named Ponyo (Noah Cyrus), who longs so deeply to be with her newfound friend that she transforms into a human. Unfortunately, not only does her magician father (Liam Neeson) pale at the thought of her joining the pollution-spewing human race, her defection from the undersea world upsets the cosmic order, disrupting the moon’s orbit, triggering a tsunami that submerges Sosuke’s town.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Eric Bana is Henry, born with truly bizarre genetic disorder dubbed “chrono impairment” which sometimes sees him fade out of time, popping into some other moment in his life, naked and confused, like Bana’s character in The Hulk. The lovely Claire (Rachel McAdams) is the one constant in this fractured existence, and she becomes his lifeline and her unattainable dream (and you thought your boyfriend was unreliable).

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Paper Heart

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Cutesy and ironically smug, a postcard from the land of twee, this mock mockumentary follows impossibly impish hipster comedian Charlyne Yi, as she crosses the country asking real folk about true love, an emotion she claims to be incapable of. Her more famous pals, including funnymen Demetri Martin and Seth Rogen, call bullshit on the notion she’s a frosty, suggesting Yi hasn’t met the right guy yet. Well, that dude — the twiggy Michael Cera — saunters right through the door of a party (filled with, apparently, the young Hollywood comedy underground). It’s awkward puppy love at first blush.

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Art brutes

New doc traces rock 'n' roll poster history

Posted By on Wed, Aug 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

This documentary on the history of rock posters focuses on the renegade artists, many of whom have succeeded without the financial help of big corporations. Detroit looms large in this picture, thanks especially to the presence of Mark Arminski, Detroit’s most recent poster art king, and the great Grande Ballroom rock-art pioneer, Gary Grimshaw, both of whom are interviewed extensively. The latter even offers a mantra that should resonate loudly during this city’s time of economic crisis: “What people don’t understand is that the automobile industry didn’t make Detroit. Detroit made the automobile industry,” he says, discussing the city’s art history and aesthetic. “Most importantly, it was the skilled labor and the long history of craftsmanship that was in Detroit.” Arminski, for his part, says that although he has since discovered that he and revered ’80s icon Frank Kozik began around the same time, Arminski “knew nothing but what was going on in Detroit.” A major revelation, though, is to discover that rock poster grandfather Stanley Mouse was born and raised in Detroit, where his early art was inspired by “car culture” before heading to psychedelic San Francisco and Haight-Ashbury hippiedom. If the film has a slight flaw, though, it’s that Becker’s sense of rock history may occasionally strike more astute scholars as a bit skewed. But these are minor quibbles about a film that mostly informs and entertains.

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