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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bright Star

A hushed Keats affair gets a lush and eloquent once-over

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

John Keats was arguably the greatest poet of the 19th century romantic movement, but he wasn’t exactly lucky in love. A swooning and romantic period weeper where nary a bodice is ripped, Bright Star gushes with submerged passions and longing. Ben Whishaw plays Keats, a wispy deep thinker with bedroom eyes and poetry in his soul, and Abbie Cornish is Fanny Brawne, the young lady who inspired all that artistry. Their love notes form the backbone of Jane Campion’s intellectual exercise, which shines brightest when it gets beyond its historical grandeur and down to true, messy intimacy.

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Surrogates

Allegorical futuristic yarn shows us how fake is the new real. Plus, Bruce Willis!

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Old Willis is Tom Greer, a cynical FBI agent in an alternate modern world where much of the population are homebound shut-ins plugged into perfect robotic duplicates who wander around doing their dirty work. Alongside his fashion-model-prim partner robo (Radha Mitchell), Willis investigates a twisty conspiracy involving a flashlight-like weapon capable of shorting out the droids and killing their users with feedback. This high-concept setup offers plenty of room to consider such heady cultural themes as identity issues, race and gender confusion and youth obsession, at least before director Jonathan Mostow gets bogged down in procedural murk and noisy explosions.

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Flame out

Both Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger disrobe, but the film still flounders

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Depressed but promiscuous restaurant manager Sylvia (Charlize Theron) mopes in blue-hued Oregon, self-injuring and banging her way through the week. Cut to the brilliant New Mexico plains, where philandering Gina (Kim Basinger) and Nick (Joaquim de Almeida) hook up for sex in a trailer halfway between their two homes. They perish in a horrific fire, which leads their teenage children, Mariana (Jennifer Lawrence) and Santiago (J.D. Pardo), to find love … then, inevitably, even more tragedy. Meanwhile a Mexican crop duster (José María Yazpik) and single dad who dotes on his young daughter, heads to the states after his brother is injured in a plane crash, and begins to stalk Sylvia. How do these stories all fit together? Arriaga fragments and disjoints the narrative so completely, he hopes you won’t figure it out until the final reel. More overwrought than overwhelming, The Burning Plain is heavy on symbolism (fire, rain, dead birds — oh, my!) and theatrics but light on ideas or meaningful emotions. Arriaga practically parodies himself as his film drowns in joyless themes of guilt and redemption. More amazingly, he convinces both Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger to get naked, and still the film is a rudderless downer.

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The September Issue

Slips winningly behind fashion mag's haughty smirks and heady glam

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

The September Issue is about hideous people obsessed with glamour, and the occasionally ugly business of keeping the world awash in beauty. As the preeminent guardian of the fashion industry’s bible Vogue magazine, Anna Wintour quite literally controls the fate of thousands of careers and millions of dollars with a withering glance, and she bears the tortured visage of a soul so committed to snooty disapproval. Her Cruella Deville furs and couture coats are her battle armor, with comically severe bangs atop her head drawing a harsh, symmetrical line over the perpetual scowl she flashes at designers and subordinates. Under her stewardship, Vogue has placed an ever greater focus on celebrity, and much high drama here revolves around a photo shoot of actress Sienna Miller for the cover of the pivotal fall issue.

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Santiago dreaming

Gritty, violent and shows us that the flipside of pop culture escapism is soul-sucking insanity

Posted By on Wed, Sep 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Raúl (a riveting Alfredo Castro) is a pallid, brooding, 52-year-old slacker; living in a squalid Santiago cantina, waiting for his opportunity to compete on an American Idol-type TV show. Each week the local program selects a top celebrity impersonator and Raúl is determined to become Chile’s own Tony Manero (John Travolta’s character in Saturday Night Fever). So twisted are his expectations of fame that Raúl impulsively and brutally murders anyone he perceives as thwarting his mission. Meanwhile, Augusto Pinochet’s police squads have got the country locked down, hunting for anyone who opposes the regime.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Jennifer’s Body

Diablo Cody matches a demonic teen hottie with a satonic indie band

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Diablo Cody’s neo-feminist scream matches a demonic teen hottie with a satanic indie band by casting Megan Fox has a devil of a time in Jennifer’s Body, twirling her raven tresses, arching her back and quivering her pouty lips seductively. Her dead-eyed glare is so perfect for the role of a demonic teen queen it’s downright scary; if only the movie itself could muster more than few cheap chills. Fox gamely plays the title role, a brunette junior varsity seductress stalking the halls of her small-town high school like she owns the joint — alongside her wholesome blond pal “Needy” (Amanda Seyfried), they’re like an unholy Betty and Veronica. Things go very wrong for these BFFs when they run afoul of a crew of thoroughly rotten indie rockers at a local bar gig. Smarmy Adam Brody nails the role of an utterly evil leader of a band so intent on making it big they seek a human sacrifice (for Satan) to boost their careers. Unfortunately, they need a virgin, which disqualifies Jennifer — deflowered in junior high — so the ritual instead turns her into a monster, one who stays pretty by munching on unsuspecting boys.

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Love Happens

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

In this dire rom-com, saved by camera-ready Jennifer Anniston and Aaron Eckhart, Eckhart plays a motivational speaker who has lost his motivation, secretly moping over his dead wife, while selling others on a sunny-side-up program of grief recovery. He’s throwing a weeklong seminar in rainy Seattle, urging clients to walk on hot coals, while he can barely drag himself across the bedroom carpet every morning. The predictably quirky gal who’ll make him see the light again is Jennifer Anniston’s nurturing Eloise, a florist who saves her client’s love notes, scribbles challenging words on hotel walls, and tools around town in a vintage ’60s Ford Falcon van.

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The Informant!

Matt Damon wins in Soderbergh’s inspired but shaky satirical yarn

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Based on Kurt Eichenwald’s nonfiction bestseller, the film follows Mark Whitacre (Damon), a toupeed Ned Flanders-like VP at Archer-Daniels-Midland who, during a minor investigation with the FBI, spills the beans on his company’s participation in a global price-fixing conspiracy. Mark is quickly recruited to wear a wire and turn whistleblower, a role he comes to zealously embrace. Deluding himself that he’s a character in a Michael Crichton novel, his behavior and lies become increasingly bizarre, leading to unexpected revelations about the man who would go on to be the highest-ranking executive in U.S. history to turn state’s evidence on his own company. Damon brilliantly rides the line between supreme confidence, earnest motivation and profound imbecility, delivering a steady stream of internal monologues that are as disconnected from reality as they are hilarious. As the plot thickens, Whitacre’s musings become weirder and weirder, betraying the true state of his psyche.

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The real basterds

Killer WWII ‘noir’ crammed with corrupt souls and dead Nazis

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Based on the true stories of Danish resistance heroes Bent Faurschou-Hviid and Jorgen Haagen Schmith, Madsen’s gripping noir is filled with familiar wartime tropes: lonely resistance fighters, clandestine meetings and double-crossing agents. But even more than a satisfying historical thriller, Flame and Citron presents its conflicted idealists as psychologically complex men who feel their humanity slipping away as their paranoia grows.

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Fan obsessive

He’s a tubby schlub whose tiny life revolves around sports. And he’s a celebrity!

Posted By on Wed, Sep 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

In Big Fan, Paul Aufiero (Oswalt) is the most devoted of secular zealots, a schlubby mid-30s superfan who lives with his nagging mom, and spends his workdays in a cramped Staten Island tollbooth scribbling the intricate rants he phones in nightly to the Sports Dawg radio show. A total zero in the real world, on-air Paul is an anonymous minor star, carrying out the Giants vs. Eagles blood feud with his arch rival, the hateful “Philly Phil” (Rapaport). Too broke to afford season tickets, he hangs in the stadium parking lot watching games on a portable TV with his loser blood-brother Sal (the underrated Kevin Corrigan).

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