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Friday, May 28, 2010

Detroit in the news: Deep thoughts and drive-bys

Posted on Fri, May 28, 2010 at 4:47 PM

Like it or not, Detroit is in the national spotlight in a way it hasn’t been in years. The good news, however, is that much of the coverage is inspiring, thoughtful and positive. Take, for instance, this week’s piece in Atlantic Monthly. The editors interviewed John Hantz, who hopes to...

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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Song of Argentina

Masterful thriller crammed with menace, verve and passion

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Set in modern-day Argentina, with lengthy flashbacks to the time of military rule, Secret follows retired justice department investigator Benjamin Esposito (Ricardo Darin), who decides to write a novel about the case that’s haunted him for 25 years — the rape and murder of Liliana Coloto, a beautiful young school teacher. Transporting us back to the 1970s, we meet the friends, colleagues, rivals and suspects involved in the investigation, and learn just how tenuous memory can be. There’s the victim’s surviving husband, Morales (Pablo Rago), who desperately craves justice, Esposito’s alcoholic partner Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), his elegant new boss Irene (Soledad Villamil) and their chief suspect Isidoro Gomez (Javier Godino), a young man infatuated with Liliana since childhood. The hunt for the murderer follows in the footsteps of most police procedurals, culminating in a tour de force confrontation at a riotous soccer stadium. (It’s Campanella’s showiest moment and he pulls it off brilliantly.) But the story doesn’t end there. Under Perón’s government, the hunters soon becomes the hunted, and one more thing stands between Benjamin and Irene. Eventually, the past and present crash into each other as Esposito’s personal and professional mistakes become a poignant meditation on justice, Argentina’s corrupt past, and the love he never acted upon.

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Shrek Forever After

Good luck explaining the plot to your kid

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Allegedly the last of the franchise, Shrek Forever After isn’t as scattershot as the last installment, but it does labor through a mostly laughless setup before settling into a familiar groove. Living with his wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) and his trio of tykes, Shrek (Myers) discovers that happily ever after isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Between the grinding routine of domestic bliss, the emasculation of fatherhood, and his celebrity persona, the ogre fears he’s lost his edge. Nostalgic for his days of independence, a time when he struck terror into the hearts of villagers everywhere, Shrek strikes a deal with the conniving Rumpelstiltskin (Walt Dohrn): one perfect day of ogre-ish ransacking in exchange for the day he was born. This sends him into a parallel universe where Donkey (Eddie Murphy) doesn’t know who he is, Puss ’n’ Boots (Antonio Banderas) has become a fat tub of lard, and Fiona is the warrior leader of ogre rebellion against Far, Far Away’s despotic ruler Rumpelstiltskin. See, it turns out this malignantly magical pipsqueak was thwarted from taking over the kingdom when Shrek originally freed Fiona. Now he has 24 hours to regain the trust of old friends and win Fiona’s heart, otherwise he’ll disappear forever, having never been born.

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MacGruber

Surprisingly, lots better than extended fart jokes

Posted By on Wed, May 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM

MacGruber (Will Forte) is a parody of the ’80s mega-cheese action idol MacGyver. He's a secret agent with a bizarre knack for improvising elaborate weapons out of household objects, but in every other respect he’s a huge screw-up. This not-so-super spy is a seething mass of macho bluster concealing insecurity, cowardice, incompetence, a potty mouth and borderline psycho tendencies. In classic action-flick cliché, his hard-bitten former Colonel (’80s tough-guy mainstay Powers Boothe) drags the defeated warrior out of self-imposed exile in order to stop the nuclear-missile-stealing madman who years earlier blew up MacGruber’s fiancee at their wedding. A bloated Val Kilmer plays that baddie with goofy scene-stealing intensity, and even his character’s unprintable name is a naughty joke. Along with backup from Kristen Wiig, as pluckily innocent Vicki St. Elmo, and the usually stiff Ryan Phillippe as a by-the-books soldier, MacGruber bluffs and stumbles through gags like distracting enemies by sticking a celery stalk in his butt, jamming soft rock ballads in his Miata, and indulging in a pair of ridiculously gross, sweaty sex scenes, one involving a ghost.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

What Price Donald Trump?

Posted on Mon, May 24, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Donald Trump is a hypocrite, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. But his “hiring” of stricken rock star Bret Michaels as the 2010 winner of Celebrity Apprentice in the show’s two-hour NBC season finale Sunday (9 p.m. May 23, Channel 4 in Detroit) – as genuine...

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hate mail

Twaddle and hooey driven by a self-absorbed blonde

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Amanda Seyfried is a blond tabula rasa, a comely vessel to contain the anxieties and aspirations of the target audience, and her Sophie isn’t content with simply having a media job, but dreams of writing and landing the big scoop, Jean Arthur-style, except minus any spark or verve. She also has an unspoken disaffection with her relationship with a passionate, slightly scattered chef, played by the hipster dreamboat Gael García Bernal. His great crime? He’s distracted by the trivial task of opening a gourmet restaurant in midtown Manhattan, and doesn’t have a lot of time to daydream about sconces with his fiancee. Still they take a “pre honeymoon” to quaint Verona, Italy, where she declines to tag along as he hunts for truffles and bids on rare wines, and thus busies herself getting in other people’s business. Anyway, Sophie stumbles on a courtyard where tourists leave letters to Juliet Capulet, expecting advice, as if she were some Shakespearean Ann Landers. She quickly lands her first creative writing assignment, crafting tender replies to the lovelorn alongside a room full of chatty old biddies who call themselves the “secretaries of Juliet.” One of those letters was stuck in a crevice for 50 years, but Sophie still dashes off a reply, leading its elderly British author Claire to rush off to the continent and search for her long-lost summer fling. She’s played with enormous charm by the graceful Vanessa Redgrave, and accompanied by her stuffy twit grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan), who spends a lot of time sticking his stiff upper lip out at Sophie, before surrendering to her giggly charms.

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The Square

A neo-noir that knows how to turn the screws on audiences

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM

In a homey Australian suburb, Ray (David Roberts) runs a struggling construction business while catting around with his across-the-pond neighbor Carla (Claire van der Boom). When Carla stumbles across her criminal hubby’s (Anthony Hayes) stash of cash, she goads Ray into figuring out how they can take the money and run. Enter an arsonist named Billy (Joel Edgerton), who’s hired to burn down the house to cover up the couple’s robbery. Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. Sucked into a black hole of bad luck and bad decisions is a suspicious friend who’s got the hots for Carla, a contractor Ray is accepting kickbacks from, and Billy’s doormat of a girlfriend (along with other hapless victims).

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Looking for Eric

Ken Loach’s earthy gloom sees some sunshine for a change

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM

British Director Ken Loach tells the story of Eric (Steve Evets), a lonely, scruffy, middle-aged Manchester postman, saddled with two rowdy teen boys and a lifetime of defeats and regrets. Many years earlier, he abandoned his pregnant wife, a mistake he chews on every day, made even bitterer since his second wife ditched him, leaving him stuck with his shiftless stepsons. One of those boys has gotten jammed up with an unhinged minor crime boss, and it’s more of a pickle than poor Eric can manage. His life in shambles, one night he smokes a joint and consults a bedroom poster of his idol, Eric Cantona, a dashing center forward whose speed and scoring panache elevated Manchester United to championship excellence in the 1990s. Through the magic of cinema clichés, the footballer appears, as Sam Spade did for Woody Allen in Play it Again, Sam, and doles out confidence-building pep talks with the same poise he used on the pitch. A reinvigorated Eric starts tackling his problems head on, and he patches things up with his lost-love Lily (Stephanie Bishop). To deal with a thug who’s jeopardizing things with Lily, Eric calls in back up from his rancorous crew of fellow United supporters, who manage to pull themselves away from their pints long enough to lend a hand. The finale is memorably chaotic.

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House (Hausu)

So Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Russ Meyer and Roman Polanski all walk into a bar …

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi throws in every insane trick — wipes, dissolves, freeze frames, strobe lights — including rivers of blood that resemble Hawaiian Punch. The result is phantasmagoric nonsense, as if Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Russ Meyer and Roman Polanski had randomly edited together clips from a soap opera, a slasher flick and a feminine hygiene commercial. There are still unnerving gory moments and dizzying technical tricks that have clearly influenced later day gonzo J-horror stylists such as Takashi Miike. If House may be an aggravating, un-watchable curiosity to some, but somewhere out there lurks a genre-loving kid hungry to have his mind scooped clean out.

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Robin Hood

A beautiful bore: Robin has daddy issues and Ridley Scott pushes income redistribution

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 12:00 AM

In an attempt to tell the tale before the tale we already know, Robin Hood takes its cue from Braveheart and Elizabeth, tracking Robin Longstride’s morally ambivalent tenure in the crusade of Richard the Lion-Hearted (Danny Huston) and his subsequent return to England. Unwittingly pulled into the backstabbing intrigue of the English throne, Robin and his compadres (Little John, Will Scarlett, et al.) end up players in a plot to overthrow bad King John (Oscar Isaac). Manipulated by the treacherous Sir Godfrey (Mark Strong), England’s northern territories have been incited to rebel against the venal and ineffectual John while the French quietly prepare to invade and conquer the divided kingdom. After a well-staged opening castle siege, Scott spends nearly an hour setting up his convoluted yet simple-minded tale, with Robin assuming the identity of a fallen knight and heading to Nottingham, where he falls for the dead man’s wife, Marion Locksley (Cate Blanchett). Despite all this running time, however, we learn very little of our arrow-slinging hero — except that he’s troubled by the killing of Muslims, believes in income redistribution, and longs for his papa. These are unabashedly liberal-Dem ideas, but the film misses the opportunity to convincingly remind viewers of the endless ways the rich and powerful exploit the hell out of the poor and the weak. I mean, I’m all for exploring and expanding the mythical landscape, but how do you make a Robin Hood movie that has no regard for the beleaguered poor?

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